Stanley Kubrick’s corset

                                 Stanley Kubrick, Chicago, 1949.

“Woman standing in office, smoking while modeling undergarments.” An early image from budding photojournalist and nascent filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Look Magazine Photo Collection.”

So runs the caption for this bizarre photograph, taken by a 21 year old photographer and future film director. It may not be well known that Kubrick started out as a still photographer for the popular Look magazine. The photographs have been re-surfacing over the past few years.

The source for this one is the excellent, an online archive of vintage photographs named after the young labourer in one of Lewis Hine’s industrial photographs. You can purchase prints from including this one. Tempted?

Henri Cartier-Bresson, painter

Painting by Henri Cartier-Bresson; a nude in the studio of André Lhote.            Oil on canvas, 1927

As a young man of 19, Henri Cartier-Bresson entered the Lhote Academy to study painting. The Academy was run by the Cubist painter André Lhote who wanted “to integrate the Cubists’ approach to reality with classical artistic forms.”

Lhote taught a strict regime of geometric analysis of form and employed ancient systems of proportion including the Golden Section. It was an academic approach that resulted in pictures of cool classicism with solid, structured compositions. Some Australian modernists studied at the Academy including Grace Crowley and Dorrit Black, as well as the famed Art Deco portraitist Tamara de Lempicka. I wonder if they met.

These two paintings are about all that is left of that period since Cartier-Bresson destroyed most of his early efforts. After his hunting sojourn in Africa, he turned his back on painting and applied his Lhote Academy skills to photography. His life’s work is marked by the sophistication of his compositions.

At about the same time he was making contact with the Surrealists, attending meetings that included André Breton and Salvador Dali. It is this contrasting influence on the young Cartier-Bresson that helps to explain the amazing sense of timing and coincidence that particularly marks his early work. “What fit in best with his own libertarian temperament and his endless marvel at the surprises of life, was surrealism’s recourse to intuition and spontaneity.” (

                                       Henri Cartier-Bresson, Couple in Cambridge, 1928

William Eggleston at the NGV

William Eggleston Portraits is a significant show for Melbourne photographers, an opportunity to see one of the key postwar US photographers. It comes from London’s National Portrait Gallery where it had  a somewhat different form. At least in Melbourne it’s free.

Eggleston holds an ongoing influence for subsequent generations of photographers and artists. He is best known for his pioneering use of colour and images of suburban life in the Southern United States.

This exhibition is the first comprehensive museum exhibition devoted to Eggleston’s remarkable portraits. These works capture family, friends, casual acquaintances and strangers in a series of eloquent, poetic character studies and collectively form a social portrait of a time, place and way of life. (NGV)

                     William Eggleston, Untitled 1965-69

There is one remarkable photograph that stands out for me, an “essay” photograph, not just about the subject-matter but about photography itself. Like a Winogrand, it says something about the way a camera records the reality in front of it. On one level, it is a portrait of a handsome woman; on another it is a study in opposites; and on another it is a comment on race relations.

The woman is a strong and serious African American of the kind we are familiar with from black music of the 1960s (eg The Supremes) or photos of Civil Rights issues. She is neatly dressed in orange and brown colours that match her skin. Take her out of the picture and she’s still an impressive figure.

The two strangers pass each other in the street. One walks toward the camera, the other away from the camera. One is female, the other is male. One is young, the other is old. One is black, the other is white. One is dressed in colours, the other in black & white.

The man has lowered his black cardigan to reveal his white shirt which matches his skin colour. It makes a black/white shape, a signal to the viewer about the symbolic content of the photograph which inevitably is about race. Inevitably? Eggleston is a Southerner and some of his photographs note race relations in the South.

The photograph was made in the 1960s at the height of civil rights ferment. The man is ageing, his black and white clothes appear untidy and he’s leaving the space of the picture. The woman is young and well-dressed and is moving frontally into the foreground space. She looks straight into the camera. As I say, it’s an essay photograph.

