How do you explain an experience that is filled with the absence of sensory input and yet overflowing with it? How do you describe silence? In Roberto Benigni's film Life is Beautiful ,Guido, the main character, is asked to solve riddles given by an acquaintance. One of these riddles illustrates my pondering over writing about the big beautiful stillness and visual absence of man's fingerprints.
If you say my name I'm not there anymore. Who am I?
How would I process, make meaning of and communicate my Antarctica adventures? Entering this journey, I equipped myself with pens, notebook, laptop, camera, GoPro, several pencils and the option of using all or non of these mediums.
It seems that every explorer who has ventured to this white continent in the late 1800s and thereafter, has documented via journaling and photography. You read about frostbites and crevasses, wind blown fields and hunger, determination and ships crushed by icebergs, friends lost to the elements, captains motivating and pushing through any unimaginable adversity to make it to the South Pole and back again to civilization. Some succeeded and some didn't. Their words and images still linger and you can hear their voices echo. In preparing for my own Antarctic adventure I researched and explored many of the books, films, papers, artworks that were created and fueled by this huge white canvas, this continent without owner, without rules, without cultural imprints nor expectations, worlds largest desert. This is a whole continent, not just a small place, where nobody hands you a new lens or filter to see through, to live by. You have what you bring.
I found myself writing and photographing just enough to remember without disrupting the immersive immediate experience. I created little figurative safety lines that I could bring back home to then allow me to fully plunge into these landscapes. No matter how lively, how pronounced the experience is, our minds are unreliable record keepers. Once you are back on familiar ground your lens and filter shifts no matter how hard you try to keep it fresh and unedited. The process of driving and flying, arriving back home in safe familiarity, hugging your loved ones, and meeting with friends over coffee changes the experience and the memory of it. For me, the process of making meaning is very much like cooking. You start with fresh pure ingredients and as soon as you cut, add spices, combine and stir, things change. Flavors shift. Add some heat and time to this and you have a stew that is complex and tasty yet puts texture and taste of the once fresh and pure ingredients in the distance.
My daughter shared her travel experience as a 16 year old snowboarder and inspired explorer with her GoPro always ready, in a 4 minute video (click video. to watch). When I watch this video, in my mind, I also see her placing the GoPro in front of the penguins, scanning the landscape and experience for GoPro worthy moments and later, in the coziness of our cabin, spending hours to edit the footage of the day.
I loved reading super star mountain guide Andrew McLean's write up of the adventure. His lens, as a master-mountaineer and ski guide who has climbed and skied world's gnarliest mountains, allowed him to capture geographical detail and the experience in a concise and immediate way. Our Icelandic guide and friend Einar Isfeld Steinarsson must be world's most experienced glacier guide and has spent extended time in Antarctica working for the US science station, teaching crevasse rescue, building igloos and helping groups of scientists navigate the merciless landscape and weather of Antarctica. I loved reading his blog post about his experience of 60 degrees south as he was writing his blog back in his home land at 66 degree north. These reports are concise, rich and so very well communicate this shared adventure on this untamed continent, seen and processed through their individual lenses.
Now, back home I keep looking for these white untouched spaces. I continuously find myself reaching for books about Antarctic and Arctic adventures, scanning websites for remote skiing adventures and using white paints in various shades to work and rework the canvases of all sizes in my studio.
Work in progress
A journey is a person in itself, no two are alike, and all plans, safeguards, policies and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggles that we don't take a trip; a trip takes us. John Steinbeck
I would add to John Steinbeck's quote that every person is taken on their own individual journey even when skiing on the same mountain and riding the same waves as her fellow travelers.