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HERBERT GEORGE PONTING (1871-1935)
SCOTT'S "CAMERA ARTIST"
After nine years working as a photographer and correspondent in Asia and Europe, Ponting met Scott in London in 1909 and was persuaded to join the explorer's second Antarctic expedition. Compelled by Scott's arguments that his experience would benefit geography and that his results 'might prove not only of great educational value, but a valuable asset to the enterprise' he signed a contract which gave him lecturing rights on his return and by which his photographs would become his property two years after the expedition ended. The Daily Mirror negotiated exclusive rights to the photographs during the course of the expedition, and the newspaper published Ponting's images of Scott and his team both before and after the tragic news broke on 11 February 1913.
Ponting returned from the Antarctic to London at the end of 1912 with nearly two thousand photographic negatives and his 'kinematograph' film of the expedition. Having left McMurdo Sound on the Terra Nova in March 1912, he was unaware of the fate of the Polar Party and received the news, along with the rest of the world, in February 1913: 'In view of the tragic ending of the enterprise, I felt it more that ever encumbent upon me, as the holder of the lecturing rights, to conform to the wishes my late Chief had expressed to me, by carrying out my original plans. A beautiful and complete series of the photographs and films of the adventure, and of the Nature of life of the South, was therefore arranged, and to these I lectured at a London Hall for ten months in 1914, until the outbreak of the great war ended what had been a highly successful beginning to a novel feature in the entertainment world.
In May 1914, I had the honour to receive the Royal Command to show my kinematograph record, and tell the story of the Scott Expedition, at Buckingham Palace, before Their Majesties the King and Queen, the Royal Family, the King and Queen of Denmark, and several hundred guests.' (H.G. Ponting, The Great White South, London, 1921, p.297.)
A selection of one hundred and forty-five photographs were included in a selling exhibition at the Fine Art Society in London (later touring). The images were printed in four series (A-D) from a width of 15 inches (sold for 10s 6d) to 29 inches (sold for 2 guineas) from Ponting's 7 x 5in. and 5 x 4in. negatives, and included blue, green, brown and orange toned carbon prints. He experimented with colour filters, orthochromatic plates and telephoto lenses in the Antarctic, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to capture the nebulous colour of 'after glows' and the Aurora Australis with Lumiere autochrome colour plates.
His photographs illustrated Scott's Last Expedition published in 1914, and his own The Great White South published in 1921. His kinematograph was shown in various forms and remade in 1933 as 'Ninety Degrees South'.
Ponting established his laboratory in a compartment of the dick house in the poop deck of the Terra Nove for the voyage out and his own snug cabin and darkroom in the Hut at Cape Evans where 'Every film and plate exposed in the South, as well as many thousands of feet of kinematograph film, were developed...' (H.G. Ponting, op. cit, p.171). Surviving an encounter with Killer Whales soon after landing, Ponting settled in at Cape Evans and was not able to travel far afield, due to difficulties in sledging with his heavy photographic equipment. He could not therefore record the sledging journeys onto the Barrier, nor join the various geological and surveying expeditions, and had to content himself with subjects close to Cape Evans, from Cape Royds to the north to Hut Point to the south. In spite of these restrictions, and the frustrations of the dark winter months in the Antarctic, Ponting developed a large collection of memorable images which defined the expedition and the Antarctic both to his audience in 1913 and to following generations: 'He came to do a job, did it and did it well. Here in these pictures is beauty linked to tragedy - one of the great tragedies - and the beauty is inconceivable for it is endless and runs to eternity' (Apsley Cherry-Garrard).