Harold Cazneaux

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Harold Pierce Cazneaux was born in New Zealand, where his Australian parents operated a photographic studio. The family returned to Australia in 1886 and his father, Pierce Mott Cazneau (sic), worked in Duryea Studios in Melbourne and later Hammer & Co in Adelaide. Harold began his working life at age seventeen as an artist-retoucher at Hammers studio.

Cazneaux also studied art at night at the School of Design in Adelaide but was not interested in photographic art until seeing the work of John Kauffmann and early pictorialists at the annual exhibition of the South Australian Photographic Society between 1898 and 1903.

In 1904 Cazneaux moved to Sydney to take a better position at Freeman’s studio, first as an artist-retoucher but later as the chief camera operator. Once in Sydney, Cazneaux was able to begin his own photography with his first camera, a Midge Box camera, which he used to take pictures while travelling to and from work.

He met other amateurs and was introduced by one of these, Norman Deck, to the Photographic Society of New South Wales in 1907.

  Harold Cazneaux Portrait

By 1909 Cazneaux was sufficiently established to mount a one-man show at the society’s rooms. If not the first such show, Cazneaux’s exhibition was probably the first to establish the idea of the photographer-artist, as it was well received by artists and press. Cazneaux gained a reputation for the spontaneity of his outdoor shots. “The Razzle Dazzle” attracted considerable attention at the London Salon. H. Snowden Ward reviewed the show for the Photograms of the Year (1911, p. 288) and praised Cazneaux for outstanding work.

At his one-man exhibition Cazneaux made the acquaintance of Sydney Ore Smith. who later, in 1920, appointed him official photographer to The Home magazine. This was just at the time when Cazneaux was attempting to establish himself as a freelance photographer. He had resigned from Freeman’s after suffering a nervous breakdown in 1918. Studios such as Freeman’s were still very Victorian in the clichéd studio portraits they turned out and the sweatshop conditions under which the staff worked. For Cazneaux, who was interested in photography and preferred to work outdoors, the situation became impossible. He felt unable to leave as he had married in 1905 and by 1918 had a large family to support. Cazneaux first worked independently from Cecil Bostock’s studio in Denman Chambers, Phillip Street, but from 1920 he worked from his home in Roseville, Sydney.

Assignments for The Home provided scope and stimulus beyond the range of the work shown at pictorial salons. The Home was a promoter of modernism and Leon Cellert, in particular, encouraged Cazneaux’s experimentation.

Harold caxneaux Portrait  

From the late 1920s, Cazneaux’s work shows a remarkable welding of the romantic atmosphere of pictorialism with the dramatic forms, angles and lighting which were part of the vogue for modernism in art. Cazneaux’s industrial pictures and Flinder’s Ranges landscapes of the 1930s have a monumental scale quite uncharacteristic of any other Australian pictorialist.

In 1938 Cazneaux also exhibited with the Contemporary Camera Groupe but became increasingly disheartened by the modern trends in photography, which he felt were cold and mechanistic. They seemed involved with novelty and not the universal beauty the pictorialists sought.

Cazneaux continued working until his death in 1953. In 1952 he was honoured with a national tribute evening and earlier, in 1938, had received an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society.

Cazneaux’s pictures were extensively published in Sydney Ure Smith publications, as well as the Australian Photo-Review and Harrington’s Photographic Journal magazines and in the British annual Photograms of the Year.



above text based on Gaël Newton's Silver & Grey

Reference: Shades of Light: The Salons


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