Posts Tagged ‘photography of Sydney

08
Nov
20

Photographs: Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) Part 1

November 2020

 

Max Dupain. 'Sydney Harbour Crepuscule' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Sydney Harbour Crepuscule
1937
Gelatin silver print
32.5 x 47cm

 

Noun. crépuscule m (plural crépuscules) twilight, dusk (the time of the day when the sun sets)

 

 

Iv’e been saving up these images for some time. This, the first of a two-part posting, features many images that are rare online, especially in a large size.

Dupain was a master of the use of light and form (Tea Towel Trio, 1934), an early proponent of Modernist photography in Australia (Silos at Pyrmont; Silos through windscreen, both 1935), an expert in night photography (Mosman Bay at dusk, 1937) and the use of chiaroscuro (Passengers Disembarking from Ferry, 1950s; Newsstand, Nd). He was an innovator in surrealist photography (Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep, 1936-37), photomontage (Nude Figure with Shell Transposed, 1936), and advertising photography. His nude studies evidence an experimentation towards the representation of the human body (Jean with Wire Mesh, 1938; Nude Figure behind Wire Mesh, 1930s), his portraits possess a sensitivity and feeling towards subject matter (Portrait of Boy in Sunlight, 1936), while his portrayal of Australian culture –  the body as architecture (Bondi, 1939); the myth of the surf lifesaver (Life Guards with Flag and Reel March, Nd); and the bustling metropolis (Rush Hour, Kings Cross, 1938) address the burgeoning self confidence of the Australian nation in the 1930s.

Seemingly, there was nothing that Dupain could not turn his hand too, that he could not photograph.

What strikes me most when looking at his photographs is the precision of his visual inquiry. His focus, his previsualisation, in knowing exactly what he wanted to say in that image – even while shifting genres and points of view. Like the subtle camera positioning of Atget where the angles are not what you would expect, Dupain rarely puts his camera where a mere mortal would stand to take a photograph. He looks, down (Manly, 1940s), up (crouching on his haunches to make the Life Guards and the Bondi couple seem monumental) and across – framing his compositions with diagonals, arches, and waves of people, almost like musical annotation. Everything looks simple and eloquent, elegant, but beneath the surface these are sophisticated images.

Far from being nostalgic, I look at Dupain’s body of work, and then at an individual photograph like Buses, Eddy Avenue (Nd) – and marvel at Dupain’s contemporary rendition (rending?) of time and space. Placing his camera as far to the right as he dared, Dupain captures the diagonal line of the parked buses in sunlight framed by the dark arch of the tunnel, the tram passing from left to right, the perfectly positioned clocktower and willowy flag giving a sense of movement… and then that man, that man, standing stock still at right with his shadow falling in front of him. IF he was not there, the whole focus of the image, the punctum, would be gone. It would just be a serviceable image. But he IS there and Dupain recognised that!

Similarly, in one of my favourite photographs by Dupain, At Newport (1952) “Dupain’s viewpoint turns the top of the wall into a taught line across the picture and his five bathers are strung out along it and held in tension like forms on a wire. As one prepares to dive, his counterweight, the sinewy young man, descends on the dry side. At the picture’s edges, the girls in bathing caps counterbalance the boy with hunched shoulders.” Birds on a wire, notes on a musical stave. Can you imagine being Dupain standing there and recognising that composition and the distorted shadow, in that very instance of its emergence, its flowering, for that ever so brief second in the existence of the cosmos….

Simply put, Max Dupain is the greatest Australian male photographer that has ever lived.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All images are used under fair use conditions for the purpose of educational research. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Max Dupain. 'Mosman Bay at dusk' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Mosman Bay at dusk
1937
Gelatin silver print
28 x 37.5cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep' 1936-37

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep
1936-37
Gelatin silver print
30 x 36cm

 

Max Dupain. '(Rhythmic Form)' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Rhythmic Form)
1935
Gelatin silver print
22.5 x 30.5cm

 

Max Dupain. '(Nude Figure with Trombone Shadow)' 1930s

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Nude Figure with Trombone Shadow)
1930s
Gelatin silver print
25 x 17.5cm

 

