James Francis Hurley was born to Edward Harrison and Margaret Bouffier Hurley in Glebe, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, on October 15, 1885. After leaving school and home at the age of 13, he spent his days working at a steel mill in the city of Lithgow while attending technical school at night, with hopes of becoming an engineer. He further educated himself by regularly attending the University of Sydney’s science lectures. While working for Australia’s Telegraph Department, he bought his first Kodak box camera for 15 shillings. Soon after, he teamed with Harry Cave to open a postcard company in Sydney, which distinguished itself for its technical precision and superior images.
By the age of 25, Mr. Hurley had been featured in a one-man exhibition of his work, and the following year was selected by geologist Sir Douglas Mawson to serve as official photographer for his Australasian Antarctic Expedition. He took movies, which were later introduced to the public as “Home of the Blizzard,” and remarkable still photographs with his beloved Kodak folding camera. As his professional status grew, so did his travel schedule, as he was commissioned to photograph an automobile tour of northern Australia, and in 1914, he joined an expedition formed by Sir Ernest Shackleton, during which he took his famous photographs depicting the ice destruction of the Endurance ship. To document the experience, which tested the survival instincts of even the most experienced explorers, Mr. Hurley’s equipment included at least four cameras – a large format camera fitted with glass negatives, a camera with color film, a compact Kodak pocket camera, and a cine-camera for movies. The frigid temperatures posed constant problems for the photographer, who in a moment of particular frustration, described his as “a miserable occupation.” Mr. Hurley would never be completely satisfied with the pocket camera’s grainy images, which were much better suited for the amateur than the perfectionist professional.
During World War I, Mr. Hurley was a member of the Australian Imperial Force, serving as official photographer and given the rank of honorary captain. Captain Hurley’s most poignant images were captured in Ypres, Belgium, but were later criticized as propagandistic manipulations because he would often combine several different negatives into a single photograph. Historian Charles Bean, a vocal opponent of this practice, dismissed Mr. Hurley’s composites as “little short of fake.” Nevertheless, the photographer remained true to his artistic vision and refused to alter such practices. He later resigned from his post, and while traveling in Cairo, met and married Antoinette Rosalind Leighton after a whirlwind courtship.
Frank Hurley’s later years were largely devoted to motion picture photography. He was a one-time cameraman for Sydney’s Cinesound Productions, but his time-consuming and painstaking work was not compatible with features that were expected to be completed quickly and below budget. He eventually headed a documentary unit that produced films for the Australian government and corporate entities. For his photographic contributions, he was was awarded an O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire). Despite being married with four children, Mr. Hurley remained a loner throughout his life, and often took solo global photographic expeditions, often being away for months at a time. He died of a heart attack on January 16, 1962 at the age of 76. An explorer, showman, and consummate craftsman, Frank Hurley shot photographs and films in an uncompromising style that was uniquely his own. His photographic archives can be found in the Australian National Library, the State Library of New South Wales, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Scott Polar Research Institute, and the Royal Geographical Society.
2011 The Diaries of Frank Hurley, 1912-1941 edited by Robert Dixon and Christopher Lee (London, UK: Anthem Press), pp. xiii, xxi, 120, 241
2016 Frank Hurley, Antarctica, the Kodak Vest Pocket by David Arnold (URL: http://davidarnoldphotographyplus.com/2016/01/25/frank-hurley-antarctica-the-kodak-vest-pocket).
2010 Frank Hurley's Antarctica by Helen Ennis (Canberra, Australia: National Library of Australia), pp. 44, 65-67, 98.
1983 Hurley, James Francis (Frank) (1885–1962) by A. F. Pike (digital reprint) (URL: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hurley-james-francis-frank-6774).
1990 Showman: The Photography of Frank Hurley by Julian Thomas (Canberra, Australia: National Library of Australia), pp. 1-2.
2001 South with Endurance by Frank Hurley (New York: Simon & Schuster), pp. 14-20.
2014 World War I in Photos: The Western Front, Part I by Alan Taylor (URL: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/04/world-war-i-in-photos-the-western-front-part-i/507197).
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