Herbert Ponting

British, 1870–1935

Grotto in berg, Terra Nova in the distance. Taylor and Wright (interior), January 5, 1911
Black -and-white photograph
Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, England

Herbert Ponting was the first polar photographer commissioned to dedicate himself exclusively to the art of taking pictures. He accompanied  Robert Falcon’s Scott’s final expedition (1910-1912) on board the Terra Nova. The explorer invited Ponting to join his exploratory team and was listed alongside the scientists as a “camera artist.”

Antarctica heightened Ponting’s aesthetic awareness, which was expressed in his book, The Great White South (1921). Here, he describes his favorite photograph of a grotto carved into an iceberg, which has become one of the continent’s most iconic images:

A fringe of long icicles hung at the entrance to the grotto and passing under these I was in the most wonderful place imaginable, from the outside, the interior appeared quite white and colourless, but, once inside, it was a lovely symphony of blue and green. I made many photographs in this remarkable place—than which I secured none more beautiful the entire time I was in the South. By almost incredible luck the entrance to the cavern framed a fine view of the Terra Nova lying at the ice foot, a mile away.

Ponting asked two crewmembers to pose within the iceberg to provide a sense of scale and human interest within the stark environment. A version of this photograph without people was illustrated in the official publication of the voyage, Robert Falcon Scott’s Last Expedition (1912), which was lavishly illustrated with Ponting’s images.