To mark the centenary of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, now better known as the Endurance Expedition, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) has, for the first time, digitised its historic collection of glass plate and celluloid negatives directly from the originals. The resulting images reveal previously unseen details in the remarkable photographs taken by Shackleton’s official expedition photographer, Frank Hurley.
The Society’s Enduring Eye exhibition, which displayed Hurley’s images to the public at the large-scale he originally envisaged, finishes its residence at our Kensington headquarters on 28 February. Set to tour four national venues thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), it arrives in Manchester Central Library in April.
Entitled Shackleton’s Endurance: Discovering Our Shared Antarctic Heritage, an accompanying HLF-supported community project will focus on local stories, linked to the men who accompanied Shackleton on the expedition.
Digitising Hurley’s images directly from the fragile negatives stored at the Society has both dramatically increased the resolution of his iconic images and unlocked new information about the expedition party’s battle for survival both before and after the Endurance sank through the ice of the Weddell Sea. For the first time, writing and faces in many interior images have become discernible, as well as key features of life on the pack ice, originally captured by Hurley’s meticulous photographic processing.
To further preserve Hurley’s legacy, the Society has collaborated with one of the world’s leading print-makers, Salto-Ulbeek, to create a limited edition series of platinum prints from the images. The platinum printing process is one of the rarest, most refined, and stable of all black and white printing processes.
The resulting platinum images, which when properly preserved can last thousands of years, exhibit an expanded tonal range and three-dimensionality. Each individual image is remarkable not only for surviving Hurley’s first edit, when he was forced to smash 400 of his estimated 520 glass plates on the sea ice following the loss of the Endurance, but also the hazardous trip to Elephant Island and finally London. Rightly regarded as a leading Antarctic photographer, through his images Hurley provides a vivid and lasting record of what has been described by many as the greatest ever story of human survival.