Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Herbert Ponting: Captain Scott’s Antarctic Expedition (1910-1913)

His joy is to reproduce its pictures artistically, his grief is to fail to do so. -Captain Robert Scott, 1911

Moustache encrusted with ice, photographer Herbert Ponting stands on an iceberg near McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, in 1911. Ponting was part of the scientific staff on the 1910-1912 Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole

Mustache encrusted with ice, photographer Herbert Ponting stands on an iceberg near McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, in 1911. Ponting was part of the scientific staff on the 1910-1912 Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole

A stable of Japanese sumo wrestlers, circa 1903 t

A stable of Japanese sumo wrestlers, circa 1903

Herbert Ponting began his career in photography relatively late in life. After moving from Salisbury England to California in his early twenties, he dabbled unsuccessfully in mining and fruit-farming before turning to photography. He became correspondent on the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, and afterwards continued to travel around Asia, exploring Burma, Korea, Java, China and India. During this time he delivered magnificently created images back to newspapers, periodical and magazines, and in 1910 released his book In Lotus-land Japan.

The Terra Nova, photographed in December 1910, Herbert Ponting

The Terra Nova, photographed in December 1910

In 1911 Ponting joined Scott’s British Terra Nova Expedition, which set out to collect scientific data about the Antarctic continent, with its main goal to reach the South Pole. Ponting was the first professional photographer on an Antarctic expedition and went on to set other precedents in Antarctica. He took some of the first still color photographs in Antarctica using auto chrome plates, and was one of the first men to use a cinematograph to capture short video sequences on the ice.

Herbert Ponting with his camera

Herbert Ponting with his camera

Herbert Ponting photographing a skua

Herbert Ponting photographing a skua

Coining the term to ‘pont’, meaning ‘to pose until nearly frozen, in all sorts of uncomfortable positions’, Ponting thought it imperative to get the picture just right. On the expedition he could often be found rigging up a device to allow himself to suspend from the ship, sometimes creating risky situations for himself and other crew mates.

Herbert Ponting leaving Terra Nova

Herbert Ponting leaving Terra Nova

During his fourteen months at Cape Evans he documented the Antarctic landscape, wildlife and expedition life, and often kept the men entertained by showing lantern slides of his travels through Asia.

Judged too old at the age of forty-two to sustain another grueling year on the ice, Ponting, along with eight other men, was sent home after the first year of the expedition. Back in England he was devastated to learn of the deaths of Scott and the Polar Party. He spent the remainder of his life lecturing on Antarctica and the expedition to ensure that the splendor of Antarctica and the heroism of Scott and his men would not be forgotten. His book The Great White South was published in 1921, and in 1933 his moving footage in full sound version Ninety Degrees South: With Scott to The Antarctic was released.

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“The Sleeping Bag” (Herbert Ponting’s poem, outlining preferences on how to orient one’s reindeer-skin sleeping bag):

On the outside grows the furside. On the inside grows the skinside.
So the furside is the outside and the skinside is the inside.
As the skinside is the inside (and the furside is the outside)
One ‘side’ likes the skinside inside and the furside on the outside.
Others like the skinside outside and the furside on the inside
As the skinside is the hard side and the furside is the soft side.
If you turn the skinside outside, thinking you will side with that ‘side’,
Then the soft side furside’s inside, which some argue is the wrong side.
If you turn the furside outside – as you say, it grows on that side,
Then your outside’s next the skinside, which for comfort’s not the right side.
For the skinside is the cold side and your outside’s not your warm side
And the two cold sides coming side-by-side are not the right sides one ‘side’ decides.
If you decide to side with that ‘side’, turn the outside furside inside
Then the hard side, cold side, skinside’s, beyond all question, inside outside.

Some of the Antarctic Photographs of Herbert Ponting:

Sun Across the Ice, Antarctica, by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

Sun Across the Ice, Antarctica, by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

Scott's Antarctic expedition from the 1910s

Ice Cave near Cape Evans with Terra Nova in Background, circa 1911

Mt. Erebus and a Dome Cloud, Scott Expedition, Antarctica by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

Mt. Erebus and a Dome Cloud, Scott Expedition, Antarctica by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

“Dog Chris, listening to the gramophone, Antarctica” - photograph taken in January 1911 by Herbert Ponting, Robert Falcon Scott's official photographer for the the Terra Nova Expedition

“Dog Chris, listening to the gramophone, Antarctica” – photograph taken in January 1911 by Herbert Ponting, Robert Falcon Scott’s official photographer for the the Terra Nova Expedition

Berg under flashlight, by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

Berg under flashlight, by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

Barne Glacier, Scott Expedition, Antarctica, by Herbert George Ponting 1911

Barne Glacier, Scott Expedition, Antarctica, by Herbert George Ponting 1911

Captain Scott in his den, Scott Expedition, Antarctica, by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

Captain Scott in his den, Scott Expedition, Antarctica, by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

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One response

  1. The Invisible Sage

    Inspiring early photography. A real trailblazer.

    January 6, 2014 at 7:32 pm

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