Saturday, March 5, 2011

Portfolio: Color Photographs from the Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition


By now, the voyage of Ernest Shackleton and his crew on the Endurance is a part of adventure lore, the story well told how despite the loss of the ship to crushing Antarctic ice in 1915, Shackleton kept his men safe and their morale up for more than 500 days, eventually landing their lifeboats on Elephant Island and then going on with a small crew to find rescue at a whaling station on South Georgia Island. It is one of the great survival tales of all time, and thanks to the glass plate negatives of photographer Frank Hurley, we’re able to get a small glimpse what it was like.
Not so widely known is that Hurley also shot color photos of the Endurance and its crew. He used an early polychrome process called paget, which was patented in 1912 in England and remained in use until the 1920s. Paget used two plates, one a traditional black and white negative, the other a red, green, and blue screen (sound familiar?). Hurley retrieved his negatives from the sinking Endurance, but only 150 out of 550 were saved.
A treasure trove of the paget images was recently put online by the State Library of New South Wales, Australia (Hurley was Aussie). Responses to them will differ, of course, but the element that seems to jump out is how the color conveys the fragile humanity of the crew. The black and whites we’ve seen in books and documentaries seem to speak to an almost Victorian era, and the little black blobs on the ice reduce the men to little more than props. The hues, however, while faded, show the flesh of the flesh and the blood of the blood, and remind of a vulnerability that makes their story of survival all the more incredible.
Face of the Neumeyer Glacier, 1915.
Scouting land with dog teams.
Hurley with camera.
Endurance, ice-bound.
Alfred Cheetam signaling.
Sir Ernest Shackleton watching a lead form.Albatross chick.Endurance covered in rime.Endurance deck.Trapped.Bosun John Vincent mending a net.
Sunrise, South Georgia.New Fortuna Glacier.Glacier, New Fortuna Bay.Frank Hurley, photographer.

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