photographer, photo historian,
Honorary Researcher, Department of Photography, National Gallery
INFLUENCES IN AUSTRALIAN PHOTOGRAPHY 1930-80
A lecture delivered at APSCON, Canberra
(also available as a PDF) © Robert
Deane, Honorary Researcher, Department of Photography
National Gallery of
the time at our disposal it is possible only to skim the surface
of this challenging topic, looking at a selected range of areas
and trying to assess their impact on Australian photography at
its widest ambit. Film, photographic publications, exhibitions,
photographers both immigrant and emigrant, and world politics all
have their part to play in this examination.
is perhaps useful to set out some caveats before commencing on
this topic. As an undergraduate student of Cypriot archaeology
many years ago, I learned, through the none-too quiet insistence
of Professor James Stewart, that the inhabitants of Cyprus did
not go to bed one night in Early Bronze I and awake the next morning
to find it was Early Bronze II. Indeed he insisted that, apart
from the odd cataclysmic earthquake, artistic styles have never
changed abruptly in either place or time anywhere. I was, and remain,
a dutiful student and thus do not subscribe to any notion that
there was any orderly progression in photography from Pre-Raphaelites
through Pictorialists etc to whatever post-modern "ism" is
the "in" thing with critics today. Photographers, it
seems to me, are not only constantly seeking to break new ground
in the way they perceive and present the world but they are constantly
revisiting the styles, techniques and processes of the past to
assist them in that challenge. If one sought a simple example for
this, those of you who visit the National Gallery will be able
to compare Dupains superb Madonna-like portrait from New
Guinea made during the war with the great iconic Sunbather made
some years earlier.
perhaps more than any other visual art form, suffers from the vicissitudes
of "fashion" - fashion imposed by curators, by dealers
and, since the 1970s, by speculators. Who is or is not a "good" photographer,
what constitutes a "good" photograph in a critical sense?
Many fine photographers have been forgotten in few short decades,
many present day "icons" will hopefully suffer the same
fate. Fortunately this lecture will only address individual photographers
in so far as they or their careers illustrate a particular point
and in that sense they are all equally important.
While I have set 1930 as the terminus post quem, a slight digression
is necessary to settle another firmly held view, namely that Australian
photography between the wars was solidly Anglo-centric and admitted
of nothing else because it knew of nothing else. While we have long
known of the still unidentified Australian subscriber to the great
Camera Work, that is hardly enough to undermine the view that Australian
photography was largely ignorant of happenings in America or Europe
at that time. However what is now clear is that American photographic
magazines and annuals such as US Camera and Modern Photography were
routinely imported into Australia. Thus Ansel Adams seminal
article on The New Photography and "the necessity of sharp and
distinct photography as opposed to the vague and blurred effects
which imitate painting" that appeared in Modern Photography
1934-35 was accessible to Australian photographers (1).
Similarly German photographic publications such as Das Deutsches
Lichtbild, and a flood of publications in English supported by Ernst
Leitz were also imported into Australia by booksellers or distributed
by the camera importers. Deutsches Lichtbild for example had a prominent
place in the library of Max Dupain while Axel Poignant got his copies
from his aunt in England. At that time living in Perth, Poignant
later recalled that the work of Cartier-Bresson was available to
photographers in Perth in magazines during the 30's and that the
work of photographers of the Farm Security Administration was also
Perhaps more importantly, a search of American and European publications
of the 1920's and 30's shows that Australians were relatively prolific
in their submissions to and acceptance by foreign exhibitions. A
few examples suffice. Peggy Clark appearing with platinum prints
in the 1922 Pittsburgh Salon; Mallard, Eutrope and Wakeford selected
for 5th International by a panel including Edward Weston; Le Guay,
among others, selected in the 1939 US Camera Annual. Finally
it is interesting to note in this context that Dr Julian Smith was
given pride of place with the lead article "My aims and methods" in The
American Annual of Photography 1941 (3).
Both at amateur and professional levels, Australian photographers
had some continuing awareness of and opportunity to participate in
a wider range of photographic experiences and styles than simply
those offered by British artists, institutions and publications.
That the majority continued to emulate British models, especially
those of the English Pictorialist School was, I suggest, a reflection
of the taste and understanding of the wider Australian public and
a matter of preference, rather than one of ignorance, on the part
of Australian photographers.
