Captain James Francis (Frank) Hurley

Birth Date 15 October 1885
Birth Place Australia: New South Wales, Sydney, Glebe
Death Date 16 January 1962
Death Place Australia: New South Wales, Sydney
Final Rank Captain
Units
Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 24 October 1918 on page 2055 at position 42
London Gazette 28 May 1918 on page 6200 at position 26

James Francis Hurley was born at Glebe, Sydney, in 1885 and became interested in photography as a young man. He began his career with a Sydney postcard company at the age of 20 in 1905.

Hurley grew to regard photography as a medium that could be manipulated to achieve a desired effect and he began to follow the well-established practice of making composite prints by combining two or more negatives to make an image. He was also a proponent of colour photography. An inveterate traveller, Hurley was on one of his six trips to the Antarctic; the famous Shackleton expedition of 1914-16, when the First World War began. In 1917, he became one of the AIF's official photographers with the honorary rank of captain.

Some of Hurley's most famous images of the war were taken during the Passchendaele campaign in the second half of 1917. He ran considerable risks to get his shots, earning the name 'the mad photographer' from the troops. War affected Hurley deeply but he also found the battlefield fascinating.

A self-described "showman", Hurley had spent years producing popular attractions using the latest photographic and film techniques, and he was confident that he knew which images would engage the public's imagination. His methods, particularly his use of composites, led to arguments with the influential Charles Bean and, at one stage, Hurley threatened to resign rather than give up the practice. A compromise was reached, but in late 1917, Hurley was sent to Palestine.

He took many well-known images of the Australian Light Horse and the Australian Flying Corps, finding the relative peace there in stark contrast to what he called 'the hell of France'. He stayed just six weeks, then went to Cairo where he met Antoinette Leighton. They married on 11 April 1918 and Hurley returned to London to work on an exhibition of Australian war photography.

After the war, Hurley made further trips to the Antarctic, and to the Torres Strait and New Guinea. He flew with Ross Smith, returned to Europe on several occasions and visited the United States. Many of his photographic and film projects received both critical acclaim and commercial success. For much of the 1930s he worked in Sydney for Cinesound, but in 1940 Hurley resumed war photography with the AIF in the Middle East. His work was, however, overshadowed by that of younger men like Damien Parer and George Silk, who found Hurley's methods outdated. He remained in the Middle East until 1946.

For the rest of his life, Hurley continued travelling and taking photographs, publishing several books of his work. Always a loner, Hurley nevertheless influenced later generations of photographers, and his work - taken all over the world over almost six decades - remains very much in the public eye. He died in Sydney in 1962.

Collection items

Honours & Awards

  • Honours and Awards:

    Award/Honour
    Mention in despatches
    Classification
    British/Australian gallantry awards
    Unit
    Staff
    Conflict
    First World War, 1914-1918
    Rank
    Captain
    London Gazette
    28 May 1918 on page 6200 at position 26
    Commonwealth Gazette
    24 October 1918 on page 2055 at position 42
  • Honours and Awards (Recommendation):

    Award/Honour
    Military Cross
    Classification
    British/Australian gallantry awards
    Date of Recommendation
    26 October 1917
    Unit
    Australian War Records Section
    Conflict
    First World War, 1914-1918
    Rank
    Captain

Timeline

Date of birth 1885-10-15 Glebe, NSW.
Other 1899 Began work on the docks in Sydney.
Other 1902 Bought first camera.
Other 1905 Began work with a Sydney postcard company.
Other 1910 Held first exhibition of his work.
Other 1911 Douglas Mawson invited Hurley to be the photographer for the Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
Other 1914 He joined the Antarctic expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton, the British Trans-Antartic Expedition, and took the famous photographs of the destruction of the Endurance.
Other 1914 - 1916 Was on one of his six trips to the Antarctic, the famous Shackleton expedition, when the First World War began.
Date of honour or award 1914-06-30 Silver Polar Medal, for his work as the photographer with Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
Other 1916 Returned to England.
Date of honour or award 1916-06-30 Silver Polar Medal, for his work as the photographer with Shackleton's British Trans-Antartic Expedition.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1917 Joined the AIF as an official Australian War Records Cinematographer and Photographer and worked in France, Belgium and Palestine. He was given the honorary rank of captain.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1917-10-26
Date returned to Australia 1918
Date of honour or award 1918-05-28 Mention in Despatches.
Date of discharge 1918-07-11 AIF appointment ended.
Other 1919 Joined Ross Smith on the final leg of his flight from England, filming Australia from the air.
Other 1920 - 1923 Made two long expeditions to the Torres Strait Islands and Papua and produced both a film and a book with the title Pearls and savages.
Other 1929 Returned to the Antarctic as a photographer with the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition.
Date of honour or award 1934-05-01 Bronze Polar Medal for his work as the photographer with the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition.
Other 1940 - 1946 Hurley resumed war photography, with the AIF in the Middle East.
Date of honour or award 1941-06-12 Officer of the Order of the British Empire, for his work as Official War Photographer wth the AIF.
Other 1948 Published Shackleton's Argonauts.
Date of death 1962-01-16 Sydney, NSW.

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