Posts Tagged ‘photolithograph


Exhibition: ‘The photograph and Australia’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 8th June 2015

Curator: Judy Annear, Senior curator of photographs, AGNSW



Judy Annear. 'The photograph and Australia'. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 236


Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 236



“Cultural theorist Ross Gibson has written that ‘being Australian might actually mean being untethered or placeless … and appreciating how to live in dynamic patterns of time rather than native plots of space’. Photographs always enable imaginative time and space regardless of their size and how little we might know of the ostensible subject. When people are oriented toward the camera and photographer, there is a gap which the viewer intuitively recognises. The gap is time as much as space. Occasionally – as in an anonymous 1855 daguerreotype taken at Ledcourt, Victoria, of Isabella Carfrae on horseback where we see a servant standing on the verandah, shading her eyes, and in the 1877 Fred Kruger photograph of the white-clad cricketer at Coranderrk – a subject in the photograph presses so close to the picture plane that we know for the time of the exposure they look directly into an unknowable future and collide now with our gaze as we look back.”

Judy Annear. “Time,” in Judy Annear. ‘The photograph and Australia’. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 19.



This is an important exhibition and book by Judy Annear and team at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, an investigation into the history of Australian photography that is worthy of the subject. Unfortunately, I could not get to Sydney to see the exhibition and I have only just received the catalogue. I have started reading it with gusto. With regard to the exhibition all I have to go on is a friend of mine who went to see the exhibition, and whose opinion I value highly, who said that is was the messiest exhibition that she had seen in a long while, and that for a new generation of people approaching this subject matter for the first time it’s non-chronological nature would have been quite off putting. But this is the nature of the beast (that being a thematic not chronological approach) and personally I believe that modern audiences are a lot more understanding of what was going on in the exhibition than she would give them credit for.

In the “Introduction” to the book, Annear rightly credits the work undertaken by colleagues – especially Gael Newton’s Shades of light: photography and Australia 1839-1988, published in 1988; Alan Davis’ The mechanical eye in Australia: photography 1841-1900, published in 1977; and Helen Ennis’ Photography and Australia, published in 2007. As the latter did, this new book “emphasises the ways in which photographs, especially in the nineteenth century, function in social, cultural and political contexts, exploring photography’s role in representing relationships between Indigenous and settler cultures, the construction of Australia, and its critique.” (Annear, p. 10)

While Ennis’ book took a chronological approach, with sections titled First Photographs, Black to Blak, Land and Landscape, Being Modern, Made in Australia, Localism and Internationalism, The Presence of the Past – Annear’s book takes a more conceptual, thematic approach, one that crosses time and space, linking past and present work in classificatory sections titled Time, Nation, People, Place and Transmission. Both books acknowledge the key issues that have to be dealt with when formulating a book on the photograph and Australia: “the medium itself, Australia’s history, and the relationship between them. Is Australian photography different? If so, how, and in relation to what? One has to look at places with not dissimilar histories, such as Canada and New Zealand. And other questions: what has preoccupied photographers working in relation to Australia at various points in time? Have their concerns been primarily commercial, aesthetic, historical, realist, interpretive, or theoretical? Have they developed projects unique to the photographic medium; for example, large-scale classificatory projects? What have they achieved, what did it mean then, and what does it mean now?” (Annear, p.10)

These questions are the nexus of Annear’s investigation and she seeks to answer them in the well researched chapters that follow, while being mindful of “preserving some of the slipperiness of the medium.” And there is the rub. In order to define these classificatory sections in the exhibition and book, it would seem to me that Annear shoehorns these themes onto the fluid, mutable state of “being” of the photograph, imposing classifications to order the mass of photography into bite sized entities. While “the book encourages the reader to explore connections – between different forms of photography, people and place, past and present” it also, inevitably, imposes a reading on these historical photographs that would not have been present at the time of their production.

