Located in the North Pacific Ocean, Adak Island belongs to the Aleutian archipelago which encloses the Bering Sea. Once uninhabited, the island served as a US naval base during World War II and the Cold War. In just a few years, it became home to the fourth largest city in Alaska, inhabited by 6,000 military personnel and their families. In March 1997, with the end of the Cold War, the military abandoned the base. As of 2019, “there were only 75 inhabitants left,” notes the American photographer Ben Huff.
There are many reasons for a photographer to be fascinated by this island: the mountains, the glaciers, the wildlife, but also the aurora borealis, or the Northern Lights, the famous luminous display in the upper atmosphere. However, when Ben Huff traveled to Adak for the first time in 2015, what particularly interested him were “elements that man had brought to the island; the things we are responsible for, like the military infrastructure or the pipeline.”
Bewildered by the staggering amount of trash and the feeling of neglect pervading the island, Ben Huff compared it to the landscape of a horror film, an analogy even more striking at night. The photographer followed his gut and ended up working on the series for the next four years. When capturing various locations, what attracted him was the color, or the texture, or the line, which were imbued with a certain melancholy.
The book Atomic Island, published by fw:books, opens with three nearly identical views of the sea. Next come photographs of the abandoned military infrastructure; landscapes; portraits of the few remaining inhabitants; details and doors that return like a leitmotif. These contemporary images are interspersed with archival photographs. “Starting with the first trip, I understood that I would need archival images, especially from World War II.” These images allow the photographer, not to compose a historical narrative, but rather “to create a space to reflect on the landscape, on the reasons for the human presence there.” They set “the atmosphere.”
Ben Huff, Atomic Island is published by fw:books, €42.20, 172pp.