'Polar Views': Crystalline images from Antarctica

February 02, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

If Antarctica is one of the few unspoiled places left on earth, surely it is because there are not enough people there -- yet -- to spoil it. Looking at Neelon Crawford's "Antarctic Polar Views" photographs at UMBC, one is struck above all by the "untouchedness" of it.

There are a few shots in which boats or buildings or people appear, but for the most part Crawford has avoided not only people but animals. Only one picture has seals in it, and there are no penguins at all. Instead, Crawford brings us the ice, the snow, the water and the light that transforms them.

Between 1988 and 1992 Crawford made four trips to Antarctica under the National Science Foundation's artists and writers program. He was there during the 40 days when there is 24-hour sunlight, and, as he writes, "the sun worked in a circle overhead, illuminating all subjects from every side each twenty-four hour period." Using boats and planes, and photographing in both color and black and white, he shot 6,000 images. Only 44 are on view at UMBC, but they're worth the visit.

Usually I like black and white photography much better than color, but in this case it is the color which better communicates to the viewer not only the colors but the textures of the landscape and the clarity of the air.

To most of us, probably, ice is ice; but in Antarctica it appears to be capable of a versatility as great as that of trees in a temperate landscape.

In "Ice Crystal Detail" it has the quality of the thinnest and clearest glass catching the light. And due to the light, the cliff of ice in "Barre Glacier #2" takes on an unnatural-

looking, eerie, pinkish hue reminiscent of the colors of Maxfield Parrish.

In "Standing on Lake Bonney #2" the ice is a hard blue touched with ribbons of white; what's astonishing about this is that we think of a frozen body of water as being grayish white, but this is absolutely clear and as blue as the sky.

In "The Ice Edge" the floating pieces are white, on the blue water, and look like a scattering of paper across the floor. In "The Berg South of the Orkneys" one is struck by the thousands of thin horizontal layers that look as if they have been pressed down on one another by some giant weight. In "Barre Glacier #1" the ice's color and texture have the quality of marble, and it is much the same in "Barre Glacier Detail," only the effect here is more like a piece of hardened and broken taffy.

One of the striking aspects of these photographs is the sense they impart of what it must be like to be in Antarctica, far from the madding crowd and all the concerns of the

world. These photographs, for instance, do not leave the impression that they care in the least for the issues of contemporary photography. They are not about social issues, and though they are technically accomplished they do not make process or form central to themselves. They show us what they show us, the vast and beautiful landscape.

ART REVIEW

What: "Antarctic Polar Views"

Where: Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 5401 Wilkens Ave.

When: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays; noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through March 28.

& Call: (410) 455-2270.

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