Max Dupain. '(Nude Figure with Shell Transposed)' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Nude Figure with Shell Transposed)
1936
Gelatin silver print
50 x 35.5cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Two forms' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Two forms
1939
Gelatin silver print
50.5 x 38.5cm

 

 

This photograph relates conceptually to Dupain’s experiments with photographs of nudes. According to the vitalist philosophies of the time, the spiralling rounded shell being shaped by nature is feminine, while the hard metallic tool is man-made and represents the masculine principle. Photographed on a plain surface and lit with raking light, the sense of space is ambiguous. Dupain retained an interest in still-lifes throughout his career, returning to them particularly towards the end of his life. In the 1930s his most well-known still-life was Shattered intimacy 1936 (AGNSW collection) where an image of broken glass and a broken classical statue has been solarised, producing a powerful narrative. Two forms is a more contemplative image as the shell and the head of a hammer lie side by side and are of similar scale. Interestingly, the two forms are distant from each other, rather than close together, and their scale gives them equality. It is not known whether Dupain necessarily subscribed to the contemporaneous anxiety about the ‘new woman’, but certainly one can read this image as an examination of difference.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain. 'Tea Towel Trio' 1934

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Tea Towel Trio
1934
Gelatin silver print
29.5 x 22cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Still Life' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Still Life
1935
Gelatin silver print
29.5 x 21.5cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Blankets' Nd

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Blankets
Nd
Gelatin silver print
31 x 24cm

 

Max Dupain. '(Male Nude with Discus)' Nd

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Male Nude with Discus)
Nd
Gelatin silver print
39 x 32cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Dart' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Dart
1935
Gelatin silver print
50 x 37.5cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Dart' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Dart
1935
Gelatin silver print

 

Max Dupain. 'Sleeping Boy' 1941

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Sleeping Boy
1941
Gelatin silver print

 

Max Dupain. 'Portrait of Boy in Sunlight' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Portrait of Boy in Sunlight
1936
Gelatin silver print
29 x 26cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Jean with Wire Mesh' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Jean with Wire Mesh
1938
Gelatin silver print
49.5 x 39.5cm

 

 

In 1937, [Jean] Bailey posed for Jean with wire mesh, which some experts hail as the single most powerful image ever taken by Max Dupain, generally regarded as Australia’s greatest lensman.

It’s more subtle than his most famous image, Sunbaker, also shot in 1937. It’s less frozen in time than his striking scenes of wartime Australians serving in New Guinea. It’s more universal than his evocative tableaux of shearers, cattle drovers, miners and “six o’clock swillers”. And it’s less contrived than the commissioned portraits he took of wealthier women for the equivalent of today’s social pages.

Of all the many women who posed for his camera, Bailey was regarded as Dupain’s muse. Even by her own admission, she was not the most beautiful woman in 1930s Sydney.

In some pictures, by other photographers, she looks quite plain. …

But Dupain saw something special in her, though even Bailey does not know what it was.

“It’s not enormously erotic,” says [Alan] Davies. “But it is incredibly sensual, masterful in its use of light and shade. To photograph someone with her forehead in full sunlight and the rest of her figure cloaked in shadow is an extraordinary technical achievement. Most photographers would regard it as professional suicide. They wouldn’t attempt it.”

The image, he says, “is an astonishing masterpiece of chiaroscuro”. Unlike so many of Dupain’s images, this – and another outstanding work in the exhibition of an unknown model called Nude with pole – are timeless, betraying none of the nostalgia for which Dupain is so often noted.

White, who under Dupain’s tutelage became an accomplished photographer herself, says simply, “I think Jean with wire mesh is his most beautiful image. It leaves Sunbaker for dead.”

Anonymous. “Portrait of a lady,” on The Sydney Morning Herald website, July 12, 2003 [Online] Cited 24/10/2020

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) '(Nude Figure behind Wire Mesh)' 1930s

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Nude Figure behind Wire Mesh)
1930s
Gelatin silver print
50.5 x 40 cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Hands of a Dancer' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Hands of a Dancer
1935
Gelatin silver print
29 x 27.5cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Artist and Model' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Artist and Model
1938
Gelatin silver print
35.5 x 30.5cm

 

