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April 25, 2013

Antarctic Bookshelf 7: Aurora Australis edited by Ernest Shackleton, 1986 Reissue

In 1908 the crew of Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition occupied themselves over the dark Antarctic winter in part by producing Aurora Australis, the first book written, printed, illustrated, and bound on the frozen continent. Printed on a letterpress and bound in wooden covers fashioned from provisions cases, less than 70 copies are believed to exist. As a result the book fell into relative obscurity until it saw reissue as a trade edition nearly eight decades later, allowing the general public to experience the text and artwork in its entirety.


The trade edition is not a strict facsimile of the original book. Besides obviously lacking wooden boards, it has two notable additions. One is a preface by Lord [Baron] Edward Shackleton, the younger son of Sir Ernest. He comments on the original edition: “Edited by my father, painstakingly printed by [Ernest] Joyce, [Frank] Wild, and [George] Marston, and bound by [Bernard] Day in Venesta packing case boards, it has become a thing of legend. It seems that no copies were sold to the general public and with so few having been produced in the first place many Antarctic collectors have never had the opportunity even to see a copy. It contains no very important information about the success or otherwise of expedition affairs but it does show imagination, ingenuity and a surprising degree of professionalism in the difficult circumstances.”


The other addition is a valuable introduction by John Millard, an Antarctic scholar with a special interest in Aurora Australis. From Millard we learn that Sir Ernest Shackleton, a lover of poetry and literature, took great pleasure in polar publishing. He had served as editor of The South Polar Times and The Blizzard magazines on Robert F. Scott’s Discovery Expedition of 1901-1903, and recognized the benefits of such projects to his men’s well-being, creativity, and morale.

In 1981 Millard initiated a worldwide search of all extant copies of Aurora Australis, hoping to catalog the history of each one’s ownership. “To add to the useful information of the survey I also sought any information about inscriptions, signatures or other annotations of interest to historians, bibliophiles, book collectors and book sellers. To date (Spring 1985) with the help of many correspondents, I have located 56 copies. There is also some evidence for a further number of copies as yet untraced.”

Millard collected data from auction records, booksellers’ catalogs, institutional archives, and private libraries. In the process, he learned that some of the copies vary slightly in content and arrangement. For instance there are two versions of a particular article, ‘An Ancient Manuscript’ by Shellback (Frank Wild), one in which an illustration replaces text and another in which text replaces illustration. Other variants throughout the books have to do with ink color, cover sheet placement, and missing leaves.


Millard concludes by speculating on how the 60 or so copies were distributed: “It seems that one original intention was to sell copies of the Aurora Australis to the general public for the benefit of Expedition funds. This would have been a logical idea after the success of the facsimile editions of the South Polar Times. Margery and James Fisher, in their biography of Shackleton, suggested that this was not done because difficulties arose over the compensation to be given to Joyce, Wild, Marston & Day. A more likely reason would seem to be insufficient paper, ink, and available time to produce a sufficient quantity to make this a viable proposition. It seems likely that each member of the overwintering party received at least one copy of the book and other copies were given to friends and benefactors of the Expedition.”


Technology has come a long way since Millard conducted his research nearly 30 years ago. An increasing number of museums and collections are posting their archives online where several presentations of Aurora Australis can already be found. Two of the more impressive showcases as of this writing are by the Biodiversity Heritage Library/Museum Victoria, Melbourne and the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney. The momentum of the internet and global communication may well bring all copies online with time, enabling comparison and study with increased ease.

The “First Public Edition” of Aurora Australis was published in 1986 by Bluntisham Books and The Paradigm Press of Arlburgh, Harleston, Norfolk UK. This book itself is now out of print and relatively hard to find.

February 25, 2013

Antarctic Bookshelf 6: The Heart of the Antarctic by Ernest Shackleton


“Men go out into the void spaces of the world for various reasons. Some are actuated simply by a love of adventure, some have a keen thirst for scientific knowledge, and others again are drawn away from the trodden paths by the ‘lure of little voices,’ the mysterious fascination of the unknown. I think that in my own case it was a combination of these factors that determined me to try my fortune once again in the frozen south… The Discovery expedition [1901-1903] had brought back a great store of information, and had performed splendid service in several important branches of science. I believed that a second expedition could carry the work still further.”

