Today in History (1962): Photographer “Mad” Frank Hurley Dies


Exploring the unconquered is a childhood fantasy for some. But photographer “Mad” Frank Hurley made that his reality as he joined expeditions to Antarctica several times and returned with amazing photos and stories of survival under his belt.

Nicknames are not handed out easily to people without a story behind it. For James Francis “Frank” Hurley, he earned his nickname through pure grit and determination to get stunning images while putting his own life on the line.

Photos by Frank Hurley images via State Library of New South Wales Filckr

Frank Hurley was born on October 15, 1885 in Sydney, Australia. Frank was third of five children was a runaway during his early teens. Hurley worked different jobs at the steel mill or even at the docks just to fend for himself. Hurley bought his first camera, a Kodak Brownie for the price of 15 shillings.

After teaching himself the technical aspects of photography, Hurley found himself creating landscape photographs for postcards. He was even known to stand in front of oncoming trains just to take the pictures he needed. His teeth-grinding approach to taking pictures paved the way to his nickname “Mad” Frank Hurley.

Photos by Frank Hurley images via State Library of New South Wales Filckr

But that was not what made “Mad” Frank Hurley known in the field of photography. It’s the ill-fated expedition of the Endurance and the photographs he produced in hostile environments that would cement his place among the photography greats. Antarctica explorer Ernest Shackleton employed the help of Hurley in his expedition after seeing Hurley’s film entitled “Home of the Blizzard.” Without batting a lash, Hurley joined the expedition and loaded his photographic gear into the ship.

The story of the Endurance is one of survival and determination. After sailing off to explore the Antarctica by way of the South Pole, the ship was caught in thick ice in the Weddell Sea. Shackleton along with his 28-man crew stayed with the ship until it was totally crushed by the ice. Frank Hurley’s glass plate photographs documented the condition that the men had to put up with during the 20-month ordeal. As Shackleton along with 5 others sailed out on a skiff for help, Hurley and the rest of the crew survived on penguin steaks and seal.

Photos by Frank Hurley images via State Library of New South Wales Filckr

Stranded and almost beaten, the crew of the Endurance survived the harrowing ordeal and Hurley had the photographic proof to back it up. It was also said that Hurley developed hundreds of glass plates in a make-shift dark room. Hurley also had to dive into icy-cold waters just to salvage some of the plates that he had developed as the Endurance was swallowed by the icy seas.

Indeed, “Mad” Frank Hurley was not just a photographer, he was also a survivor and storyteller. Hurley would then photograph battle scenes of World Wars I and II. The daring exploits of the husky, curly haired Australian ended on this day, year 1962. “Mad” Frank Hurley was 76.

All information and photos used in this article were sourced from Kodak, Slate, State Library of New South Wales Filckr and State Library of New South Wales.

Like this article? Check out more stories from our Today in History and Throwback Thursday series.

written by cheeo on 2014-01-16 in #lifestyle #frank-hurley-endurance #antarctica #today-in-history-series #expedition


  1. stratski
    stratski ·

    One of my photography heroes. His pictures of the Endurance expedition are incredibly beautiful. And if you're interested, the book South by Ernest Shackletons (a first hand account of this expedition) is a very good read.

  2. cheeo
    cheeo ·

    @stratski who'd have thought that "Mad" can be fitting nickname for a photographer, right? that indeed sounds like a very good read. there's nothing like reading the very words of a man who triumphed over such adversity

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