Over the weekend I watched Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, a 2009 Oscar nominee for best documentary feature and a perfect complement to one of my favorite SITES shows—Wondrous Cold: An Antarctic Journey.
The exhibition, which started its 15-city national tour in 2006 and opens March 21 at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, features 50 stunning color and black-and-white photographs of Antarctica by award-winning photographer Joan Myers. Myers, like Herzog, was a recipient of a National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Program grant, which earned her a four-month stay on the continent. From her base at McMurdo Station, Antarctica’s primary research facility, she traversed the continent by foot, plane, helicopter, snowmobile, and Coast Guard icebreaker. Working in below-freezing temperatures, she captured Antarctica’s beauty, animal life above and below the ice, the abandoned huts of early explorers Scott and Shackleton, and the science conducted at the world’s most remote frontier.
In addition to producing the exhibition with SITES, Myers wrote a companion book of the same title that features nearly 200 photographs from her NSF grant period (plus four additional trips to Antarctica), journal entries, and science sidebars by New York Times writer Sandra Blakeslee. To me, the most interesting parts of the book (and Herzog’s film) are the depictions of daily life (food, clothing, housing, entertainment) and the eccentric and highly intelligent “polies” who voluntarily spend months there as support staff to the scientists.
If you can’t get to Chicago (or the exhibition’s next stops in Spartanburg, SC, and Seattle), then definitely check out Myers’ book and add Herzog’s documentary to your Netflix queue. As Myers writes in Wondrous Cold, “To be in Antarctica is to see our planet at its most elemental and unforgiving.”
Wondrous Cold is made possible through the generous support of Quark Expeditions.
--Ann Carper, SITES editor