Author: Jaime at Cape Evans
Date: 18 December 2011
For both the artefact and building conservators working at Cape Evans, Herbert Ponting’s historic images are one of the most valuable sources of information we have as to how Scott’s Terra Nova hut was built and used. The incredible quality of those original photographs and the ability to store them digitally, gives us a wonderful on-site resource for the task of restoring the fabric of the hut.
Unfortunately for us though, Ponting not did not set out to produce a precise record of the whole hut, its occupants and its environs, but that only makes the job of searching out information even more interesting, as the details we are looking for are usually incidental fragments of a far larger image. This has been the case in recent days for the reinstallation of the stove flue system and the acetylene lighting pipes, all of which hang up in the open roof space of the hut. It is unlikely that Ponting would have ever set up his camera simply to record the interior of the hut roof and yet nearly all the information we need appears somewhere in one of his images. Acetylene lamps float unnoticed over the heads of men lost in the celebration of a mid-winter dinner or stand insignificantly on a table, providing light for Wilson to work on his drawings. In other photographs, flue pipes lurk in darkened roof spaces while Evans bandages Dr Atkinson’s frost bitten hand and outside the hut, a chimney stack rises slightly askew from a distant roof, as a group pose for the camera before setting out on a journey to the Western Mountains.
It is difficult to emphasize not just how important these images are for the work of conserving the hut, but also what a pleasure it is to pore over hugely enlarged areas of a photo and to then finally discover the tiny detail you are searching for.