James "Frank" Hurley

James Francis “Frank” Hurley, OBE (October 15, 1885 – January 16, 1962)

FrankHurleyFrank Hurley is an icon of both Australian documentary photography and Antarctic exploration. Hurley was an exceptional photographer and his six visits to Antarctica covered a substantial part of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. His striking images of Shackleton’s ill-fated Endurance expedition are some of the most famous images of Antarctic exploration.

Hurley began his photographic career in 1909 when, at the age of 24, he persuaded Douglas Mawson to take him as official photographer on his 1911–14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition. Hurley proved himself a skilled and determined film maker, often going great lengths to capture his footage. He also took part in a record-breaking sledging journey (averaging 41 miles/66 km per day) to the South Magnetic Pole.

Hurley released a documentary about the expedition, called Home of the Blizzard. His motion picture images of men blown backwards by the driving katabatic winds at Cape Denison brought the magic and power of Antarctica to ordinary people.

In early March of 1914 Hurley was hired as official photographer for Shackleton’s 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. He was included in the party chosen by Shackleton to make the intended crossing of the Antarctic continent, however Endurance became trapped in the pack ice and the journey was never made. Instead, Hurley concentrated on recording the daily life aboard the icebound ship, capturing some wonderful images of the men and dogs both at work and at play.

Endurance_trapped_in_pack_iceHurley was dedicated to his work. He photographed in the harshest conditions and spent three days out on the ice in order to film the last moments of Endurance. He also risked his life to preserve the motion-picture films and glass-plate images that recorded the extraordinary events of 1916. With Endurance trapped in pack ice and about to sink at any time, Hurley dived into the freezing water and retrieved his submerged films and plates. Later, with the team facing a long man-haul across the sea ice, he bargained with Shackleton to let him keep 120 glass plates while the remaining 400 were smashed on the ice. He documented the remainder of their odyssey with only a handheld Vest Pocket camera and three rolls of film.

In 1919, Hurley compiled his records into the documentary film Endurance (originally released as ‘South’). His footage was also used in the 2001 IMAX film Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure.

Hurley served in Europe as an official photographer with the Australian Imperial Force from 1917–18, producing the only color-plate photographs of the war and capturing many stunning battlefield scenes during the Third Battle of Ypres. In keeping with his adventurous spirit, he took considerable risks to photograph his subjects, also producing many rare panoramic and color photographs of the conflict.

Hurley subsequently returned to Antarctica with Mawson during the 1929–31 British, Australian, and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition documenting the voyages, air surveys, and the claiming of what would become the greater part of Australian Antarctic Territory.

Hurley’s images are held by a number of institutions including:
Scott Polar Research institute: www.spri.cam.ac.uk/picturelibrary/catalogue/itae1914-16/gallery/
National Library of Australia: http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an24539066

More about Frank Hurley, Master of Photography: www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Uz08u5KRec

Back to Polar Explorers

Sign up for the newsletter

Thanks for Signing Up!