Frank Hurley 1885–1962

Frank Hurley

James Francis Hurley was by nature a loner whose photographic career began with a Sydney postcard company in 1905. He soon developed an eye for the spectacular, and a respect for the immense scale of the natural world. He was also interested in pictorialism – the idea that photographs could express ideas, tell stories and excite emotions in much the same way as paintings – feeling that this style gave photography the expressive potential of art.

A compulsive adventurer, Hurley made six trips to the Antarctic. He was on the Mawson expedition of 1911, and between 1914 and 1916 was marooned with Shackleton’s party. In 1917, as an honorary captain, he became the first official photographer to the AIF, arriving at the Western Front at the beginning of the third battle of Ypres. Appalled by the destruction, Hurley nevertheless found the battlefield fascinating. He saw the troops in a heroic light; they, seeing his risk-taking, dubbed him “the mad photographer”.

Hurley returned to London in March 1918 to oversee an exhibition of Australian war art and photography. Between the wars he returned to Antarctica, and worked in New Guinea, Europe and the United States. He was an official photographer in the Second World War. Hurley died in Sydney in 1962.