PROFILE

Evgenia Arbugaeva

A lighthouse rises out of the Arctic landscape, with a silhouetted man walking towards it, leaving footprints in the snow.

Canon Ambassador Evgenia Arbugaeva's Weather Man series is about Slava Korotkiy, a meteorologist who lives alone on a narrow peninsula in the Barents Sea. This lighthouse near the Khodovarikha meteorological station hasn't been used for a decade. In the darkness of the polar night, during the full moon, Slava is pictured walking to the lighthouse to collect firewood. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 31mm, 3.2 sec, f/3.5 and ISO640. © Evgenia Arbugaeva

Canon Ambassador Evgenia Arbugaeva's documentary photography explores some of the world's most isolated locations and the lives of their inhabitants. She works mainly in the sub-zero temperatures of the Russian Arctic, and her atmospheric images imbue her subjects with an almost otherworldly quality.

A recipient of the International Center of Photography's Infinity Award and a National Geographic Storytelling Fellow since 2018, Evgenia's work has been featured in publications including National Geographic, Time and The New Yorker. She travels internationally for her work, but is based in London.
Evgenia was born in 1985 in Tiksi, a town on the coast of northern Russia that had flourished during the Cold War and was an important port along the Northern Sea Route. However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the town went into a rapid decline. Most of the population migrated away, including Evgenia and her family.

While at high school, she spent a year in the USA as an exchange student and took an introductory photography class. After studying Management at university in Moscow, she returned to her home region of Yakutia and travelled with a group of reindeer herders for a year, photographing them with her Canon EOS D30.
Canon Ambassador and documentary photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva.
Location: London, UK

Specialist areas: Documentary photography

Favourite kit:

Canon EOS R5
Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM
A boy and girl wearing traditional outfits stand in the snow next to a building with peeling blue walls. The boy is stood on top of a snow drift with his arms outstretched and a blanket over his shoulders.

Tanya and her friend Pasha are dressed up for a traditional Slavic festival known as Koliada in this image from Evgenia's Tiksi project. "People go from house to house at Christmas singing songs and reciting poems and receive treats in return," she explains. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM) at 32mm, 1/200 sec, f/4 and ISO3200. © Evgenia Arbugaeva

Evgenia went on to study Documentary Photography and Photojournalism at the International Center of Photography in New York. A year after graduating in 2009, she began work on her first major project, focusing on Tiksi. "I tried to create photographs that reminded me of my own happy experiences there as a child," she says.

She worked on the story over a two-year period, travelling between what she calls the "parallel universes" of Tiksi and New York. It resulted in her first book.

Since then, Evgenia has regularly returned to Russia's Far North and photographed several other remote locations, often focusing on stories of resilient people living in isolation. They have included a couple who live in Kanin Nos research station and lighthouse, and Slava Korotkiy, the 'Weather Man', who lives in solitude at a meteorological station on a narrow peninsula in the Barents Sea.
A man stands in the forest holding a butterfly net over his shoulder, looking up into the trees.

John Mganga used to work as as assistant at the Amani Hill Research Station in Tanzania. He has vivid memories of the time he spent exploring the surrounding forests catching butterflies and bugs for the lab's collections. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 30mm, 1/160 sec, f/5.6 and ISO500. © Evgenia Arbugaeva

She has also worked in other countries, notably Tanzania in East Africa, where she documented an abandoned research station founded in the late 19th century as a German botanical garden and coffee plantation, and used by the British in the post-war period as a malaria research institute. However, it's the Arctic that continues to inspire her the most.

"I feel my work in the Arctic will never finish because there are so many moments I still want to capture," she says. "The light is so special there, very different from anywhere else. Even though I've been travelling a lot in the region, it still feels new every time. There is so much more to discover.

"I hope that each of my stories builds into something bigger. It's interesting for me to see how the work evolves and how I'm adding one brick after another. Hopefully this will ultimately become a large body of work about the Arctic and the rapid climate, economic and cultural changes this fragile region is going through."
How do very cold temperatures affect your photography?

"When working in these environments I often keep my cameras under layers of clothing. Each shot has to be perfect to be worth all the struggle, so in a way it forces me to be more disciplined. Also, batteries last a very short time, so I carry lots of them in my mittens or inner pockets to keep them warm."



What's the coldest temperature you've worked in?

"I once worked in -65°C, which was physically painful. Once, when looking through the viewfinder, my cheek got frozen to the camera so I had to walk slowly to the house, go inside and wait until the ice melted enough to detach it."



How did you meet Slava, the 'Weather Man'?

"I was curious to see how people live in extreme isolation in the Russian Arctic and was also interested in meteorological stations. The only way to see these places was to board an icebreaker ship that delivers supplies once a year. I visited 22 stations and met Slava at the Khodovarikha station. I instantly knew this was the place I was looking for – it felt as if time had stopped there. As a character I found Slava very interesting. He is almost a mix of the main character in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and a Soviet Arctic explorer of the romantic times of polar exploration."



What attracts you to remote places?

"I think it all comes from childhood. I remember the darkness of polar night, the strong winds and the bright light of the aurora – that left a lasting impression on me as a child. I have travelled around the world and visited many places, but I have never found anything similar to that sense of space, that landscape that stretches forever."

One thing I know

Evgenia Arbugaeva

"My advice for aspiring documentary photographers is to really think about what interests you and what you're passionate about – the topics that perhaps are close to home and to who you are. In strong work, you can always see an interesting story, but there's also a very pronounced layer of personal experience. You can sense how much the photographer was emotionally involved in a story. I think you can only achieve that if you work on something that touches you a lot."

Evgenia Arbugeava's kitbag

The kit that pros use to take their photographs

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Cameras

Canon EOS R5

Capture 45MP full-frame images at a staggering 20fps in complete silence and with full autofocus tracking. "I have recently started working with the R5 and it's great," says Evgenia. "The thing I like the most is the amazing image stabilisation. It gives me so many opportunities to work in lower light and capture things I wouldn't otherwise have been able to without a tripod. I've also been using it to shoot my first documentary film and I really like the cinematic look it gives to footage."

Lenses

Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

Part of the trinity of essential lenses alongside the RF 15-35mm and RF 70-200mm, the RF 24-70mm boasts a fast aperture and image stabilisation plus a Nano USM motor for silent focusing. "This is my go-to lens because oftentimes I'm working in people's houses, so I need an option for a wider lens," says Evgenia. "It's really versatile, with great stabilisation, and it can cover most of the situations I photograph."

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM

Capture the world with outstanding flexibility and quality with a super compact f/2.8 telephoto zoom that incorporates a five-stop Image Stabilizer to ensure great handheld results, closer focusing down to 0.7m and fastest-ever AF. "I often bring this lens with me in case I need it for a more distant subject – a wild animal for example," says Evgenia. "It's quite compact for a telephoto lens, which is important as the space in my camera bag is precious."

Accessories

Batteries

"When working in very cold temperatures, batteries run out quickly so I take about 15-20 of them with me, depending on how heavy my bag becomes," says Evgenia.

LED light

Evgenia says: "I mostly use available light, but I carry a small LED light with me because sometimes I'm working inside people's houses or in dark spaces and it's useful to add a little light."

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