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Oswald Ziegler and the commercial application of contemporary Australian Photography
in the mid Twentieth Century

Eric Riddler 1990





Australia’s major photographers during the middle of the twentieth century were commercially orientated and proud to be. Before them was the Pictorialist School, whose members promoted the medium as a fine art alongside painting and who manipulated their photographs, often through a lack of sharp focus, to 'create' an image rather than simply a record of the subject.

More recently institutions such as the Australian Centre for Photography have, despite wavering policies of defining contemporary photographic practice, spent almost two decades promoting the medium as an individual art form.

As the young modern commercial photographers of the mid century become the respectable masters of today, their work has often been placed within the context of other photographic practice as art. While the photographers are pleased with the respect, the altered context creates problems.

When a critic reviews an exhibition of photographs, that were taken to fulfil a promotional commission, as fine art, it is possible to accuse the work of banality. It is as if the critic regards all mid-century work as necessarily in the documentary genre.1  The photographers do not care for this miscontextualising at all.

The subject of this study is the use of photography by a major promotional publisher of the time, Oswald Ziegler. From his early work in South Australia during the late 1920s he had used photographs to illustrate his promotional brochures and by the end of the thirties, based in Sydney, he had begun using such notable photographers as Frank Hurley and some young commercial photographers including Athol Shmith.

An early triumph for the modern school of photography was Max Dupain’s commission to photograph Sydney for Ziegler’s Soul of a City in 1940. Dupain became the principal photographer for many Ziegler publications until the mid fifties, continuing to supply photographs to Ziegler until E II R, 25 Years, Ziegler’s swansong, in 1977.

Important to this study is Ziegler’s relationship with contemporary photography over the greater part of his publishing career. An important result of this was the production of the two Australian Photography anthologies in 1947 and 1957. Although Ziegler never managed to fulfil his intention to produce Australian Photography as an annual, the volumes which were produced reflect a decade of development in commercial and creative photography.

Many of Ziegler’s promotional publications for regional interests, particularly larger urban centres such as Sydney and Canberra, employed photographers to create a photo-essay style look at the area in question. Ziegler produced a number of books about Sydney, most importantly the Soul of a City series, and several on Sydney’s landmarks, namely King’s Cross and the Opera House.

The publication that introduced many photographic and illustrative techniques into Ziegler’s oeuvre was Romance in Paradise for the State of New South Wales. This journal’s role as a watershed in Ziegler’s use of photography and the change of direction in mainstream photographic practice will be discussed briefly before studies of municipality commissioned work.

The aim of this study is to demonstrate the interdependence between the creative and commercial photography in the years leading to the creation of the Australian Centre for Photography. Ziegler’s role as an employer and artistic director in his books exemplifies the methods of photographic promotion at the time.

There were rival companies (e.g. John Sands), and more artistically centred publishers (e.g. Ure Smith), but it was Ziegler who gave photographers opportunities early in their careers and anthologised the style of the era.


Sumptous Glamour Peculiarly Australian – A Brief History

Oswald Leopold Ziegler was born in Victoria in 1900. His parents, Otto and Gerte, were from South Australia. Otto Ziegler was an advertising agent. During the First World War the Ziegler family moved to Adelaide where Otto established an agency operating out of the Verco Buildings on Adelaide’s prestigious North Terrace.

In 1921 Otto advertised his agency as a ‘Proprietor of various Mediums of Publicity for City, Suburbs and Country.’3  At this time the agency produced several illustrated booklets covering various regions in South Australia promoting the towns, businesses and tourist potential within the booklets’ selected area.

In the late twenties Oswald followed his father into such regional advertising booklets. Working as a journalist for the Mail Newspapers Co., his output included promotions for the wheat belt immediately to the north of Adelaide and South Australia’s fruit and vine growers. The former, entitled Review of the Lower North of South Australia: The Land of the Golden Grain, 1928, borrowed the second part of the title from a 1922 publication by his father.

By the mid thirties Oswald Ziegler was based in Melbourne while working on the State’s Centenary souvenirs. These were much larger than his South Australian work and incorporated coloured photographs. The design of the books was in a part Bauhaus/ mainly Art Deco style created by Estonian born and German trained designer Gert Sellheim. Sellheim was to work for Ziegler until his death in the early 1970s.

The lavish summary of Ziegler’s Victorian work, Victorian and Melbourne Centenary Celebrations 1934-1935, was published in early 1936. After this Ziegler settled in Sydney to work on souvenirs for Australia’s sesquicentenary. In late 1937 the first of these appeared in New South Wales. The design, presumable by Sellheim, is based on Aboriginal motifs.4

Frank Hurley seems to have been the principal photographer; most of the colour photography is his work. The composition of 150 Years in Australia was expanded into 150 Years/ Australia 1788-1938 in late 1938. In addition to a nationwide coverage of sesquicentennial events, there was a large section on the states’ current enterprises. This was to be the first of several large scale examinations of Australia published by Ziegler over a forty year period.

