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Antarctica V

Antarctica, 2005

December, 2005

Prelude

This piece is rough cut and unedited. It's a collection of impressions I noted while on location in Antarctica. I made the voyage from Ushuaia Argentina to the Antarctic penninsula in December 2-11, 2005 with five other instructors - Michael Reichmann, Stephen Johnson, Jeff Schewe, and Seth Resnick, along with 45 other photographers and many crew. It was tremendously stimulating to be in the company of such persity and observe our varied creative processes. The journey was the fulfillment of a long standing wish to visit Antarctica, made as a young man while watching my mother shepherd the production of Eliot Porter's book Antarctica. At one point in my journey, I realized I had reached a saturation point and needed to look inward to process the overwhelming stimulus and reconnect. Instead of going to shore to photograph, I went down below and wrote.

Antarctic Impressions

The seas in the Drake Passage were rough getting here. The boat tossed all night. It was so exciting I couldn't sleep. I slid from one side of the bed to the other all night long. Many people were sick from the motion. Amid the islands of Antarctica the water is much calmer. Still the boat is always rolling. You lose your balance. But you get used to this.

The sun hardly sets at 11 at night and rises again at 3 in the morning. It never really gets dark.

The light on the water is beautiful.

I find I'm always climbing to the top of the ship.

The wind is cold. It drills down into you from the outside. It exposes something hidden.

White. Whites. Blue. Blues. Sun. Cold. Ice. Water. Clouds. Wind. Not a black night. Few stars. Crescent moon. Icebergs. Glaciers. Peaks. And everything below that remains unseen.

There are thousands of penguins here. They waddle from their nests of stone down to the water and back again on penguin "highways" worn into the ice by their tiny little feet. When they swim, they skip out of the water like flying fish. The islands are covered with feces. And noise.

Every now and again there are whales. Like everything in this landscape, we see only the tips of things and then only fleetingly. It's not that it seems to hide itself, rather that most of its activity takes place underneath.

Big blue icebergs, some as large as buildings, others as large as lakes drift by all day long. We see ten percent. The rest is underwater. They're huge looming presences. They never stay still. Floating, Melting. Rolling. Breaking into pieces. They change and move, surprisingly fast.

Everything seems to be some form of water in varying states.

Like the body, ninety percent of what you see is water - ice, ocean, cloud. It's a poetry of changes in state.

How is it possible that far inland there are never-changing dry valleys ringed by an ever-changing sea of weather?

Everything appears to be constantly changing, except the stone. Massive peaks. Breathtaking. Clouds catch on them. They scrape the sky. When they're not shrouded in snow. Surely they change too. If only we could be still long enough to see them changing too.

Most of the land is covered with ice. Two percent is exposed. In certain places the ice is 10,000 feet thick - or more. Thousands of years stack up. Imagine what could be buried inside it?

So many waking dreams. Or, the lack of thereof.

This is a quiet continent. It seems as if it's constantly slumbering. And that is has been for a very long time. I've found myself wondering time and again what this place's dreams are like.

Everything is white or blue. The clouds are yellow white. The icebergs are blue white. The water is dark blue. The ice is light blue. So many colors amid these two.

As distance builds up things become gold. It seems like a reversal of normal atmospheric perspective where things grow increasingly cooler. Typically the air is very clear making distance more difficult to judge.

Depth cues are often either missing or different. Distance is very hard to assess. Scale is very hard to grasp. Generally things are either much larger and farther away than you think.

In Antarctica you feel very very small. And yet this is not disquieting. It's somehow comforting. Is this because a grander design is sensed?

The glaciers spawn icebergs that coalesce into magnificent slowly kinetic sculpture gardens.

These wonderlands of ice conjure up visions of chapels and cathedrals, even monasteries, set in a very cold desert.

It's clean. Pure.

I imagined Antarctica would be almost unbearably rugged and inhospitable. I expected a stunningly dramatic and austere beauty. I'm surprised at how lyrical Antarctica is. The spirit of the land is not what makes this place uninhabitable.

It's clear we're not made for survival here.

Ringed by long distances of challenging waters, Antarctica is very remote. We see other boats from time to time. And hear that there are many more that we don't see. On a boat with 50 passengers you certainly don't feel alone. It would take time away from this mobile community to let the immense solitude seep into your cores. I wonder how deeply it would penetrate you? I wonder if you could ever get it out of you? Would you want to? Part of me longs for some of this.

Time and time again you hear stories of people who have long since fled.

After days of sun, our first day of weather. An icy rime hisses in the wind. It's a wind that cuts through you; a wind that if embraced fully might cut you in half, given time. It rolls off the land into the sea as if the continent were exhaling. I sense that to it these are but the gentlest of breaths. The smallest hours bleed into the others. Where is the gift of sleep in this sleeping land? Coming to an impasse of ice, we wind our ways back through alleys of icebergs, looming in a faint mist. Far in the distance, a white out. A spot of light illuminates high sentinels, majestic peaks of unimaginable majesty. It's not their grandeur, though they are tall. It's not their immovability, though they constantly stand upright amid such wild forces. It's their irremovable purity. I find myself constantly wincing up at the heavens, peering into the depths of the sea, gazing off to the far horizon and watching everything else swirl around. Antarctica speaks to me of immortality. Antarctica speaks to me of impermanence. It embraces both in every moment, waking or otherwise.

Islands. Islands. Islands. Every island is either the tip of a mountain or the tip of a mountain of ice. Some move. Some don't. Some drift slowly, Some speed by. Even the islands that don't move seem to, as we are always moving. We seem to be drifting through a changing eternity. There is so much below the surface. These are immense depths.

What terrors the mind can conjure imagining this land in another season, a season of near perpetual darkness slowly and certainly congealed into a blue black solid state. A near eternal night. If these are gentle breezes imagine their darker counterparts.

Today the tide has turned. We are coming home.

I'm blessed to have this opportunity. I'm blessed to be traveling with these friends; old friends; new friends. I am blessed to have made new friends. I am blessed by who I return to.

Afterthought

I stepped off the boat with 12 images processed on location and 12 marked for finishing touches. Only 25% of the resolved images are altered. This was a turning point for me. I'm considering producing documentary bodies of work in parallel with my altered work, much like my ongoing work at White Sands, New Mexico. I've been increasingly concerned about using my work for environmental advocacy more effectively. This may be one way. The birth of my son in 2001 is the single most influential event that has increased this concern. This trip to Antarctica may well be the second most influential event. The release of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (see the Review in my Library) has helped bring the issues that have been foremost in my mind for a long time into clear focus for many of us.

See Jeff Schewe's story of the same expedition at http://photoshopnews.com/feature-stories/antarctica-expedition/

You can also see content by fellow voyagers at these addresses.

Michael Reichmann - luminous-landscape.com

Seth Resnick - sethresnick.com

Jeff Schewe - schewephoto.com

Stephen Johnson - sjphoto.com

Olaf Willoughby - olafwilloughby.com