Massive, hand-bound book is a limited edition work of art sought by the famous, rich and royal

Pat Burkette
Times Colonist – Victoria British Columbia
Sunday, December 1, 2002

ANTARCTICA is not a human domain. No terrestrial mammals live in this realm of ice, where fierce winds howl, green is a colour reserved for moss, and clouds are a rare commodity.

But creatures of sea and sky – whales, seals, penguins and albatrosses – call Antarctica home. Albatrosses, with an average wingspan of 3.5 metres (11.5 feet), are nature’s gliders, riding the air currents above the sea. They sleep on the wing, and seek land only to mate and raise chicks. Some say albatrosses are reincarnated souls of dead sailors. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote about the ill fortune incurred by killing an albatross in his Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Today, it’s the albatrosses who face doom. They’re at risk of extinction, drowning as they grab bait played out from pirate long-line fishing boats.

Now two hardy humans who ventured to Antarctica during two austral summers (November to March), Saltspring Island’s husband-and-wife team of Pat and Rosemarie Keough, have stepped in to help the birds. They’re donating profits from the sale of their book of photographs, titled Antarctica, to BirdLife International’s Save the Albatross campaign.

The Keoughs aren’t just any humans. These modern day explorers are multi-tasking photographers, writers, publishers and philanthropists. And their book is not just any book.

Antarctica is big. It weighs 12.5 kilograms (27.6 pounds), has 336 pages with 330 full-colour photos and measures 44.5 by 34.3 centimetres (17.25 by 13.5 inches.)

Antarctica is beautiful. The book of breathtaking photographs is bound entirely by hand in supple goat leather, and comes in a Dutch linen and French flocked velvet archival box. An embossed iceberg adorns the slate-grey cover. The pages are custom manufactured Strathmore pastel archival paper (so grain runs parallel to spine) with genuine felt finish, set in Garamond and Alexa fonts.

Antarctica production run is forever limited to 950 numbered books plus 50 proofs. It sells for a whopping $2,900 US. The Keoughs get no take-home pay after expenses, but the Save the Albatross campaign gets an average $450 US per sale.

Antarctica has won a 2002 Benjamin Franklin Award (the Oscar of the printing and graphics arts community). Queen Noor of Jordan, honorary president of BirdLife International, has autographed each book. The Grand Duke of Luxembourg and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands own copies. And Prince Charles had no trouble holding the hefty art book when it was unveiled at a Save the Albatross reception he hosted at his place, St. James’s Palace. “He asks intelligent questions,” said Pat Keough.

Turning a page of Antarctica is like melting a layer of the continent’s ice. Unlike the scientists who constantly core-sample that ice, hoping to find one more small key to our earthly kingdom mysteries, the reader makes a wild discovery every minute. The key fits the lock, the door opens wide and suddenly we’re dropping off an edge without a parachute. Is this really our Earth?

There’s an emperor penguin’s breast, filling the page, golden, striated like desert sand. A field of wind-whipped, rippled snow meets a cerulean sky. Icicles bigger than a man, hang from a snow cave. An iceberg floats in a dark sea like some crusted hunk of whipped cream.

The stories behind the pictures are every bit as fascinating.

The couple, along with their (at the time) seven-year-old son Glen, crossed the Southern Ocean several times during the austral summers of 2000 and 2001, then travelled by helicopter, Twin Otter, Zodiac, ship and icebreaker – including the Russian Kapitan Khlebnikov – to get to various Antarctic locations.

On a trip on the M.S. Explorer, the Keoughs met Gerard Bertrand of BirdLife International and Carl Safina of the Audubon Society and author of The Eye of the Albatross. The Keoughs learned about the albatross’s threatened existence from Bertrand and Safina, and decided to dedicate profits from Antarctica to aid in the sea bird’s survival.

While the couple explored the icy continent, camping out in icebreaker or ship, endurance tents and McMurdo Station, they were never without their cameras. “We carried 70 pounds of camera gear at all times,” said Rosemarie.

