CHAPTER 13 PHOTOGRAPHIC
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for creative professionals in the 1950s:
the Six Photographers exhibition
1947 the Institute of Photographic Illustrators was formed
in Sydney as 'the first group of specialised cameramen to be
organised as a society in this country'. Their aim was to 'raise
the standard of photography in Australia and to encourage a
creative approach in the use of the camera in advertising and
The new group obviously felt there was a lack of appreciation
of their profession, both from their employers, the public
and the traditional salons.
fifteen exhibitors at the first exhibition in 1949 were mostly
Sydney professionals; Athol
Shmith represented Melbourne
by the second exhibition in 1950, Wolfgang Sievers had also
joined. The group also benefited in 1950 from the participation
first and only woman member Margaret Michaelis.
the Contemporary Camera Groupe of 1938, the Illustrators focussed
primarily on their professional work. Younger members,
David Potts and David Moore, with aspirations to photojournalism,
showed some personal documentary work. As well, Max Dupain
and Laurence Le Guay, vice presidents of the group, and
included some documentary and uncommissioned works in the
and illustration work had, by the 1950s, become a major industry.
The individual photographer's
and approach was increasingly subject to direction from
specialised advertising departments. Professional female
also a part of the scene. Agencies tended to be in awe
trends in fashion photography and wanted locals simply
to copy such models. However, the professional photographer's
and skills were still the lynch pin on which the result
and they began to seek higher remuneration in these years.
equipment was also becoming more complex and costly. The
gradual use of colour transparencies(2) and
strobe lighting would,
by the 1960s, increase studio costs to such a degree
that young photographers could hardly set up as Cazneaux
from a home studio with a few standard cameras.
May 1955, a smaller group of photographers held a brief exhibition
in Sydney simply called Six Photographers.
importance of subject matter rather than the stylishness
of fashion and advertising. Gordon Andrews (b.1914),
Dundas (b.1931), Hal Missingham, Axel Poignant and
Potts formed the group and had been meeting since
1954 to discuss
and criticise each other's works. The statement accompanying
their first and only exhibition stressed the need
to make 'unstaged, spontaneous and personal recordings
human behaviour', in opposition to the slickness
of commercial work (3).
The Six Photographers exhibition was reviewed, but the
same old comments
were brought out as had been
and of the earlier Contemporary Camera Groupe,
in the refrain that photography in the right hands was
art(4). It seems
that no critical approach had been developed which
avoided the minute formal analysis of Pictorial
salon reviews, without
falling silent in front of documentary or illustration
work, There seemed to be no way of advancing the
dealing with what the images said, for example,
Axel Poignant's powerful
Aboriginal portraits passed without comment.
of the few perceptive writers of ability in
these years to comment on photography from outside
profession, was H. Tatlock
Miller. He had found the Photographic Illustrators'
exhibition of 1949 lacking in the power of photography
he also contributed to Ure Smith's publication, Alec
Murray's Album of 1949(6). This
had no aspiration to real life but the surreal
mood of the images
Alec Murray (b.1917) had begun to make a reputation
as a glamorous social portraitist(7).
breakaway spirit of the Six Photographers exhibition
was not restricted to Sydney. Dupain
(b.1920), Norman Ikin (1925-1962), Dacre Stubbs,
Athol Shmith and Wolfgang Sievers to form a
and it was
originally planned to include their works in
the Sydney exhibition(8). Their
interested response initially indicated some
dissatisfaction with the progress of the Photographic
as an increasingly trade-professional body.
tended to do less work of a personal nature,
and the Documentary movement also had less
adherents in Melbourne
at this time.
Photography magazine folded in 1950, closing one of the
documentary work. One of
the last efforts of publisher, Laurence Le
the picture book Portfolio of Australian
Photography, (1950)(9) which
liberally included Pictorial, commercial and documentary
work as well as
five articles by the respective apologists
Cazneaux, Dupain and salon organiser, Leo
Lyons. The A.P.-R also folded
having in its last years supported Documentary
and Pictorial philosophies by its historical
articles. Its role had
been matched for some time by the Australasian
locally by James Coleman (b.1915), which
became Australian Photography in
Australian content of Coleman's magazine increased steadily
from 1955 (when
by Le Guay became
the first Australian cover) until 1961.
After this a policy of
'all-Australian' content was introduced(10). Keast
Burke also became editor and art director
at this time and the magazine
became the official journal for the Australian
commercial, Documentary and Pictorial groups
somewhat coalesced but the
unresolved problems of a common viewpoint
for creative professionals and
creative personal photographers, remained.
Family of Man and the 1960s:
an end and a beginning
showing of The Family of Man exhibition in Sydney, Melbourne
in 1959, had the effect of stimulating creative photographers
of the now frail Documentary school, and of enlisting a new generation.
Edward Steichen mounted the exhibition from his position at the
Museum of Modern Art in New York. This was the last evolution
in his influential career as an organiser of photographic exhibitions
into a museum curator-promoter. The exhibition included 503 photographs
from sixty eight countries culled over three years from a selection
of over two million. They were predominantly taken by professionals
and well-known photojournalists. The photographers were, however,
subservient to the exhibitions theme of the unity of all peoples
in their basic emotions, work and family life.
Family of Man exhibition was accompanied by a substantial catalogue
the impact of the show when it was sent
on an extensive
tour to sympathetic countries. It was labelled 'the greatest
photography exhibition of all time'(11).
Many early photographic salons had exhibited
even greater numbers of images but the printing of photographs
onto large panels up to mural size gave The Family of Man works
an unprecedented impact, even given the role illustrated magazines
had played through most of the century.
