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Death as Noisy as Life

Since 2000, photographer Ronan Guillou (1968-2022) has led a vast colour photographic odyssey across Alaska. His work, which has as much to do with documentary intent as formal research, gave rise to the book La mort aussi bruyante que la vie (Death as Noisy as Life), published in October 2023.

On March 30, 1867, the American Secretary of State William H. Seward bought Alaska from an indebted Russia for a derisory price (7 million dollars, or less than 5 dollars per km2). Four years of the American Civil War had shattered the Union, and Seward hoped to restore national unity by appealing to the expansionist spirit of the Americans. But this vast and remote frozen territory, separated from the United States by Canada, aroused little interest. The purchase was scoffed at, and it wasn't until 1959 that Alaska became the 49th American state, the most northerly and the largest, but also one of the least populated. Its strategic position made it an ultra-sensitive area throughout the Cold War.
Today, climate change and melting ice are the focus of concern.

Photographer Ronan Guillou is discovering Alaska in the 21st century. America fascinates him, like so many others before him. While the Great American West and its vast expanses have been travelled, documented and narrated by generations of photographers and film-makers, feeding a shared global imagination, very few photographers have ventured to Alaska, the state that Americans now call The Last Frontier.

Ronan Guillou undertook four long trips to Alaska, each in a different season. Captivated by what he discovered, a territory that still bears the traces of its past - a wild, indigenous land that has seen a flood of colonisers, trappers and gold miners - he became interested in the fragile balance between civilisation and nature. Guided by the strength of his encounters with a population that is often marginal or subject to local harshness, and by the capture of an ephemerality that is never devoid of meaning, the photographer does not give in to the temptation of exotic images. He is interested in "experiences with people and places". The result is a surprisingly free-flowing body of photographs, punctuated by the four seasons of his travels.

La mort aussi bruyante que la vie, Ronan Guillou. Bec en l'air editions, 136 pages, 94 photographs, €42.

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