Having dealt with those important but perhaps extraneous matters
lets us commence our proper task not with photography but with politics,
albeit briefly. In the early 1920's Russia had been transformed by
a peoples revolution and it seemed likely that Germany, ravaged
by the effects of the Versailles Treaty was on the verge of another.
The new social order demanded a new artistic canon to replace the
now outdated symbolism and expressionism, a synthesis of the arts
and crafts in an industrial context. In the new USSR the central
theme of Soviet photography was the performance and meaning of work
in the spirit of the Party (4). To varying degrees
the New Photography (5), as it came to be known,
was characterised by the use of strong diagonals, sharp focus, extreme
view-points including close-up and strong up and down-shots, the
often violent displacement of the image within the frame and low
angle perspectives to raise the human figure to heroic proportions.
All were designed to challenge, indeed to overthrow conventional
viewpoints and perceptions of reality.
rapid spread of this new doctrine was transformed in major ways
in the 1930's by the rise of the National Socialists in Germany
and the overthrow of the Spanish Republic by General Franco. In
Germany in particular this led immediately to the dislocation of
artists and the forcible closure of teaching establishments, most
notably the Bauhaus. While it is now more clearly evident that
the stylistic elements of the New Photography that were the art
of socialism were easily, indeed seamlessly, adapted to needs of
fascism, such was not the contemporary view. The political events
that saw Soviet photography shown widely in the United Kingdom
and Australia in the period of the Second World War, then suppressed
as the Cold War followed, would influence photography in both those
countries as we shall discuss. The photography of fascist Germany,
in which we now see such strong parallels with Soviet photography,
was reviled and suppressed.
An immediate consequence of these political events was a wave of
emigration of artists from Germany to Britain, America and Australia.
Here I acknowledge that from the outset the history of Australian
photography is replete with individuals who immigrated to this country
and either took up photography here or brought the skill with them (6). But
while not exactly a wave, certainly not in numbers, it was those
photographers who migrated to Australia, commencing in earnest with
those fleeing Nazi persecution in Germany in the early 30's and soon
after from most of Europe, who were to exert the most profound influence.
These photographers brought with them not only a different canon
of photographic style but a different discipline and methodology.
Moreover they came, for the most part, from vastly different cultural
backgrounds, certainly different from the basically Anglo-Celtic
society that was pre-war Australia. Strangers, and viewed with that
then-typical Australian suspicion of everything foreign, it is not
surprising that they sought the company of and worked with other
immigrant artists in a wide range of disciplines, reinforcing and
augmenting each others art.
Foremost among this first wave of immigrant photographers were Wolfgang
Sievers in 1938, Margaret Michaelis and Helmut Newton in 1939 and
Heinz Tichauer (Henry Talbot) in 1940. Helen Ennis provides us with
a revealing portrait of this quartet in her article Blue hydrangeas.
Four émigré photographers (7) .
Of the four Michaelis was already an established photographer when
she arrived in Australia. Although originally trained as a graphic
artist in her native Austria, Michaelis had worked in photographic
studios in both Vienna and Berlin before opening her own studio in
Barcelona where she lived from 1933 to 1937. In Barcelona Michaelis
was involved in documenting the living conditions of slum dwellers
in the Chinatown district for a group of progressive Spanish architects.
The failure of the Spanish Republic saw her moving to England and
then being selected for a berth under the Assisted Passage Scheme
arrival she opened her own studio in Sydney where she attracted
a mostly European, often Jewish, clientele. Michaelis specialised
in portraiture and stage photography, including many of the early
publicity photographs for the Bodenwieser Ballet. It is difficult
to explain the very sharp difference in her photographic perceptions
between Barcelona and Sydney, moving from architectural and documentary
photography in the former to portrait and stage in the latter.