Max Dupain. '(Super-Imposed Woman and Night Cityscape)' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Super-Imposed Woman and Night Cityscape)
1937
Gelatin silver print
46 x 35cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Fire Stairs at Bond Street Studio (Solarised)' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Fire Stairs at Bond Street Studio (Solarised)
1935
Gelatin silver print
30 x 21.5cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Fire Stairs at Bond Street Studio' 1930s

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Fire Stairs at Bond Street Studio
1930s
Gelatin silver print
24.5 x 9cm

 

Max Dupain. '(Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields)' Nd

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields)
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30 x 30cm

 

Max Dupain. '(Fire Stairs at Bond Street)' 1934

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Fire Stairs at Bond Street)
1934
Gelatin silver print
26 x 21cm

 

 

Max Dupain is Australia’s most celebrated modernist photographer. Born in the Sydney, Dupain practiced photography as a teenager, receiving his first camera in 1924. In 1929 he joined the New South Wales Photographic Society, and in 1930 was employed in the studio of prominent Pictorialist Cecil Bostock, where he received solid training in all aspects of photography. He established his own studio in Sydney in 1934, servicing commercial clients and producing still lifes, figure photography and portraits. In his personal work, he explored the surrealist aesthetic of Man Ray, experimenting with formal abstraction and montage. With the outbreak of World War II, Dupain worked with the Camouflage Unit in 1941, travelling to New Guinea and the Admiralty Islands. His photography of the 1960s and 70s was shaped by architectural interests and he fostered working relationships with several prominent architects, most notably Harry Seidler.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 24/10/2020

 

Max Dupain. 'Silos through windscreen' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Silos through windscreen
1935
Gelatin silver print
40 x 43cm

 

 

While cars and machinery were rarely Max Dupain’s personal choice of forms to photograph, his Silos through windscreen 1935 embraces the new age from a new perspective. It is an uncharacteristically complex composition. The view of the silos from the front seat shows off the car’s smart dashboard; at the same time his camera records a fragment of a brick factory reflected in the rear vision mirror.

 

Max Dupain. 'Silos at Pyrmont' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Silos at Pyrmont
1935
Gelatin silver print
49 x 37cm

 

 

Pyrmont silos is one of a number of photographs that Dupain took of these constructions in the 1930s. In all cases Dupain examined the silos from a modernist perspective, emphasising their monumentality from low viewpoints under a bright cloudless sky. Additionally, his use of strong shadows to emphasise the forms of the silos and the lack of human figures celebrates the built structure as well as providing no sense of scale. Another photograph by Dupain in the AGNSW collection was taken through a car windscreen so that the machinery of transport merges explicitly with industrialisation into a complex hard-edge image of views and mirror reflections. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power.

Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace modernism. One of his photographs of the silos was roundly criticised when shown to the New South Wales Photographic Society but Dupain forged on regardless with his reading, thinking and experimentation. Some Australian painting and writing had embraced modernist principles in the 1920s, but as late as 1938 Dupain was writing to the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Great art has always been contemporary in spirit. Today we feel the surge of aesthetic exploration along abstract lines, the social economic order impinging itself on art, the repudiation of the ‘truth to nature criterion’ … We sadly need the creative courage of Man Ray, the original thought of Moholy-Nagy, and the dynamic realism of Edouard [sic] Steichen.”1

1. Dupain, M. 1938, ‘Letter to the editor’, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain. 'Bondi' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Bondi
1939
Gelatin silver print
37 x 37.5cm

 

 

Dupain was one of the first Australian photographers to embrace Modernism. The simplicity of form and unusually low vantage point of this picture reflect the influence of German photography that he saw in the journal Das Deutsche Lichtbild. At first Dupain preferred another version of the image; when it was published in 1948, the photograph shows the woman standing with her arms folded. Here, she leans toward the man, their bodies slightly overlapping. Standing parallel to the picture plane, their bodies and those of the young men at their sides form a pyramid – one of Dupain’s preferred forms at this time.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain. 'At Newport' 1952

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
At Newport
1952
Gelatin silver print
25 x 29cm

 

 

There is a strong sense of masculinity found in many of Dupain’s beach works. In At Newport this is emphasised by the strong, angular lines of the figures, an image that seems to capture the essence of male youth at the beach. In this image, three male swimmers are positioned in the foreground of a beachside pool setting. The long shadows of the late summer sun place further emphasis on the angularity and thus the masculinity that is a feature of this image.