The press release for the book says, “The photograph and Australia investigates how photography was harnessed to create the idea of a nation.” Now I find the use of that word “harnessed” – as in control and make use of – to be hugely problematic. Personally, I don’t think that the slipperiness and mutability of photography can ever be controlled by anyone to help create the idea (imagination?) of a nation. Nations build nations, not photography. As a friend of mine said to me, it’s a long bow to draw… and I would agree. The crux of the matter is that THERE ARE NO HANDLES, only the ones that we impose, later, from a distance. There is no definitive answer to anything, there are always twists and turns, always another possibility of how we look at things, of the past in the present.

Photography and photographs, “with its ability to capture both things of the world and those of the imagination,” are always unstable (which is why the photograph can still induce A SENSE OF WONDER) – always uncertain in their interpretation, then and now. Photographs do not belong to a dimension or a classification of time and space because you feel their being NOT their (historical) consequence. Hence, all of these classifications are essentially the same/redundant. Perhaps it’s only semantics, but I think the word “utilises” – make practical and effective use of – would be a better word in terms of Annear’s enquiries. It also occurred to me to turn the question around: instead of “how photography was harnessed to create the idea of a nation”; instead, “how the idea of a nation helped change photography.” Think about it.

Finally, a comment on the book itself. Beautifully printed, of a good size and weight, the paper stock is of excellent quality and thickness. The type is simple and legible and the book is lavishly illustrated with photographs. The reproductions are a little ‘flat’ but the main point of concern is the size of the reproductions. Instead of reproducing carte de visite at 1:1 scale (that is, 64 mm × 100 mm), their mounted on card size – they are reproduced at 40 mm x 68 mm (see p. 236 of the catalogue below). Small enough already, this printing size renders the detailed reading of the images almost impossible. Worse, the images are laid out horizontally on a vertical page, with no size attribution of the original, nor whether they are 1/9th, 1/6th daguerreotype’s or ambrotypes, CDV’s or cabinet cards next to the image.

The reproduction size of the daguerreotypes and ambrotypes is even worse, making the images almost unreadable. For example, in an excellent piece of writing at the end of the first chapter, “Time”, Annear refers to “an anonymous 1855 daguerreotype taken at Ledcourt, Victoria, of Isabella Carfrae on horseback where we see a servant standing on the verandah, shading her eyes,”. In the image in this posting (below) we can clearly see this woman standing on the verandah, but in the reproduction in the book (p. 139), she is reduced to a mere smudge in history, an invisibility caused by the size of the reproduction, thereby negating all that Annear comments upon. Instead of the “subject in the photograph presses so close to the picture plane that we know for the time of the exposure they look directly into an unknowable future and collide now with our gaze as we look back,” there is no pressing, hers has no presence, and our gaze cannot collide with this vision from the future past. Why designers of photographic books consistently fall prey to these traps is beyond me.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thank to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



Unknown photographer. 'Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson' c. 1865


Unknown photographer
Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson
c. 1865
Carte de visite
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014


Unknown photographer. 'Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson' (verso) c. 1865


Unknown photographer
Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson (verso)
c. 1865
Carte de visite
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014



The first large-scale exhibition of its kind to be held in Australia in 27 years, The photograph and Australia presents more than 400 photographs from more than 120 artists, including Richard Daintree, Charles Bayliss, Frank Hurley, Harold Cazneaux, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Sue Ford, Carol Jerrems, Tracey Moffatt, Robyn Stacey, Ricky Maynard and Patrick Pound.

The works of renowned artists are shown alongside those of unknown photographers and everyday material, such as domestic and presentation albums. These tell peoples’ stories, illustrate where and how they lived, as well as communicate official public narratives. Sourced from more than 35 major collections across Australia and New Zealand, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia and the Australian Museum, The photograph and Australia uncovers hidden gems dating from 1845 until now.

A richly illustrated publication accompanies the exhibition, reflecting the exhibition themes and investigating how Australia itself has been shaped by photography.


