James Francis Hurley (1885-1962)

James Francis (Frank) Hurley
James Francis (Frank) Hurley (Photo: Unknown)
The efforts of Whetter and Close to get ice at Cape DenisonThe Aurora in McMurdo Sound nearing Cape Evans, glass lantern slide, hand colouredThe Aurora in McMurdo Sound waiting for break-up of the ice picture, glass lantern slide, hand colouredThe castaways adrift on the sea ice. Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Wild are standing together at the left of the picture (Ocean Camp, Weddell Sea, Shackleton expedition, November 1915)Frank Hurley filming a Weddell seal with his J A Prestwich cine cameraFrank Hurley washing cine film aboard the Aurora

Antarctic achievements

Frank Hurley is an icon of Australian documentary photography and Antarctic exploration.

In 1911, Hurley began his Antarctic career by persuading Douglas Mawson to employ him as official photographer on the 1911–14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE). Hurley's famous motion picture images of expeditioners being driven backwards by the strength of the katabatic winds at Cape Denison captured the day-to-day hardships and heroism of life in the Antarctic. He used a hand-crank movie camera, the Debrie Parvo L 35mm, to document expedition activities. Hurley took part in a record-breaking sledging journey to the South Magnetic Pole (averaging 66 km per day) and filmed key events along the way.

On return to Australia, to recoup the cost of the expedition, Mawson toured across Australia and England giving lectures, and showing Hurley's film Home of the Blizzard (Life in the Antarctic).

Joining Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, Hurley risked his life to preserve the legendary motion-picture films and glass-plate images that recorded the extraordinary events of 1916. Trapped in pack ice, the Endurance was crushed and all hands abandoned the vessel to camp on floating ice hundreds of miles out to sea. With the ship about to sink, Hurley dived into the freezing water to retrieve his submerged films and plates. Later, with the team facing a long trek across the sea ice, he bargained with Shackleton to let him keep 120 glass plates while the remaining 400 were smashed on the ice. Sparing his small pocket camera, he later photographed Shackleton departing on the lifeboat, the James Caird, sailing for a whaling station on South Georgia to send rescue for the rest of the shipwrecked party.

Hurley served in Europe as an official photographer with the Australian Imperial Forces from 1917–18, producing the only colour-plate photographs of World War I.

Returning to Antarctica with Mawson on the 1929–31 British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE), Hurley documented the voyage, air surveys and proclamation of Australian Antarctic Territory in the film, The Siege of the South.

Awards and honours

A founding force of Australian documentary filming, Hurley continued to work in exotic places and hostile environments, working up to his death in 1962.

Hurley's striking images captured the magic and power of Antarctica, sparking the imagination of the Australian public.

Mount Hurley in Antarctica is named in his honour.