Nothing prepared me for the breathtaking sculptures floating freely in the waters of Antarctica. Each piece was textured, layered, exquisitely formed; angular or rounded, craggy or smooth; full of random scoops and scallops, or bearing the carefully placed marks of a chisel. Although I photographed several of them as we floated through the ice gallery on small boats, if you were to travel past even an hour later, you wouldn’t have seen exactly what I saw: the sun, the swells, the wind, the changing light, an errant bird or seal–any one of these forces of nature could have altered the ice and snow in some small way. Every moment these sculptures exist means they are still works in progress, ever-changing and evolving into different forms, different shapes, and different compositions.
One can see what one wants to see in these strange and beautiful formations: animals, sunken ships, birds–even futuristic structures that we cannot name or readily identify. One large iceberg looked to this Bay Area native like an ice replica of Alcatraz, with hills, towers, and layers of buildings circling its stark white surface.
No two were anything close to alike. Some had great stature and were solid; others were delicate, with curlicues and cutouts that looked as though they had been gently formed by a skilled artist with a delicate touch. An animal, lifting its face to the sun?
But these ice sculptures are the work of only one artist: Mother Nature. She alone has made them, formed them, and set them to drift in the icy waters under the sun and facing the wind, leaving them to become something else as they bob gently in the swells. What we see initially is only the surface, although the water is so clear, we can also see what lies below, in shades of impossible blues and greens.
And this one had its own inner reflection pool.
Of all the sights I saw in Antarctica, this flotilla of ice sculptures left the deepest impression. In the moment, unique, transitory, ever-changing. . .in their presence, the observer becomes part of the story: I documented some of what I saw as it existed, knowing that once our moment was over, everything had changed.