11
Apr
12

Exhibition: ‘The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography’ at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London

Exhibition dates: 21st October 2011 – 15th April 2012

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Continuing my fascination with all things Antarctic, here are more photographs from the Scott and Shackleton expeditions. The photograph Captain Lawrence Oates and Siberian ponies on board ‘Terra Nova’ by Herbert Ponting (1910, see below) is simply breathtaking.

Many thankx to The Royal Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Herbert Ponting
Captain Lawrence Oates and Siberian ponies on board ‘Terra Nova’
1910
© 2011 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

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Frank Hurley
Sir Ernest Shackleton arrives at Elephant Island to take off marooned men
30 August 1916
© 2011 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
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This photograph was actually taken at the time of the ‘James Caird’s’ departure on 24 April. Hurley has altered it to represent the moment of rescue, with the arrival of Shackleton on the ‘Yelcho’. The actual rescue was not photographed.

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Union Jack taken by Scott to the South Pole
1911-12
© 2011 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
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This Union Jack was given to Scott by the recently widowed Queen Alexandra on 25 June 1910 for him to plant at the South Pole. The flag was recovered with Scott’s body and returned to the queen by his wife, Kathleen, on 12 July 1913

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“The photographs of Herbert Ponting and Frank Hurley may be stencilled into the collective memory after nearly a century of over-exposure. But it’s not often you get to see them away from the printed page, and they certainly bring out fresh depths and new perspectives…

It turns out to be highly instructive seeing Hurley and Ponting hung in neighbouring rooms. I’ve always taken Ponting to be somehow the lesser snapper. Hurley had the greatest photostory ever captured land in his lap when Shackleton’s ship the Endurance was trapped in ice floes and held fast for months before pressure ridges eventually crushed it like a dry autumn leaf. Like a good journalist Hurley recorded these traumas and more while also taking the chance to experiment with the strange light and baroque shapes supplied by his surroundings.

Ponting’s story was different. Four or so years earlier, and on the other side of the Antarctic land mass, he didn’t stray far from the expedition base, and indeed was left on the Terra Nova while Scott’s polar party were still out on the ice, trudging balefully towards immortality. There’s something about Ponting’s floridly unmodern moustache which sets him apart from the clean-shaven younger men in either expedition, as if he never quite left the studio behind.

But the photographs are astonishing… The story here is the unequal battle between man and ice, the castellations and ramparts of bergs dwarfing explorers with dogs and sledges placed at their foot to give a sense of scale. Ponting also has a beautiful eye for filigree detail, never more than in one picture of long spindly icicles echoing the adjacent rigging of the Terra Nova.

One of the revelations is that the originals play up the drama of Ponting’s work much more than Hurley’s, which are printed at half the size. For all the astonishing pictures – a field of ice flowers, the masts of the Endurance all but shrouded by Brobdingnagian ice clumps – the final impact of Hurley’s collection lies in the fact that they exist at all… That is partly why Ponting trumps Hurley in this show. His pictures of Scott’s men have never felt more immediate.”

Rees, Jasper. Review of “The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography, Queen’s Gallery” on the Arts Desk website. Thursday, 27 October 2011 [Online] Cited 06/04/2012.

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Herbert Ponting
The ramparts of Mount Erebus
1911
© 2011 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
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Mount Erebus, an active volcano on Ross Island which last erupted in 2008, was first climbed in 1908 by members of Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition. Ponting has contrasted the overwhelming size of the natural world against the tiny human figure pulling a sledge, in the lower left corner of the photograph.

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“It is a story of heroism and bravery, and ultimately of tragedy, that has mesmerised generations. One hundred years on from their epic voyages to the very limits of the Earth, and of man’s endurance, the legends of Scott and Shackleton live on.

To mark the centenary of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, the Royal Collection brings together, for the first time, a collection of the photographs presented to King George V by the official photographers from Scott’s Terra Nova expedition of 1910-13 and Shackleton’s expedition on Endurance in 1914-16, and unique artefacts, such as the flag given to Scott by Queen Alexandra (widow of King Edward VII) and taken to the Pole.

