North Warning System
A landscape, almost entirely white, soft as cotton. Dense and heavy clouds blocking all sunlight. A snowy expanse, the horizon barely discernible.
Where on earth are we?
The view is reminiscent of the meteorological phenomenon known as "whiteout", often disorienting and potentially dangerous. Full snow coverage and heavy clouds in mountainous regions create diffuse, uniform lighting conditions, where reference points such as contours, shadows and the horizon line all but disappear.
One landmark remains, however, even if it is hard to discern at first: in the very centre of the image - the pivotal point of the entire series by Donovan Wylie - the viewer can make out a fine line in the bright, white, nearly monochrome cloud- and snowscape. This is "Lab1" or Cape Kakiviak, a Canadian and US military base used for surveillance of the airspace and shipping traffic in Newfoundland, in north-eastern Canada.
When Canada's arctic border region became vulnerable due to technical progress and the development of long-distance bombers and missiles after the Second World War, Canada and the USA decided to establish a network of radar bases along the country's northern border in the 1950s. These were upgraded and expanded in the 1990s into the increasingly active "North Warning System".
The journey Donovan Wylie undertakes via helicopter follows an elaborate plan. Slowly and strategically, he approaches and circles the unmanned surveillance post, built to detect invisible threats on top of a mountain range at the edge of civilisation. The radar tower remains continually in focus and at the very centre of the image, while the surrounding landscape constantly changes. Clouds break open, revealing cliffs, ice, and glacier fjords. But the supposed calm of this white landscape is an illusion - the observant eye of the military base is constantly following us and records every one of our movements.
Always at the ready, just in case.
Text: B. Praun / Clervaux - cité de l'image
English translation: N. Linden