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May 31, 2011

Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ in Color, 1915

Frank Hurley was an Australian photographer and adventurer, most famous for his series
of artful photographs documenting Shackleton’s epic ‘Endurance’ expedition of 1914-17.
While the black-and-white images are well-known, a less familiar but equally stunning set
of his color pictures was recently put online by the State Library of New South Wales
in Sydney. I thought I’d share some of them here.


The color photographs were taken in 1915, the year the Endurance was crushed
by Antarctic ice in the Weddell Sea. They are among 120 glass plates in total that
Shackleton and Hurley chose to retrieve from the sinking ship. The captain and
photographer then smashed the remaining 400 plates to eliminate any temptation
of taking them along, recognizing that the party’s survival depended on meeting
space and weight limitations. The crew did endure their perilous 500-day ordeal,
as did the 120 photographic plates which they hauled by sledge and lifeboat, now
allowing us a glimpse into one of polar history’s most dramatic voyages.


Frank Hurley considered his color photos “amongst the most valuable records of the expedition.” He used an early polychrome process called Paget, which was patented
in 1912 in England and remained in use until the 1920s.

Paget used two plates, one a traditional black-and-white negative, the other a red,
green, and blue screen scored with a pattern of dots and lines. The negative was
contact-printed to made a transparency positive which was combined with the
matching color screen to achieve the final image. The process was eventually
eclipsed by the truer, richer colors captured by autochrome and later by Koda-


The Endurance was the second of Hurley’s three voyages to Antarctica. His first was
as official photographer to Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition of
1911-14 which brought him to Shackleton’s attention. In 1914, Hurley was signed
on to the Endurance venture where he continued raising exploration photography to
new levels through unique compositions and storytelling with both still and movie

His achievements are all the more impressive for the extreme conditions he braved.
He climbed masts, traversed splitting ice floes, and trekked in subfreezing temperatures
— often at night — to take his innovative photos. Lionel Greenstreet, the Endurance’s
First Officer, wrote of him: “Hurley is a warrior with his camera & would go anywhere
or do anything to get a picture.”


Getting the pictures was only part of the challenge; developing them on the ice-trapped
ship was another. The temperature in Hurley’s darkroom hovered around freezing, and
water for washing his plates was obtained by melting blocks of ice. He described the
difficulty in his diary: “Washing plates is a most troublesome operation, as the tank
must be kept warm or the plates become an enclosure in an ice block… Development
is a source of annoyance to the fingers which split & crack around the nails in a painful


In 1917, Hurley returned to South Georgia (pictured in the four photos above) for his
final Antarctic filming expedition, culminating in the 1919 motion picture “In the Grip
of the Polar Pack” featuring his footage of the Endurance expedition. The movie quickly
became a critical and popular success, and his still photography also gained a wide
audience as Shackleton featured it in his lecture tours.

Hurley’s original photography and footage more recently appeared in NOVA’s giant-screen
film Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure as well as Shackleton’s Voyage of Endurance first
broadcast on NOVA in 2002. The Royal Geographical Society in London currently curates
Hurley’s original glass plate negatives and his original prints are held by the Scott Polar
Research Institute in Cambridge and the Macklin Collection in Aberdeen, Scotland.

A comprehensive selection of Hurley’s Paget color glass transparencies from the
Endurance expedition is showcased by the State Library of New South Wales online.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration — mbartalos @ 11:43 pm

April 30, 2011

Long View Study No. 16 (Remote Sensing: Antarctica)

Long View Study No. 16 is inspired by Earth observation satellites that monitor
environmental changes. Scientists use these satellites to collect and compare data
over the long term to better understand and predict how Earth’s systems interact.


Over Antarctica, Earth observation satellites track shifts in sea ice, ozone depletion, animal populations, weather and other conditions using radar which allow study of inaccessible areas at day or night, regardless of cloud cover.

