Frank Hurley: Color Photographs of the Antarctic in 1915


James Francis “Frank” Hurley (1885 – 1962)

Color photography has been around far longer than often assumed. Attempts had been made as early as the 1840s and in the mid 19th century several techniques were developed, although no affordable methods were readily available until the mid 20th century. One early technique was the Paget process, most memorably used by Australian photographer James Francis “Frank” Hurley. Hurley visited the Antarctic six times between 1911 and 1932 but most memorable was the disastrous Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17 led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Photography was hard enough in the 1910s, but in the Antarctic it was rendered even more difficult. Hurley wrote in his diary on August 30, 1915:

Dark room work rendered extremely difficult by the low temperatures, it being -13 (-25 degrees Celsius) outside. Washing plates is a most troublesome operation, as the tank must be kept warm or the plates become an enclosure in an ice block.

Although Hurley took over 400 photographs, but many of the plates had to be smashed when the ship, fittingly named Endurance, became trapped in the ice and the adventurers were forced to make their way north in lifeboats. Fortunately, a select 120 were chosen to survive the perilous adventure.


The “Endurance” under full sail, held up in the Weddell Sea.


The bosun of the “Endurance” mending a net.


“Endurance” in Antarctica – the pink glow of the rising sun shining on a pressure ridge


Glimpse of the Ship through Hummocks


New Fortuna Glacier


The chick of the Wanderer Albatross

Hurley was not only skilled with color. Most of the photographs from his career were the standard black and white.

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More photos from Frank Hurley’s Antarctic adventures can be viewed at New South Wales State Library’s site.

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