President Speaker Series: The evolving role of the camera in the twentieth century glacier study

Dr. Danielle Inkpen presented a speaker series hosted by the VMCS society on January 31 that used photos to communicate the role of the camera and its usefulness over time. The talk was based on glaciology, studying pictures, and understanding the use of a camera in the field of glaciology. Glacier nationalism is the interest one has on glaciers. In glacier nationalism, photography served as evidence of the change of glacier and the increase of the amount of snow on the glaciers over time. After the Second World War, a new period for studying glaciers commenced in North America, as well as a new role for cameras. The new regime is referred to as geophysical glaciology because the research method and technique used to understand it was framed by an understanding of the earth and its components as objects of physical study. There is a change in the approach of studying glaciers by looking at the archival visual records. 

Two graduate students from Stanford were seen in various images during the presentation, holding a unitized autoval on a 7.5-foot slide while using a camera to take notes and pictures of the snow. A camera may be used, among other things, to measure the ice. Because they take a 3D photo with the camera and then return after some time to take another picture, it will help them better understand how much ice is being acquired and lost over time. This is a continual process that will help them measure the snow on glaciers or in a specific area. “The reason behind getting a 3D picture came out of research in the 1930s, when they determined that this way of understanding glacier fluctuation was superior to the Germanist fluctuations that you will see in repeat photographs,” said Inkpen. The repeat photographs can only show you how much ice is coming and going over time.

Between 1920 and 1930, people began to become concerned about the lag time between events in various places and how the topography beneath the glacier, its form, and the mountains around it influenced that process. People were not happy with the cameras’ limitations on what they could see. Repeated photography can only show you which glacier is changing or moving forward; it cannot reveal why. People had to measure ice using a different method back when it was necessary since “the ice couldn’t talk for itself, and the cameras couldn’t record it.”

 Dr. Inkpen was questioned about the type of a person involved in glacier-related activity by one of the female audience members. She said, “Yes, do it,” adding that there aren’t many women in this profession. The first participants in this activity were often independently wealthy, but there are examples of people taking pictures of glaciers who are not. These are usually people who work in industries connected to mountaineering. However, when it comes to glacier photography, the majority of those who can do it have plenty of time and money to keep going back and doing it frequently.

Another query was, besides the glaciers, what else does the picture show? What other aspects of masculinity and men working on the ice were depicted in photographs? This goes back to the idea that glaciers are unusual and uncommon because there are rarely people in that type of environment. When you think about climate change, the images you see are mostly inaccessible places and the struggle of traveling in the wilderness or a place not associated with home.

Given that Mal Miller, a famous glaciologist, appeared in several of these shots, it was also questioned how many of these glacier photos were taken for professional purposes. Mal Miller was always attempting to methodically impart knowledge of glaciers through photography, which is also the subject of Dr. Inkpen’s work. 

This was a significant speaker series that covered a variety of camera functions and applications, as well as how far technology has advanced to allow for professional camera use in dealing with glaciers and tracking the accumulation of ice on glaciers over time.

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