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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Icescapes

deep south

in Antarctica , Thursday, April 10, 2014

Well, it’s only taken me about 14 months, but I’ve just published a gallery of “icescapes” - there’s not much land to be seen - from January 2013 in the Antarctic Peninsula.

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The weather was stubbornly grim pretty much all the time, which suited me just fine. Bright sunlight is bad news when you’re photographing ice. And anyway, it’s the Antarctic, it’s supposed to be grim. All photos were taken using my satisfyingly unfashionable and “obsolete” Olympus E-5, which didn’t skip a beat in the wind, rain and snow.

Some of the photo titles bear homage to my constant polar soundtrack, Biosphere’s gorgeous “Substrata” and “Cirque”. The rest I just made up, as usual.

 

Book Review: The Last Ocean

Antarctica’s Ross Sea Project

in Antarctica , Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I’m gradually building up quite a large library of Antarctica literature, science and photography books, but my most recent acquisition is easily amongst the best.

The Last Ocean - Antarctica’s Ross Sea Project”, by John Weller, caught my eye in a fairly highbrow Art bookshop, the sort that usually only stocks books with blurry, grim, preferably black & white photos.  Certainly nothing as common as nature photography.

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But The Last Ocean _is_ nature photography. Actually, it is extremely good nature photography, possibly the best contemporary Antarctic photography I’ve ever seen. John Weller’s photography is restrained, giving the land, the sea, and its native inhabitants space to breathe. Unlike so much other work, these photographs are about their subject, not about where the photographer has been or how hard he/she can push the saturation slider.  They are sometimes dramatic, but it’s never forced. This photography draws you in and captivates you. It doesn’t make you go “Wow! Great Capture! You must have a great camera!”, but rather it demands that you linger and let you eyes explore. It’s meditative, subtle and thoroughly gorgeous.

But that’s not the end of The Last Ocean by any means.  Photography is only half the story. The book is full of excellent, reflective essays on the Ross Sea ecosystem, and anecdotes about making the photographs. In fact I found that I had to read the book twice, once for the essays, and once for the photos. And then I read it again, twice.  The essays are not of the clingy, preachy, hand-wringing variety one might fear, but rather are informative, scientifically literate and very readable.

The Last Ocean is associated with the wider Ross Sea Project, a voluntary organisation started in 2004 to promote the establishment of a marine protected area (MPA) in order to conserve the pristine qualities of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. There’s also a film. But start with the book. You won’t regret it.

And if you happen to browsing Orell Füssli’s art book section in Zürich, watch out, they may still have some copies. They’re near the blurry, grainy black & white naked ladies books.

 

Antarctica - In slow time

Stuart Klipper, again

in Antarctica , Thursday, December 05, 2013

A while back I made a bit of a mistake. I wrote about Stuart Klipper, and in particular his book, “The Antarctic: From the Circle to the Pole”, here, and I was pretty enthusiastic about it. The problem is I didn’t realise quite how rare it is, and a few days after my post, coincidentally or not, Amazon and all other vendors (for example the excellent Longitude Books) were out of stock.  Bugger.  I did manage to get Amazon.de to take an order, but every now and again they send me a stream of undecipherable Germanic e-commerce babble which I assume means they’d love to take my money but they can’t. 

So I was pretty surprised not to mention happy to discover Amazon UK suggesting that I buy it new from a 3rd party vendor for just £7.22. And it’s just arrived.

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Over the past few days I’d been enjoying Joseph Holko’s Antarctic images, and feeling a little intimidated by them.  They’re dramatic, full of contrast and vivid flashes of colour, and sharp enough to cut through steel. They grab attention. I despair of ever being able to get anywhere near this standard.  But although I don’t in way want to dismiss them, I’m not sure I ever actually remember Antarctica looking like that.  Antarctica looks the way Stuart Klipper photographs it. It’s mysterious, unattainable, incomprehensible in it’s alien vastness. It’s really not the world of highly saturated dramatic icebergs and penguins that we’re getting increasingly subjected to. Stuart Klipper lets Antarctic speak to us, rather than impose his vision on it, and it makes a huge difference. He doesn’t go the uninvolved, dispassionate lengths of the more conceptualist art landscape crowd, there’s still a considerable emotional attachment involved, but you get the impression of a photographer who has taken his time to take a long look before pressing the shutter release.

Of course, Holko will sell, and Klipper probably doesn’t much. And Holko is a photographer, while Klipper has at least one foot in the “artist” camp. These are just observations, Joseph Holko is a fantastic photographer, and I’m just using his work to contrast with Stuart Klipper’s, I’m not being judgemental. But although I certainly don’t claim any artistic merit for myself, I do feel that my own photography is somewhat validated by Klipper’s. Sure, I’ve tried to go for the in-vogue ultra-impact approach myself, but I’m not comfortable with it and I think it shows. Which is probably why in my heart of hearts I prefer my XPan work. Not specifically because of the format, but because it’s on slide film, and there’s very limit scope in pushing that beyond what-you’ve-got-is-what-you-get.

Anyway, I’ve got a book to read tonight.

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Penguin Parade

Featuring Pygoscelis antarctica

in Antarctica , Monday, September 16, 2013

Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) are almost certainly the cutest of all penguins - except for all the others, of course. But really, they’re cute. Not quite as entertaining as Adelies, not quite as exuberant as Gentoos, not quite as big as Emperors, but sweeter than all of these combined.

And here’s a selection.

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With the unflappable support of the Olympus Optical Company’s E-5 photographic apparatus and assorted, and somewhat heavy, lenses.

 

Slough of Despond

Deception Island, Antarctica

in Antarctica , Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Keeping in tune with my general aura of grim despondency, the first set of non-panoramic photographs I have put together from last winter’s Antarctica jaunt features that slough of despond, Whaler’s Bay at Deception Island. In much the same way that I was drawn to decay and desolation at Pyramiden, at the other end of the planet, and indeed at Argentiero, in a very different climate, I find Deception island quite fascinating. It seems that vestiges and faded memories of human presence seem to attract me much more than the thriving activity. Deception Island, and Whaler’s Bay in particular, depresses quite a few people - there remains an aura of wanton, reckless destruction from whaling times, and the residue of the last sequence of eruptions contributes to a dark atmosphere. It’s not a happy place.

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Whaler’s Bay has been considerably sanitised since my first visit. Although I appreciate the idea of cleaning up the environment, in particular when it comes to dangerous substances, it does seem somewhat at odds with preserving Antarctic history. I’m not sure how justified it can be to present some kind of squeaky clean vision of the past, in particular erasing Argentinian graffiti from the oil tanks.

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Whaler’s Bay oil tanks in 1987 …

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… Whaler’s Bay oil tanks in 2013.

 
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