It was an odd and incredible experience. My mind was still very much immersed in how to get my developing skills better… spending hours in a darkroom with one red bulb in Vermont.
It took forever to get to Ushuaia and cross the Drake Passage. The dark, churning seas were all worth it and I hung on to the boat with a smile as it pounded heavily against each wave. It was a good sized Russian boat, big and strong enough to cross such an intense body of water between continents. Many passengers on board were scientists or photographers, their eyes much wider than the rest of us. The crew was Russian, sweet but standoffish and had a way with this kind of weather, like it was just another sunny day (20 degrees on average). Later, I managed to buddy up with someone in the crew and get down to the hull, their music off-beat and hard, their vodka strong. I was only 22 maybe, but there was something about that time, being unafraid, befriending strangers easily and listening, even if their language was a territory unlike I’d ever heard before.
But the rules were simple: don’t disturb the wildlife, always wash your boots off after coming on board and remember to close the shades to your cabin because the sun never sets. It was probably antarctica’s millionth+, six-month long summer. I had no idea what was going to happen but the moment a leopard seal started mouthing our zodiac, my camera was the last thing on my mind as it fell down to my chest. I felt a surge of sheer adrenaline and I knew… we were definitely at the bottom of the food chain. This was real. He was two feet away and we probably smelled very, very good.
A few years later that same mouth I saw biting at our zodiac would be in National Geographic. It was as big as I remembered, it’s jaws capable of anything, and it’s gaze - a puppy who wanted to play or eat you alive.
This place changed me, I just didn’t know how much at the time.
// amateur archive series, Antarctica, 2002
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Palmer Station, Antarctica