Frank Hurley

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Frank Hurley
Frank Hurley, photographed c.1914
Frank Hurley, photographed c.1914
Born(1885-10-15)15 October 1885
Glebe, Sydney, Australia
Died16 January 1962(1962-01-16) (aged 76)
Sydney, Australia
Notable worksShackleton's Argonauts : A Saga of Antarctic Icepacks
Notable awardsChildren's Book of the Year Award: Older Readers 1948
Years active1908–1948

James Francis Hurley, OBE (15 October 1885 – 16 January 1962) was an Australian photographer and adventurer. He participated in a number of expeditions to Antarctica and served as an official photographer with Australian forces during both world wars.

His artistic style produced many memorable images, he also used staged scenes, composites and photographic manipulation.


Hurley was the third of five children to parents Edward and Margaret Hurley and was raised in Glebe, a suburb of Sydney, Australia,[1] he ran away from home at the age of 13 to work on the Lithgow steel mill, returning home two years later to study at the local technical school and attend science lectures at the University of Sydney. When he was 17 he bought his first camera, a 15-shilling Kodak Box Brownie which he paid for at the rate of a shilling per week, he taught himself photography and set himself up in the postcard business, where he gained a reputation for putting himself in danger in order to produce stunning images, including placing himself in front of an oncoming train to capture it on film.

Hurley married Antoinette Rosalind Leighton on 11 April 1918;[2] the couple had four children: identical twin daughters, Adelie (later a press photographer) and Toni, a one son, Frank and youngest daughter Yvonne.[3]

While living on Collaroy Plateau, (Warringah LGA), Frank became involved with ABC radio, he was a frequent storyteller on the perennial children's program The Argonauts Club.[citation needed] He enjoyed even more a degree of commercial success by publishing his photos on advertising calendars, postcards and tourist booklets.[citation needed]

His most successful book was Australia: A Camera Study published in 1955 and reprinted three times.[citation needed]

He engaged in aerial photography with Brud Rees on his Piper Cub float plane, he travelled extensively throughout Australia commissioned on various photographic assignments.[4]

Antarctic expeditions[edit]

Of his lifetime, Frank Hurley spent more than four years in Antarctica.[5] At the age of 23, in 1908, Hurley learned that Australian explorer Douglas Mawson was planning an expedition to Antarctica; fellow Sydney-sider Henri Mallard in 1911, recommended Hurley for the position of official photographer to Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition, ahead of himself.[6] Hurley asserts in his biography that he then cornered Mawson as he was making his way to their interview on a train, using the advantage to talk his way into the job.[7] Mawson was persuaded, while Mallard, who was the manager of Harringtons (a local Kodak franchise) to which Hurley was in debt, provided photographic equipment; the Expedition departed in 1911, returning in 1914. On his return, he edited and released a documentary, Home of the Blizzard, using his footage from the expedition.[2]

Hurley was also the official photographer on Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition which set out in 1914 and was marooned until August 1916; Hurley produced many pioneering colour images of the Expedition using the then-popular Paget process of colour photography, he photographed in South Georgia in 1917. He later compiled his records into the documentary film South in 1919, his footage was also used in the 2001 IMAX film Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure. He returned to the Antarctic in 1929 and 1931 on Mawson's British Australian (and) New Zealand Antarctic Research Expeditions (BANZARE).

Wartime photography[edit]

In 1917, Hurley joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) as an honorary captain and captured 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 colour photographs of the conflict. Hurley kept a diary in 1917-1918 chronicling his time as a war photographer.[8] In it he describes his commitment "to illustrate to the public the things our fellows do and how war is conducted", as well as his short-lived resignation in October 1917 when he was ordered not to produce composite images,[9] his period with the AIF ended in March 1918.

For the 1918 London exhibition Australian War Pictures and Photographs he employed composites for photomurals to convey drama of the war on a scale otherwise not possible using the technology available; this brought Hurley into conflict with the AIF on the grounds that montage diminished documentary value.[10] Charles Bean, official war historian, labelled Hurley's composite images "fake".[2]

Hurley also served as a war photographer during World War II.

Movie photography[edit]

Hurley, on the right, discusses photographic opportunities for the forthcoming Battle of Bardia with an officer of the Australian 6th Division, Egypt, 1940

Hurley also used a movie camera to record a range of experiences including the Antarctic expeditions, the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and war in the Middle East during World War II; the camera was a Debrie Parvo L 35mm hand-crank camera made in France. This camera is now in the collection of the National Museum of Australia.[13]

Film career[edit]

Hurley made several documentaries throughout his career, most notably Pearls and Savages (1921), he wrote and directed several dramatic feature films, including Jungle Woman (1926) and The Hound of the Deep (1926). He also worked as cinematographer for Cinesound Productions where his best known film credits include The Squatter's Daughter (1933), The Silence of Dean Maitland (1934) and Grandad Rudd (1935), his 1941 documentary short Sagebrush and Silver was nominated for an Academy Award at the 14th Academy Awards for Best Short Subject (One-Reel).[14]

In Collections[edit]

"A radiant turret lit by the midsummer midnight sun", 1912 photo by Hurley held by State Library of New South Wales.

