I love ice and icebergs.
I am enthralled by these floating and artful armadas. I am not the first. From Antarctica to Greenland and beyond, countries and people for centuries were obsessed by these unmapped mazes of ice.
Naval expeditions, fortune-seeking whalers, and sealers sailed deep into these uncharted waters facing untold misery and hardships, never knowing if they would return to their sweethearts. Many explorers found themselves marooned on the ice and were forced to set out on fateful marches with little provisions or protection. The horror and terror, snow blindness and frostbite, horrendous storms and mesmerizing ice labyrinths sometimes caused madness, starvation and death.
Today, most adventurers journey to these ice-capped regions within the comfort of floating hotels. The luxury ships are equipped with ice-strengthened hulls and stabilizers to moderate the pitching and rolling as they cross the Drake Passage en route to Antarctica. It is a dramatic contrast to Sir Francis Drake’s 1578 expedition, for instance, which was blown far south in a ferocious gale.
In 982, Eric the Red sailed from Iceland in his longboat and landed in Greenland. Today, 200 miles north of where he landed is Nuuk, the capital of Greenland.
How resolute were these early explorers encountering vast stretches of fractured and drifting ice? What courage it must have taken to navigate through a gallery of blue, green and aquamarine sculptures, icebergs carved by wind and sea. Like monstrous corks, they are deserving of a wide berth.
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Why, then, do these high- and low- latitude places move me?
It is, perhaps, the siren song of the very same sensations that pulled the Vikings. There is nothing quite as exhilarating as the bracing sea air and a sense of ever-colder weather as one draws steadily nearer to the Polar Regions. The light is extraordinary — muffled gray skies with tinges of purple and pink, a marvelous contrast to the enduring tabular icebergs.
The ice is art. It also is architecture, the finest. Frank Gehry might have drawn inspiration from these astonishing ice monuments in his radical titanium sculptures.
Like Gehry, I too am transformed by these architectural miracles of nature. I have a passion for photographing these ice palaces, monuments built by nature in the harshest climates of the world.
Soon I will embark on my next Polar adventures. I cannot fail to think about those great feats of endurance that were so vividly captured in the powerful and dramatic photographs of Frank Hurley, official photographer on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition of 1914 – 1917. His artistic images aboard the Endurance captured both the humbling beauty and man’s desperation to survive.
When Endurance become trapped within the ice, there unfolded one of the greatest survival stories in mankind’s history. I am fortunate to have paid my respects to Sir Ernest at his gravesite, in Grytviken, South Georgia. Afterward, there were several rousing toasts to his fabled memory.
As I decide how best to express myself in photographs – I wish for them to have originality and meaning. I look through the viewfinder and consider what compositional tools I best can use given form, light, texture, color, tension and contrast. At the same time, I ponder the choice of camera, lens, aperture, shutter speed and distance from the ice. Do I move closer or step back? It is an intense and collaborative thought process.
I carry two Canon 5DMkIV’s and a Canon 1DSMkII, with Canon 11/24mm f4, 16/35mm f4, 24/70mm f2.8 MkII and 100/400mm f4 MkII lenses. Typical camera settings for the ship and zodiac cruising are Aperture Priority, Auto White Balance, AI Auto Servo (we are always moving), Exposure Adjustment Plus 2/3rd to 1.1/3rd stops overexposure to compensate for additional luminance of snow/ice. I tend to gravitate towards wide scenes with plenty of sky and foreground detail. The Lee filter system is an integral part of my process, especially the 2 and 3 stop ND graduated filters as I try to get everything right within the camera during exposure. I use Adobe Lightroom for downloading DNG files into a catalog and folders with keywording. The majority of image processing is performed with Lightroom, and I use Adobe Photoshop only when heavy-lifting or intricate work is needed. I use a couple of Nik Software plug-ins but recently have become a fan of Luminar software. I print most of my own images, whether for exhibition, sale or personal use. I use mostly Epson Stylus 7900 and Epson P800 printers and Ultrachrome ink. My paper choices are Epson Exhibition, Museo Silver Rag and Hahnemuhle Fine Art paper with custom-made profiles.
Within a 24-hour cycle of eternal light, there are photographic challenges. At times the sun simply is too harsh. In the Polar Regions, time is meaningless. It is as though we have a courtship with ice — waiting, hoping, floating out into these ephemeral spaces, in love with all that is transient.