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Paolo Pellegrin's Eye-Opening Documentation of the Antarctic

  • Paolo Pellegrin - Collage glacier
March 20, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

In the last few years, the debate about climate change seems to more and more colored with almost catastrophic prognoses. Although the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change introduced the Paris Agreement in 2015, negotiated by representatives of 196 state parties in the French capital, things are moving slow and the decision-making in regards to the effects of global warming differs from one country to another. Aside from the bureaucracy required for major changes on state levels, the environmentalist groups continue to react, and are often supported by artists spreading awareness through various collaborative projects.

Such is the case with the famous Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrin who joined forces with NASA within their IceBridge expedition to document the deterioration of the Antarctic due to rapid climate change. The aerial photographs made in 2017 during the project will be on display at the Magnum Print Room for the first time.

Left and Right Paolo Pellegrin - NASA IceBridge
Left: Paolo Pellegrin – NASA IceBridge flight surveying climate change in Antarctica. Aerials taken from a NASA P3 plane flying over TanDEM-X B. / Right: Paolo Pellegrin – NASA IceBridge flight surveying climate change in Antarctica. Aerials taken from a NASA P3 plane flying over South Peninsula. © Paolo Pellegrin / Magnum Photos

The Eye Of The Beholder

For more than three decades, Paolo Pellegrin has been producing socially and politically-charged photo series focused in general on the issues of immigration, homelessness, and belonging. These aerial landscapes feature the decaying beauty of arctic toponyms deployed of human presence and are reflecting the artist’s concern for the irresponsibility of the human kind – the same kind of questioning present in his previous series which were entirely anthropocentric.

NASA’s annual IceBridge expedition started in 2009, with an aim to produce a three-dimensional view of Antarctic and Arctic in the course of eleven years. Air-borne instruments are used to gather data allowing scientists solid proofs of how climate change affects polar ice. Namely, IceBridge flights provide a more detailed study of the state of the ice, while the expedition Pellegrin was part of brought the first close-up images of the grandiose Larsen C ice shelf, which broke away from the Antarctic Peninsula last year and is now drifting across the Weddell Sea.

Paolo Pellegrin - NASA IceBridge
Paolo Pellegrin – NASA IceBridge flight surveying climate change in Antarctica. Aerials taken from a NASA P3 plane flying over South Peninsula. © Paolo Pellegrin / Magnum Photos

The Process

Pellegrin’s approach reveals his capability to blur the lines between micro and macro; although the images are graphic and slightly abstract, they perfectly embody the specifics such as iceberg flowing through frozen seawater known as pancake ice or a glacier crack measuring a few thousand feet or a tall iceberg floating in the open sea. The photographer explained the issues he faced with:

One of the main problems I found was how to engage and render the idea of scale. I made a formal decision in most cases to eliminate the horizon and instead look downwards to purposely omit the reference of scale and in a way challenge the viewer even more.

Left and Right Paolo Pellegrin - NASA IceBridge
Left: Paolo Pellegrin – NASA IceBridge flight surveying climate change in Antarctic. Aerials from a NASA P3 plane flying over Seelye Loop South in Antarctica / Right: Paolo Pellegrin – NASA IceBridge flight surveying climate change in Antarctica. Aerials taken from a NASA P3 plane flying over South Peninsula. © Paolo Pellegrin / Magnum Photos

Paolo Pellegrin’s Antarctica at Magnum Print Room

The upcoming show will underline Paolo Pellegrin’s new photographic horizons and comes straight after the retrospective of Pellegrin’s work at the MAXXI Museum in Rome.

Antarctica will be on display at Magnum Print Room in London from 20 March until 31 May 2019.

Featured image: Paolo Pellegrin – Glacier collage, ANTARCTICA 2017. © Paolo Pellegrin / Magnum Photos.