- by Carol Standish
South With Endurance: Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917 - The Photographs of Frank Hurley (Simon & Schuster, 317pp, 698 photographs, $50) is an extraordinary volume of extraordinary photographs. Hurley was a pioneer in the commercial and artistic use of early—and cumbersome—cameras. He was also the masterful photojournalist who served as the expedition photographer on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s failed attempt to cross the Antarctic continent by way of the South Pole.
Most readers with an interest in subjects marine, are not only familiar with, but relish and admire, the saga of Shackleton’s heroic misadventure in Antarctica. There are many extant volumes (five of which we reviewed in Oct, '99) on the subject, from Shackleton’s own modest account (South) first published in 1920, reprinted in 1998 by The Lyons Press to Caroline Alexander’s well-financed 1998 curatorial accompaniment to the American Museum of Natural History’s 1999 exhibit, Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Expedition.
No less than fifteen titles—first hand accounts, biographies and social histories—relating to the subject are cited as sources just for the Alexander book and every one includes a teasing selection of the photographs taken by Frank Hurley—with good reason. The events and deeds of the adventure are so extreme that they would have strained credibility without Hurley’s pictorial documentation. South With Endurance, however, is the first publication to finally do justice to this awesome body of work.
It is to Shackleton’s credit as a leader that he granted Hurley complete freedom—and Hurley took full advantage, driven as he was by curiosity and courage to hang from rigging or wander around ice floes in the dark in search of the best shot. Shackleton was also shrewd in his insistence that as many of the heavy plates and printed photos as were literally bearable should be priority cargo no matter how arduous the trek or tenuous the party’s survival.
The existing photographs—all published together for the first time—record every disaster and defeat, every rescue and triumph. Dramatic night shots of the ice-bound Endurance, the heart-wrenching rubble she is reduced to after she is crushed, revealing portraits of the men, football games and sled dog races played out in a frozen white vacuum, the joyous arrival on horrific Elephant Island, and the departure and return of Shackleton with a rescue ship from South Georgia Island are a spectacular tribute to the human spirit and Hurley’s talent. The narrative and artistic strength of the images packs an emotional wallop full of both pathos and awe.
Gathered from three major archives in England and New South Wales, South With Endurance includes a gallery of the entire surviving collection of 698 prints and glass plates, including 40 from Paget Colour plates. Almost 500 of these images were selected to be printed close to page size (11 1/2x12”) with a standard of precision and clarity that reveal Hurley to be the disciplined, tenacious and exacting artist he was.
Accompanying the photographs are well-crafted essays on Hurley’s technique, tools and esthetic and a poignant biography of the little known Australian photographer. A succinct re-telling of the expedition story neatly sorts out the images, especially their chronology. This wonderful volume will satisfy the adventurer, the artist, the technician, the historian and the mariner in each of us. If you only give one book this holiday season, make it this one—to everybody.