Work in Progress

We delivered the photographs. A few small boxes in one large truck.


The curator sequenced them and the preparator hung them all on three floors.une-hanging

Kevin and Ilana are positioning and rubbing down the final touch,

                                       LAND  SEA  STONE

And it’s snowing on the first official day of the exhibition. Appropriate.

The show looks good. I’m pleased. If you’re in Portland on January 21, come to the artist reception. Check out the time and location in the previous post as well as the listing of all the events.

Exhibition Invitation

The opening is near. January 21. Two more weeks.

Here’s the invitation and if you are in the area, please stop by on January 21st for the opening reception. Then check out the calendar of events and hopefully you can attend some or all of them. I’m a bit excited but still have to get the work to the gallery and up on the walls. Next week.

LAND | SEA | STONE 2017 Exhibition Invitation

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A Tale of Three Cities: Paris • New York • Portland

2015 is the Year of Photography in Maine with close to three dozen exhibitions scattered around the state. One exhibition will be opening in two weeks—July 28—at the University of New England Art Gallery in Portland. Six of my photos are in it: two from each of the three cities. Nice. But no ice this time. That comes in 2017.

Here’s the show announcement. If you’re in the area, please stop by.


UNE PPN textThere will be two gallery talks, with many of the photographers present: 5pm, August 13, and 5pm, September 10.

Some of the photographers in the exhibition are: Berenice Abbott, Melonie Bennett, Rudy Burckhardt, Tillman Crane, Dan Dow, John Eide, Judy Glickman, Barbara Goodbody, Dennis Griggs, Joe Guertin, Ernst Haas, Rose Marasco, Peter Michelena, Stacy Mitchell, Jack Montgomery, Marta Morse, Jack Nordby, Heath Paley, Scott Peterman, William Rideout, Jerry Robinov, Kristin Robinson, Mason Smith, Ruth Sylmor, Darrell Taylor, Fran Vita-Taylor, Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest, David Wade, Todd Webb, Malcolm Wilson.

Check out The Maine Photo Project for more activity around the state.

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Traces on the Hardway

In my last post I announced that the Antarctica photos would be shown starting in late January 2017. When the curator looked at that work, he also saw a project I did in the late 1980s, early 1990s, on the granite quarry industry on the islands of Maine. He felt both sets of images would work well together and after some initial reluctance, I agreed. They are both about big things, icebergs and granite blocks, that reflect man’s indirect or direct effect on his surroundings.

Below is what I wrote about the work when I first exhibited the images in the 1990s. However, the three images only sort of reflect the actual work. In real life each photo below is a part of a larger piece that combines two or more photos with text. The pieces range in size from 36 inches by 42 inches up to 42 inches by 72 inches. The long, narrow panorama at the bottom is actually 42 inches high by 18 feet long.

The text might discuss the nature and mineral composition of granite in one and in another discuss the health and safety issues the quarrymen faced. One covers the socialist and union activities on an island as the workers and management fought it out. It was a brutal industry that endangered the workers and left them to the whims of the owners who often would pit one ethnic group against another.

Enough of this. I will discuss one complete image more in-depth in the future. Stay tuned!

Quarry: Wharf and Boat

High Island, Mussel Ridge Channel, the first quarry I explored with my older boat, Jeanne, at anchor.

Sailing on the coast of Maine since the early 1980s, I would occasionally see large granite wharves on some of the islands. I wondered who built them and for what reason they’d be on what seemed to be wild, uninhabited islands. Finally, one day in the summer of 1988, while waiting for the fog to lift, I rowed ashore on one of these islands to explore. Finding nothing, I assumed that the island had been uninhabited forever. But as I sailed back to Portland, I made note of all the islands with large wharves. During the winter, my research revealed that these had been granite quarry islands, and at one time had been part of a huge industry in Maine.

In the summers of 1989 and 1990, I visited every quarry island from Port Clyde to east of Jonesport that could only be accessed by boat. If I could easily drive to the quarry, I didn’t photograph it. Some had been small, one-man “motions;” others had been large, two-thousand-man sites. When I started the Granite Quarry project, I realized the story I really wanted to tell was that of the men who worked the quarries. I wanted to pay tribute to them and indirectly pay tribute to my grandfather who, like them, was an immigrant who came here looking for work. He was a modeler who made the patterns for the ornamental iron and bronze work that adorned many of the buildings and monuments constructed in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. It’s really easy to make very beautiful photographs of these quarries, But this project is about the men who worked the quarries and carved the stone. Almost all were immigrant, blue-collar workers, and many of them highly skilled. These were men two generations older than my grandfather. This project is a tribute to these men and also to my grandfather.

