Last week I wrote about the World War I photographs of Frank Hurley, the Australian photographer, who documented Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917). While glancing through my bookshelves, I realised that I had a copy of The Diaries of Frank Hurley 1912-1941 and so set about reading them with particular reference to photographic comments. Although his diaries include much about the practicalities of the expedition Hurley also makes reference to a number of famous moments including lighting up the Endurance and diving into his waterlogged darkroom to salvage as many of his photographic negatives as possible. Here are a few extracts from his diary that give a flavour of his photographic work and also an insight into some of Hurley’s more famous moments.

One of the most documented moments in Hurley’s career is when he lit up the stricken Endurance at night and here is his diary entry of the event:

27 August 1915

“. . . During the night take flashlight [pictures] of the ship beset by pressure. This necessitated some twenty flashes, one behind each salient pressure hammock, no less than ten of the flashes being required to satisfactorily illuminate the ship herself. Half blinded after the successive flashes, I lost my bearings amidst hummocks, bumping shins against projecting ice points and stumbling into deep snowdrifts. Pack quiet, but away to the distant north clouds of sea smoke arise like a distant fire.” (Dixon 2011: 28).

And another first, recalling the loss of his darkroom, and then returning a few days later to salvage some his negatives:

30 October 1915

“. . . Before leaving, I had a final look at the darkroom wherein is submerged, beneath four feet of water, my treasured negatives and instruments.” (Dixon 2011: 32).

2 November 1915

“During the day, I hacked through the thick walls of the refrigerator to retrieve the negatives stored therein. They were located beneath four feet of mushy ice and, by stripping to the waist and diving under, I hauled them out. Fortunately, they are soldered up in double tin linings, so I am hopeful they may not have suffered by their submersion.” (Dixon 2011: 33).

Unfortunately, his efforts were dashed a few days later. His diary entry reads as follows:

9 November 1915

“. . . I spend the day with Sir Ernest, selecting the finest of my negatives from the year’s collection. 120 I resoldered up and dumped about 400 . . .” (Dixon 2011: 34).

But, Hurley’s diaries also record small details about his work and the expedition including the one below about the conditions and challenges of working in his makeshift darkroom:

30 August 1915

“. . . Darkroom work rendered extremely difficult by the low temperatures, it being

-13o outside. The darkroom is situated abaft the engine room and is raised to above freezing point by a Primus stove. Washing plates is a most troublesome operation, as the tank must be kept warm or the plates become an enclosure in an ice block. After several changes of water, I place them in a rack in Sir Ernest’s cabin, which is generally at a fairly equable temperature. The dry plates are all spotted and carefully indexed. Development is a source of much annoyance to the fingers, which crack and split around the nails in a painful manner.” (Dixon 2011: 28).

And this one about some colour work he did on the ice:

24 August 1915

“Took colour camera to lead again this morning amidst the similar gorgeous conditions of yesterday, more glorified perhaps for a fine crop of ice flowers have sprung up on the lead and were illuminated by the morning sun, resembling a field of pink carnations. I secured some fine coloured reproductions. Ice flowers probably owe their origin to the presence, in the surface layers of the newly formed ice, of small inclusions of saline solutions, which freezing under the influence of low temperatures, with consequent extrusion of the salt, act as a nuclei for the disposition of rime from the relatively humid air adjacent to the ice surface.” (Dixon 2011: 27).

This book is a fascinating read not only for those interested in Antarctic Exploration but also for photographers keen to understand more about what an amazing man and photographer Frank Hurley was.



 Dixon, Robert and Lee, Christopher (ed). 2011. The Diaries of Frank Hurley 1912-1941. London: Anthem Press.

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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