This photo was taken on Booth Island (Google Map), looking into Pleneau Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. This is where polar explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot overwintered in 1904 during his French Antarctic Expedition. He was known for sitting on the ice drinking wine and eating cheese - awesome dude. Left here are the remains of a cairn and an observatory, where a break in the “window” perfectly frames Mount Francais, named for Charcot’s ship. There is also an “F” scratched into the sheer rock which leads up to the cairn. 

There’s a story about this photo. When I took it, I could not tell what the orange object was to the right of the fur seal. I squinted, tried to zoom in on it and decided it must be a glove. Only when I got back to the ship to edit did I realize it was the remains of a penguin, sitting perfectly on the rock, possibly eaten by this very fur seal.

The other part of the story is about this day in particular, which stands out as the craziest of my season. It was the 2nd to last trip and the weather had been simply horrid. 4 days of cancelled landings, blizzards, hurricane-force winds. We saw a brief break in the weather and decided to make a go for it at Booth Island, with the agreement among the staff, crew and bridge that if the winds picked up over 45 knots we would hear blows of the ship’s horn and leave shore immediately. I hopped in a Zodiac to be a driver for the operation (with a quick trip to shore to take a few photos), and winds quickly picked up. 45 knots, 50 knots, 55 knots. You can see in this photo that we had 2 anchors down, which is rarely done. It was the only way our bridge team could hold our position. Within 45 minutes, the ship blew its horn but it was so windy none of us could hear it. We knew what had to be done though. The shore team herded our guests back to the landing site and us drivers prepared to shuttle them back to the ship, with waves crashing up to our bows and the type of wind that slices right through you. Goggles on, balaclava up, not a single sliver of skin exposed.

I got my first set of 10 guests in my boat, reversed out from shore and began the journey back to the ship. We were soaked immediately, huge swells, I could barely keep my tiller straight, not to mention maintaining my balance. I saw legitimate fear in the eyes of a few of my guests. It was difficult but I was focused and calm, the only thing I needed to do was get these people back to the ship safely. The most difficult part of a Zodiac ride in poor weather is the gangway approach, where you pull your boat up to the side of the ship, next to a metal structure with stairs. As I approached 3 times, the wind and swells spun my boat around so I was facing in the completely wrong direction. Any way, we finally made it, safely, and I got a big cheer from my guests as they hurried up the gangway and into the warmth of the mud room. 

Arnell, one of the able-bodied seaman who mans the gangway grabbed me by the shoulders to give me a warning for my return trip to shore, he said “Lauren, you must go slow into the wind.” I knew this, but I had also never driven in 55 knot winds, gusting up to 65. The drive back to shore, with an empty Zodiac, straight into the wind was fairly terrifying and I knew that I didn’t have the experience for it. I did make it back to shore and swapped out with my Expedition Leader so he could continue shuttling, which was the smartest decision I made this season. 

Quite the adventure though. When all the staff were safely back on the ship there were plenty of hugs and high-fives to go around.

Henry Koerner was one of many Brooklyn based artists that wove mythic visions of Coney Island with his own past experiences. The Barker’s Booth (1948-49) is one of the three paintings by Koerner in Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland and the second after Tunnel of Love (1947) to be based on the Coney Island slow boat ride ‘Tunnel of Laffs.’ The artist used the vernacular of Coney Island to deal with themes of memory, loss and powerlessness.

Unlike Tunnel of Love, which shows a ride in action, The Barker’s Booth depicts an attraction forgotten. The shuttered entrance, a tattered wall of past promotions, and an empty barker’s booth—the podium from which a salesman would encourage passersby to take a ride—are all remnants. On the wall, there are fragmented faces of both animals and performers, notably an enormous woman who is likely Dolly Dimples (Celesta Geyer), “The World’s Most Beautiful Fat Lady.” The reflective sides of the booth depict a family whose faces and bodies have been freakishly stretched, reminiscent of both fun-house mirrors and the bending of sheet metal through age.

Koerner was an Austrian Jew who fled to the United States in 1939, joined the American army, and was then a courtroom artist for the Nuremberg Trials. It was only in 1946 that he learned that his parents and brother had perished in the Holocaust. The artist’s loss and the postponement in terms of learning the fate of his loved ones is echoed through the sense of removal, solitude, and lack of human presence in the artwork. The warped representation of the family in the refective surface suggests a position of powerlessness and a present that is shaped by past distortions.

The disorder of images and twisted rendering of an abandoned Coney Island allowed Koerner to address the American public’s inability to separate spectacle from devastation, in addition to the paranoia that would lead to McCarthy-era America. “But,” as Koerner stated in Life Magazine in 1948, the works were not made from anger, “I do not point a finger, I do not accuse, and there is always something I love in my paintings.”

Posted by Robert Sohmer
Henry Koerner (America, born Austria, 1915–1991). The Barker’s Booth, 1948–49. Collection of Alice A. Grossman

Booth Island - Minimalism in wildlife photography

Booth Island was great for making some ‘different’ photos of penguins!

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Booth Island with mountains shrouded by cloud in the distance.

After a stunning cruise through towering icebergs, we landed on Booth Island. A wide sweep of pristine snow curved up to the Gentoo colony on the hill.  By this stage in the trip I had gotten over the sheer, overwhelming excitement of being surrounded by penguins and could focus more on creating interesting compositions. It was much…

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