Antarctic’s surreal beauty frozen in Hong Kong photography exhibition

Professional photographer Enzo Barracco visited the icy wastes of Antarctica in 2012 and was inspired to make people more aware of our fragile planet and their part in preserving it. His images are on show in Central

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 April, 2017, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 April, 2017, 5:56pm

Italian-born, London-based photographer Enzo Barracco settles on the couch at Jacada Travel’s cosy Explorer Lounge in Central and says, “Of course, looking at these images bring back many happy memories. But mostly I feel very privileged that I got to see a very fragile part of the world.”

Barracco is talking about Antarctica where, in February 2012, he spent a month – most of that time in a small boat as part of a team of six – exploring the southernmost continent with his lens. At 14,000,000 sq km, Antarctica is almost twice the size of Australia. It’s also the coldest of the continents, where winds can reduce the temperature to minus 80 degrees Celsius.

“I realised very quickly why this was not a place for humans to live,” he says with a laugh.

But that didn’t stop him from capturing the place in all its beauty, from melting mountains and icebergs to giant ocean waves and sunsets, his imposing images forming the show The Noise of Ice (some of the images are on display at Jacada Travel). His images have also been shown in Paris and London.

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And while this was an artistic project, Barracco says he wanted to send a strong message about conservation and sustainability. “We have a huge responsibility to look after the planet and that’s what this journey was about,” he says.

“And I’m grateful that I can bring this exhibition to Hong Kong to inspire people to be aware and mindful about our planet. It’s beautiful but it’s fragile, and everything we do is connected.”

Although Barracco’s focus is on establishing a dialogue with nature, his lens was once pointed in a different direction, far removed from the isolation of Antarctica – the field of fashion, where he worked with big names including Estée Lauder and Vivienne Westwood.

“Being in fashion and portraits was fantastic and gave me the opportunity to travel the world working with amazing people and brands. But I’ve always loved to take photos related to nature since I was a kid. My first exhibition was about nature,” Barracco says.

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Prior to the Antarctica project, he says, he worked on a projects about deserts and oceans. “I just love the juxtaposition of the two creating an interesting contrast.

“Now, it’s very important for me to connect fashion with sustainability. Vogue Italia is involved with the project so I really hope this work can become an ambassador, to communicate between the brands the commitment we need to make to sustainability.”

And with the clothing industry being the second-largest polluter in the world, second only to oil (according to Eileen Fisher, fashion designer and retailer), it’s a vital message.

“Also, when you look at the work of designers, much is inspired by nature. So in return we must say thank you to nature.”

Barracco says he was inspired to venture to this most hostile environment by Ernest Shackleton, an Irishman who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic. Particularly inspiring was an advert from 1900, in which Shackleton sought men to join an expedition: “MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success.”

“I stumbled across a book by the explorer in a London bookshop and knew straight away I wanted to follow in his adventurous footsteps … It was his legacy, his desire to not give up and his immense courage that inspired me.”

He wanted to head south in September, and was advised by many to wait another year before he set off. He ignored them and was away on his self-funded journey in just three months.

Nor surprisingly, the environment threw many challenges his way – some more difficult than just logistics and lighting.

“At times I would have to wait days for the perfect light. There were constant storms when I was crossing the Drake Passage,” he says, referring to the body of water between South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica.

“It was a wild ocean full of energy, which you can feel. It has complete control. Instantly, you realised how insignificant you are when compared with Mother Nature, and that anything can happen at any point of the time. Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, there it is, I see Antarctica. Unlike any other places in the world, the light, the wind, the colour, it is simply surreal. For a second, I felt like I was on another planet. It’s really a mesmerising experience.”

On day one, he fell on the boat’s deck and badly bruised his leg, he says. Instead of being disheartened, he took a lesson away from it.

“It was frustrating but it taught me that I must stay focused and concentrate. If you fall in the water you have about two minutes left to live, so it was no joke.”

But it was nature’s ability to impress that compensated for any hardships.

“Every day was a different day and Antarctica is full of life. I’d be taking a photo and right next to me is a whale, and near that is a seagull fishing, and above, on an ice shelf, is a penguin.

“Oh, the penguins. You always knew if there was one nearby as they were very smelly. But what impressed me so much about the penguins is that everywhere we climbed, always above us we would see a penguin. They may walk funny but they are amazing climbers – and swim like torpedoes.”

But one scene in particular that left an impression was when he captured a rare sunset.

“After many long, intense days I finally saw my first sunset in Antarctica, and it was worth the wait. We were surrounded by mile after mile of sea dotted with floating white ice. When the sun set, it turned the sky a burnt orange, which was reflected in the water. Meanwhile that same, late light instantly turned the ice a vivid cobalt blue. It was an unreal, magical scene.”

Barracco’s images can also be found in a book ,The Noise of Ice: Antarctica, a stunning collection of his work with a forward by British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes. As well as breathtaking images, it has a diary-like account of his time in Antarctica.

The Noise of Ice: Antarctica by Enzo Barracco, The Explorer Lounge by Jacada Travel – 17/F Oriental Crystal Commercial Building, 46 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central. The exhibition runs until May 21.