An ongoing series of micro-videos produced for Antarctica New Zealand as a response to my 2016 residency at Scott Base, Antarctica as part of their Community Engagement Program.
Beware the crossed flags!
Scott Base Field trainer Mike Lundin and Mike Rowe check out the sea-ice ahead of our Hagglund vehicles. Regular routes are marked with lines or flags that have been scouted out. Hazards like hidden or active cracks are marked with crossed flags and the field trainers check them out before driving over them. Cracks are often only visible as faint changes in the texture of the snow (see below) … if you’re lucky! In white out conditions visibility can make them completely invisible. Before crossing dodgy cracks they drill holes to expire the thickness and shape of the ice.
Big ups to these guys for keeping us safe!
Shots of the historic huts in Antarctica – mostly from Scott’s hut and Cape Evans with a few from Shackleton’s Cape Royds thrown in. This is a working edit so will change over time.
Scott’s hut is the iconic base associated with Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition 1910–1913 and his second, and final, famed attempt for the Geographic South Pole.
I wanted to capture the feeling of visiting the hut rather than concentrating on accurately documenting the site and artefacts, after all, many very good photographers have done this already (including the outstanding work of Jane Ussher in her book Still Life: Inside the Antarctic huts of Scott and Shackleton). I found it quite liberating to know I could take a totally different approach. See her video from TEDx at the bottom of this page.
When we entered the hut it was very dark with snow covering many of the windows. We had to wear head-torches which created an eerie pool of light in the inky dark, revealing a small bit at a time. To try and get the feeling of the experience I shot with combinations of head-torch and snooted flash lighting and using my homemade lens on a modern Nikon DSLR. The lens is made with the element from a 100 year old Kodak pocket camera very similar to that used by the photographer from Shackleton’s expeditions, Frank Hurley.
This video of Jane Ussher speaking for the recent TEDx Scott Base gives a fantastic heartfelt context to the place, her work and then how my photos contrast to her work.
The Antarctic Heritage Trust has a very good website that goes into great detail about this and the other historic huts in Antarctica https://www.nzaht.org/explorer-bases/scotts-hut-cape-evans
Today I thought I would mark the departure of the TEDx peeps from Scott Base with a triptych of photos taken there. As we walked around the base in 18°c comfort, every window we past gave a different framed view of the Antarctic environment beyond. This made me think how much we depended on the insulated protection the base provided us, and from there I expended my thoughts to a wider relationship with nature which formed the basis of my “thin green line” conceptual framework.
But then, academic constructs aside … it just looked bloody cool.
Camping in the New Zealand summer … Antarctica style. After a three hour ride in the Hagglund we arrived at our campsite for the final part of our field survival training. This shot was taken about 11.30 at night and this is about as dark as it got. The tents are pretty much the same design Scott used during his fatal 1912 journey to the pole. In the background is the ever present Mt Erebus. On the left Warren is recording the sound of the flagpoles squeaking as the move in the snow.
To learn more bout the camping see my earlier video post.
The thin green line is a conceptual representation of our relationship with nature I have developed since visiting Antarctica. I explain it below:
Scott Base is a wonderful place. More than a mere shelter from the harsh environment of Antarctica, it has a special culture among it’s personnel, both ‘permanent’ and the transient scientists and others like myself and Warren.
Literally you can step from the friendly, pleasant 18° comfort of the base, through an industrial fridge door, into the potentially killer conditions outside.
This tiny separation between civilisation and wilderness, literally a thin green line because Scott Base is painted a fetching green colour (Chelsea Cucumber to be exact), really got me thinking about our broader relationship with nature.
Our Scott Base Hagglund makes it’s way to the field training campsite. These all-terrain vehicles are the work horses of Antarctica. We travelled across the sea-ice in them for hours at a time. It’s far to say that they are not exactly luxury travel but by Antarctica stands they are bloody brilliant transport 11 people (5 in the front and 6 in the back) with ease but I think the Swedish army squeezes in upwards of 16 pax! In a worst case scenario they can even float – a feature we fortunately didn’t need to test.
For some reason it seemed an appropriate pick for the last FridayFoto before Christmas … hang on! … That’s it!
Following on from a conversation with Warren in which he asked me to send him a new photo from our Antarctica #60shadesofwhite project every Friday I have decided to declare the beginning of “Antarctica FridayFoto” – I’ll post a random image every Friday … what fun!
To kick things off I thought I would transport you to the disorientingly beautiful world under the sea-ice in McMurdo Sound. Taken from the observation tube in front of the American base, both images (yes one is upside-down) show the algae growing on the underside of the 2m thick ice.
Some research into photography/video in Antarctic conditions.
In practice – my own findings
We went to The Ice in late October which is early in ‘the season’. At that time of year the sun is up 24hrs a day but gets very low in the sky between 12 and 2am. Really quite nice light. It did mean it was still quite cold. Most days were about -20°c without windchill (which could easily push it down to -35°c). In short … bloody cold.
Obviously this meant wear sensible clothes. As your mother would tell you “wear a jacket”. AntarcticaNZ go a bit further and issued us with some amazing kit!. I was never really cold with the very notable exception of my nose and fingers. In order to use the cameras I often had to compromise what gloves I wore. When possible I opted for a pair of polyprop liners and some medium weight outers but even then holding the cameras was painful after 30 minutes or so. On rare occasions I took my outer gloves off to do fiddly things which I usually regretted doing almost instantly. AntarcticaNZ gave me some chemical glove warmers which helped, especially to get the feeling back when you stopped shooting.