The most powerful of these spacecrafts is Envisat, launched by the European Space Agency in 2002. Envisat has been helping scientists study the Antarctic Peninsula’s ice shelves in response to the rapid warming that has occurred in that area over the last 50 years. Within days of its launch, the satellite recorded the dramatic disintegration of the Larsen B shelf, and it recently captured the break-up of the sizable Wilkins Ice Shelf — important indicators for ongoing climate change.

Also significant to Antarctic research is the Landsat program, a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Launched in 1972, this longest-running Earth survey from space recently facilitated an Antarctic mapping endeavor called LIMA (Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica) composed of over 1,000 true-color and high-definition images. They constitute an unprecedented data set enabling precise study of changes on the Ice, including curious methods of tracking emperor penguin colonies. The project is accessible online as part of the participating organizations’ education and outreach efforts.

Satellites continue to be essential as remote sensing technology evolves, providing scientists with more information over time. Every form of gathered data — passive visual, active microwave, and sensitive gravity measurements — adds new understanding of Antarctica’s role in the big picture and helps climate scientists assess, predict, and manage continued human impact on the natural system.

The artwork measures 8.125″ x 14″ and was created with cut paper, graphite and wood. The piece will be on view and available at Southern Exposure’s Annual Fundraiser and Art Auction this Saturday evening, May 7 at SoEx, 3030 20th Street in San Francisco.

Filed under: Climate Change,Environment,Studies — mbartalos @ 10:02 pm

April 6, 2011

Long View Study No. 15 (Climate Science)


My latest composition takes climate change research in Antarctica for its theme. The continent is important to scientists for its pivotal role in the Earth’s climate system and
its sensitivity to environmental change. By collecting and merging diverse forms of data
from the Ice, they hope to better understand global warming and predict future

One of the indicators that scientists monitor is the Antarctic ozone hole in the stratosphere, represented by the semicircle at the top of my image. Diminished ozone concentrations are caused by man-made chlorine-containing source gases — primarily CFCs and related halocarbons — which in turn affect weather in the troposphere.
I pictured that as a comet-like gust of wind because ozone depletion combined with increased greenhouse gases and internal climate variability are known to have strengthened Antarctica’s winds. On the positive side, environmental regulation has
been shown to play a successful role in containing the ozone hole and its effects in
recent years.

Scientists also draw information from studying and comparing locales on the ground. I’ve represented two of these areas in my piece.

One is the McMurdo Dry Valleys, indicated by the ‘ice drill’ at lower right. This region’s sensitive ecosystem is monitored for its rapid response to small variations in solar radiation and temperature driven by human activity. Past climate change is studied by analyzing trapped air bubbles in ancient ice, obtained by extracting ice cores from Dry Valleys glaciers.

Another important area is the great Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), depicted in
the left half of my piece. Researchers are collecting WAIS ice cores to measure historic greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide, methane) levels in up to 100,000 years of snowfall. The chemical makeup of the ice itself functions as a thermometer, revealing the atmospheric temperature when the snow fell. Research suggests that WAIS may be inherently unstable and that it likely collapsed in the distant past when Earth was a few degrees warmer than today.

Which leads to the issue of sea level rise. I’ve marked my projected water level at 15 inches in deference to the International Panel on Climate Change‘s estimate of a global average rise between 0.6 and 2 feet in the next century. While there’s no question that sea levels are rising, researchers also remind us that climate prediction remains an inexact science. In Antarctica, where temperatures have soared along the peninsula in the last several decades but have changed little over East Antarctica (thanks in part, ironically, to the ozone hole-induced winds), projecting the future has proven even more difficult. In fact just last year scientists were forced to retract a major paper on rising sea levels due to errors that undermined the study’s conclusion. That report suggested that sea levels could rise to a whopping 82cm (32.28 inches) by the end of the century.

Given the number of evolving climatic factors, researchers now generally agree to uncertainty about how much warming will occur in Antarctica. One thing for certain however is that WAIS will be monitored ever more closely, considering the amount of water stored in the continent’s ice sheets.

