Frank Hurley

James Francis "Frank" Hurley OBE (15 October 1885 – 16 January 1962) was an Australian photographer and adventurer. He participated in a number of expeditions to Antarctica and served as an official photographer with Australian forces during both world wars.

Frank Hurley

Hurley around 1914
James Francis Hurley

(1885-10-15)15 October 1885
Glebe, Australia
Died16 January 1962(1962-01-16) (aged 76)
Collaroy Plateau, Australia
Years active1908–1948

His artistic style produced many memorable images. He also used staged scenes, composites and photographic manipulation.

Early life

Hurley was the third of five children to parents Edward and Margaret Hurley and was raised in Glebe, a suburb of Sydney, Australia.[1] He ran away from home at the age of 13 to work on the Lithgow steel mill, returning home two years later to study at the local technical school and attend science lectures at the University of Sydney.

When he was 17 he bought his first camera, a 15-shilling Kodak Box Brownie which he paid for at the rate of a shilling per week. He taught himself photography and set himself up in the postcard business, where he gained a reputation for putting himself in danger in order to produce stunning images, including placing himself in front of an oncoming train to capture it on film.

Hurley married Antoinette Rosalind Leighton on 11 April 1918.[2] The couple had four children: identical twin daughters, Adelie (later a press photographer) and Toni, a one son, Frank and youngest daughter Yvonne.[3]

Antarctic expeditions

During his lifetime, Hurley spent more than four years in Antarctica.[4] At the age of 23, in 1908, Hurley learned that Australian explorer Douglas Mawson was planning an expedition to Antarctica; fellow Sydney-sider Henri Mallard in 1911, recommended Hurley for the position of official photographer to Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition, ahead of himself.[5]

Hurley asserts in his biography that he then cornered Mawson as he was making his way to their interview on a train, using the advantage to talk his way into the job.[6] Mawson was persuaded, while Mallard, who was the manager of Harringtons—a local Kodak franchise—to which Hurley was in debt, provided photographic equipment. The expedition departed in 1911, returning in 1914. On his return, he edited and released a documentary, Home of the Blizzard, using his footage from the expedition.[2]

Hurley was also the official photographer on Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition which set out in 1914 and was marooned until August 1916; Hurley produced many pioneering colour images of the expedition using the then-popular Paget process of colour photography. He photographed in South Georgia in 1917. He later compiled his records into the documentary film South in 1919. His footage was also used in the 2001 IMAX film Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure. He returned to the Antarctic in 1929 and 1931, on Mawson's British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition.

Wartime photography

In 1917, Hurley joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) as an honorary captain, and captured many stunning battlefield scenes during the Third Battle of Ypres. In keeping with his adventurous spirit, he took considerable risks to photograph his subjects, also producing many rare panoramic and colour photographs of the conflict. Hurley kept a diary from 1917 to 1918, chronicling his time as a war photographer.[7]

In it, he describes his commitment "to illustrate to the public the things our fellows do and how war is conducted", as well as his short-lived resignation in October 1917 when he was ordered not to produce composite images.[8] His period with the AIF ended in March 1918.

For the 1918 London exhibition, Australian War Pictures and Photographs, he employed composites for photomurals to convey drama of the war on a scale otherwise not possible using the technology available. This brought Hurley into conflict with the AIF on the grounds that montage diminished documentary value.[9] Charles Bean, official war historian, labelled Hurley's composite images "fake".[2]


Hurley also used a film camera to record a range of experiences including the Antarctic expeditions, the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and war in the Middle East during World War II. The camera was a Debrie Parvo L 35 mm hand-crank camera made in France. This camera is now in the collection of the National Museum of Australia.[10]

Hurley made several documentaries throughout his career, most notably Pearls and Savages (1921). He wrote and directed several dramatic feature films, including Jungle Woman (1926) and The Hound of the Deep (1926). He also worked as cinematographer for Cinesound Productions where his best known film credits include The Squatter's Daughter (1933), The Silence of Dean Maitland (1934) and Grandad Rudd (1935).

His 1941 documentary short Sagebrush and Silver was nominated for an Academy Award at the 14th Academy Awards for Best Short Subject (One-Reel).[11]

See also



  1. McGregor (2004) p 8
  2. Pike, A. F. "Frank Hurley". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
  3. "Hurley, Adelie". Retrieved 12 December 2018.
  4. Ennis, Helen (2010). Frank Hurley’s Antarctica. Australia: National Library of Australia. p. 2.
  5. while Hurley records his approach to Mawson differently in his memoir, the fact of this introduction via Mallard was established by David P. Millar in Millar (1984).
  6. Jack Cato in his obituary explains Hurley's motivation and enthusiasm; 'We were both fired with the Spirit of Adventure; we were both happy in the knowledge that the camera was the key that would open that Magic Door.' Cato, Jack, 'For the Late Frank Hurley, Three Tributes', Australian Popular Photography, March 1962.
  7. "Series 03: Frank Hurley diaries and related papers, 21 August 1917 – 13 August 1918, kept while official photographer to the Australian Imperial Force". Catalogue. State Library of NSW. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  8. "Frank Hurley war diary, 21 August-28 October 1917".
  9. for an account of the conflict between Hurley and the war correspondent Charles Bean, see Gough, Paul. "‘Exactitude is truth’: representing the British military through commissioned artworks". Journal of War and Culture Studies Volume: 1 | Issue: 3 December 2008 Page(s): 341–356 (ISSN 1752-6272), and also the excellent discussion of this, and Hurley's use of montage in some of his Antarctic imagery, in McGregor, Alasdair (2004) Frank Hurley: a photographer's life. Camberwell:Viking/Penguin
  10. "Frank Hurley's movie camera - National Museum of Australia".
  11. "The 14th Academy Awards (1942) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 25 June 2013.


  • Hurley, Frank, 1885–1962 & Ponting, Herbert, 1870–1935 & Boddington, Jennie, 1922– (1979). Antarctic photographs 1910–1916. Macmillan, London
  • Dixon Robert (2012).Photography, early cinema and colonial modernity : Frank Hurley's synchronized lecture entertainments.
  • Edited by Robert Dixon and Christopher Lee (2011).The Diaries of 1912–1941.
  • Ennis, Helen (2010). Frank Hurley's Antarctica. Canberra: National Library of Australia. ISBN 9780642276988.
  • Kleinig, Simon (August 2003). "Hiking with Hurley". NLA News, Volume 13, Number 11. National Library of Australia.
  • McGregor, Alasdair (2004). Frank Hurley: A photographer's life. Camberwell: Viking. ISBN 9780670888955.
  • Millar, David P. (1984). From snowdrift to shellfire : Capt. James Francis (Frank) Hurley, 1885–1962. Sydney: David Ell Press. ISBN 9780908197590.
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