These are the opening lines of The Heart of the Antarctic, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s chronicle of the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909. The Nimrod Expedition, as it is commonly called, was Shackleton’s second of four voyages to Antarctica and his first as Commander. Unlike the more famous Endurance Expedition to follow, the Nimrod endeavor was never novelized. Its descriptions remain penned solely by Shackleton and his crew who kept daily diaries throughout the journey, recording everything from scientific surveys and food consumption to their states of mind and the weather. The Heart of the Antarctic is informed by these writings, providing a thorough account of the voyage and great insight into the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.


Shackleton arranges the book in chronological order. The trip begins with its inception and funding in England, the securing of supplies in Norway, and the vessel Nimrod‘s transit to Lyttelton, New Zealand where dogs, ponies, and final provisions are brought on board. On arriving off Antarctica’s shores in January 1908, the company of fifteen men established their winter quarters at the nearest suitable landing site, Cape Royds on McMurdo Sound.

The team’s hut, a prefabricated structure measuring 627 square feet, was constructed shortly upon arrival. It included a kitchen area, darkroom, laboratory, storage section, and living space consisting of several two-person cubicles that acquired addresses such as “No. 1 Park Lane,” “The Gables,” and “The Rogue’s Retreat.” It was in the cramped quarters of the “The Rogue’s Retreat” that crew members Ernest Joyce and Frank Wild oversaw the production of Aurora Australis, the “first book ever written, printed, illustrated and bound in the Antarctic,” as Shackleton writes. (More about Aurora Australis in my next Antarctic Bookshelf post.)


In early March 1908, six of the team members undertook the first ever ascent of Mount Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano. At 12,450 feet in elevation, the climb took seven days to complete. The group braved gales, injuries, and shortages, calling for resourcefulness and improvisation. “They were now very thirsty,” Shackleton writes, “but they found that if they gathered a little snow, squeezed it into a ball and placed it on the surface of a piece of rock, it melted at once almost on account of the heat of the sun and thus they obtained a makeshift drink.” Eventually five of the men attained the summit, the sixth having been incapacitated by frostbite.

At the crater’s edge, meteorological experiments were carried out, surveys were made, and geological specimens were retrieved. The photo above was taken by Douglas Mawson, the expedition’s physicist. The trek report describes the scene: “We stood on the verge of a vast abyss, and at first could see neither to the bottom nor across it on account of the huge mass of steam filling the crater and soaring aloft in a column 500 to 1000 ft. high. After a continuous loud hissing sound, lasting for some minutes, there would come from below a big dull boom, and immediately great globular masses of steam would rush upwards to swell the volume of the snow-white cloud which ever sways over the crater. This phenomenon recurred at intervals during the whole of our stay at the crater. Meanwhile, the air around us was extremely redolent of burning sulphur. Presently a pleasant northerly breeze fanned away the steam cloud, and at once the whole crater stood revealed to us in all its vast extent and depth. Mawson’s angular measurement made the depth 900 ft. and the greatest width about half a mile.”


Erebus, however, was a light jog compared to the real work that lay ahead. (The ascent was in fact an unscheduled endeavor, proposed by Shackleton during a period of down-time “to seek some outlet for our energies that would be useful in advancing the cause of science, and the work of the expedition.”) Shackleton’s three major objectives were attempted by organizing the company into three sledging parties. The first of these, the Southern Party, set their sights on reaching the Geographic South Pole. Led by ‘The Boss’ himself, this group set off in October 1908, trekking to within 100 miles of their destination. Along the way they crossed and charted much new terrain, notably that of the Great Ice Barrier (now known as the Ross Ice Shelf), the Trans-Antarctic mountain range, the mighty Beardmore glacier which they named after their principal benefactor, and the central polar plateau. The 73-day march was by far the longest southern polar journey to that date and a record convergence on either Pole, a feat for which Shackleton was knighted. The return voyage was no less challenging, beset by dwindling rations, severe weather conditions and the need to man-haul after losing all the ponies. Altogether the Southern Party travelled over 1,750 miles by foot and sledge.

