Monday, October 23, 2017

BOWERS MUSEUM, Santa Ana, CA: 100 Years Ago, Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition and Frank Hurley's Amazing Photos

Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, Santa Ana, California
One hundred years ago, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition came to an end when he and his crew were rescued after a harrowing two year ordeal trapped in ice and out of touch with the world. Newspapers around the world ran headlines to celebrate, publishing amazing photos by Australian photographer Frank Hurley, who had been hired to document the expedition. Endurance: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley is a  fascinating exhibit of Frank Hurley’s photos and other artifacts from the expedition at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, California from September 30, 2017 to January 28, 2018.
Lecture series poster for the exhibit Endurance, the Antarctic Legacy
Two weeks ago we went to see the exhibit and to hear a lecture by Melissa Roth, Pulitzer Prize winning documentary photographer, who is currently working on a book about Frank Hurley. (A number of lectures will be given during the exhibit.) She shared passages from his diary along with critiques of some of his photos, which not only document the journey, but are also stunning works of art. In many, the ship, which was painted black, stands in stark contrast to the surrounding ice and sky. For one of his most famous photos, known as the “ghost ship” or “the long, long night,” he did the opposite. He photographed the ship at night, lighting it with flares to create an eerie contrast with the black sky. Other photos portray the day to day life of the crew, including meals, card games, taking scientific measurements, and even portraits of the dog teams that helped carry equipment on sledges.
Some of the exhibit related items available in the museum gift shop
For the museum exhibit, Hurley’s original glass plates and celluloid negatives, now at the Royal Geographical Society in London, have been scanned at high resolution and printed in large format. The pictures are arranged chronologically. Hurley also had a movie camera and those films are projected on large screens along the wall. One harrowing sequence shows the final collapse of the ship in a storm as it is crushed by the shifting pack ice. Background noises of seals and penguins and the ever present wind enhance the feeling of being there as one follows the sequence of photos around the room. The exhibit prohibits photography. You can see a sample of his photos HERE and read more about Hurley's life of adventure.
One of nine thangka paintings by Shashi Dhoj Tulachan
Before we left, we took a quick look at one of the other current exhibits at the Bowers Museum, Sacred Realms: Temple Murals by Shashi Dhoj Tulachan from the Gayle and Edward P. Roski Collection. These incredibly detailed paintings are huge, unlike typical temple art. They are the work of a 69-year-old Buddhist monk named Shashi Dhoj Tulachan, a second generation thangka artist living in Tuksche, a remote village located in Mustang, Nepal's northernmost district adjacent to Tibet. The practice of thangka painting is centuries old and is an art carried out by highly trained monks to teach about Buddha and the Buddhist religion. The overwhelming amount of detailed imagery in each painting includes deities, mythologies, and the use of repeated and abstracted design. For those seeking enlightenment, thangka paintings exist as objects of meditation.
Video of monks creating a thangka painting
The Bowers Museum also has a number of other exhibits and a variety of permanent collections which we didn't have time to see before the museum closed. We did stop at the gift shop on our way out and purchased a book about the Shackleton expedition and Frank Hurley's incredible photos. The more we look at them, the more we appreciate Hurley's artistic skill and his technical mastery in unbelievably daunting conditions.

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