May 16, 2011

Antarctica at AWRF 2011

Steve Braunias and Jane Ussher went to Antarctica two years ago "on assignment", the brochure of the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival tells us. Was this expression which makes me think of war zones used on purpose, I wonder? Jane Ussher took photographs which were collected in a book called Still Life: Inside the Antarctic Huts of Scott and Shackleton, while Steve Braunias wrote about his foray in his book Smoking in Antarctica, in a section he called "Cold Days in Hell".  Nick Austin recounts his impressions of their joint appearance at the Festival.
I had not seen tramping clothes worn by members of an AWRF audience before. Maybe they were disappointed when Steve Braunias spoke of his total dislike of the place. But I am probably wrong because the book he was promoting is called Smoking in Antarctica. How could you be surprised? Steve Braunias is an entertaining speaker but between all the laughs he spoke with pathos. I was quite struck when he said it was a childless place, a loveless place. His comic pencil seemed haunted by explorer ghosts and Erebus ghosts, and my interest to read Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s The worst journey in the world was renewed. I wanted to ask him if he took photos during his trip but I was too shy.

Jane Ussher was a good foil to Steve Braunias. Where he spoke of his shock at the place, she seemed more awed. I liked hearing her warm voice speak about her trip and see the photos she took of the Shackleton and Scott huts. These are the subject of Ussher’s new book, called Still life. The Antarctic climate has preserved the huts well; I suppose they are literally (nearly) frozen in time. The photos make me wonder if these long-dead men might trudge through the doors at any moment. The interior shots are actually very set-like, which I associate with film more than painting.

Along with the others I went to, it was good to see this session so well attended.

--Nick Austin


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