Photographs by Hurley of the Antarctic are held by a number of institutions. Notable collections include the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, National Library of Australia, Canberra, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, Royal Geographical Society, London, State Records of South Australia, and the South Australian Museum, Adelaide.

National Library of Australia

  • Frank Hurley Negative Collection,[15] 1910–1962

The collection contains 10,999 glass negatives, gelatin negatives, colour transparencies, lantern slides, and stereographs that have been fully catalogued and digitised.

The collection covers photographs of Hurley's trips to Antarctica; as official photographer during World War I 1914–1918; later travels in the Middle East and Egypt; as official photographer during World War II 1939–1945; Papua and New Guinea; Australian scenery, industries and social life and customs.

Related photographic prints can be found in the Hurley Collection of Photographic Prints.

  • Hurley collection of photographic prints,[16] 1910–1962

The collection contains 1000 photographic prints. 44 prints have been catalogued and digitised.

  • B.A.N.Z. Antarctic Research Expedition 1929–31, photographs,[17] 1929–1931

This album contains 60 gelatin silver photographs by Hurley, all of which have been catalogued and digitised.

  • Photograph album of Papua and the Torres Strait,[18]

The collection contains 259 photographic prints, all of which have been catalogued and digitised.

State Library of New South Wales - Negatives from the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-14 Original diaries, colour Paget plates and negatives made by Hurley on Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Paget plates and negatives taken while in the Australian Army during World War One. Vintage prints used for the creation of the official scientific reports from the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-14. Large format vintage prints of Antarctica, Europe during World War One, Australia and Java displayed in exhibitions in London and Sydney around 1919. Most of the collections have been digitised and are available online.

  • British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917, Frank Hurley, 32 Paget colour screen glass plates, ON 26.
  • World War I: France, Belgium, Palestine, 1917-1918 Frank Hurley, 49 Paget colour screen glass plates, ON 25
  • Frank Hurley collection of diaries, 10 Nov. 1912 - 13 Aug. 1918, together with related papers ca.1920, miscellaneous material, 1909-ca. 1925,MLMSS 389.
  • Photographs of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-14, 2,100 glass plate negatives, official photographs by Frank Hurley others by Blake, Coombe, Correll, Davis, Gillies, Gray, Hamilton, Hoadley, Hunter, Hurley, Laseron, McGrath, McLean, Mawson, Mertz, Moyes, Primmer, Sandell, Sawyer and Wild. Series 01, ON 144
  • Stereo photographs of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-14, 100 half plate stereoscopic negatives, a photographer currently unidentified but some may be by Frank Hurley. Series 02, ON 144
  • Shackleton Expedition, 24 silver gelatin photoprints by Frank Hurley, 1914-1917, PXA 715.
  • Original pictorial material reproduced in the `Scientific reports'from Australasian Antarctic Expedition papers, 1911-1914, includes vintage prints and drawings, some by Hurley, PXE 725
  • Scenes inside the workshop, Antarctic views, from Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-194, vintage prints by Frank Hurley and Hamilton, PXD 679
  • Vintage prints for an exhibition of pictures taken during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition and other photographic studies, from The Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London, by Frank Hurley, 120 carbon prints, PXD 156, PXD 157, PXD 158, PXD 159, PXD 160, PXD 161
  • Vintage prints for an exhibition of pictures of photographic studies, from The Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London, by Frank Hurley, 26 carbon prints, PXD 162
  • Exhibition of war photographs, exhibited at The Kodak Salon, George Street, Sydney, in early 1919, 125 carbon prints, Frank Hurley, PXD 19 - PXD 31, XV*/Wor W 1/3, XV*/Wor W 1/4, XV*/Wor W 1/5, XV*/Wor W 1/6, XV*/Wor W 1/7, XV*/Wor W 1/8
  • Five Shackleton Expedition photographs, three showing the crushing of the Endurance, 1914-1917, by Frank Hurley, PXD 1201
  • Vintage print, the Endurance crushed in mid-sea by the pressure ice, 1914-1917, James Francis Hurley, 14 1/4 x 20 3/4 in., V*/Ship/Endu/2
  • 189 lantern Slides of the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917, including expedition members, general views and the Endurance, SLIDES 22

State Records of South Australia

As part of South Australia's Centenary celebration in 1936, Frank Hurley was commissioned to produce images of South Australia for inclusion in an illustrated souvenir booklet;[19] the resulting glass plate negatives are held as part of a series of glass plate negatives produced by or for the South Australian Government for publicity or other purposes.[20]

At this time, Hurley was also commissioned to produce a couple of promotional films for the South Australian Government, Oasis[21] and Here is Paradise.[22]

Selected filmography[edit]

Photographic Books by Hurley[edit]

