new scale: Modernism
1926 work on the great arch of the world’s largest single-span
bridge began from stanchions on the opposing sides of Sydney
Harbour. Sydneysiders watched for four years as the two arcs
rose higher and closer, until in August 1930, the arch was complete.
In honour of the occasion Ure Smith published a book of photographs
by Cazneaux of the recent progress of the bridge. The foreword
by Leon Gellert declared that it represented:
intrusion of the age of steel and the passing of individuality.
It is out of tune with the homestead and the hearth, and the
myriad historic residences, scores of which have been kicked
aside that its feet may be more firmly planted on the shores(24).
made appropriately romantic and dramatic views for the publication
but would have held back from Gellert’s functionalist aesthetic
which described such engineering as 'a perfect object of art'.
publications in the stable of The Home had predicted
the emergence of a similar aesthetic; Jean Curlewis writing in The
Home Pictorial Annual of 1928 embraced the Industrial Age
in passionate terms far removed from the idealised eternal harmonies
sought by the Pictorialists:
a year or two hence we shall lead our visitors to Walsh Bay
or Darling Island and bid them mark the pattern of bold masses
and intricate detail made against the sky by wheat silos(25).
were as yet no skyscrapers to enthuse over, these were delayed
until after the mid 1930s by the Depression. The monumental wheat
silos beside the docks at Pyrmont and the rugged, modern incinerators
designed by architect Walter Burley Griffin, were some of the
most awesome local examples of modern engineering apart from
the great bridge(26).
early as 1920 Henri Mallard had treated a submarine as a subject
for an exhibition photograph. He was so impressed by the significance
of the bridge that he made a 16 millimetre film, stereograph
and still photographic record of its construction(27).
Documents and art were evidently in different categories for
Mallard. When he printed the negatives for exhibitions he made
them into rather poor bromoils(28). One
of the last bromoils he made was a tribute to a steam train and
the decorative form of a railway signal of 1939(29). He continued
as an active member of the Photographic Society into the 1960s.
stereographs and negatives of the bridge workers suggest an interest
in the workers such as expressed by American photographer, Lewis
Hine (1874-1940) in his coverage of the construction of the Empire
State Building in New York(30).
had a sense of history and recording but his bromoil prints and
the remaining body of Pictorialist work shows that he did not
have a sense of the new documentary movement or any solidarity
with the workers.
Pictorialist with an understanding of the new world who visited
Australia in 1930 was English photographer E.O. Hoppé (1878-1972).
He had made his reputation in London for stylish social and theatrical
portraiture and from the mid 1920s had extended this with travel
books(31). He sent Cazneaux a personal
invitation to his Sydney exhibition in April 1930 at the David
Jones Gallery(32). The following year he
published his Australian work as The Fifth Continent(33). It
was one of the earliest national photographic coverages by an
art photographer. anticipating Frank Hurley’s stream of
picture book publications on Australia in the 1940s. The photographs
in it are clear and concise with little Pictorialist 'atmosphere’.
within the ranks of the New South Wales Photographic Society
there was a schoolboy photographer in the process of transforming
his Pictorialist romanticism into a Modernist style appropriate
to the enthusiasms of The Home. Max Dupain (1911 - 1992)
exhibited a photograph Modern might at the Society’s 1928
exhibition and two years later joined Cecil Bostock’s studio
as an apprentice. It was a fortuitous choice for Bostock was
a good technician, devoted to the advance of art photography,
and proved receptive to the new ideas of the abstract beauty
of pure form which Dupain was developing(34).
1933 Dupain had made an image, Silos—morning in
which the ‘bold masses’ of the grain silos at Pyrmont
were outlined against the sky. It was shown to the New South
Wales Photographic Society where its degree of abstraction, emphasised
by the extreme low viewpoint, was criticised. Bostock defended
the work(35) but henceforth, although Dupain’s
photographs appeared in exhibitions with Pictorialist works,
his style had none of the atmosphere, diffused outlines and graceful
idealisation demanded by Pictorial aesthetics(36).
Precedents for Dupain s ‘unpicturesque’ subjects
and casual ‘photographic’ composition, had been set
by painters such as Modernist painter-architect, John D. Moore
(1886-1958) with whom Dupain was friendly(37).
1935 Dupain was making even more radical images of the industrial
landscape around Pyrmont, with low and high viewpoints used to
dramatise the forms and raking light to either bring out their
solidity or east them as geometric shapes. Where in 1932 he had
made a bromoil of a quarry with a human interest element in the
figures of manual labourers(38), now telegraph
poles and car wheels dominated a surreal environment denuded
of people and any sense of the organic(39).
The graceful asymmetry of Pictorialism was replaced by new theories
of dynamic symmetry advocated by Jay Hamblins books(40).
had already treated machinery and telegraph poles as decorative
forms subordinated to the graphic effect of the whole image.
