I am fascinated by the documentary photographs taken by Herbert Ponting and Frank Hurley of the British Antarctic expeditions of over a century ago. So, this morning I found myself revisiting all of these old friends and searching out which image was my favorite among the great Antarctic vistas. But in the end, I came back to the photograph by Ponting of Figure 1. This shows one of the led dogs on the ill-fated Scott Antarctic Expedition intrigued by the “human magic” of the grammophone.
This image is pointed for several reasons. It documents technology with other technologies. The fact is that in those days of the early twentieth century it was the dogs not the technology that resulted in success or failure. It was the profound and saprophytic relationship that had intertwined man and dog since prehistoric times. Ponting’s photograph is transitional between two centuries, between the Victorian and the Edwardian ages. And what this photograph ultimately says is that in that hostile and tenuous environment, where life and death hang in the balance and where the melodic voice of civilization is barely audible, it is the old alliance between man and canine that ultimately counts.
“He had been suddenly jerked from the heart of civilization and flung into the heart of things primordial.”
― Jack London,