Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum
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Exhibits
Freezing the Moment: Photographing the Arctic
October 7, 2003 - February 10, 2004
Arctic Museum main galleries
The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum houses a remarkable collection of photographs dating from the earliest days of photography in the Arctic through contemporary times. From this collection, guest curator Aimée Douglas ’05 has selected images that document important aspects of the history of photography in the Arctic. Douglas examines the challenges faced by photographers in the difficult conditions of the north, and the ways photographers used both standard and innovative techniques to bring views of the Arctic to southern audiences.

This exhibit is supported by the Friends of Bowdoin College.

Crew of the Bowdoin taking a picture of Jack, Donald B. MacMillan, Labrador, 1934. Photographic print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Depicting the Arctic Without a Camera</b> </p>   Before the invention of photography, most people could ‘see’ the Arctic only through artists’ renderings. In some cases, artists relied on written descriptions and produced fanciful images such as this sea serpent, based on Hans Egede’s 1745 accounts of a sea monster off the coast of Greenland. As photography became more common, imaginative interpretations were avoided. <br> <br>  The Great Sea Serpent (According to Hans Egede), from The Naturalist's Library, Mammalia Vol. VIII, Marine Amphibiae, Robert Hamilton, Edinburgh, 1839. Facsimile of engraved plate. Museum purchase.
<p><b>Depicting the Arctic Without a Camera</b> </p>   Due to poor weather conditions and other circumstances, few photographs survive from the early years of photography in the Arctic. All of the photographs from Charles Hall’s 1871 Polaris Expedition to Greenland, for example, were destroyed when disaster struck and members of the crew and an Inuit family were left stranded on an ice floe.  <br> <br>  <em>On the Ice Cake, ‘Too small for a Hut,’</em> source unknown, circa 1880. Photographic print from engraving. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Struggles of the Arctic Photographer</b> </p>   In the early twentieth century, photography in the Arctic was challenging. Cameras were bulky and used fragile glass negatives, but more and more expedition members had their own cameras and some took hundreds of photographs.   <br> <br>  Man with camera aboard the <em>SS Erik</em>, photographer unknown, 1901. Photographic print. Gift of William Perry.
<p><b>Struggles of the Arctic Photographer</b> </p>   Even in more recent times, for the professional photographer removed from the comforts of an actual studio, securing a quality image was a task that demanded both a great deal of skill and a thorough understanding of complex photographic equipment. Capturing the beauty of the Arctic, as photographers like Rutherford Platt did, was not a task accomplished easily or without resolve.   <br> <br>  Rutherford Platt photographing, photographer unknown, Disko Island, Greenland, July 1947. Photographic print. Gift of Alexander D. Platt, Rutherford Platt, and Susan Platt.

<p><b>Snapshots</b> </p>   By the 1940s and 1950s, when cameras were small and easy to use, the snapshot was the most common type of photograph that visitors brought back from the Arctic. People who traveled to the Arctic were fascinated by similar things and so “snapped” similar photographs. The amateur photographers lined up in this image, the crew of <em>the Schooner Bowdoin</em>, demonstrate this shared interest.   <br> <br>  Crew of <em>the Bowdoin</em> taking a picture of Jack, Donald B. MacMillan, Labrador, 1934. Photographic print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Snapshots</b> </p>   Icebergs, photographed thousands of times, never cease to captivate visitors and photographers. To viewers back at home, the image may be just another picture of an iceberg, but to the photographer, it is a reminder of the extraordinary and breathtaking phenomenon that is nearly impossible to resist photographing.  <br> <br>  Iceberg with two holes, Donald B. MacMillan, Greenland, 1939. Photographic print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Landscapes</b> </p>   Placing a landscape photograph of the Arctic in a context, such as knowing who took the picture and where the photographer was standing, gives the image a greater value. Here, an unidentified member of the Bowdoin crew stands at the peak of Mount Hekla, photographing the view.   <br> <br>  East of Mount Hekla, Donald B. MacMillan, Iceland, 1930. Photographic print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Landscapes</b> </p>   Oftentimes, landscape photographs carry greater meaning for the photographer than for others. Viewers may find the image more appealing if the landscape is one with which they are familiar, such as the famous Mount Hekla in South Iceland.   <br> <br>  Mount Hekla, Donald B. MacMillan, Iceland, 1930. Photographic print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Donald MacMillan: Exploration Through the Lens</em></b> </p>   In addition to land and sea exploration, Donald MacMillan was also interested in experimenting with photographic technology. Here he used multiple exposures to capture the course of the Arctic sun on a summer night. MacMillan lectured extensively using such images, bringing the scenic beauty and wonder of the Arctic to the eyes of those who could not experience them firsthand.   <br> <br>  <em>Suns (8) at Sunrise Point</em>, Donald B. MacMillan, North Greenland, circa 1924. Lightjet print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Sharing the Moment</b> </p>   For MacMillan, photographs were not simply souvenirs to be taken from the Arctic. He was unusual in that he took his photographs back to the Arctic and shared them with the people living in the communities where they were taken. In this way, he interacted with the subjects of the images more closely than did most other visitors to the North.   <br> <br>  MacMillan, Inuit, and crew members examining photographs aboard <em>the Bowdoin</em>, Greenland, circa 1948. Photographic print. Gift of Miriam Look MacMillan.