Extract from “Introduction”

“The task of this book is to formulate questions around Australian photography and its history, regardless of Australia’s, and the medium’s, permeable identity. While early photography in Australia made histories of the colonies visible, and a great deal can be read from the surviving photographic archives, interpretation of this material is often conjecture, and much remains oblique. Patrick Pound describes the sheer mass of photographs and images in the world today as an “unhinged album.”11 This dynamic of making, accumulating, ordering, disseminating, reinterpreting, re-collecting and re-narrating is an important aspect of photography. The intimate relationship, historically, between the photograph and the various arts and sciences, along with the adaptability to technological change and imaginative interpretations, allows for a constant montaging or weaving together of uses and meanings. This works against the conventional linear structure of classical histories and the idea of any progressive evolution of the medium. If what we are dealing with is a phenomenon rather than simply a form then analysing the phenomenon and its dynamic relationship to art, society, peoples, sciences, genres, and processes is critical to our modern understanding of ourselves and our place in the world as well as of the medium itself.12

In the 1970s, cultural theorist Roland Barthes wrote an essay entitled The photographic message.13 While he focussed primarily on press photography and made a distinction between reportage and ‘artistic’ photography, his pinpointing of the special status of the photographic image as a message without a code – one could say, even, a face without a name – and his understanding of photography as a simultaneously objective and invested, natural and cultural, is relevant in the colonial and post-colonial context.

We search for clues in photographs of our past and present. In some ways this is a melancholy activity, in other ways valuable detective work. In many cases it is both. Photography since its inception has belonged in a nether world of being and not being, legibility and opacity. This book preserves some of the slipperiness of the medium, while providing a series of texts touching on the photographs at hand. The history of the photograph and its relationship to Australia remains tantalisingly partial; the ever-burgeoning archives await further excavation.”14

Judy Annear. “Introduction,” in Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 13.


11. See ‘Transmission’ pp. 227-33
12. See Geoffrey Batchen, A Subject For, A History About, Photography accessed 23 December 2021
13. Roland Barthes, ‘The photographic message’, Image, music, text, trans Stephen Heath, Flamingo, London, 1984, pp. 15-31
14. Parts of this Introduction were in a paper delivered at the symposium, Border-lands: photography & cultural contest, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 31 Mar 2012



The relationship of the photograph to ‘Time’ is discussed in chapter one, which examines how contemporary artists such as Anne Ferran, Rosemary Laing and Ricky Maynard reinvent the past through photography. The activities of nineteenth-century photographers such as George Burnell and Charles Bayliss are also discussed… The manipulation by artists and photographers of imaginative time – the time of looking at the photographic image – allows for consideration of the nexus between space and time, how subjects can be momentarily tethered and, equally, how they can float free.



Chapter two considers the idea of ‘Nation’: looking at the public role of the photograph in representing Australia at world exhibitions before Federation in 1901. Photography in this period enabled new classificatory systems to come into existence… Of particular importance was the use of the photograph to cement Darwinistic views that determined racial hierarchies according to superficial physical differences. The photograph also advertised the growing colonies to potential migrants and investors through the depiction of landscapes and amenities.



The third chapter, ‘People’, analyses the uncertain post-colonial heritage that all Australian inherit and how that can be evidenced and examined in photographs. The chapter encompasses portraits by Tracy Moffatt and George Goodman, for example, and considerations of where and how people lived and chose to be photographed. These include the people of the Kulin nation of Victoria, those who resided at Poonindie Mission in South Australia, the Yued people living at New Norcia mission in Western Australia, as well as the Henty family in Victoria, the Mortlocks of South Australia, the children living at The Bungalow in Alice Springs and the people of Tumut in New South Wales.



‘Place’ is examined in chapter four, particularly in terms of the use of photography to enable exploration, whether to Antarctica (Frank Hurley), to map stars and further the natural sciences (Henry Chamberlain Russell, Joseph Turner), or to open up ‘wilderness’ for tourism or mining (JW Beattie, Nicholas Caire, JW Lindt, Richard Daintree) … Photographs are examined as both documents and imaginative interpretations of activity and place.



