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