Frank Hurley – Endurance

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I was driving to Glenelg listening to the book show on Radio National one Thursday.  They were interviewing Australian Novelist Tim Griffiths. He had just written a fictional account of the life of Frank Hurley.  Where have I heard that name before?

Tim started his explanation with a a discovery.  After spending some time in Papua New Guinea he chanced upon a portfolio of glass plate photographs from the highlands.  He was struck by the technical competence of the images.  The author was Frank Hurley.  Surely this isn’t the same Frank Hurley as the man who accompanied Mawson to the Antarctic.  Tim did a little research and discovered it was.  Not only that, he was also with Shakleton when he went to Antarctica and he was a war photographer in the first world war.  Who was this man?  He was more than a photographer – he was an adventurer.  He was obviously attracted to where the action was.  Tim felt compelled to try and understand this enigmatic character.  He was already the subject of numerous biographies.  So Tim determined instead to write a fictional account of his life.

EnduranceThis is what the ABC has to say about Tim’s book;

“Even if you don’t know his name, it’s likely you’ll know many of Frank Hurley’s photographs.

He took shots of Australian soldiers on the duckboards in World War l; he photographed expeditions in Antarctica, with Mawson coated in frost and a ship – The Endurance – stuck fast in the ice.

This last image inspired writer Tim Griffiths, who has written a fictional account of Hurley’s life, Endurance.

Among other things, it’s the story of Hurley’s run-ins with three formidable men from Australian history: Douglas Mawson, Ernest Shackleton and Charles Bean. Because Hurley was a scrapper, who never backed down from a fight.”

There was also another side to the story.  He was a showman who craved publicity.  Giving guest lectures he would thrill crowds with stories of his exploits and his stunning imagery.  He was an early cinematographer.  But Frank was also criticized for his penchant for setting up a scene and using double exposure techniques.  He was known for his images of the trenches in world war 1.   A scene of troops on the ground with a drab sky would have war planes and billowing clouds superimposed  to poignantly add  a sense of dread or threat.

So I am fascinated to uncover some of Frank’s photographs.  Here is a what I discovered.
My opinion.  I think he is technically very accomplished.  A degree of artifice perhaps, but not to any marked degree in the images that have endured.  He looks to me to be worthy of the title – iconic Australian Photographer.  The Australian National Library has a large collection of his negatives.
James
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