Elizabeth Philotera Bourne

In front of my painting Sharp as a Knife, part of the Sanctuary series

I am a photographer with a background in fine art painting. I describe myself as an artist using a camera rather than as a photographer since I spent most of my life as an artist as a painter, and it is only within the last ten years that I have taken up photography.

After living most of my adult life in the Pacific Northwest, I was invited to photograph Greenland in 2017 and my life changed completely. I fell under the spell of the high arctic, and knew that I had to go back. In 2018 I had an artist residency in Svalbard. In 2019, at a time when most people my age are thinking about retirement and grandchildren, I packed everything I needed into seven suitcases, and moved to Longyearbyen, which is on the archipelago of Svalbard over which Norway has sovereignty according to the Spitsbergen Treaty.

The high arctic is a land of extremes. It is stark, beautiful, and unforgiving. It is a place where you realize humanity is not the measure of all things. In a land where night lasts for three months, the first sunrise can bring you to year knees. After three months of unrelenting sun, the first true sunset can make you weep with joy. It is one of the last true wild places. If we lose the arctic, not only do we endanger humanity’s survival as well destroying innumerable other species, but I believe we lose our soul as well. In the arctic, you know how small you are. I believe as the human world becomes louder, brighter, and more dangerous, we need to know that more than ever.

My work, both painting and photography, have been exhibited nationally and internationally. In 2019 I was honored to receive the Vision Excellence Award from the Miami Photography Center during Art Basel Miami for best work in a series. Svalbard: Land without Borders is an ongoing work. My work, both painting and photography, have been exhibited nationally and internationally. I am currently working on a three part series of paintings, The Arctic Sonata. The first work, Loss and Change, focused on drift ice as a metaphor for climate change, coronavirus, and my own personal losses and changes. It was exhibited in 2020 and will travel to Scotland in 2021. The second work, Sanctuary, focused on glaciers as a metaphor for a sense of safety, balance, and space where one can become reacquainted with ones true self. The third work, Transformation, will consider icebergs as a metaphor for the changes wrought by our global changes, and that inevitable final transformation of age and death that must come to us.

I believe that art must speak a deeper truth than mere representation. My own work, while incorporating depiction, also engages with a strong heart-felt reaction. For me, the artist must have a passion for their subject and a core need to communicate that emotion to the viewer. My hope is that my work, both photographs and paintings, can inspire people to love the beauty of the arctic. We need the ice. Not just for environmental reasons, but also to maintain the last truly wild, untouched place on our increasingly crowded planet.

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