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Wednesday, 8 December  2004  Antarctica Photos

More than 100 years ago a team of Australian explorers went to Antarctica. Led by Douglas Mawson, there was a photographer on the team, who took photos of the wild, unexplored land.

KATHY BOWLEN: At the turn of last century, the Antarctic was the last great unexplored wilderness.

As Douglas Mawson set off on his groundbreaking journey, photographer Frank Hurley was there, recording everything with his stereoscopic camera.

And the view as they approached the wilderness may have looked like this but these pictures are virtual, not real, created with a computer program.

This story is about how that computer technology is being applied to Hurley's photos in ways the artist could never have imagined.

Hundreds, but not all, of Frank Hurley's precious photographs are housed at the SA Museum, and the fragile stereoscopic glass plates on which they were captured reveal much more detail than would be found in a standard negative.

It's a three-dimensional imagery, which is rarely seen in its full glory.

CLIVE WILSON-ROBERTS: They do represent the earliest views of some parts of Antarctica.

We have to remember that, at that stage, much of Antarctica had never been seen, much less photographed.

KATHY BOWLEN: But a project being developed by Melbourne academic Dr Peter Morse aims to bring the pictures to a much wider audience.

Peter Morse has scanned dozens of Frank Hurley's and other Antarctic photos into his computer.

He's then pinpointed where these pictures were taken using satellite photos and aerial and ground survey data from the Australian Antarctic Division.

He uses this to create what he describes as a "reasonably accurate" synthetic computer model of the landscape.

DR PETER MORSE: So in a sense it becomes a kind of time machine.

We can fly around this synthetic landscape, which represents the real landscape, to the spots where these photographs were taken 100 years ago.

And if we can extract the information, then we can generate 3-D models so to an extent you can walk into the picture and look around inside the picture as well.

KATHY BOWLEN: But the greatest challenge has been to convert it to an interactive, three-dimensional program, which can only be viewed using special 3-D glasses.

PAUL BOURKE: You would imagine someone being in an environment where they have a joystick or some other input device and they would have the glasses on, they would be seeing a 3-dimensional scene, they would then be able to navigate around the image.

DR PETER MORSE: For instance, you could look at a photograph of one of the grottos under Mawson's hut in 3-D, and I've already done this, and you can see the names of the manufacturers of items in there.

And that can be cross-referenced with letters and purchase orders and all this kind of stuff that would be of cultural archaeological significance.

KATHY BOWLEN: Peter hopes that, in the future, this type of virtual heritage project could be repeated with any historic images, and his ambition is to see it displayed not only in museums, but places like shopping centres where anyone with a passing curiosity can travel back in time.

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English Bites - Antarctica Photos
story notes

set off
The phrasal verb set off has several meanings.
more information: set off

Groundbreaking means new, or something that's never been done before.

Example: She's doing some groundbreaking research into the causes of diabetes.

stereoscopic camera
A stereoscopic camera is a camera that takes pictures that can be looked at through a stereoscope. A stereoscope is an old fashioned device used for looking at photos.

Two pictures of the same thing are taken from slightly different angles.

Something that is virtual is not real, but it's almost real. It looks like it's real.

Three-dimensional means being deep, as well as long and wide. It's often written and called 3-D. For example, this picture has only two dimensions, width and height.

But this next picture has three dimensions: width, height and depth.

If something is three-dimensional, it looks real or lifelike.

To scan is to take a copy of something into your computer.

synthetic landscape
Synthetic means artificial or not real.
A synthetic landscape, like the one created from Frank Hurley's photos, is a landscape that's not real.

virtual heritage project
Heritage here means history. It's the culture and traditions of a community.
This is a heritage project. It is a project that records history.
A virtual heritage project is a project that uses computers and other technology to recreate events or places from history.


Don't be negative about photography.

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