National Geographic January 2013, Part 2

Rain Forest for Sale, by Scott Wallace photographs by Tim Laman, Ivan Kashinsky, Karla Gachet, David Liittschwager, and Steve Winter

Wow! That’s quite the listing of photographers. Each photographer was assigned a particular subject area to photograph. Laman photographed primates and birds, Kashinsky and Gachet photographed people, Liitschwager photographed the “microfauna” (which apparently means bugs and things in this case; microfauna usually means things like protozoans and tardigrades) and Winter photographed the people.

Rain Forest for Sale is about the exploitation for oil of the national parks of Ecuador. Wallace and the team of photographers traveled to Ecuador to capture the lives of the people and fauna of the region so as to bring awareness of the plight that the indigenous peoples of the region are in.

One of the things that is highlighted and that particularly appalled me (so obviously their highlighting of the issue worked the way it was intended) is that the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, offered not to exploit the oil in part of this sensitive area if the people of other countries would give Ecuador $3.6 Billion. My initial response was, “Nice park we have here. Shame if something were to happen to it.” I don’t think that’s how a protection racket is supposed to work. I think you’re supposed to protect your own natural areas, not threaten to destroy them if others won’t pay you off.

It didn’t work, by the way. In September 2016, they started drilling for oil in that area of the park.

Into the Unknown, by David Roberts, photographs by Frank Hurley

In 1912, an explorer, Douglas Mawson, sent out eight teams of three men to explore Antarctica. They weren’t trying to get to the South Pole, they just wanted to find out as much as they could about our southernmost continent.

Mawson’s team fell into trouble about a month into their part of the expedition. A sinkhole opened up behind Mawson’s sledge and one of their team members, half of their dogs, their tent, all of the food for the sled dogs, and most of the food for the humans. So, of course, the remaining two members of the team, headed immediately back to their home base.

As they traveled, they lost their dogs one by one (they euthanized each dog with a bullet and then ate the dogs to preserve the remainder of their food). Then Mawson’s human companion died. Mawson buried him in the snow and kept going. As Mawson’s body began to fail, he began to despair, but he kept moving. Finally, he returned to the base camp and found that, while their ship had left without them, some men had stayed behind to look for Mawson’s team. It would take another ten months for the ship to return.

Mawson and Mertz had to get rid of any unnecessary equipment that they carried, which included their camera.

Mawson died in 1958. Frank Hurley, the photographer for this article, was also on the 1912 expedition and, near as I can tell, these are his photos from that expedition.

National Geographic September 2013, Part 2

Untamed Antarctica, by Freddie Wilkinson, photographs by Cory Richards

I frequently tell people that I want to go “everywhere.” And I really do.  However, if going to places like Kenya and India and the Netherlands and Australia mean that places like the Wohlthat Mountains end up being squeezed out, i won’t be too disappointed.

Wilkinson, Richards, and two other adventurers, Mike Libecki and Keith Ladzinski, went off to the unclimbed mountains of Queen Maud Land in Antarctica with the goal of summitting as many mountains as they could.   We accompany the team up a spire that they name Bertha’s Tower, named apparently for Libecki’s grandmother.  They take two weeks to climb Bertha’s Tower, and at one point, Wilkinson has to spend the night outside of their shelter in just a sleeping bag.

Untamed Antarctica was a very quick read, and I found it fascinating, but the desire to follow in their footsteps just wasn’t there.

Kinshasa, Urban Pulse of the Congo, by Robert Draper, photographs by Pascal Maitre

We’re back in Africa again, only there’s not so much unrest this time. Rather, Kinshasa, Urban Pulse of the Congo, is about the art scene in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  We meet painters and sculptors and performers, seeing how they express their fears and concerns and, sometimes, their hopes.

All is, of course, not rosy.  This is the Democratic Republic of the Congo here.  Draper has to deal with street children and corrupt officials.  But Draper makes it through and even gets to comission a painting of his dog from one of the artists profiled.

We will see/have seen the team of Pascal and Maitre in October 2015, when they travel up the Congo River to Kisangani.

Failure is an Option, by Hannah Bloch

Failure is an Option is a meditation on failure and the importance of failing.  Failure is an important, and possibly even necessary, part of progress.  Before you learn what you can do, you sometimes have to learn what you can’t.

My own favorite meditation on failure, by the way, is the 2007 Disney movie Meet the Robinsons.  As Billie Robinson says, From failing, you learn.  From success, not so much.