Categories

North Pole Narratives: Photographs from the Wendorff Collection on Robert E. Peary

February 3May 20, 2022

Cover Photo: Robert E. Peary. Sledging. ca. 1886-1909. Collodion print. The Photography Collections of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (P78-118-126).

Beginning in the sixteenth century many nations embarked on a mission to find the Northwest Passage, a sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that would facilitate efficient travel around North America. As explorers reached increasingly northern extremes in the nineteenth century, a different goal  materialized: that of being the first person to set foot on the geographic North Pole. American explorer Robert E. Peary (1856-1920) claimed to have clinched this title on April 6, 1909. North Pole Narratives revisits Peary’s Arctic expeditions through photographs in UMBC’s Wendorff Collection.

Robert E. Peary. Permanent monument erected at Cape Columbia to mark the point of departure and return of the North Pole sledge party. ca. 1909. Gelatin silver print. The Photography Collections of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (P78-118-087).

Robert E. Peary. Family group of Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi) arranged by “frozen taxidermy” and photographed by flashlight. ca. 1886-1909. Gelatin silver print. The Photography Collections of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (P79-01-021).

Captured between 1891-1909, these photographs document landscapes and geological forms, Arctic flora and fauna, Peary’s expedition team and equipment, as well as candid scenes and ethnographic studies of Inuit people. Used to illustrate published accounts of Peary’s journey, the photographs bearing his editing marks reveal how the explorer, his publishers, and ghostwriters shaped the narrative of Peary’s achievement. Like many subjects they depict, the photographs were pressed into serving a singular purpose- fulfilling a colonialist fantasy of discovery and conquest of the North Pole in which Peary was the triumphant hero.

The success of Peary’s mission was due to his adoption of Inuit technologies, methods, and equipment, and to the Inughuit (Polar Inuit of Greenland) who traveled with his team to the North Pole. 

Robert E. Peary. Pinnacle Near the Shore. ca 1886-1910. Gelatin silver print. The Photography Collections of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (P87-118-143).

Rereading these images in light of changing societal values and information uncovered since 1909, this exhibition exposes the role of photography in writing history.

Robert E. Peary. Henson with Raven and Blue Fox. ca. 1886-1897. Gelatin silver print. The Photography Collections of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (P78-118-127).


A note on the captions:

This exhibition considers the construction of narratives through photographs, specifically those used to illustrate Northward over the ‘Great Ice’ (1898) and The North Pole (1910), two published accounts of Robert E. Peary’s Arctic exploration. The captions that accompany the photographs in these books were written by Peary, his ghostwriters—including novelist and poet Elsa Barker and journalist A. E. Thomas—and his publishers. As a result, some of the language presented here reflects the culture and context in which these historical documents were created, and may be racist, harmful, or offensive. 

We are aware of the importance of language and its effect on users and viewers of our materials and those represented within them. We have chosen to follow the Library & Archives of Canada’s “Writing titles for descriptions of Indigenous-related archival materials” guidance. When the caption or title is problematic, we have supplied a title that respects Indigenous peoples’ rights and cultures. The supplied title will be enclosed in square brackets. The original caption (derived from Peary’s publications or annotations on the prints) will follow in italics. We have also supplied titles in brackets for photographs that do not have original captions. 

The presentation of this exhibition is supported by a project grant from the Baltimore County Commission on the Arts & Sciences and an arts program grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the State of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support comes from the Libby Kuhn Endowment Fund, as well as individual contributions.


Installation views by Research Graphics at UMBC

Categories

Louie Palu: Distant Early Warning

February 14–May 20, 2022

Distant Early Warning, a multi-year project (2015-2018) by Canadian/American photojournalist Louie Palu, provides a look at the evolving militarization in the North American Arctic driven by invented narratives and imagined threats. Now, decades after the end of the Cold War, debates have emerged over more efficient shipping routes, opportunities for resource extraction and the future of the Arctic related to climate change. Along with the six other Arctic nations (Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden), the United States and Canada are maneuvering to assert and defend their claims over the territory. Consequently, some Indigenous communities in the region are slowly coming face to face with increased geo-political activity and tourism. This exhibition examines operations of power and bears witness to a culture of fear and hyper-preparedness as we brace for an unknown future.

