In 2008, I spent three months in a small community in Canada’s Yukon, where I experienced first-hand the mystery and fascination of life above the 60th parallel, and met people who came here as part of their quest for the idea of North.

The idealization of the North has been nourished by stories by Jack London and Robert Service; by numerous movies about the area’s wild and pristine tapestry; and even by images of the Northern lights, which to this day, although certainly explicable by science, have lost none of their spiritual fascination or magical appeal.

I’m not the first observer to be simultaneously intrigued, yet remain a visitor. Glenn Gould, whose work inspired the title, wrote after visiting the North briefly, “I’ve read about it, written about it, and even pulled up my parka once and gone there. Yet like all but a few Canadians I’ve had no real experience of the North. I’ve remained, of necessity, an outsider. And the North remained for me, a convenient place to dream about, spin tales about,” and in the end, return South.

Birthe Piontek is a fine art photographer based in Vancouver BC, Canada. Originally from Germany, she moved to Canada in 2005 after receiving her MFA from the University of Essen in Communication Design and Photography. Her work has been exhibited internationally, in both solo and group shows, and is featured in many private and public collections such as the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and the Museum of Applied Arts in Gera, Germany.

In 2008, she was named one of Photo District News magazine’s PDN 30 artists, and has been a finalist for the Santa Fe Prize in Photography. “The Idea of North“ won the Critical Mass Book Award 2009, and will be published as a monograph in 2011. Birthe’s work has appeared in a number of international publications like The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Wired, and Die Zeit, among others.

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