Svalbard is a land of both extremes and in-betweens. The archipelago is situated between 74 and 81 degrees north, a thousand miles from the Norwegian mainland and at the very end of the earth. From April to August it is bleached in eternal daylight and from the close of October until February it plunges into perpetual darkness. Centuries of explorers, hunters and miners have variously tried (and sometimes failed) to conquer its soaring shores, and both blood and blubber mingle in their tales of dominion and disaster.
Yet there is nuance hidden between Svalbard's theatrical landscapes and legends. Humanity is a relatively recent intervention here and consequently there is no framework of culture, art or ancient history from which to hang my impressions. It is a place of passage rather than of permanence - it is literally forbidden by law to be born or to die here, as there are no hospitals or burial grounds - and its monochromatic vistas with their slate-grey seas, powdery mountains and smudges of cloud suggest a withholding, as well as perhaps an invitation. It's a place that can make or break you, and consequently an intoxicating challenge to the pioneer spirit.