on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Northern Exposure

Photographing with a view camera in the interior of Alaska

Anna Mikuskova

I grew up in the Czech Republic, in Litoměřice, a small town near Prague. Shortly after receiving a Master's degree in English language and literature I moved to Maine. Living near the ocean for the first time and experiencing the unspoiled solitude of Northern Maine woods, I spent more time than before enjoying and exploring the outdoors and soon developed an interest in photography. Photography became a means of capturing and conveying the beauty of the landscape around me, a new language reflecting a new reality.
I work with medium and large format film cameras and print my negatives in a traditional wet darkroom. The contemplative process in the darkroom and the intimate connection with the final print corresponds to my need for awareness and stillness while exploring the beauty and serenity of landscape.
I have studied photography at Maine Media Workshops, Maine College of Art and since spring 2013 privately with Paul Caponigro.


I first got the idea to spend an extended time in Alaska six or seven years ago when I was searching the Internet and stumbled upon a help wanted ad looking for summer employees in a remote hotel near the North Pole. I filled in the application, wrote a cover letter and then put it aside. The timing was not right. I had just started a full time position and my photography was at the very beginning. I knew that the gap between the images I was taking and the ones I wanted to take was vast.

Or perhaps my Alaskan project started even earlier when I first moved to Maine in 2005 and discovered a penchant for remote areas, small pockets of civilization tucked away in a landscape, scarcely populated towns in Northern woods or remote islands off the coast accessible only once a day by mail-boat. Coming from the cities of Central Europe, I was fascinated by the ties of the community to nature, weather, seasons and how they permeated daily life. At the same time, I felt oddly at home, won over by the combination of natural beauty, tight-knit community and the faintest presence of nostalgia perhaps coming from the harshness of making a living at the end of the world. And it was the rocky Maine coastline and forested mountains that beckoned me to pick up the camera and become a photographer.

My dream of spending several months in Alaska rose anew last year when I was in between permanent job positions and with a free summer ahead. In my search for the right place I focused on remote areas, small towns off the beaten path, away from cruise ships, souvenir shops and busy hotels, but with a community large enough that they needed a helper they could put up for the summer. I scanned job positions, sent letters and had interviews. From the beginning, one place stood out: McCarthy. Nestled in the mountains of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, McCarthy is a small town but rich in history and natural beauty. The town is reachable only by a bush plane or after an eight-hour car ride from Anchorage. The last sixty miles follow an unpaved gravel road that winds its way through the mountains, across a narrow bridge high above the Kuskulana river and past signs that warn drivers to “proceed at their own risk.” The road ends with a footbridge that non-residents cross on feet to walk the couple miles to Main Street, a dirt road pocketed with potholes and puddles.

I was drawn by the combination of remoteness, history and nature committed to spend five months in this small town with no paved roads or power lines, one general store and limited Internet and cell phone signal.
The town sprung into being in the early twentieth century when it provided services and entertainment to the miners who worked in the nearby Kennicott copper mines. When the mines closed in the 1930s, McCarthy went to sleep until its revival in the 1970s. Today you can still see the remnants of the old houses scattered along Main Street, the old Saloon, the Ma Johnson hotel, the last remaining building of the nearby brothel and a little further the railway stations. 

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