Text from the Annette Larkin Fine Art website

 

Max Dupain. 'At Newport Baths' 1952

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
At Newport
1952
Gelatin silver print
45.0 x 40.0cm
National Gallery of Australia
Purchased 1976

 

 

Dupain took At Newport in 1952 at the Newport Baths, as it was then known, a sea-water pool next to the Pacific Ocean about 20 miles north of Sydney. It’s an ambiguous photograph in more ways than one because the angle of the shot makes it seem as if the tremendous weight of the sea is being held back by nothing stronger than a low wall, with the water rising almost to the brim. Dupain’s viewpoint turns the top of the wall into a taught line across the picture and his five bathers are strung out along it and held in tension like forms on a wire. As one prepares to dive, his counterweight, the sinewy young man, descends on the dry side. At the picture’s edges, the girls in bathing caps counterbalance the boy with hunched shoulders. The distant pillars along the side of the pool duplicate these intervals. There appears to be some indecision, though, about the crop Dupain intended on the right. A print in his archive shows space between the right-hand girl and the edge, which is better, while a print in a national collection omits her entirely. Losing her disembodied head and intense concentration on the diver weakens the photograph. (There is also a second picture of bathers from the same group (below))

At Newport can be straightforwardly construed as another celebration by Dupain the dedicated modernist of the vitalising power of sunlight and the exuberant Australianness of the beach, but there is an alternative way of reading it. An essay in Dupain’s Sydney (1999) notes that the photographer didn’t like people very much, valued solitude, and would rather be doing something than have to talk. (He was remarkably industrious, leaving an archive of more than a million pictures.) This group of bathers is together but disconnected. Two faces are hidden and unknowable, looking down at the water, and the others are half-concealed in shadow, lost in their own thoughts. Then there is the ungainly shape cast by the young man’s long legs, which serves as a foil to the dark tones of the rising land. The shadow introduces an element of discord and adds to the mood of subtle disquiet.

Rick Poynor. “Exposure: Newport Baths by Max Dupain,” on the Design Observer website 23/06/2015 [Online] Cited 24/10/2020

 

Max Dupain. 'Newport Baths I' 1952

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Newport Baths I
1952
Gelatin silver print
23.5 x 25.5cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Bondi Couple' 1950s

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Bondi Couple
1950s
Gelatin silver print
20.5 x 20.5cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Manly' 1940s

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Manly
1940s
Gelatin silver print
47 x 37.5cm

 

 

From 1938, and throughout the late 1940s after his return from the war, Dupain took many photographs of Manly beach from the high vantage point offered by its iconic shark tower. These landscapes often found striking diagonal obliques in the convergence of incoming surf, the activities of lifesavers, the lines of beachgoers, and the surrounding modernist architecture, including promenades. These photographs tell us as much about Dupain’s leisure time as they do his artistic interests: the beach was ‘how I used to spend my weekends’, Dupain later wrote. More than its convenience, Manly offered a very local experience of modernity. Dupain strongly believed in and advocated for a contemporary photography, that it was important to consciously be part of the age into which one was born.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain. '(Life Guards with Flag and Reel March)' Nd

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Life Guards with Flag and Reel March)
Nd
Gelatin silver print
26 x 26.5 cm

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) '(Life Savers at Attention in a Row)' 1940s

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Life Savers at Attention in a Row)
1940s
Gelatin silver print
25.5 x 30 cm

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) 'Lifesavers' 1940s

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Lifesavers
1940s
Gelatin silver print
36.5 x 47.5cm

 

Max Dupain. '(Passengers Disembarking from Ferry)' 1950s

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Passengers Disembarking from Ferry)
1950s
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5cm

 

Max Dupain. '(Male Commuters departing Ferry)' Nd

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Male Commuters departing Ferry)
Nd
Gelatin silver print
27 x 26cm

 

Max Dupain. '(Newsstand)' Nd

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Newsstand)
Nd
Gelatin silver print
36 x 30.5cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Meat Queue, Sydney' 1946

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Meat Queue, Sydney
1946
Gelatin silver print
40.5 x 50.5cm

 

 