The second team, the Northern Party, was tasked with reaching the South Magnetic Pole. The three-man group departed winter quarters in September 1908, arriving at their destination in January 1909 to claim it for the British Empire. This return hike too was marred by fatigue, food shortages and severe weather, threatening to delay them from a planned rendezvous with the vessel Nimrod which had returned from New Zealand to pick the parties up. Having missed the ship’s first pass of the shore, the group was spotted and retrieved by the vessel two days later. The Northern Party’s mission was achieved entirely by man-hauling without dogs or ponies, led by Welsh Australian geology professor T. W. Edgeworth David who Shackleton had appointed as the Nimrod expedition’s scientific director.

The third lot, the Western Party, were dispatched twice. Their first job was to plant stores along the Northern Party’s return path from the South Magnetic Pole. Their second operation was to explore the Ferrar Glacier, flowing from the plateau of Victoria Land across 35 miles (56 km) to McMurdo Sound. In doing so, they carried out a full geological survey in the Dry Valleys region and explored new expanses of Victoria Land. Their closest call occurred when they were back on the coast awaiting the Nimrod‘s arrival. The sea ice they were camping on broke loose and nearly took them out of McMurdo Sound save for a momentary brush against the shore, enabling the men to escape. After three weeks of frigid coast-side camping, they were found, rescued, and returned to New Zealand along with the rest of the company to great acclaim.

In the last pages of the book, Shackleton writes about encountering the milder latitudes once more: “That was a wonderful day to all of us. For over a year we had seen nothing but rocks, ice, snow, and sea. There had been no colour and no softness in the scenery of the Antarctic; no green growth had gladdened our eyes, no musical notes of birds had come to our ears. We had had our work, but we had been cut off from most of the lesser things that go to make life worth while. No person who has not spent a period of his life in those ‘stark and sullen solitudes that sentinel the Pole’ will understand fully what trees and flowers, sun-flecked turf and running streams mean to the soul of a man.”

I can attest to that euphoric sensation following even a scant month in Antarctica. Yet if there’s anything to match the experience of flora after the Ice, it is surely the experience of the Ice after flora. Shackleton likely agreed, for in five years’ time he was sailing for the southern continent once more, this time at the helm of the Endurance.


The Heart of the Antarctic, Being the Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 was first published in two volumes by William Heinemann, London, in November 1909. Heinemann also issued a three-volume deluxe edition of 300 numbered vellum-bound copies that year. This scarce set’s third volume, titled The Antarctic Book, includes Shackleton’s poem “Erebus” and Mawson’s fiction piece “Bathybia,” drawn from the pages of the expedition’s home-grown Aurora Australis. It also includes etchings by expedition artist George Marston. Significantly, this third volume features on two leaves the hand-written signatures of all fifteen shore party members; the British participants on one side and the Australian participants on the other.

Pictured in the photos above is the New Popular Edition published by Heinemann in May 1932. It condensed Shackleton’s text into a single volume, offering the book to a larger public at an affordable price.

Filed under: Antarctic Bookshelf,Antarctic History and Exploration — mbartalos @ 10:37 pm

December 23, 2012

Antarctic Bookshelf 5: Letters from a Lost Uncle by Mervyn Peake


Several polar explorers have penned memorable firsthand accounts of their adventures; Ernest Shackleton’s The Heart of the Antarctic and Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World come to mind as classics (both of which I’ll cover in future posts). In 1948, Letters from a Lost Uncle, written and illustrated by Mervyn Peake, took its place in the polar journey canon. Unlike Shackleton’s and Cherry-Garrard’s accounts however, Peake’s is pure fiction. It is funny and wildly imaginative, treading fairly absurd territory. Yet in bringing its characters to life and satirizing the adventure genre so well, the book carries emotion and plausibility, conveying a saga about human perseverance and triumph against all odds — the stuff that successful adventure tales are made of.


Letters from a Lost Uncle recounts the exploits of a shipwrecked explorer through the letters he writes to his nephew in England. We read the peg-legged adventurer’s missives in typewritten form, combined with explanatory drawings to create a wonderfully messy, energetically collaged journal of dispatches. The uncle’s subservient travel companion is a large turtle-like creature called Jackson who proves to be simultaneously exasperating and indispensable. Together they navigate the polar wastelands in quest of the awesome and mythic White Lion — Emperor of the Snows.


Mervyn Peake (1911-1968) was an English storyteller, artist, poet, and illustrator. He is known for his surreal fiction, notably his Gormenghast books, one of which earned him the Royal Society of Literature prize. He also illustrated classic writings such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark. His estate maintains a website about his works at mervynpeake.org.


