(Photo: Brice Portolano)

Leave The City And Go Raise Huskies In Lapland

Photographer Brice Portolano grew up in the South of France but he's now based in Paris. Enjoying the city life, he's also fascinated by the return to the state of nature. In 2013, he started his project No Signal, studying men going back to the wilderness in the Western world.

After travelling to Alaska, Utah, the Alps and Cassis, the 24-year-old packed his bags for Lapland. There, he captured the life of Tinja, 32. A former biology student, she left the western of Jyväskylä 6 years ago to move in the middle of nowhere.

Over 180 miles from the nearest city, she started raising huskies with her boyfriend Alex, a professional musher. During two weeks, Brice shared the couple's lifestyle in a cabin with no running water nor electricity, discovering the great North with temperature going as low as -40°c.

The Frenchman tells us his story with 15 cold and inspiring stills.

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

 

"Every night the northern lights dance in the sky. You could almost get used to it if they were not so impressive. On the right of the figure, you can see a pile of ice and a metal pick. This is where I went every morning to break the ice and draw water from the river."

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

 

"Guiding a a sled requires a certain amount of vigilance but relatively little physical effort. During an excursion day at -30°c, you often lose feeling in your fingers and toes, even with good equipment.

You have to be careful because you quickly forget the loss of sensation and if you extremities are deprived of blood for too long, you risk amputation. In fact, three weeks following my return, I still haven't got the feeling back in two of my toes."

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

  

"Each morning, the temperature inside the cabin is -5°. Your first reflex: to turn on the wooden stove and make yourself a nice cup of coffee.

It has no on/off button, you have to do it the old-fashioned way: with dry wood, an axe and some matches. On a good day, I was able to boil the water in 20 minutes."

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

 

"Technology isn't spared by the cold, and taking photos at temperatures of -38° is quite extreme. I took my old 5D mark III which, once again, was up to the challenge, despite the extreme variations in temperature.

The hardest part? Managing to maintain the feeling in my fingers and take good photos at the same time."

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

  

"Tinja owns 85 dogs that she is very close to: she knows the names, stories, and nature of every one. Each winter, they travel the lengths of the Great North together by sled."

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

 

"85 dogs is a full time job. As I do with most of my subjects, I helped Tinja out. But she loves spending time with her dogs, no matter how thankless the task at hand."

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

 

"When I arrived in early January, the polar night was just ending and the sun was slowly coming back. The first day lasted just 9 minutes... Suffice to say, the evenings are long and pass by in candle light. Between discussions, hot tub sessions and the work required to keep the cabin warm enough, there's little room for boredom."

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

 

"Alex lets out his puppies to teach them how to handle the snow and identify which are the pack leaders. A former professional skier, he has shared Tinja's life for two years, and has changed paths to husky racing."

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

  

"Tinja is opening a reindeer's skull with an axe to feed the dogs in addition to their dog food. She deals with local farmers who know her well. However, if you hit a reindeer during a road accident you have to give £1550 in compensation to the breeder."

 

FINLAND

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

 

"After 10 days at Tinja's, I decide to go to the village 20 km away to recharge my camera batteries. Not having a car, I arranged that Alex would drop me off while going to visit his friends. 

Sat in a village cafe, I plug in my chargers and tuck into my big reindeer burger. At the end of the day, I decide to hitchhike back to Tinja's place. Everyone had told me about how efficient hitchhiking in the region was and given that the outside temperature was -37°C, I reckoned the cars wouldn't leave me at the side of the road for too long.

I leave the village. Some cars ignore me but in a few minutes a woman stops on the roadside. Our destinations are different but she drives me a good 5 kms in the right direction and drops me off in front of a deserted youth hostel, lit up by a few dying lampposts. Waiting for the next car, I set off in the direction of Tinja's so I won't freeze on the spot. My telephone indicates 15 km, meaning 3 hours 02 minutes on foot. 

After 20 minutes in complete silence, I realise no one is using the road at this time. 

After an hour, I meet a little squirrel. It had been hit by a car and instantly frozen to the spot. Its eye had popped out of its socket and a piece of brain was frozen in its moustache. So I pick it up for a little company and to offer it to Tinja, who could do something with its fur.

After two long hours, beard and hood covered in frost, I finally arrive at my destination. A car appears behind me, stops by the side of the road and yells "Heyyyy maaaaaan, you need a ride ?"

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

 

"Anna comes regularly to visit Tinja to take care of her Icelandic horses. She's quite a character, and sometimes disappears in the middle of the evening to go wander on her own in the forest with her horse.

I went with her a few times and the sensation of galloping in the snow in the moonlight is something I'll never forget."

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

 

"On the road to the top during a 50-mile-long expedition. The snow was very thick, and I was using snowshoes to go ahead of the sled. It was very physical and after a few minutes, despite the temperature being -28°, I was too hot and had to get rid of several layers of clothes.

I rolled up my sleeves and kept on going before realising that sweat had frozen and that my arms were covered in frost."

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

 

 "Mountains are very rare in Finland and all you can find are a few hills. If the weather is good, you can see for dozens of miles."

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

 

"Swept by the wind, the hill's summits are barren."

 

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

(Photo: Brice Portolano)

 

"Tinja's sled is behind me while I admire the surreal, lunar landscape. The sky hesitates leisurely between dawn and dusk, creating incredible and infinite shades of colour. "

 

You can follow Brice Portolano’s adventures on FacebookInstagramTumblr and his personal website.

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