Stuff the A Team, the only display of hyper-masculine tomfoolery I have any time for right now is down at the Merseyside Maritime Museum.
I grew up with the sagas of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Huntford’s book on Scott and Amundsen pretty much held the place a bible might have taken in a religious household. Polar opposite of the heroic, but ultimately unforgivable, bungler Scott Falcon Scott stood Ernest Shackleton. Steadfast, tenacious and just kick-arse, Shackleton is a colossal but approachable figure.
Preening martyrdom on the ice was not for Shackleton. How is it not possible to admire a man who achieved so much and could still wryly say "Better a live donkey than a dead lion"?
If you do not know the story of the Endurance (or should I say the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition?), look it up. It’s is an incredible story of persistence, survival, practicality and, yes, heroism on the ice. Frank Worsley's book Shackleton's Boat Journey is particularly fantastic.
And perhaps the best part of the story? That it rests in the period when photography in such harsh conditions was becoming possible while remaining a true technical and photographic feat. That these laboriously created glass plate negatives remained unscathed is remarkable in itself. In a digital age, when we are so used to images being composed from intangible data, the physical nature of these negatives is almost extraordinary to regard.
Words cannot convey what Frank Hurley’s lucid photographs manage so eloquently. The strange and beautiful nature of the ice, the startling vision of the Endurance caught in the ice flow and the inscrutable Edwardian explorers, I love all of it.
I may be a polar exploration fan girl, but I will fight anyone who says this is not visual story telling at its very best. It is wonderful to see photographs I know from books displayed so prolifically in this compelling exhibition.