The exhibition documents the dramatic landscapes and harsh conditions the men experienced, through the work of expedition photographers Herbert Ponting and Frank Hurley. These sets of photographs are among the finest examples of the artists’ work in existence – and the men who took them play a vital part in the explorers’ stories. Highlights from Scott’s voyage include Ponting’s The ramparts of Mount Erebus, which presents the vast scale of the icescape, and the ethereal The freezing of the sea. Among the most arresting images from Hurley’s work on Shackleton’s expedition are those of the ship Endurance listing in the frozen depths and then crushed between floes.

The photographs also give insights into the men themselves. For instance, at the start of the journey Scott appears confident and relaxed, with his goggles off for the camera. In contrast, a photograph taken at the Pole shows him and his team devastated and unsmiling, knowing they had been beaten. The exhibition also records the lighter moments of expedition life, essential for teams cut off from the outside world for years at a time. On Shackleton’s expedition, a derby for the dogs was organised – with bets laid in cigarettes and chocolate. A menu for Midwinter’s Day, on 22 June 1911, shown in the accompanying exhibition publication, includes roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, ‘caviare Antarctic’ and crystallised fruits.

Antarctic adventurer David Hempleman­Adams has been closely involved in the exhibition and has written an introduction to the catalogue. First given the taste for adventure by The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, he was inspired, like generations of school children, by the tales of discovery. As a South Pole veteran, the first Briton to reach the Pole solo and unsupported, he is still in awe of Scott and Shackleton’s achievements – and will return with his daughter this year to mark the centenary. David Hempleman­ Adams said: “We have a big psychological advantage today: We know it is possible to reach the South Pole. Nowadays you can go on Google Earth and see what’s there. Back then, it was just a big white piece of paper. Scott and Shackleton had no TVs, radios or satellite phones – they were cut off from the outside world – and in terms of equipment, the tents, skis and sledges, today, we carry about one tenth of what they carried, over the same mileage. What they achieved, with what they had, is really magnificent. This is the 100th anniversary and the legend has stood the test of time. Even in this modern world, there’s still just as much interest.”

As the photographs show, animals played an important part in the expeditions. There are portraits of the ponies and of individual sledge dogs. In his diaries, Scott describes the relationship he struck up with the bad­tempered husky Vida: “He became a bad wreck with his poor coat… and… I used to massage him; at first the operation was mistrusted and only continued to the accompaniment of much growling, but later he evidently grew to like the warming effect and sidled up to me whenever I came out of the hut… He is a strange beast – I imagine so unused to kindness that it took him time to appreciate it.”

Ponting also photographed wildlife, including seals, gulls and penguins. Scott writes of the moment Ponting tried to photograph killer whales and how the creatures crashed through the ice to catch him. Scott, watching but unable to help, observes, “It was possible to see their tawny head markings, their small glistening eyes, and their terrible array of teeth – by far the largest and most terrifying in the world.”

The inspirational qualities of the explorers were recognised by King George V. In his book, The Great White South, Ponting records what the Monarch said to him when he went to Buckingham Palace to show his Antarctic film: “His Majesty King George expressed to me the hope that it might be possible for every British boy to see the pictures – as the story of the Scott Expedition could not be known too widely among the youth of the nation, for it would help to promote the spirit of adventure that had made the Empire.”

Royal interest in polar exploration began with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who followed the fortunes of the early adventurers, such as Sir John Franklin and William Bradford, and it continues to this day. The Duke of Edinburgh, who has written a foreword to the exhibition catalogue, has been the patron of many of David Hempleman­Adams’s expeditions and has himself crossed the Antarctic Circle. HRH The Princess Royal is Patron of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.”

Press release from The Royal Collection website

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Herbert Ponting
Grotto in an iceberg
5 January 1911
© 2011 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

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Herbert Ponting
Captain Scott
February 1911
© 2011 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

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This photograph of Scott, with Mount Erebus in the background, was taken at the start of the expedition. He is wearing fur gloves with an attached cord, leather boots, gaiters and thick socks

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The Royal Collection
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace
London SW1A 1AA

Opening hours:
Open daily, 10.00 – 17.30

The Queen’s Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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