In December 2013, the Antarctic Heritage Trust announced that earlier that year a small box of exposed but undeveloped photographic negatives had been found in Antarctica, in Captain Scott’s Cape Evans hut. These negatives were apparently left by Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Ross Sea Party (part of the expedition whose unrealized goal was to be the first to cross the Antarctic continent), who spent 20 months stranded on Antarctica when their ship blew out to sea. The negatives were brought back to New Zealand by the Trust and painstakingly conserved and developed, revealing images of vast icebergs and endless spans of ice and ocean, images never seen before, not even by the man who photographed them.
Inexplicably, I felt deeply moved by the idea of these long unseen negatives, by a photographer long dead, coming to life in the year 2013. The man who likely took the photographs, expedition chaplain and photographer Alfred Spencer-Smith, died and was buried months before the group’s rescue. Yet these negatives – and the vistas and men’s expressions they reveal – survive.
These pieces are an exploration of endurance and fragility, created with fragments of these recently discovered images and others from early Antarctic forays. They are inspired by the audacity of these men’s endeavor and my wonder that these remnants of their story remain.