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Antarctica - Le Grand Blanc “Great God! This is an awful place”
This exhibition includes rare photographs by the first two professional photographers in Antarctica, Herbert George Ponting and James Francis ‘Frank’ Hurley, who accompanied the expeditions of Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Henry Shackleton.
Until photography made its appearance, explorers relied on the skills of professional and amateur artists to document the discoveries and the sights they encountered. The appearance of the Kodak Brownie in 1900 made photography accessible to amateurs. The books written by Scott (1901-1904) and Shackleton (1907-1909) about their early expeditions were heavily illustrated with the snapshots taken by expedition members. But though evocative they did not do justice to the extraordinary landscape.
Scott met and appointed an experienced photographer and cinematographer, Herbert George Ponting, as camera artist of the Terra Nova expedition which left Lyttleton New Zealand for the Great Unknown on November 29, 1910. By this time, Ponting had twice travelled around the world as a rancher, a miner and a war correspondent. He had photographed extensively in India and Japan. His Antarctic work would be a triumph, elegant studies of the icy beauty and pristine stillness of Antarctica, patient wildlife shots, candid snaps of camp life and, most memorably, portraits of the exhausted men.
Robert Falcon Scott’s whole life was to be defined by his final adventure. On 17th January 1911 Scott and his four companions reached the South Pole only to find the Norwegian flag flying. Amundsen had won the race to the Pole by over a month. “Great God! This is an awful place”, cried Scott. All five men died on the return journey. The heroism of their end, and Scott’s moving diaries, began an enduring legend. Back in England Ponting’s outstanding photographs and his film cemented that legend.
The aim of Shackleton’s second expedition of 1914-17 was to cross Antarctica, but the loss of his ship transformed the venture into the greatest epic of survival of Antarctic exploration. Along with Shackleton was a young photographer on his second Antarctic trip, Frank Hurley.
Shackleton never reached his destination. On 19th January 1915 the pack ice had trapped his ship, the Endurance. It was caught between gigantic ice floes which could crush her easily. The immense forces in the huge field of drifting ice that imprisoned the ship forced up ridges of tumbled blocks. Hurley took a dramatic photograph of this ghost ship in the winter night, lighting it with 20 magnesium flashes at temperatures of minus 60 degrees C, and temporarily blinding himself. Ten months later, on 21st November the Endurance sank. Hurley had had to dive into the icy waters to rescue his glass negatives, but over 400 negatives had to be sacrificed to the need to carry food on the long voyage back.
Shackleton risked all in an hazardous sailing, in a small open boat, across 1300 km of angry sea to South Georgia, followed by a climb and a 27 km journey across mountains and glaciers to a whaling station, while the majority of his crew awaited his return on a barren rock. On 30th August 1916 Shackleton returned and rescued his whole party.
74 rue de Seine
10th November-11th December