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James Francis Hurley 1885 - 1962




About the exhibition staged at the Manly Art Gallery & Museum

6 April 2018 - 14 October 2018

Guest Curators: Gael Newton & Paul Costigan


Frank Hurley

photographer & passionate gardener

A photographic journey from Circular Quay
to his Collaroy Plateau garden of Australian native plants

This medium size exhibition is in the first two rooms to the left as you enter the gallery/museum.

This exhibition covers two aspects of the life of James Frances Hurley. First is his very early life in Sydney (circa 1910-1911) as a photographer and publisher of postcards  – and then the story jumps forward to 1948 to his later life after he moved to Collaroy Plateau where he published numerous books, photographs and postcards – as well as being a passionate gardener and collector of Australian native plants.

In bringing this exhibition to Manly we were very mindful that the story of the early life of James Francis Hurley (1885–1962) as a professional photographer, previous to his 1911 departure with Douglas Mawson for the Antarctic, has been very much overshadowed by the well documented stories about his later life and adventures.  

This exhibition is not about Hurley's World War photographs or those from his adventures south to Antarctica.

The exhibition starts with the point that in the early years of the 20th Century Frank Hurley was a commercial photographer and postcard publisher known among the profession and the amateur societies for his enthusiastic and energetic approach to making the “Perfect Picture”. 

Somewhere in these early years Hurley developed an interest in Australian native plants and it is this passion that led to his later life on the Northern Beaches of Sydney being dominated by his collection and propagation of native plants.

The exhibition is structured to provide key bookends to Frank Hurley’s life:

The first focus being on his photography and postcards in and around Sydney and the Northern Beaches, including Manly.

The second being on the photographs and postcards that reflect his lifelong engagement with and passion for Australian native plants.


We have sourced digital files of Hurley’s photographs from the National Library of Australia, original materials from descendants of Frank and Antoinette Hurley; The postcards and other publications are from our personal collections.

The larger photographs in the exhibition are not original photographs as printed by Frank Hurley. Instead the photographs have been printed from digitally remastered files; this has allowed them to to be enlarged for the exhibition.

Luckily Sydney has a fabulous fine art printer who understands photography.

The large black & white and colour photographs were expertly and lovingly printed by Warren Macris of High Res Digital (Mascot).

The curators acknowledge the support of Katherine Roberts of the Manly Art Gallery & Museum, the support of Frank Hurley’s descendants, the National Library of Australia for the files of the black & white photographs, as well as the expertise of Warren Macris of High Res Digital who oversaw the printing of the photographs.

Co-Curators: Gael Newton & Paul Costigan


Background to this exhibition

notes from the curators  - the column to the right has a sample of the photographs in the exhibition


About the Black & White photos in the exhibition:

The selection of Frank Hurley digital files were purchased from the National Library of Australia (NLA).

The NLA digital files are scans of the original Frank Hurley negatives that came from the Hurley family after the death of Frank Hurley.

When we enlarged these files it became very obvious that a lot of cleaning up work was required if these files were to be used to make large prints.

What the digital files revealed upon enlargement was that the darkroom standards within the downstairs room at the Hurley household were probably basic - in that there was a lot of dust and marks on all the files as well as the occasional watermark from the washing and drying process.

It took a couple of months work to have them in a state so that a couple of test prints could be made to see just how large the digital files could be printed.

Frank Hurley rarely used these files to produce anything much larger than A4.

Frank Hurley did produce the occasional very large print - but we suspect in doing so there was a lot of touching up done.

Over the years we had also collected a number of Frank Hurley's Australiana publications, being books, pamphlets, leaflets and publications on native plants.

What we saw was that within his books were some wonderful photographs that were printed according to the standards required for the Camera Study books of the 1950s. These did not contain high quality photographic printing as we are used to seeing today.

However among the many images were some gems. We had also looked through the digitised images at the National Library and again could see that amongst the thousands were many photographs that could make up the basis for an exhibition.

With the valuable assistance of Warren Macris at Hi Res Digital we were able to produce about 32 high quality Black & White photographs - being mostly about 60cm x 80cm.

The images have been selected to represent a very small sample of the works Frank Hurley produced - images of Sydney, images of Sydney Harbour, photographs of the family, and a couple of the Northern Beaches including Manly.





About the colour photographs of Native Plants in the exhibition:



One of the highlights of our research of many years was to realise that Frank Hurley was a passionate gardener. This was evident from the gardens he established at the homes the family occupied around Sydney Harbour at Rose Bay and Vauclause - and then later in their final home on Collaroy Plateau.

We visited these sites to see what was left of his gardens and were lucky enough to be able to walk around the garden at Collaroy about a decade ago when the house was being sold. Much of the hard landscape works, walls, pools etc, survived at the time.

Over the years a lot of the natives he grew have not survived - possibly many being taken by tenants etc.

We have not been able to identify exactly when Frank Hurley became passionate about native plants. It could have been as early as 1909-1911 when he used to spend time with his friend Harry Phillips in the Blue Mountains. Native plants appeared on many of his early postcards - so there is a link there but we cannot be sure when the interest changed from an 'interest' because the subject sold postcards - to one where he was seeking out plants and propagating specimens in his gardens.

An emphasis for this exhibition was always to be on Frank Hurley as a gardener and his passion for native plants. Originally we were going to use scans from publications to make this point.

Luckily in response to some articles placed in the local media in Manly, one of Frank Hurley's grand daughters made contact and said that she had some original transparencies. These she had rescued from the publisher when they had closed down and were about to throw them out.

When we visited her she showed us a stack of large transparencies. The colour had completely shifted and there was a bit of degradation. To our surprise in amongst the many photographs of scenes from around Australia were about twenty transparencies of native plants. We could not believe our luck.

However it took quite a bit of work to have these scanned, and then to shift the colour back to something close the original and to then digitally remaster them to fix the many faults.

In the end the selection of images printed up very well as large photographs - being about 60cm x 80cm.



About the POSTCARDS in the exhibition    

In many ways, the postcards is where much of this exhibition was started.

We had been collecting postcards by Frank Hurley and others for about two decades.

As the story of the 'early Hurley' became more interesting - being the story of his early life as a photographer and postcard publisher in early Sydney –  and we joined that with our interest in his photography for his various publications - and we could see an exhibition evolving.

Add this to Frank Hurley's interest in gathering and growing native plants - and his gardens - and we had an exhibition on aspects of Frank Hurley's life that has not received a lot of attention through exhibitions.


The main reference on Frank Hurley's life remains
Alasdair McGregor's book


Frank Hurley: A Photographer's Life
Penguin/Viking, Camberwell, 2004, 2009
Hardback, illustrated, 460pp. (1st edn)
Paperback (2nd edn)





please note: the photographs below were NOT in the exhibition                             


and where to next?

We have amassed quite a bit of research on Frank Hurley. There remains other possible exhibitions and/or publications that we may undertake one day.

This includes

Frank Hurley and his photographs of Sydney Harbour and beaches

Frank Hurley and Harry Phillips and the Blue Mountains

Australian cities and Frank Hurley

Frank Hurley landscapes

Frank Hurley and Industry




this is a small selection of other Frank Hurley photos

these were NOT in the Manly exhibition

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