Paolo Pellegrin: Antarctica

Wednesday 1 May - Friday 31 May 2019
Magnum Print Room

In November 2017, Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrin, joined NASA’s IceBridge expedition to document the impact of climate change on the Antarctic. The resulting aerial photographs will go on display for the first time in the UK at the Magnum Print Room and show the deceptive beauty of a damaged environment.

From up there, it’s ecstasy in front of the magnificent. I think I understood what the romantic notion of the sublime was: It’s not only the absolute beauty of these landscapes, it’s the sensation of finding yourself in front of a presence that speaks of eternity. I knew I was looking at something exceedingly beautiful – like a Sistine Chapel of nature – a beauty that is hard to grasp but which also contains something which is not well.” – Paolo Pellegrin

NASA’s annual IceBridge expedition began in 2009 and is part of an 11-year campaign to create an unpresented three-dimensional view of both the Antarctic and the Arctic.

Air-borne instruments are used to gather data, allowing scientists to better understand how climate change affects polar ice. Though satellites have long been employed by NASA to monitor this – notably the ICESat – IceBridge flights allow for a closer, more detailed study. On the trip which Pellegrin went on, the first close-up images of the huge Larsen C ice shelf, which broke away from the Antarctic peninsula in 2017 and is now adrift in the Weddell Sea.

Whilst the Antarctic may be unfamiliar territory for Pellegrin, he has spent much of his career covering historical events, notably conflict in the Arab world. The Antarctic is another kind of battleground, but rather than conveying things man does to man, here he captures a different type of conflict. Man is not present but the changes to the climate are the results of human activity and ideas.

One of the main problems I found was how to engage and render the idea of scale. I made a formal decision in most cases to eliminate the horizon and instead look downwards to purposely omit the reference of scale and in a way challenge the viewer even more.

Pellegrin’s choice of perspective feeds the confusion of climate change not being a straightforward narrative, blurring the lines between micro and macro. The images are graphic and abstract on first glance, but simultaneously convey specifics such as a calved iceberg flowing through frozen seawater known as pancake ice, a crevasse measuring a few thousand feet or a 100-feet-tall iceberg floating in the open sea.

This exhibition in London follows a career retrospective of Pellegrin’s work at the MAXXI Museum in Rome. The exhibition was accompanied by the book Paolo Pellegrin Un’antalogia edited by curator Germano Celant and published by Silvana Editoriale.