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An online version of the catalogue
for theretrospective exhibition of the work of Axel Poignant
The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 1982

Cover image: 
Swagman on the road to Wilcannia, 1953/4 (cat 74)


Biographical details

includes a chronology, publications, articles, exhibitions




Born Harald Emil Axel Poignant 12th December, in Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom. Swedish father, English mother. One sister born 1908.
1919 After military service as Lieutenant-Colonel in British Army, Poignant's father (Axel sr) sends Axel jr and sister to Gotland, Sweden prior to return of family to live in Sweden. Axel jr experiments with pin-hole camera.
1922 After finishing school in Sweden, Poignant trains as sea-cadet on Swedish windjammer.
1923 Works for taxation department assessing timber resources in forests of northern Sweden.
1925 Works in father's office as clerk.
1926 Emigrates to Australia via England on board The Pakeha. After short period of training at Scheyville near Windsor, New South Wales takes up rural job at Coolamon then Temora, New South Wales.
1927 Ill health makes Poignant unfit for heavy rural work. After convalescence searches for work in city then spends 6 months as casual farm labourer in rural areas on perimeters of Sydney.
1928 Returns to Sydney, after difficulties finding work sets up a camp in French's Forest, sells wild flowers illegally for a little cash. Finally obtains work at Electrolux Co and Gestetner office Machines — at latter, interest in photography revives.
1929 Starts taking home portraits to supplement income.
1930 Lives at the Manor, Theosophical society community house in Mosman, works for 2GB childrens session. Marries and moves to wife's family home in Perth.
1930-34 Works freelance from home as a photographer specialising in home portraits especially of children. Experiments with pictorial style of art photography.
1934 Works part of year for Western Mining Corporation aerial survey laboratory, purchases first Leica 35 mm camera from foreman.
1935 Develops interest in realism of documentary photography. First photo-essay on Karri forest at Pemberton 1934/5. Sets up own studio, London Court, after break up of marriage.
1936 Begins 16 mm filming, interest in nature photography strengthened. Does 2nd photo-story on Kalgoorlie.
1938 More extensive trips to bush, eg. Pingelly.
1939 Meets Vin Serventy secretary of Naturalist Club, joins club and goes on outings.
1941 Joint exhibition of documentary photography with Hal Missingham, in Perth.
1942 Joins expedition along Canning stock route, profoundly effected by experience of regeneration of bush after rains end seven year drought.
1942-45 War service, Radar film processing in Sydney. Studio taken over by an assistant, Grace Webb (Mrs Sidney Gore).
1945 Released from war service to join Ealing Studio film crew, as assistant cameraman, on feature film The Overlanders directed by Harry Watt.  Film on koalas for Encyclopaedia Britannica.
1946 Joins Department of Information film unit as cameraman. Works in Northern Territory on film Namatjira the Painter.
1947 Awarded a gold medal for photography at Newcastle and Hunter Valley 150th Anniversary Exhibition.
1947-8 Works on various assignments in outback areas.
1948 Rejoins Harry Watt's film crew as still cameraman for Ealing Studios feature film Eureka Stockade.
Publishes first book: Bush Animals of Australia.
1949-50 Returns to DOI Film Unit. Makes film on Kangaroos among other work, (later released in 1954 as Down in the Forest).
1951-2 Works as assistant to Fritz Goro for Life magazine on locations all over Australia.
1952 Conceives project to record the traditional way of life of Aborigines, before planned Government Station established at Liverpool River, Arnhem Land. Obtains permission to enter reserve. Spends 5 months in Arnhem Land.
1953-56 Commercial film work and freelance photo-journalism. Marries Roslyn Izatt, 1953.
1954 Kangaroo film for DOI, Down in the forest wins first prize in children's section at Venice Film Festival.
1955 Six Photographers exhibition in Sydney.
1956 With wife returns to Europe visits Sweden and settles in London for family reasons.
1957 Children's book, Piccanniny Walkabout, published.
1958 Works on TV series of four programmes for BBC; Summer in Sicily.
1959 Childrens film for BBC TV, Pippo.
1960s-70s Works as freelance photo-journalist for Times, Observer, Guardian, Geographical etc. Portraits of artist, musicians etc an important part of output.
1965 The Improbable Kangaroo and other Australian Animals, published. Increased problems with deafness restricts work as a photo-journalist.
1969 With Roslyn Poignant spends a year in the Pacific, (French Polynesia, Fiji, New Zealand, New Guinea, revisits Australia), gathering fresh material. Two children's books published later; Kaleku 1972 and Children of Oropiro 1976.
1975 Revisits Australia. Lodges set of documented file prints of Melville Island (1949) and Arnhem Land (1952) with National Library of Australia, Canberra.
1976-81 Worked on photographic conservation project for Royal Anthropological Institute, London, and printed exhibition Observers of Man, organized for the Institute by Roslyn Poignant.
1981 Revisited Central Australia and photographed in Sarawak on return. Works on retrospective at Art Gallery of New South Wales in Australia and on return to London.

