When words aren’t enough
Images carried back from Antarctica in Sue Weterings’ camera and in her heart are going on the walls of an art gallery. talked to her about the adventure of a lifetime.
Waking up to a wall of ice inches from her window is something that Sue Weterings can’t quite put into words.
But she can put what she felt into an image.
A trip to Antarctica on the National Geographic Explorer is one of the most extraordinary things she has ever done and communicating the experience through her photography was ‘‘a real challenge’’.
Towering walls of ice with light slicing through, the fluke of a whale, the open-eyed stare of a leopard seal – Weterings discovered a world with so many differing shades of white and blue that it took a while for her eyes to adjust.
But when they did, what she saw was ‘‘unbelievable’’, but at the same time she had to face some hard truths.
‘‘It’s so fragile there with climate change – the whole balance with the warming waters and wildlife having to move their habitat. It is just so evident when you go there and see it. This planet is something amazing and it’s our responsibility to look after it.’’
Her images are going on the walls of Taylor Jensen Fine Arts Gallery in Palmerston North.
It will be the first time Weterings’ photos have been in an exhibition and she hopes they will say something to the people who stand in front of them.
‘‘Antarctica is so incredibly awesome.
‘‘My goal with the exhibition is to show people a little of what it felt like to be there and just that this planet is incredible and in need of our help.’’
The boat left from Argentina, travelled across the Drake passage and then down the Antarctic Peninsula.
The weather was so good they went beyond 60 degrees south, sailing through the night and experiencing new icescapes daily.
‘‘Some days we would be cruising around icebergs on zodiacs and other days we’d be walking up glaciers.’’
One day, their zodiac made tiny in the shadows of giant ice sheets, came across a leopard seal.
Weterings had become interested in the creatures before her trip.
She was intrigued by the observations of wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen, who by spending time with leopard seals found out that the creatures, notorious for being aggressive, could also be extremely curious.
‘‘He had this incredible encounter with this leopard seal. He was diving and for days this seal had been curious about him and she would bring him a seal to eat and at one stage she thought there was something wrong with him and she put a fur seal on top of his head. She just played with him.’’
On Nicklen’s last day of working with the animals, the leopard seal from his earlier friendly encounters suddenly came straight at him and he thought that was it, it was all over.
But actually, there was another seal behind him being aggressive and she was protecting him.
So, it was a special moment for Weterings as a female leopard seal glided towards their boat.
‘‘We had spotted her and wanted her to come towards us, so we had started singing the Paul Simon song Cecilia.’’
Weterings took a lot of photos that day and some have made their way into the exhibition and books that she has produced.
A big part of why Weterings takes photos is to give something to people – a feeling of place, or time, a sense of wonder or just a moment of escape.
Weterings travels a lot. Her photos track her footsteps through South America, Tibet, Canada, Namibia and Africa.
It isn’t big cities she is capturing. It’s the changing earth, the light at the other side of the world, the colours of someone else’s reality and a sense of place.
And animals are always a focus wherever she goes.
‘‘I love the whole natural history side of things. The landscapes, wildlife and fauna.
‘‘For me, it’s part of my life journey of developing your own potential and being able to explore different parts of the world and meet all sorts of people. And then the photos become part of a conversation that you can share with people.’’
Myanmar will be the next stamp in her passport and Weterings hopes there will be a return to Antarctica.
It’s a place so overwhelmingly impossible to explain that she turned to the things she knows – her camera, her eyes and her ability to turn what she feels into an image that speaks.
Palmerston North photographer Sue Weterings in Antarctica.
The scenery that photographer Sue Weterings saw while she was in Antarctica often took her breath away.
The effects climate change is having on the environment was noticable.
A close encounter with a leopard seal while in Antarctica.