These photographs by Robert Falcon Scott, taken on his Antarctic expedition in the early 20th century, got me thinking about context. They are beautiful landscapes of what is now far more familiar territory then it was at the time. And that’s probably all you’ll see unless you know the story.
They were taken on the Terra Nova Expedition (1910–1912),
officially the British Antarctic Expedition 1910, led by Robert Falcon Scott with the objective of being the first to reach the geographical South Pole. Scott and four companions attained the pole on 17 January 1912, to find that a Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen had preceded them by 33 days. Scott’s entire party died on the return journey from the pole; some of their bodies, journals, and photographs were discovered by a search party eight months later.
So they are photos that reflect tragedy.
The photos were discovered by David M. Wilson. From the New York Times:
…And these weren’t just any photographs from that expedition, Mr. Kossow told him: They were taken by Scott himself. “I just about choked on my gin and tonic,” Mr. Wilson said. The whereabouts of most of the Scott photographs, taken around the expedition’s winter quarters on Ross Island and while on the journey toward the pole, had long been a mystery. Only a dozen or two had ever been published, and many of those had been incorrectly attributed to others. The unpublished photos had apparently languished in a commercial archive for decades. Now as the centenary of Scott’s death, in March 1912, approaches, Mr. Wilson has published all the images in “The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott.”
…Scott hired a well-known professional travel photographer, Herbert Ponting, for the expedition, and his photographs are some of the most celebrated in the history of polar exploration. But Ponting was never expected to make the arduous journey with sledges, ponies and dogs from Ross Island to the pole. Instead he gave Scott and others a crash course in photography, teaching them how to use the bulky cameras, lenses and filters and make proper exposures in the extreme conditions.
It was a steep learning curve, but Scott turned out to be one of Ponting’s better students. Many of his photographs are from those training sessions. Sophie Gordon, who as senior curator of photographs at the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle is mounting an exhibition of the work of Ponting and a later Antarctic photographer, Frank Hurley, said Scott had learned well from his teacher. “He really had quite an artistic eye,” she said. “His best photographs look like Pontings.”
And they are photos that reflect mystery and discovery.
There has been ongoing controversy as to whether the failure of the expedition was Scott’s fault. If so we are looking at images by a man who was responsible for the deaths of his expedition members.
That’s a lot of layers for lovely black-and-white images of snow-covered mountains and glaciers.
I chose the images that I thought were the best art. Many of the photos are historical records rather than artistic. The slide show here is well worth watching.