Palu’s work was supported by funding from the John Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Geographic Magazine, and Pulitzer Center. The presentation of this exhibition is supported by a project grant from the Baltimore County Commission on the Arts & Sciences and an arts program grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the State of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support comes from the Libby Kuhn Endowment Fund, as well as individual contributions.


Ice block installation by Louie Palu at SXSW at the Harry Ransom Center in 2019. Photo © Louie Palu

Public Programming

Participatory Installation & Panel Discussion: Geopolitics and Geology in the Arctic

Monday April 4, 2022 at the AOK Library Gallery

Installation: noon-5pm

Panel discussion: 5pm

Free and open to the public, reception to follow

Ice block installation by Louie Palu at SXSW at the Harry Ransom Center in 2019. Photo © Louie Palu

Once considered nearly impenetrable, the Arctic is losing roughly 21,000 square miles of ice each year and warming faster than any other place on the planet. As climate change melts its icy armor, the region is taking on strategic importance. This panel discussion explores contemporary geopolitics and geology in the Arctic from a variety of artistic, scholarly, and scientific perspectives. Topics include: new scientific methods for measuring and analyzing the influence of sea ice thickness on the climate, the future of national competition and claims over the Arctic, and impact of climate change on the indigenous communities in the region.

Join us before the panel discussion for a participatory installation of photographs from Distant Early Warning encased in blocks of ice in the plaza outside the Albin O. Kuhn Library and in a hands-on display in the Library Gallery.

Panelists:

Louie Palu (bio below)

Dr. Nathan Kurtz is the Chief of NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory, Deputy Project Scientist for NASA’s ICESat-2 satellite mission, and UMBC alum (PhD Atmospheric Physics, 2009). His research involves remote sensing of the polar regions with an emphasis on the use laser and radar altimetry data to study the impact of sea ice on the climate. He has traveled to both the Arctic and Antarctic numerous times as part of ship-based and airborne field campaigns.

Dr. Brian Grodsky is a Professor of Comparative Politics and Chair of the Political Science Department at UMBC. His research interests include various aspects of democratization and human rights, as well as the politics of disaster response and climate change. His books include, The Costs of Justice (University of Notre Dame Press 2010); Social Movements and the New State: The Fate of Pro-Democracy Organizations When Democracy is Won (Stanford University Press 2012); and The Democratization Disconnect (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).


Person lying in ice in Arctic landscape
A Canadian Ranger lies in the ice on the shore of Clyde Inlet training for search and rescue operations in Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada. (mandatory credit: photo by © Louie Palu
Two soldiers in winter gear walk on Ice covered plane wreckage
On reconnaissance outside Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island, Nunavut, Canada Arctic Operations Advisors walk on the wreckage of an airplane in temperatures below minus 50 degrees Celsius (-58 F). © Louie Palu

Louie Palu is a photographer and filmmaker whose work has examined social political issues, such as human rights and conflict for over 30-years. He is a 2016 Guggenheim Foundation Fellow and was awarded the 2019 Arnold Newman Prize for New Directions In Portraiture. His work has examined topics such as the war in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, drug war in Mexico and changing geopolitics of the Arctic. His last four publications deal with how narratives can be reshaped by changing the sequence of images including in his deconstructed book Front Towards Enemy (2017, Yoffy Press). His work has appeared in National Geographic Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post Magazine, BBC, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and El Pais. His work is held in numerous collections including the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and National Gallery of Art. His films have been broadcast internationally and screened at numerous festivals including the Munich and Barcelona Documentary Film Festivals.


Virtual Artist’s Talk: Louie Palu
5:00 pm (EST)
February 22, 2022

Register here (via Webex)