  • Hurley, Frank (c. 1900). "Australia, in natural colour". s.l: John Sands.
  • Hurley, Frank (1956). "Manly: South Pacific playground in natural colour". Sydney: John Sands.
  • Hurley, Frank (c. 1900). "South Australia: in natural colour". Adelaide: John Sands.
  • Hurley, Frank (1915). "Exhibition of unique photographic pictures taken during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition: also other photographic studies". London: The Fine Art Society.
  • Hurley, Frank (c. 1920). "Catalogue of an exhibition of war photographs by Capt. F. Hurley, late official photographer with the A.I.F., held at the Kodak Salon, Sydney". Sydney?: s.n.
  • Hurley, Frank (c. 1920). "Gems of Jenolan". Sydney: New South Wales Government Tourist Bureau.
  • Hurley, Frank (1924). "Pearls and savages: adventures in the air, on land and sea in New Guinea". New York: Putnam's Sons.
  • Hurley, Frank (1925). "Argonauts of the south, by Captain Frank Hurley ... being a narrative of voyagings and polar seas and adventures in the Antarctic with Sir Douglas Mawson and Sir Ernest Shackleton; with 75 illustrations and maps". New York; London: G.P. Putnam's sons.
  • Hurley, Frank (1949). The Holy City: A Camera Study of Jerusalem and Surroundings.
  • Hurely, Frank (1950). Queensland: A Camera Study, Angus and Robertson.
  • Hurley, Frank (195-?). Beautiful Hobart.
  • Hurley, Frank (1953) Western Australia: A Camera Study, Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
  • Hurley, Frank (1955). Australia: A Camera Study.
  • Hurley, Frank (1955). Sydney in Natural Colour.
  • Hurley, Frank (1956). Victoria: A Camera Study, Sydney.
  • Hurley, Frank (1956). Beautiful Sydney.
  • Hurley, Frank (1956). Hobart in Natural Colour.
  • Hurley, Frank (1957). Launceston and North West Coast of Tasmania in Natural Colour.
  • Hurley, Frank (1958). Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves in Natural Colour.
  • Hurley, Frank (1961). Snowy Mountains, The Camera Study.

Prose works[edit]

Films about Hurley[edit]

Writings about Hurley[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McGregor (2004) p 8
  2. ^ a b c d Pike, A. F. "Frank Hurley". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
  3. ^ "Hurley, Adelie". Retrieved 12 December 2018.
  4. ^ McGregor (2004) p. 406-409
  5. ^ Ennis, Helen (2010). Frank Hurley’s Antarctica. Australia: National Library of Australia. p. 2.
  6. ^ while Hurley records his approach to Mawson differently in his memoir, the fact of this introduction via Mallard was established by David P. Millar in Millar (1984).
  7. ^ Jack Cato in his obituary explains Hurley's motivation and enthusiasm; 'We were both fired with the Spirit of Adventure; we were both happy in the knowledge that the camera was the key that would open that Magic Door.' Cato, Jack, 'For the Late Frank Hurley, Three Tributes', Australian Popular Photography, March 1962.
  8. ^ "Series 03: Frank Hurley diaries and related papers, 21 August 1917 – 13 August 1918, kept while official photographer to the Australian Imperial Force". Catalogue. State Library of NSW. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  9. ^ "Frank Hurley war diary, 21 August-28 October 1917".
  10. ^ for an account of the conflict between Hurley and the war correspondent Charles Bean, see Gough, Paul. "‘Exactitude is truth’: representing the British military through commissioned artworks". Journal of War and Culture Studies Volume: 1 | Issue: 3 December 2008 Page(s): 341–356 (ISSN 1752-6272), and also the excellent discussion of this, and Hurley's use of montage in some of his Antarctic imagery, in McGregor, Alasdair (2004) Frank Hurley: a photographer's life. Camberwell:Viking/Penguin
  11. ^ Thomas, Julian (1990). Show Man: the Photography of Frank Hurley (PDF). National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ "Exhibition of war photographs / taken by Capt. F. Hurley, August 1917- August 1918". Catalogue. State Library of NSW. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
  13. ^ "Frank Hurley's movie camera - National Museum of Australia".
  14. ^ "The 14th Academy Awards (1942) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 25 June 2013.
  15. ^ "Hurley negative collection [picture]".
  16. ^ "Hurley collection of photographic prints [picture]".
  17. ^ "B.A.N.Z. Antarctic Research Expedition 1929-31, photographs [picture]".
  18. ^ "Photograph album of Papua and the Torres Strait [picture]".
  19. ^ State Records of South Australia, GRG 7/29 File 13/1935.
  20. ^ See State Records of South Australia, GRG 35/342/1 Glass plate and other negatives - Photolithographic Branch, Department of Lands, units 181 - 186.
  21. ^ See State Records of South Australia, GRG 7/77 Motion picture films - Tourist Bureau, Film 10 Oasis
  22. ^ See State Records of South Australia, GRG 7/77 Motion picture films - Tourist Bureau, Film 30 Here is Paradise
  23. ^ "State Library of New South Wales /Catalogue".
  24. ^ "State Library of New South Wales /Catalogue".

External links[edit]