Picturing the Far (far) South

There are thousands of pictures about the Far South but many of them are more or less incidental or ‘amateur reportage’. They are stunning because the scenery is amazing, or historically interesting. I wanted to explore how people, particularly women, are present and represented, how we see ‘science being done’ and ways of showing the ocean in new (non-cliche) ways. Along the way I become interested in the ways photographers show colour in a landscape of white and grey and shades of blue.

Note that all credits and links to the artists' sites are both within the photos and listed at the end of this post. I have kindly been given consent by every photographer whose pictures I've used. Where I couldn't reach the photographer, I've only included a link.

This is a great picture of Europa under sail by Dutch photographer Hajo Olij. I know (not least from my own failed efforts) how hard it is to get a good picture of a vessel under full sail, with the light right and the sails drawing properly. Yet here she is, moving so carefully among the growlers and bergs, perfectly poised, This is a great portrayal of the 'tourist' Antarctica, emphasising the beauty of the place and the opportunities for adventure.

Ronald Walker was an Australian reporter-photographer travelling with the writer Alan Villiers on the Finnish cargo ship  Grace Harwar round the Horn in 1929.  Villiers wrote an account of the voyage on which he and Walker shipped as deckhands, published in the National Geographic in 1931. It included the sad tale of Walker's death as he fell from the rigging during the journey.  His pictures are a fascinating and unusual area of professional documentary photography.

The pictures and article (reproduced at http://kakopa.com/geo/Horn/horn01.htm) are an insight into how hard the life a seaman was on the square-riggers, and it was a lot harder in earlier centuries than by the 1920's. The composition and the sense of movement are amazing. This is quite another picture of sailing a square rigger in the waters of the far south.

'Sans Nom' is a collection about nameless icebergs, taken in the Pridz Bay Region of East Antarctica. Jean de Pomereau is concerned with fragility and the hypnotism of Antarctica and his photographs illustrate the intimate links between climate change and what is happening to the ice.  This is a fascinating picture for its use of colour and the subtleties within it. de Pomereau shows one approach to picturing colour in Antarctica.

New Zealand photographer Joyce Campbell created an amazing collection of daguerrotypes she entitled 'Last Light', which you can see at http://www.joycecampbell.com/collections/view/14. They present her images printed as huge murals as much as 10m long/high. Campbell says:

‘the photographs are formulated to be objects as historically and physically compelling as the subjects they represent. I used my cameras to isolate signs in the ice that I chose to read as clues or warnings.

‘“Last Light” employs anachronistic techniques to chart looming contemporary phenomena that will have enormous and uncharted effects on our collective future. The daguerreotype is an exquisite photographic technique that was essentially outmoded by the mid-nineteenth century invention of silver halide emulsion.’

Megan Jenkinson's collection Atmospheric Objects  illustrates the massive colour of the Aurora Australis, something we would all love to see. Except these pictures aren't the aurora but a made image, using curtains and lights and digital manipulation, inspired by a light show she missed. In an excellent essay (at http://www.realartroadshow.co.nz/essays/Jenkinson%20Megan.pdf), the critic Jill Trevelyan says:

‘What at first glance appears to be the real thing – the aurora – turns out to be a sumptuous green curtain, irradiated with light. Jenkinson subverts our expectations by juxtaposing the windswept landscape of Antarctica – grand, threatening, awesome – with something intrinsically homely, domestic, comforting – the humble curtain.

‘Because Jenkinson was in Antarctica in summer – a time of perpetual daylight – she didn’t actually see the famous aurora she had read about: “So what I’ve done is visualise a lot of the things I didn’t see: the aurora pictures for example... I’m interested in this gap between description and what you actually see with your eyes...”. There is a long tradition of artists travelling to distant lands to carefully document what they see in paintings and photographs. Jenkinson turns the tradition on its head, consciously documenting what she didn’t see. Her project is one of imagination, not science.’

It is extraordinarily difficult to get non-‘snapshot’ pictures of women in Antarctica or the sub-Antarctic. In a way that challenge for this post is a tiny mirror of the story of women on the continent. These two come from Ville Linkkeri's book ' Existence Doubtful'.

'International Women’s Day' shows Anki, the cook on the Swedish survey vessel Oden, taken as the ship approached Cape Horn in perfect weather. She lives/works in the bowels of the ship, not seeing the stars or work done by the crew and surveying scientists. This could be anywhere in its mundanity and humanity.

'Last of a Kind' illustrates Christina Calderon, aged eighty-something. She is the last speaker of Yaghan Indian, and indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego, silenced by the death of her sister. She is utterly fed-up by picture requests. The sense of timeslip and scale makes this a wonderful picture

From the British Antarctic Survey, this picture (by an unnamed photographer) shows a scientist’s hand holding a slice of ice core from Dyer Plateaux removed from a depth of 230m, The globe is superimposed on top of it and trapped air bubbles, an archive of past atmosphere, are visible in the ice. I wanted a scientific image which still told a story about the research underway on the continent.

The hand itself is gender neutral, so not really reflecting the history of science on the continent. It is interesting for its deliberate digital manipulation (and rather obvious propaganda) but also for the complexity of the history it represents. The trapped bubbles in Antarctic Ice, many from much deeper than this one, tell us volumes about the state of the planet's climate through previous ice ages and abrupt temperature changes. Gabrielle Walker reminds us (in her excellent book Antarctica) that ice cores from thousands of meters down show carbon dioxide levels have never approached the concentration we see today.

The picture is a reminder of Lenkkeri’s comment: 'a recorder, such as a camera, is not only a tool of transformation but of destruction.'

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One Comment

  1. Good Luck, Roomie. I think this is very brave and very cool x

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