Still life : inside the Antarctic huts of Scott and Shackleton

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Still life : inside the Antarctic huts of Scott and Shackleton

Photography by Jane Ussher ; essays by Nigel Watson. 2010 Murdoch Books Sydney, N.S.W. ISBN 9781741967395


"Still Life is a unique and hauntingly beautiful photographic study of the Antarctic huts that served as expedition bases for explorations led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton. At the turn of the twentieth century, Antarctica was the focus of one of the last great races of exploration and discovery. Known as the heroic age, from 1895 to 1917 Antarctic explorers set off from their huts in search of adventure, science and glory but some, such as Scott, were never to return. The World Wars intervened and the huts were left as time capsules of Edwardian life. Jane Ussher was invited by the Antarctic Heritage Trust to record the unusual, the hidden and minutiae of these sites. The Executive Director of the Trust, Nigel Watson, provides a fascinating introduction to the history and atmosphere of each hut."

Mini Review

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The huts of the heroic age are always described as having a wonderful atmosphere. This book describes itself as a “unique and hauntingly beautiful photographic study”. It is just that, a triumph, covering three of the Ross Island heroic age huts, Cape Evans, Cape Royds and the Discovery Hut at Hut Point. This must be the most comprehensive coverage of archaeological sites ever undertaken in New Zealand – well let’s say quasi New Zealand to cover the Ross Protectorate. The photographs cover the exterior and the interiors of the huts. But they are not a archaeological record, and do not pretend to be, it is an evocation of the character of the sites.

The essays about each hut neatly summarise the history and give some insights into their contents and the relationship of particular items to the former occupants. The current work of the Antarctic Heritage Trust conserving the huts and the contents is outlined. A few of the smaller pictures seem not to be captioned but it is not important for this purpose – it is clear which hut they are in.

Hut Point was much entered and disturbed during the early years of the modern occupation of Ross Island from the 1950s onwards. Objects have been removed from the huts casually in the past with no intent other than personal gratification and more recently they have been removed to New Zealand for conservation, but that practice has now ceased with the Trust choosing to conserve items at its local base. We see but glimpses of the conservation work proceeding at the time of the photography – labels on a few of the items in view. The interiors look authentic, but there must be a question of some at least, visitors picking up and replacing objects may well have changed scenes to what we now see rather than what was originally there. The Trust seems aware of the need for sustaining locational accuracy - these pictures can be compared to others available and objects now seem to be being sustained in their same positions.

Any fan for the period will love this book. It will sustain the urge for the experience of visiting them, even if it is an experience few of us will have.