Another 1938 publication was the magazine-like Romance in Paradise. This was a promotion for New South Wales’ tourist centres. A similar publication for the Blue Mountains appeared the following year for Katoomba’s Municipal Golden Jubilee. Blue Mountains established a major pattern in Ziegler’s productions.

This was the regional promotion, heavily illustrated with texts discussing the region’s history, facilities, industries and economic future. This style, albeit updated, was still evident in Sublime Vision (Wollongong) and Maitland 1863-1963, both published in 1963.

The most ambitious of Ziegler’s illustrated promotions before the Second World War was a commission for the City of Sydney, employing the young commercial photographer Max Dupain and the celebrated designer Douglas Annand. Ziegler created the first edition of Soul of a City in 1940. Dupain’s first book, Soul of a City, was the first of about twenty Ziegler publications to feature his work.

After the war Ziegler expanded into Government reports, trade pamphlets and educational souvenirs. For much of the late forties Ziegler published through the offices of Gotham Australasia Pty., Ltd., as Ziegler-Gotham Publications.

A commission to produce souvenir publications for Newcastle’s sesquicentenary in 1947 resulted in that city’s Anniversary Photographic Salon being used as the basis for Australian Photography 1947. Intended as the first of an annual presentation, only one other was published. This was Australian Photography 1957 which followed a decade later.

Ziegler split from Gotham in 1948, working with larger publishers for more ambitious projects.5 Oswald Ziegler Publications, later Oswald Ziegler Enterprises, moved from Gotham’s offices to those of their printers’, W. E. Smith Limited, until the early sixties. The layout of the books gradually matured, as did the paper, printing and binding.

The increased demand for trade promotions during the early fifties was at the cost of Ziegler’s regional oeuvre. The Commonwealth Jubilee and the delayed visit of Queen (originally planned for her as Princess) Elizabeth also took time away from regional promotions. Ziegler returned to regional promotions in the years leading up to 1959.

The four years of Municipal Centenaries which followed were the last regional events to result in a book by Oswald Ziegler Publications, although one book – produced for Randwick in 1959 – was revised in late 1976. This and a Brisbane centenary book from the same time were less concerned with pictorial content than the others had been.

The sixties saw Ziegler develop large trade related books devoted to Australia, New Zealand and overseas trading partners. Urban landmarks and corporate histories became the mainstay of the slimmer pictorial promotions. This arrangement continued into the seventies.

During the seventies Gert Sellheim died, leaving Alan D. Ziegler in charge of most layout, design and production tasks. Oswald Ziegler was freer to write more than editorials for his publications.

The text of the second version of The Penfold Story in 1975 was Oswald’s work. The final example of the broader examination of Australia’s role in the world was incorporated into E II R 25 Years in 1977. This featured a review of the Commonwealth of Nations as well as a history of the Monarchy, partly written by Oswald Ziegler. It was also the final example of the Oswald Ziegler publishing company.

In 1984, shortly after the fiftieth anniversary of his first South Australian pamphlets, Oswald Ziegler died in Sydney.


# 1:  An example of Otto Ziegler’s work, Victor Harbor and its Environs, South Australia’s Fashionable Seaside Resort and Shrine of Pleasure, 1921. Collection of the Mitchell Library


#2:    W. E. Smith limited were the printers for many Oswald Ziegler Publications and the companies shared the same Sydney office during the fifties. Shown is Croydon House, Smith’s printery of the fifties. Architecture, Volume 38, Number 2, April 1950, p 62.
Collection of the Power Research Library, University of Sydney.


  1. An example is Kris Hemensley Around and About, Athol Shmith Photofile Volume 7, Number 4, Summer 1989, pp 27-29.
  2. Both Hurley and Shmith were featured in 150 Years Australia 1788-1938. Hurley contributed to several Ziegler books at the time, Shmith was mainly involved in the Australian Photography
  3. Sands McDougalls; South Australia Directory 1931.
  4. Sellheim was a pioneer of the commercial use of Aboriginal motifs. Alan McCulloch, Encyclopedia of Australian Art, Melbourne, 1984, Volume 2, p 1104.
  5. Including Angus and Robertson, Shakespeare Head, Rigby and New Zealand Newspapers.


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Appendices: Zeigler Publications  / Photographers  /  Library & Collection   /  Designers Artists  /  Illustrations, Bibliography, Resources

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This 2020 online version of Eric Riddler's thesis has been adapted from a copy of Eric's 1990 thesis as submitted for Fine Arts IV Thesis University of Sydney. This is not the thesis as submitted and includes amendments,edits, reformatting and updated information.
The copyright for this paper is retained by the author.

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