Polar images

The Freeze Frame – historic polar images, 1845-1982 – website will be available here from noon today. Meanwhile ….  Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Transglobe Expedition of the 1980s

The polar heroes frozen in time

THOUSANDS of rare and fragile images spanning more than 150 years of polar exploration have been painstakingly restored for the digital age by Cambridge University.  The Freeze Frame project has seen more than 20,000 images from the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) archive digitised and made freely available to people across the world. Featuring the expeditions of  Sir John FranklinCaptain ScottSir Ernest Shackleton and their modern counterparts, the digital archive provides a fascinating insight into the beauty and privations of life at the Poles; from the “heroic age” of exploration to  Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Transglobe Expedition of the 1980s. To launch the project, Fiennes – who last year donated his Transglobe archive to SPRI – has chosen some of his favourite images from the vast collection, including several from his epic expedition. “My first reaction on encountering this collection was – how to choose from the wealth of polar images presented by Freeze Frame?” says Fiennes. “This is an extraordinary collection, filled with remarkable images. However, certain things stand out for me, as potent reminders of polar exploration. “I am delighted that the photographs from our  Transglobe Expedition (1979-82) form part of this collection. Our ship Benjamin Bowring, reaching the North Pole, Bothie the dog and the frozen jeans being just a few of the images that we can now share with the world.” Heather Lane, Librarian and Keeper of the Archives at SPRI, says: “The Ponting photographs are the most vivid records of Scott’s final expedition. As the national memorial to Scott and his companions, we believe that it is vitally important the public should share this heritage. “The archive presents all of the negatives we hold from 25 separate expeditions. There are many more in our collections still to be made accessible and many photographic prints which we would also love to digitise. “We hope people from around the world will visit Freeze Frame, for research or for general interest, and will enjoy the richness of this visual archive of polar photography.” The earliest photos in the collection were, fittingly, the last to be digitised to reach the project’s 20,000 image target. Featuring photographs of Sir John Franklin’s doomed “lost expedition” in 1845, the only known portraits of Franklin and his crew provide a moving tribute to the heroism of their endeavours. Later photos show the sometimes crushing mundanity of life for crew members as they mend clothing, cut their hair and fix dog harnesses. From today, visitors to http://www.freezeframe.ac.uk will be able to view thousands of rarely-seen images, including glass plate negatives from the 1910-13 British Antarctic Expedition. These are now so fragile they will never be publicly displayed. Website visitors can also read extracts from diaries, expedition reports, letters and personal papers of expedition members. As well as Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the Freeze Frame project has won the backing of Pen Hadow, who is leading the  Catlin Arctic Survey to determine the current state of the Arctic sea ice. “The Freeze Frame archive is invaluable in charting changes in the polar regions,” says Hadow. “Making the material available to all will help with further research into scientific studies around global warming and climate change.” The process of digitising the remarkable archive has also thrown up some extraordinary challenges for the small, dedicated team who have been working on the project since 2007. Some photos and plates in the collection were so badly damaged they had to be digitally restored and enhanced using state-of-the-art equipment. Alistair Dunning, digitisation manager at the Joint Information Systems Committee, which funded the project, says: “Freeze Frame will provide an unparalleled record of the living conditions and scientific findings of the explorers which can be used by students today studying everything from photography and nutrition to global warming and glaciology.”

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