Shackleton’s Expedition, 100 Years Later

A guest post by Webb Howell, FB&C’s publisher

Collectors of polar literature no doubt already know that 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition to walk across Antarctica from sea to sea. His efforts are remembered not for his success, but for his feat of survival and endurance, with Shackleton and his crew surviving 22 long months at the bottom of the planet before being rescued.

The accomplishment will be marked over the next two years with films, voyages, books, and more, none more interesting than a planned Woods Hole dive to search for the wreckage of Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, in 2016.

What has perhaps kept Shackleton’s story alive over the past century, though, has been the photographic images of a 29-year-old Australian photographer named Frank Hurley. Hurley lived from 1885 to 1962, a period of dramatic world events, including two World Wars, and he captured much of them on film. More impressively, perhaps, and little known, Hurley was an early experimenter with color photography, and many of the images we’ve seen of Shackleton’s adventure in black and white were originally shot in color. Their drama speaks for themselves.

In news this week comes stunning accounts from NASA scientists about the disintegration of a large section of West Antarctica’s ice, enough, some say, to raise sea levels by as much as four feet globally. If such changes come to pass, they will redraw maps and change the course of human history.

One hundred years ago, Frank Hurley scrambled through the hull of a ship that was crushed and sinking, plucking his glass plate negatives from slushy waters. On his evacuation from Antarctica, Hurley was only allowed to take only 150 of the more than five hundred images he had photographed because of the space limitations of his rescuers. Those images portray a different world, one frozen and beautiful, captured and remembered, and now melting away in time.
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