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The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition

at the Burke Museum, Univeristy of Washington, Seattle

Don't be deceived: this is not about Shackleton. In reality, this is a presentation of Frank Hurley's photographic plates saved from the dying Endurance. There are no artifacts, no relics, nothing but framed black and white pictures, interspersed with posted narrative and video clips from Caroline Alexander's movie of the same name.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. It is wonderful to see these pictures in real life, as opposed to reprintings in books. They are clear and large and it is truly amazing that they survived along with all the crew members. But really, this is a Hurley exhibition: he took the photographs, he wrote most of the captions. There are some great pictures - some even in color! There is a picture of nearly every crew member, along with a short biography, so you can find out what happened to them after their great adventure. You can tell the subjects that were favourites of Hurley - as at least two of the crew members got neither a portrait nor a biography on the wall. On the walls there are posted quotes from journals (mostly Orde-Lees, McNish and Hurley himself). It's a very nice exhibit.

But because the whole exhibit is pictures, there is very little once to show about what happened after the ship was destroyed. There are the pictures Hurley took with his smaller Kodak camera on Elephant Island, but aside from a miniature of the James Caird and a few pictures of South Georgia taken after the fact there is nothing from the leg of the adventure that made the story of Endurance so "legendary."

I suppose this exhibit was meant to travel with either one of Caroline Alexander's films about Endurance (the IMAX movie will be coming to Seattle in October), but without that reference, this really isn't about the Endurance. It's about Hurley. Which would be fine if they stated that right out, but they don't. Nowhere is there an explanation that all there is in the exhibit is photographs. And I'm not complaining about the pictures, it just seems a bit sneaky to name the exhibit something it is only tangentally about. I think it does Frank Hurley an injustice.

NOTE: I was very impressed with the amount of books available in the gift shop. I don't know if the exhibition has any say in what the shops sell, or if the shops are told to stock certain things, but there was an extraordinary selection of Polar books. They did not just focus on Shackleton (though Caroline Alexander's books were displayed quite prominently), but also books on and by Scott, Amundsen, Franklin and Mawson. The shop is run by the UW bookstore, which may explain the selection. Also, the exhibition poster is pretty cool.

Copyright © 2000, 2001 Emily Slatten; about framheim; about the pictures