Shooting Diary - Latitude 79

Lovers & Mothers : 23rd August 1996
Dunedin Botanical Gardens.

Within these images, I wanted to capture the dream like visions of the men of the polar party as they wrote their last letters to their beloved and matriarchal figures. Apparently dying by extreme hypothermia is like drifting off to sleep and the mirages experienced in Antarctica are more vivid than those of the Sahara Desert.

These visions; the women, are the most important link that any researcher has with the men of the polar party.
Its through the letters from the men to these visions that one can learn of the personalities that made up the final party. Bower's loyalty to his leader, Oates discomfort being under the charge of Scott, Wilson's unfailing duty to all the party etc.. are expressed in their letters. Visions of simple beauty, poetic images of divine love and symbols of futures lost were the aims of these images.

Polar Party : 27th August 1996
Pisa Range Cordrona NZ

"A most successful shoot on the Pisa Range."
What follows is a diary account of the polar party shoot that took place on top of the Pisa Range Cordrona, South Island, NZ.
Sandra Toke (make-up artist) and I arrived at our location hut on top of the Pisa Range approx..: 6pm. We found the two Roberts, who had arrived around 4pm waiting for us. The rest of the party showing about 6.30pm. We dug into what promised to be a most entertaining night.
The boys mastered the fire while I prepared dinner : entree a selection of New Zealand's finest cheeses, making a good companion to the Penfold reds. This was followed by Zucchini Parmesan sticks and a rich brew of Watties premium tomato soup. This all seemed to go down like a treat. During dinner the bonding ceremony of drinking stories and excellent card tricks began.
Dinner was followed by a rich mixture of Rob Ferguson's chocolate cake (which we all agreed was quiet kinky) and Lisa's Russian fudge. We had lots of laughs and a hell of a lot to eat.

After consumption of our liquid refreshments, and most of Lloyds home baked cookies, we took to the snow slopes with some borrowed tyre tubes. The Pisa Range Nordic Ski Centre doubles as a tyre testing plant in summer, an offspring of which are the best fun in snow sliding devices.We spent about 90 minutes screaming down beautifully powdered slopes under a full moon. Hard work getting up the hill but worth the climb.The way the light danced on the snow crystals was magical.
On our return to the hut, we had more stories to tell and drinking to be done. The festivities ended approx. 2am, with the aim of a 5am start!
5 o'clock came and went.

Sandra and I woke at 6am and started to get ready.
The order of the day was this, Sandra would do each persons make-up in turn starting with Cathy, Rob F., Rob O., Lisa and then myself. I would shoot in that order. With Cathy ready, we left the comfort of the hut to capture the first image;P.O.Evans.
The day was cloudless, with deep blue sky and a golden light but the wind was fierce. I had my gloves, off to fine focus, which was then the Bronica 6x6 fitted with a 40mm lens. Jess was to be my first assistant with Justine in control of documenting the shoot. The chill factor was high after less than five minutes without gloves my fingers became numb. Shooting would be uncomfortable today for all concerned.
The Character portraits would be shot facing the rising sun.On taking a role of Agfa's RSX 200 and APX 100 we hurried back to the hut.

Once inside, my fingers very slowly came alive. It was quite a painful experience, I stood facing the window so as not show my distress to the others, I thought, through my lack of experience, I had done serious damage. My God! you don't get such feelings reading a book, what the men on the polar journey must of gone through came rushing into my head.
It took about 40 mins for us to recover and get warm, this would be the scenario for the day. Maximum 15 minutes outside, 40 minutes recovery, each shot taking roughly 1 hour.

We managed to shoot four portraits and P.O.Evans falling at the Beardmore Glacier by lunch time. I think lunch was more soup but I can't remember, everyone was exhausted; I knew I was getting what I wanted. The group spirit remained high all day.
The blue sky perfect for the head shots but I needed a blizzard look for the afternoon images.

