Perlman Museum Takes the Plunge with New Arctic Exhibit
by Jennifer Kwon

There have been heated debates on whether global warming is happening or not for the past few decades. It seems like Ken Tape’s “Then and Now: The Changing Arctic Landscape”, an exhibition displayed at the Kaemmer Family Gallery of the Perlman Teaching Museum at the Weitz Center from September 19th to November 19th, may have an answer.

The exhibition is comprised of three parts; the comparison of decades-old and present-day photographs at the same location and the vantage point, depicting the stark contrasts between the landscapes of then and now. It takes up a large portion of the exhibit, with a smaller section showing the history of Arctic Alaska and profiles of pioneering scientists. A computer stationed at the corner of the gallery offers a virtual tour of the Arctic through panoramas.

The repeat photos of the exhibit focus on the vegetation, warming permafrost, and shrinking glaciers to show the change, often dramatic, of the landscapes at the Arctic. Since the before photos are decades to a hundred-year-old, they are black and white photographs, whereas the contemporary photos are filled with bright colors, giving more warmth and liveliness of the scenes that have seemed desolate and deserted. The barely remaining colors of white in the recent photos ironically add vitality in the Arctic.

“Then and Now” is a traveling exhibit, which started from the University of Alaska Museum of the North, that arrived at Carleton College at the same time Ken Tape, the curator and the photographer of the exhibit, returned to campus. Fifteen years after graduating from Carleton in 1999, Tape came back to teach a class titled, ‘Climate Variability and High Latitude Ecosystems’ in the Geology department.

Professor Tape poses outside Weitz Center for Creativity, Carleton College (Photo: Jessica Lartigue)

“It was a couple of years ago, around the time the museum opened in 2011, when this (exhibition) came to my attention,” Laurel Bradley, the director and curator of the Perlman Teaching Museum said. “I noticed it was by a Carleton alum and it was also a topic that is of broad interest on campus so I thought, okay sure. I later got in touch with Ken, after signing the contract, who got in touch with Mary Savina in the Geology department to teach a class here.”

According to Bradley, Tape is not only a photographer but acts more of a curator, coming up with the concept and incorporating photographs of other scientists’ into his exhibition for a more extensive collection. He also spent a great deal of time tracking down the old photographs, almost eight years, while completing his postgraduate studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Not a lot of scientists enter, or even consider of doing so, the field of art but his years as a college student at Carleton helped him explore the seemingly opposite fields. “Part of Carleton’s training is not to draw too many boundaries, so I have never thought of science and art being mutually exclusive,” Tape said.

Unfortunately, he did not have a chance to get into the field of photography until after graduating from Carleton. “I tried to get into black and white photography class at Carleton and I finally got into in senior year, spring term,” Tape said, “It turned out that I had missing credentials to fulfill to graduate, and so I had to drop the photography class and take another independent study class instead.”

The exhibit itself only shows the changes that happened in the Arctic, mainly northern Alaska, but its meaning goes beyond the photographs. Since the Arctic circle plays a huge role in balancing the heat in the planet, changes there means there are continuing changes elsewhere and implies that there are more to come.

Even though the exhibit only displays the change of the landscapes, there were quite a few places, according to Tape, where differences were barely noticeable, if not almost identical from before, that weren’t able to make it through the exhibit. “When you go to the Arctic, you get a sense that the place is timeless, that it is not really changing very much,” he commented. “Indeed that is true in a lot of places. But that’s what makes the photos that have changed interestingly since there are no man-made changes in the Arctic, unlike other places. There is no reason for it to change unless the climate is changing.”

There is no admission fee for the exhibition. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday to Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday and Friday; 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit online at or contact Laurel Bradley at 507-222-4342. For more photographs, visit online at or purchase the book ‘The Changing Arctic Landscape’ by Ken Tape on sale at the museum for 30 dollars.