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Tuesday, January 23, 2018
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The Rural We: Shaun O’Boyle

In 2015, Berkshires-based photographer Shaun O’Boyle spent two months in Antarctica, where he took a series of pictures that now comprise his project, “Portraits of Place in Antarctica.” Some of the pictures, which tell the story of historic huts built over 100 years ago by early explorers and their present-day successors — modern-day science stations and field camps — are on display in the Berkshire Now gallery space at the Berkshire Museum. O’Boyle received a BFA in architecture and industrial design from Parsons School of Design and, in his day job, provides architectural photography for Hill Engineers in Dalton, Mass., his home town. But he’ll not only be returning to Antarctica; he also has plans to explore the Arctic Circle.

I was selected by the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program to join a seven-week project, which I’ve named “Portraits of Place in Antarctica.” I spent weeks with scientists and other people who were working on astronomy, biology, ocean and glacier studies. The purpose of the Foundation’s program was to bring artists to the ice, to share information about what’s going on down there.

I’ve been interested in architecture my whole life, so I wanted to document the huts of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott, the early explorers, and photograph the present-day science station, to show parallels between the two. A lot of the science they were studying back then, they’re studying today, so it’s a continuation of the early work. They use a lot of high-tech stuff now, and astronomy is probably the newest work going on in Antarctica right now.

It was really cold when I got there. We made a trip out to Cape Evans on snowmobiles when it was about –35 degrees. But by the time I left in December, it was in the teens and 20s, so it felt a lot warmer. It’s a big, sprawling place, with about 1,000 people. There are dorm buildings, a huge galley that employs truck and bus drivers, buses and taxis, people maintaining the roads, mechanics and carpenters. I was the first artist to arrive. I shot over 10,000 photographs. At the Museum I’m showing 36 prints — that was the hardest editing job I’ve ever done.

I was named a Guggenheim Fellow in Photography and will be going to the Arctic for three weeks in July, to Spitsbergen, an island that’s part of Norway. My daughter, who is 14, is coming as my photo assistant. Spitsbergen has a longer history than Antarctica; it started with the whaling industry. They found coal there, so there’s coal mining, and a lot of Russian influence. I plan to photograph the buildings, landscape and wildlife. The weather will be pretty mild, in the 30s and 40s, and the sun will be up 24 hours a day.

In November I’m going back to Antarctica via ice breaker from Chile, across the Drake Passage, to Palmer Station on the peninsula. I’m prepared now — I’ve got a stock of long johns and wool socks.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/05/17 at 01:20 PM • Permalink