A Photographer's Antarctic Odyssey in the Year 1959


DeepFreeze! - Gallery - Purchase

© Copyright 2016 Robert A McCabe

Preface by Caroline Alexander

Antarctica is the only continent to have been discovered by the camera. Before ships entered Antarctic waters, voyages of exploration had traditionally carried expeditionary artists whose duties were to capture, in watercolors and sketches, the novel landscapes, wildlife and native peoples they encountered. Early expeditions to the Great White south, on the other hand, were accompanied by the camera. The first photographs of the Antarctic were taken in 1897, by the American Frederick Cook (later of North Pole and Mount McKinley notoriety), while serving as ship’s surgeon on the Belgica. When the ship became trapped in ice and her crew inadvertently became the first men to endure an Antarctic winter, Cook turned his camera to making portraits of the beleaguered ship and men as well as “scientific” studies of ice and wildlife.

In these earliest Antarctic ventures, the camera functioned principally as an extension of the artist’s sketchbook. But when Robert Falcon Scott sailed south in 1910 on the Terra Nova, the camera and photographer played a more self-conscious and professional role. Aware that the drama of an expedition could be captured, and commercially exploited, by still and moving film, expedition photographer Herbert Ponting embarked upon what would now be recognized as documentary filmmaking, as well as consciously artistic endeavors. Through his lenses, even in black and white, Antarctica’s landscape shimmers and broods in dramatic ends-of-the-earth light and shadows.  The art of icescape photography was later perfected by Australian Frank Hurley in his brilliant series of photographs chronicling, and dramatically elevating, the ordeal of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1916 endurance expedition.

Robert A. McCabe’s DeepFreeze!, therefore, not only chronicles what was itself an historic venture – “a Photographer's Antarctic Odyssey in the Year 1959” in the words of the book’s subtitle – but also stands in the grand historic tradition. Here are the dramatic renderings of light and shade that define and contour the Antarctic, beautifully rendered to shimmer off the page; and here are the portraits of the crews, better clothed than their predecessors, better equipped, but still unmistakably “expeditionary”.  Here also are images that the old camera hands of the heroic age would have gaped to see – Antarctica from the air.  This is a wonderful book, and will be valued by enthusiasts of expeditionary history and Antarctica, and all who are moved by sublime glimpses of the earth’s far away places.

Caroline Alexander
January 2010