Photographer Penny Ashford's show at Page Bond Gallery,"Vanishing Ice: From the Arctic to Antarctica," is a call to action.
The project started while she was working on a coffee table book about her passion, water, when Ashford was drawn to Antarctica for the majestic icebergs she'd read about. At the time, she had no real understanding of the climate change conversation, she says.
She followed that trip with one to the North Pole and unexpectedly found herself surrounded by melting ice. But it was the underweight polar bears that really opened her eyes to the impact modern life is having on the environment.
While in Svalbard, Norway, a few months ago to document more of the changes, Ashford was in shock over how much water compared to ice surrounded her. "Hence the name of this show," she explains. "I have to admit, I was so excited to go to Svalbard because I was told I would see amazing animals and ice forms and I came home very disappointed."
The large-format photographs detail the changing landscape, sometimes with recognizable forms and sometimes with abstract images. In "The Enormity, Antarctica 2018," the viewer is faced with the image of a tiny orange object — a dingy — dwarfed by a massive iceberg. "When you realize the size of the ice, it literally takes your breath way," she says.
Some of the photos are pure abstraction, an intentional choice for Ashford, who is passionate about all the different shapes that water and ice take on.
"It absolutely intrigues me because no two moments in time are ever the same. It's always changing," she says. "I think that's what I love the most. I look for shapes and patterns all the time, like the way the water ripples or the ice patterns develop."
One of the most striking images is "Midnight, 2018," mainly for the iceberg's unusually warm coloring. Ashford recalls it as an incredible moment. The group was preparing to go to bed around 11:30 p.m. when people looked outside to see a distinctive glow in the sky. It was during a period of 24 hours of light a day and the sun, very low in the sky, was throwing off a golden yellow cast on the icebergs to the right of the ship.
"The glow was so brilliant that the captain turned our ship, the National Geographic Explorer, to head directly into the side of the iceberg just so we could capture the full breadth of color," she recalls.
Shooting in such frigid locations takes its toll on camera equipment. Ashford uses a Nikon D-810 and also the DJI Phantom 4 drone, which she admits is hard to use because of the cold weather. "It sometimes takes on a life of its own and flies where it wants to," she says. "Including into the ocean."
While in Svalbard, Ashford wanted to see the Seed Vault, which is a depository for the world's seeds, but was unable to because the permafrost the vault was built on had begun to melt and water was seeping into the vault so it had to be shut down.
"It's just another sign of the problems in our midst," she says. "These three journeys have inspired me to find other endangered locations to photograph in the hopes of bringing about more conversation and hopefully some modification of our behavior." S
"Vanishing Ice: From the Arctic to Antarctica" runs through Aug. 31 at Page Bond Gallery, 1625 W. Main St. pagebondgallery.com.