Tag Archives: Terra Nova photographs


26 May

This is an evocative group of images chosen from the thousands held in the SPRI collection relating to the 1910-14 British Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole

Scott wanted to record accurately the work, the living and camping conditions, the environment and the struggles that his men experienced. He engaged the services of a well-recognised ‘Camera Artist’ Herbert George Ponting. Ponting was well known for the quality of photographs he had made during his travels in China and Japan and he made the most beautiful records of Antarctic life on the Terra Nova expedition.

Ponting did not go on the long sledge journeys and did not accompany Scott and his team on their attempt at the Pole. He had to teach team members the difficult art of photography: Scott, Levick, Debenham, Gran, Taylor, Bowers and Wright picked up the intricacies with varying degrees of proficiency. They all made valuable records of their journeys.

Scott and Bowers recorded the final journey. The two had eventually captured the art well enough to make an important historical record of one of the most famous expeditions in Antarctica, but the learning process was not without problems. Ponting insisted that the men must show six correctly exposed negatives from six plates before progressing to colour filters (which were used to manipulate the contrast between blue and other colours in the black and white films). In training ‘Scott’s zeal outran his capacity’ on some occasions. Once, when no film appeared after developing for a few minutes, careful enquiry revealed that though he had put in the plate holder and set the shutter and checked other requirements he had finally forgotten to take the cap off the lens. Ponting reflected on how often he had made similar errors!

The final image of the five exhausted men at the South Pole was taken by Bowers, who released the shutter via a long thread.

Scott used a camera from A.E. Stacey and Co for his images, Bowers used a smaller camera. An orthochromic black/white photographic film was used. Scott’s photos were sent back to Base with the last returning team. Bowers images were found in the tent that contained the bodies of the three dead heroes when it was discovered by a search party led by Surgeon Atkinson, eight months after their deaths.

The exhibition brings the tragic story to light again and is well worth visiting.