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Perlman Museum Takes the Plunge with New Arctic Exhibit

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There have been heated debates on whether global warming is hap- pening or not for the past few decades. Ken Tape’s “Then and Now: The Changing Arctic Landscape,” an exhibition displayed at the Kaemmer Family Gallery of the Perlman Teaching Museum at the Weitz Center from September 19th to November 19th, has an concreteanswer.

The exhibition is comprised of several parts; the comparison of decades-old and present-day photographs at the same location and the vantage point that depict the stark contrasts between the landscapes of then and now. It takes up a large portion of the exhibit, with a smaller section showing the history of Arctic Alaska and profiles of pioneering scientists. A computer stationed at the corner of the gallery offers a virtual tour of the Arctic through panoramas.

The photos of the exhibit focus on the vegetation, warming permafrost, and shrinking glaciers to show the often dramatic change of the Arctic’s landscape. Since the “before” photos are decades to a hundred year old, they are black and white photographs, whereas the contemporary photos are filled with bright colors, giving more warmth and liveliness to the scenes that before seemed desolate and deserted.

The barely aing colors of white in the recent photos ironically add vitality to the depiction of the Arctic.

“Then and Now” is a traveling exhibit that started at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. It arrived at Carleton College at the same time Ken Tape ’99, the curator and the photographer of the exhibit, returned to campus. Fifteen years after graduating from Carleton Tape came back to teach a class titled, ‘Climate Variability and High Latitude Ecosystems’ in the Geology department.

“It was a couple of years ago, around the time the museum opened in 2011, when this [exhibition] came to my attention,” Laurel Bradley, the director and curator in the Perlman Teaching Museum said. “I noticed it was by a Carleton alum and it was also a topic that is of broad interest on campus so I thought, okay sure,” she recalled.

According to Bradley, Tape is not only a photographer but also a curator, working with his concept, and then incorporating photographs of other scientists’ into his exhibition for a more extensive collection. He also spent nearly eight years tracking down the old photographs, while completing his postgraduate studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Not many scientists enter, or even consider entering, the field of art but his years as a student at Carleton helped him explore the seemingly opposite fields. “Part of Carleton’s training is not to draw too many boundaries, so I have never thought of science and art being mutually exclusive,” Tape said.

Unfortunately, he did not have a chance to get into the field of photography until after graduating from Carleton. “I tried to get into a black and white photography class at Carleton and I finally got into in senior year, spring term,” Tape said, “It turned out that I had missing credentials to fulfill to graduate, and so I had to drop the photography class and take another independent study class instead.”

The exhibit itself only shows the changes that happened in the Arctic, mainly northern Alaska, but its meaning goes beyond the photographs. Since the Arctic circle plays a huge role in balancing the heat in the planet, changes there mean there are continuing changes elsewhere and imply that there are more to come.

Even though the exhibit only displays the change of the landscapes, there were quite a few places, according to Tape, where differences were barely noticeable, if not almost identical to before.

“When you go to the Arctic, you get a sense that the place is timeless, that it is not really changing very much,” he commented. “Indeed that is true in a lot of places. But that’s what makes the photos that have changed interesting since there is no man-made changes in the Arctic, unlike other places. There is no reason for it to change, unless the climate is changing.”

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