Unlike a painting of the same subject-matter, none of this is planned or staged. It’s a grab shot, probably made on instinct at the spur of the moment. All of the above observations are after the fact, interpretations of something that does not intrinsically contain those ideas. That is the the thing with photography. As Winogrand, the master of the essay photograph, famously said, “I take photographs to see what things look like photographed.”

Ross Coulter at the NGV

Ross Coulter’s Audience is an installation of 400 black & white prints mounted in an orderly grid around the walls of the NGV’s small photography gallery. It’s part of the Festival of Photography. The arrangement makes you smile as you enter, it’s implausibly busy and abundant, until you realise the photographs all show one thing. Each 10×8 (darkroom) print shows visitors standing around in galleries, apparently staring at off-screen artworks. It’s really one subject multiplied four hundred times, although the artist shot in over seventy galleries.

Your own stance while looking at the prints mirrors the content of the photos, so there’s not much to see. The figures in the photos are standing around like you are, but the ‘joke’ is that the visitors in the prints are looking at nothing, they are staring at absent performance art that Coulter has asked them to imagine. They are in empty galleries.

Observing the visitors to the NGV itself, you can see the confusion and disappointment, there is not much to reward their attention, since the photos are echoes of themselves. They read the wall label then go back to try some more. All they see are people just like them, doing no more than they are. It’s a curious hall of mirrors.

Bill Henson at the NGV

Bill Henson’s big new show at the NGV is an atmospheric installation of nudes, landscapes and museums images. The presentation is of large prints in the same size and format, all subdued in tone and hung on black walls. It gets you as soon as you step in.

As an exhibition it feels surprisingly unified and whole despite the differences in subjects, it coheres like music, the changes subsumed the overall tone or timbre. Going by the solemn attention given to it by my students and other visitors, the show will establish him with a younger public and with those who may have been disturbed by the 2008 panic.

One thing, the NGV has chosen to mount this show in what is normally the academy hall, where 18th and 19th century salon paintings normally hang. As an exhibition of 21st century photographs it disrupts the room-to-room flow of historical paintings, but its fin-de-siécle style relates well to the Pre-Raphaelite and academy paintings in the adjacent room.

“The images in this exhibition are drawn from a body of works created between 2008 and 2011 and continue Henson’s sensitive, sophisticated study of the human condition, which he has realised over his forty year career.”

A powerful sense of mystery and ambiguity can be found within the images, heightened by the velvet-like blackness of the shadows and the striking use of chiaroscuro to selectively obscure and reveal the form of the nudes, sculptures and the landscape itself.”  (NGV)

Ali Harper wins at the AIPP

Allison Harper is a former student of mine and she has just been declared the AIPP Emerging Photographer of the Year for 2017 – I’m not suggesting there’s any connection! The annual AIPP awards cover a range of categories of commercial/professional photography and recognition such as this can have a real benefit to a photographer. The AIPP, The Australian Institute of Professional Photographers, is a guild that looks after the interests of commercial photographers nationwide.

Ali was an excellent student who always brought creative surprises to class. The portfolio presented in the competition’s website show architectural subjects, but she nails every kind of subject matter, including bizarre portraits of twins that she submitted in her Melbourne Polytechnic folio last year.



Angelmaier’s Text


Claudia Angelmaier is a conceptual artist working in photo media who makes visual speculations about photography and art: I investigate the photographic production, photographic reproduction and the circulation … of images as well as their influence on our cultural memory.”

Text is a series of photographic prints made in the typical size of paintings in a gallery, their content is press releases for art exhibitions. Press releases are blurbs written in newsy, enthusiastic prose, although for art exhibitions they sometimes stray into heavy, self-important verbiage.

Angelmaier has mocked these purple passages by blacking out everything except parts of sentences, leaving only strange and comical phrases.

“Not only between the touched and the touching, but also between the tangible and the visible which is embedded within the tangible.” (Text 02)

“still consistent as a definition although it does not say anything precisely, but rather annotates and implicates.” (Text 03)

“which makes the question ‘how’ even more pressing”  (Text 04)

It is an open system, every part, every move, every scene, every colour, every gesture, every word consistent” (Text 05)


Absent works of visual art are translated to a text; the text is rendered incomprehensible, then translated back into visual art.