Letters from a Lost Uncle was created in 1945 and first published in 1948 by Eyre & Spottiswood Publishers Ltd. in Great Britain. Peake requested the book’s withdrawal shortly after publication due its poor printing quality. It was later reissued at a reduced price, with the original price overprinted. The newest edition, pictured here, marvelously reproduces Peake’s artwork for the first time in four colors. It was published in 2001 by Methuen Publishing Ltd. of London, which issued the book in 1977 as well.

Many thanks to my friend and world traveler Donald Fortescue for sending this entertaining yarn my way.

Filed under: Antarctic Bookshelf — mbartalos @ 10:44 pm

October 30, 2012

Antarctic Bookshelf 4: The Endurance by Caroline Alexander

TheEndurance-Alexander HC cover view2-0037-500x494

Shackleton aficionados seeking a companion piece to Alfred Lansing’s classic Endurance will find great satisfaction in Caroline Alexander’s book, The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition. Following Lansing by 39 years and the expedition itself by 84, Alexander elaborates further on the crew’s personalities, interactions, and ordeals. The text is a product of deep research, contact with families of the expedition members, and access to documents and diaries which, according to the author, were safeguarded for many years.

Many of the crew’s diary entries are juicy, opinionated, and humorous. They reveal as much about the writers as they do about their colleagues (names are named) and since the majority of the crew kept journals of some kind, their collective writings describe the group dynamic comprehensively.

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Distinguishing this book are 140 photographs taken by Frank Hurley, the expedition’s photo documentarian. Hurley, an Australian, had run away from home at age 13 and worked at a steel mill and dockyards before returning to study at the local technical school and attend science lectures at the University of Sydney. He eventually became a self-taught photographer, setting himself up in the picture-postcard business. Hurley reportedly had an early taste for danger, gaining a reputation for putting himself at risk in order to achieve spectacular images such as situating himself on railroad tracks to capture oncoming trains on film. Led by his adventurousness, at age 25 Hurley signed on as official photographer to Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14 which explored the 2000-mile long Antarctic coastline south of Australia. That voyage subsequently brought Hurley to Shackleton’s attention.

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Enlisted as Shackleton’s photographer in 1914, Hurley advanced his reputation for stopping at nothing to secure a memorable picture. He ventured into darkness, fog and uncertain terrain to get his shots, and scaled the extreme heights of the ship’s rigging to capture majestic panoramas. As Lionel Greenstreet, the vessel’s First Officer, wrote: “Hurley is a warrior with his camera & would go anywhere or do anything to get a picture.”

Alexander elaborates on Hurley’s dedication to his art: “Once the Endurance became trapped, Hurley turned his camera to both the domestic life of the ship, and to the vision of it improbably suspended in the protean world of the ice. On duty at all hours of the day or night, sometimes arising at midnight to take photographs, he was keenly sensitive to the variegated and ever-changing play of light, continually elated at this spectacle of sky and ice and shadows.”

Hurley’s nighttime images of the doomed Endurance are among his best-known photos. His diary entry of August 27, 1915, describes this undertaking: “During night take flashlight of ship beset by pressure. This necessitated some 20 flashes, one behind each salient pressure hummock, no less than 10 of the flashes being required to satisfactorily illuminate the ship herself. Half blinded after the successive flashes, I lost my bearings amidst hummocks, bumping shins against projecting ice points & stumbling into deep snow drifts.”

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The importance of Hurley’s work was not lost on Shackleton. As the Endurance was going under, ‘The Boss’ saw to it that 120 of the photographer’s best images and some motion-picture footage be saved from the sea. Having curated their selection, Shackleton and Hurley then smashed the remaining 400 glass negatives to expel any temptation of taking them along, recognizing that the party’s survival depended on meeting space and weight limitations. Twenty of the rescued plates include Hurley’s pioneering images using the briefly popular Paget process of color photography, featured in an earlier Long View post.

Obligated to cast off his professional equipment as well, Hurley captured the rest of the expedition on a handheld Vest Pocket Kodak camera and three rolls of film. In testament to his talent, the small-format photos are as fascinating as the larger images and as revealing as diary entries. To see the men’s eyes is to connect with them emotionally; to witness their transformation over the course of the expedition is to comprehend their ordeal; to behold their rescue on Elephant Island is to fathom heroism and miraculousness against all odds.

