"A young man stands on a rocky store, patiently posing for the photographer while supporting his kayak. It is equipped with sealhunting gear including a harpoon and a sealskin float. The man appears to be smoking a clay pipe." -walltext label for 'Inuit Man with Kayak, 1854' photograph
In two small rooms in the back section of the Queen's House in the National Maritime Museum compound is an exhibit of early wet and dry-plate photographs taken in the arctic called Freeze Frame. You may not casually come across this temporary exhibit for it is not situated with any titles or labels announcing that it is taking place. And if you ask for it by name, the guards will look quizzically at you and then have a wave of remembrance: ah, yes, the 'secret' room. They will lead you there because it is up and down various stairs in the small building and they will unlock the door to the exhibit for you and ask you how you found out about it. They will make sure you are not accidently locked in the room by the other guards.
Such was my experience yesterday! Unlike how it was advertised on the museum's website, this small exhibit of about 25 photographs had no museum placard to give indications that it was occurring! The photographs, reproduced from the 'negatives' (old plate negatives) were taken during two different expeditions. The first, in 1854, by Captain Edward Augustus Inglefield off the coast of Greenland (while he was leading a group to meet up with the search parties looking for Sir Franklin and his men), and the second set taken in 1875 by various members of the Lady Franklin Strait Expedition lead by Captain Nares. The images are of local Inuit groups, members of the crew, whaler captains, portraits of the ships in the water looking quite staged, and landscapes of the Danish missionary/trading posts in Greenland. They are quite beautiful in their cracked form, as if about to slide off the paper. The focal point in many are oddly placed and have the appearance of a diorama made from clay that has been photographed.
Reading in my arctic explorations book titled 'Farthest North' by Clive Holland (who has written many books, exhaustingly), the first proposal to find a route through the arctic was written by a British merchant named Robert Thorne to King Henry 8 in 1527. Yes! 1527! That early! And the first series of expeditions by the British began in 1553. Now this is later than the Vikings, who were along the Canadian coast long before this. But let's stick with the British for now... The first 'routes' in the arctic was a Northeast Passage, above Russia, which in 1555 began a trade pact with Moscow, Russia by the Muscovy Company. This company soon became Britain's largest whaling company.
Sorry to end, I must now quickly leave for the museum to go to the Freeze Frame lecture series, which will occur every Saturday while I am here. It takes about a 30 minute bus ride into Greenwich from where I live. The park is beautiful and today the skies are blue, no clouds, just sun.