via The Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Coaxing the Spirits to Dance: Art of the Papuan Gulf
Each of these two video clips shows a digitized sequence from the original silent film by Frank Hurley entitled Pearls and Savages. Both masked performances were reenacted at Hurley's request. Hurley also made still photographs of the masks, two of which are included in this exhibition.
James Francis "Frank" Hurley was a professional photographer whose work is full of extreme contrasts. He took up photography at a young age, and by 1905 he was a partner in a picture postcard business in Australia. In 1911 he accompanied Douglas Mawson on his first Antarctic expedition, taking both still pictures and cinematic footage. After a short respite in Indonesia and Papua in 1913, he joined Ernest Shackleton in 1914 for what would be a historic and nearly fatal trip to Antarctica. The shipwreck of the Endurance and the events that followed provided Hurley with the opportunity to film and photograph the deadly beauty of the icy wilderness until the expedition was rescued in November 1916.
Hurley decided to make an independent trip to Papua in 1920–21 to obtain footage for a silent film. The initial version of his movie did not contain the dramatic images that would make it the commercial success he desired. Thus, he returned on a larger cooperative expedition for the Australian Museum with the naturalist Allan McCulloch during 1922 and 1923. The expedition had seaplanes, and Hurley made the first aerial photographs of New Guinea, some over the Papuan Gulf. His film premiered in 1923 with piano accompaniment. In 1924 he published a book by the same title, which was illustrated with his photographs and translated into several languages.
On several occasions, Hurley's behavior in New Guinea was inappropriate. In his desire to obtain dramatic pictures or film footage, he sometimes rearranged interiors, posed or overdressed people in ornaments, entered places and moved objects without permission. These actions caused controversy in Australia and brought him into conflict with government authorities. Although we must be mindful of his manipulations, we also know that Hurley officially collected objects and photographed places that no longer survive in any other way. The village of Kaimari over which he and the pilot Andrew Lang flew is no longer in the same location, and many of the masks Hurley photographed were destroyed soon after they were performed. In fact, Hurley's film reveals indigenous participation in the photography. As the two basketry figures turn their backs to the camera and reenter the longhouse, a local man seated at left on the platform holds up what appears to be a camera in order to take a photograph.