The Journey South by Herbert Ponting

The Journey South 4rth Feb – 6th March

Getty Image Gallery London
This Photographic exhibition marks the centenary of Scott’s voyage to the South Pole. It features the work of Herbert Ponting the photographer and cinematographer who was part of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition in 1910-1913. He records the difficult living conditions under which the expedition members and their animals lived, but quite apart from that, how difficult must it have been to develop film, on site, in a dark room at the very cramped ‘tenements’ he photographed and the resulting images are of beautiful icy landscape and some brilliant portraits of the crew members that tragically never returned but we can still behold today. Added to that threats of global warming and the controversy over the ice melting and global warming give these photographs extra weight.
I was very fortunate to see this show in the company of one of the few surviving explorers and true pioneers of the North Polar Regions and who was part of the team at the North Greenland Land Expedition fielded forty years later in 1952-1954. Richard Brett Knowles was able to give me first hand knowledge on what it was like to live on the ice cap and survive in the totally bleak and dark winter month. The expedition was the last one staged of a kind similar in the manner of Scott’s forty years earlier. Richard Brett Knowle was the navigator of the seismic team and assistant seismologist staying on for the whole of the 2-year period in extreme weather conditions. In the second year he also took on duties as the radio officer.  Like Scott and his crew in the South, Richard Brett Knowles had been chosen amongst others for scientific research in the arctic and stepped where no man had stepped before requiring ingenuity and courage and rigorous planning. His informed comparisons and observations made Herbert Pontings images come alive with meaning. Technological advances mean that what took 2 years to achieve forty years ago now in 2012 takes 2 month only. At one of his lectures at the Society of Antiquaries in London I also met Liz Morris who is an explorer working from the Scott Polar Institute in Greenland today. On my asking her she commented that the equipment for surviving in cold and extreme climates had not really changed that much over decades where as communication and measuring technologies had. Richard Brett Knowles who was awarded the Polar Medal by the Queen for his work on the Expedition tells me that even in 1952 they were well aware of the ice caps melting, and global warming is not such a new concept, ‘we were aware then of the climate crises ahead’. ‘So what will happen when it all melts away’, I ask him: ‘Well, I do believe a lot of it is media hype’ is his reply, ‘but if it all was to melt ………we’ll all just have to swim!” He jokes.

But if you really want to know what it was like on Scott’s Expedition Richard Brett Knowles recommends to read:
THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD by Apssley Cherry-Garrard with an Introduction by Sara Wheeler.

Richard Brett Knowles will be presenting a Slide Show on the British North Greenland Expedition on April 27th in Ipswich. I hope to organise a similar event and show before that date in London. Details will be forthcoming.
In the meantime I recommend:

Getty Images Gallery
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Royal Geographical Society / Herbert Ponting(1870-1935)
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