In the last year of Dupain’s work with him, Bostock had
been commissioned, with Cazneaux, to photograph the new Anzac
War Memorial in Hyde Park. The photographs published in The Book
of the Anzac Memorial in 1934(41) were
restrained, simple and direct, well suited to the Art Deco forms
of the building. Bostock included his own low-angle view of the
scaffolding for the dome in which the forms predominate but are
also responded to Modernism in the 1930s building on the decorative
geometric patterns of his earlier images. He gained an important
commission in 1935 to photograph the various steel-making plants
of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company for their fiftieth anniversary(42).
The resulting imagery, like the old Sydney coverage of his earliest
years, expressed the romance of industry in general, with rich
steam and light effects but with the scale and dynamism of the
works retained to suit modern taste.
Pictorialists accommodated the Modernist landscape painting style
of the late 1920s seen in the Art in Australia special
landscape issue of 1927(43) and in the
work of painters like Hans Heysen, Elioth Gruner and Max Meldrum
(1875-1955) whose simplified broad shapes and outlined contours,
flat colours and clear light suited the clean interior decoration
and streamlined shapes of the new buildings of the 1930s(44). The
rugged dry landscapes of Central Australia became popular in
photography as a relief from the sylvan dells and recreational
landscapes which constituted a staple fare of earlier years.
of the earliest to explore the desert landscape was F. A. Joyner
who accompanied Heysen on trips to the Flinders Ranges in 1927-1928.
The experience revitalised Joyner, then in his sixties, and he
produced a series of landscape studies with flattened forms which
presented the drought-stricken country with an almost classical
B. Eaton (1881-1967) who was an active member of the Victorian
Pictorial societies during the 1920s, also modernised his soft-focus
landscape work, which was derived from the luminous cool tonalism
of Frederick Evans (1852-1943), a member of the Linked Ring.
Eaton’s Cattle tracks of 1934 achieved an Australian look.
His later works became extremely graphic due to the use of a
piece of sandblasted glass during the printing of his negatives
to the point where they bordered on the abstract(46).
Cazneaux became enamoured of his home state desert areas during
his trips to the Flinders Ranges in 1935 and 1937. He made some
of his boldest and most successful landscapes on these journeys,
with large shapes placed in the centre of the image as in his
most famous tree portrait, The Spirit of Endurance of
1937. It was originally titled A giant gum of the arid north,
but was retitled following the death of his only son Harold at
Tobruk in 1941. Cazneaux called it his most Australian picture(47).
the sunshine school of Australian Pictorialism, first sought
during World War One, was finally achieved through the impact
of modernist painting in the 1920s and 1930s. However, the Pictorialists
remained faithful to the naturalism and human interest in their
work accommodating only those stylistic aspects of contemporary
style which preserved these features. The ideology of modernism,
which had a zealous enthusiasm for mechanisation, the marvels
of cars and planes, and the monumental constructions of the new
engineering and architectural works, was viewed with scepticism
and some trepidation(48).
young radicals of the turn of the century who had fought for
the truth and beauty of soft-focus were middle aged in the 1930s.
Cazneaux’s and Joyner’s creative work finished with
their trips to the desert. Kauffmann in Melbourne in his sixties,
responded to the new formalism of the 1930s by producing a series
of close-up plant and floral studies which, despite their soft-focus,
relate to the vogue for still life studies in Modernist photography
in Europe and America. These were appreciated in his own lifetime
by two quite different audiences. Ambrose Pratt wrote an article
in 1933 on Kauffmann as an artist for Manuscripts, a small arts
and letters journal. Pratt predicted Kauffmann would be honoured
by future generations for his flower studies(49). One
of which was used in The Home as an advertisement for
hosiery in 1927(50).
had consistently produced images which were more sophisticated
or subtle than those of his contemporaries. In later years he
became embittered at the lack of recognition of his pioneering
role and was regarded as rather old fashioned by younger photographers(51). Yet
he was the first Australian photographer to have a monograph
published. The Art of John Kauffmann (1919)(52) and
his coverage in an arts and letters magazine was a testament
denied to Cazneaux whose work remained in a nexus of Ure Smith’s
publications and the Pictorial salons.
awareness of a separate modern school of photography arrived
with the completion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The New Photography
or New Objectivity as it was known, had been greatly stimulated
by photographers and film makers working during the heyday of
the Weimar Republic in Germany between 1927—1933. The Neue
Sachlich keit (new matter-of-factness) movement in the visual
arts in Germany was also influential in focussing attention on
the validity and pictorial power of commonplace subjects(53). Where
Art Deco used geometric patterns and clear outlines to create
decorative images, the New Photography used strong lighting,
odd angles and close-ups to reveal the abstract forms in mundane
objects and scenes. In doing so the subjects of the New Photography
were often monumentalised and mystified while at the same time,
expressing the transcendental-spiritual philosophies behind aspects
received reports on the New Photography from its London correspondent,
the Reverend H. 0. Fenton, who was both bemused and fascinated
by The Modern Spirit exhibition held there in 1932. He
cited F. J. Niortimer’s observation that, ‘Once a
man photographed a room, now he takes the keyhole and makes an
enlargement of it!(55). The editors of
the A.P.-R. urged receptivity to the stimulus offered
by the New Photography ‘the modern movement may influence
the future trend of photography by extending the range of our
visions.., and provide us with much needed stimulus(56).
