Urs Stoller (1949-2021) originally from Frutigen died unexpectedly in June 2021 as a result of COVID-19. He spent 36 years as a helicopter pilot in Greenland. As an enthusiastic photographer, he took over 1,800 photos of the country and its people, a selection of which was on view from March to June 2021 in the Zimmermann Foundation at the old village school house in Wattenwil under the title “Enchanting Island of Greenland – colourful memories”. These with a collection of sculptures, a geological collection and other objects have now been donated to the Museum Cerny by his family.
The exhibition gave an overview of Stoller’s stay and work in Greenland by over 100, partly large-format photographs. Complemented by sculptures and other works by the Inuit, a geological collection and Urs Stoller’s cameras, the exhibition filled two large rooms.
Stoller wrote about his time there in the introduction to the exhibition: “I’ve lived a large part of my life in Greenland. From 1974 to 2010 I worked as a helicopter pilot on the entire coastal area of the island, which extends over a length of approx. 7,000 kilometers. My photo equipment: Olympus OM-1, Pentax 67 and Linhof Technika 4×5 “accompanied me from the first to the last day.
Among other things, I took part in 16 summer expeditions of the “Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland” (GEUS), based in Copenhagen. This gave me the privilege of going to places that only a few people can access. In the national park, by the way the largest in the world, I had the opportunity to spend five summers.
I’ve worked for glaciologists, zoologists, and geodesists (surveyors). We almost always lived in a tent. After initially seven summer jobs with “Schweizerische Helikopter AG”, I was offered a permanent position at Air Greenland in 1987. As a result I was able to work in many other areas across the country.
In the longer periods of free time, I took the opportunity to travel in a kayak to the untouched nature of the coastal areas. According to my diary, I was traveling over three thousand kilometers, which necessitated170 nights in a tent.
During twenty years I enlarged slides myself on the Ilfochrome quality carrier in my own photo laboratory. I subsequently framed a selection of these photos in passe-partouts and made all the picture frames myself from wood. In recent years, this work has taken a lot of time.“ This work has taken a lot of time over the last few years.”
During the first years of his stay, Urs Stoller accompanied a geological expedition to North Greenland, which led to the discovery of a new island, the northernmost island in the world, Odaq Island. Recent studies show that this may not be a real island, but a geological phenomenon that leads to the temporary accumulation of sediments. In a 2019 publication on the topic by Ole Bennike and Jeff Shea, one of Urs Stoller’s photos from 1979 is used.
In addition to the people, Stoller was interested in the flora and fauna and meticulously documented what he saw, as well as, when and where he saw it. The result is an impressive wealth of information on the climate and environment of the world’s largest island over several decades. Thanks to the generosity of the family, the collection now at Museum Cerny will be kept together as an entire entity. A part of this has already been documented for the exhibition shown in Wattenwil. In order to make this treasure internationally usable and accessible, a project is in the planning to document all the works to be started this year.
Martin Schultz, Museum Cerny / Translation by Martha Cerny