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THE AMUNDSEN PHOTOGRAPHS
Amundsen's photographs are rare. Apart from the present set, Amundsen's own collection of lecture slides, which includes duplicates, tinted and monochrome, all used by the explorer for his lecture tours, there are just one or two complete sets in Norwegian institutional holdings, but no other large and comprehensive sets are known nor known to have been made. A small number of sets of 57 slides illustrating the South Pole expedition were made and just a few seem to have survived (for which see Christie's, 25 Sept. 2001, lot 185 and 23 Sept. 2004, lot 211), These were manufactured by Newton and Co. in London in 1912 and came with a 30-page booklet "The Discovery of the South Pole - Capt. Amundsen's expedition: a lecture ... to accompany ... lantern slides, etc." written by Arthur Chater, the translator of Amundsen's narrative, and published by Newton & Co.
Amundsen did not, like Scott and Shackleton, take large teams of scientific staff and artists on his expeditions. They were rather pared down to the essentials and served Amundsen's clear and simple objectives: He sailed with just six men on the Gjoa, achieving in three years the transit that had defeated the combined resources of the British navy for over 50 years in the 19th century, and the Fram sailed for the south with just eight men, a considerably lighter load than that of Scott's Terra Nova. The race to the Pole was won with a single sledging party of five men who were out and back in ninety-six days. Unencumbered by the scientific apparatus of the British expeditions, to which Scott, Shackleton and others subscribed, sponsored as they were by scientific and institutional bodies, Amundsen was, by comparison, brutally efficient in his execution.
There is accordingly less baggage to survive from any of his expeditions, photography included. He lists two cameras in his outfit in The South Pole. Many of Amundsen's own photographs from the expedition, taken with a large tripod camera, proved to be damaged when they were developed in Hobart. The record of the Polar journey itself is from Olav Bjaaland's folding pocket Kodak, the only camera carried on the southern journey. The photographs were though an important asset for Amundsen, his illustrated lecture tours undertaken after the Gjoa and Fram voyages were necessary to pay the bills, although were little enjoyed by the lecturer: 'In Amundsen's own words, that lecture tour was "not the same as a pleasure trip. It was "a journey full of strain, with profit earned by the sweat of one's brow". In America, he found himself unwillingly in the hands of reception committees, "just as vital to the American", he sardonically remarked, "as water when one washes." Amundsen did not like committees, anywhere, of any kind. Of his American tour, he wrote feelingly that it "lasted half a year, and in that time I gave about 160 lectures. I was bundled about like any old parcel.… I had no rest, day or night …I was just part of a lecture machine.' (R. Huntford, The Amundsen Photographs, New York, 1987, p.9)
The present set of lantern slides, Amundsen's own, include images from his three major expeditions on the Gjoa, Fram and Maud. Just one fine image of the Belgica overwintering recalls Amundsen's first Antarctic experience when he sailed with de Gerlache and made the first overwinter on the Antarctic continent in 1888-89. The majority of the slides are of the South Pole expedition, and many of these the first sets of slides he had made up. They have the printed credit "Prepared by J. W. Beattie Hobart Tasmania" and "Colored by T W Cameron 110 Lygon St Carlton Victoria" on their mounts. The colouring presumably done by the Australian in Hobart. Amundsen was in Hobart, his first port-of-call after the Antarctic, for just thirteen days. The images were important to have developed and made up, not only for his imminent lecture tours and for the account he would shortly write up on his sponsor's estancia in Argentina, but also for the newspapers, including the Daily Chronicle in London, to whom he was contracted.
This collection, unknown until its rediscovery in the Amundsen family attic in 1986, was the subject of Roland Huntford's The Amundsen Photographs published in 1987.