Home of the Blizzard

Updated version 2019 here.

Note: Anaglyphic stereo requires red-blue 3D glasses to view.

NB. For the simple reason that red=right is a good mnemonic, I authored this in anaglyphic with red on the right, cyan left. Apparently, this is not the convention (I rarely use anaglyphic as it is generally so awful to look at) and will update this with ‘correct’ settings sometime in the future. For this version you will have to wear your red/cyan specs ‘backwards.’

“The Home of the Blizzard: The 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition Stereoscopic Photographic Record” is a stereoscopic (“3D”) movie made from stereoscopic glass-plate images taken by Frank Hurley during the 1911-14 AAE. Several dozen survive – here you see 10 of them in a short web version.

This is a project that evolved over many years and here you only see a brief part of it in anaglyphic (red-blue) stereo. In many respects it is still a work in progress as it moves towards high-definition 16:9 DVD release in the near future.

This movie generally shows on passive or active polarised stereoscopic VR systems using very high data-rate video and good projectors or monitors. On DVD it will still give a good experience.

Unfortunately, anaglyphic stereo provides poor extinction across eyes, so you will see ghosting – amplified here by web video compression – it’s unavoidable due to current web-video compression technologies. To minimise this view the video at a small size – not fullscreen.

On Vimeo you should be able to switch to fullscreen mode but watch the video unscaled – this will blank out your monitor(s) and provide a decent viewing experience.

If you can live with that, it still gives an extraordinary insight into one of the pioneering Antarctic expeditions of a century ago.

This 4:3 version was facilitated by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (for their “Islands to Ice” permanent Antarctic exhibition) and the Mawson Collection (SA Museum), and has been seen by well over half a million visitors since it first screened in early 2006.

The glass plates themselves are tiny objects: incredibly fragile sheets of glass about 20cm x 30cm and maybe 3mm thick. It’s extraordinary that they survive. They exhibit fantastic detail that has never been seen before – until I created this movie – having scanned them at very high resolution. It is possible to read the titles of the books the expeditioners were reading – a type of forensic digital archaeology.

Stereoscopic viewing imparts a sense of immediacy and presence to these venerable images – think of all the vicissitudes of time and travel they have survived. There’s something truly modern about them and the lives of the young men you see in them, doing something extraordinary. They were mostly in their 20’s : many of them went off to their doom in the First World War.

Restoration of the images was extremely difficult, due to image damage and the issues of binocular rivalry this introduced. In itself this took me many months to resolve.

The software driving the “camera” movement, compensating for parallax differentiation and a series of other technical issues, was developed by Paul Bourke (WASP, UWA)

From a film-makers perspective, I am inspired by the documentary approaches by Michael Grigsby (e.g. especially Enginemen (1959)), John Grierson and Errol Morris – exemplary documentary film-makers, albeit with a huge difference in style. But nevertheless, the sense of veracity and enquiry – that’s why there is no interpretive commentary here. I think the stereoscopic nature of images breathes so much into them that would only be “flattened” by the authoritative monologue – it is so seldom (if ever) that we see images of this time, this place, in this way – that surely it is enough to witness and visually explore – to absorb. Interpretation can come later.

I composed and recorded the music on a tiny keyboard and laptop using GarageBand (Apple Mac) aboard the 10,000 ton Russian Icebreaker “Vasiliy Golovnin” in 2005-6, whilst travelling to Antarctica on an Antarctic Arts Fellowship. Maybe it’s the first ever film soundtrack composed and performed in Antarctica? Whatever – it was a moment of inspiration and I’m proud of it. It captures that sense of yearning, isolation and grandeur that I witnessed on the wild southern ocean – a romantic sensibility of space and ice. It’s called “Southern Ocean” – hopefully, that’s pretty straight-up.

My sincere thanks to the many people involved in making this possible – especially Paul Bourke (WASP) for endless patience, Trevor Hilton (Sound Design) and Adrian Spinks (then of TMAG, now MONA) and Mark Pharaoh and Clive Wilson-Roberts (Mawson Collection) for believing in it.


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