Australian photographer 1911 – 1992



BIOGRAPHY MAX DUPAIN  born 1911 [deceased 1992]


Maxwell Spencer Dupain was born in Sydney, where his father operated a modern gymnasium in the 1920s. He became interested in photography around the age of fourteen. On leaving Sydney Grammar School in 1930 he began a three-year apprenticeship in Cecil Bostock’s studio. In 1934 Dupain established his own studio in Bond Street.

In 1947 he moved to a new studio in Castlereagh Street in partnership with Hartland and Hyde process engravers. Over thirty years later, the partnership still continues to operate, from a studio in Artarmon.

Dupain joined the Photographic Society of New South Wales in 1928 and began exhibiting around 1930. His early work was in the pictorial style but in 1933 Dupain began to photograph industrial forms such as silos in a way totally alien to the pictorialists.

The new images stressed geometric form and were outlined and accentuated by clear hard light rather than romanticised by atmospheric effects. He was influenced by the New Photography or New Objectivity movement in photography which developed first in Germany between 1927 and 1933.

Like many of his generation, Dupain rejected the romantic preoccupation with picturesque subjects and turned to developing a style in tune with contemporary life in the machine age.

During the 1930s Dupain pioneered modern photography in Australia. His photographs explored and exposed the formal structure of the world around him - showing the recumbent figure of a sunbaker as a monumental triangle in plate 78, or the abstract shape of a silo against the sky in plate 64, with equal strength and drama.

His nude studies stressed the skeletal form beneath the flesh as in plate 67 or 68 where montage printing is used to show the parallel in shape between the torso and the shell spiral.

Dupain, like Cazneaux, found a patron in the publisher Sydney Ure Smith who regularly used his commercial and personal photographs in The Home magazine and presented a portfolio of work in the Art in Australia journal in 1935.

By 1938 Dupain had a reputation as a leading commercial photographer in fashion, advertising and portrait work. He was exhibiting regularly in photographic salons and many of the pictures of these years show Dupain ‘s admiration for the work of modern European photographers such as Man Ray and Lázló Moholy-Nagy and for surrealism.

In 1938 Dupain instigated the Contemporary Camera Groupe, partly in protest at the continued dominance of pictorialism, which was by then a reactionary style which paid scant attention to the new world or modern photography.

Between 1943 and 1944 Dupain was on war service as a photographer in the camouflage unit and spent time in New Guinea, before transferring to the Department of Information in 1945 to undertake an assignment to photograph Australia for promotional purposes. Dupain was influenced by the documentary movement in film, which had a considerable impact on still photographers in the late 1940s.

His friend Damien Parer, a war photographer and film maker, had introduced Dupain to the ideas of the documentary movement and its concern with factual, informative yet penetrating observation of the real world. Dupain was already involved with making images which revealed the forms in the environment and decided to concentrate on industrial and architectural work when he returned to his studio in 1947.

Dupain’s studio had been kept going during his absence by his first wife Olive Cotton (q.v.), from whom he had separated in 1941. Dupain ceased working in fashion and advertising, which seemed superficial subjects after the war years. His documentary work of this period is exemplified by “Meat Queue” (plate 94).

During the 1950s, Dupain developed his approach to photographing industrial and architectural form. As well he continued to work in portraiture and landscape both professionally and personally. In 1954 he was part of the “Six Photographers” group which asserted the value of direct treatment of the world with a personal interpretation in the face of the prevalence of slick advertising and fashion photography of the time.

From the 1960s Dupain continued to develop his professional and personal work. His architectural work became more abstract as he sought to distil the essence of the forms which he began exploring in the early 1930s.

Dupain has held several retrospective exhibitions since 1975 when his first major one-man show was held at the Australian Centre for Photography. A monograph on his work is to be published in 1980 and he was made an Affiliate of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects for his contribution to architectural photography the same year.

above text based on Gaël Newton's Silver & Grey Angus and Roberston, Australia 1980

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