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The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography

Frank Hurley, The Endurance in the garb of winter, 1915. © Royal Collection2 October 2009 – 11 April 2010, The Queen's Gallery, Edinburgh
This exhibition of remarkable Antarctic photography by Herbert George Ponting and Frank Hurley marks the 100th anniversary of Captain Scott’s ill-fated journey to the South Pole. Ponting’s extraordinary images record Scott’s Terra Nova expedition of 1910-13, which led to the tragic death of five of the team on their return from the South Pole. Hurley’s dramatic icescapes were taken during Ernest Shackleton’s Polar expedition on Endurance in 1914-16, which ended with the heroic sea journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia. Presented to King George V and today part of the Royal Photograph Collection, these sets of photographs are among the finest examples of the artists’ works in existence.

Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) set sail for Antarctica on Terra Nova in 1910, determined to be the first to reach the South Pole. His team included Herbert Ponting (1870-1935), the first official photographer to participate in a polar expedition. Ponting was already a well-known and successful travel photographer when he was introduced to Scott in 1909. As the ship sailed south from New Zealand, Ponting began work immediately, recording the first icebergs encountered in December 1910 and scenes on board. He photographed as much as possible during his time in Antarctica, producing around 2,000 glass plate negatives between December 1910 and March 1912. A selection of his pictures of the expedition crew, wildlife and spectacular landscape is included in the exhibition.

Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) had travelled with Captain Scott on an earlier voyage to Antarctica, before leading his own unsuccessful attempt to reach the South Pole in 1907-9. In 1914, galvanised by the achievement of the Pole and Scott’s death, he made a bid to cross the southern continent on foot. Among his team was the Australian photographer Frank Hurley (1885-1962), who joined Shackleton’s ship Endurance in Buenos Aires.

Hurley photographed activity on board, even climbing the rigging to obtain the best viewpoints. When the ship, crushed between ice floes, began to disintegrate in October 1915, the photographer spent almost three days on the ice, determined not to miss the final moments of the vessel. His images of Endurance listing into the frozen depths are included in the exhibition, along with photographs of Shackleton’s rescue party as it set sail from Elephant Island.

Also included in the exhibition are the Union flag presented by King George V to Shackleton, which the explorer carried with him throughout his epic journey; Polar medals; and books from the Royal Library, including a unique example of Aurora Australis, the first book to be printed in the Antarctic.

There is a lecture series accompanying the exhibition. Details here: http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=74

The exhibition microsite is here: http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/microsites/HOTGA/

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