The very first time I read Lansing’s Endurance, I was unaware of Alexander’s book and kept wishing for a thorough photographic reference to navigate by. Alexander provides this much needed pictorial resource, and her text too is an enlightening complement to Lansing’s narration. With both books you may, like me, find yourself reading Lansing and Alexander side-by-side, cross-referencing the two for the ultimate Endurance experience.

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The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition was first published in 1998 by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, in association with the American Museum of Natural History. The book served as the catalog for the museum’s 1999 Shackleton exhibition which showcased Frank Hurley’s photos and film footage as well as the legendary James Caird lifeboat.

Filed under: Antarctic Bookshelf,Antarctic History and Exploration — mbartalos @ 2:08 pm

August 31, 2012

Antarctic Bookshelf 3: Endurance by Alfred Lansing

Ernest Shackleton is a central figure to my Long View Project which draws heavily on his Nimrod Expedition at Cape Royds. So I’ve been reading more about him (and by him) to gain insight into his legendary status in history. Most recently I read Alfred Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage which became a bestseller on its publication in 1959. Still in print, it’s perhaps the most popular book about Shackleton ever written.


A brief synopsis, spoiler and all:

Lansing’s story opens with a ship’s demise in the frozen Weddell Sea; its crew of 28 evacuate onto the pack ice that is crushing their vessel. The stranded party, we learn, is Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–17 (better known as the Endurance Expedition) whose initial objective was to attempt the first land crossing of Antarctica. Denied of even reaching land, the Endurance crew quickly shift their sights to surviving atop drifting ice floes.

Months later as the ice breaks up, they take to three lifeboats which they’d mercifully salvaged from their ship before it sank. In the face of relentless hardship and weather, the team, still miraculously intact, reaches tiny Elephant Island in the sub-Antarctic Ocean. They are on land for the first time in 497 days but the isolated frozen crag offers no hope of passing ships or rescue.

Consequently, Shackleton sets off with five of his men in the lifeboat James Caird for South Georgia Island to bring relief. The 800-mile journey succeeds against all odds, but lands them on the uninhabited side of the mountainous island, necessitating the first overland trek ever to the other side. Through more ice and snow, this too they survive — barely.

By this time winter has set in, surrounding Elephant Island in ice. Another four months pass before Shackleton can access it by rescue ship. When he does, he finds his entire party still alive, concluding one of the most incredible survival stories of all time.


Alfred Lansing wasn’t the only one to chronicle the Endurance adventure. Shackleton and at least four of his crew members published accounts of the voyage upon returning home, and there’s been a steady flow of literature since. But Lansing’s narrative stands apart for the sheer amount of research involved in piecing it together. According to his publisher, Lansing consulted with ten of the surviving expedition members and gained access to diaries and personal accounts by eight others. It shows in the nuanced descriptions of the men and their personalities, opinions, emotions, and relationships. These real-life human perspectives color the story, move it forward, and lend credibility to an extreme tale that could otherwise pass for fiction.

With Shackleton at the center of each unfolding drama, a comprehensive profile of his leadership emerges: ‘The Boss,’ as his men called him, was immensely respected for his generous character and principles of fairness. He shunned preferential treatment and partook in the grunt work equally. His ability to remain positive and decisive under the most challenging circumstances brought out the best in his team, and he maintained morale by keeping everyone occupied and essential to the effort. Perhaps most importantly, he possessed a sense of humanity that placed his crew’s mental and physical well-being ahead of all else.

Which isn’t to say that The Boss was infallible. He made his share of misjudgements along the way which Lansing readily points out. Readers may wonder why the voyage proceeded at all, given that the Weddell Sea’s ice conditions that year were the worst in memory and that veteran whalers there tried dissuading Shackleton from sailing until the following season.

My guess is that quitting simply went against Shackleton’s grain. Also, the trip was a limited-time opportunity: World War I was just erupting, reducing the chance of another try at the expedition anytime soon. And most certainly, his assessment of the situation differed from that of the whalers. As his granddaughter Alexandra points out: “He was a very practical person, and he would have never attempted anything that he thought could not be done. The main reason was that, above all, he had the lives of his men to consider.”


