Friday, January 8, 2021

Extraordinary 1915 photos from Ernest Shackleton’s disastrous Antarctic expedition

Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images

From History by Madison Horne

Frank Hurley's photos were originally intended as scientific documentation of an unexplored continent.
Instead, they recorded an epic survival story.

The Endurance listing to one side in the ice.

When photographer Frank Hurley signed on to document British explorer Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole in 1914, he knew he’d be capturing some of the earliest images of Antarctica’s bleak and beautiful unexplored terrain.
The Endurance, crushed by pack ice and sinking.
But after Shackleton’s ship, HMS Endurance, was trapped by pack ice—and slowly succumbed to its crushing pressure—the expedition's fate, and that of its crew, looked bleak.
Hundreds of miles from inhabited territory, and far from any well-traveled shipping lanes, they wouldn’t be rescued for more than a year and a half.

Explorer Ernest Shackleton
Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images

Hurley’s photographs, captured on heavy glass negatives, were originally intended as documents of the expedition’s pioneering scientific research.

But after the Endurance met its unlucky fate, they recorded something even more extraordinary: the epic survival of 28 men amid extreme physical hardship and mental stress.

The wake of the Endurance through young ice during Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, c. 1915.
He captured not only the desolate polar landscape, but the grit and determination of the stranded crew members trying to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures, stave off starvation and despair, and pass time on an ice floe as they witnessed the slow-motion destruction of the Endurance, their only refuge. 

Endurance crew members work to break up the pack ice trapping their ship, early 1915.
As the photographs show, Hurley had no trouble lugging his heavy camera gear up the sides of mountains or high up into the ship’s rigging, to get panoramic views. 
Ice crystals on the rigging of the Endurance, c. 1915.

He even set up a darkroom in the ship—no small feat. 

As he wrote in his journal: “Darkroom work rendered extremely difficult by the low temperatures it being minus 13 [degrees] C outside. The temperature in the darkroom, near the engine room, is just above freezing. Washing [plates] is troublesome, as the tank must be kept warm or the plates become [enclosed] in an ice block... Development is a source of annoyance to the fingers, which split and crack around the nails in a painful manner.”

With the Endurance immobilized, its crew passed the time however they could—including ice-floe soccer. The ship can be seen in the background.
Crew member Thomas Orde-Lees and cook Charles Green, their faces black with smoke from a blubber stove, prepare a meal in a makeshift galley on the ice, during the ill-fated march from Ocean Camp to Patience Camp. Antarctica, 1915. 
Expedition photographer Frank Hurley (left) and leader Ernest Shackleton cooking in front of a tent at Patience Camp, Antarctica. 
When the Endurance was finally swallowed up by the ice after 10 months, taking Hurley’s collection of glass plate negatives with it, the photographer, determined to preserve his work, dove into the freezing water to retrieve the negatives and film.
However, Shackleton had different priorities and deemed the negatives too heavy to carry along in their journey.
Navigating officer Huberht Taylor Hudson with young Emperor penguin chicks, January 12, 1915. Hudson was known as the expedition's most accomplished penguin catcher.

Dogs housed on the floe, February 23, 1915.
On the spot, Hurley had to make a quick decision about which photographs were most important to keep.
He edited down more than 600 photographs to a little more than 100 glass plates, smashing the rejects right on the ice.

Stranded Expedition Party of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton. The ship "Endurance" was crushed by ice floes and icebergs that stranded the exploration party on Elephant Island.

After the ship sank, the crew dragged their lifeboats a few miles and then camped on the ice for four more months, until it began to crack.
They then endured a grueling voyage over rough seas to Elephant Island, where the men waited four more months as Shackleton and five others ventured for help.
Launching the 'James Caird,' Shackleton and five others setting out for relief to South Georgia, April 24, 1916.
The 'Stancombe Wills' and 'Dudley Docker' made into a hut for shelter, Elephant Island, The hut was known as the 'Snuggery' by the crew, Antarctica.
Twenty two men lived in this hut for four and a half months, including photographer Frank Hurley. 
Hurley, who had to abandon most of his equipment after the Endurance was lost to the ice, carried a Kodak Vest Pocket camera and three rolls of film for the remainder of the ordeal.
The scene on Elephant Island when, at the fourth attempt, Sir Ernest Shackleton succeeded in reaching the island and getting off the 22 men whom he had left there when he set off on his journey of 750 miles to South Georgia in a little boat to get help.
He shot about three dozen more images on Elephant Island, as well as of the eventual rescue.
Every man survived.

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