“What remains is only one sentence or just a blackened page, which says nothing about the artist or the artwork and leaves the interpretation to the imagination of the spectator. The artist and his work remain a fictional construction.”

Boris Kaufmann, photographer

the-pawnbroker       Cinematography is photography. Look at these images from movies and try to see them as still photographs, frozen moments from real life.

They are by Boris Kaufmann, one the most successful cinematographers, who received an Oscar for his first Hollywood film, On the Waterfront, in 1954. He worked with director Elia Kazan on three films and then had a long partnership with Sidney Lumet on such films as The Pawnbroker, The Fugitive Kind and Twelve Angry Men, which you see here.

Kaufmann was a master of black & white, getting a sharp silvery quality onto the screen, and his meticulous lighting created beautiful patterns and textures that brought life to the story. He often shot close on wide-angle lenses to achieve intimacy as though he was following war photographer Robert Capa’s dictum, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”


Before his glittering Hollywood career, Kaufmann had an earlier one as a leading cinematographer of French cinema in the 1920s and 30s. He prospered in the golden age of French cinema, which he helped create, working with such greats as Abel Gance and Jean Vigo.

latalante             Frame still from Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante, 1931

Kaufmann had an extraordinary life story. Born in Poland in 1906, his brother was Dziga-Vertov, the legendary Soviet director of Man with a Movie Camera which was voted one of the ten best films ever made in 2012. His oldest brother Mikhail was also a cinematographer and worked on that film. Boris Kaufmann left Soviet Russia in 1927 to avoid the Stalinist repression and moved to Paris with his parents. When World War II approached he escaped the Nazis and moved in Canada. You could say he was a survivor.

When he moved to the US, though, he was stymied by the film industry unions and had to pick up work in shorts and trade documentaries. It took years to regain his position until Elia Kazan gave him the job of shooting On the Waterfront (also on the list of best films).

Girt by Sea

maddison-1    Ruth Maddison, Girt by Sea installation, Monash Gallery of Art, 2017

Ruth Maddison is showing an impressive series of photograms at the Monash Gallery of Art as part of the Life Aquatic exhibition.

Lumen prints as they are described, is the process where objects are placed on photographic paper in sunlight and left for a few minutes or even hours. It’s a fancy word for sun prints or outdoor photograms and it takes us back to “photogenic drawing,” the process Henry Fox Talbot discovered in the 1830s before he invented the Calotype.

A Lumen print is made without developing chemicals as sunlight itself converts the silver halide crystals into particles of silver, the substance making up black & white analogue images. The prints are chemically fixed and washed to preserve them, but the image itself is magically formed by sunlight alone.

Photogram photography, perhaps because of its primitive appeal
(no camera, no enlarger, no darkroom) is having a revival these days in the face of the advanced digital technologies. For example, Geoffrey Batchen, the distinguished historian of photography, has recently produced a handsome book and exhibition on the photogram’s history called Emanations, The Art of the Cameraless Photograph.

One of the first female photographers was Anna Atkins, an English botanist who made photograms of plant specimens on the seashore. Thus it may be that Maddison, by making photograms of plant life at the seaside town of Eden, is celebrating Atkins pioneering work.


The installation is part of Life Aquatic, at the Monash Gallery of Art. The other artists in the show are Narelle Autio and Catherine Nelson. The exhibition continues until February 26. It will lift your spirits.

Meltem Isik’s disturbing bodies

meltem-isik-2                                                     Meltem Isik, Twice into the Stream, 2011

Meltem Isik is a Turkish artist who likes to play with images of the human body. I use the word play because she creates illusions and paradoxes that trick the eye and make you smile, or shudder.

As you can see, she takes close ups of a person’s body, prints them large and poses the model with the print. It’s a simple enough idea but it’s done in a way to create a visual continuity between the two elements. Perhaps she takes the close ups, prints them, and re-photographs them with the model, all in the same studio session. 