The first edition of Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage is shown in the photos above. It was published in 1959 by McGraw-Hill New York and Hodder & Stoughton, London. It’s desirable for the annotated endpaper map and a collection of captioned photos by expedition photographer Frank Hurley. A subsequent edition published by Carroll & Graf (1986/1996), pictured below, lacks the map and interior photos. The latest edition, issued by Basic Books (1999), announces a map and illustrations as part of the package.


Expect a wave of interesting new print and online material to emerge as the Endurance centenary approaches. There are a number of exciting events and celebrations in the works too, including adventurer Tim Jarvis’s Shackleton Epic which will attempt to recreate the journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia in a replica of the James Caird using similar materials, clothing, food and equipment to that of the 1916 crossing. It should be a good one to follow.

Filed under: Antarctic Bookshelf,Antarctic History and Exploration — mbartalos @ 11:36 pm

July 9, 2012

Long View Study No. 21 (Cape Royds)


My series on Antarctic research stations continues with a salute to Ernest Shackleton’s Cape Royds hut, home base to his team’s 1907-09 British Antarctic Expedition, also known as the Nimrod Expedition. The Royds hut facilitated cutting-edge polar science of its day in the areas of geology, zoology, geography and meteorology. The scientific team’s director, Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David, led from here the first parties ever to reach the South Magnetic Pole and the summit of Mt. Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano. Royds was also the launch pad for Shackleton’s 1908 attempt for the South Geographic Pole. His team trekked to within 97 nautical miles (180.6 km / 112.2 mi) of their goal, the farthest south attained by any expedition at the time.

It was also at Royds that Shackleton’s men printed and bound Aurora Australis, the first book ever published in Antarctica. It consisted of of essays, poems and drawings printed on a hand press in an edition of about 25 completed copies whose wooden covers were fashioned from provisions cases. Such crates, in abundance, were repurposed by them for hut shelving and furniture as well.

My use of wood, letterpress makeready, typographic letterforms, and book / bookshelf structure in Long View Study No. 21 allude to the Shackleton team’s production of Aurora Australis and their resourcefulness. The collage’s central figure is Sir Ernest himself who edited the book, wrote its two prefaces, and contributed an ode to Mount Erebus under the pseudonym NEMO.


My piece functions either as a wall hanging or a free-standing artwork. A detached wooden element serves as a shelf embellishment in wall mode or as a bottom support in free-standing mode. In either case the right-hand ‘shelf unit’ is modifiable with extra shelves of varying lengths. The hinged ‘spine’ indicates the manner in which the complete string of Long View panels will connect to one another to form an accordion-fold structure.

June 30, 2012

Antarctic Bookshelf 2: Imagining Antarctica by Sandy Sorlien


One of my favorite Antarctic photo books wasn’t photographed in Antarctica at all. It was
shot in the Northeastern United States to create a highly unique representation of the southernmost continent. The project is titled Imagining Antarctica, authored by roaming photographer, urbanist, and writer Sandy Sorlien.


Left: Peak, New Jersey; Right: Birdbath, Philadelphia.

Sorlien conceived of this photo essay upon having been denied an NSF Artists and Writers Program award to visit Antarctica. In lieu of photographing there, she turned her lens on winter terrain closer to home — New England and her resident state of Pennsylvania. Her pictures were taken with a plastic Holga camera known for its quirky distortion of light, focus, and perspective. These effects were deftly put to work in capturing isolated patches of snow, ice, rocks and sky of ambiguous distance and scale to create a brilliantly convincing series of pseudo-polar landscapes.


Snow, New York.

As it happens, Sorlien’s brother Christopher, a geologist, was dispatched to Antarctica on an NSF research mission soon after she embarked on this project. Sandy seized the opportunity to collaborate and add dimension to her photo essay by juxtaposing his emailed descriptions of the actual Antarctic coast with her imagined vistas.

The similarities between image and text are often striking, lending odd credibility to Sorlien’s photographs even as her true subjects and locations are revealed in the captions. This playful blurring of truth and perception serves to put two seemingly disparate regions of Earth in direct dialogue with each other, lyrically revealing their connectedness.


Left: Landscape, Rhode Island; Right: Ice, Philadelphia.

