Friday, 7 November 2014

The Arctic Regions

The Arctic Regions: Illustrated with Photographs Taken on an Art Expedition to Greenland, with a descriptive narrative by the artist
William Bradford
Edited by Michael Lapides with an introduction by Russell A Potter.
David R. Godine, Boston (in association with New Bedford Whaling Museum): 2013
Originally published in 1873 by Sampson Low, Marston, Low and Searle, Fleet St, London.
170 pages
A landmark in the annals of American photography and polar adventure, The Arctic Regions was first published for subscribers in 1873. No more than 300 copies of the leather-bound elephant folio (designed to emulate the dramatic scale of the views it contained) are known to have been printed. “This volume,” Bradford explains, “is the result of an expedition to the Arctic Regions, made solely for the purposes of art, in the summer of 1869.” Bradford travelled with the eminent Arctic explorer and author Dr Isaac Israel Hayes, and two photographers from Boston, John L. Dunmore and George P. Critcherson. These men were the first photographers to document such a northerly voyage, as they travelled from Newfoundland to Cape Farewell, and on up the west coast of Greenland with stops at (amongst other places) Sermitsialik Glacier, Upernavik and Melville Bay. 
This elegant new edition (on a slightly more modest scale) includes an introduction by Russell Potter which proposes Bradford as a pioneer in presenting visual images of the Arctic to the general public. Potter notes that Bradford’s photographs were shown in London a decade after the distinguished painter Frederic Edwin Church exhibited his Iceberg in 1863. The Art-Journal remarked that these photographs, by comparison, were “the only works which profess incomparable truth in the representation of the Northern regions.” (Whether this faith was justified is open to question.) Potter notes the “striking tonal range and crisp focus” of these early images, reproduced from glass collodion negative plates, and considers some of the difficulties the photographers would have experienced in pursuing this process on board ship. The accompanying text by Bradford is a typical travelogue which nonetheless shows the influence of Hayes’ deep interest in the formation of glaciers, icebergs and the movement of ice. 

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