A landmark in the annals of American photography and polar adventure, William Bradford’s book The Arctic Regions: Illustrated with Photographs Taken on an Art Expedition was first published for subscribers in 1873. No more than 300 copies of the leather-bound elephant folio are known to have been printed. The book has been a prized possession of major American and European museums and libraries, and a few fortunate collectors, ever since.
Now, with introduction written by noted polar historian Russell Potter, Arctic Regions is for the first time being made available in a convenient and accessible format—and at an affordable price. As the pace of global change quickens and the magnificent Arctic icecap dwindles, its publication could not be more timely or important.
Bradford became one of the first American painters to pursue the dream of painting the Arctic Regions firsthand. He had made several previous voyages, but none this ambitious or far-reaching. His purpose was always to study nature under its “terrible” aspects, to acquire material for later use in his artwork and after that in lectures illustrated with stereopticon views.
On this voyage Bradford brought along two photographers from Boston, John Dunmore and George Critcherson. They were the first photographic professionals to document so northerly a voyage. Their images added the crucial aura of “truth” to Bradford work. While other artists had depicted the northern regions, none had made photography so central a part of the artistic process.
The success of the expedition was due in no small part of Isaac Israel Hayes. He had traveled with Elisha Kent Kane, the most famous American Arctic explorer of the day. Hayes’s practical contributions to Bradford’s expedition—and this book—were significant and reflected his deep interest in the formation of glaciers, icebergs, and the movement of ice.
Today, the science-infused and art-driven narrative of Arctic Regions offers a prophetic prelude to current news of the Earth’s current climate situation: these regions, first photographed under Bradford’s direction, may yet vanish in our lifetime, never to be seen again.