If you asked photographer Ira Meyer what should be at the top of your travel bucket list, he’d tell you Antarctica. His answer isn’t related to climate change. Rather, it’s because the sooner you’d visit the icy continent, the longer you’d remember the journey and savor the experience. Since 1991, Meyer has made nearly 40 trips there.
Meyer decided to take his first trip while traveling in Patagonia. He found himself in Punta Arenas, Chile, where, at the time, ships departed for Antarctica. He thought he would never be that close to Antarctica again, so he decided to see whether he could get on a ship. He found a commercial one that was going south to pack up a scientific base and was taking a few passengers. An $880 fee got him a spot on the trip, when such a journey on a travel cruise would normally cost tens of thousands of dollars. When Meyer made it to Antarctica, he said he was “gobsmacked” by the beauty.
On his second trip, in 2005, Meyer joined a friend who worked for a travel company that had bought a ship to take trips to Antarctica. On this trip, he met a man who was in charge of sales and marketing for the company and was invited back to take photos for the firm’s brochures and website. Eventually, Meyer found another travel company that was looking for a photographer in residence on a small passenger ship. He wasn’t a paid employee, but this gave him the opportunity to take three or four consecutive trips to Antarctica every season, helping passengers with their cameras and answering questions about photography.
Over the years, Meyer said he has noticed some climate change developments. He said that penguins are migrating farther south and that more exposed rock is visible on the mountains. He has noticed a change in temperature. Nonetheless, he said the amount of ice is still incomprehensible.
“We think of ice, and we think of Antarctica, and we think of white,” Meyer said. “But there are so many hues and shapes and colors … I feel as if I am in the studio of a genius but mad ice sculptor. The shapes and forms and colors are just fascinating.”
The ice is just one of the things that keeps Meyer coming back. He said that he loves the air and that it is crisp, pure and “delicious to breathe.” But the most profound part of Antarctica for Meyer is the stillness.
You have noise. You have the sounds of penguins. You have … glaciers calving. You have avalanches. You have the sound of the wind. But beneath all of that, there is a stillness that just penetrates to the tips of my toes. I remember once I was making a presentation on photography, and I don’t remember exactly how I expressed this. I was talking about this subject and I was saying that I feel that the experience of being in Antarctica had transformed me on almost a molecular level. The ship’s doctor was present when I said this. I said, ‘You know the doctor might disagree with me.’ And he got up and … said ‘I entirely concur.’ There have been countless occasions … sailing down the peninsula on a calm day, when you’re surrounded by glaciated mountains perfectly reflected in the waters that you’re sailing in where you could easily have convinced me that I had died and gone to heaven. You know, there have been times where I have been so transformed just spending hours in conditions like that, and by the end of it, I felt like I was in a state of deep meditation. And for me personally, I think that’s the thing that draws me back to Antarctica. More than the wildlife and more than the ice.
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