© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

Postcards to Antarctica: An icy exhibition

Brad Christensen

"It was the Mount Erebus crash when I was about nine years old… This reality of a continent at the end of the world that had just claimed the lives of all these New Zealanders."

A horrific event that would be the catalyst of a fascination that lives on today. 

Guy Frederick was met with six days of 24-hour sunlight on his trip to Antarctica last December.

A man on a mission.

A mission to document what he called "the humanness" of this vast white landscape that borders one end of the earth.

Postcards to Antarctica and Postcards from Antarctica were two exhibitions that Frederick recently ran in Christchurch, displaying content he created down on the ice.

Cooped up inside Scott Base and its immediate environs, Frederick got to work photographing his surroundings.

Scott Base Stairs
Stairs linking corridors around Scott Base. Guy Frederick

He recalled being slightly shocked at how structured his time was down on the ice.

“You have to hit the ground running and respond to the situation pretty damn quickly and gather the material quickly too,” he said.

Megan Martin from Antarctica New Zealand told me the organisation’s aim is to engage artists “who understand the importance of science that New Zealand supports in Antarctica. They then bring that back to capture audiences around New Zealand and the globe”.

They found a goldmine in Guy Frederick.

His projects allowed him to approach several members of the staff at Scott Base, and ask them to write a postcard to Antarctica - addressing the continent as if it were a human.

He extracted some touching tales from these inhabitants of the ice.

Communication Operator Leigh Douglas wrote about being enthralled in a one-sided love affair with the continent.

“This affair has led me to make career and personal compromises - but every tough decision was totally worth it the moment I met you. Every time I go exploring or on an adventure I am awestruck by your magic; it turns me into a 12-year-old girl again, like Alice in Wonderland,” Douglas wrote.

Frederick said he was not surprised by what was written on the postcards.

More so from the reoccurring themes that appeared throughout them.

It was “just people feeling really privileged and thankful to be there and also pretty humbled by the experience. I think it also made them appreciate how Antarctica and the world is a really fragile place that we all have a part in protecting,” said Frederick.

Ruby shared some intimate words in her Postcard to Antarctica. Guy Frederick

The other side of the project, Postcards from Antarctica, differed in that it was completely photographic, whereas Postcards to Antarctica featured video and audio as well props such as polar fleeces issued by Antarctica New Zealand.

Frederick said the multimedia side of things was a new area for him. But in terms of the actual photography, “the principles remain the same… Whether I’m photographing or videoing a room, or the vast landscapes of Antarctica, there isn’t any difference in the approach I take,” he explained.

However, “the ice and snow make it a bit more challenging,” he admitted. 

Mount Erebus
New arrivals to Scott Base have a night in the field undertaking field training under the shadow of Mount Erebus. Guy Frederick

Frederick fondly recalled some day trips where he was able to leave Scott Base and visit other Antarctic artifacts.

“One of those trips was to go down to Scott’s Hut at Evans Bay and have a look at that." - An experience he described as heartfelt.

The Hut at Evans Bay was used by British Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott in his attempt to be one of the first men to reach the Geographic South Pole in 1912.

But Frederick said what really struck him upon finishing the project and reflecting on all the content he created, was that it all came from such “a tiny pinprick”.

“That just really highlighted to me the absolute vastness of the place and just the awe of the space and the place down there, and what would be on offer in the rest of it really,” said Frederick. 

Antarctica shows off its vast white landscapes Guy Frederick

Antarctica New Zealand will send another group down to the ice this summer, marking the fourth birthday of the Community Engagement Programme.

Martin said they have a wide range of personnel attending the Programme this year, including staff from LEARNZ. They are planning to “create virtual field trips for schools, and educational resources for schools to learn all about Antarctica”.

As for Frederick, he hoped to take his exhibitions around other cities and teach more people about the vast white continent.

He said “it had been a place I’d wanted to go since I was a nine-year-old boy and it just lived up to everything that it could’ve possibly lived up to and more. If you gave me half the chance to be there again tomorrow, I’d be there with bells on”.