Imagining Antarctica was published on the occasion of Sandy Sorlien’s exhibition at List Gallery, Swarthmore College, January 21- February 20, 2000. The book is now out of print but with much perseverance I was able to obtain a (signed!) copy from photo-eye. [Update: Copies are readily obtainable by querying through the author's website.]

Many thanks to my friend Susan West for introducing me to this imaginative project.

This post is the second entry in my Antarctic Bookshelf series covering notable polar-themed books. The first was Antarctica by Emil Schulthess.

Filed under: Antarctic Bookshelf — mbartalos @ 8:17 pm

May 30, 2012

Long View Study No. 20 (Bernardo O’Higgins)

This recent cut-paper composition takes Chile’s General Bernardo O’Higgins Antarctic Base for its theme. The artwork is part of my series on Antarctic research stations operating on the continent and its nearby islands. With these posts I’ll be examining the bases’ fields of study, their differing implementations of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, and their associative architecture, infrastructure, and role in the context of a changing planet.


Bernardo O’Higgins base is a year-round research facility near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Named for the leader of the Chilean military forces that won independence from Spain, O’Higgins is administered by the Chilean Army which provides logistical support, maintains the infrastructure, and assists in scientific work at the station. The base conducts research into ultraviolet measurements, hydrology, oceanography, and human physiology as affected by periods of darkness and light. It also supports studies of the magnetosphere which envelops and shields the planet from the solar wind.

Prominent on the site (and in the center of my artwork) is the German Antarctic Receiving Station (GARS), a satellite ground station enabling reception of high-resolution remote sensing data on the south polar region. The nine-meter parabolic antenna is a joint venture between the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Instituto Antarctico Chileno (INACH), Chile’s Antarctic research institute.

O’Higgins was established in 1948, making it one of the longest-running Antarctic bases of continuous operation. Interestingly it was built in the midst of a Gentoo penguin rookery which still exists. This perch, separated from the Antarctic continent by 50 meters of water at high tide, offers a unique opportunity to study the wildlife and ecology of the region. According to the most recently issued U.S. Antarctic Treaty Inspection Report: “The base keeps a log book documenting environmental impacts on a weekly basis. Penguin nests, eggs and chicks are monitored, as well as other birds in the vicinity of the base. All monitoring is visual; there is no tagging or touching of the birds.” The report however adds: “While base personnel said they attempt to maintain a distance from the nesting penguins to prevent any disturbance, many of the nests are on or near base facilities where people must pass during daily activities, and thus close human contact with these animals is unavoidable.”


O'Higgins and its surrounding penguins (click to enlarge).

O’Higgins Base made news this year when its seawaters were found to contain bacteria that are resistant to nearly all kinds of antibiotics. The research was led by Uppsala University‘s Björn Olsen and Jorge Hernández who detected higher concentrations of the superbugs nearer to the sewage outfalls of O’Higgins and two other Chilean bases. Linking the phenomenon to the quality of sewage treatment remains tenuous though, as Hernández noted that “Chile has provided its permanent bases with modern equipment for waste water treatment that is constantly improving.”

Scientists are now investigating wildlife for clues since the culprit bacteria were also found in gulls in France. Observations suggest that the bacteria may maintain their super-resilience long beyond their exposure to antibiotics, and that they may survive in the wild using animals as hosts.

That possibility is of concern at O’Higgins, situated as it is in a rookery. Penguins nearby have been checked and are deemed free of that bacteria which carry genes that make the ESBL enzyme capable of destroying penicillin, cephalosporins and related antibiotics. Other types of sea birds in proximity to the station are next to undergo testing. Whatever the outcome, the existence of these microorganisms in Antarctica indicates the troubling extent to which drug-resistant bacteria are proliferating on Earth.

April 30, 2012

Antarctic Bookshelf 1: Antarctica by Emil Schulthess


There’s nothing quite like sharing a favorite book, or better yet, a collection of favorite books around a theme. Today I’m introducing a new category to the Long View Project blog that does just that. It’s called Antarctic Bookshelf whose posts will feature polar-related editions that inspire me in one way or another. Some of the titles are popular, some obscure; some in print, others out-of-print; ranging from trade books to artists’ books.


My selections follow no hard set of criteria. A book may have strong writing, concept, design, photography, artwork, historical significance, or any combination of these. At least one in the lineup has an outlandish sense of humor and most are rich in creativity and imagination. In the end, what ties these books together (besides their references to Antarctica) is each one’s ability to address the continent in a unique and memorable way.


