Homo Antarctica

Southern memory on probation

The Antarctic continent, dreamed of since the 16th century, has fascinated and crystallized man's dreams of always pushing back his limits for research, fortune or glory. At the beginning of the century, it became the new white Eldorado for the most daring: the coastal waters of the world's largest desert proved to be a formidable purveyor of whale oil, one of the energy sources of the time. Men settled in this hostile and extreme environment, where survival depended on technological engineering.

Glacier, Lemaire Channel, Antarctic Peninsula

  • Intensive whale hunting has caused their population to decline to near extinction. In the 1940s, humans again deserted the area. They left the ruins of an ancient civilization that was unable to adapt to its environment because it had exhausted all its resources. In a superb resilience, the continent seems today to have healed its wounds. Its majesty seems indomitable, its purity eternal. Yet it is more than ever threatened.

Curious humpback whale, Wilhelmina Bay

Canot de baleinier, baie des baleiniers, île de la Déception

"A deep organ note resounds as if escaping from the half-open church doors." Francisco Coloane, Chilean writer and whaler, describing the muffled sound of a whale's breath

  • The history of mankind in Antarctica is here a metaphor for the human presence on Earth: glaciers took thousands of years to form and the ice cap is an archive of the climate over millennia, while man - a small leap in the history of the planet - arrived on this territory less than 150 years ago. In barely a century, human activities have made its future as uncertain as that of the planet. Widespread pollution, global warming, pressure from lobbies to exploit fossil resources, over-fishing, and more and more cruise ships pouring in hundreds of tourists in search of something new are an elusive but very real threat.

The shelter at the end of the world. Port Lockroy, former British research station.

During the forced wintering of the "Endurance" expedition, Shackleton had ordered one of his sailors to take his guitar with him: in such extreme conditions, he knew that the mind was just as important, if not more important than the rest.

Beached whaler, harpoon still ready. Grynvicken station, South Georgia.
A record number of barrels of whale oil was reached in March 1929 by the Norwegian whaler Sir James Clark Ross. After a seven-month voyage in the Antarctic Ocean, he brought 51,000 barrels of oil to New York, valued at one and a half million dollars at the time.

Citernes, Whalers Bay, Deception Island.
L'huile de baleine était servait alors d'abord à l'éclairage public, mais aussi pour huiler les laines avant le peignage, comme lubrifiant de machines ou pour la fabrication de margarine ou de savon.

  • In the past, the frontiers of Man were at the limit of territories, of discovery, of his struggle for survival in a nature larger than himself. Today, the greatest challenge for humanity is the preservation of these territories.