The Terra Nova in Mcmurdo Sound

PONTING, Herbert George

PONTING, Herbert George The Terra Nova in Mcmurdo Sound

Fine Art Society, 1911.

Original blue-green tinted carbon print. 552 x 730mm. White rectangular mount. In very good condition, with two marginal tears and a little rubbing.

One of Ponting's best-known photographs, and with an exceptional association being from the collection of the expedition's lead geologist, Griffith Taylor. Taylor and Ponting, like so many on the crew, enjoyed a bantering relationship during the expedition. This led to Taylor coining the verb 'to pont' meaning, as Ponting later recorded, "to pose, until nearly frozen, in all sorts of uncomfortable positions for my photographs".
Ponting had fitted out a dark-room aboard the Terra Nova, and began photographing on its journey south from New Zealand. He took two film-cameras with him and several film camera, chiefly taking 7 x 5 inch glass plate negatives and developing them on ship, as in the present example. Once the ship had made it to Ross Island and 'the hut' was established on Cape Evans, Ponting set up a second dark-room where he would work, sleep and live for the remainder of the expedition.
This picture "was taken while he was standing on unstable ice floes, a few days after the ship had reached landfall in the Antarctic. The description in the FAS [Fine Art Society] catalogue is fulsome: 'This study, made on a dead-calm day, shows a berg in the last stage of decay, from the action of the sun and sea. In this condition the ice frequently assumes the most beautiful shapes imaginable, which, seen reflected in the surface of the sea, sometimes form a scene of extraordinary beauty. Owing to the treacherous nature of such ice, it is exceedingly dangerous to approach.'" (Hempleman-Adams, The Heart Of The Great Alone).
Reflecting on the photograph, and his perilous journey to take it, in his 1921 book The Great White South, Ponting wrote "During those midnight days, when others slept and only the night watch and I were awake, some of the most memorable of my Antarctic experiences befell me. It was in those 'night' hours, too, as the sun paraded round the southern heavens, that I secured some of the best of my Polar studies. One of these was 'The Death of an Iceberg' [alternative title to this image] -- which represents a berg in the last stage of decay, from the action of the sun and currents..."
"As I neared the bergs, I was perspiring freely from the effort of dragging my sledge; and the yellow goggles, which I wore as protection against snow blindness, became clouded over, so that I could not see. I was just about to stop to wipe them, when I felt the ice sinking under me... Though the ice sank under my feet, it did not break; but each step I expected to be my last. The sledge, dragging through the slush, became like lead ; and as the water rose above my boots, I was unable to pull it further. Just then, with perspiration dripping from every pore, I felt my feet touch firm ice. With one supreme, final effort, which sapped the last ounce of strength that was left, I got on to it, and managed to drag the sledge on to it too; then I collapsed. I was so completely exhausted that it was quite a long time before my trembling muscles ceased to quake. When finally my knees would hold me up, I took the photograph."
The Fine Art Society Expedition in 1913 sold carbon prints of 145 of Ponting's choicest photographs. Examples such as this - the largest sized prints available, in good condition and with such excellent provenance - are uncommon.

PROVENANCE: The Fine Art Society, 1913, No. 25.; Griffith Taylor, the lead geologist on the Terra Nova Expedition, his ownership inscription and Sydney address of 78 Prince Albert Street in pencil to rear.

Stock ID: 38646


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