Picturing the cold

Emperor Penguins, sea ice edge, McMurdo Sound sea ice, Ross Sea, 1999
Photography by Stuart Klipper

Stuart Klipper has always had a fascination with the Antarctic. Sitting in the guest room and library of his Minneapolis bungalow, Klipper is surrounded with souvenirs from his travels there -- books, photographs, penguin dolls -- even the rug on the floor is an artistic rendering of the antarctic.

Ferguson Passate, off the Antarctic Peninsula, 1987
Photograph by Stuart Klipper

Klipper says his love for the south pole grew out of a love for outer space.

"The Antarctic is the closest I'll ever be to getting extraterrestrial," said Klipper. "I grew up in the '50s dreaming about building spaceships and going to other parts of the solar system."

Klipper has been to the South Pole six times. He describes it as being "at the edge of the world." His photographs are panoramic, and they tend to center on the horizon line.

He explains he's trying to capture the tension between heaven and earth, which feel so close together in the Antarctic.

'Helo' pilots footprints, remote weather station site, Ross Ice Shelf, east of Ross I., Mt. Discovery, 1999
Photograph by Stuart Klipper

He also underscores the loneliness of the place; not a single photo in his book shows a human being. There are icebergs and glaciers, penguins and seals, planes and boats, even footprints - but no people.

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"I wanted to get to the deepest understandings of what it is like in the inner recesses of your soul to feel a place like this," said Klipper.

Klipper made most of his trips to the Antarctic thanks to a National Science Foundation program, which sends a handful of artists and writers to field stations and camps at the South Pole in the summer months. Then it only gets down into the -30s, as opposed to the winter months, when it can dip down to almost -100 degrees.

"I've had a few times where the film shattered in the camera from the tension of carrying it forward," said Klipper. "But they outfit you, and you fill your pockets with little chocolate bars that get very very crunchy, just the way I like them."

Tabular Iceberg, Off Carney Island, Amundsen Sea, Southern Ocean, 2000
Photograph by Stuart Klipper

Klipper is not the only Minneapolis artist to make the voyage to the South Pole. Writer Kathleen Heideman made her trip three years ago, which has resulted in a collection of poems.

"You'd think coming from Minnesota that some part of your brain would be prepared for Antarctica," said Heideman. "I've been up to Lake Superior, I've stood there and looked out at that white line. And you think that white line will prepare you for the next white line horizon -- but it's not true."

Heideman says she finds Klipper's photographs of the Antarctic to be in a class all their own. She says they powerfully evoke the alien landscape and convey its overwhelming expansiveness.

If anything, they remind her of the NASA images coming back from the Mars rover. She says to call Klipper a nature photographer would be too limiting.

Horizon line
Sunset, Ice Front, Ross Ice Shelf, Amundsen Sea, Southern Ocean, 2000
Photograph by Stuart Klipper

"It's not the same thing," said Heideman. "It's nature, but not on a scale that most people get to experience and recognize. It's like this nature is from another planet -- not our planet, not a place where we could take these photographs. So we're just lucky to stand on the edge and look in."

Klipper says sharing his experience of the Antarctic is what his book is all about.

"I've had this amazing privilege to see things that I know very few human beings will cast their eyes upon," said Klipper. "That's a great gift to be given. Having a book to share with other people -- it's a lonely activity, but I'm never without a sense that there are others potentially with you."

Klipper has taken thousands of pictures of ice and snow, but he's ready to take more. His last trip to the Antarctic was eight years ago, and he's itching to return. He says he's always looking for the next opportunity to head south.