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James Francis Hurley was born in Sydney and left school when he was around 13. His early years are not clear with reports of him undergoing some electrical engineering technical training, working at Eskbank Ironworks in Lithgow, as well as working for the Postal and Telegraph Office in Central Sydney. Sometime in the early 1990s he became an amateur photographer and was quickly very enthusiastic about and profient in photography.

According to Jack Cato in The Story of the Camera in Australia, Hurley “saw in this new toy a key that might unlock the door to adventure”. Adventure remained the attraction photography had for Hurley, in particular challenging and dangerous outdoor work.

Around 1905 Hurley’s father, a typographic printer, bought his son a partnership in Cave & Co studio (photography, stationery and printing) which specialised in the postcard trade. Hurley was soon attracting attention for the novelty of his work. As early as June 1905 Hurley had had a dramatic picture of a wave breaking published in the Australasian Photo-Review magazine. By 1909 he was a regular exhibitor in local salons and was making a name for himself with night shots of the city done with flash light. He had became an expert on combination printing and gave lectures on this technique.

Hurley was a founder in 1910 of the Ashfield District Camera Club with friends Henri Mallard and Norman Deck. That same year he set up his own (photographic and stationary) studio in Dalley Street.

By 1911 he was well-known and established professional photographer and an official in the Photographic Society of New South Wales. He also appears to have worked for the government railways. At the time Hurley made dramatic photographs of steam trains at full speed where others only shot stationary engines.

In December 1911, Hurley achieved his dream of adventure by being appointed official photographer for Sir Douglas Mawson’s first Australian Antarctic expedition. He appears to have been recommended by Henri Mallard, who arranged for Hurley’s outstanding accounts with Harrington’s and Baker & Rouse to be deferred, and also gave him a crash course in 16mm filming techniques. Kodak acquired the Dalley Street studio.

Hurley’s adventures with the Mawson expedition have been well documented elsewhere. Hurley’s photographs were used in Mawson’s book The Home of the Blizzard (1913) and his fame as a photographer was further established by his own lecture and lantern slide talks. Hurley immediately took off on a motor car expedition to Queensland and the Northern Territory with Francis Birtles, from which he was summoned to South America to join Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition on the ship Endurance.

The ship became icebound but the crew endured, and Hurley returned to London with them in 1916. He then joined the Australian Infantry Force.

Hurley’s war photographs, often made more dramatic by combination printing as in plates 47 (A Battlefield cemetery, 1918) and 48 (The Morning after the Battle of Passchendaele, 1917), were exhibited in London and Sydney in 1919 and added to the reputation for dramatic photography that his polar expedition work had earned him. Hurley also went on later expeditions to Antarctica, the first in 1929, again with Sir Douglas Mawson.

In 1934 Hurley returned to Australia and worked as a pictorial editor on The Sun newspaper before joining Cinesound as a film cameraman in 1936. Between the world wars he worked on a number of commercial and documentary films, including his own documentaries of Great Barrier Reef in 1922 - 23 and Pearls and Savages (1924) about New Guinea.

During World War II Hurley again served as an official war photographer in the Middle East. In 1941 he received an OBE and the Polar Service Medal for his work.

After World War II, Hurley did extensive coverage of Australian cities and industry but the work was not as good as photographs made on his adventures. He was responsible for the production of numerous "Australiania" Books as well as promotional cards and calenders. Hurley’s photographic style was influenced by the imaginative approach to making images of the pictorial movement which was in vogue in his youth, but he was not a pictorialist.

Hurley published numerous books of photographs on his adventures such as Argonauts of the South, Voyages in Polar Seas and Pearls and Savages (1924).

the above text being an update on the version in Gaël Newton's Silver & Grey
Angus and Roberston, Australia 1980


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