I opened it up to the group for suggestions and we decided that if we got enough snow airborne we would have a good chance with the wind of simulation blizzard!
As we prepared to return outside a mini blizzard whipped up from out of nowhere which lasted all through the night, coincidence?

Once more we ventured forth, this time to shoot the pole shot. It was very uncomfortable by now. We made it to the hill where I wanted to shoot. It was so windy that the flag would not stay up, hence me holding it in the final set up.
I set the camera on a tripod and used one of the original pole images to configure the characters, attached the cable release to the camera and in keeping with history handed it to Lisa "Birdie Bowers". The cable release failed! I wanted the spontaneity of the original image, what do I do?
I had Jess kneel behind the camera, I told her not to look in the view finder but at the group of silly looking people in front of her and take the shots using her reaction to the spectacle.

The end result I hoped would be a combination of randomness and intuition which exists in the original polar photographs. Success !

After taking two roles Agfa RSX 200 & one of Agfa Pan 100 we headed back to the hut to thaw out.

Not many shots to go!

We reentered the snow blizzard, which was now almost completely whiteout, to pursue an animation sequence of sledge pulling. Only four of the party present, representing the time after Evans death on the Beardmore Glacier. Cathy stood in for me while I operated the Rollei on motor drive.
We pushed on to shoot head shots of myself as Captain Scott and Oates lost in the blizzard. With hands and faces frozen, we returned to the hut. The final shot was to be of the 'Tent Of Death'.

Concern grew from the group on my idea of how to construct the tent. This same concern about props had existed from day one of my residency,
I could see it on peoples faces although no one said anything until now.
Hard to deal with at first, I had to remind myself that this is what I do and I know it works. So once I made the point that it would be O.K. we again exited the warmth of the Hut.

The weather outside became wild, windy with big snow flakes dancing around and around in front of the lens. It was an effort to keep the makeshift tent on the ground. I organised the position of the models, composed the camera and then stepped into position. It was quite cozy and old "Birdie" fell into slumber.
Jess was camera operator; this time she had no choice in not using the view finder, it was filled with snow.

Once behind the camera she was concerned about the composition, reassuring everyone that it would be fine, we began our last shoot. We tried Scott in several positions and facial expressions. The final image is one with Scott sitting forward with his eyes opened. The snow that fell was so soft on our faces; we would of been completely covered within the hour. It was a very long and exhausting day.
Most people would say it was a mistake to have a big night of drinking and story telling the night before the shoot; on most occasions I would agree. In hindsight however, I would say it was the smartest preparation we had.

Firstly, it gave the group a chance to bond as a unit, although coming from the same department, the students had not socialised on such a scale before. Secondly it achieved, the next day, the anguish and suffering that I wanted to portray in the faces of the characters.

It was a big ask, I woke up at 5am (as all good photographers do) and thought the hell with it we can shoot tomorrow and the others had much more of the festivities than myself, so their dedication to the project really shone through. If they did not have hangovers, I would of had to much energy to control, the shoot may of been easier but we would of lost the feel for the subject, the poor weather also helped in this area.
I believe it was a great learning experience for all concerned, not just psychically but mentally. The bonding of the group was so important to the project. I knew once the shoot began that I would withdraw into my thoughts too much, for the group to rely on my unification skills, I walk around in a trance only aware of the task at hand, finishing a photograph before any film has been spent. Sandra not only did an excellent job on the make-up, but also looked after the business of keeping the group together.


       Crew Shot: Dunedin Gardens


      Shooting Mrs Conny Wilson


      Jess Cowley: Pisa Range


       Top of Pisa Range


       Shooting Captain Oates


       Setting up Tent of Death


       Sandra doing make up


      Setting up the Pole shot 

Dunedin Gardens Crew Assistants:   Robert Ferguson & Lisa Clunie
Make Artist:
Sandra Toke

Lois Evans - Hester Ruffell, Kathleen Scott - Simone Thurlow, Mrs. Bowers - Deidre Ruston, Mrs. Oates - Meredith Alexander, Conny Wilson - Jess Cowley