See Different

Adelie Penguin, Antarctica

Chinstrap Penguins, Antarctica

Gentoo Penguin, Wiencke Island, Antarctica

Albatross, Diego Ramirez Islands, ChileOur world is saturated with images. We are drowning under thousands upon millions of photographs. Everyone with an iPhone is now a professional photographer. Anyone with an Instagram account can instantly turn their snapshots into snapshots masquerading as fine art.

Over the years, I’ve devoted myself to doing things the hard way. Why go on a guided African safari when you can hire a busted  up Land Rover and get yourself thoroughly stuck and lost in the Serengeti? What better way to see the wilds of the arctic than from your very own leaky zodiac?  Why take a cruise ship to Antarctica when there’s a ill-tempered drunkard in a sailboat who’ll overcharge you, shower you with abuse and leave you hungry and cold on the icy shore?

Is it because I’m cheap, stubborn and often disagreeable?

Well…um…yes. But it’s also a great way to see something different, and shoot some new pictures.

As much as I might love my Hipstamatic vacation snapshots, I find it a whole more fun and challenging to drag out an old film camera, dig some outdated film stock out of the freezer, put on a balky, blurry lens and try to make something of my own.

Last November, I helped lead a four-week small sailboat expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula. Inspired by Dave Burnett‘s work, I spent the weeks before my departure obsessively scanning ebay and paying inflated prices for a World War II vintage Aero Ektar lens and an even older 4×5 camera. I’m pretty sure the last time someone shot Antarctica with a Speed Graphic was sometime around the Shackleton expedition.

During the trip, I shot tens of thousands of digital images while wallowing in penguin shit, wading in freezing water, crawling in the snow and basically having the time of my life. But when I came home, the pictures I wanted to see more than any others were 99 4×5 sheets of expired Fujicolor 160 color negative film.

In my quarter century of photography, I’ve had neither the patience nor technical skill for large format work. But somehow in our brave new attention-deficit world, it seems the perfect antidote to the sameness that permeates so much of the work I see and that I create.

Every time I head out to shoot, I remind myself to try something new. To see different.


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