Ghost Town Swimmer
HD video 7 minutes
Barentsburg, Svalbard, Norway (78 degrees latitude) – Population 500
Barentsburg is a Russian outpost and mining town in Svalbard, Norway. The northenmost Russian town in the world and about 800km from the north pole. The majority of the towns inhabitants are coal miners and their families. The coal miners reside in Barentsburg under 3 year contracts with the Russian-owned company Arktikugol. Beholden by contract to a hiring company, the workers are often paid at the end of their 3 year agreement and remained trapped in Barentsburg until their contract is terminated. Barentsburg is only accessible by boat, helicopter or a tentative snowmobile drive. All goods for the town, including food, are imported. The currency is the Russian Rouble and the language spoken in town is also Russian. Subject to depression and deep separation from society, the miners often resort to heavy drinking. The main source of alcohol is cheap Russian vodka.
A small consolation in Barentsburg is the Soviet Style gym designed by one of the federation’s architect. It stands both as a relic and as a surreal oasis of warmth and normalcy. In the entrance, a lone television blares Russian movies. A red telephone sits nearby with no one to tend. The walls are clad with reindeer, seal and polar bear murals. Everything is well lit and appears to waiting for people to arrive . One can wander in this seeming “twilight zone” without meeting anyone.
In a heated sea water pool, a woman swims laps quietly. She swims almost without pause. She moves in repetitive motion of meditative laps. Outside the pool, another snow storm overtakes the city.