Through intricate compositions of photographic images, Meltem Isik explores the way we see and perceive the human body. The complexity that originates from the capability of our bodies to see and be seen provides the basis of her work.

 Isik has made another series of disturbing body images, called Suspicious Affinities. Take a look.

meltem-isik-1                                                 Meltem Isik, Twice into the Stream, 2011

William Christenberry dies

christenberry-5c              William Christenberry, 5 Cents, Demopolis, Alabama, 1978

American photographer William Christenberry has died at age 80.

Following the example of his friend Walker Evans, Christenberry photographed the overlooked details of America’s backblocks. He captured with feeling the details of his beloved rural Alabama, its roadside shops, old churches and fading signs.

“The place is so much a part of me. I can’t escape it and have no desire to escape it. I continue to come to grips with it. It’s a love affair — a lifetime of involvement with a place. The place is my muse.”

Christenberry was a romantic and his work shows an intimate engagemant with his subject-matter. In contrast, when Walker Evans found similar material to photograph, it was formal and classical. Christenberry took the American tradition of documentary photography into areas that Evans, Frank and others did not venture. His work extended out from photography into  painting and sculpture and most notably into making small replicas of the buildings in his pictures.

christenberry-sprott-church              William Christenberry, Church, Sprott, Alabama, 1971        christenberry-sprott-sculpture             William Christenberry, Church, Sprott, Alabama, 1976

To hear Christenberry talk about his subject, listen to this  short interview on NPR. He describes about his photograph of the tiny church in the settlement of Sprott, and what has happened to it since then.

gneville-sprott-google                   Greg Neville, Sprott Church on Google Street View, 2016

Hendrik Kerstens at Monash

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-12-51-51-pm                                     Hendrik Kerstens, Paper Roll, August, 2008

The Monash Gallery of Art has an exhibition of portraits by Hendrik Kerstens that echoes the Eden project by Polixani Papapetrou showing in another room (see my previous post). Both artists include the photographers’ daughter in their portraits and use their age as part of the subject, and both dress them in symbolic costume.

Kerstens portraits evoke 17th century Dutch painting …                                            “A number are clearly reminiscent of Johannes Vermeer. The austerity of the photograph, its clarity, the serene expression on the young girl’s face, and not least, the characteristic “Dutch” light, all combine to create this impression.

However, Kerstens was not just imitating painting. As the series progressed, he became increasingly interested in the game of creating a conceptual and humorous dialog between past and present.” (

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-6-17-19-pm                                    Hendrik Kerstens, Doily, March, 2011

Kerstens’ work is matched with a series of portraits also influenced by Dutch painting by the photographer, Erwin Olaf, also from the Netherlands. It’s a good time to go to Monash since there is also a large exhibition by Martin Parr, but they all close this Sunday December 4.

Eden at Monash

 08_polixeni_papapetrou_psyche_2016-821x1230                                            The Monash Gallery of Art is showing a new project by the Melbourne photographer Polixani Papapetrou. Eden is a series of ten intensely coloured photographs of young teenage girls posed in complex floral arrangements. The pictures are handsomely made and impress the eye largely because the pictorial space is flat and the colour packed tight in the all-over compositions.

The best of the series have models who can project some of the tentativeness of their age. They are embedded in gorgeousness, but somewhat weighed down by it. The images “focus on Papapetrou’s explorations of the transitional stages of life, particularly the loss (and persistence) of childhood.”

