Back in 2006, as part of my job, I was lucky enough to go down to the Antarctic from New Zealand on a research vessel for 8 weeks. We were tasked with mapping the seabed and photographing the animals in the deep to determine biodiversity distribution in the Ross Sea and at the Balleny Islands. This was some years prior to my current photographic journey and I only had a small point and shoot camera in my kit. At the time, I suffered massive lens and tech envy as everyone else sported impressive equipment and I assumed my shots would be hopeless. But then, after we returned, the computer I had stored my modest set of images on was stolen. I was gutted. 15 years later, as I was looking through some boxes, I discovered to my absolute joy that I had put some of my images onto a cd and so finally, I get to tell my story.
Through the roaring 40s and 50s, we soon left New Zealand behind. Downing a stunning array of seasick tablets, we immediately got stuck into Underway Plankton work and preparation for the long days ahead. Our first iceberg was not at all how I expected it and my image did not reflect the excitement I felt. This pudding of old ice was invisible in the fog, but we knew it was there from the spinning radar. Suddenly the fog parted like curtains to reveal the berg. It was almost too close for comfort and we could see rivulets of supercooled fog running down it like icing on a plum pudding. The waves which were really quite modest reached higher up than expected on the frictionless ice. In a flash, the curtain fell again and we were left with a few mediocre images and a memory. I dug deep and turned my hand to poetry because for me it was such a magical moment and I really wanted to celebrate it.
I loved the light in Antarctica, it was almost monochromatic with the blue and turquoise tones dominating. We saw lots of old bergs well eroded by the sea on their journey around the various ocean gyres. Initially, this shows as stunning arches in the icebergs, and then at the end of their time they get gnarly and tip over as they melt. Some of the old bergs we saw could have been upwards of 10 million years old. We had to traverse an extensive ice bridge in the eastern Ross Sea and saw lots of penguins and seals that honked and called as we glided on by at a very slow pace, nudging the floes aside. Looking over the bow as we eased through the floes the ship looked as if it was bleeding from ice grazes and lost paint.
After a good week or so of flat calm weather, a front moved in with a massive deepening low behind it. The sky darkened and we were engulfed by swirling snow squalls with a dim yellowish light. We then felt the blast of the storm and the ship quickly iced up. It was bitter with subzero temperatures and our freshwater tanks froze solid. After 2 days the skies cleared and we headed over to Terra Nova Bay in the western Ross Sea. The edge of the land looked like clean snapped coconut and the Transantarctic mountains soared into the clouds behind. The wind was fresh and carried ancient stories from the frozen continent of Gondwana (another poetry moment).
Read the full story in our journal.