Break­ing new ground to cap­ture Antarc­tic ex­pe­di­tion in pic­tures

Gloucestershire Echo - - NEWS -

with An­nrachael Har­wood from The Wil­son Art Gallery & Mu­seum, Chel­tenham


WE had no dif­fi­culty se­lect­ing one of our many ob­jects and pho­to­graphs – from the 250,000 we hold – for this week’s col­umn.

It had to be some­thing in­clud­ing snow and the up­com­ing Wil­son Film sea­son.

That led me to this won­der­ful pho­to­graph of Her­bert Ponting.

Ponting was se­lected by Cap­tain Scott to join his Terra Nova ex­pe­di­tion to the Antarc­tic – the first of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­pher to the south­ern con­ti­nent, but also on any such sci­en­tific ex­pe­di­tion.

Shack­le­ton sub­se­quently took Frank Hur­ley on the En­durance and you can see his amaz­ing pho­to­graphs in the En­dur­ing Eye ex­hi­bi­tion, show­ing at the Wil­son un­til Fe­bru­ary 24.

Ponting was one of the old­est mem­bers of the Terra Nova ex­pe­di­tion. Tal­ented and ex­pe­ri­enced, and had a wide range of com­mis­sions and jobs be­fore he joined the ship.

He worked as a miner and fruit grower in the United States be­fore turn­ing to pho­tog­ra­phy and cov­er­ing wars and other events across Asia.

As well as still pho­to­graphs, Ponting was in­ter­ested in the mov­ing im­age.

Scott was an in­no­va­tor, and took Ponting as he wanted to pur­sue the pos­si­bil­i­ties pho­tog­ra­phy gave for sci­en­tific and ge­o­graph­i­cal record­ing.

He had used the medium on the Dis­cov­ery ex­pe­di­tion but not to any great ex­tent.

Ponting worked along­side Ed­ward Wil­son, who was record­ing sim­i­lar ma­te­rial through his sketches and water­colours.

Ponting re­garded him­self as a cam­era artist and doc­u­mented just about ev­ery as­pect of ex­pe­di­tion life, from the time the Terra Nova left Bri­tain in 1910 un­til he re­turned on the ship 14 months later.

His at­ten­tion to de­tail and the much slower shut­ter speeds of the pe­riod meant that he took his time tak­ing a pho­to­graph.

His hu­man sub­jects gave vent to much mut­ter­ing. so much so the team mem­bers came up with a phrase for the ex­pe­ri­ence – to pont, re­fer­ring to keep­ing still for a long time.

Photograph­ic film was avail­able but Ponting pre­ferred to use plate glass neg­a­tives.

In the hut and ship where he needed ex­tra light, he worked with the rather tem­per­a­men­tal mag­ne­sium-based flash can­dles – I imag­ine these caused some com­ments and in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

He trained sev­eral ex­pe­di­tion mem­bers, in­clud­ing Scott, ge­ol­o­gist Frank Deben­ham and Henry Bow­ers, who or­gan­ised the well-known im­ages of the Scott party at the South Pole.

Ponting re­turned home with 1,700 photograph­ic plates and the first mov­ing im­age from the con­ti­nent.

The plan was for Ponting to as­sem­ble lec­ture slides, and when Scott re­turned, the pair of them were go­ing to set up a se­ries of talks and per­for­mances to raise the money to cover the out­stand­ing debt on the ex­pe­di­tion.

This never hap­pened as Scott did not re­turn, but Ponting did give lec­tures in Lon­don.

He also re­leased the movie film the Great White Si­lence in 1922, a unique record of the ex­pe­di­tion.

The British Film In­sti­tute re­stored it for the cen­te­nary of the ex­pe­di­tion and you have an op­por­tu­nity to watch it at the Wil­son on Fe­bru­ary 23 as part of our film fes­ti­val.

What more ap­pro­pri­ate place to see Wil­son and his fel­low ex­plor­ers than in the town of his birth in the mu­seum bear­ing his name?

Her­bert Ponting

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