Sculpted Iceberg and Mountains. Antarctica 2005.
Antarctica Workshop. December 2005
Michael Reichmann, Jeff Schewe, Seth Resnick, John Paul Caponigro, Stephen Johnson
It was hard to write on the trip, the experience of the place was at once so foreign and yet so familiar; the open sea, the remoteness, a sense of the earth-bottom righted into simply earth, of isolation and community, a floating home with ever-changing surroundings...
There were fulfilled expectations and unbelievable wonder. This place was real, it was here, I was taking it in with my own eyes, but it was so concentrated, so lovely, so wild. My camera often seemed incidental, an artifice to throw at the experience, rather than an artistic response. There were other moments where the only way I felt I could believe what I was seeing was to hold it, and try to re-experience it later through the photograph. The emotional ups and downs of the constant movement, at times unrelieved opportunity, and amazement was overwhelming. Many conversations and critiques were cut short by the announcement of yet anther impressive iceberg or wildlife sighting ahead.
It was not that cold. The gear provided was fine. I was over-dressed more often than not. There were 42 students on the trip, and although that seems like a lot, we became family very quickly. It was noticed when someone failed to show up for food or conversation, and their potential seasickness was looked into. All told, we didn't see a few people for a day or two on the journey down, but were still blessed with a moderate crossing of the potentially wild Drake Passage. The camaraderie on the trip was very heart-warming.
The photographs I was seeing from the workshop participants were very good, sometimes exquisite. I was very impressed, both the group dynamic and people's sensitivity.
I came home with about 75 gigs of photographs, backed-up on ship on my 12 inch PowerBook, DVDs and my Epson P2000. Keeping track of places and sequences of visits was a challenge as we seemed to never stop. With no real night, sunset and sunrise were separated by mere hours, and the desire not to miss an opportunity was pervasive. Sorting through these images will take months.
There was magic in the Antarctic. Even though we barely touched the northern edge of the peninsula, it was chilling (no-pun intended) to set foot on Antarctica. We knew we were getting merely a tiny taste of a very big experience, but the mystery and challenge of this lonely expansive space could be felt, viscerally and physically. Antarctica was emotional, scary, exciting, lonely, strangely compelling, a link to a time long ago before this was a frozen world at the most southern point of earth.
There was an immediate and certain notion that this would be the first of many trips, and that I must come to know more of this place, experience some of it's vastness and variety. The dry valleys beckon, the volcanoes, the severe and utter loneliness. I longed to stay on at most every place we landed, imagining weeks of solitude and exploration, wondering just how to make that happen and if I would be up to such an experience. Antarctica draws you in.
The photography was almost like sports or wildlife. It was mostly rapid-fire moving target landscape, ice, birds and whales from the ship or inflatable boat. It was difficult to consider the photograph, the scene was almost always in play. The landings were great, but even with a few hours, departure loomed and wandering into getting visually lost in the space was an effort. Though challenging, the trip was extraordinary, an experience of a lifetime, except for the fact the I know I will return.
My most frequently used camera on the trip was the Canon 1Ds Mark II. It performed beautifully in the cold and during frequent low light conditions. Although my inclinations are toward my large-format work, the moving ship and full itinerary often necessitated hand-held work. I chose the Canon not only as the highest resolution 35mm format DSLR on the market, but also because of Canon's continued innovation in the medium.
I was able to use my BetterLight Scanning Back on more than one occasion, which, as usual, pulled off it's magnificent resolution and held the strange color with ease. Special thanks go to Calumet for the loan of a fine new Cambo-Wide DS which provided the 4x5 format in a portable form that worked splendidly in this challenging situation and in the Galalpagos last spring, to Bogen Photo for my wonderful Gitzo carbon-fiber tripod and Lexar for supplying lots of 4 gig cards. My dear friend Anthony Hobbs (co-instructor on next summer's Ireland workshop) helped carry my gear and keep my spirits high.
We all enjoyed the trip so much we are going back in 2007.