It's the centenary of explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott's (1868-1912) last ill-fated expedition to Antarctica. Later this month the Natural History Museum in London will hold a large exhibition, but right now there is a moving show of photos from his last trip at the Queen's Gallery, beside Buckingham Palace in London.
The provenance of the exhibition, called "The Heart of the Great Alone," and the photos are very special.The images were taken by George Herbert Ponting who was the official photographer for the expedition. He produced over 2,000 glass plate negatives -- in freezing sub-zero and stormy conditions. Some were printed on blue or green coloured paper to reflect the colours of the ice.
These were presented to King George V and are now part of the Royal Collection, hence the location of the show at the Palace gallery.
The story is fascinating--the English are obsessed with it because the men faced death with such heroic bravery. Stiff upper lip, chaps, and all that. Scott said "We have been to the Pole and we shall die like gentlemen."
Canadian obsessive, TreeHugger Lloyd, explains why it is an environmental story as well as an historical one: "Scott's reputation is on the rise again. He was interested in science and research; he was actually slowed down on his trip by scientific equipment. For Scott, the science mattered. His team did important meteorological work and studies of marine life. Apsley Cherry-Garrard complained that he almost died collecting some birds eggs that in the end sat in a drawer at a British Museum for thirty years without being looked at."
Captain Scott set sail for Antarctica on the ship Terra Nova in 1910, determined to be the first to reach the South Pole. His crew included Ponting, the first official photographer to participate in a polar expedition. Ponting never stopped photographing, despite extreme weather conditions and lack of light. He took photos of everything: shipboard life, the spectacular landscape, the expedition crew, and wildlife including seals, gulls and penguins.
Ponting's interests included all aspects of the landscape. This photograph of the icebergs was taken in 1910. Ponting was an accomplished travel photographer and his photos are beautifully composed and impeccably shot.
This photo shows four Siberian ponies and two huskies curled up on the ground, on board ship the Terra Nova. Captain Oates is posing for the camera, since Ponting was such a perfectionist. Introducing the ponies to the hardships of Antarctica was very difficult due to snow blindness, and difficulties in walking in snow. They even tried snowshoes because the ponies were slowing down the expedition.
This is probably the most famous image of Scott. It was taken three weeks before he set sail for the South Pole. He is sitting at his desk, with his pipe, writing in his diary. Note the photo of his wife on the right and his rack of pipes on the wall, to the extreme left. This hut will be reconstructed at the upcoming exhibition at the Natural History Museum.
Before he left the expedition, Ponting gave photography lessons to several members of the group so that they could photograph their arrival at the South Pole. Since no one survived the journey back, the poignant photos taken by these men served as proof of their success. The negatives were found in the tent, with the bodies in November, 1912.