on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Glacier…

or 'The One That Got Away'

Andrew Nadolski

Andrew Nadolski

Andrew Nadolski is a professional designer and photographer based in Exeter. His series 'The End of the Land' has been exhibited in museums and art galleries across England and has been published as a book by Headon House.

I don’t know if you are like me but sometimes our best pictures are those we have in our heads; the shot we would have taken if only we had a camera with us, or if only we could have got the camera out of the bag and on the tripod in time before the light changed. You probably know what I mean.

One of my ‘best’ pictures was ‘taken’ in 2005 standing at the face of Franz Josef Glacier on New Zealand’s South Island. The sheer scale of that monumental wall of ice, the subtle shades of blue in the ice... I could go on. It should exist, I knew where I was going to place the tripod, I knew what light I would need. I knew because I had been there before.

In 1999 I was heading to Australia for a holiday to visit family. As the plane was going via New Zealand, my cousin Tony suggested he fly up from Melbourne and we spend a week driving round the South Island. He was thinking white water rafting, bungy jumping and beer. I was thinking white water rafting, bungy jumping and beer... and photography. That was until he, in that delightfully succinct way of explaining things that Australians have, said “And I am not standing round while you photograph bloody rocks”.

We did have a great time, the weather was exceptional and I must admit I did forget about taking ‘proper’ pictures. It was only by chance then, that I carried my Bronica with me when we set off to walk to Franz Josef Glacier. We followed the easy path along the valley floor to the glacier. Even from miles away it was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. It was slightly surreal that the sky was blue and it was baking hot (I was even in shorts and a t-shirt). The sun was reflecting up from the silvery rocks on the ground and it was the only time that I have managed to get sun burned on the underside of my chin. I couldn’t believe that we were able to walk right up to the glacier face. We found some steps carved into the ice for ice climbers so we climbed up - even making our way across a crevice via part of a broken ladder conveniently left there. Realising that training shoes probably didn’t class as ‘appropriate footwear’ we descended. At the base, and by hand holding my Bronica, I managed to get a photograph of the melt water pouring out from underneath the glacier.

On my return to the UK that ‘snap’ began to haunt me. What would it look like taken in subdued light; shot on 5x4; 10x8; a dyptch; no wait, a giant dyptch? I just needed to go back and actually shoot it.

Fast forward to 2005. I was on my way to Australia with my wife-to-be Maria. We had planned on combining a holiday with getting married and I suggested a quick detour via New Zealand (you can probably see where this is going).

Maria was slightly suspicious when she saw me packing my Hasselblad and tripod (my 5x4 would probably have given the game away). I faithfully promised her that it wasn’t going to be a photography trip but “I might want to take a few snaps of the odd glacier if we happen to find one“.
We left Christchurch in beautiful sunshine but as we drove over the Alps in our camper van the weather started to change. Maria was disappointed but I was thinking “perfect for glacier photography”. As we neared the glacier it started to rain. I don’t mean English rain, I mean big wet monsoon type rain. We set off on the walk to the glacier “Its got to ease up at some point” I naively thought, “it has to, my photographic destiny awaits”.

However as we got nearer I realised there was a major problem; the river of melt water, now a raging torrent, had changed direction blocking the path and we couldn’t get to the glacier face. We watched some people on an escorted ice-walking trip wade waist deep through the icy water to get across, only just avoiding being swept away because they were roped together. Meanwhile the rain started to seep into everything. My trousers were so wet that the water was now running down my legs and filling my walking boots.

Evoking the British Bulldog spirit I announced that I was going to wait here until it stopped raining. Maria stood with me for half an hour before eventually deciding to head back to the camper van to try and dry off. I stood in the same spot for over an hour before eventually, it started to dawn on me that it wasn’t going to stop and that it wasn’t a passing shower.

I set the tripod up and got out the camera. I just about managed to focus the lens, looking through a pool of water that was starting to fill the waist level finder. I took a couple of frames before having to tip the camera upside down to empty out the water.

On the long walk back to the camper van I started to wonder whether I could suggest we “wait around awhile” in case the raging river of meltwater subsided a bit. We were getting married in less than a week and I realised that my suggestion, however subtle, might not be met with tremendous enthusiasm.

Maria was then subjected for the next few days with my grumpy moaning “it wasn’t like that last time I was here”.
My masterpiece is still there in my head, I can see it clearly. One day....

Andrew Nadolski has realised that sometimes it is best not to combine photography with non-enthusiastic friends and/or, wives to be. He is currently planning his return trip and is looking for a pair of fisherman’s waders.

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