Chapter five, ‘Transmission’, considers the traffic in photographs and the fascination with the medium’s reproducibility and circulation… The evidential aspect of the photograph has proven to be fleeting and only tangentially related to the thing it traces. The possibility of being able to fully decipher a photograph’s meaning is remote, even when it has been promptly ordered and annotated in some form of album. Each photographic form expands the possibility of instant and easy communication, but the swarm of material serves only to prove the impossibility of order, classification, and accuracy. The photograph as an aestheticised object continues regardless of platform, and the imaginative possibilities of the medium have not been exhausted.

Sections from Judy Annear. “Introduction,” in Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 12.


Charles Bayliss. 'Group of local Aboriginal people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia' 1886


Charles Bayliss
Group of local Aboriginal people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia
From the series New South Wales Royal Commission: Conservation of water. Views of scenery on the Darling and Lower Murray during the flood of 1886
Albumen photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased 1984



This tableaux of Ngarrindjeri people fishing was carefully staged by photographer Charles Bayliss in 1886. Not just subjects, they actively participated in the photography process. It was observed at the time that the fishermen arranged themselves into position, with “the grace and unique character of which a skilful artist only could show.”

“In one extraordinary image created in 1886 by the photographer Charles Bayliss, the Ngarrindjeri people of the lower Murray River were active participants in the staging of a fishing scene. Writing in his journal, Bayliss’s companion Gilbert Parker noted: “Without a word of suggestion, these natives arranged themselves in a group, the grace and unique character of which a skilful artist only could show.” Annear says the image looks like a museum diorama to modern eyes. “But these people were very active in deciding how they wanted to be photographed,” she says. “They were determined to create an image they felt was appropriate.”

The first photographs of indigenous Australians were formal, posed portraits, taken in blazing sunlight. The sitters are often pictured leaning against each other (stillness was required for long exposure times) with eyes turned to the camera and bodies wrapped in blankets or kangaroo skins. Some wore headdresses or necklaces that may or may not have belonged to them.

“Indigenous Australians agreed to be photographed out of curiosity, or perhaps for food,” says Judy Annear, curator of The photograph and Australia, a major new photography exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. “In the past, it was considered that these sorts of early pictures were indicative of the colonial gaze. But now there is a lot of research going on into how these early photos were made. Often, the local people would have been invited to come into a studio and they were paid. They would have been dressed up and told what to do.””

Text in quotations from Elissa Blake. “Art Gallery of NSW photography exhibition: Stories told in black and white,” on the the Sydney Morning Herald website April 2, 2015 [Online] Cited 28/05/2015.


Ernest B Docker. 'The Three Sisters Katoomba – Mrs Vivian, Muriel Vivian and Rosamund 7 Feb 1898' 1898


Ernest B Docker (Australian, 1842-1923)
The Three Sisters Katoomba – Mrs Vivian, Muriel Vivian and Rosamund 7 Feb 1898
Macleay Museum, The University of Sydney


Charles Nettleton (Australia 1825 – 1902) 'Untitled' 1867-1874


Charles Nettleton (Australian, 1825-1902)
Carte de visite
6.2 x 9.1 cm image; 6.3 x 10.0 cm mount card
Purchased 2014
Art Gallery of New South Wales



Charles Nettleton was a professional photographer born in the north of England who arrived in Australia in 1854, settling in Melbourne. He joined the studio of Townsend Duryea and Alexander McDonald, where he specialised in outdoor photography. Nettleton is credited with having photographed the first Australian steam train when the private Melbourne-Sandridge (Port Melbourne) line was opened on 12 September 1854. Nettleton established his own studio in 1858, offering the first souvenir albums to the Melbourne public. He worked as an official photographer to the Victorian government and the City of Melbourne Corporation from the late 1850s to the late 1890s, documenting Melbourne’s growth from a colonial town to a booming metropolis. He photographed public buildings, sewerage and water systems, bridges, viaducts, roads, wharves, and the construction of the Botanical Gardens. In 1861 he boarded the ‘Great Britain’ to photograph the first English cricket team to visit Australia and in 1867 was appointed official photographer of the Victorian visit of the Duke of Edinburgh. For the Victorian police he photographed the bushranger Ned Kelly in 1880. This is considered to be the only genuine photograph of the outlaw.


