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"60TH PARALLEL SOUTH: TOWARDS ANTARCTICA" | PHOTO EXHIBITION | 2019
This first exhibition in Hong Kong by Jonas Lam showcases a selection of photo taken during his two sailing trips in the Antarctic area in 2016 and 2018. It follows the exhibition "Latitudes", organized at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris in 2017 in collaboration with the Swedish photographer Christophe Laurentin and a solo exhibition organized at the café Strada in Paris.
THE PHOTOGRAPHER: JONAS LAM
Born in 1969, Jonas Lam is a French photographer with Cuban, Swedish and Chinese origins. Like his father, the great Cuban painter Wifredo Lam, it is in contact with an immeasurable and extravagant nature that his style of pictorial expression has developed. In his twenties, after a few years in Switzerland, he studied Fine Arts and Photography at Concordia University in Montreal (Canada). His main interests are landscapes and still-life, photographing surrealistically staged animal organs or tree stumps in Western Canada. His projects are mostly inspired by the great outdoors: Vancouver Island, Quebec forests, northern Sweden, Iceland, North Cape, Patagonia.
It is in 2015 that comes to his mind the idea of an expedition to an even more inhospitable land: Antarctica.
“I wished to discover Antarctica. A friend told me about Skip Novak, who was organising these kind of trips on his boat « Pelagic Australis », a sailing boat of 23 metres especially built to sail in arctic waters. I contacted him. I had already some experience in sailing: when I was a teenager, I sailed a few times on the Atlantic coast of France as well as near Stockholm, in Sweden. But that was all. I was always fascinated by long-run crossings. Meanwhile, the idea of sailing through the Drake passage and the mythical Cap Horn was terrifying. We left in February 2016, after a year of preparation. We were a team of 10 people and I was the less experienced of all.”
"We landed in a lunar landscape, a black sand, a place that was not ravaged but abandoned, rusty wrecks, left out of plan on the shore ... Carcasses of whalers, rusty barrels, old abandoned houses, worn by the time ... In front of us was a kind of field of gray soil strewn with old planks reminiscent of the bones of all these sperm whales disemboweled on the island.
All these rusty ruins abandoned on the beaches of the Deception Island are the industrial witnesses of this monstrous wound made to a wild nature." - Jonas Lam
(Please check out more details of the two voyages at the end of the page)
Exhibition period: 22-26 March 2019
Opening hours: Everyday 11am – 7pm (Fridays until 9 pm)
Events: 22 March (Friday), 7-9 pm: Opening cocktail reception
24 March (Sunday), 4-5 pm: Meet Jonas Lam
26 March (Tuesday), 6-8 pm: Exhibition Farewell
(Click for Google map direction)
ABOUT THE TWO VOYAGES
"We departed onboard the "Pelagic Australis" from Puerto Williams, at the southern point of Chile, in Patagonia, for a first crossing of the Drake Passage, where three oceans intersect and where winds can be particularly violent. The crossing was smoother than expected, and fears were quickly dissipated over the dense waters of Antarctica. On the fourth day, the sailboat anchored on the edge of this very old volcano, Deception Island, in the Bay of Whalers."
"Decepción Island is one of the most extraordinary quirks of Antarctic nature", wrote the Chilean writer Francisco Coloane, in El Camino De La Ballena. "It is formed by the crater of a dormant volcano, opened in one place by a huge breach where the sea has engulfed between two cliffs, forming inside a bay where could anchor the largest fleet in the world" .
But Deception Island also bears the traces of its history as the most important whaling places of the 18th and 19th centuries, where memory of countless sperm whales persists. There, today a desolated island, lay on the beaches rusty remains of the old whaling stations where the bodies of these impressive sea creatures were dislocated: "After slicing several strips of fat on the back of the whale, a cable at the end of a capstan lifted them to the tail as one peels a banana. The flesh offered the spectacle of a monstrous wound exposed to the open air" writes Coloane when describing the intensive whaling industry that was established on the island until the 1930's.
"We landed in a lunar landscape, a black sand, a place that was not ravaged but abandoned, rusty wrecks, left out of plan on the shore ... Carcasses of whalers, rusty barrels, old abandoned houses, worn by the time ... In front of us was a kind of field of gray soil strewn with old planks reminiscent of the bones of all these sperm whales disemboweled on the island." All these rusty ruins abandoned on the beaches of the Deception Island are the industrial witnesses of this monstrous wound made to a wild nature.
The voyage continued to Cuverville Island, Paradise Cove and Port Lockroy. In an almost absolute silence, where the enveloping sound of huge blocks of ice falling into the sea echoed suddenly, the boat sailed between icebergs with astonishing geometric shapes. It then reached Pleneau Island, where a multitude of floating ice floes spread: a cemetery of icebergs carried there by the current and trapped by low tide.
The team sailed to the Antarctic Peninsula, crossing Lemaire Channel and Girard Bay. Then it reached Cape Tuxen and the Argentine Islands where the Vernadsky Ukrainian science base is located and where the ozone layer problem was discovered. "In this environment shrouded in fog, where dozens of scientists live in autarky, there was an awesome calm, it was as if we were on the edge of the world."