Certainly, Michaelis was increasingly restricted by the growing
official concerns with security, especially as her studio looked
to the distant naval base at Garden Island. While she continued
for a short time after the war, failing eye-sight was to see her
contribution to Australian photography cease in 1952. Notwithstanding
her admitted feelings of isolation and immense loneliness in her
new place of abode, Michaelis subsequently became an Australian
Sievers had not only completed his photographic education at the
Contempora School of Applied Arts in Berlin, an establishment which
in part provided short trade courses for those who might seek to
leave Germany, but by the middle of 1938 was employed there as a
teacher. His identity as a photographer was already well established
with a considerable body of work including advertising and portraiture
created during a year-long stay in Portugal and a major body of material
on the work of the Neo-classical architect Karl Schinkel. Although
Sievers had arranged to emigrate to Australia (8), he
was still called up for the Luftwaffe and had to flee Germany at
short notice though not before he had sent all his photographic equipment
to Australia. On arrival he set up a modern, well-equipped studio
in South Yarra and had established himself as a specialist industrial
photographer before the outbreak of war (9).
and Newton, on the other hand, had none of this prior expertise
or experience. Newton had had an apprenticeship with the celebrated
Berlin studio of Else Simon, otherwise known as Yva, while Talbots
studies in graphic arts had been abruptly curtailed by the threat
of Nazi proscription. Newton came to Australia via Singapore; Talbot,
as an enemy alien, arriving in good company on the now-infamous Dunera with
nothing save the clothes he was wearing.
efforts of Australian security and suspicion of enemy aliens that
had largely denied Michaelis the opportunity to work to her potential
during the war saw her three contemporaries serving their time
in the Australian Army, Sievers and Talbot in Employment Companies
and Newton as a truck driver. Several of Australias leading
artists and art critics of the period were either openly anti-semitic
or derisive of the new art forms being introduced by émigré artists.
Some went so far as to assert in their reviews that the exhibitions
of these artists proved that Australian culture was at least
50 years ahead of Europe"
demobilisation, Sievers soon re-established his studio, this time
in Collins Street, initially drawing many of his clients from fellow
migrants including the architects Frederick Romberg, originally
from Germany, and Ernst Fuchs who had arrived from Vienna. But
he gradually abandoned architectural work, believing that there
was little that was innovative in contemporary Australian architecture.
Sievers images of the post-war industrial boom of the 1960's
reflect something of the aspirations of the Bauhaus philosophy
that the dignity of traditional craftsmen might be retained through
a union between workers and industrial production. The serenity
and confidence of the individual worker is a frequent motif in
these imposing photographs of massive industrial sites. Sievers
married the ideals of the New Photography to a more humanist vision
with the physical relationship between people and machines, between
people and industrial products being central to his style. It was
a style that was to inform and indeed shape industrial photography
in Australia over the next two decades.
After the war Talbot recommenced formal studies in graphic design
only to leave a year later to join his family in Bolivia. Here Talbot
pursued his interest in photography, winning a gold medal in the
Bolivian Salon two years later. Returning to Melbourne in 1950 Talbot
worked for Peter Fox Studios, run by yet another émigré,
originally Peter Fuchs, before moving to La Trobe Studios to take
over Hans Hasenpflugs position in 1954. Talbot joined Newton
in 1956, taking over his studio when Newton moved to England in 1959 (10).
Talbot was to have a much more direct influence on emerging Australian
photographers with his appointment as head of the Photography Department
at the Preston Institute of Technology in 1973 (11).
It is interesting to note the impact of these photographers on Australian
applied photography, indeed their domination of fashion, industrial
and architectural photography in the decade or so after the war.
Both Sievers and Michaelis, the latter the only woman member, had
joined the Institute of Photographic Illustrators in 1950. The Institute,
which had been established in Sydney in 1947, sought to "raise
the standard of photography in Australia and to foster a creative
approach in the use of the camera in advertising and illustration" (12).
Both Michaelis and Sievers were included in the Institutes
second exhibition in Sydney in 1950. In a similar spirit, and with
even greater impact, was the 1953 exhibition mounted by Sievers and
Newton in Melbourne. Reflecting the principles of both Bauhaus and
Soviet New Photography, that the artist should be directly involved
in modern industrial production, the introductory display panel to
the exhibition declared that "the aim of the exhibition was
to demonstrate, through actual work done, the potential of industrial
and fashion photography as a means of better promotion and sales
in business today".
