and Hurley did not know of the losses of Scott’s expedition,
or the monumental work of Ponting, when they faced their own
difficulties and dangers on the Australasian expedition (during
which Mawson lost two of his men, and nearly his own life). However,
they too independently realised the role high quality photography
could play on their return to civilisation. Mawson was evidently
already an experienced photographer and used the new colour autochromes
on the expedition(8).
Antarctic experiences of Hurley and Ponting were basically similar;
ordinary difficulties of photography being magnified a thousand
fold by the cruel weather,
the lack of sunshine and daylight, the risk of frostbite if operations meant
contact between skin and metal camera parts. As well, the unknown behaviour
of the latest technology film and colour plates under such conditions
before seen. Hurley suffered more physically rough conditions but he was a
fitter and more natural explorer than Ponting, despite the latter’s
wide travels in the Northern Hemisphere(9).
returned to Hobart by March 1913. His film Home of the Blizzard
being shown in Sydney by the end of the year with Hurley delivering a narration
person. His film and photographic work was desperately needed to help the
expedition recoup costs. In a familiar pattern of restless activity,
he soon set off on
new journeys to Java to make a film for the promotion of travel cruises to
that region and back to Antarctica to collect Mawson and his remaining team
1913. Following his return he was off again with photographer, explorer and
showman Francis Birtles (1881-1941)(10) as
cameraman for a film on Queensland and the Northern Territory.
in the north filming Into Australia’s Unknown with
Birtles, Hurley was summoned to join the Imperial Trans-Antarctic
expedition planned for
to be led by Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922). His fame had spread,
for the financial syndicate backing the expedition made the employment
and rights to any subsequent film, a condition of their sponsorship. It
was to be the most exciting commission to an Australian photographer
had sent Merlin to photograph Australia for his World Exposition in 1873.
five weeks Hurley was in Buenos Aires on board the Endurance,
and by October the expedition was in the South Atlantic. This
was where they
to stay for
the ship became trapped for the winter in the icepacks. The spring brought
disaster as the ship was crushed by the moving floes. Winter had not
been conducive to
much photography but the wreck of the ship was well recorded by Hurley
in stills and film; some scenes were shot on the new Paget colour plates.
by temperament was inclined to the view that man must earn a place by
against the might of nature, must have revelled in the natural ‘movie’ unfolding
before his camera.
crew of the Endurance were marooned on a strip of beach on Elephant
Island for nearly a year. Many of Hurley’s
negatives and films were destroyed by him and Shackleton to lessen
the loads to be carried after the Endurance finally
sank, leaving the crew on an ice floe. In a saga of adventure and good
fortune, Shackleton and five crew eventually sailed in a small boat
to South Georgia,
traversed this island and alerted the Stromness Whaling Station of
the plight of their comrades. Five months later Shackleton returned
unharmed team from Elephant Island. The film In the Grip of the
Polar Ice, which included additional wildlife footage shot by
Hurley during a further five weeks
in South Georgia, was another triumph and saved the Shackleton expedition
photographs were shown as enlarged carbon prints at the Fine
Arts Society in London in 1913 and Hurley
also displayed still photographs in
this attractive format. Many of Hurley’s images were manipulated
by montaging elements from different negatives and the insertion
of cloud effects. This gave
some the character described recently as 'histrionic tableaux' and
Hurley cannot be excused from failing to have confidence in the original
Ponting did not face the dangers of the Shackleton expedition,
but neither would he have resorted to such a blatant
appeal to popular
considered himself an artist but had no time for the fakery of
the Pictorial School or even the selective focus of P. H. Emerson.
printing tends to glamorise the worst of photographs but in
comparison Ponting was the far superior artist, often achieving
without the montage that Hurley arrived at by combination printing(11). Ponting’s
portraits of the Scott expedition members with their direct gaze
and full frame compsitions also show up Hurley’s tendency
to reduce the individual to a member of a species battling nature’s
forces rather than the heroes the public wanted to see.
Ponting was the greater artist, Hurley was the better businessman.
Shackleton left on his perilous voyage in an open boat to
South Georgia, Hurley had the
presence of mind not to be carried away by the sentiment of
the occasion. He had Shackleton sign a document safeguarding
rights to the film and photographic work. Ponting, operating
on a gentleman’s agreement with
a dead leader was largely cheated of financial rights to his
Antarctic work. Hurley, ever willing to risk his life for adventure,
would finally have not made
photographs if they did not pay. In this attitude he was closer
to the nineteenth century travelling photographers and Ponting
to the art photographers of the
early twentieth century, whose creed was to work for love of
the medium alone(12).
August 1917 Hurley was in the blasted wastelands of Ypres and
Battle of Passchendaele of the British Autumn Campaign.
rank of Captain
an official photographer, a title which was retained after
the war. The photographic unit was under Captain (Dr) Charles
established interest in ‘artistic verisimilitude’ rather
than documentary historical truth led to conflicts with Bean.
There were other photographers in
the unit, Lieutenant (later Sir) George Hubert Wilkins (1888-1958),
an Arctic explorer and cinematographer(13) who
had been with V. Stefansson’s
Canadian expedition, was an assistant but in order to compromise
desire to produce publicity pictures and aesthetic results’,
Bean put Wilkins in charge of documentary material(14).
long, drawn-out campaign in France and the need to sustain
morale at home had evidently modified the official resistance
war in all
of the allied services. The virtues of heroic sacrifice
in a good cause that had been exemplified by the Antarctic expeditions,
as victory proved elusive and the carnage unprecedented
history. Hurley extracted some concessions in the production
of his combination
pictures, which Bean privately called fakes, on threat
of resigning his commission(15).
was transferred to Palestine at the end of 1917, which, compared
to the war zone in France, was ‘more or less a holiday’(16).
He returned to England in March 1918 to prepare an exhibition,
Australian War Pictures and Photographs,
including 136 of his photographs, at the Grafton Galleries.
The exhibition included Paget plate colour photographs shown
in a projector. Irritated that Hurley’s
name was so prominent, seemingly an advertisement for
himself rather than for the war effort, Bean made sure Hurley
take the exhibition to Australia.
Hurley resigned his commission in July 1918.
was by no means the only war photographer, but in the subsequent
histories the publication of his images
led to his
with the war in
the public imagination. The colour work has only recently
been published to any great
extent and had he lived he would no doubt have seen
justification for his concern for the work as ‘pictures’ as
well as documents in the contemporary interest in art
long career in films and stills, and in book illustration in
the later years,
included further trips to the Antarctic and a second
as a photographer in World War Two. He also made
important expeditions to New Guinea in the early 1920s. The photographs
are excellent in detail, more comprehensive
in coverage than Lindt’s New Guinea pictures,
but less graceful and lacking in human contact for
all his use of close-ups(17). Hurley’s
film Pearls and Savages of 1922 was enormously popular
in its fashion the role
that Lindt’s Picturesque New Guinea had in
the late nineteenth century.
of the images in official publications dealing
with World War One contained images as dramatic
as Hurley’s(18). Some of these publications were
curious — an
album of aerial photographs illustrating the devastation
of the landscape during the Third Battle of the Somme
was produced by the War Department(19). The war shown
here was far from the heroics depicted by Hurley.
The abstract patterns anticipate
the photographers of the 1920’s who would seek
abstract form rather than the picturesque atmosphere