I spent part of this weekend ‘gallery minding’ my photography exhibition, FROZEN LENSES – a photographic journey to the Antarctic.
I spoke to lots of people, showed them maps, talked about photos and described myself as a ‘passionate photographer.’
Later on in the afternoon I had the chance to do some reading – a book I’ve recently acquired called ‘The Heart of the Great Alone – Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography’ by David Hempleman-Adams, Sophie Gordon and Emma Stuart.
This book is beautiful. The photographs are stunning. As I was reading I came across a couple of pages dedicated to Frank Hurley – the Australian photographer who (amongst other journeys) accompanied Shackleton on the Imperial Transantarctic
Expedition 1914-1917. Hurley was hired to accompany Shackleton and his men who were attempting to cross the Antarctic continent on foot (1800 miles.) His job was to document the journey and secure photographic evidence of the trip.
In Buenos Aires on the 12th October 1914 Hurley set sail aboard the Endurance with Shackleton and his crew. He commenced photographing them and working life aboard the ship.
So far, this is like any other photographer. Being passionate about the job at hand, I can totally relate to this.
What happens next though in this story is ABOVE AND BEYOND.
The ‘Endurance’, on its maiden voyage was built to crush through pack ice. After five months the expedition reached the freezing Weddell Sea and were within sight of land when the Endurance became trapped in the freezing ice. Nine months later, the ship was finally crushed, leaving the crew stranded on drifting ice floes in the unforgiving Antarctic.
Hurley photographed in adverse conditions that were unimaginable. With temperatures as low as -25 degrees Celcius, he continued his photography until the ship was finally destroyed by the ice. His darkroom was the ship’s walk in refridgerator.
Cold and then more cold.
His determination and commitment to his craft were unflinching and above his personal safety. During the final disintregation of the the ship, Hurley spent almost three days out on the ice, not wanting to miss one moment of the final peril of the vessel.
He had salvaged most of his glass plates and camera equipment from the wreck, but on November 2nd 1915 he wanted to retrieve the film canisters and negatives.
In Argonauts of the South (1925), Hurley wrote:
“We hacked our way through the splintered timbers and , after vainly fishing in the ice-laiden waters with boathooks, I made up my mind to dive in after them. It was mighty cold work groping about in the mushy ice in semi-darkness of the ship’s bowels, but I was rewarded in the end and passed out the three precious tins.”
Now read that again. He dived down into the FREEZING ANTARCTIC WATERS to retrieve canisters of film to be developed to show the world his photographs?
I understand doing whatever it takes to get the shot and preserving it for all to see, but honestly, Hurley’s story shows commitment that far surpasses many ordinary photographers.
A great deal of money had been advanced to the expedition against the rights to the films and photographs and it was well known how valuable these photographs were to pay for the cost of the expedition.
Hurley and Shackleton had the agonising task of deciding which 120 plates to keep and destroying the remaining 400 plates. This was necessary to reduce the weight of the equipment the men would have to carry across the ice.
This would be truly heart wrenching. As a photographer, I know how personally attached I am to each and every photograph. A huge amount of energy is expended taking each pic and to have to decide which ones to destroy would be an incomprehensible task.
Take a look at this shot of me (the girl in sitting down in the cream hat) photographing in the Antarctic earlier this year. Hurley and I share the same passion for photography, but I live in such different times.
I wonder what Frank Hurley would say if he saw this photo of me sitting comfortably in a zodiac, using a high end DSLR camera and lens, dressed in contemporary polar clothing?
I am in awe of a courageous human being like Frank Hurley. What a true inspiration.
If you would like to enjoy some of these fantastic photographs, you can obtain a copy of this beautiful book here.
Hempleman-Adams David, Gordon Sophie, Stuart Emma. ( ) The Heart of the Great Alone – Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography, United Kingdom: Royal Collection Enterprises,pages 60-62