The Rarest of Photographs

The Rarest of PhotographsThis iconic yet tragic photograph captures the senselessness of the Battle of Passchendaele.

It shows exhausted, wounded and dead Australian soldiers near Broodseinde Ridge after an attack on 12 October 1917.

This photograph has been published in various forms; understandably, often with the dead soldiers cropped from the shot.

But what makes this version exceedingly rare is that cameraman Frank Hurley poses among his shattered subjects (standing right).

It seems unusual for the person behind the lens to thrust themselves into the frame, replete with camera, in this particularly harrowing situation.

Hubert Wilkins (who snapped this image) and Frank Hurley were tough men who were former polar explorers.

Yet this unlikely prepared them for their assignment to take ‘scrupulously genuine’ battle photographs.

They thrust themselves into their work, so much so, that soldiers called them the ‘mad photographers’, while a peer said of Wilkins, ‘I sometimes wonder if he is really trying to get himself killed.’

Hurley would later record that those men nestled among the dead in this photograph were ‘so emaciated by fatigue and shell shock that it was hard to differentiate.’

No doubt, like their subjects, Wilkins and Hurley suffered degrees of shell shock, a little understood affliction in those days, that would have left lasting scars.

Wilkins’s rare photograph is archived in the National Library of Australia MS2721

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