The town of Kiruna in Sweden is on the move, literally. With a nearby iron ore mine now causing cracks and subsidence, a relocation of the entire town down the road is imminent. In a long-term photography project documenting the transition, Klaus Thymann will capture changes from both a geographical and a human perspective, across the landscapes and communities involved.
Kiruna is Sweden’s northernmost town, 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle, situated in the province of Lapland. Nearby to the mountainside town sits one of the largest underground iron ore mines, Kiirunavaara, which has been in action for over 100 years.
Early each day, nearly 100 tons of explosives go off 1km underground, often shaking through to the surface into the homes and businesses of the 20,000 residents.
The hollowed-out earth from the mining has now begun to shift and cause fractures which are creeping ever closer to the town, threatening its foundations, and putting buildings at risk of subsidence and collapse.
The decision has since been made to move the town 4km down the road, away from its current site. So far it is 10 years into planning and the beginnings of redevelopment are underway, with the relocation due to progress steadily over the next few decades.
Danish born photographer Klaus Thymann, who will be documenting the move, is also the founder of Project Pressure, a not-for-profit organisation documenting the world’s vanishing glaciers through a crowd-sourced archive, and his work often combines image-making, mapping, documentary and exploration.
He first visited Kiruna in 2013, and was intrigued by the complex human and logistical implications of the move. “I have never heard of anything like this and it fascinates me on so many levels,” he says. “There is the purely practical and the emotional implications, and I think it says a lot about current society and modern progress that something like this is happening.”
LKAB, the state-owned mining company hoping to expand the mine, will be covering the majority of the costs, which will include rebuilding roads, sewage pipes, electricity lines, railways, housing, hospitals, schools, council buildings, commercial properties …the list goes on.
Some buildings will be demolished and replacements built, however, others including historical landmarks and architecturally significant buildings, such as the Kiruna Church, will be dismantled and reassembled in the new location. Many will be split into several pieces, craned onto lorries, to then be transported slowly on wide, flat roads, and rebuilt as part of the town’s new design and location.
Knowing that Kiruna would not survive without the mine – recognising a mutual dependence – many residents are resigned to the move.
However, there has been some resistance, particularly from the indigenous Sami people who have herded reindeer for more than 2000 years in the area. The transformation would significantly reduce grazing land, and the new railway would cut right through the migratory routes.
In addition to this, there has also been various debates between the municipality and LKAB about the fundamentals of city-building that has delayed the project.
Over the next decade, Thymann plans to frequently visit the town, with his main focus being “primarily the transformation.” But ultimately, what he finds interesting is, “the questions the whole process will raise in the viewer.”
When in Kiruna, Thymann has spoken with residents about his photography project, who responded well to the fact that it is a long-term commitment with multiple visits. However, knowing exactly what the project will bring is another matter, and he is still gathering his own thoughts about the move itself, which in turn may effect how the images turn out down the line.
“To be honest, I have not finished forming a view. It’s complex and can be looked at from so many viewpoints,” he says. “I do find the whole thing quite strange in a way, and what is almost the weirdest thing is how long this will all go on for. Although I try, it is hard to understand what it must be like to live somewhere where the future is decided, but yet so uncertain.”