Tracey Moffatt. 'I made a camera' 2003


Tracey Moffatt (Australian, b. 1960)
I made a camera
Collection of the artist
© Tracey Moffatt, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney



The Art Gallery of New South Wales is proud to present the major exhibition The photograph and Australia, which explores the crucial role photography has played in shaping our understandings of the nation. It will run from 21 March to 8 June 2015.

Tracing the evolution of the medium and its many uses from the 1840s until today, this is the largest exhibition of Australian photography held since 1988 that borrows from collections nationwide. It presents more than 400 photographs by more than 120 artists, including Morton Allport, Richard Daintree, Paul Foelsche, Samuel Sweet, JJ Dwyer, Charles Bayliss, Frank Hurley, Harold Cazneaux, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Sue Ford, Carol Jerrems, Tracey Moffatt, Robyn Stacey, Ricky Maynard, Anne Ferran and Patrick Pound.

Iconic images are shown alongside works by unknown and amateur photographers, including photographic objects such as cartes de visite, domestic albums and the earliest Australian X-rays. The exhibition’s curator – Judy Annear, senior curator of photographs, Art Gallery of NSW – said:

“Weaving together the multiple threads of Australia’s photographic history, The photograph and Australia investigates how photography invented modern Australia. It poses questions about how the medium has shaped our view of the world, ourselves and each other. Audiences are invited to experience the breadth of Australian photography, past and present, and the sense of wonder the photograph can still induce through its ability to capture both things of the world and the imagination.”

The exhibition brings together hundreds of photographs from more than 35 private and public collections across Australia, England and New Zealand, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia and the State Library of Victoria. Highlights include daguerreotypes by Australia’s first professional photographer, George Goodman, and recent works by Simryn Gill. From mass media’s evolution in the 19th century to today’s digital revolution, The photograph and Australia investigates how photography has been harnessed to create the idea of a nation and reveals how our view of the world, ourselves and each other has been changed by the advent of photography. It also explores how photography operates aesthetically, technically, politically and in terms of distribution and proliferation, in the Australian context.

Curated from a contemporary perspective, the exhibition takes a thematic rather than a chronological approach, looking at four interrelated areas: Aboriginal and settler relations; exploration (mining, landscape and stars); portraiture and engagement; collecting and distributing photography. A lavishly illustrated 308-page publication, The photograph and Australia (Thames & Hudson, RRP $75.00), accompanies the exhibition, reflecting its themes and investigating the medium’s relationship to people, place, culture and history.

Press release from the Art Gallery of New South Wales


David Moore (Australia 06 Apr 1927 – 23 Jan 2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966, printed later


David Moore (Australian, 1927-2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
30.2 x 43.5cm
Gift of the artist 1997
© Lisa, Karen, Michael and Matthew Moore



In this evocative image Moore condenses the anticipation and apprehension of immigrants into a tight frame as they arrive in Australia to begin a new life. The generational mix suggests family reconnections or individual courage as each face displays a different emotion.

