In the far reaches of the United States, the sun sets in early November. It will stay below the horizon for the next 65 days. It’s there along the Chukchi Sea that you can find the northernmost city in the United States. There are no paved roads, and since no roads, paved or otherwise, connect Barrow to the rest of Alaska, the only way in or out of this polar night is by plane. The Iñupiat call this town “Ukpeagvik,” or “the place where we hunt snowy owls,” and have lived there since 500 AD.
Originally, the local architecture trended toward sod huts, built as seasonal hunting camps, and there are still a few mounds near the ocean above the high-water line that date back to 800 AD. After Yankee whalers settled the modern town of Barrow, local housing styles changed slightly, but the native Iñupiat still hunt waterfowl and seals in the area, and some still live in seasonal cabins. Photographer Eirik Johnson photographed these cabins during the short Arctic summer, when the structures are empty, and then returned to take pictures mid-winter, when the sun never comes up.
Constructed from whatever was around, these cabins are built from old shipping pallets, plastic milk boxes, and particleboard. “Car seats,” Eirik says, “serve as patio furniture.” It’s this improvisation that makes the cabins unique, and seen together, Eirik says, “The summer and winter series are a meditation on the passage of time and seasonal shift along the extreme horizon of the Arctic.”
He’s not the only one to find a sharp sense of place in the land of extremes. Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams, wrote of these stretches of north-land, “What does it mean to grow rich? Is it to have red-blooded adventures and to make a ‘fortune,’ which is what brought the whalers and other entrepreneurs north? Or is it, rather, to have a good family life and to be imbued with a far-reaching and intimate knowledge of one’s homeland, which is what the Tununirmiut told the whalers? Is it to retain a capacity for awe and astonishment in our lives, to continue to hunger after what is genuine and worthy? Is it to live at moral peace with the universe?”
See more of the cabin series at eirikjohnson.com
Weekend Cabin isn’t necessarily about the weekend, or cabins. It’s about the longing for a sense of place, for shelter set in a landscape…for something that speaks to refuge and distance from the everyday. Nostalgic and wistful, it’s about how people create structure in ways to consider the earth and sky and their place in them. It’s not concerned with ownership or real estate, but what people build to fulfill their dreams of escape. The very time-shortened notion of “weekend” reminds that it’s a temporary respite.