• • •

On a CalAcademy-related note: I’m currently creating a large, unique Earth Day-themed installation in the museum’s central Piazza space. The project is titled “Handle With Care” and is described on my site and on the CalAcademy’s programs page and in my artist’s statement. You’re invited to come on by, say hi, and see the piece in progress till April 20 and in completed form thereafter.

Filed under: Climate Change,Environment,Studies — mbartalos @ 2:51 am

February 10, 2011

Long View Study No. 13 (Nimrod Shore Party)


The figures in this piece represent Ernest Shackleton and his Antarctic crew from the 1907-09 ‘Nimrod’ Expedition who produced the letterpress-printed Aurora Australis
book, fashioning its wooden covers from recycled provision cases.

Each page of the triptych is 11.75″ high x 10.25″ wide, created in graphite and cut
paper. The set is currently on exhibit in Cutters/Cork, the latest in the Cutters series of international contemporary collage exhibitions curated by James Gallagher. The show is
up through March 12 at West Cork Arts Centre in County Cork, Ireland.

Filed under: Aurora Australis Book,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:55 pm

August 31, 2010

A Visit to the Polar Research Institute of China

When I traveled with my family to China and Mongolia this summer, I didn’t expect the trip to figure into this blog. Antarctic-related encounters seemed unlikely, outside of conjuring cold thoughts to battle the unrelenting heat.

But on arriving at Mongolia’s vast western steppes, the region’s grandeur triggered a profound sense of Antarctic déjà vu. The lack of ice and snow hardly mattered; there were endless landscapes, diverse ecosystems, undisturbed environments, a sparse human population, protected area designations, and science teams in the field. It was inspiring, and when it came time to leave for China, I resolved to find an Antarctic encounter of sorts there too.

Fortuitously, our itinerary included Shanghai, home to the Polar Research Institute of China. The thought of visiting China’s main polar research center was alluring. So was the notion of gaining admission to an actual Communist government agency in the PRC. It felt rather subversive, and a bit off-limits. Wouldn’t they suspect us as spies? Surely we’d be turned away. So when my wife Lili, who speaks Mandarin, successfully arranged an appointment with the Institute, we were euphoric despite the fact that we had no idea of what there was to see there.


The Institute is a hulking edifice in Shanghai’s Pudong district. We passed through the
complex’s security gate and into the lobby; no IDs checked. A staffer with a fittingly
icy demeanor led us to an exhibition room devoid of visitors, waved us in, and said
she’d be back in an hour. Photography was OK. Spies were clearly not a concern.


The exhibition showcases all manners of Chinese polar research and achievements.
There are dioramas, maps, models, charts, and a plethora of informational signage,
all in Chinese. I was grateful to have read up on China’s polar programs beforehand,
and Lili was grateful to be spared from having to translate all the text.

The gallery’s centerpiece is a large relief map showing China’s three polar research
stations in Antarctica: Great Wall Station on King George Island off the Antarctic
Peninsula, Zhongshan Station on the eastern Antarctic coast, and Kunlun Station
situated 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level at Dome Argus, the highest
point of the expansive East Antarctic ice sheet.


China is a relative newcomer to the Antarctic research community. Its polar scientific program only began in 1981 and the Polar Research Institute was founded in 1989. Today China commands a noteworthy presence on the Ice and participates in several international projects at any given time.

A significant one is the U.S.-led Antarctic Gamburstev Province (AGAP) project, which
last year verified the existence of a rugged mountain range buried more than four
kilometers (2.5 miles) under the giant East Antarctic Ice Sheet.


China itself led an international team of scientists in 2008 in setting up a robotic observatory, PLATO (PLATeau Observatory) at Dome A that runs a variety of experiments. Each of the last two winters, the instrumentation operated without a human within 600 miles for more than 200 days. Deemed a successful prototype for future robotic observatories, the team is building two new PLATOs this year. One will be deployed to the Japanese Antarctic station of Dome Fuji and the other is a higher-end addition to Dome A that supports a new suite of instruments. The National Science Foundation, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, supports the program by providing Iridium satellite communications as well as funding several first-light site-testing instruments.

These current endeavors, however, are absent from this exhibition whose static
displays limit it to broad overviews of polar research and past accomplishments.