Moore’s first colour image Faces mirroring their expectations of life in the land down under, passengers crowd the rail of the liner Galileo Galilei in Sydney Harbour was published in National Geographic in 1967.1 In that photograph the figures are positioned less formally and look cheerful. But it is this second image, probably taken seconds later, which Moore printed in black-and-white, that has become symbolic of national identity as it represents a time when Australia’s rapidly developing industrialised economy addressed its labour shortage through immigration. The strength of the horizontal composition of cropped figures underpinned by the ship’s rail is dramatised by the central figure raising her hand – an ambiguous gesture either reaching for a future or reconnecting with family. The complexity of the subject and the narrative the image implies ensured its public success, which resulted in a deconstruction of the original title, ‘European migrants’, by the passengers, four of whom it later emerged were Sydneysiders returning from holiday, alongside two migrants from Egypt and Lebanon.2 Unintentionally Moore’s iconic image has become an ‘historical fiction’, yet the passengers continue to represent an evolving Australian identity in relation to immigration.

1. Max Dupain and associates. Accessed 17/06/2006. No longer available online
2. Thomas D & Sayers A 2000, From face to face: portraits by David Moore, Chapter & Verse, Sydney

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


David Moore. 'Redfern Interior' 1949


David Moore (Australian, 1927-2003)
Redfern Interior
Silver gelatin print
26.7 x 35.4cm
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 1985



David Moore’s career spanned the age of the picture magazines (for example: Life, Time, The Observer) through to major commissions such as the Sydney Opera House, CSR, and self initiated projects like To build a Bridge: Glebe Island. The breadth and depth of his career means there is an extraordinary archive of material which describes and interprets the last 50 years of Australian life, the life of the region, and events in Britain and the United States. He was instrumental in advancing Australian photography throughout his career and in the early 1970s was active in setting up the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. From well-known images such as Migrants arriving in Sydney to Redfern interior, Moore has documented events and conditions in Sydney.


Charles Bayliss (England, Australia 1850 – 1897) Henry Beaufoy Merlin (England, Australia 1830 – 1873) 'Untitled' c. 1872


Charles Bayliss (England, Australia 1850-1897)
Henry Beaufoy Merlin (England, Australia 1830-1873)
c. 1872
Albumen photograph
24.5 x 29.4cm image/sheet
Gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014


Paul Foelsche. 'Adelaide River' 1887


Paul Foelsche (Australian, 1831-1914)
Adelaide River
Albumen photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014



This photo of people relaxing on the banks of the Adelaide River in the Northern Territory was taken by Paul Foelsche, a policeman and amateur anthropologist.

The collection of 19th century images brought together in The photograph and Australia show indigenous people in formal group portraits or as “exotic” subjects. They are photographed alongside early settlers, working as stockmen or holding tools. Amateur gentleman photographers such as the Scottish farmer John Hunter Kerr captured such images on his own property, Fernyhurst Station, in Victoria. Another amateur photographer, Paul Foelsche, the first policeman in the Northern Territory, took portraits of the Larrakia people, which have since become a priceless archive for their descendants.


NSW Government Printer. 'The General Post Office, Sydney' 1892–1900


NSW Government Printer
The General Post Office, Sydney
Albumen photograph
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, presented 1969


Melvin Vaniman. 'Panorama of intersection of Collins and Queen Streets, Melbourne' 1903


Melvin Vaniman (American, 1866-1912)
Panorama of intersection of Collins and Queen Streets, Melbourne



Melvin Vaniman (American, 1866-1912)

Chester Melvin Vaniman (October 30, 1866 – July 2, 1912) was an American aviator and photographer who specialised in panoramic images. He shot images from gas balloons, ships masts, tall buildings and even a home-made 30-metre (98 ft) pole. He scaled buildings, hung from self-made slings, and scaled dangerous heights to capture his unique images.

Vaniman’s photographic career began in Hawaii in 1901, and ended some time in 1904. He spent over a year photographing Australia and New Zealand on behalf of the Oceanic Steamship Company, creating promotional images for the company, many as panoramas and which popularised the format in Australia, which was taken up with enthusiasm by Robert Vere Scott among others. During this time the New Zealand Government also commissioned panoramas.