<p><b>Sharing the Moment</b> </p>   Two young girls, Tarkto and Chug-juk, photograph one another using MacMillan’s massive Graflex camera. Since few people in the Arctic owned cameras at this time, it is rare to find photographs that were taken by Inuit. We do not know whether or not the photographs these children were taking were successfully developed.   <br> <br>  Tarkto and Chug-juk - Eskimo kiddies photographing each other, Donald B. MacMillan, Baffin Island, 1921-22. Photographic print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Coloring the Arctic</b> </p>   Glass lantern slides are made by printing a photographic image onto glass. Before color film was widely available, professional colorists tinted the images. MacMillan provided colorists with instructions for hand-tinting individual images, thus enabling the viewers of his photographs to appreciate the brilliant colors of the Arctic. The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum collection includes not only the black and white negatives of many images but also the specific coloring instructions and hand-tinted glass lantern slides that go with them.  <br> <br>  Shoo-e-ging-wa with her arms full of flowers Donald B. MacMillan, Etah, Greenland, circa 1916. Lightjet print from hand-tinted lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.<br> <br>  Envelope with coloring instructions, Donald B. MacMillan, Boston, circa 1916. Facsimile. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Capturing Seals </b> </p>   MacMillan positioned himself behind a sealing screen, camouflaging himself so that he could get close enough to film seals. The enormous camera that he used was actually considered small in its day, designed for filming wildlife in remote locations. The integration of Inuit technology (the sealing screen), and Western technology (the camera) was crucial to successfully capturing Arctic wildlife on some of the earliest film footage from the Arctic.  <br> <br>  Self (MacMillan) with motion picture camera behind screen, unknown photographer, Etah, Greenland, 1923-24. Photographic print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Developing Skills</b> </p>   Miriam MacMillan, who accompanied her husband, Donald MacMillan, on many of his expeditions following their marriage, enthusiastically took up photography during her time in the Arctic. After 1938, Miriam MacMillan was responsible for many of the still and motion picture images on her husband's expeditions. He incorporated her slides and motion pictures into his popular public lectures.    <br> <br>  Miriam at the wheel, Donald B. MacMillan, aboard the Bowdoin, ca. 1940. Photographic print. Gift of Miriam Look MacMillan.

<p><b>Developing Skills</b> </p>   Miriam MacMillan, who accompanied her husband, Donald MacMillan, on many of his expeditions following their marriage, enthusiastically took up photography during her time in the Arctic. After 1938, Miriam MacMillan was responsible for many of the still and motion picture images on her husband’s expeditions. He incorporated her slides and motion pictures into his popular public lectures.    <br> <br>  Miriam taking movie pictures, Donald B. MacMillan, Nain, Labrador, 1937. Photographic print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Turning Professional</b> </p>   What may have begun for Miriam as no more than a leisure activity eventually yielded photographs of professional quality. The photograph Miriam is taking here was published in the October 1951 issue of National Geographic.    <br> <br>  Miriam MacMillan photographing boy sitting among flowers near glacier, Clayton Hodgdon, Northwest Greenland, 1948. Light print. Gift of Clayton Hodgdon.

<p><b>Turning Professional</b> </p>   What may have begun for Miriam as no more than a leisure activity eventually yielded photographs of professional quality. The photograph Miriam is taking here was published in the October 1951 issue of National Geographic.    <br> <br>  Miriam MacMillan photographing boy sitting among flowers near glacier, Clayton Hodgdon, Northwest Greenland, 1948. Light print. Gift of Clayton Hodgdon.