Quarry_Dix with two Capitals

Dix Island, next to High, that at one time had three quarries and a cutting shed where the carvers created beautiful blocks, like these capitals. They are all that remain on Dix today of this industry.

Photographs, like archaeological remains, are often incomplete. They address what’s in front of the lens, but they can only suggest the entirety of that which was once present. These photographs record the physical traces of the granite industry that flourished on the islands off the coast of Maine during the Beaux-Arts building boom which existed during the period of economic growth between the Civil War and World War I. In the 1890s, Maine shipped more tonnage of stone than any other state in the Union. That stone built many of the monumental private and public buildings, churches and bridges, and even paved the streets on the Eastern Seaboard. The population on the granite islands of Penobscot Bay grew from a few families of sheepherders and fishermen to hundreds and even up to two-thousand quarrymen and stone cutters on some of the larger island quarries. These islands had boarding houses, churches, town halls, and schools to serve the men who came from Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Finland, Sweden, and other countries to work. One even had a 450-seat opera house.

Quarry: Palmer contact sheet

Palmer Quarry, on Vinalhaven, where the columns for St. John the Divine were quarried.

By the start of World War I, the new steel-reinforced concrete technology replaced building with granite blocks. Also, railroads became a cheaper means of transportation than sailing vessels, so island granite became expensive. Today, barely a trace of this industry or of these immigrant workers remains.

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Big News

The big news is that I will be having an exhibition of the photographs I made a year ago in Antarctica at the Art Gallery on the University of New England’s Portland Campus. The doors will open January 26, 2017 and the work will be hanging until April 23, 2017. We have yet to decide on dates for an opening or closing party or gallery talks or other events. At least the dates have been locked in place.

How did this come together? In this case I edited down from the original 3,000 or so RAW frames made during the three weeks aboard Pelagic Australis to about 36 images which where then tweaked before being printed digitally.

Then curators were invited to see the work, discussions were had, negotiations were held, directors were consulted and the decision was finally made just after the new year.

Art Gallery on UNE's Portland Campus

Façade of the Art Gallery on UNE’s Portland Campus

I’m happy. I’m also amused that my mostly white photos of ice will be displayed in a white cube in the middle of a Maine winter. What could be more appropriate?

But—and this is a nice but—there’s more. The Antarctica photographs will be hung on one floor, while an older body of work I did which documented the remains of the granite quarry industry on the islands of Maine will be on another floor and a few images I made while hiking around with the Incas in Peru after the sail to Antarctica will be hung on the third, lower level. I will talk more about how these three bodies of work mesh together in a later blog post.

And I have plenty of time to make all the frames, which is going to be a big job. More about this later, also. Stay tuned, as they say….

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The Penguin Post Office

Gentoo penguins at Port Lockroy among the remains of a small boat.

Gentoo penguins among the remains of a small boat at Port Lockroy.

When we arrived at Port Lockroy, the filming of “Penguin Post Office” for the BBC was underway. It has now been released. Check it out; go to this PBS Video link, which should be valid until February 28, 2015 (at 37:18 you can see “little” Pelagic in the center, with Pelagic Australis on the left). Our expedition was on Pelagic Australis, but not at that time. That shot was filmed around Christmas 2013; we were there in mid-February 2014.

To fully experience what it is like to be among the penguins, watch the show with a rotten fish on one side of you and a pile of seagull poop on the other.

Andrew, the cameraman, did an incredible job, but apparently hated almost every minute he was down there. Ruthie, the producer, is the world’s foremost authority on Gentoo Penguins and seems to have no other life than Gentoos. But I have a deep respect for some one like Ruthie who is so passionate about her field.

On our trip, Pelagic Australis stopped at Port Lockroy to give us tourists a chance to see the gift shop and for our crew to re-provision Pelagic with hundreds of pounds of food, 1,000 litres of diesel fuel, and to deliver Bertie to her ship. Pelagic was the winter base for Andrew and Ruth, with David as Captain and Bertie as Mate.

Port Lockroy—kitchen in the station.

Port Lockroy—kitchen in the station.

The buildings are kept as they were when the British science teams left; the gift shop was a later addition. I made a guess that the shop did about a quarter of a million dollars in business in the four months it’s open, but Magnus told me I was way off. It does just under one million US dollars! In postcards, stamps and tee shirts. WOW!

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Ocean Navigator, Encore

Ocean Navigator magazine just published a second short article by me about our Antarctica adventure last February. (WOW! Almost a year has passed since our sail.) This time the editor wanted to know how Peter Plumb, the driving force behind our voyage, selected Skip Novak’s organization and the boat Pelagic Australis. Below is the story.