Beginning in 1903, he spent over a year photographing Sydney and the surrounding areas. It was during this time that he created his best known work, the panorama of Sydney, shot from a hot air balloon he had specially imported from the United States. Vaniman is best known for his images of Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand.

Text from the Wikipedia website


J. W. Lindt (Germany 1845 – Australia from 1862, Australia 1926) 'Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly gang, hung up for photography, Benalla' 1880


J. W. Lindt (Germany 1845 – Australia from 1862, Australia 1926)
Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly gang, hung up for photography, Benalla
Gelatin silver print



Australia’s first ever press photograph pushed boundaries few journalists would transgress today. Captured by J.W, Lindt in 1880, the photo shows the dead body of a member of Ned Kelly’s infamous gang, strung up on a door outside the jail house in Benalla in regional Victoria.

Joe Byrne died from loss of blood after being shot in the groin during the siege of Glenrowan pub. Another photographer is pictured mid-shot, while an illustrator walks away from the new technology with his hat on and portfolio tucked under his arm. “We see this as the first Australian press photograph. It has that spontaneity media photographs have, and it’s also very evocative with many different stories in it,” the gallery’s senior curator of photographs, Judy Annear, said.

Text from Rose Powell. “First Australian press photo shows body of Kelly Gang member Joe Byrne,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website March 20, 2015 [Online] Cited 30/05/2015.


Richard Daintree. 'Midday camp' 1864–70


Richard Daintree (Australian, 1832-1878)
Midday camp
Albumen photograph, overpainted with oils
Queensland Museum, Brisbane



This image was an albumen photograph (using egg whites to bind chemicals to paper) which was then hand-coloured with oil paints to bring it to life. The photographer took it in the 1860s to advertise Australia as a land of opportunity.


Ricky Maynard. 'The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania' 2005


Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
Ben Lomond, Tasmania , Cape Portland, Tasmania
The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania, from the series Portrait of a distant land
2005, printed 2009
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
34.0 x 52.0cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by the Aboriginal Collection Benefactors’ Group and the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2009



Ricky Maynard has produced some of the most compelling images of contemporary Aboriginal Australia over the last two decades. Largely self taught, Maynard began his career as a darkroom technician at the age of sixteen. He first established his reputation with the 1985 series Moonbird people, an intimate portrayal of the muttonbirding season on Babel, Big Dog and Trefoil Islands in his native Tasmania. The 1993 series No more than what you see documents Indigenous prisoners in South Australian gaols.

Maynard is a lifelong student of the history of photography, particularly of the great American social reformers Jacob Riis, Lewis Hines, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Maynard’s images cut through the layers of rhetoric and ideology that inevitably couch black history (particularly Tasmanian history) to present images of experience itself. His visual histories question ownership; he claims that ‘the contest remains over who will image and own this history…we must define history, define whose history it is, and define its purpose as well as the tools used for the telling it’.

In Portrait of a distant land Maynard addresses the emotional connection between history and place. He uses documentary style landscapes to illustrate group portraits of Aboriginal peoples’ experiences throughout Tasmania. Each work combines several specific historical events, creating a narrative of shared experience – for example The Mission relies on historical records of a small boy whom Europeans christened after both his parents died in the Risdon massacre. This work highlights the disparity between written, oral and visual histories, as Maynard attempts to create ‘a combination of a very specific oral history as well as an attempt to show a different way of looking at history in general’.


JW Lindt. 'No 37 Bushman and an Aboriginal man' 1873


JW Lindt (Australian born Germany, 1845-1926)
No 37 Bushman and an Aboriginal man
Albumen photograph
Grafton Regional Gallery Collection, Grafton, gift of Sam and Janet Cullen and family 2004



Professional photographers such as the Frankfurt-born John William Lindt (who became famous for photographing the capture of the Kelly Gang at Glenrowan in 1880) took carefully posed tableaux images in his Melbourne studio. One set of Lindt photographs, taken between 1873 and 1874, show settlers and indigenous people posing with the tools of their trade. One unusual image shows a settler holding a spear and a local man holding a rifle.

