Antarctic Verses is a project that began in early January of 2012. At that time I traveled by ship from Ushuaia, Argentina, through the Beagle Channel and across the infamous Drake Passage to reach the Antarctic Peninsula. For 11 days I experienced the dramatic terrain of the Southern Continent. Equipped with two medium- format film cameras, I visually recorded moments of what I understood to be a shared consciousness between the ever-transforming landscape, the peninsula’s inhabitants, and myself. The result is the following collection of photographs, or as I see them, a series of visual verses. It is my intention that the photographs read as a poem or song. The images may stand alone, just as a stanza may secure its own legacy, but together they create a larger representative ethos.
I don't venture beyond plausibility by assigning the Antarctic landscape an intrinsic consciousness. 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice, which is to say that it is blanketed and entirely surrounded by water — an element that many believe to be inherently conscious. If we consider ourselves––conscious beings––who, on average, are over 70% water, we find that we too are more water than anything else. Perhaps this is the reason why I felt an unmistakable connection to an otherwise entirely unfamiliar environment. I understand the problems in making such a bold claim as this: the blatant romanticism, the projection of my own thoughts and desires onto the landscape, just to name a couple. However, I also understand the consideration of the perennial question: “What is our—human beings’—relationship to the land?” Antarctic Verses is an honest attempt to answer that question.
The images themselves vary in tone, composition, and subject matter. They at once show the minimalism of a landscape swept by unmolested snow, and the clean edged maximalism of glacial ice. They explore the relationship between the monumental and the seemingly minute: the immense expanse of an evening vista challenges the boundary of the photo’s edge (pg. 2), while a small and solitary Chinstrap penguin pauses atop a stone in inferred contemplation (pg.28). It is my hope that these photos, working together as a series must, illuminate a larger objective truth about the Antarctic ecosystem, albeit through the subjectivity of the artist’s composition. That truth is that Antarctica isn’t just a balancing sheet of ice, as many believe it to be, but rather a complex ecosystem of unparalleled beauty brimming with the fragility of resilient life. Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins seem to pose graciously for portraits (pg. 25), while a massive Fur Seal sits atop a throne of boulders, surveying the land and sea with indelible authority (pg. 19).
The photographs may be recognized as a series by their monochromatic, balanced, and often linear compositions. Though Antarctica is a land of exceptional color–turquoise waters, tangerine penguin beaks, neon lichen–I chose to utilize high-contrast black & white film to better convey the structure and striking form of the Antarctic continent. Snow and ice appear vividly against dark gray water and implacable back stone; patches of snow, or inversely, encompassed sections of bare rock, are often included within the frame to balance the composition as if they were keen dabs of paint applied by a brush of atmospheric chance. A few of the images, however, are primarily white, as the snow and sky dominate the tonal values inside the frame. Without the clear distinction between land and sky, the photograph flattens, and our perception is put to question. The land seems to dematerialize and to become one with an afternoon sky heavy with kinetic flakes.
To dematerialize is to do away with the constriction of physical structure. After it is done, one may view the previously cocooned spirit on a limitless plane of free will, and one’s eyes may render the spirit in its natural state of being. Perhaps the spirit we see is imagined, or is a tacit, subconscious understanding; perhaps it is simply a projection of our own spirit, or something so incomprehensible that it may only be explained by the generalizing rationale of God. This lack of a known answer is contradictory to the often dogmatic assigning of truth or “reality” to photographic record. With typical perception subverted, the photograph opens itself to subjective spiritual interpretation, thereby moving beyond an objective, material understanding. As the land fades deeper into swathing atmospherics, the resulting dematerialization transfigures the landscape into a mysterious, joyful complexity, understood only, perhaps, by the dematerialization of the self.
I like to understand this physical disappearance as a visual metaphor for Antarctica's structural disintegration; as more ice continues to melt on and around Antarctica, the physical and spiritual identity of Antarctica melts away. This flux presents an interesting yet tragic subject for the photographer. It has been said that good art is timeless; however, there is a glaring temporality in polar photography. The landscape is ever-changing, melting, vanishing. A well-reasoned argument could be made that it is the very nature of photography to fix the temporal, to capture fleeting moments and encase time in silver. I believe this to be true. That said, as I’ve learned watching a glacier thunderously calve, a sense of temporality is heightened in the polar regions. The photographer walks a transparent spectrum between eternity, the present, and wistful nostalgia. Recording the present with veracity is an impossible task because an Antarctic moment is one in continuous fluctuation; perceptible change may take years for a mountain, but only minutes for ice. A polar photograph becomes instantly nostalgic, melting until its icy structure may only be viewed as a memory.
As well documented by those who care to explore, and well heard by those who care to listen, this ecosystem is under great threat due to global climate change, over-fishing, and unregulated tourism. The photographs reveal past threats, such as the slaughter of Humpback Whales, Blue Whales, Fin Whales, Right Whales, Sperm Whales, and Minke Whales; their timeworn bones litter the rough beaches like abstract and incomplete graveyards (pg. 6, 20). The photographs are witness to the current effects of polar warming: a Gentoo penguin rests upon a lone chunk of ice (pg. 25), and a languid iceberg begins to melt outward from its crystalline heart (pg. 7). I do not share this information to declare myself righteous or to create a veil of sanctimoniousness –certainly I am guilty of eco-tourism, even if treading as lightly as possible–but rather I share this information because having experienced the destructive causality of human action first hand, I feel responsible, perhaps in assumed ambassadorship, for the ecosystem I have become connected to.
I share these thoughts as a potential comprehension of these photographs. It is my hope that the images open themselves to a multiplicity of understandings as all good art should. Above all, however, it is my wish for you that Antarctic Verses inspires the beauty and tragedy that encompass Antarctica .