Nobu Shirase and the Japanese Antarctic Expedition: the Collection of Chet Ross
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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 10/12/2023
[BYRD, Richard Evelyn (1888-1957)]. VEER, Willard Van der (1894-1963) and Joseph T. RUCKER (1887-1957), cinematographers. The original 35mm motion picture Akeley “Pancake” camera that was taken by two Paramount cinematographers on Byrd’s first Antarctic expedition that filmed the Academy Award-winning documentary “With Byrd at the South Pole”.

New York: Akeley Camera, ca. 1922. Metal body with adjustable aperture shutter, on an Akeley wood and metal tripod, rubber eyepiece worn, some surface wear indicative of the harsh climates in the Antarctic (Van der Veer and Rucker both complained of their cameras freezing up after being exposed to the harsh polar climate, so much so that they were forced to go back to their hut every few hours to make changes to their equipment), a later manuscript label on top of camera detailing the provenance. Full height of camera on tripod, 54”; camera height 16 ½”.

Between 1928-30, two Paramount Publix Corporation cinematographers accompanied the first Byrd expedition to obtain footage for the production “With Byrd at the South Pole” which was issued in 1930, becoming the first professional cinematographers in Antarctica. Van der Veer and Rucker travelled extensively in the area, aboard ship, aircraft, a Model A Ford, and dog sleds, filming these events on two 35mm hand-cranked Akeley cameras (the camera of choice for all Paramount cinematographers) which produced an astounding 200,000 feet of 35mm black and white film. They were able to capture the harsh conditions aboard the City of New York in both a gale at sea and transiting the ice pack, the construction of Little America on the Ross Ice Shelf, the iconic whales surfacing for air through the broken ice, and the jubilation when Byrd returned to base after his polar flight, becoming the first to fly over the South Pole. For their efforts, Van der Veer and Rucker won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography which was the first documentary to win any Oscar and the only one to win cinematography (Van der Veer can be seen cranking the Akeley camera at the 6 minute, 21 second mark).

Provenance: Gerald P. Pulley (1922-2011), gifted to him from the U.S. Navy (enclosed is a photograph showing Pulley with the camera along with other Naval offices and a sign reading “save this camera for CDR Pulley. It was born the same year he was”. Pulley was a noted photographer in the U.S. Navy, who served under Admiral Byrd during the U.S. classified South Seas exploration aboard USS Concord from 5 September - 24 November 1943. Pulley also served as Military White House Photographer to President Harry S. Truman and founded National Association of Naval Photography. Pulley amassed a large camera collection and was known from time-to-time to have given many of them away as gifts.

The camera was then acquired by Richard Conger (1938-2003), possibly as one of these gifts. Conger also served as a U.S. Navy cameraman, travelling to the Arctic and Antarctic on numerous occasions. In 1947, Conger found the Mount Erebus hut that was abandoned in 1910 by Ernest Shackleton. His famous photographs of Shackleton’s hut showed it as it was when Shackleton’s team had left it. Conger would also make several advances in naval photography including developing underwater motion picture photography to make training films for demolition teams. He was also the first to perform underwater photography in Antarctic and produced the first motion picture photography at South Pole Station. Conger was part of Operation Highjump (1946-47; organized by Byrd), Operation Windmill (1947-48), and Operation Deep Freeze (1955-56) as a Naval photographer. Included is a large archive of papers, documents, and original photographs pertaining to Conger and his time spent in the U.S. Navy which consists of many original photographs, presumably taken by Conger, during those three Antarctic operations. Among these articles are several pieces relating to the camera itself which includes: two photographs showing the Akeley camera being used on the City of New York; the original Akeley camera manual with Conger’s ownership signature and label; and several souvenir programs related to the documentary. Conger would amass a large collection of polar books, many of which related to Admiral Byrd (correspondence between Conger and several notable book dealers, scholars, and collectors included).


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Minimum Bid: $15,000.00
Final prices include buyers premium: $30,000.00
Estimate: $30,000.00 - $50,000.00
Number Bids:14
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