Snacks and drinks awaiting us after climbing to the top of Danco Island.  L to R: Chris; Wyatt; Thomas, First Mate; Rupert, Cook; Magnus, Captain; Peter P.

Snacks and drinks awaiting us after climbing to the top of Danco Island.
L to R: Chris; Wyatt; Thomas, First Mate; Rupert, Cook; Magnus, Captain; Peter P.

Adventure Chartering in the Antarctic

In February of 2014, eight men from 56 to 73 years old, mostly from Maine, chartered Skip Novak’s 74-foot sloop Pelagic Australis for a three-week sail from Porto Williams, Chile, to the Antarctic Peninsula.

The idea came from Peter Plumb, who wanted to sail to Antarctica for his 70th birthday. Many of us had sailed with him to the Caribbean, around Newfoundland, or up the west coast to Alaska and back, so we trusted Peter in his choice of shipmates. No rookies or duffers allowed since, at our age, we needed to have confidence in one another’s abilities.

Plumb’s criteria included a steel or aluminum hull, purpose-built and certified for high-altitude sailing; a skipper and crew with extensive experience in the Antarctic on our chosen route; a vessel that could take eight to twelve guests and was available when we wanted to go. The vessel had to be fully found, somewhat comfortable but not a “cruise ship.”

Pelagic Australisin the Iceberg Graveyard. Captain Magnus piloting us through the bergs.

Pelagic Australisin the Iceberg Graveyard. Captain Magnus piloting us through the bergs.

We were, after all, experienced sailors able and willing to stand watches, reef sails, help in the galley, and do what was necessary. Plumb’s prime criterion: to be able to tell our wives, children, partners, and friends that the vessel and crew could bring us all back in good shape.

He started his search online and got responses from “we no longer do that” to “not this year,” along with two positive responses. Next he checked “word of mouth” contacts, which led him to Skip Novak’s Pelagic Expeditions. Plumb checked references and was impressed with Novak’s experience captaining four around-the-world races from the late ’70s into the ’90s and other long-distance ocean races. Novak and his vessels are certified by Det Norske Veritas, have a Marine and Coastguard Agency (UK) certificate for carrying passengers, and are CE marked. His boats have the permits required by the UK’s Antarctic Act, and he is a member of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, which has established protocols for safe environmental conduct on this fragile continent.

When we boarded a boat taking us from Ushuaia, Argentina, to meet the Pelagic Australis in Porto Williams, we were not impressed with the condition of a few of the boats tied up there. Granted, most of them take guests up and down the Beagle Channel or out to the Horn, not to Antarctica, but boat-keeping was not as Bristol as I might have expected. However, as we boarded the PA, our concerns fell away. She was immaculate on deck and below. “Shipshape in Bristol Fashion.”

Pelagic Australis set to ride out a gale near Vernadsky Station. Anchor is set and mooring lines run to shore at each quarter. Note the

Pelagic Australis set to ride out a gale near Vernadsky Station. Anchor is set and mooring lines run to shore at each quarter. Note the “shipshape and in Briston fashion” condition of the vessel.

To help us prepare for the voyage, Novak sent us information on clothing, medical and insurance requirements, and what we could, and could not, expect once we got underway. One minor hitch: Most medical evacuation policies do not cover anyone over 70, so it took a lengthy search to find one that would cover all of us.

With the exception of the foul-weather gear supplied by the boat, we had to have all our own gear, including seaboots and heavy outerwear to wear off the boat. This meant careful choices and compression bags to get all the gear into our seabags. Since water was limited, eight guests and four crew living 24/7 in long-johns needed frequent changes and sponge baths. Novak’s recommendations were right on, but I could have eliminated a few layers of fleece.

We had a cook but took turns assisting with meals and cleaning up. One of us baked fresh bread almost daily. (The alternative was a Chilean white bread that did not change in any way over our three-week voyage. It’s probably still unchanged!)

Captain Magnus presenting our options at the horn in the large pilot house.  L to R: Thomas, Magnus, Chris, Wyatt.

Captain Magnus presenting our options at the horn in the large pilot house.
L to R: Thomas, Magnus, Chris, Wyatt.

Very few sailing vessels cross the Southern Ocean to the Antarctic Peninsula; we saw only three charter boats and two private vessels. Peter’s choice was probably on the high end in terms of cost, but it was also on the high end in terms of design, condition, and crew. We all agreed with Plumb: “We got what we paid for.”

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Blue Ice and Photoshop

Thanks for your comments. For some reason, comments do not show up on my iMac in the studio, only on my iPad, which I rarely look at when I’m not traveling. I just discovered them last night.

