Naturalist at large: Photographer ventures to Antarctica
BELDEN, Miss. (AP) — Dr. George Housley’s office at IMA in Tupelo once testified to his love for the outdoors.
“George is really a naturalist,” said his wife, Vicki Housley. “If you look at his photographs, you’ll see that.”
“I used to have pictures in my office, exam room and down the hall,” Housley, 65, said.
He retired from his rheumatology practice in April, so people have to go elsewhere to see his photos.
Work hangs throughout his home in Belden, and Vicki Housley is handy with albums filled with photos.
Some of his images were included in the recently closed Southern Light Photography exhibit at GumTree Museum of Art in Tupelo.
He also posts some of his favorites at www.housleyphoto.com.
A self-taught photographer, Housley said he developed his skills the old-fashioned way: volume.
“I spent a lot of time in my backyard and took a lot of pictures,” he said. “That was the general pattern, more and more pictures.”
He and his wife have traveled out West in search of new subjects. Visits to his dad’s place in Florida offered the chance to stop by a nearby rookery.
“Birds are very important to me,” he said. “A lot of the birds I got were from my backyard. That’s one of the reasons the pond behind the house is so cool. When you have a pond, you get birds.”
He also photographs flowers, trees and rock formations, but people get short shrift.
“He likes to take pictures of things,” Vicki Housley said with a smile. “He doesn’t take a lot of people pictures. If there’s a family photo, I take that.”
She was only half joking. Housley took a few pictures of human beings during a Princeton University event late last year. Out of about 150 people, only nine were alumni. Three of them, including Housley’s college roommate, were from the class of ’73.
“Weird that we met at the bottom of the world,” he said.
Housley wasn’t thinking about his old friend or anybody else when he saw the advertisement for a Princeton gathering on a cruise ship called National Geographic Explorer. The ship was destined for Antarctica.
“It was part of my bucket list for years and years and years,” he said. “I signed up on the spur of the moment.”
His classmates were unexpected extras, as was the chance to dine with Peter Hilary, the son of legendary mountaineer Sir Edmund Hilary.
“What a nice guy. He’s been to the top of Everest twice himself. He’s an explorer. He makes a living doing this,” Housley said. “The people on the boat were fascinating.”
But his main goal was to capture images of the unique landscape and its inhabitants.
“A semi-famous photographer said, ‘Everybody goes there for the penguins and everybody just falls in love with the snow and the ice and the rocks,’” Housley said.
Orange excursion gear was provided by the tour company. The bright color stood out against the background and made everyone easy to find. It also kept out the cold, but that wasn’t the problem some might’ve expected. The December trip was during the Antarctic summer.
“You were colder up here for a while when I was there,” he said. “I checked. It was 18 degrees here and 30 degrees where I was.”
Once or twice a day, passengers rode inflatable rubber boats powered by outboard engines, and a naturalist guided them around the Antarctic Peninsula.
Housley snapped shots of chinstrap penguins, gentoo penguins, emperor penguins and Adélie penguins, so he definitely got that part of the Antarctic experience.
“The rule was you could get close, five yards from them, by your movements, but they could walk up to you, and they did,” he said.
The rule for leopard seals was 15 yards, he said, “because they could kill.”
He watched humpback whales feed and learned to tell the difference between male and female killer whales.
“Males have straighter, taller dorsal fins,” he explained.
Throughout the trip, the landscape commanded Housley’s attention and proved that semi-famous photographer right. Giant, floating icebergs were hypnotic, as were lichen-coated outcroppings of rock jutting out of the snow. The harsh, weather-ravaged environment went well beyond black and white to include infinite varieties of blues, browns and grays.
Housley said he was amazed by “what God has wrought” and photographed as much as he could.
Sometimes, he used a professional camera and high-powered lenses, but one of his favorite photos was taken with his phone. The ice floe he shot is now the wallpaper on his phone.
“Photographers say the best camera is the one you have at the right time and the right place,” he said.
That philosophy almost cost him an iPhone, according to his wife.
“He called and said he was trying to take pictures of the boat going through the ice and was afraid he might drop his phone overboard,” she said.
Housley estimated he took about 3,000 frames during his Antarctic adventure, but he wished he would’ve taken 1,000 or 2,000 more. Not that anyone else would’ve seen them all.
“Thanks to digital technology, you can take millions of pictures, but you have to throw some of them away,” he said. “Most people don’t do that.”
The photos that survived his editing process have been added to his larger body of work, which collectively pays tribute to nature’s majesty.
Now that he’s retired, Housley has time to chronicle other wild places, but he suspects his experiences in Antarctica will loom large in memory for some time to come. He’s happy to share his pictures and the stories behind them, as long as no one expects him to be an expert.
“Saying you’ve been to Antarctica after this trip is like going to the Florida Keys and saying you’ve seen all of North America,” he said.