It’s not difficult to take a good photo in this part of the world. The light is fantastic, the landscape captivating, the colours seducing. There’s only one real difficulty; how to take a picture without a cable in it.
This is more difficult than you might imagine. Even where there’s no sign of civilisation, if you’re within ten minutes walk of a road, path, or railway, there will be cables, lots of them. Part of the road to Abisko was cable-free last year, but someone must have spotted that oversight, so now there’s a comforting fat cable that goes all the way along the road.
I’ve been known to perform acrobatic contortions trying to avoid getting cables into the picture. This has included hanging dangerously over bridge railings, leaning perilously at an angle from a viewing point, and limbo dancing by the roadside. It usually fails. Even if I think I’ve managed to avoid the cable when I look at the picture, there it is.
So I’ve decided to take a different approach. I’ve been trying to take good photos of cables. This is definitely much more relaxing (and rewarding) than trying to avoid them. And I’ve decided that there’s nothing wrong with a deep frozen cable, and, what’s more, a cable tells you something about a place. Kiruna’s no chocolate box picture – we don’t do charming, pretty or twee. If you want your winter wonderland with a cherry on top you need to head for Austria. Here in Kiruna the winter landscape is a functional place and no-one takes the trouble to make it look pretty. It’s not that people leave rubbish and scrap lying around (well, there are some exceptions) it’s just that if you run a truck business up here you think an old truck by the roadside is a beautiful sight, not something that spoils the view.
But I digress. Cables. A cable tells you something about the landscape – that people live either end of it, or that a business is going on through it. Cables are the lifeline of people living in isolated and challenging conditions, as some do outside Kiruna.
A cable can be adorned with icicles, frost or snow, can hang in big deep folds, or zip horizontally across the landscape. It can droop decorously from snow white posts, or stretch tightly between iron bars. Sometimes there’s a single lone cable, going we-know-not-where, and other times there’s a whole chorus of them strung high and low, like measuring lines for the landscape behind.
And when I tire of cables, I’m going to start taking photos of plastic bags. I’m not ashamed to tell you that our winter wonderland is decorated with carefully positioned black plastic bags.
You might think that the black plastic bag is an unmentionably offensive object in this pristine white landscape, something to be avoided at all costs. But you’d be wrong. You see, the thing a reindeer is most scared of is a waving black plastic bag (they’re not that bright, reindeer). So to keep reindeer off the roads, the Sami herders put bags up on poles to scare them away.
Plastic bags, and cables – it’s part of what makes Kiruna wonderful.