Léo Delafontaine was born in 1984 and majored in photography and French literature. He has devoted himself to documentary photography for the past several years. He produced a series on the three monotheisms for the Photaumnales photography festival. The project was published by Diaphane Editions in 2011, with texts by Christian Caujolle and Isy Morgensztern. His most recent book on micronations, also published by Diaphane Editions, came out in 2013. Today we share his series Arktikugol.
Barentsburg, named after the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz, is an Arctic mining town in Svalbard, 55 kilometers from Longyearbyen in Norway. It is owned by the Arktikugol trust, a Russian company employing principally Ukranian workers.
In 1920, the Spitzberg Treaty allocated the Svalbard region to Norway under two conditions: The area must be demilitarized and each of the countries signing the treaty must be able to exploit the underground resources. Russia is the only remaining country to take advantage of these rights, mainly for geopolitical reasons as the mine has never been profitable/ has always shown a loss. Barentsburg was therefore a frontline observation post during the cold war and will be a strategic position in the new maritime routes that will open up in the Arctic if ice cap melting worsens.
During the cold war, the town underwent an economic boom and had up to 1500 inhabitants. The Soviet population in Svalbard even outnumbered the Norwegian population at that time. Today, 370 people still live in this abandoned town which has no bars or restaurants. And what use would they be? Since no-one there has cash, only a smart card that automatically debits anything you buy from your pay. The Ukrainian or Tajik miners only receive their pay at the end of their contract. In the meantime, they bide their time between working in an unhealthy mine, Arctic nights and a lack of entertainment.
Barentsburg – a snapshot of the vestiges of the former Soviet power.
Leo’s work has been shown at various photography festivals including, the Rencontres d’Arles, Photaumnales in Beauvais, Boutographies in Montpellier and Images Singulières in Sète. He is a member of Picturetank and the photography collective France(s) Territoire Liquide.
To view more of Léo’s work, please visit his website.