To respond to some questions and comments, no, nothing is “photoshopped,” and those are the actual colors of the ice down there. That said, each image is taken into Photoshop and worked to bring the values in balance and to ensure that the colors are as true and neutral as possible.

A photograph can be merely a record of what’s in front of the camera or it can be an object that stands alone, independent of the subject. All photographers have always burned and dodged (You think Ansel Adams subjects actually looked like that in real life?) and that is what Photoshop is really for. Gabriella and I worked for an hour with each image, on average, which is comparable to my experience printing in the wet lab back in the day. (And thanks for checking out her work.)

So why is the ice blue? When snow falls, it is airy so when light strikes it, all the wavelengths are reflected back to our eyes. As the snow piles up, it compresses forcing the air out and transforming the snow into solid ice. Over hundreds of years in a glacier, that ice sinks deeper and endures huge pressure, forcing all the air from the ice. Once the air is out of the ice, the longer wave lengths of light, the light on the red end of the spectrum, are absorbed, reflecting the shorter wave lengths on the blue and green end of the spectrum.

Then a berg is calved off from a glacier exposing that ancient and highly compressed blue ice.


You can see the fresher, white snow lying
on the older, compressed blue ice.

Also, bergs reflect the shorter wavelengths of incidental light giving a blue cast, which is the same phenomena that makes the sky look blue. In certain areas in the Antarctic and Arctic, microorganisms can also color glaciers, not unlike a famous green glacier further to the east in Antarctica.

When we arrived on the Antarctic Peninsula, we were all amazed at the amount of color in the landscape. Initially, I thought I’d work in black and white down there, but once I arrived at Deception Island, I quickly realized that working in color was what it was all about. We had also wondered what made the ice blue, so Wyatt did some serious research in the extensive Pelagic Australis library to answer our question.

I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog and the photos. Thanks. Stay tuned, since much is happening.

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What’s Been Happening

It’s been seven months since I returned from my South America adventure and while I have not posted anything, much has happened. One of my goals while in Antarctica was to photograph as many icebergs and glaciers and frozen landscapes as I possibly could. And that I did, coming back with close to 3,000 frames from the three weeks we spent on board the Pelagic Australis sailing down the Antarctic Peninsula.

Sorting through those 3,000 images at first seemed daunting until I sorted them by subject, and then kept scrolling though until I had a sense of what I wanted to print. My goal was, and still is, to have an exhibition of the work somewhere near Portland, Maine, my home base, so I can share the work with others.

The initial sort was simple. Put all the ice/berg/frozen landscape images in one folder; birds, whales and other critters in a second folder; people and the boat in a third, etc. That still left over 1,000 images in the ice/berg/frozen landscape folder, so I kept scrolling through until I narrowed them down to 150. Way too many, but a good start. Then the hard part began: how to get those 150 down to a manageable three dozen. But I did, eventually.

Since I’m six years into my retirement and therefore have spent six years away from working seriously with Photoshop, I hired a wonderful technician to bring me back up to speed and to oversee the printing of the images. What’s even better is that she’s an incredible image maker. I encourage you to check out Gabriella Sturchio’s work.

We have proofed, edited, tweaked, and now printed about 24 images. They look beautiful.

I’m currently inviting curators to look at the work with the intention of mounting an exhibition at some point in the next year. Stay tuned.

Here are a few of the final images. Enjoy them.


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Ocean Navigator

Before I left for Antarctica, the editor of Ocean Navigator, a serious sailing publication out of Portland, Maine, contacted me wondering if I’d like to write about the trip. “Yes, but let’s not discuss it until I return,” was my response as I asked him to follow this blog. He was most interested in our crossing of the Southern Ocean and the storm we encountered in the caldera of Deception Island. Following is the unedited copy I submitted for the article (which they shortened a bit).

Don’t wish for it, ’cause you’ll get it.

Two nights before making our return to Chile, during dinner, we had westerly winds in the mid 20-knot range. Comments around the table, as we ate an incredible batch of Chilean ribs, ranged from “Glad we didn’t get any heavy weather” to “Wish we had at least one dose of typical Southern Ocean, Cape Horn, weather.”

We got it. Just before Joel and I came on watch at 2200, the previous watch took in the genny and set the Yankee and staysail. Just after we came on, we put a double reef in the main and rolled in the Yankee. An hour later, we put in a third reef and kept the staysail. The new weather system had arrived and brought with it a steady 35 knots or so with higher gusts. We were ten hours south-south-west of and heading for Cape Horn.

