Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2012


Former Dean of the College Jewel Plummer Cobb with Beverly Clark Prince '72 in Cobb's lab at Connecticut College. Photo courtesy of the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives.

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A push to the South Pole

A push to the South Pole

In Antarctica, Keoki Flagg '87 photographs the unlimited potential of one man's body

by Monica Raymunt '09

In March 2010, Grant Korgan fractured his spine in a snowmobiling accident near Lake Tahoe. Less than two years later, when he pushed himself 75 miles across Antarctica to the South Pole, photographer Keoki Flagg '87 was there to capture it on camera.

The expedition was the culmination of a year-long endeavor called The Push: A South Pole Adventure that took Korgan, Flagg and five others all over the world to train for their journey across one of the most hostile environments on the planet.

Flagg had doubts of the project's success, right up until the plane dropped the team on the icy continent in January.

“I don't remember ever in my adult life being so committed to something I wasn't sure I could do,” he says.

“Keoki has had an illustrious career photographing people who are pushing their personal limits,” says David Barber '88, a close friend since college. “This time, instead of just capturing an athlete out of his comfort zone, he had to become one.”

Towing six sleds, each loaded with more than 100 pounds of food, fuel and survival gear, The Push team faced temperatures down to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit and winds up to 35 mph. Whiteouts enveloped them for almost four days, making navigation a near impossibility. Trekking across this desolate terrain, where nothing but snow and ice marked their progress, Flagg marveled at Korgan's strength.

“Imagine sitting in a cardboard box on a carpeted floor, and then pulling yourself across the room with two sticks,” Flagg says. That is essentially what Korgan did, 10 hours per day for the 12 days of the expedition, with ski poles and a sit ski, a device crafted for parathletes that consists of a seat mounted on two skis.

“If Grant can do that,” Flagg asks, “what can't you do?”

Flagg, who grew up in Hawaii and traveled with his family for several years of his childhood, says Connecticut College grounded him mentally and physically for his future adventures. A studio art major and history minor, Flagg chose not to study abroad as a junior — a decision, he says, that helped him focus on campus endeavors and, after graduation, fully concentrate on his photography projects, taking assignments one at a time.

With a home base and gallery in California near Lake Tahoe, Flagg has photographed skiers and adventurers on all seven continents and published his work in magazines such as National Geographic Adventure, Outside and Audubon. But he said Korgan's tenacity gave him new perspective on his own progress as an artist and as a person.

“I've been working for all these magazines for the last 20 years, and I cannot compare this journey to anything I've ever done,” Flagg says.

Flagg spoke about The Push on campus in April as part of TEDxConnecticutCollege, where he reflected on how the expedition affected his life and career.

“I'm realizing that to really be a relevant artist and grow on the world platform, it's not about what you essentially do, but why you do it,” he says.

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