Meat queue, Sydney was one in a series of pictures Sydney photographer Max Dupain undertook for the Department of Information. When interviewed by curator Helen Ennis in 1991 Dupain said:

“We were doing a story on queues after the war. They were all over the place – queues for buses, vegetables, fruit. I just happened to come across this butcher shop in Pitt Street, I think it was. Here they were all lined up, and I went around it, took a number of pictures, ultimately ending up with this sort of architectural approach with four of five females all dressed in black with black hats, not looking too happy about the world. Suddenly one of them breaks the queue when I’m focused up all ready to go, pure luck.”1

The solidity of the linear figures taken from mid distance beneath a meat coupon scale which will weigh a proportion of meat with the allowable coupons democratises the women. The picture is given a sudden focus as the central figure decides to move from the queue and unwanted contact is made with the woman ahead. Described as both a documentary photograph, but not necessarily a social comment, the economic food-rationing of postwar Australia is shown in this clear modernist image of black-and-white shapes in shallow space. Form rather than content defines this image. The central figure in a lighter coloured coat is balanced on either side by the darker coats as the black hats, which make a wave along the horizontal, parallel the line of meat hooks.

1. Ennis, H. 1991, Max Dupain: photographs, Australian National Gallery, Canberra p. 18.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain. 'Morning Commuters, The Kabu, Circular Quay' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Morning Commuters, The Kabu, Circular Quay
1938
Gelatin silver print
32.5 x 30cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Tram Abstraction' 1930

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Tram Abstraction
1930
Gelatin silver print
23.5 x 20cm

 

Max Dupain. '(Buses, Eddy Avenue)' Nd

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
(Buses, Eddy Avenue)
Nd
Gelatin silver print
17.5 x 17cm

 

Max Dupain. 'Rush Hour, Kings Cross' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Rush Hour, Kings Cross
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

Max Dupain. 'Rush Hour, Kings Cross' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Rush Hour, Kings Cross
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

Max Dupain. 'Rush Hour, Kings Cross' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Rush Hour, Kings Cross
1938
Gelatin silver print
40.5 x 42cm

 

 

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12
Aug
15

Exhibition: ‘Crowd Source’ at the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 4th April – 23rd August 2015

 

There is an almost Dickensian mellow dramatic feel to some of these 1880s-1900 albumen photographs by Sydney photographer Arthur K. Syer.

While the photographs offer a unique point of view (low down by the waist) of Victorian era Sydney, you get the feeling that Syer was more interested in the fact that his camera was hidden, and the game he was playing to get these photographs, than in the visual construction of the images themselves.

The best of them are photographs – such as Hawker haggling with customers, with its links to the photography of Atget, and crowd scenes like Men in street, where the different poses of the men and the rising and falling of the six items of headgear – which offer a rhythmic consideration and interest that other photographs in the posting lack.

The gem in this group of images is the outstanding Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W. Again, it is the attitude and rhythm of the protagonists within the image frame that makes this diorama so engaging. The man at left looks away from us with his back to the camera, while above him a man stands in the tram perpendicular to him, giving a nice play to the space between the tram carriages. Three people in alternating dark and light hats wait patiently for a old biddie to descend from the open door of the tram, the man holding on to the hand rail of the tram ready to pull himself up, just as everyone still does on old trams in Melbourne to this day. Above on the top deck sits a young man staring straight at the camera (without knowing it is there), with his legs crossed in a most unusual and uncomfortable way.

Below him to the right a gent in a bowler hat talks with his wife, cigar stuck in his mouth. His facial outline, lit by the sun, is echoed in the darkness of the interior of the tram by another man with a beard and hat sitting in shadow. In front of this husband and wife is a son with his mother / grandmother – she, clutching her bag in heavy tassel-fringed cloak, protecting herself with umbrella against the sun – he, in long gents morning coat and hat looking very dapper. It must be mid afternoon by the length of the shadows cast by the sun. To the right of this pair is an older, heavy set man with great beard and hat, looking out of the image to the right. His gaze is cut across by a man sitting in the tram, all darkness and outline, beard and hat, looking out onto the scene from the interior. Finally, to ground the foreground of the image, there is a mother and daughter at bottom right of the image, with the small child clutching at the mother’s dress.

