Endurance photography exhibition: Central Library, Manchester

Endurance trapped in ice at Manchester Central Library
This picture of Endurance trapped in ice is part of the photography exhibition at Manchester Central Library

A photographic record of the extremes of human survival faced by the crew of the Endurance is being displayed in a free exhibition at Manchester’s Central Library.

‘Enduring Eye’ is an incredible photographic record of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s exploration of the Antarctic, from 1914-17 – with newly digitised images revealing previously unseen details of the crew’s epic struggle for survival, before and after their ship was destroyed.

The Endurance was completely trapped in ice in early 1915 and sank some ten months later – but all expedition members were successfully rescued, having survived on the floating ice.

Images taken by expedition photographer Frank Hurley were selected and saved from the sinking Endurance by Hurley and Shackleton – and have been preserved from the original, fragile glass plate negatives by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

The plates vividly capture the spirit of endurance, trust, courage and judgement shared by Shackleton and his team. Their extraordinary 800-mile rescue-voyage in little more than a rowing boat, and the survival of the men and photographic plates, remains unsurpassed in Antarctic history.

Endurance: New exhibition charts the struggle faced by Shackleton and his fellow explorers

Enduring Eye – which is free to view, with no booking required – is the first major exhibition to be held at Central Library’s new dedicated Exhibition Hall, on the building’s first floor and is linked to the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s HLF-funded ‘Shackleton’s Endurance: Discovering our Shared Antarctic Heritage’, exploring and uncovering people’s links across the UK with the expedition.

The Exhibition Hall will be a space to exhibit many of the library’s fascinating archive collections to the public, plus hosting touring national exhibitions. The move restores this area to the function it originally served, when Central Library first opened in 1934.

Enduring Eye: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley, Central Library, Manchester

Enduring Eye: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley – 1st Floor Exhibition Hall, Free – Saturday 9 April to Saturday 11 June. Free admission.

For more details visit the Endurance Expedition website.

Picture: Frank Hurley

Our View: Context is anything in appreciating the stunning achievement represented by Frank Hurley’s photographic essay of the travails faced by Sir Ernest Shackleton and the men of the 1915 Antarctic expedition.

It’s all too easy for us now to hold aloft an iPhone and snap away at the images Hurley captured, but we need to remember that the camera equipment which first took those images was altogether more difficult to work with.

Add in on top of that the near fatal circumstances in which Shackleton’s men found themselves and the amazing feat becomes far greater than the near crystal clear, digitally enhanced images on display suggests.

This exhibition also succeeds in reminding us of the global media story that Shackleton’s expedition inspired, easily sufficient to prompt a modern day Hollywood blockbuster.

As brilliant as these pictures are, as vivid as the story becomes, this exhibition almost does Frank Hurley an injustice in suggesting his achievement might have been much easier than it must have been. 

Make sure you pop in to Manchester’s Central Library for a look but keep in mind that these amazing pictures were as authentic as could be, capturing uncharted waters in the human quest for adventure in a way which could have ultimately ended in disaster for all concerned, and so nearly did.

Simon Donohue