From the same time frame as the New Photography came another movement
that was to have a profound impact on Australian photography during
and immediately after the Second World War, the new concepts of documentary
film (13). These came to Australia from two quite
distinct sources. The first came from the Soviet Union through books
and films offered by the Australia-Soviet Friendship League. The
second came from Great Britain initially through the writings of
John Grierson published in Cinema Quarterly (14),
and the films of Harry Watt and others.(15)
On the Soviet side, the most significant publications were The
Cinema as graphic art by Vladimir Nilsen and V. I. Pudovkins Notes
on a film director, both of which were available in English.
As with the dictates of the New Photography, Nilsens book broke
new ground especially in dealing with the selection of camera angle
and in espousing the elimination of middle distance in shots. Pudovkin
was also closely studied, albeit somewhat covertly, for its explanation
of the Golden measure of film editing interspersed with
Nor were these techniques of interest solely to Australian film makers.
The technique of using carefully selected, photographed and edited
shots, each without movement, but taking on new functionality when
correctly placed in the smooth grading of shots had direct implication
for the still photographer. The impact of these new concepts is clearly
seen in the still photography of Edward Cranstone and in the motion
picture work of Damien Parer and Ray Bean to cite but some of the
better known examples. Cranstone, who had learned his photography
from John Kauffmann, joined the Department of Commerce in 1937 and
was the head photographer when that department became the Department
of Information in 1939.
Early in 1942 he was transferred as head photographer to the public
relations department of the newly established Allied Works Council
(AWC). The AWC, which was an Australian counterpart of the Soviet
Stakhanovites, and the American Civil Construction Corps, was responsible
for the construction of strategic aerodromes, roads, bridges and
the like often in the most remote parts of Australia using conscripts
aged 35-55, many of whom had been rejected for military service.
Cranstone has remarked on the impression that Soviet films that he
had seen in Melbourne during the war made on him. Moreover he would
have seen examples of Soviet imagery published in the newspaper, The
Tribune, during 1939 and 1940. Indeed Cranstone also contributed
photographs to The Tribune from 1944 (16).
Some 500 of Cranstones AWC images were shown in 1944 in a travelling
exhibition which toured Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
Regarded by the photographer as his most important body of work,
Cranstones AWC photographs reflect all of the stylistic canons
of Soviet film and photography of this period - the iconisation of
the subject using low viewpoint, the flattening of the background
into a single planar drop-cloth, the use of extreme diagonals
with the subject often severely truncated by the frame. Perhaps not
surprisingly, Cranstone became a film maker after the war, working
with the Commonwealth Film Unit until he retired in 1966.
Nor was interest in the documentary school confined to the east coast.
Axel Poignant, an Anglo-Swedish migrant to Sydney in 1926, had settled
in Perth in 1930. By 1935 Poignant had begun to experiment with the
photo-essay format and the Leica camera alongside working in 16mm
film making. Poignant joined forces with Hal Missingham, later to
become Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, to hold a
joint exhibition in 1941 in the gallery of The West Australian newspaper
in Perth. The foreword to the catalogue set forth a succinct statement
of the role of photography in modern society in the terminology of
the New Photography. It is probable that this exhibition was the
first held in Australia to present the documentary philosophy in
photography (17). A more direct contact with the
British Documentary Movement came with the arrival of Harry Watt
towards the end of the war to film The Overlanders for the
British Ealing Studios. Poignant recalls that for him, as for the
other Australians involved, working with Harry Watt during the nine
months shooting "was a turning point in my professional development" (18).
In his capacity as head photographer of the Department of Information,
Cranstone recruited Damien Parer, whom he had met some years earlier
at Kauffmanns, and the brash young New Zealander, George Silk.
In an interview with Martin Jolly, then with the National Gallery,
Cranstone recalled that Parer was also greatly influenced by the
ideals of the documentary film makers in both these camps and had
followed Griersons writings in Cinema Quarterly. Parers
professional still photography had been show-cased in the Contemporary
Camera Groupe exhibition held at the David Jones gallery
in 1938 and largely organised by Dupain. The most significant aspect
of this somewhat mixed exhibition, was the inclusion of the work
of the younger professional photographers of the modernist school
Le Guay, Cotton and Roberts alongside the doyens of the Pictorialist
school, Cazneaux, Buckle and Bostock.
