Thursday, March 19, 2009

Musings on Early China Photography II - What Herbert Ponting Did Before the South Pole

There is a wonderful new resource on the Internet called the Freeze Frame archive. The Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge holds a world-class collection of photographic negatives illustrating polar exploration from the nineteenth century onwards. Now most of these are online with detailed catalogue entries provided for each image. They are truly stunning. Do take a look.

The most amazing images are those by Herbert Ponting (above). Ponting (1870-1935) was a professional photographer and is best known as the expedition photographer and cinematographer for Scott's Terra Nova Expedition to the Ross Sea and South Pole (1910-1913). If you don’t know the history of that expedition then I’m not going to tell you – you clearly didn’t go to school.

On that expedition Ponting took incredible photos and was also one of the first men to use a portable movie camera in Antarctica. His images became known as “Pontings” as he always had to try to get people or objects to stand in the shot otherwise the vastness of the Antarctic was hard to convey. The other expedition members hated having to stand still for ages in the cold while Ponting got his shot. His image of the Terra Nova amid the ice is probably his best known work (above).

So why I am I going on about an Antarctic photographer on a China blog? Because, Ponting is less well known as one of the best early photographers of China too (as in his picture of the Great Wall left). Though his shots of China and Japan were among the best taken up till the time his best work was during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Ponting was a great photographer remembered now almost exclusively for his work in Antarctica but he deserves to be remembered for his China photos too.


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