The art critic Robert Nelson (the photographer’s husband) writes …

A beautiful young female figure is immersed in a garden of flowers, a vertical garden that doesn’t recede into deep space but presses itself onto the surface of the photograph. The model has flowers behind her, in front of her, upon her, all around her. Her form is rhapsodized by stitches of blooms and leaves, engulfed by nature but not contained by the three levels of representation that compress figure and ground.  Robert Nelson, 2016


Eden is sympathetically matched with a twin exhibition by Dutch photographers Hendrik Kerstens and Erwin Olaf, and another large one by Martin Parr. It’s a good time to go to Monash but they all close on Sunday December 4.


isabelle-le-minh-objectivIsabelle Le Minh, Objektiv, after Bernd & Hilla Becher, 2015

Isabelle Le Minh is a French artist who works on conceptual projects that engage with the history and meaning of photography. Her 2015 work ‘Objektiv, after Bernd & Hilla Becher’ featured in the recent curated exhibition Déconstruction Photographique at the Paris gallery Topographie de l’Art.

Objektiv  is an hommage to the Bechers who refined the mode of photographic typology with their well-known grids of industrial structures. Le Minh substitutes the Bechers’ water towers and blast furnaces with a collection of antique Petzval lenses from the 19th century. Like the Bechers subjects, her lenses, once advanced products of industry, are now historical artefacts, and are studied through their typological variations.

Her pictures resemble the Bechers’ images both in composition and print quality – her individual prints are as beautiful as black & white can be. The overall similarity is striking and, after you smile, you begin to pay close attention.

The title, Objektiv, is a clever choice as it’s loaded with meanings. First, it is the German word for lens, the subject-matter of the series. Further, these photographs are close ups of things, like still lifes – the lenses are objects.

The word also refers to the objectivity with which a lens transmits light. It is in the DNA of photography that the image is captured ‘impartially’ as a phenomenon of physics, not art. Unlike, for example, in a painting where the artist’s interpretation is unavoidable a photographic image is recorded automatically by light. This is the teasing ambiguity at the heart of the  medium – photographs are recorded by a machine and always seem to be artefacts of the real, visual world.

So what is the objective of Le Minh’s project? It is so much more than a mere echo of the Bechers’ work. Objektiv is a solipsistic work. It copies the methodology and style of a project from photographic history, the Bechers’  work, and reminds you that a photograph is always about photography and always about the history of photography.

It uses a lens to record lenses, a machine to record machines and so is about the thingness of photography, As her gallery’s statement asks, “Aren’t photography’s technical objects more singular than the images they can produce ?”



Greg Wayn at Flinders Island

Greg-Wayn-Flinders-Island-1                 Greg Wayn, Flinders Island, 2016

Greg Wayn’s recent trip to Flinders Island resulted in some fine black & white photographs. They are very much in the style of his earlier analogue photography, well known for its composition and tonal beauty.

Greg has posted a series of his new photographs which were made on digital cameras in colour and then converted into black & white …

I have been thinking lately of the shifts in thought processes and associated disciplines from my B&W film days to my current digital image processes. Somehow my brain was able to ‘see’ in B&W tonality when I was using my medium and large format cameras. Film was expensive and processing very time and energy intensive; the days of film were quite exhausting and demanding.

I still find it interesting to re-process my colour digital images into B&W versions as it brings back all that hard won knowledge and for this series I have even used the 4×5 (and 8×10) crop proportions that I used when using my large format 4×5 and 8×10 cameras. This is a significant discipline in its own right and you just had to accept the process and limitations and work with them.. Getting back into these thought process is still important for me and the careful framing of this proportion is quite a different experience compared to the typical 4:3 or 3:2 proportions of the digital sensor. As for square format, that is another thing entirely …

Greg’s photographs can be seen on his Photoworks blog

greg-wayn-flinders-island-3                 Greg Wayn, Flinders Island, 2016


Bill Lane’s industrial parks

Big Ben's Boxing                      Bill Lane, Big Ben’s Boxing, 2016

In his new exhibition at 69 Smith Street, Bill Lane makes a direct connection with a classic work from the 1970s.

“The Older Industrial Parks near Newport, Victoria” is Bill’s response to a landmark exhibition of 1974 by the photographer Lewis Baltz. It was called “The New Industrial Parks near Irvine, California” and was part of the movement called New Topographics.

Photographers of the “man-altered landscape” made images that were …stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion.

Bill Lane continues this research with some differences in style. He works in colour, on oblique angles, and at a more detached distance than Baltz. His photographs were often taken in the evening or at the magic hour, that luminous period where the sunlight mellows and the streetlights come on. His photographs take full advantage of the subtle hues and metallic lustre in the artificial streets; the prints glow almost with inner light.

But his approach shows a wariness of falling into Pictorialism, the sin of prettiness, and he proves his topographic purpose by including on the website for the project, a map with an arrow pointing to the exact location of each photograph.

Bent                  Bill Lane, Bent, 2016

The exhibition runs until Sunday September 4 at 69 Smith Street gallery in Fitzroy.


2016-silver-1                                        Tim Silver, Oneirophrenia, 2016

Tim Silver‘s exhbition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography has the curious title Oneirophrenia. It’s a medical term for the hallucinatory state caused by sleep deprivation or drugs.

His series of photographs certainly point to a nightmare since the plaster busts, which have been cast from his own head, are bursting apart with bread. Silver’s curious method is to fill the casts with dough and bake them; as the dough rises it expands and cracks the heads apart. They’re like a surrealist depiction of madness.

The casts resemble classical busts, an index of order and harmony, while the bursting bread points to the unruly unconscious mind, what Freud named the id. In the contrast of hard plaster and soft bread there is a satisfying opposition of mineral and vegetable, or of idea and matter. The bread has a strange resemblance to the shape of the brain, but the brains in these pictures are out of order and out of control.

Silver often uses organic or entropic materials which degrade and change form over time, including wax crayon, putty, fairy floss and chocolate. Here the artist has packed his heads with bread dough, which, as it rises, ruptures through his plaster skin, fracturing the classical forms with unique and random mutations of matter.

Photographs of Films

Citizen+Kane+(1941)Jason Schulman, Citizen Kane (1941)

Jason Schulman captures entire movies in a single photograph. Aiming his camera at a high res computer screen he records the roughly ninety minute movie in a single still shot. The project is called Photographs of Films and he has recorded over twenty films.

The still photos that result compress each movie into a single abstracted image with the scenes from the film recorded in layers. The photographs capture something the human eye can’t ordinarily see, the totality of a movie seen into a single moment, a single frame. In an average 90 minute film there are roughly 130,000 individual frames – still photographs themselves – so Schulman’s photographs are a record of tens of thousands of other photographs.

There are surprising traces of individual scenes. See how those light tones in Schulman’s Citizen Kane (1941) are a trace of the windows in this scene from the movie.

kane1Scene from Citizen Kane

The idea is similar to Hiroshi Sugimoto‘s interiors of ornate cinemas, lit only by the dark flickering image of the movie on the screen. His photographs show the cinema screen over-exposed to a white glow, while Schulman’s retain surprising traces of individual scenes.

“You can learn something about the director’s style from this kind of kooky translation: you can learn that Hitchcock deals with people, for example, Kubrick deals with composition. So it’s odd that in one exposure all of these things, although very subjective, kind of come through.”

Now look closely at these colour images, do you recognize the movies? The top one is Hitchcock’s Rear Window which shows just how much of that film focusses on James Stewart in his wheelchair. The bottom image is Kubrick’s The Shining and it demonstrates the great director’s taste for symmetrical compositions.


Max and Olive

Dupain-Hungarian-String-Quartet        Max Dupain, Hungarian String Quartet, 1937Cotton-Hungarian-String-Quartet      Olive Cotton, Hungarian String Quartet, 1937

Max and Olive is an exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum at Melbourne Uni that looks at the work of Max Dupain and Olive Cotton, two important Australian photographers. It focuses on the period of their close professional association, and brief marriage, the years of 1934 to 1945. It closes on July 24, so run, don’t walk, to this fabulous show.

The exhibition is a fine-grained analysis of their vast and progressive output, and draws out much about the period and the social context. The two worked in every genre and evidently set a new standard in Sydney for modern photography. The studio, opened by Dupain in 1934 (at the age of 23!) was immediately successful and he worked prominently in fashion, portrait and advertising photography.

