Polar Expeditions: A Photographic Landscape of Sameness?
Elizabeth Cronin and Jessica Keister examine a photographic scrapbook in the New York Public Library, showing photographs from various arctic expeditions, many of which are heavily re-worked with overpainting, masking, and drawn and collaged elements. These edited photographs were transitional objects, intermediate phases between negative and illustration, between the arctic and the final consumer product, a halftone reproduction. With little regard as to organization, and practically no identifying information, the album collapses the various expeditions into one experience and eliminates the specificity of their original documentary functions, thus highlighting universal images of the far north: heroism in a hostile environment, ice cliffs, hut interiors, polar bears, sled dogs, local populations, and scientific responsibilities. Through a careful reading of the album that considers both its history as an object and the individual photographs within it, this paper illuminates the roles that photography can play in our understanding and treatment of arctic exploration and the northern landscape.