The influence of foreign photographic books and publications in the
development of Australian photography between the wars has already
been mentioned. Of the major Australian photographic publications
during this period, Harringtons Photographic Journal and The
Australasian Photo-Review, the former had ceased publication
in 1927, only the AP-R had sought to promote both the New Photography
and the Documentary movement, going so far as to note in 1931 that
the 1930 Das Deutsches Lichtbild annual contained photography that "goes
well beyond the bounds of orthodox pictorial work...a department
that seems to have come to a standstill." The debate between
the Pictorial School and members of the New Photography school, such
as Max Dupain, was also continued in both The Home and Art
in Australia (19). The years immediately prior
to the war had produced two Australian magazines, Walkabout (20) and Pix that
seemed to offer an outlet for those working in the tradition of the
photo-essay but both either lacked the enthusiasm to pursue that
objective or saw it as secondary to their main.
The Second World War wrought a profound change in photography in
Australia. A considerable number of photographers saw service overseas
providing photographic coverage of the war. Pictorialism as still
practised by Frank Hurley was not wanted, either by editors or by
the public. Graphic, bold indeed heroic images were what was wanted
and provided by the likes of Parer, Ferguson, Le Guay and others.
With the entry of the Americans into the war and the stationing of
US troops in Australia, US magazines such as Life and Look became
more readily accessible, not only exposing Australian photographers
to a different canon of photography but introducing Australian audiences
to a totally different style of photographic reportage as well as
a different styles of photography in advertising, sports and fashion.
David Moore is perhaps the most important of those Australian photographers
who left to develop their creative abilities, returning not only
to build a successful career but to exert a significant influence
on the development of photography in all its aspects, an influence
that continues to this day. David Moore had been introduced to the
works of Edward Weston in his teenage years and was hooked on photography.
By the time he went to work for Max Dupain five years later he was
literate in the images of great American and European photographers (21).
Attracted to photojournalism, Moore undertook an extensive photo-reportage
on the activities surrounding the arrival, berthing and departure
of the P&O liner Himalaya. The local agents gave him every
assistance with the ten-day project but nothing came of it in Australia.
Arriving in England in 1951, Moore was able to sell the photo-essay
to Sphere which published it in December of that year although he
was not credited with either text or pictures (22). Moore
was a strong advocate of realism, of a direct capturing of the event
before him. As he later said "once you start altering facts
within a picture, you undermine the strength of photography (23)." Assignments
with Life, Time, Look and The Observer,
took Moore to Europe, Africa, the United States and the UK before
he returned to Australia in 1958 to specialise in the American industrial
and magazine markets. But perhaps his most enduring contribution
to Australian photography will be seen to be the major role he played
in developing the concept for and guiding the establishment of The
Australian Centre for Photography.
After the war change in the domestic scene was not long in coming.
In 1947 Laurie Le Guay, recently returned from England, established
the magazine Contemporary Photography (24).
It was a curious mixture of the old and the new, Cazneaux conducted
the print analysis of readers submissions while Cranstone and
Dupain provided articles on documentary photography. The magazine
was the first attempt to provide a high quality magazine for showing
the work of Australian photographers while seeking to further serious
debate on the role and direction of photography in Australian society.
Le Guay, in his editorial columns, provided strong support for the
concept of photographers being formally qualified along the lines
of the then-British system and strongly supported the work of newly
arrived immigrant photographers. In 1950 he observed "while
Australian photographers are inclined to gyrate in a deep rut when
they have everything their own way, it wouldnt be a bad idea
if they looked beyond the showcase of their nearest opposition from
time to time....Is it any wonder that photographers from abroad have
quickly risen to the top?"(25) While
relatively short-lived, Contemporary Photography, did much
to introduce Australian photographers to international best practice.
It was to be the first of a series of initiatives by Le Guay to establish
Australian photography on a sound footing both here and internationally.
With the demise of Contemporary Photography came a new venture
which marks the commencement of a predominantly American influence
on Australian photography, the launch of the Australian edition of
the US Popular Photography (26) in December
1950. Published in Australian by James Coleman, and initially taking
its content direct from its American parent, the journal was aimed
squarely at the amateur market. With a decision to move to an all-Australian
content in late 1961, the magazine broadened its scope to provide
some critical assessment of material.
