So & So

A Photographer at the Top of the World

Melanie LaMountain's painterly shots include the snowy, isolated scenes from her voyage to a Norwegian archipelago

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When a friend asked photographer Melanie LaMountain to join a group traveling to the top of the world, she quickly prepared to visit Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean midway between Norway and the North Pole.

Melanie arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland, in April and joined the group as it made its way to Svalbard’s main settlement, Longyearbyen, where polar bears outnumber people. Blogging on her two-week adventure, she described the snow-capped isolation amid Arctic temperatures in the low teens and several days of midnight sun. “It was the trip of a lifetime,” she says. She learned to dogsled, saw glaciers up close and sampled whale meat. Typical meals featured seal and reindeer as well as fish.

Svalbard mandates that everyone carry a gun or hire a guide with one when walking beyond the main part of town; the snowmobiles were often outfitted with rifle holders. Guns allow you “to protect yourself from polar bears,” Melanie explains. “It is a different world and culture.”

The director of education and workforce development at Westbay Community Action and a 1983 graduate of Toll Gate High School in Warwick, Melanie has been called “one of the best freelance photographers in Rhode Island” by the Cranston Herald. She describes her artistic style as “abstract” and “surreal.” With a certificate from RISD in digital photography, Melanie has sold hundreds of her photographs at art festivals and exhibited her work at the Warwick Museum of Art, the Newport Art Museum, the South County Art Association and the Attleboro Museum of Art.

Many others enjoyed Melanie’s trip to Svalbard. Hundreds of people in countries including China and Vietnam have read her blog WhimsyWays, and admired her photographs and videos. “I gravitate toward art photography,” she says. “I like to have a painterly effect in photos to produce different moods and communicate an image in a different way. There is magic in it.”