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My Comments on

Peter Adams' A Few of the Legends (2021)

Gael Newton AM



I was fortunate recently to receive a complimentary copy of Peter Adams 2021 superb book of his portraits and interviews with a galaxy of five hundred and seventy late 20th – early 21st century Australian and International photographers.

This is a celebratory publication evolved over thirty-nine years. It is self-initiated and financed as well as supported by a host of financial sponsors and practical and moral supporters. The production quality delivers that essential goal of any photobook – pages of lusciously reproduced photographs and respect for every aspect of book making.

The range of additional essays as well as the interviews make the book a collective record on how these mostly male and some forty-five female professional photographers, saw their medium at the turn of the millennium. Cumulatively the book speaks of the zeitgeist of the professional lives of these photographers. The interviews provide an engaging picture of the interaction between sitters and Adams as interviewer and portraitist.

Peter had sought my portrait for inclusion but vanity precluded me having my older self out there. I prefer the glamour portraits of my young curatorial self, taken by Max Dupain in 1980, to override any others in circulation.

Instead Peter included a piece I wrote earlier on being photographed at a second session by Dupain as a young mother in 1983. This was about the time Peter started his project and the baby in the Dupain picture is now near 40 and a father.

The compendium is a tribute to Adams’ vision and his mammoth negotiations to conduct, record and transcribe, travel to and fund so many interviews. Importantly it is also a record of his aesthetic skill in making portraits so many photographers without lapsing into too rigid repetitive formula.

Inevitably many of the photographers had died by the time of publication, including those I had known from the beginnings of my curatorial work in the early 1970s. Some that I had a deep affection for were Max Dupain, Athol Shmith, Wolfgang Sievers, Olive Cotton, David Moore and John Cato. I teared up looking at their faces.

Adams’s portraits often accord well with my friendship with these photographers.  




Max Dupain is shown holding a scythe and his cat in his rocky bush garden, looking a little threatening but Dupain gets the joke and casts a rare mischievousness glance to camera.

Athol Shmith is immaculately dressed as ever in his cluttered study, the books behind a reminder of his intellect and love of other arts and his slight smile, a remembrance of the hilarious charm and good time one always had with him.




David Moore is almost overwhelmed by the angophora trees on his holiday property – the subject of his own photographs. Their writhing forms match the sensuosity and linear flows often seen in his work. Moore’s slight anxiety is also evident in being a subject instead of a maker of portraits.

Olive Cotton whose quiet reserve as a person and whose oeuvre as a whole Adams declared he could not get, is actually revealingly portrayed with her book shelves and her placement in the room of objects recalling her iconic images of tea cups and daisies.


The book is a stupendous achievement. The facts and figures about the names and number of photographs, negatives, words and pages are on his website.

As time passes and all the photographers are gone, A Few of the Legends will certainly take on different layers of meaning and value. At $190 (the 2022 price), it’s a bargain.


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