‘This Arctic city was built by Russian prisoners in the late 1930s to meet wartime demand for metal. There are graveyards everywhere’
I shot this in Norilsk last summer. This city, 1,500 miles from the North Pole, is one of the coldest and most polluted places on Earth. It is a place most photographers dream of going to. Getting there, though, is extremely difficult. The city was closed in Soviet times, then briefly opened, and is now closed again. To gain access you have to get permits from the owner, Norilsk Nickel (or Nornickel as it is now known), which is almost impossible.
I travelled there as part of the Arctic project I did with Kadir van Lohuizen. We divvied up the continent: he covered the western regions, and I, the Russian side, the longest Arctic border. Kadir’s main interest was to show climate change: the evidence is everywhere, especially in the east. I wanted to document how Russia is taking advantage of this situation to explore for gas and oil. I travelled on an ice-breaker from the port of Dudinka to Murmansk, and there was no ice at all. Kadir battled the elements – there is snow in his photographs. There is grass in mine.
Thousands of prisoners were shipped to Norilsk. It was a one-way ticket. Nobody knows exactly how many perished
The centre looks like St Petersburg. There were talented architects among the prisoners – they made it beautiful