The gear included bean bags to stabilize the tripod in tricky conditions. Photographs were taken with 35-mm manual cameras with various lenses, ranging from 24 to 600-mm. The Keoughs packed six or seven cameras.

“Cameras are actually very well made to withstand cold,” said Rosemarie. But with snow so fine it got inside a camera, the Keoughs often retreated to their tent to brush the exterior with a course brush, then dismantle the camera and clean the inside with a fine camel hair brush. Then the camera would be slowly rewound, to avoid the formation of static lines across the film. They had to be constantly aware of their own breath. It was easy to fog up the viewfinder.

“We’ve never shot with a digital camera,” said Pat. “Battery power in extreme conditions is the big problem for digitals.”

Rosemarie is quick to share some tips on photographing emperor penguins. “Give them a lot of respect. Lie down on your belly. Then you can’t get rid of them. They’ll chew on the leg of the tripod.”

Son Glen didn’t lose out on the Antarctica experience. His job was to find recently dead penguins so that Gary Miller, an American scientist, could perform autopsies and learn more about the birds. Glen quickly learned to avoid the “dirty” ones. Living penguins walk over the bodies of their deceased fellows, and the more penguin traffic, the longer a body has lain on the ice.
Surprises weren’t confined to penguin behaviour. The Keoughs’ visit to explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod shack was a shocking olfactory experience. “There are still ham hocks hanging inside,” said Pat. In the cold, everything in the shack has remained as it once was. “You felt like they had just stepped out a moment ago. You felt like you were in a time warp. There’s no small outside in Antarctica. As soon as you step inside, you smell the human presence – almost a century later.”

For the Keoughs, photography melds art and technology. “In Antarctica, we were constantly on the edge of awareness. With painting, your situation doesn’t control you. With photography, you’re being controlled by the present, the moment, and the technology you need as well.”
But their desire to create a new genre of ultra high-quality art books required the Keoughs to expand that melding of art and technology to the nth degree. In the 1980s in Ontario, as book packagers for Stoddart Publishers, the couple learned about what they didn’t want in a book. “We saw an opening in self-publishing specialty books,” said Pat. Their first, The Ottawa Valley Portfolio, became a top seller in Canada.

For Antarctica, they researched the art of hand binding and found that goat leather covers of 1,000-year-old books were still in decent condition. Two full morocco goat skins are needed to bind each copy of Antarctica. J. Hewit and Sons of Scotland, appointed to Her Majesty the Queen, custom-tanned and dyed the goat skin and added a new archival process to neutralize the effects of humidity and atmospheric acids.

Ontario’s Felton Bookbinding Ltd. was chosen to bind the book. Master binder Keith Felton used Irish linen thread to hand sew the 288 stitches and knots required to hold together each hefty book’s pages.

The colour plates were printed here in B.C. After a test print of four pages by short-listed printers from all over the world, the Keoughs found the best quality, highest resolution and most accurate colour at Hemlock Printers in Burnaby. Hemlock’s Dick Kouwenhoven is Canada’s 2002 Printer of the Year. Hemlock was testing a new 10-micron technology from Creo Inc., a Canadian firm. Antarctica is the worlds’ first photographic art book printed with 10-micron dots, giving it three times the resolution of normal high-end lithography. Each dot of ink in Antarctica photographs is super tiny. To see one, 50-power magnification is needed. Normal printing requires 15-power.

The Keoughs make no bones about their book’s snob appeal. “Its value is in the exclusivity,” said Pat. They have buyers from Europe, the U.K., Australia and the U.S. The first Canadian to order the book was Alex Tilley, owner of Tilley Endurables. Forrest Mars, of Mars chocolate bars, is an American purchaser. The public library in Auckland, New Zealand is the first public institution to buy Antarctica. Members of the Explorers Club in New York have ordered copies, as has a man from Panama involved in eco-tourism who heard about the book form one of his customers.
For Pat, who was raised on a steady diet of National Geographic magazines, and Rosemarie, who as a child swung on vines in bush lots, Antarctica is only the beginning of their Explorer series of books, which will take them to Kenya, the Dutch Caribbean, and the Sultan Sea, and the support of various worthy causes.

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