We, eight sailors, mostly from Maine, were on the return leg of a three-week voyage on Skip Novak’s 74-foot sailing vessel Pelagic Australis from Porto Williams, Chile, to the Antarctica Peninsula and back in February of 2014. Before leaving Ukraine’s Vernadsky Station in the Argentine Islands, fifty miles north of the Antarctic Circle, our captain, Magnus Day, had been checking the GRIB files twice a day to plan the best course and, more importantly, the best timing to get us back to Chile with the least engagement with any heavy weather. A low was forming off the west coast of Chile and was expected to hit the Horn just about the time we arrived. Delaying our departure to pass behind the low would have meant a few day’s delay, missed plane connections, and who knows what else. Leaving now meant an uneventful sail across the Drake Passage with the chance of meeting the leading edge of the low as we arrived at the Horn.

The Southern Ocean is notorious for the deep lows that ceaselessly circle the Antarctic Continent, throwing up steep waves—especially in the Drake passage where the waters shallow quickly—combined with the fairly strong easterly current that flows around Antarctica. The course Magnus charted had us leaving the Argentine Islands and heading pretty much north-west, well west of the rhumb line. His goal was to gain as much westerly as possible early on so that when the low came, and with it the northwest winds, we could then bear off and reach our way to the shelter of the islands north of the Horn. Magnus wisely chose to leave promptly and take our chances on the other end.

Tracks down and back

Tracks down and back

Looking back at the Horn

We flew past the Horn in 45-knot winds with no chance of landing on the island or gaining shelter in nearby coves. Once in the shelter of the islands between the Horn and Porto Williams, winds were fairly calm for an uneventful sail home. However, looking astern we saw the cloud formations created by the 80-knot winds reported by another vessel that arrived shortly after we passed. Some of us got our wish.

Our passage south, three weeks earlier, had been an equally uneventful three days of mostly motor sailing that also ended in heavy winds. Our course was well to the west of the rhumb line since, in general, passages between the Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula stay west due to the prevailing winds and the constant east-flowing current. The current would carry us east and the winds preceding an incoming low would allow us to ease sheets and reach to our first Antarctic destination, Deception Island.

We made it into Deception Island ahead of the low, anchored in the sheltered Stancomb Cove the first night, then moved the next day and anchored off the beach in Whaler’s Bay, opposite the site of one of the largest early 20th-century whaling factory ship anchorages in Antarctica. As many as ten factory ships might have been anchored where we were, processing whale blubber and bone, seals, guano and who knows what else, as efficiently as ever possible.

What made Deception Island attractive then and now is that it was a huge volcano whose caldera collapsed, opening up a narrow, maybe 200-meter wide, passage into a large (about 5.6 by 3.7 mile) and extremely sheltered harbor. The volcano is still active, having blown last in 1967, and 1969 wiping out a number of research stations.

As Magnus nosed Pelagic Australis close to the beach, a few of us glanced at each other wondering why he was getting less than three boat-lengths from shore. In Maine we would never get this close because of the shifting tidal currents and the possibility of a change in wind direction overnight. One of us was bold enough to question his move and he explained to us Antarctica newbies that: one, the winds never change direction down there; two, there is no tidal current to worry about; and three, distances off are very hard to read in Antarctica. For the last reason, he frequently refers to the rangefinder slung around his neck when nearing land. We were safe.

But we weren’t safe. The low we beat to get into Deception Island slowed and brought us 45-knot winds which caused the anchor to drag. Hauling in the anchor in an attempt to reset it overheated the anchor windlass, so Magnus chose to power in position while it cooled. But the winds increased, so he then decided to reach under bare poles in the bay, powering up to come about before reaching back.

At first we had the entire bay to ourselves, but an Argentine Naval vessel anchored off their research station in Primero de Mayo Bay also dragged its anchor. Magnus and the Argentine captain agreed, via VHF, that Pelagic Australis would jog mostly north and south in the lee of the rim while the ship would jog mostly east and west, never crossing one another’s track.

Right track of Pelagic Australis, left track of Argentine Naval vessel.

Right, track of Pelagic Australis, lower left, track of Argentine Naval vessel.

During the night the winds peaked at 66 knots, near hurricane strength, but we were sheltered in the lee of the mountains to the north-east so we had not much in the way of waves. Our motion was as comfortable as could be expected, in 40- to 60-knot winds. I asked Magnus what he would do if the engine died. “Run it up on the beach, hopefully, in Stancomb Cove.”

The next morning, twenty hours after dragging our anchor, the low moved on and winds calmed to the point where we could depart the shelter of Deception Island to begin our two-week exploration of the Antarctic Peninsula.

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