In early spring of 2006 I traveled to the Ross Sea region of Antarctica for two weeks with the Artists to Antarctica program sponsored by Creative New Zealand and Antarctica New Zealand.


“Last Light” is a series of massive vertical photographic scrolls, panoramic photographic murals, 5x7 inch daguerreotypes and digital video loops that dwell on the Antarctica of gothic imagination: primordial, untamable and largely untouched. The work was driven by my own burgeoning horror at the effects of climate change on the earths polar icecaps and it invites viewers to experience Antarctica in a volatile and precarious state: as its massive ice shelves begin to warm and melt. 


Through their massive, physically immersive scale, anachronistic technique and material weight, the “Last Light” photographs are formulated to be objects as historically and physically compelling as the subjects they represent. Through them I am inviting my audience to invest physically in a place of unrivalled importance and unfathomable strangeness that most of us will never visit but which is dangerously undermined by the warming caused by countless individual human acts. 


The series makes allusion to the interconnectedness of natural systems and human intervention and complicates the simplistic notion of a clear Nature/Culture divide. There is a dark irony to the growing consensus that while efforts at colonizing Antarctica throughout the twentieth century barely dented its icy surface, our collective addiction to fossil fuels, acting incrementally and from afar has gnawed deeply into the ice structures that cover the continent.  The resulting unintended effect is antiheroic, grimy, disintegrative and potentially cataclysmic. The photographs are at once epic and anti heroic in their attention to the cracks, crevasses, glacier faces and pressure ridges which emerge, collapse and re-form in a rhythm tied to global climate systems that are in turn linked to our own systems of consumption. 


I have depicted the Antarctic landscape as an alien icescape completely devoid of human objects, huge and oblivious but also replete with signs of fragility, stress and potential collapse. I used my cameras to isolate signs in the ice that I chose to read as clues or warnings. 


“Last Light” employs anachronistic techniques to chart looming contemporary phenomena that will have enormous and uncharted effects on our collective future. The daguerreotype is an exquisite photographic technique that was essentially outmoded by the mid-nineteenth century invention of silver halide emulsion.  I have used this technique to document signs in the ice: fissures, flaws, pressure ridges and a screaming ice ghoul that emerged high in an ice fall as we descended though a white out. Because the daguerreotype’s decline preceded Antarctic exploration, it is a mode of representation that has never been practiced on that continent. In doing so now I hope to draw my audience into a conversation about modernity and obsolescence, the relationship of individual action to collective conditions and the evidentiary role of photography. 


Likewise, large format silver halide photography is being replaced at an astonishing pace by digital photography. Because digital photography can more easily be manipulated than analogue photography, the photograph’s role as evidence is also fast approaching obsolescence. 


I will be printing and installing massive multiple-exposure photographic murals up to ten meters long and fifty inches wide that reconstruct the stretched, crumpled and contorted face of a glacier. These images invite immersion within the scene – a scene near impossible for most of us to access in life. They draw attention to the relational character of size, time, observed detail and evidence while blurring the distinction between immersion in an actual experience and the critical distance of analytic observation.


The visual references for these works are drawn from nineteenth century and early twentieth century science and exploration photography (Frank Hurley, Anna Aitken’s botanical cyanotypes, Etienne Jules Marey’s pre-cinematic time-lapses, John Adams Whipple’s daguerreotype moonscape of 1851), Romantic painting (Caspar David Friedrich and Frederic Edwin Church) and from the art, architecture and literature of the 1960’s and 1970’s, including minimalism and earth art (Michael Heizer’s geometrical earth pits, Robert Smithson’s monuments to entropy and Walter De Maria’s and Donald Judd’s expansive metallic desert installations); the optimistic modernism of Buckminster Fuller’s faceted domes, the proliferative logic of Italo Calvino’s invisible cities and JG Ballard’s drowned cities and crystal worlds. 


Joyce Campbell 2007