The Frank Hurley a portrait I wished I’d taken

At the last MiniClick along with nine other photographers I gave a five minute talk on a portrait I wished I’d taken. The format was that each speaker had five minutes and were only allowed to show the image they were talking about. For a little more context, I thought I would show some of the other images I referred to in my talk in this blog post. MiniClick has a blog post where you can see see the list of the photographers that were speaking with an example of there work plus the photo they were talking about here. After talking to some of the other speakers I found that I was in a minority in that no portrait had immediately sprung to mind for me like it had for them. After some thought I decided to talk about Frank Hurley’s 1915 portrait of John Vincent, The Bosun of the ship the Endurance.

The portrait theme was due to MiniClick launching their second publication which theme is portraiture. You grab a copy here but hurry it’s a limited edition of 200!

John Vincen Bosun Of The Endurance by Frank Hurly 1915

John Vincen Bosun Of The Endurance by Frank Hurley 1915

Before I chose the Hurley portrait, iconic images kept popping into my head that I would have been glad not to have taken. The images I kept thinking of had in some way ruined the lives’ of the photographers who had taken them. Below are the images that I was glad I did not take.

Kevin Carter Sudan Child and Vulture 1993

Kevin Carter – Sudan Child and Vulture – 1993

The above Pulitzer prize winning photograph by Kevin Carter was shot in Sudan in 1993. The child’s parents had left the them to get food from a nearby feeding station. After Kevin took this shot he chased the vulture away. He received a lot of negative press for taken this image and sixteen months after shooting it he took his own life. His suicide was not just the result of taking this image, it was a culmination of things:  spending time in wars zones and personal problems. Although it’s an iconic image I definitely would not have wanted to have been in that situation.

Portrait of father and cat by Richard Billingham

Portrait of father and cat by Richard Billingham

The above image is from a series that Richard Billingham shot of his family, the photographs where originally meant as source material for paintings but they ended up being used instead of the planned paintings. Billingham shot the photos of his father because he was an alcoholic who could not stay still long enough to have his portrait painted. This image really stands out for me but I would not have wanted to have grown up with an alcoholic parent.

Don McCullin Shell shocked marine Hue Vietnam 1968

Don McCullin Shell shocked marine Hue Vietnam 1968

Then there was Don McCullin’s iconic portrait of a Shell-shocked marine taken in Hue, Vietnam 1968. I definitely would not have liked to have been in Vietnam in the 60s. By McCullin’s own admission war changed him. I don’t think you could ever be the same after witnessing the things that McCullin has.

This led me onto the image taken by Frank Hurley on Shackleton’s ill fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. While the Expedition would been a shitty situation to be in, the crew were in it together and after their 22 month ordeal no one had died. Shackleton wanted to be the first person to walk across Antarctica. Trouble started two months into their adventure when the Endurance got trapped in ice, eight months later the ship was crushed by the ice and sunk. Days before the Endurance was completely crushed, Frank had to rescue his negative plates from four feet of semi frozen water, this is something I can empathize with as I have swam for nine winters in the English channel. They spent the next five months living on the ice after which it started to melt, this meant they were able to use three lifeboats to row to Elephant Island.

Shackleton Make Due Sail Boat by Frank Hurley

Shackleton’s Make-Shift Sail Boat – Frank Hurley

Once they reached Elephant island the carpenter made a closed top sail boat and a shelter from life boats. Shackleton and two others then sailed the make-shift sail boat in rough seas 800 miles to get help while the rest of the crew remained on Elephant island. It took Shackleton a further 16 months and 3 rescue attempts before he reached his crew again.

Relieving of marooned men by Chilean tug Yelcho, 1916 / photographer Frank Hurley

Relieving of marooned men by Chilean tug Yelcho, 1916 / photographer Frank Hurley

It’s an epic tail and I have left some amazing feats of heroism out. If you want to know more about Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition the Kenneth Branagh film “Shackleton” is worth a watch.

While researching Hurley for this talk I discovered lot of new things like the image below, until now I just assumed that it was a negative image but it’s an image shot at night and lit by multiple flashes, which reminds me of the work of Jean-Luc Brouard (previous MiniClick speaker).

Endurance at Night by Frank Hurly 1915

Endurance at Night by Frank Hurley 1915

Along with the image I was speaking about a lot of photos that Frank took on the expedition were in color, that’s right: color in 1915! He used a method called the Paget process which was invented  in 1912 just three years before he set sail. Frank was cutting edge! Bizarrely it actually uses one black and white negative plate for each color photo, I can only just get my head round how it works let alone explain it to others but if you want to know more you can read about the Paget process on Wikipeda.

It would have been awesome to witness what happened on Shackleton’s expedition. Unlike today, Frank Hurley was the only person with a camera. Today the majority of people in the developed world have the ability to take a photo at any given moment. I would have loved to have lived in a time when photography was special and the people that practiced it rare. To me, Frank’s images are about exploration not just in a literal sense but in a photographical sense as well. He was at the forefront of his art, being stuck on Elephant Island for 16 months would really teach you something about conserving film and when not to take pictures.

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3 Responses to The Frank Hurley a portrait I wished I’d taken

  1. Kevin,

    Fantastic selection. There’s an interesting ongoing project in “photographs I wish I hadn’t taken”? Maybe, if you don’t want to take it on I could?

    Going to go back and reread your post again. Definately get’s you thinking.


  2. Very cool. Sorry for responding over a year late, but I hope you’ve seen Caroline Alexander’s book about Shackleton and The Endurance –

    An amazing story and incredible adventure, I can see why you chose one of Frank Hurley’s images to be the one you would want to make…I would too.

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