Introducing new media would really bring the content to life and up to date.
I imagine a wall monitor featuring live broadcasts and breaking news from Ant-
arctica for example. Real-time updates would convey the excitement, pace, and
immediacy of science on the Ice and enhance the visitor experience immensely.


After an hour, the icy staffer re-appeared, ushered us back to the lobby, and showed
us the door.

I’ll admit I was hoping for a little something more from the visit; perhaps a tour or
a glimpse of a scientist. But I can’t complain; we’d found our Antarctic encounter,
inside a Communist government building no less.


Besides, there’s more: Back in central Shanghai on the Pudong end of the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, we came across yet another Antarctic exhibition: the “Polar Experience Museum” which isn’t so much a museum as an exhibition space with distinct similarities to the Institute’s. This attraction, presumably a satellite of the Institute, is pictured in these last three photos.


For those needing to scratch an Antarctic itch in Shanghai, the Polar Experience
Museum will probably suffice. It’s more centrally located than the Institute exhibit,
better lit, and populated by visitors.


If you do seek out the Polar Research Institute of China though, note that it’s soon to
be renamed the Chinese Polar Research Center. Its present location is 451 Jinqiao Road, Pudong, Shanghai 200136. Call ahead for an appointment at +86-21-5871-2101 or
fax +86-21-5871-1663.

Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities — mbartalos @ 11:33 pm

July 30, 2010

Long View Study No. 12 (McMurdo)

McMurdo Station is Antarctica’s largest human settlement and the first permanent American scientific research base on the continent.

Established in 1955, ‘Mactown’ sits at the southern shore of Ross Island, the solid ground farthest south that is accessible by ship. It’s operated by the United States Antarctic Program under the National Science Foundation, and houses over 1,000 summer residents and about 150 in winter.

Research performed at and near McMurdo includes aeronomy and astrophysics, biology and medicine, geology and geophysics, glaciology and glacial geology, and the study of ocean and climate systems.

This collage, the second in my series on Antarctic stations, focuses on McMurdo’s role in high-altitude scientific research.


Since 1989, NASA and the NSF have launched large unmanned helium balloons and their instruments from a site near here. Owing to unique atmosphere circulation over the continent during the austral summer, the balloons are often recoverable weeks later in nearly the same spot.

During my stay at McMurdo last January, the NASA-NSF partnership successfully launched a newly designed super-pressure balloon prototype that achieved altitudes of over 111,000 feet — three to four times higher than passenger planes fly. The balloon’s material was unique: an advanced lightweight polyethylene film about as thick as ordinary plastic food wrap.

With further developments to craft size, durability and functionality, the team hopes to eventually hoist a one-ton instrument to the brink of space for 100 days or more. Long duration balloon missions at such heights cost considerably less than satellites, and their scientific apparatus are retrievable and re-launchable, providing sustainable high altitude research platforms.

Balloon flights are used to to make atmospheric studies, to investigate the nature of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, to search for anti-matter, and to make scientific observations in fields such as hard x-ray/gamma-ray and infra-red astronomy. Floated radio telescopes search for indirect evidence of extremely high-energy neutrino particles possibly coming from outside our Milky Way galaxy, while other experiments measure high energy cosmic-ray particles originating from distant supernova explosions within our galaxy.

McMurdo’s next super-pressure balloon launch is an international collaboration involving mostly French and American scientists. Scheduled for August, the Concordiasi project will put as many as 18 balloons in the atmosphere at about 20 kilometers altitude. Their instruments will take meteorological and atmospheric readings in relation to the ice surface and study the processes of ozone depletion over Antarctica.

In addition to my collage’s balloon imagery, the artwork references Building 155 described in an early dispatch. Also included are the station’s acronym MCM and Robert Falcon Scott whose Discovery expedition hut of 1901-04 stands in view of McMurdo Station today.

I created the artwork with found paper and printed matter and contributed the piece to Scott Massey‘s recycling-inspired RRR Project. Look for his new print publication RRR.002 and related exhibitions soon.

Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Climate Change,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:22 pm

July 9, 2010

Long View Study No. 11 (Syowa)

Currently, 29 of 48 Antarctic Treaty member nations operate research stations on the continent and its nearby islands. Some bases are permanent, some are temporary; some operate year-round and others in summer only. Their programs, capabilities and designs differ, and each lends itself uniquely to international scientific collaboration. I’ll be featuring a variety of these facilities in upcoming posts and artwork, starting with Japan’s Syowa Station:


Syowa (also known as Showa) is located on East Ongul Island in Eastern Antarctica. It is the largest Antarctic science research facility run by the National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) in Tokyo.

Syowa was established in 1957 and is home to NIPR’s Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition (JARE). The base uses solar power and its research activities include upper atmosphere physics, meteorology, seismology, gravimetry, geodesy and cartography, oceanography, glaciology, geology, geography, terrestrial and marine biology, and medical research.

NIPR and the U.S. Antarctic Program collaborate regularly with a focus on the geosciences and environment. An example is cooperative high-altitude scientific balloon launches at Syowa and Amundsen-Scott Station. By pooling resources and sharing data over Earth observation networks, Japan and the U.S. help each other while allowing worldwide access to information about climate change.

My collage’s chief elements are bits of printed matter I found in Tokyo. The hands are vintage sci-fi, which is how I imagine Japan’s 1957 foray into Antarctica — their first — to have felt. The hands also suggest prosthetic solutions in case of extreme frostbite.

The artwork was contributed to Scott Massey‘s RRR Project featuring art made with and about recycling. His new print publication RRR.002 is in the works as well as an exhibition or two. I’m glad to be part of it!

Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Climate Change,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:39 pm

June 11, 2010

Long View Study No. 10 (Bellingshausen)

Who discovered Antarctica? Any number of early pioneers are credited, depending on how their accounts are interpreted. Here are the all-time top candidates:

The first reported sighting was by Russian Imperial Navy officer Fabian Gottlieb (Thaddeus) von Bellingshausen while commanding the second Russian expedition to circumnavigate the globe. Bellingshausen recorded seeing “ice mountains” on January 28, 1820 in the vicinity of what is now known to be the East Antarctic coastline. However his journals don’t mention that it may be land, and his expedition charts don’t indicate any land.

Two days later in the continent’s northwestern quadrant, British navy captain Edward Bransfield sighted the northernmost point of the Antarctic mainland, named it Trinity Peninsula, and produced the first recorded Antarctic land chart.

The next sighting of the continent was by American sealer Nathaniel Palmer in November 1820 — yet neither he, Bransfield, nor Bellingshausen were first to set foot on the continent. That distinction is claimed by American sealer John Davis who allegedly made the first landing on February 7, 1821 on the Antarctic peninsula’s west coast.

While these early pioneers certainly speculated on having encountered a significant land mass (John Davis’s logbook entry reads: “I think this Southern Land to be a Continent”), the first person to actually know he’d discovered a whole continent was United States Navy commander Charles Wilkes. In 1839-40 Wilkes’ expedition sailed along the edge of the ice pack south of Australia for some 1,500 miles, confirming the existence “of an Antarctic continent west of the Balleny Islands.”


This image depicts Bellingshausen, winner on the timeline if not for best evidence. He’s aboard his flagship, a 600-ton corvette named the VOSTOK (meaning “East”) after which the Russian research station and fascinating subglacial lake are named. The letters VOSTOK are incorporated into the piece and the graphic element on the right edge is Bellingshausen’s stylized Russian initials ФФБ.

The artwork was created with cut paper and graphite and is currently in MOVE, a group show curated by Rich Jacobs at Space 1026 in Philadelphia.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Studies — mbartalos @ 10:33 pm

May 15, 2010

First LV Print Edition Complete

The Long View Project’s first print edition, previewed in progress some posts ago, is now complete. It’s titled “21-Step Grey Water Treatment System,” issued as four pochoir stencil prints, each on a different color of paper.