The characters in this Dickens play rise and fall from left to right. They wash over you in their happenstance, frozen interaction. It is a superbly constructed image. Interesting as they are in their own vernacular way, it just makes the other images in this posting seem rather, well, prosaic.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the State Library of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'George Street, The Rocks' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
George Street, The Rocks
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'George Street, The Rocks' c. 1880s - 1900 (detail)

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
George Street, The Rocks (detail)
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Argyle Cut, The Rocks' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Argyle Cut, The Rocks
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Martin Place near the GPO Colonnade' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Martin Place near the GPO Colonnade
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Devonshire and Chalmers Streets near Central Station' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Devonshire and Chalmers Streets near Central Station
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W. (detail) c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W.
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W.' (detail) c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W. (detail)
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W.' (detail) c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W. (detail)
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W.' (detail) c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W. (detail)
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

 

“Some of the world’s earliest street photographs, capturing many previously unseen views of Sydney from the 1880s will go on public display for the first time in a new exhibition opening at the State Library of NSW, from Saturday 4 April. Crowd Source presents over 50 rare snapshots of Sydneysiders and Sydney’s bustling streets secretly taken with the world’s first hand‐held camera – branded the ‘Detective Camera’ – by amateur local photographer Arthur Syer.

“Arthur Syer took candid photographs of ordinary people in everyday situations which he supplied to illustrators to use as ‘source material’ to help them create a life-like quality and characters in their drawings,” says exhibition co-curator Margot Riley. “Syer’s distinctive low angle photographs evocatively capture the buzz of 1880s Sydney showing the shoe-shiners and fruit sellers, road workers, transport deliveries and barrow shopping, queues at Circular Quay, children playing, shipping and scenes at the horses races,” said Ms Riley.

Syer crossed into the publishing industry through his artist brother Walter, who introduced him to internationally renowned English cartoonist, Phil May. Invited to Sydney by The Bulletin in 1885, May often used Syer’s images to add authenticity to the backgrounds for his illustrations, for example drawings of people at the racecourse.

When the hand‐held camera was introduced in Australia in the mid‐1880s “it became a craze much like the smart phone or selfie stick of today, with photographs for the first time being able to be taken quickly and unnoticed,” said Ms Riley. The camera resembled “a square case… disguised as a … shoeblack’s box, or even a book. The operator places it upon the ground, or under his arm, the pressure of the pneumatic ball opening or closing the hidden lens at the required moment.” (The Sydney Mail, 2 July 1881).

No skill was required to operate the Detective Camera, signalling the beginning of mass photography. It used dry plate negatives – commercialised by George Eastman of Kodak fame – which were available over the counter at photography shops where negatives could be taken for developing and printing.

“This new technology, which also saw the introduction of other novelties like the ‘vest camera’ and ‘watch camera’, triggered debate around issues of privacy which led to the passing of new privacy laws in America,” says Ms Riley. “Manners and rules around candid photography continue to be a hot topic today.”

The State Library holds over 170 original Arthur Syer photographs – the most extensive collection of early Australian street photography known to exist. With the help of the Flickr community the Library has been able to label many of the images in the collection.

Crowd Source is a free exhibition at the State Library of NSW from 4 April to 23 August 2015. #1880Sydney @statelibrarynsw”

Press release from the State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Tram, West Crescent St., North Sydney' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Tram, West Crescent St., North Sydney
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Tram, West Crescent St., North Sydney' (detail) c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Tram, West Crescent St., North Sydney (detail)
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Pyrmont Bridge looking across to City' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Pyrmont Bridge looking across to City
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Circular Quay near First Fleet Park' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Circular Quay near First Fleet Park
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Children crowd around a ladder' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Children crowd around a ladder
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Children crowd around a ladder' (detail) c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Children crowd around a ladder (detail)
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Royal Exchange Building in Bridge Street' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Royal Exchange Building in Bridge Street
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Men in street' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Men in street
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Hawker haggling with customers' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Hawker haggling with customers
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Shoe shiner with customer' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Shoe shiner with customer
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

 

State Library of New South Wales
Macquarie Street, Sydney
NSW 2000 Australia
T: +61 2 9273 1414

Opening hours:
Monday – Friday 9 am – 5 pm
Saturday – Sunday 10 am – 5 pm

State Library of New South Wales website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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