Anything metal becomes a nightmare to hold for even a short time. I wrapped as much of the metal surfaces of cameras and tripods with thin closed cell foam and insulation taped which definitely helped.
Another hassle with wearing thick gloves was that it became hard to feel my way around a lens so I would occasionally turn the focus when I wanted to zoom etc. I put a cable tie and insulation tape around focus ring to make it easier to feel and it worked a treat (see red tape on lens in the photo above).
The next biggest issue was glasses and goggles fogging. You have to wear a neck warmer or something over your mouth and nose which meant that my sunglasses tended to fog (and then freeze). Goggles where better but harder to look into the viewfinders. I do recommend the neoprene face masks with vents for nose and mouth. As expected the bright conditions made it very hard to look at the screen on the back of the camera unless it had a viewfinder on it. I found the Zacuto Z-Finders worked perfectly – no fogging.
Condensation was really only an issue when things got steamy – in Hagglund vehicles with lots of body heat or in cooking tents etc. See the tips below which helped to a degree.
On the whole batteries were not as big a drama as I was expecting. They definitely didn’t last as long as usual but the onboard batteries in the Nikons were ok. I used an external pack for the D800 for a while but the cable froze solid and snapped! The one battery type that really didn’t work well was the GoPro batteries which lasted as little as 15 minutes at -20°c. Underwater where it was only -3c they were better. The Nation Geographic crew had larger external batteries (I think they wee third party) which seemed to last better.
The cameras themselves were little troopers! Big ups to Nikon and Black Magic! All the cameras just kept on functioning without too much drama. After long periods the screens would slowly crap out. LCD’s would fade and become sluggish, the rear monitors would have pixels crap out and develop alarming lines down them (BMPCC) but they came right in the warm and the cameras kept taking pictures.
The absolute hero was my little Nikon CoolpixA – small enough to always be there, I could put it on my pocket to keep warm and even when frozen solid it kept going even though it was covered in frost and the screen went blue!
I am yet to get to the bottom of an autofocus issue with the D800 – it may be an issue with one lens. Other than that it was fine.
I used ND filters most of the time to control the 24hr sunlight. An absolute must!
All the lenses where fine most of the time. The only real issue was when my Sigma 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM lens focus froze solid (both manual and auto-focus) after about 2 1/2hours at -20°c … but by then my fingers were so cold I didn’t care!
Microphones all worked fine – the big shotgun mic with a blimp was essential to work in the wind. As expected the audio recording on the BMPCC was … well it was totally shit … reference only. The Zoom H6 was outstanding!
For more of my pre-trip research read the Sub zero photography page
The wall of my MDes office is slowly being taken over by small prints from the Antarctica: Sixty Shades of White project. It represents a tiny proportion of the 1TB of data, stills and video I collected while on The Ice in October. It is still very early days but at least five possible collections/projects are emerging … this will keep me going for years!
Warren played a short gig at the bar in New Zealand’s Scott Base in Antarctica as part of our visit there. This is a short sample of what he played. Sean Tracey joined us from McMurdo Station (the American base) to play harmonica.
It was magical moment at the base with most of the personnel crammed into the small bar with guests from the nearby McMudo Station. Huge thanks to Scott Gilbert for bringing over the guitar etc.
A bit of Antarctica fun for a Friday.
One of the first things you do when you visit Scott Base in Antarctica is to go “field training” where you learn survival techniques and spend a night camping in -20ºc.
After two hours driving in the Hagglund tracked vehicle we arrived at our camp site with Mt Erebus standing guard. We slept in tents very similar to those that Scott used and made a cooking area with blocks cut from the snow. The Field Trainers from Antarctica New Zealand were superb. That wonderfully New Zealand combination of friendly and relaxed but totally on to it and experienced.
So join Warren and I on a very quick, lighthearted look at camping in Antarctica.
Not long after we arrived at Scott Base, Antarctica my project partner, Warren Maxwell sang a stunning waiata to mark “International singing day”. Purea Nei by Hirini Melbourne
After a really productive initial discussion with @AntarcticaNZ my research has moved into a new phase – I’m now focussing on the depiction of ‘heroes’ and ‘explorers’ through portraiture in historic and contemporary contexts.
This reflects a fledgling strategic approach to repositioning the public perception of science by depicting the Antarctic Scientists as “Science Explorers” – modern approachable heroes striving to understand climate change to help deal with it.
This might be the beginning of “the new heroic age” of Antarctica?
Still early days … watch this space.
I’m super stoked to announce that I’m going to Antarctica this summer on the Antarctica New Zealand Community Engagement Program to work with the scientists at New Zealand’s Antarctic base, Scott Base.
Exploring and celebrating 60 years of Scott Base, this project aims to connect new audiences with Antarctica by allowing them to experience the life and work at Scott Base through the eyes of the scientists, explorers and personnel that have been there. Details of the project outputs will evolve over the course of the project but are likely to involve multi-channel immersive video instillation, photography and other online videos.
The working title of the project is “Antarctica: 60 shades of white”. Watch for the hash tag #60shadesofwhite on my Twitter feed
This project will be the subject for my MDes project at Massey University’s School of Design for the next two years and many other outputs beyond that I’m sure. Details of exactly when and how long I ‘m going to The Ice so watch this space for more detail.
I have set up a project page on the site where I will document progress.
HUGE thanks to everyone at Antarctica New Zealand for saying yes!