Anyone who has been gripped by Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Sir Ernest Shackleton will understand how the great explorer’s expedition to Antarctica in 1911 has long been an obsession for Perthshire photographer and writer Jamie Grant.
Grant, whose exhibition Summer in South Georgia is at Discovery Point, Dundee until 12th April, was seventeen when he read Shackleton’s South: The Endurance Expedition and never dreamed that he might make a similar voyage until the Dundee-based South Georgia Heritage Trust offered him an artist in residence post on the island in the South Atlantic.
Over the austral summer of 2015/2016 Grant was able to spend eight weeks photographing landscapes and wildlife around the southern ocean and although his trip didn’t take him as far as Shackleton’s and didn’t involve the heroics that saw Shackleton manage to bring every one of his crew home, as he’d promised, he did gain some insights into Shackleton’s experiences.
Grant also has conclusive proof that global warming is a clear and present danger, which he was able to gather with the help of Shackleton’s photographer – and Grant’s real hero – Frank Hurley.
“I would never compare myself to Hurley because he was an absolute master of his craft,” says Grant. “But I was able to get to the exact same position that Hurley had photographed one of the glaciers from in 1911 and to take photos from the same angle he used, and the difference in that glacier over these hundred years is amazing.”
The photographs he took on what he unhesitatingly calls “the trip of a lifetime” are currently on display at Discovery Point, home of the ship that took Shackleton, with Captain Robert Falcon Scott, on their first expedition to Antarctica in 1901. Grant also produced a book from his adventure, Summer in South Georgia, which records the wildlife and conservation in a true wilderness at the end of the world.
“There are not too many places left that you can’t reach relatively easily these days,” he says. “After flying to the Falkland Islands, it took seven days in a fisheries protection vessel in pretty heavy seas, to get to South Georgia. But once you get there, there’s an amazing abundance of wildlife.”
Travel in the area is restricted but Grant was able to make trips of two to three days, joining British Antarctic Survey Staff on expeditions to remote peninsulas, from where they had to phone in by satellite to reassure the base at King Edward Point that all was well.
“It’s an incredible privilege to have travelled so far South and been able to photograph penguins, elephant seals and even albatrosses as well as the mountains and glaciers,” he says. “I’m not sure my son has forgiven me for being away for so long but one day he might appreciate what it means to me.”
South Georgia in Summer by Jamie Grant