Publications by Axel Poignant

Axel Poignant has made his living chiefly from reproduction rights for photographs used in books, magazines and newspapers, and from royalties from his own publications. Isolated illustrations, particularly in magazines and newspapers, are too numerous to record. Some of the more accessible have been listed in the captions.

1948 Bush Animals of Australia. Sydney, Shepherd Press. Illustrations by Poignant: notes by JR Kingston and E. Troughton. Cover design by Hal Missingham.
1957 Piccanniny Walkabout: A Story of Two Aboriginal Children. Sydney, Angus and Robertson.
Reprinted 1957, 1958 (twice), 1959, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1968, 1970, (See also Bush Walkabout 1972) Awarded: Best Children's Book of the Year 1957-8 (unesco Commendation for a children's book promoting understanding between peoples).
1965 The Improbable Kangaroo and Other Australian Animals. Sydney, Angus and Robertson. Foreword by David Attenborough
1967 Animals of Australia. New York, Dodd, Mead & Co. American edition of The Improbable Kangaroo
1972 Bush Walkabout. Sydney, Angus and Robertson Revised edition of Piccanniny Walkabout, (1957)
1972 Kaleku. (with Roslyn Poignant), Sydney, Angus & Robertson. A Children's book on New Guinea.
1973 French, Swedish and Norwegian editions of Kaleku.
1974 Danish edition of Kaleku
American edition of Bush Walkabout, Reading, Mass. Addison Wesley
1975 American editon of Kaleku
1976 Children of Oropiro. (with Roslyn Poignant) London, Angus and Robertson, British and Australian and Norwegian Book Club editions 'Aborigines Exploration Earth', (audio visual), BBC Radio Vision, London, Spring 100n


Articles by Axel Poignant

1952 'Camera Class' series; am (Australia Monthly) March 1952 p 35; April p 47; May p 61
1954 'A Free-Lance in Arnhem Land: Episode 1'; Australasian Photo-Review (ap-r), October V 61:10 pp 594-9 This and subsequent 2 episodes published under the pseudonym 'Yampi'.
1956 'A Free-Lance in Arnhem Land: Episode 2'AP-R, May V 63:5 pp 294- 9; 'Episode 3', AP-R, July V 63:7 pp 392-6, 399
1957 Walkabout in Australia's Bush', Unesco Courier, May pp 4-10. 1958
'The Aborigines' Place in Modern Australia.' The Geographical Magazine, November pp 352-55
1959 'Filming in Australia'. Filmstrip News, no 3 Autumn, Yorkshire, Educational Productions Ltd, (contains autobiographi­cal details)
1960 'Australian Animals I Have Met'. The Sunday Times, London p 84-5
1978 'Axel Poignant'. Australian Photography: a contemporary view, (ed) L. Le Guay, Sydney, Globe Publishing/James Coleman, (Australian Photography magazine), pp 8-11, illus 12-13. (autobiographical article)

Biographical References

1962 'People and Places, Axel Poignant'. Australian and New Zealand Weekly, London, 92:6 July p 14
1974 Rev. Lazarus Lamilami, Lnrnilami Speaks, Sydney, Ure Smith 1980
Gael Newton, Silver and Grey, Fifty Years of Australian Photography 1900-1950, Sydney, Angus and Robertson
1981 Ian Jeffrey, unpublished transcript of interview with Axel Poignant,. London.


The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales
The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria
The National Library of Australia, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory,
Museum of Mankind, London, United Kingdom
Rolleiflex Collection, Brunswick, Western Germany
Manchester Museum, United Kingdom


Group Exhibitions
As with many documentary photo­graphers Axel Poignant has not made a practice of submitting work to photography exhibitions. This retro­spective is his first one-person show.

1941 Axel Poignant — Hal Missingham Exhibition of Photographs, The West Australian Newspaper House Gallery, Perth, Western Australia, 16th September to the 4th October. Catalogue: Art Gallery of New South Wales photography archive, designed by Hal Missingham.
1947 Newcastle and Hunter Valley 150th Anniversary Exhibition of Photography, Newcastle, New South Wales.
1955 Six Photographers, David Jones Gallery, Sydney, New South Wales, 30th May to 6th June. The six photographers were; Gordon Andrews, Kerry Dundas, Max Dupain, David Potts, Hal Missingham and Axel Poignant.
Catalogue: Art Gallery of New South Wales photography archive.
1957 Internationell fotoexpo i Karlstad, Sweden.
1975 The Library, University of Exeter, Exeter, England.
1976 Australian Photography: A Contem­porary View, Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, New South Wales; Neikrug Gallery, New York-Photographers'Gallery, London. An exhibition of selected prints from the book of the same title, published by Australiati Photography magazine, Games Coleman/Globe publishing, Sydney 1978 (ed) L. Le Guay).

Exhibition Dates

The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 17th July - 29th August, 1982
The Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth 20th September - 24th October, 1982
The National Library of Australia, Canberra 13th December, 1982 - 30th January, 1983

Exhibition organiser:
Gael Newton, AGNSW Curator of Photography

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