The Photographs

Frank Hurley was the Australian photographer who was selected for Shackleton’s trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914. He had previously made his name on the Douglas Mawson expedition to Antarctic in 1911. Frank Hurley took with him over 600 glass plates.

Most of those would have been about A5 size (6 inches x 8 inches). Some were 120 film for a compact camera, some motion picture film and a recently developed, colour film process. Mostly his time was taken up with taking still photographs with the large plate camera or filming using the film camera that he subsequently made into a silent feature film.

Hurley was a tireless worker, an incredible technician and a perfectionist. When the ships fate was decided, Hurley had to leave his precious cameras behind, but Shackleton allowed him to keep a selection of photographs and motion-picture footage. Stripped to the waist, Hurley dove into the icy waters to retrieve his treasured images from the sinking wreck of the ship.

Together Shackleton and Hurley chose 120 glass plates to keep and smashed about 400; Shackleton feared that Hurley would endanger himself to return for them later. Hurley sealed the plates in metal tins with improvised solder, along with prints he had developed on board the ship. Hurley documented the remainder of their odyssey with only a handheld Vest Pocket Kodak camera and three rolls of film.

The photographs you see on this site are from the large plate camera. As a consequence, because of the large negatives, they are technically exceptional and of far greater quality than most people realise, that was possible for the day. Hurley was a true master to be able to take and process these images in the conditions that he did.

All the photos available on this site are from scans glass plates or in some cases from original prints. Consequently the quality is first class, even when reproduced at poster size. Some of the major blemishes and negative faults have been removed; After all Frank Hurley would have done this if he had the technology.


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