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Tuesday, September 1, 2009


The catalyst of change for two photographers

I recently attended a fund-raising event held by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust. It’s working, among other things, to preserve Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition base, which is suffering from recent climate change. The event was a screening of a film by the Scott expedition’s photographer Herbert Ponting, along with a talk by New Zealand artist Grahame Sydney. New Zealand has a long association with Antarctic exploration, and this gathering was attended by many who have spent time in Antarctica.

I’m familiar with the work of many Antarctica photographers, but I’ve become intrigued with the stories of those whose experiences in Antarctica changed their future creative work forever, including Ponting and Sydney. Both artists overcame the remarkable challenges in Antarctica, but more importantly, their Antarctica experiences became a catalyst for their future photographic work. One gave up photography for life while the other’s Antarctica experience led to his discovery of photography.

Herbert Ponting was the first professional expedition photographer in Antarctica when he sailed from England on Captain Scott’s ill-fated 1910-13 Terra Nova Expedition. (Scott died returning from the South Pole in 1912, and his body wasn’t found until eight months later.) Ponting’s Antarctica photography was shot over a period of 14 months as the Scott expedition established a base camp at Cape Evans and overwintered on the edge of the Ross Sea.

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