[Canada] When Canadian photographer Gaston Lacombe left to spend two months in Antarctica, he expected to find only icebergs and white-out blizzards. Instead he encountered a wild spectra of hues, including pink, green, and red.
“I found a place teeming with life and color,” says Lacombe. “The perception of Antarctica as a white, empty space might come from the fact that nearly all the photos we ever see of this continent are taken from boats, or from the water–photographs of glaciers and icebergs; often it is all photographers have access to.”
With special dispensation from the Government of Argentina, Lacombe lived as an artist-in-residence on the Esperanza Base. Such a long stint allowed him to witness the changes in color–often many of them fleeting.
“Everyday, the landscape changed,” he says. “Often multiple times in the same day, depending on sunlight, snowfall, wind, and the animals.”
Algae and … Other Things
The colors are attributable to different natural processes. The browns are sediments dirt released by annual thaw and carried across the surface of the ice by wind, meltwater, or creatures’ feet. Around the main penguin colony areas, the browns give way to pink. That’s down to diet and the call of nature.
“Penguins eat a lot of krill,” says Lacombe. “Krill goes in pink when eaten, and comes out of the other side pink too.”
The emergent reds were the greatest surprise to Lacombe. Microscopic red algae (Chlamydomonas nivalis) exist dormant-like in the snow and ice of Antarctica, until they’re activated by seasonal rises in temperature. The triggered algae bloom can glow entire vistas red, and even green.
“For a few hours one day, I saw the full surface of the Buenos Aires glacier turn cherry red,” says Lacombe. “It took me a long time to figure out what the red was. Even the Argentines on the base, many of whom were veterans of the Antarctic, did not know what it was.”
To emphasize the individual colors present in ‘Penguinscapes’, Lacombe created a presentation in which colors drawn from each image file are presented as a bar below the source photograph.
Lacombe was primarily in Antarctica to photograph the 250,000-strong Adélie Penguins colony, as well as 2,000 Gentoo Penguins and a few roaming Chinstraps Penguins. He immediately understood, the backdrop of rainbow slopes would be the element to set his work apart. He climbed on a cliff close to base and resolved to capture the polychromatic patterns created by the penguins from distance.
For all the distance Lacombe put between he and his subject, the penguins clearly didn’t get the memo.
“Adélie penguins don’t fear humans much,” says Lacombe. “Access to the colony is strictly regulated so the penguins are not disturbed. But penguins are curious animals, and they approached me often. They rarely ran away and they never hid. I spent hours photographing thousands of frames without worrying about loosing my subject.”
No Apple Store Within 5,000 Miles
The weather was friendly too. Lacombe experienced relatively few glitches with his gear. He carried many batteries as they rapidly deplete in the severe cold. He stored and acclimatized his Canon 5D Mark II, and 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses in a small, partially-heated vestibule on entry to his accommodation, avoiding condensation inside the gear.
The biggest problem he faced had nothing to do with the harsh weather. Lacombe’s computer crapped out on the boat to Esperanza and he had to quickly learn about the innards of his laptop so he could at least upload photos to his hard drive.
“That was my biggest challenge, having a computer on the fritz with no Apple store within about 5,000 miles!” jokes Lacombe, who came to be profoundly moved by the isolation of the place and the close community of the 40 people on base.
The Climate Question
Many of the scientists that became his friends at Esperanza have been going to the region since the 1970s. Some to monitor weather and ice systems, others to follow the penguins’ nesting patterns. All these things connect. Stable climate conditions are especially essential during nesting. Adélies need solid ground (ice) and the eggs need to stay dry.
Climate change is bringing more precipitation to Antarctica than there once was, leading to more groundwater, mud and snow on the Adélie reproduction sites. The eggs get wet and spoil. For now, the population of Adélie Penguins at Esperanza is stable and some even consider it healthy. However, over the past 25 years, by some estimates, the population of Adélie Penguins has dropped by 65 percent. Other less robust species’ colonies have recently collapsed.
“Glaciers have receded, the area of thaw in the summer is larger than it used to be, the summers are much warmer than in the past, and the sea ice disappears faster in the summer, and takes longer to form in the fall,” says Lacombe. “Climate change is happening and it is having a marked affect on Antarctica’s land and animals.”
A selection of Lacombe’s work called Penguinscapes will be on show this summer in New York and Atlanta as part of the Photoville exhibit, The Fence. Lacombe has self-published a book of his Antartica photography titled As Sun Warms The Land.
View original article at: The Stunning, Unexpected Colors of Antarctica and Its Penguins