to examples of modern work came directly from German magazines
such as Dos Deutsche Lichtbild and English publications
such as Modern Photography annuals which contained translated
versions of the ideologies of the new style. Max Dupain was impressed
by the writings of G. H. Saxon Mills in this publication, quoting
them later in his own publications. Photography, he said:
to the new age, its forms are mechanistic rather than naturalistic.
It is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama
opening out before us today of clean concrete buildings, steel
radio masts, and the wings of the airliner. But its beauty
is only for those who, themselves, are aware of the zeitgest—who
belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their
eyes fixed wistfully on the past(57).
was as much chauvinism in Mills characterisation of the role
of the New Photographer as the turn of the century Pictorialists’ who
claimed to have a privileged perception of the beauty in nature.
The New Photography would, he said, reveal 'the vivid and exciting
reality behind the commonplace which alone we see’(58). The
social and temporal meaning of a scene was not as important as
the formal beauty it contained.
streams of modern photography were concerned less with abstract
forms than with the social and humanistic meaning of the actual
subjects encouraged by the New Photography
photographers in Australia were aware of Das Deutsche Lichtbild and
of the concept of the photo-essay and documentary school of modern
pho-tography. Axel Poignant (1906—1986) who ran a portrait
studio in Perth, Western Australia, received copies of the German
magazine from his aunt in England. By 1934-1935 he was experimenting
with a photoessay on the Karri forest timber getters at Pemberton,
inspired by European magazines which had adopted the new picture
format. His break with the local Pictorialists like A. Knapp,
came when Poignant discussed the impact of his work with sharp
prints for aerial survey work in 1938. Knapp commented on ‘how
painful it must have been to have to take sharp pictures’(59).
formal styles of work began appearing in Pictorial salons in
increasing numbers from the early 1930s. They provoked comment
by the reviewers and others such as J. S. MacDonald (1878-1952),
Director of the New South Wales Art Gallery, when he opened the
New South Wales Photographic Society’s 1932 exhibition
with an attack on modern art(60). The reviews
in the press expressed reservation about the monotony of bromoils
in the show and the lack of vigour and dramatic force.
a few works, BA. Musto’s Curves for example, were seen
as experiments with the new machine forms that were popular with
German and Japanese photographers(61).
fifth international salon of the Victorian Salon in 1934 was
reviewed by Cazneaux who noted the appearance of cold-toned glossy
prints without enthusiasm and a lack of story elements(62). As
early as 1930, in a review of the KODAK Fourth Annual International
Salon shown in Sydney, Cazneaux contrasted the gentle world
of Pictorialism with the jazzy pace of the metropolis:
a contrast was there — the drop to the ground floor in
the modern lift and being hustled by a modern crowd into the
modern bustle of our modern city streets, where electric trains,
motor cars, concrete and steel, colour and human beings seem
all messed up and doing jazz! ... Here are subjects waiting
to be treated. The jazz of moving shapes makes patterns on
the street whilst up above against the sunset sky is the jazz-like
serrated edge of the up and down masses of concrete and steel.
What we cannot get in romantic old-world subjects in the modern
youthful city (that is stamping out what little it has of the
old), must be turned to account in exploiting its modern possibilities(63).
was aware of the arguments of the anti-Modernists as were the
members of the Sydney Camera Circle. In 1932 English photography
critic F. C. Tilney (1864-1951) donated a large collection of
early Pictorialist work to the Sydney Camera Circle, for whom
he had acted as a paid critic. Tilney had published numerous
books and reviews on Pictorial photography but gave up this work
from 1926 on to devote himself to his broadsheet Art and Reason,
which attacked modern art(64).
1935 the old and new schools were being counterpointed in The
Home and in Art in Australia. Ure Smith included
portfolios of work by the Sydney Camera Circle and Max Dupain
in Art in Australia in June and November 1935. The Circle
members’ bucolic landscapes were a world apart from Dupain’s
nudes, light and form studies which showed the impact of J.T.
Scoby’s book on European Modernist photography by
Man Ray (1890— 1976) which Dupain had enthusiastically
reviewed for The Home in October.
portfolio carried a quote from Saxon Mills’ essay of 1931
and The Home also carried a review of the latest Modern
Photography 1935-1936(65). Ure Smith continued
to support Cazneaux in his various publications but the increasing
attention given to Dupain and a new generation of modern photographers,
showed that a baton was being publicly handed from the old to
the new styles.