Family of Man pictures were amplified by lines of poetry
or short quotations, which
dealt with the Human Condition,
these words, the exhibition put to the test the notion that
photography was itself a universal language. The response
in Australia lent
support to this hope, for no other previous photographic
work, or event, generated such a response, especially outside
world of photography and art circles. The Sydney showing
at the David
Jones Gallery resulted in a front-page photograph in the
Sydney Morning Herald of 3 April 1959. It showed singing poet,
Trickett, recording her impressions of the exhibition on
tape for the Blind
Institute, so that the sightless would not miss out on the
Moore, who had returned from overseas in 1958, and Laurence Le
Guay, were the only Australians to have works
in the exhibition.
Moore was represented by his Redfern interior of 1949,
which fitted in with the themes of birth, and Le Guay with a
Guinea natives touching noses, presumed by the viewers
to be a kissing gesture.
the exhibition topped the attendance records
of successful local salons, such as the Victorian Salon
1939, (which was seen by 10,000 people in 14 days)(12) is
not clear, but photographers themselves were astonished
by the power
John Cato (b.1926) (son of Jack Cato; whose history
of Australian photography had been published a few years before,
crest of the Documentary movement interest in past reportage,)
endless visits to see the exhibition on view in a car
showroom in Melbourne(13).
photographers also found inspiration in The Family of Man.
In Adelaide, Robert
McFarlane (b.1944) was guided
career as a photojournalist by the exhibition, and
produced his own interpretations of the imagery in the following
years(14). For McFarlane
the optimism of The
Family of Man was mixed
ambiguity and elusive pain found in Robert Frank's
book The Americans,
which reached Adelaide the same year(15). For
others, The Family of Man was the calling to a new
profession with accountant,
Graham McCarter (b.1940) taking up photography as
a result of his visit(16).
the 1960s a younger generation aspired to documentary work
of a personal nature inspired by various
of American and European models.
photographers had been banding together since the turn of the
century to combat bouts of stagnation perceived in the local
scene. The Contemporary Camera Groupe of 1938 and
Photographers group of 1955 were both
short-lived associations, but with passionate manifestos proclaiming
hopes for a more vigorous
In the I960s, a Melbourne group organised a series
of ‘alternative' Photovision salons, in opposition
to a moribund romantic Pictorialism and uninspired Professionalism, Group M, as they called themselves, was formed in 1959 by a
number of men who were mostly serious amateur photographers.
Members who tended to have technical backgrounds, included
central figures John Crook (b.1927), George W Bell (b.1920)
and Albert Brown (b.1931)(17). They
were, however, against over-refined technique which interfered
with the direct communication of
aspects of reality.
The Photovision salons were originally an international
competition, but came to focus on Australian
work(18). In contrast to Pictorial
salons, Group M permitted series of works, slides, comments
by the photographer and freedom to choose
print size. The more sober, social realist side of the Group
was expressed in Urban
Woman, a thematic show held in 1962 on the life of women in the city.
The catalogue statement declared it the 'most ambitious exhibition ever to
be attempted by
a group of Australian photographers', its selection of over 200 works included
mural size images(19).
recalling the gestation of the exhibition, John Crook does
not think that The Family of Man was a direct
inspiration. He cited instead a display of photographs
of Hiroshima, the film On the Beach, and local painters of urban
alienation, John Brack (b.1920) and Arthur Boyd (b.1920). Group M saw themselves
a radical protest against the establishment figures and organisations
public perception of the power of the medium.
protested at the newspaper articles of Jack Cato which encouraged
amateurs to think about lighting and
technique rather than subject matter(20). Other
correspondents to the newspaper on the same issue seemed to recognise a
stagnation in all
aspects of Australian work compared to overseas practice. In 1966 Crook
expressed a certain
despair at the entire past history of Australian work in one of the last
is certainly no past to be ashamed of but for most of us it
is not much to build on. We look at the past for a Cameron,
Nadar or a Steichen,
a Weston, an Evans or a Lange, but they are not there. Most of our photographers
conquered by the sound disciplines of Pictorialism or Professionalism.
this country at least neither has found fertile soil (21).
1960s remain in the history of photography in this country
as an apparently
transitional era, between the glamour of 50s fashion, advertising
and the personalised documentary and experimental work of a generation
to come in the 70s. The vein of dissatisfaction with local work,
of Group M perhaps accounts for the fuss made of Robert B. Goodman's
book The Australians, published in 1966(22). Goodman,
an American, had worked
Geographic Magazine and made the pictures during visits to Australia
in 1962 and 1963. The text was commissioned from Australian author
Australians received considerable sponsorship from Australian
companies and was described as 'a stunning, unforgettably
personal vision of
a young country'.
Today it seems as lacking in any memorable individual images as
earlier Australiana books by Frank Hurley. Publication of a book
by an American
photographer in the same year as an Australian Prime Minister Harold
Holt, declared Australia
would 'go all the way with L.B.J.' (American President Lyndon Baines
Johnson) becomes part of the peak of American influence in these
of Group M's last activities was an exhibition of historical
photographs from the Gernsheim collection, Texas, held in 1966.
of the exhibitors with Group M went on with careers as exhibition
photographers in the 1970s. In retrospect Crook feels that
theirs was a commando act
softening the ground for a generation of more serious and better-trained
The Group's lack of a sense of continuity with past Australian
work, their sophisticated sense of past and contemporary international
and publications, was to be shared with the oncoming generation
in the 1970s.
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of illustrations used in the original publication (captions may
David Moore: European migrants arriving in Sydney, 1960
Hal Missingham: Cover of Six Photographers exhibition catalogue,
David Beal: Joyce Beal, records her impressions of Family of
Wolfgang Sievers: Mobil and AMP Buildings, Melbourne, 1960
Max Dupain: At the Procession, c.1952