The first on my list is Antarctica by Emil Schulthess. This photo-documentary book provides an uncommonly artful portrait of Antarctica and U.S. polar research in the late 1950s.


A striking feature of this book is its ‘wide-and-narrow’ format, lending itself to sweeping panoramas and lavish detail. This approach has since been imitated by other Antarctic photography books, but never as cohesively. This book is set apart by an exquisite sense of composition, color and design in its photography and layout alike. The reason is that Schulthess (1913-1996) was both an accomplished graphic designer and Life magazine photographer, overseeing every aspect of his books. Antarctica is but one of several handsome publications he authored, including photo-surveys of Africa, China, the Amazon, Soviet Union, USA, and his Swiss motherland.


Another thing I love about this book is its informative text. Schulthess’s captions are incredibly thorough (often paragraphs long) and well-researched. Yet he skillfully groups and places them unobtrusively apart from the photos, allowing the images to take center stage. In this way Antarctica functions equally well as a coffee-table book and historical resource depending on where the reader turns.


Schulthess introduces the project in an essay: “When the plans for an extensive exploration of the Antarctic continent on the occasion of the International Geophysical Year 1957/58 became known, an old dream of mine appeared to come within reach: a photographic documentation of Antarctica. Such a project had been in my mind for many years. I was particularly anxious to take photographs of the sun and its course in this extreme Southern part of the world. Thanks to American friends, who gave me every possible help, I obtained permission to join the American Naval Operation Deep Freeze IV.”


Operation Deep Freeze was the codename for a series of United States missions to Antarctica beginning in 1955–56, and International Geophysical Year was a collaborative effort between forty nations to carry out earth science studies from the North Pole to the South Pole and at points in between. The term ‘Operation Deep Freeze’ still endures, now signifying general U.S. operations in Antarctica, particularly the regular missions coordinated by the military to resupply research bases.


Schulthess set out in October 1958, flying from Christchurch to McMurdo and on to the South Pole. He then traveled by icebreaker from Marble Point in the Dry Valleys around the Ross Ice Shelf to Little America V — the biggest American scientific station in Antarctica at the time. Little America V was two years old and covered in ten feet of snow but still stationed 250 men when Schulthess visited. From there he voyaged deep inland by snow tractor to Byrd Station and into hitherto unexplored territory to capture more extraordinary images. He wrapped his voyage up along the coast of Victoria Land and Wilkes Land, setting course for Australia in March 1959.


Antarctica was first published in 1960 by Artemis Verlag, Zürich and by Simon & Schuster, New York (U.S. issue pictured here). Both editions are long out of print but copies can be found online with a bit of digging. I’d like to extend a big thanks to my friend Steve Woodall at Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book and Paper Arts for sending this treasure my way.

Filed under: Antarctic Bookshelf — mbartalos @ 11:13 pm

March 30, 2012

Long View Study No. 19 (Halley I-V)


My latest piece takes the first five iterations of the British Antarctic Survey‘s Halley Research Station for its subject. The base is located on the Brunt Ice Shelf of the Weddell Sea and is well known for its atmospheric studies. The first measurements of ozone depletion in the Antarctic stratosphere were taken here in 1985, leading to the international agreement on banning chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Halley I was founded in 1956 for the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58 by an expedition from the Royal Society. Halley II, III, and IV were constructed over successive decades as the snow surface, rising about a meter a year, buried each of the bases over time.

My image’s vertical arrangement references the resulting stratification of architecture and ice which places Halley I at a depth of 56 meters (184 feet) in 2012, with the whole lot drifting towards the Weddell at the rate of around half a kilometer annually.

Halley V, still in use, was the first of these stations to be built on steel platforms supported by extendable legs to keep it above the accumulating snow for at least a while longer. Building on this idea, BAS introduced new structures mounted on skis to be moved by bulldozers to prevent them from being buried.

The newest step in this direction is the spectacular Halley VI station, which warrants an artwork and blog post of its own. Look for it here soon.

Long View Study No. 19 (Halley I-V) was created using wood, acrylic, graphite and cut paper. It’s the third artwork in my Antarctic research station series (Syowa and McMurdo being the first two).

Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:36 pm
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