The second voyage began two years later, in September 2018. "The crossing was more demanding than the first, because of the weather conditions. We left Port Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, for five days out at sea to reach the island of South Georgia. The most impressive place was Larsen Harbor, located at the southeastern end of the island, with its steep mountain slopes. We were able to access it thanks to the fact that we were on a sail boat, the passage being too narrow for a cruise ship. Due to weather conditions, we were often forced to take shelter at King Edward Point or Grytviken in Cumberland East Bay."
At King Edward Point are the scientific base and the official customs office. There are few inhabitants on the island of South Georgia. The customs officer who greets the tourists is also the police constable and the judge. She explains that the island only allows entry to a limited number of visitors, mainly for reasons of environmental protection, but also for a much more pragmatic reason: the island being located far from the main land and having no more than 500 body bags to repatriate bodies in the event of a maritime disaster, it can not handle more than 500 visitors at a time...
Opposite King Edward Point is Grytviken Station, which was the largest whaling center until 1966 and which is also where the well-known British explorer Sir Ernest Shackelton is burried. Shackelton, famous to have survived in extreme conditions during his unsuccesful South Pole expedition, managed to cross South Georgia island on foot along with two crew members, in order to launch a rescue operation for the remaining Endurance crew, stranded on Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands.
After hosting the five largest whaling stations in the Antarctic zone, and with them an intensive human activity causing damages to the animal life and to the land, the island of South Georgia has been experiencing a renaissance in recent years. Environmental programs have been actively pursued to restore it to its original state. An extensive program to eradicate rats and remove asbestos from old whaling facilities has been successfully completed. Seals, sea lions and elephant seals have reclaimed the area, little by little.
But not the whales. Although the waters continue to be very rich in krill, the kings and queens of the cetaceans have not returned to swim around the island. They have no doubt the memory of this bloody past, where men, with harpoons, led titanic battles against what they thought of as sea monsters, and emptied them of their precious substance, which would illuminate the cities of Europe and North America.
SOURCE OF INSPIRATION/ BACKGROUND
Terra Australis incognita, "the unknown land of the South". This Latin term introduced by Aristotle in ancient times and used by the Greek cartographer Ptolemy, has been, until the eighteenth century, an imaginary continent represented on European maps.
This inscription appeared in the chronicles of explorers who did not reach yet these remotes areas. It designated the inhospitable lands located beyond the areas known to the Europeans. For a long time, cartographers fueled several myths around these unknown lands, which were depicted as inhabited by dragons and other fantastic creatures.
In 1515, the German cartographer and cosmographer Johann Schöner drew a detailed map showing a strait in the south of the American continent and a land named Brasilia inferior. In 1520, he created yet another world map, this time with Terra Australis on both sides of the Strait of Magellan, a geographical location rather corresponding to the Antarctic continent, but depicted with the contours of Australia, and a tropical vegetation.
It remains to be understood how Johann Schöner and the other European geographers of the early sixteenth century were aware of the existence of this Terra Australis. According to the hypothesis of the British author Gavin Menzies, former submarine commander in the Royal Navy, the Chinese would have been the first to discover Terra Australis. In the early fifteenth century, under the reign of Chinese Emperor Ming Yongle, a large Chinese fleet, commanded by Admiral Zheng He, would have bypassed the south of the African continent to go up the Atlantic to the West Indies. Another part of the expedition would have crossed the Strait of Magellan to explore the west coast of America and a third would have sailed in the cold waters of Antarctica.
After several centuries of intensive exploitation of these distant seas by the Europeans, it is global warming and the increase of tourism which is devastating the white continent at high speed. More and more ships are coming to visit its coasts, creating an unprecedented human activity to which whales, sea lions, seals, pinguoins, elephant seals and many species of birds are not used, thus disturbing their environment. If Antarctica has always been a hostile land for humans, it is becoming over time, through the intense activity exercised by these same humans, an inhospitable environment for nature itself.
This photographic project, of a high pictorial quality, testifies to the unique beauty of these distant lands. However, photography here has no documentary purpose. These landscapes seem rather to emanate from a dream world, where one is alone facing the immensity of a still unconquered nature. As if the fantastic creatures imagined by the cartographers of the past were somehow still alive, through these grandiose landscapes that carry the vestiges of history.
The pictorial style maintains affinities with a certain current of so-called objective photography, characterized by well-thought composition, a desire for perfection and images that are both highly realistic and aesthetical. The school of Dusseldorf and the landscapes of Thomas Struth were a source of inspiration for Jonas Lam, as well as the Straight Photography movement, and especially the images of the American photographer Edward Weston. The large format prints of staged scenery of Andres Serrano and Jeff Wall, with their monumentalisation of the real, have also inspired him.
These landscapes are also in the line of a certain contemporary Romanticism. The strong attraction for deserts, sea, ice fields, and clouds are among the great themes of the romantic painting, and are at the heart of Jonas Lam’s photographic work, which is reminiscent of the landscapes painted by Caspar David Friedrich – ruins, tortuous trees, vast dramatic skies and stranded boat wrecks, as in "The sea of ice" (1823) in particular. The vast expanses of ground and sky, bathed in a sometimes supernatural light, which seem to absorb us recall some paintings by British artists from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Some notion of the sublime is present in these photographs: the sublime as an experience of the individual who is confronted with an immeasurable nature, impressive and grandiose. Let us hope that Antarctica, the last continent to have been explored and mapped, will continue for a long time to carry its mysteries and make us dream.