The two decades following the end of the war saw both a new wave
of migration to Australia and an exodus of Australians overseas some
never to return, others to make a lasting contribution to Australian
photography. Among many others, Paul Cox and Ingeborg Tyssen from
Holland, Ed Douglas and John Fields from the USA, John Hearder and
Graham McCarter from the UK soon established themselves as photographers
of note while some, like Ed Douglas, were to make a significant contribution
to photographic education in Australia. Joe Mitchell, originally
from the UK, was to play a significant role not only in the photographic
retail trade in Sydney, but a major role in the technical education
of amateur photographers (27) , especially through
his articles on colour photography in Contemporary Photography.
As noted above, their success was not without some complaint from
locals, shaken by the competition.
Two events in 1959 were to have a profound effect on Australian photographers
and on Australian perceptions of photography. The first was the arrival
of Steichens epic The Family of Man exhibition which
was shown in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, the second the arrival
of Robert Franks book The Americans. Notwithstanding
the strictures imposed by the theme of the exhibition, the size,
503 works, scope 63 countries including Japan and the USSR, and the
magnitude of the display with most of the photographs enlarged to
mural size made this headline news in those cities in which it was
exhibited. For several Australian photographers seeing this exhibition
provided the stimulus to forego existing careers and move to photography,
Robert McFarlane being one who immediately comes to mind.
Franks The Americans provided a startling, almost shocking
contrast to the utopian vision of human society presented by Steichen,
not least for the American public who had never before been presented
with such a mirror to their society. Critically reviewed in overseas
magazines at the time, Franks examination of American society
continues to be seen as a turning point in modern photography. Gael
Newton tells the story of an Australian photographer so desperate
to obtain a copy that he took the bus from Adelaide to Melbourne
intent on appropriating the State Librarys copy, only to find
on arrival that it had already been stolen. A curious but no less
telling example of the contemporary importance attached to this work.
If the 1960's were a period of transition in Australian photography
from the high point of fashion, advertising and photojournalism of
the previous decade to the highly personalised documentary work that
will characterise the next, the latter part of the decade saw a number
of significant undertakings which would become the driving forces
for the internationalisation of Australian photography.
In 1967 the National Gallery of Victoria established a committee
to oversee the creation of a Department of Art Photography which
came into being with a staff of one, Jennie Boddington, in 1972 complete
with a corridor on the top floor as its exhibition space. Nor was
Sydney inactive with the establishment of the Australian Foundation
for Photography, later the Australian Centre for Photography, being
established finally in 1974 with Graham Howe as its first director.
The Art Gallery of New South Wales established a Department of Photography
specialising in Australian photography of the pictorial era in 1974
with Gael Newton as first curator and the Art Gallery of South Australia
following suit three years later with Alison Carroll. It should be
noted that the latter institution had in fact begun to collect photography
as a distinct discipline as early as the mid-1920's. Regional galleries
such as the Ewing at Melbourne University, South Australian Contemporary
Art Society, the Museum of Modern Art , Brisbane, and galleries as
far apart as Townsville and Shepparton exhibited photography in its
own right. Finally the Australian National Gallery, as it was then
named, though without a curator until the arrival of Ian North in
1980, had been relatively aggressive since 1972 in acquiring a foundation
collection of Australian and international photography.
At the same time both commercial galleries specialising in photography
and photographer-run galleries emerged in Victoria. Among the latter
Brummels was established in 1972 by Rennie Ellis, and followed in
1974 by The Photographers Gallery and Workshop (28),
and the commercial Church Street Gallery established by Joyce Evans
In terms of foreign influence, these developments had an almost instant
impact, with a veritable flood of exhibitions by major figures. Notable
were the British Council exhibition of Bill Brandt in 1971, and the
French Foreign Ministrys major exhibition of Cartier-Bresson
in 1974, both having extensive touring programs, the latter touring
some nine public galleries throughout the country. These represented
the first opportunity for Australian photographers, at least in the
major cities, to see the work of major international figures in the
original silver in Australia.
But the overwhelming influence was American. The impact of exhibitions
held by the NGV was reinforced by exhibitions of the work of Ralph
Gibson, William Clift, Paul Caponigro, Duane Michals and Harry Callahan
at The Photographers Gallery and by the series of lectures and workshops
that the artists conducted during those exhibitions. Joyce Evans
also organised important exhibitions during this period but again
the focus was American with work by Minor White, Jerry Uelsmann,
Les Krims and others. With the establishment of the Australian Centre
for Photography, major shows of American photography, many of which
toured extensively, became relatively commonplace. Australian audiences
were treated to seeing the work of master photographers in
the flesh as it were with Farm Security Administration, Edward
Weston - 50 Photographs, Erich Salomon, Robert Capa, Gerry Winogrand,
William Eggleston and Andre Kertesz all visiting in the decade of
the 70's. Never before had Australian photographers, still less the
Australian public had access to such a concentration of international
photography in such a variety of styles.
