Herbert Ponting: Photography in the Antarctic

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Herbert Ponting: Photography in the Antarctic
Herbert Ponting, 'Hebert Ponting with his Cinematograph', 1911
Herbert Ponting: Photography in the Antarctic

The British Antarctic Expedition 1910, also called the Terra Nova Expedition, was Robert Scott’s second attempt to reach the South Pole, and has become infamous as a tragic, but heroic, story of polar exploration. Ponting set sail with the rest of Captain Scott’s expedition as the official photographer, personally chosen by Scott. Herbert Ponting was the first professional photographer to go to the Antarctic, and perfected the use of his large and cumbersome equipment in the most difficult of conditions.

The expedition was well equipped; carrying advanced photographic and scientific equipment. One has only to contemplate the quantity of still and moving picture equipment which Herbert Ponting took aboard the Terra Nova to be aware that here was a photographer determined to be prepared for any eventuality. Included in the inventory, for instance, were two metal quarterplate (3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches) cameras, so light and strong that they could be taken on sledging expeditions, and a 7 x 5 inch reflex camera, designed by Ponting himself and dubbed by him the ‘multum in parvo’. This could be adapted to take stereoscopic views, and to employ lenses of up to 40 inches in length. At one end of the scale was a microphotography camera for extreme close-ups; at the other, a mammoth 150 inch telephoto lens to take photographs from literally miles away. To this by no means exhaustive list must be added darkroom equipment, chemicals, glass negatives, print paper, and even two cinematograph cameras, one of which features in the picture above. Ponting used his cinematographs to create the 1913 film, 'With Captain Scott to the South Pole', which was the first to be made in the Antarctic.

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