Our new title The Crossing of Antarctica explores the epic expedition that fulfilled Shackleton’s dream. We complete our journey across this forbidding continent through the original photographs of the late George Lowe, the veteran mountaineer and film-maker. Here is a taster of shots from the making of the book, by award-winning historian and polar guide Dr Huw Lewis-Jones.
‘Antarctica: one of the coldest, windiest and most desolate locations on Earth, a desert of ice, much of it still unexplored. Yet Antarctica is also a land of beauty and unanticipated delight, and it continues to draw men and women to test themselves among its frozen wastes. One hundred years after Ernest Shackleton set out to make the first crossing of this great white continent, our volume celebrates those who succeeded where he failed. It was a journey long thought impossible. The Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1955-58, led by Vivian ‘Bunny’ Fuchs, was one of the 20th century’s triumphs of exploration – a powerful expression of technological daring as much as a testament of sheer, bloody-minded human willpower. As a key member of the expedition, New Zealander George Lowe was there to capture it all on film.
A haul of unpublished images and other rare materials from George’s archives are gathered together in this book for the first time, along with others from the Fuchs family collection. Awe-inspiring landscapes, candid portraits and action shots evoke the day-by-day moments as the expedition travelled across the ice on a variety of vehicles and dog sledges, facing extraordinary challenges and dangers.
This is a draft of Shackleton’s original plan from 1914 and Bunny Fuchs’ proposal from the early 1950s. From the Ross Sea side, two great travellers, Amundsen and Scott had reached the South Pole overland, and so Shackleton wanted to be the first to complete a full traverse. His ship Endurance was crushed and they did not even manage to make a landfall. Now Fuchs would pioneer the way from the opposite side, the Weddell Sea, the unknown shore, with over 2,000 miles to travel. On paper three summers and two winters on the southern continent might seem a long time to accomplish a overland journey lasting just three months, but the whole undertaking required huge logistics to make it feasible. Even now, such a journey is fraught with difficulty.
At home in Cornwall, book proofs and prints are spread out on the kitchen table. I also worked with my old friend, renowned polar photographer Martin Hartley, to create images of the remarkable original prints and special expedition equipment.
Inside George’s battered expedition case we find the Leica IIIf that he loaded with Kodachrome transparency film to create shots for his lectures. For the Leica the shutter was hardly ever varied from 1/100 s with an aperture of f/8. In temperatures below minus 20°F he wore three pairs of gloves – white silk, soft leather as worn by chauffeurs, and heavy working mitts slung from a neck harness. He could change film and alter lens settings easily in just silk and leather inners for a few minutes at a time, before thrusting cold hands back into the ungainly mitts.
George had to juggle many cameras all at once, shooting on 16mm ciné-film for general release in the cinemas, medium-format black and white for newspapers and 35mm colour transparencies for lectures and books. This is George’s Bell & Howell 70DL ciné camera. During the crossing it often froze, though after he’d warmed it over the primus stove it was ready for action once more.
Martin Hartley gets to grips with George Lowe’s Leica IIIf. We created new images of special objects – old maps, original glass slides, tattered flags and snow-goggles – all of which appear in The Crossing of Antarctica for the first time. George used this Leica right across Antarctica. He slung it round his neck on a short strap, to hang inside his outer waterproof clothing. He often slept with it to keep it from freezing, until he was able to rig up a hot-box connected to a Sno-Cat’s battery. During the journey he did not process roll film but stored it in large aluminium containers, developing it in batches at the South Pole, and Scott Base. The finished negatives were sealed in tins and flown to London at the end of the expedition.
Over the course of creating George’s Everest memoirs and gathering together materials from his rich lifetime of adventure, we came across a small bundle of letters at his house neatly tucked away at the bottom of an oak chest. With more research, yet more material came to light. In time other members of his family also shared their memories and gradually a rare collection of correspondence came together. To be able to work with his original journals and archive for the first time was a real honour for me.
This little New Zealand flag flew from George’s vehicle Wrack and Ruin. By the end of the journey it had turned almost white, bleached by the Antarctic sun. It took them ninety-nine days to complete the main haul across ice and snow, and some three years of effort, overwintering in small huts before setting out. Shackleton had called it ‘the last great polar journey’ and despite all the technological advances that had made their progress possible – Sno-Cat vehicles, radio, and aircraft support – it was still a formidable undertaking.
These prints show New Year’s Day on the polar plateau in 1958, five hundred miles from the South Pole. The wind has carved the ice into rutted fields of sastrugi, like the waves of a choppy sea suddenly frozen into immobility. At a time when man was looking to the dawn of travel into space, the crossing of Antarctica was one great journey of discovery not yet completed on his own planet.
Glass-mounted slides from this legendary expedition are gathered on my lightbox at home. After nearly five years of planning, and many gruelling months of effort, twelve men finally crossed – and learned a little more about – the last unknown continent on earth.
My daughter is always keen to join in. As the granddaughter of polar explorer Sir Wally Herbert, it’s all part of family life for little Nell. Soon we’re going on an adventure to the Arctic together, where her mum, author Kari Herbert, grew up. And, my next book for Thames & Hudson in fact will celebrate Wally’s great polar journey; the epic overland trek to the North Pole and the first crossing of the Arctic Ocean in 1969. Over 3,600 miles and 16 months across constantly moving ice floes. Now that was an epic expedition! Across the Arctic Ocean will be published in 2015.’
In this fantastic short video Huw chooses some of his favourite pages from
The Crossing of Antarctica. Watch it below or click here to view on Youtube –
Huw is also the author of The Conquest of Everest.
The Crossing of Antarctica is the remarkable visual and personal testimony of a polar expedition that rewrote the history books.
Available for £24.95 from the Thames & Hudson website.