As I mentioned back in the Dry Valleys, grey water is a term for waste water resulting
from washing, cooking, and similar activities. Grey water contains cooking fats, oils, and soap and detergent residues which Antarctic stations manage along with human waste (‘black water’) in accordance with the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (a.k.a. the Madrid Protocol) in efforts to minimize human impact on the environment. Releasing untreated waste water containing microorganisms into active ecosystems is particularly concerning since some pathogens can remain viable in low-temperature Antarctic conditions for extended periods, providing them the potential to occupy local habitats and infect native bird, mammal, and marine populations. You’ll find representations of this bacteria lurking in my artwork below.

While all of Antarctica’s 82 research stations (operated by 28 nations) presumably meet the Protocol’s minimum requirements for waste water management, their methods vary widely. Stations’ capabilities depend on their size, accessibility, longevity, and local weather and geography among other factors. Large coastal stations such as McMurdo are likely to have established plants using mechanical, biological, and disinfection processes, while most U.S. field camps’ sewage is removed from the continent altogether, while inland bases such as the U.S.’s Amundsen-Scott and Russia’s Vostok dispose of untreated human waste in deep ice pits.

This artwork imagines a future with advanced waste water treatment technology in place at all Antarctic research stations. The imagery is inspired by plant schematics and a 2005 Swedish survey of 71 stations to identify optimum grey water cleaning techniques in the context of Antarctica’s challenging conditions.


The “21-Step Grey Water Treatment System” edition was made by a hand-printed process called pochoir which employs stencils in creating imagery. I used gesso and matte acrylic as the medium, and Japanese ‘surikome bake’ rubbing brushes to apply the paint. Each of the four prints measure roughly 24″
x 18″ and are embellished with graphite line work.

Print #3, shown here, is currently on exhibit along with “The AA Five” in REFRAME: Making Sense of Waste at ARC Gallery, San Francisco through May 30.

From curator Hanna Regev’s press release:

“‘Reframe’ is a teachable moment and reflexive show that calls for individual responsibility, an examination of the waste around us, and questioning our consumption behaviors. While viewing the exhibit, we ask that you think of ways to harness the insatiable appetite for goods that drive the demand of ever-increasing products. As consumers and viewers, think of what you contribute to environmental degradation and your consumption habits.”

Featured artists are Michael Bartalos, David Broom, Alejandra Chaverri, Gregangelo Herrera, Wolfgang Ganter, Rebecca Goldfarb, James Goode, Beth Grossman, Avi Hoen, Judith Selby Lang, Richard Lang, Jose Ramon Lerma, Liz Mamorsky, and Noah Wilson. Music will be performed by James Goode on instruments created from recycled materials.

Filed under: Environment,Print Editions,Waste Management and Recycling — mbartalos @ 10:27 pm

May 10, 2010

Long View Study No. 9 (The AA Five)


“Long View Study #9 (The AA Five)” is the latest study for my Long View Project series whose theme is waste management and recycling in Antarctica.

“AA” refers to Aurora Australis whose covers were fashioned from wooden provision cases in 1908 to create the first book edition ever published in Antarctica. “Five” refers to the five major figures behind this effort: Ernest Shackleton who edited the edition, illustrator George Marsten, printers Frank Wild and Ernest Joyce, and Bernard Day who bound the books. AA’s production marks an early instance of recycling on the continent and exemplifies the resourcefulness and creativity inherent to Antarctic scientific and artistic endeavors today.

The imagery draws from my 2009 visit to Shackleton’s hut where the edition was created over winter a century earlier. Shackleton devised the project to ensure that “the spectre know as ‘polar ennui’ never made its appearance,” as he put it.

I’m using found wood, paper, wire, hardware, and a leaf to reference the explorers’ workspace environment, their team efforts, and their fondness for tobacco. References to their fondness for whiskey to follow in future artworks.

The piece measures 7″ wide x 12″ high and is currently on exhibit in REFRAME: Making Sense of Waste at ARC Gallery in San Francisco through May 30.

Filed under: Aurora Australis Book,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:25 pm
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