At the Atlas Gallery: The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott

I went to the Atlas Gallery and I may have been some time. But then that is the power of these haunting photographs of that doomed and reckless mission to the South Pole. They leave you gaping at the awesome beauty and strength of the snow wilderness and mourning the heroic stupidity of the men who died there.

There is a new book out this year to mark the centenary of the doomed attempt on the South Pole undertaken by Captain Scott and his men. These are ‘lost’ photographs showing the mission up close and personal. There is little of the frozen Antarctic grandeur of other collections and plenty of men against the elements. The selection on the walls and in the windows of the Atlas Gallery on Chiltern Street is obviously not as comprehensive as the volume available in the book but is still well worth a visit if only for the impressive scale of what you will see and also the slight technical imperfections that are not as immediate in print but whose visibility when shown larger adds to the emotional power.

The most striking image to me (pictured here) is of the horses trudging into the snow. The horses were part of the problem but their determined nobility matches the public school folly of their masters and they stride out into a featureless landscape. Many of the photos are like this showing a landscape which could have been created by pouring tipex over a piece of white card. It’s almost incredible that Scott and his boys got as far as they did and as near to surviving the experience.

That, of course, is their tragedy and why a century on these prints are selling. The Atlas collection has a lot of orange dots and a loud conversation was being had about the market value for this work (currently at about £3,500 for a framed print) about to go stellar. I have no problem with that. These photos work beautifully as snapshots of endurance even if you don’t know the story – but if you do they have an extra layer that rewards repeated viewing.

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