One of the places on Earth where I’ve always wanted to go is Antarctica. I’ve never been anywhere that cold, that windy, or that full of penguins. Sure, I could take an Antarctic cruise, but that’s barely going to get me off the boat. Alas, the entire continent is protected, thanks to the Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959, so it’s not like I can find a flight – there aren’t any.
Now, I could take some advice from photographer Gaston Lacombe and apply for an Antarctic residency. He traveled to, Esperanza, the Argentine scientific base in Antarctica, from January to March 2012 as an Artist-in-Residence. When I saw that he, along with Argentine artist Andrea Juan, were showing work created during their stay in The Antarctica Project, Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts (CDIA)’s FotoWeekDC exhibit, I immediately got in touch with him to talk about his photographic adventure to the Antarctic peninsula. And, about all the penguins.
Antarctica is a protected nature reserve so everything brought onto the continent must be inspected and no rocks or animals may be disturbed. Leaving the base is extremely dangerous due to the tendency of the weather to change very quickly, and the perimeter is marked with chains and signs to help keep anyone from travelling too far. Their closest neighbors are Adélie penguins. About 250,000 of them, including babies. “It was the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen in the world”, Lacombe described. #squee
An Adélie penguin glides in freshly fallen snow, at the Esperanza Base, in Antarctica, Photograph by Gaston Lacombe
The Adélie penguins are small, standing only about 2-feet tall, and differ from Emperor penguins in that they are only black and white. You can’t hug them – I asked. They return to their breeding grounds in the summer, which runs from November through March, to lay eggs and raise their ridiculously cute babies, and then return to the sea ice. While on land, the penguins follow specific roads to and from the water, and they are color-coded: pink from the colony to the sea and brown from the sea back to the colony. The brown color is dirt and mud, but the pink? That’s penguin poop. From eating all the shrimp. And, it can be seen from space.
Lacombe shot over 20,000 photographs of the penguins and other Antarctic life such as birds, seals, sea lions, and algae. He approached this exhibit searching for life and color in an otherwise stark, barren landscape in a harsh white climate. Along with the penguin roads, the ice may be colored red or green by algae blooms. Juan, an installation artists, brightened the landscape with brilliantly-colored fabrics that appear superimposed on the white background. Her photographs of these installations offer a philosophical look at how the continent might change as a result of climate change, bringing new organisms and resculpting the terrain.
Obviously, the trip had its share of obstacles along the way. The gargantuan task of editing 20,000 photos was made even more difficult by a broken computer, damaged during the week of travel to the Esperanza Base. Lacombe and Juan could only take what they could carry, and that included photographic equipment, computers, and Juan’s installation materials, along with their regular travel items like clothing and other sundries. When asked if he’d always wanted to visit Antarctica, Lacombe responded with, “I’ve always wanted to go everywhere.” And, that includes returning to Antarctica at some point.
On Sunday, November 11, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., Lacome and Juan will discuss The Antarctica Project and their work on the base as part of the FotoWeekDC Lecture Series at FotoWeekCentral. Following the lecture, CDIA hosts an opening reception for the exhibit from 6 to 9 p.m.
These free lectures cover a wide range of topics with presenters who know their stuff. Take a look through the entire schedule and plan to attend! But, I can only guarantee that this one will include pictures of penguins.