James Francis Hurley was born in Sydney on 15 October 1885. He was educated at the Glebe Public School and later attended lectures at the University of Sydney. He became interested in photography, worked for a postcard business and in 1910 held his first exhibition.
In 1911 Douglas Mawson invited Hurley to be the photographer on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. He took both still photographs and movie film and on his return to Sydney he produced the film Home of the blizzard. In November 1913 he returned to the Antarctic with an expedition to relieve Mawson. In 1914 he joined the Antarctic expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton and took the famous photographs of the destruction of the Endurance. He returned to England in 1916 where he assembled his photographs and produced the film In the grip of polar ice.
In 1917 Hurley joined the Australian Imperial Force as an official photographer and worked in France, Belgium and Palestine. At considerable risk, he photographed the Light Horse during the battle of Jericho. He returned to Australia in 1918 and in the following year joined Ross Smith on the final leg of his flight from England, filming Australia from the air. Between 1920 and 1923 He made two long expeditions to the Torres Strait Islands and Papua and produced both a film and a book with the title Pearls and savages. He made further films in Dutch New Guinea and the Torres Strait Islands, worked as pictorial editor for The Sun (Sydney) and in 1929 returned to the Antarctic with the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition.
In the 1930s Hurley worked with the Cinesound studio, as a cameraman and as head of its special documentary unit. During World War II he was official photographer with the AIF in the Middle East, where he remained until 1946. On his return to Australia he published several books of photographs and travelled and lectured. He died in Sydney on 16 January 1962.
Hurley married Antoinette Leighton in 1918. They had a son and two daughters.
Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 9, pp 411-12