Indeed the late 1970's saw the largest exhibition of world art, including
photography, ever to tour Australia until the Bi-centennial Exhibition
ten years later. The Australian National Gallery, still four years
away from opening, assembled Genesis of a Gallery - Part II to show-
case treasures from all areas of the collection and put it on tour
around the nation. Works by Muybridge, Adams, Model, Kertesz, Evans
and Cunningham were included to illustrate the newly acquired riches
of the Department of Photography. For many in the more remote regions,
it was to be their first encounter with overseas art, photography
as an art form and the arts of Asia and Africa. It established a
bench mark which sadly has rarely been reached since then.
Nor was the curatorial aspect of photography immune from American
influence during this period. The NGV brought Barbara London and
John Stringer out from MOMA to advise on the new department in 1972,
sending Mark Strizic on a major tour of America soon after to look
at conservation and collections management. The Australian Centre
for Photography brought the influential John Szarkowski, Director
of Photography at MOMA to Australia in 1974 to undertake a nation-wide
tour lecturing, with mixed success he was to remark, to public institutions
newly involved in building collections of photography and to Australian
photographers. Many of the exhibitions that came to Australia had
been organised by MOMA, including the Diane Arbus exhibition of 1977
which toured both Australia and New Zealand attracting record crowds.
Advances in formal photographic education have already been referred
to briefly but the University of Queenslands single semester
course in the history of photography in the 1970's should be noted
in our examination of foreign influences, being conducted by Julie
Brown, an art history graduate from Rochester, New York. Amateur
photography also entered a new era with photographic instruction
being largely taken out of the realms of camera clubs and print circles.
Almost from the outset the Australian Centre for Photography established
a wide range of workshops covering all levels of photography from
basic black and white to colour film processing and Zone System with
teaching staff who were practising professional photographers. It
was indicative of the new approach to photographic education. Technical
colleges and CAEs were quick to maximise the utilisation of
their photographic laboratories and staff by offering structured
courses in all levels of photography, with most following American
models. That many of the staff were new arrived immigrants from Europe
and America soon became evident in the work of students, both full-time
and serious amateur.
Apart from the Australian magazine already noted there were few opportunities
for Australian photographers to see their work published. Oswald
Zieglers Australian Photography, 1947, was planned as
the first in an annual series of high quality publications that mirrored
the style of overseas annuals such as US Camera Annual. Despite
the excellent design of yet another immigrant artist, Gert Sellheim
who had emigrated to Australia from Estonia in 1926, the volume was
neither one thing nor the other. It was damned as a wasted opportunity
by the pictorialists lead by Cazneaux, while Dupain and the documentary
school lamented the inclusion of amateur pictorial work. For all
that, it was to inspire a similar volume from Ziegler in 1957 and
two more-tightly focussed works from Laurie Le Guay, Australian
Photography 75 and Australian Photography - A contemporary
view two years later. In the same year, Australia saw the launch
of its first photographic magazine that was clearly of international
standard with Jean-Marc Le Pechouxs LightVision.
In the field of foreign photographic publications, the playing field
was somewhat more even. For the Americans there was the duel between Modern
Photography and Popular Photography for the amateur market
with Aperture soon to become the leader for art photography. The
Germans held the high ground for technical and illustrative photography,
especially large format colour, with Grossbild and Photo
Technik both available in English, the Swiss provided Du and Camera while
the UK had Amateur Photography at one end and Creative
Camera at the other. Books on photography, on photographers and
photographs from America, Europe and England were not only of the
highest standard of reproduction but readily available.
If there was a flood of foreign photography coming into Australia
during the 70's, there was an ever increasing volume of first quality
photography being produced in Australia and an acceptance of Australian
photographers overseas. Australian photographers now had access to
a range of professionally run facilities to exhibit their work and
would soon have a high quality local magazine to publish that work
on a regular basis.
