Photographs were made on Antarctic voyages from the 1870s, but it was not until the age of the picture magazine and film that they became an indispensible part of Antarctic expeditions and the associated marketing and publicity campaigns.
In 1911, Frank Hurley, the Sydney professional photographer known as one of the more stylish postcard producers, was appointed by scientist Douglas Mawson to be the official photographer and cinematographer on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911–14. One of the first ports of call for the expedition in early December 1911 was to the sub-antarctic Macquarie Island. Mid-way to the Antarctic and home to large penguin rookeries, this island was also a long established base for whaling and sealing operations and New Zealander Joseph Hatch’s refinery. Hurley made several images of the penguins on the shingly beach of the east coast against the remains of Hatch’s ketch the Gratitude, which was wrecked in 1898. The image suggests the majesty of the natural world. Hurley later successfully campaigned with Mawson to curb the destruction of the fauna on Macquarie Island.
Hurley had learned how to make dramatic postcard images using forms silhouetted against the sky and capturing trains or waves in motion, but he had little experience with wildlife photography. As one of the earliest images made on the Antarctic Expedition, the photograph of the penguins on Nuggets beach became a classic. Hurley chose it as one of the images printed as enlargements in carbon to publicise the expedition. Hurley’s photographs and films helped recoup the cost of the expedition for the sponsors and led to his appointment, in 1914, as the photographer and cinematographer for Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition on the Endurance in 1914–17.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002
There is something grand and inspiring in treading these virgin snows and breaking trail for the first time across the unknown.
The Aurora left Hobart at 4pm on 2 December 1911 and reached Macquarie Island, where a party of five men would be stationed, eleven days later. The remains of the Gratitude, a sealing ketch, wrecked in 1898, can be seen on the beach. Frank Hurley had just turned twenty-six years old when he set out as official photographer on Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition. He had been recommended by fellow photographer Henri Mallard and appointed over more experienced, older photographers such as Jack Cato. He would be paid a salary of £300 at the end of the expedition. His inclusion may have been surprising but he proved tenacious in his dedication to photographing and filming in difficult conditions. He was also a popular and resourceful member of the group, known for his elaborate pranks. According to Charles F. Laseron, assistant biologist, ‘one could never be downhearted with Frank, even when things were at their worst’:
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra