Antarctica: A New Consciousness
A Trip to Tierra San Martin
Photographs and Texts by Gloria Antonetto
At the end of 2016 I decided to resign, leave my Parisian apartment, and take a sabbatical. I was neither bored nor unhappy – I was curious. Curious to see different things, meet people with alternative opinions and different life experiences. I wasn’t looking for an answer to a problem; I was look for inspiration. Also I just wanted to see and hike in beautiful places and allocate more time to explore photography. I wanted my experience to be an inspirational transition for an enriched life, and therefore I didn’t have a very detailed travel-plan.
So just before New Year’s Eve, my 13.5kg backpack and I were at the airport ready to take off for at least six months. Direction: Santiago, Chile.
For me, people I met have always been an incredible source of inspiration. Their experiences cultivate in me new ideas and the desire for new challenges, and conversations inspire me to re-evaluate my thoughts and opinions. So when in the middle of a hike in northern Chile I met a backpacker who told me about his experience of traveling on a boat to Antarctica, I was intrigued and determined to experience that adventure firsthand.
Trips to the seventh continent all depart from Ushuaia, Argentina. As soon as I arrived, I easily found a travel agency proposing a last-minute deal and back-packer-budget friendly. Completing the necessary paperwork was quite fast, I managed to rent winter gear, and less than a month later I was boarding a ship to Antarctica with Quark Expedition.
I left the Horn on February 5th, sailed through the Drake passage, and reached the peninsula two days later. To say it wasn’t fun would be an understatement. No wonder explorers failed to reach the Terra Australis for many centuries! The waves were dark and angry, the ocean un-relenting, and the wind howled. Then suddenly there was calm: we had passed the Arctic Circumpolar Current. We had arrived.
The first impression of the continent was dramatic and desolated: flat pieces of ice and snow floating on the calm water below. Above: a very dark sky. A few hours later, the landscape started to take shape; mountains covered with snow started to appear, and there was a faint whiff of penguin in the air.
I imagined the Antarctic peninsula would be extremely wild and rough, instead it was peaceful and slow-paced. The seals, despite their taste for penguins, seemed to live in perfect balance with the surrounding nature – sunbathing on glaciers. Icebergs trundled by on the calm and waveless see. The wind was light and temperature mild (for Antarctica). The only noise came from colonies of chatty penguins, chatty tourists, and the occasional calving of ice. I was in front of beautifully untouched landscapes, and I felt fortunate to be there. In front of this beauty and privilege, I started to have mixed feelings about my adventure. I realized we had managed to reach the last untouched piece of earth, and somehow we were contaminating it, mutating and shaping it as we have the rest of the earth.
With Quark Expeditions I had a very pedagogical journey through the continent. I learnt about its history, its flora, its fauna, its geology, and its overall pristine environment. Antarctica is indeed a very well-protected territory that no nation can claim. The only possible exploitations are scientific and touristic, and even these activities are highly regulated. Antartica’s three simple rules are: no trash is allowed, nothing can be taken from the land, and nothing can be left on the ground or in the waters.
I began to feel sad, and guilty about my trip. Imagining that everything I photographed was going to slowly disappear, and I would have contributed to that destruction. It’s often said that photography and other visual arts have the power to keep thinks alive forever. Well, unfortunately that’s not the case!
I was already aware of the climate change issues our planet faces, but never before was its dramatic impact so clear in front of my eyes. I was truly realizing the scope of the issue that faces us for the first time, and I didn’t feel any pride in discovering this so late in life. I decided at that moment to dedicate myself to learning more about environmental issues.
During my sabbatical, and especially when I returned home, I gathered information about sustainable development. I went to conferences, I read books and articles, I had discussions with smart and informed people, and I began to understand that every household has an impact on climate change.
I went to Antarctica with the mere objective of doing something off the beaten path while chronicling it through photographs, and instead I came back with new knowledge, ideas, and goals.
I eventually realized what would enrich my life, and ironically enough it was adopting a simpler, more environmentally-friendly lifestyle. I’m slowly downsizing my food and goods consumption to reduce my personal carbon impact, and hopefully I’ll inspire others to do the same. My goal is to use photography to inspire others to do the same, and hopefully activate a new consciousness.