In 1937 the studio was commissioned to photograph the Hungarian String Quartet which was visiting Australia on a tour. The two resulting photographs in the exhibition show a clear difference in aesthetic temperament between the two photographers.

Cotton, who was Dupain’s studio assistant, photographed the four musicians  as a team, emphasizing the relationship between them as they performed a serenade by Tchaikovsky. ‘”I wanted to get the feeling of a group making music that they loved,” she said.

Dupain’s image is more theatrical, with one player, possibly the leader, heroically lit while the others are in subdued light and moved to the side. Where Cotton’s is an image of equality, Dupain’s is one of hierarchy. In this respect the twin photographs are almost a caricature of the gendered gaze.

A further example of their different style is in two landscapes, again taken in the same year and including similar ingredients. Once more, Dupain’s is a forthright composition with strong emphasis and contrast. He makes his statement boldly and clearly; he once quoted Lewis Mumford’s statement that “the mission of the photograph is to clarify the subject.”

Cotton’s image is more equivocal. She is juggling more elements and they are linked in an almost circular visual path. It is not as clear and decisive as Dupain’s and suffers a little from indecision, but as a scheme it reinforces the impression given by her Hungarian violinists. Cotton’s work is more about relationships, while Dupain is looking for heroes.

Dupain-Bawley-Point-landscape                   Max Dupain, Bawley Point Landscape, 1938
Cotton-The-patterned-road               Olive Cotton, The Patterned Road, 1938

The exhibition Max and Olive is a special event, the first to look at the work of these two historic figures together. While Dupain is clearly the superior artist, Cotton comes out very well. And as a display of fine photographs the show is a revelation, there is much to learn just from how they worked with photography, especially the formal qualities of composition, contrast and print colour etc.

The exhibition is a travelling show from the National Gallery of Australia.  It’s  website has a complete set of the pictures in the show with text so after you’ve seen the exhibition you can review it at leisure on a computer. Just make sure you see it at the Ian Potter Museum first.

Max at the beach

Sunbaker-2                   Max Dupain, Sunbaker, 1937

The famous Max Dupain photograph of the the sunbaker was taken in 1937 and ultimately became an icon of Aussie beach culture. Some argue it’s the  most famous photograph ever taken in Australia.

In fact, this is not the image you think you recognize, it’s an alternative shot and the one preferred by Max himself. It is slightly different from the famous one, the hand is clenched and the horizon is lower; the camera was a little higher.

In the better known version the open hand is relaxed and there is more of a feeling of drowsiness and immersion in the sensuality of the moment. Notice how the the hot sand swallows the body which is more abstract and monumental. The foreground blur echoes the dreamy state of the figure.

You can see this great image at the excellent Max and Olive exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum at Melbourne Uni. Hurry, it closes on July 24.


It is a curious fact that this photograph only became known nearly forty years after it was taken, in 1975. It was used for the opening of the Australian Centre for Photography which Dupain helped to get off the ground. Apparently the image was never seen as significant, by Dupain or by anyone else. After it  became iconic he began to resent it, telling curator Helen Ennis, “I’m a bit worried about it. I think it’s taken on too much.”


Who was the anonymous man in the picture who has come to symbolize so much? Well, ironically he was not an Australian. He was Harold Salvage, an English builder, and a member of Dupain’s circle of friends. The occasion was a 1937 camping holiday with about eight others at Culburra Beach on the south coast of New South Wales. You can see more photos on this Pinterest site which are from an album owned by one of the circle, an architect named Chris Vandyke. It shows a very physical Dupain along with male and female friends having a very good time.


Seeing this photo of a fit and happy Dupain with his friend Salvage alongside, it makes sense that his father George ran the progressive Dupain Institute of Physical Education. For more on this part of the story, see Isobel Crombie’s book Body Culture which explores the ideological background to the physical culture movement in the thirties, and hence to Max’s own photographs.

Finally, a print of Sunbaker is currently on show at the excellent Max and Olive exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum. You won’t regret going to this show.