Behind the Photo: The Family at the End of the World

Michael O. Snyder’s photograph, “The Family at the End of the World,” was featured in Orion’s Summer 2020 article “Sinking into the Arctic” by Barbara Hurd (print only), covering permafrost and the changing nature of hope. This photo recently won the prestigious 2020 Portrait of Humanity Award, as well as honorable mentions for the Px3, Prix De La Photographie and Moscow International Foto Awards. We reached out to Snyder to learn the story behind the capture. 


The Photo: “This is Saga Bernlow behind her house on the remote Arctic island of Svalbard, Norway. Longyearbyen, where the family lives, is the world’s northernmost and fastest warming town. In the last four decades temperatures have risen by nearly five degrees Celsius. Now, the family’s dog sledding business faces an uncertain future as snowpack melts earlier each year.”

The Context: “Our world is changing faster than any time since the arrival of humans on this planet. And nowhere is that more evident than in the Arctic, where climate change is causing temperatures to soar. Over this past year I have had the opportunity to document this rapidly changing world during both the depth of the polar night, where sea ice is disappearing, and the unbroken light of the polar summer, where triple digit heat and melting permafrost are driving irreversible damage. Last summer I visited the Bernlow family on Svalbard, where their home sits at the very end of the road leading out of Longyearbyen. When Saga Bernlow walked toward her trampoline, I knew that a great image was coming. Here is a little girl, doing what little girls do, but at the very edge of the world, and at the very frontlines of climate change. Telling their story helps to put a human face on a pressing global issue.”

The Photographer: Michael O. Snyder is a photographer, filmmaker, and environmental scientist who uses his combined knowledge of visual storytelling and conservation to create narratives that drive social change. He is a Climate Fellow at the Bertha Foundation, a Portrait of Humanity Award recipient, a Blue Earth Alliance Photographer, a National Geographic Explorer Grant Collaborator, a National Science Foundation Grant Collaborator, and a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. He holds an MSc in Environmental Sustainability from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and currently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he is a resident artist at the McGuffey Art Center. 

Instagram: @michaelosnyder
Twitter: @michaelosnyder


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