What had begun as a trickle in the late 1930's was now a stream of
many hues. Publications, magazines, television, exhibitions all combined
to expose both the Australian public and Australian photographers
to an immense range of photographic experience. Now the challenge
was not to understand Pictorialism or the New Photography but to
critically examine the whole universe of photography to inform and
guide the development of the individuals visual vocabulary. Australian
photography had become internationalised.
To finish where we had begun, it is perhaps no coincidence that the
ferment of the 70's also saw the emergence of a serious study of
photographys past with the publication of Bea Nettles Breaking
the rules and William Crawfords Keepers of the light which
examined early photographic process bringing them up to date for
contemporary photographers and George Tices first forays into
the glories of platinum printing. Perhaps it truly is the message
not the medium that counts.
Ansel. The new photography, "Modern Photography 1934-5,
The studio annual of camera art", The Studio Publications
Inc., New York, nd., pp 9-18.
Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988,
Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1988, p. 111 and Laurence
Le Guay (ed.) Australian Photography - A contemporary view,
Dr Julian, My aims and methods, The American Annual of Photography
1941, American Photographic Publishing Co. Boston, 1940.
Max, Looking backward on the USSR in Construction, in "The
Utopian Dream, Photography in the Soviet Union 1918-1939",
Laurence Miller Gallery, New York, 1992, p.12.
New Vision: A Revolution in photography 1920-1940, Australian
National Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1987.
least Axel Poignant from Britain or Hans Hasenpflug who arrived
from Germany in the early part of the 20th century.
Helen, Blue hydrangeas. Four émigré photographers,
in The Europeans, Émigré artists in Australia
1930-1960, Roger Butler (ed.) National Gallery of Australia,
of his sponsors was the English-born photographer, Axel Poignant,
then living in Western Australia.
Life and work of Wolfgang Sievers, Australian National Gallery
exhibition catalogue, 1989.
had opened his own studio in 1946 in Melbourne, specialising
in fashion photography. Newtons association with the
studio continued with it being re-named Helmut Newton and Henry
Talbot in 1959.
education was centred in Melbourne at this time with the Prahran
College of Advanced Education introducing a full-time course
in photography in 1968,. Athol Shmith became head of the department
in 1972 being joined by John Cato in 1974.
Newton, op. cit. pg. 129.
am indebted to Mr. Roland Beckett for information on documentary
film in Australia especially the role of the Melbourne Film
Society, the Documentary Film Group and the Olinda and Newport
Film Festivals of 1952.
Quarterly, Winter, 1932, pg. 69. The French pre-war periodicals
La Revue du cinema and Cahiers du cinema were also available
the work of Robert J. Flaherty (Nanook of the North etc.)
and Pare Lorentz (The River etc.) are classics of the genre
it is not known if these were screened in Australia prior to
Jolly, Edward Cranstone, Photographer, Photofile, Autumn,
1984, pg. 3.
Poignant - Photographs 1922-1980, exhibition catalogue,
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1982.
Poignant in Australian Photography - A contemporary view,
Sydney, 1978, pg. 8
Newton, op. cit. pg. 111.
a tourism-oriented magazine heavily subsidised by the Victorian
Thomas in Contemporary Australian Photographers, Volume
1, David Moore, Richmond Hill Press,
Richmond Hill, Victoria, 1980, umpaginated.
Rossi, Naturalism and the establishment of photography as
an art form in mid-century Australia, unpublished thesis,
University of Sydney, 1996, pg. 35.
Moore, Australian photographer, vol. 1, pg. 38.
Photography was first published in 1946, continuing until 1950.
Photography, vol. 2 no. 7, Jan-Feb 1950, pg. 11
Guay was honorary editor for many years.
and Kevin Ashton were responsible for seeing into publication The
Beutler Technique, Sydney 1957. The work written by Marcell
Seidler, brother of Harry Seidler and an established architectural
photographer, had a major impact on contemporary black and
by Paul Cox, Ingeborg Tyssen, John F. Williams and Rod McNicoll,
the Gallery was taken over in 1975 by photographers Ian Lobb
and Bill Heimerman.
INFLUENCES IN AUSTRALIAN PHOTOGRAPHY 1930-80
© Robert Deane 2000