Ice, Philadelphia

"Find a way or make one."  — THE EXPLORER'S DICTUM

In the spring of 1995, I applied to the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists & Writers Program, hoping to photograph landscapes in Antarctica, but was rejected. Instead, I decided to take photographs at home in the Northeastern United States of places that I imagined to look like Antarctica, creating a private world of snow and ice.

I planned to e-mail people in Antarctica and get them to describe it to me.

Soon after I started making the photographs, however, I found out that my own brother was headed for Antarctica. Dr. Christopher Sorlien, a geologist, was hired by the NSF to spend six weeks there, mostly on an icebreaker. He would help collect data to be used for mapping the subsurface of the Ross Sea. His e-mails began coming to me on January 15, 1996 from McMurdo, the American base in Antarctica.

While Chris was in the Southern Hemisphere for the austral summer, my city of Philadelphia and the rest of the Northeast experienced one of the greatest winters in history. Ironically, Chris, a weather freak, was disappointed to miss it. There were several big snowstorms, one a recordbreaking thirty inches. Drastic temperature fluctuations produced wild floods, leaving behind weird ice formations and crystallized mudplains. Huge blocks of ice from river breakup crashed along waterways and piled up on land. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a local resident watched the ice rush by on the Delaware and declared, "It looks like Antarctica."

Chris and I are presenting two visions of Antarctica, one based on facts and observation, the other wishful and voyeuristic. Our tools also represent extremes: the computer-linked electronic communication transmitted by satellite over thousands of miles, and the $15 Holga plastic camera held together with black tape. All photography distorts reality; the Holga with its light leaks and optical aberrations probably distorts it more than most cameras, but there was no darkroom or digital manipulation and no alteration of the subject. I found these landscapes. They were here.

Sandy Sorlien

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All photographs ©2006 Sandy Sorlien