The Last Iceberg photographs copyright of Camille Seaman
One of the long recognized traits of documentary photographs is that they are accepted as truthful recordings of what was before the lens and the resulting images take on a transparency of what is. Thus the code of ethic’s of not altering photographs, e.g. PhotoShoping them, by the news community to maintain the continued public trust. As a result, documentary photographs have been an ongoing source of public awareness, such as the mistreatment of prisoners of war, personal tragedies, public abuses, ecological changes and courageous acts of heroism.
And occasionally a photo documentary seems to transend news into a body of work that is both beautiful as well as a scary ecological concern. That is the essence of what makes Carmille Seaman’s The Last Iceberg such a wonderful book.
Camille Seaman’s The Last Iceberg is one of the latest Photolucida books recently released from the 2006 Critical Mass competition. This book is about the massive ecological systems that are born into the sea. And about places where ice once existed, and still should be, but which is now absent with the looming implications for mankind.
I feel that one of many difficult tasks with her project is to convey the size and mass of her subject, the icebergs and ice shelves that linger on our coldest frontiers. They are massive, both above and below the water line, and some have their dimensions measured in square mile. Seaman has approached them and made them accessible to help us distinguish the various traits and micro-cliamates that swirl about them. To take us beyond the stereotypical image of the iceberg that infamouly sank the Titanic.
She can only hint at the larger mass of these structures that can not be fully seen and entirely comprehended. And yet from our collective past experience, we know that there is more to these floating ice sculptures, lurking and mysteriously. But not that far from out consciousness.
From the Introduction by Paul Hawken, he writes;
It is difficult to interpret the poignancy of Seaman’s images. This is where ice leave off and some mysterious craft begins. There is a numinous and extraordinary presence in this work, the difference between nature photography and art. Without having seen her, we see through Camille’s eyes entities in the the gloaming light. They haunt and gnaw at our sense of what is alive. There are ancestors, waterpirnts of the past, hallowed, pristine, massive, tenuous, the ultimate loners, carrying air and water that was once in the lungs and blood of sabre-toothed tigers and mastodons, a testament to the Lakota prayer honoring all our relations because these are literally our relations. What Camille has done here is make us more complex.
Seaman also reminds us that the presence of icebergs and ice itself are also environmental carnies, capable of warning us of pending ecological changes. She documents regions where vast ice fields should be present, but are not. The tranquil sea with the traces of ice are beautiful to behold, provide us with a meditative condition. We are aware this same open sea effects the natural order and lives of other animals who were dependent upon the sheets of ice for their sustained existence.
She photographs many of her subjects in a ominous light, majestic in appearance, but yet mysterious. She has created panoramic images to hint at their size, with photographs falling of the edges of the page to further enhance the effect of the extensive size. We are given the impression that these ice shelves go on forever, limitless.
Seaman provides us with a few images that hint at a sense of scale of what she is attempting to describe, such as the first image below. The small specs inching their way forward are people who are walking to inspect an ice locked iceberg, and in her caption we are informed that it will take them a half hour to reach their objective, some two kilometers away. The panoramic image suggests the grand scale, while the pristine white iceberg from this distance, appears like a new bride preparing to join with the open sea.
The second photograph visually discribes the ensuing life and complexity of the iceberg as it progressively marches towards the end of its lifecycle. No longer pristine, but aged, dirty, and tired, but still serving a useful life, supporting the microsystem that has grown to depend on its existence. Yes, perhaps like us, when we have extended our lives past our youth, and now our surface contours reflect the complex features that are attained with having lived and survived perhaps a difficult life.
Regretfully, the Photolucida web site is a bit thin on information about their books, so this will provide more information about this book for you. The Last Iceberg is published in hardcover, 10 1/4″ x 8 3/4″, with 56 pages and 25 color photographic plates. The book was printed in Hong Kong and the first edition size is estimated to be under 2,000 copies and perhaps closer to 1,500 copies. The wonderful book design was entrusted to Sarah Meskin.
By Douglas Stockdale