From aboard a Russian Icebreaker
Notes from a 4x5 photographer in Antarctica

- Part 1-
by Brian Pawlowski with an introduction by Alain Briot

Other essays in this series

Brian Pawlowski, who authored the previous essay in this series Notes on photographing a Nautilus, is currently attending a workshop-expedition with Michael Reichmann aboard a Russian Icebreaker in Antarctica. A couple of days ago I received an update from Brian sent on one of the few stops the ship made on shore. Brian did not expand on any details but I surmise he was able to find an internet connection somewhere on land and send the mail that follows. The name of the sender was "Shokalskiy". I can only guess who that might be

What I like the most about Brian's mail was the tone of his writing. It reminded me of certain travel accounts I have read and others that I wrote myself. It had a tone of someone who is discovering new horizons while remaining focused on his personal goals.

So, without further ado, let me share with you what I received from somewhere in the lower hemisphere, either in, or close to, Antarctica.
Alain Briot

From Aboard a Russian Icebreaker
It's been 5 days on the Russian research vessel. I was on the bridge last night trying to call Aki on the satellite phone. It's like being in the movie Hunt for Red October. No one speaks English. The captain is very sharp and handsome in his dress uniform. The crew are very friendly.

The two day crossing through the Drake Channel was bad. The boat swung 30 degree back and forth off horizontal, 20 foot waves. I took anti-motion sickness pills that laid me to waste. I never hurled, but I was extremely disoriented. I mostly laid in bed where I slid back and forth all day and night hitting my head and banging my feet rhythmically. Eventually I got to like it - like being rocked by a psycho mother. We hit Aitcho (as in HO - hydroxide) Is. first. Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins. I'm not so into penguins. I am not so into penguins.

Continuing on the sun broke free and the water calmed and we went past iceberg after iceberg. Majestic, varied, shades of blue and white. I spent hours on the deck, photographing the forms. As I thought I was finished something new and wonderful would slowly pass by the ship. We made our way through the Southern Shetlands and the landscape was breathtaking. (I stood on the bridge last nite watching the Russians navigate a channel. The hull is reinforced - the ship was built in Finland. We hit smallish icebergs and hear a little bang. No matter.)

The weather has been mild (32 deg F?), I and a couple others occasionally run around on deck in shorts and a t-shirt. No one has gone for a swim though.

I set foot on the Antarctic Peninsula today after a sunset at 10PM last night that lit the surrounding snow covered slopes and mountains varying shades of pink. I am not convinced I was able to capture any of the beauty of last nite.

I believe everyone but me is shooting digital cameras on this trip (I was wrong, there are a couple people shooting panoramic
35mm and medium format cameras.). I've been talking to Thomas Knoll (inventor of Photoshop), John Paul Caponigro and others. We have a very varied group of photographers from Canada, Switzerland, Belgium and the US.

Rest assured I have been shooting my 4x5 Graflex Super Graphic with my 135mm lens. I have great hopes for the handheld Ilford HP5+ shots of icebergs from the deck of the ship. I have been shooting Ilford Delta 100 and Fujifilm Provia on land. I've attracted a lot of attention with my 4x5. My only hope is that the pictures are worth it. I find it very difficult to concentrate in the cold while bundled up and wearing a life preserver etc. Working with gloves on also slows me down. But I want more than my Canon 1Ds Mk II is delivering. I have high hopes.

Today the textures and colors in the snow have captured me. The sun once again broke free and I metered with my Canon and checked the histograms to get a good setting for my Graflex.

I've continued reading Edward Weston's Daybooks during the voyage for inspiration - where he talks about not stopping at good enough but working to get the best. I stopped taking motion sikness medication 2 days ago or more, I'm able to concentrate now, and I think (short of 20-30 foot waves) I am quite acclimated to life at sea.

We move on shortly. My feet are like ice - I just got back on board. I do not like the Zodiac shuttle boats - I'm always concerned I will tumble backwards into the water - which is crystal clear and dark and very cold. Five or six days left? I am going to refill my hot tea.

The food is quite good on board, and Jutta has been picking nice wines for me (a bottle I share with Paul from the UK every other nite only - it's been tiring).

Take care,

Brian Pawlowski

Introduction Copyright © Alain Briot 2005
Essay,Copyright © Brian Pawlowski 2005

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