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FRANK HURLEY (1885-1962)
(lots 86, 111-116, 121)
Born in Glebe, Sydney, Hurley began his photographic career with Cave & Co., postcard manufacturers, in Sydney in 1905. By 1908 he had co-founded Cave & Hurley and went on to hold his first one-man show at Kodak Galleries, Sydney in 1910.
He was taken by Mawson as official photographer on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14 which explored the Antarctic coast due south of Australia and east of Scott's base at McMurdo Sound. With Bage and Webb, Hurley made up Mawson's southern party which sledged (see lot 87) to within 50 miles of the South Magnetic Pole in December 1912. Hurley photographed their Furthest South camp (see lot 86) and documented life at the expedition's Winter Quarters at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, capturing the struggle against the katatonic winds that tore across Adelie Land, and improvising techniques to take photographs in such adverse conditions. He returned with memorable images of the blizzard conditions, the 'hurricane-walk', faces frozen over with ice-masks, and the last portraits and studies of Ninnis and Mertz who died on Mawson's far-eastern party journey, Ninnis disappearing in a crevasse and Mertz succumbing to illness and privation.
Hurley's film of the expedition, 'Home of the Blizzard', was shown in London and so impressed Shackleton and his sponsors that the Australian photographer's services were sought for the Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition. At work in remote north-west Queensland in 1914, an aborigine tracker from Burketown Police Station delivered Shackleton's 'urgent cable' to Hurley who set off at once to join the Endurance at Buenos Aires.
Ice-bound in the Weddell Sea, the plight of the Endurance provided Hurley with some of the most dramatic subjects of his career (see lots 113 and 114), and the story of his negatives vies with the story of the crew as one of the great survival tales from the 'heroic age': 'Next day, after the salvaging was completed, I went down to the wreck, unknown to the leader, with one of the sailors, to make a determined effort to rescue my films and negatives. We hacked our way through the splintered timbers and, after vainly fishing in the ice-laden waters with boathooks, I made up my mind to dive in after them. It was mighty cold work groping about in the mushy ice in the semi-darkness of the ship's bowels, but I was rewarded in the end and passed out the three precious tins. While Seaman How was massaging me vigorously to restore my circulation, the vessel began to shake and groan ominously. We sprang for our lives onto the ice - almost into the arms of our astonished leader, who demanded 'What the hell are you up to?'
However Sir Ernest at once accepted the position with his usual good humour, and, I fancy, was glad of the salvage. A large sum of money had been advanced against the motion picture rights to help finance the expedition, and these were the assets.
I might mention in this connection that when it came to a question of selecting such negatives as might be taken with us, so as to keep down the weight as much as possible, I had a painful hour. Sir Ernest and I went over the plates together, and as a negative was rejected, I would smash it on the ice to obviate all temptation to change my mind. Finally the choice was made, and the films and plates which I considered indispensable were stowed away in one of the boats, having first been placed in double tins, hermetically. About 400 plates were jettisoned and 120 retained. Later I had to preserve them almost with my life; for a time came when we had to choose between heaving them overboard or throwing away our surplus food - and the food went over. All my photographic gear was compulsorily abandoned, except one small pocket-camera and three spools of unexposed film. I wonder if three spools of film ever went through more exacting experiences before they were developed.' (F. Hurley, Shackleton's Argonauts, Sydney, 1948.)
Hurley made his first prints from his negatives in Veigas' (see lot 115) Punta Arenas studio in September 1916: 'Senor Vega, the leading photographer of the town placed his fine dark rooms at my disposal and I spent most of the time in developing. All the plates which were exposed on the wreck nearly twelve months ago turned out excellently. The small Kodak film suffered through the protracted keeping, but will be printable,' (F. Hurley, Endurance Diary).
Back in England in November 1916, Hurley's negatives and film were handed over to Ernest Perris, Shackleton's backer and shareholder in the Imperial TransAntarctic Film Syndicate Ltd formed to exploit Hurley's work and re-coup the costs of the expedition. The Endurance photographs were immediately published in Perris' newspaper, the Daily Chronicle and in The Sphere. Perris was unhappy with the paucity of material that Hurley had managed to retrieve and so the photographer took passage on a vessel to South Georgia in February 1917 to supplement his photographs and cine film with footage of the wild life on and around the island. He returned to London, edited a silent movie 'In the Grip of the Polar Ice' and Shackleton, able to cash in on the film rights, claimed his expedition was paid off by the summer of 1917.
Hurley's itinerant career continued. He joined the A.I.F. as official war photographer in the same year, working in Flanders and later with the Australian Light Horse in Palestine. He worked mostly in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific between the wars, releasing feature films and publishing his account of the Endurance expedition Argonauts of the South in 1925. He returned to the Antarctic for the fifth time with Mawson's first Banzare expedition in 1929 (see lot 121) and again in the second Banzare expedition of 1930-31. He was appointed reporter-interviewer for the A.B.C. unit operating with Australian troops in the Middle East in 1940 and subsequently head of the Department of Information's Cinematographic and Photographic Unit in the eastern mediterranean. He worked for the British Ministry of Information 1943-46 before returning to Australia. His post-war work concentrates on a series of 'camera studies' of the Australian landscape and his career culminated in the 1961 'Exhibition of Shackleton's Expedition' at the Salon Gallery, Kodak, Sydney on the eve of his death at Collaroy Plateau on 16 January 1962, aged seventy-six.
COPYRIGHT ON HURLEY'S PHOTOGRAPHS AND NEGATIVES HAS EXPIRED.