Annear says the photographs speak of a time when early settlers and indigenous people were engaged in an exchange of cultures. “These photos weren’t just a passive, one-way process,” Annear says. “It wasn’t just about capture and exoticism. We are finding contemporaneous accounts that point to a level of exchange going on that was extremely important. These photos show who those people were, where they lived and what they were doing. They have a very powerful presence in that regard, and Aboriginal people today are going back through these photographs in order to trace their family trees.” …

Annear says she could have put together an exhibition of images of the “great suffering” experienced by Aboriginal people in Australia, but chose not to. “I found the 19th century material so rich and strong and most people aren’t aware of these images. It seemed like a great opportunity to bring them forward,” she says. “I don’t want to whitewash history, but I do want people to see how rich life was, how people were adapting, and then how that was removed. After Federation and the White Australia policy and other assimilation policies, photos of indigenous people seem to disappear. Why did they disappear? The people were still here. They were greatly diminished in many senses, but nonetheless they were still here.”

Elissa Blake. “Art Gallery of NSW photography exhibition: Stories told in black and white,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, April 2, 2015 [Online] Cited 30/05/2015


Charles Bayliss. 'Lawrence Hargrave trochoided plane model' 1884


Charles Bayliss (Australian born England, 1850-1897)
Lawrence Hargrave trochoided plane model
Albumen photograph
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, gift of Mr William Hudson Shaw 1994


Unknown photographer. 'Duryea Gallery, Grenfell Street, Adelaide' c. 1865


Unknown photographer
Duryea Gallery, Grenfell Street, Adelaide
c. 1865
Carte de visite
State Library of South Australia, Adelaide


JJ Dwyer. 'Kalgoorlie's first post office' c. 1900


J. J. Dwyer (Australian, 1869-1928)
Kalgoorlie’s first post office
c. 1900
Gelatin silver photograph
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth
Photo: Acorn Photo, Perth


Harold Cazneaux. 'Spirit of endurance' 1937


Harold Cazneaux (Australian, 1878-1953)
Spirit of endurance
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of the Cazneaux family 1975


Keast Burke (New Zealand, Australia 1896 - 1974) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940


Keast Burke (New Zealand, Australia 1896-1974)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph, vintage
30.5 x 35.5cm image/sheet
Gift of Iris Burke 1989


Eric Keast Burke (16 January 1896 – 31 March 1974) was a New Zealand-born photographer and journalist.


Unknown photographer. 'Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria' c. 1855 (detail)


Unknown photographer
Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, hand-tinted
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2012


Unknown photographer. 'Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria' c. 1855


Unknown photographer
Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, hand-tinted
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2012



“In the late 19th century, cameras were taking us both inside the human body and all the way to the moon. By the 1970s the National Gallery of Victoria had begun collecting photographic art, and within another decade the digital revolution was underway. But this exhibition – the largest display of Australian photography since Gael Newton mounted the 900-work Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1838-1988 at the National Gallery of Australia 27 years ago – is not chronological.

It opens with a salon hang of portraits of 19th and 20th century photographers, as if to emphasise their say in what we see, and continues with works grouped by themes: Aboriginal and settler relations; exploration; mining, landscape and stars; portraiture and engagement; collecting and distributing photography.

“A number of institutions and curators have tackled Australian photography from a chronological perspective and have done an extremely good job of it,” Annear says. “I have used their excellent research as a springboard into another kind of examination of the history of photography in this country. Nothing in photography was actually invented here, so I have turned it around and considered how photography invented Australia.”

Most of the photographs – about three quarters of the show, in fact – date from the first 60 years after Frenchman Louis Daguerre had his 1839 revelation about how to capture detailed images in a permanent form. Annear says the decades immediately following photography’s arrival in Australia provide a snapshot of all that has followed since.

“In terms of the digital revolution it is interesting to look back at the 19th century. What is going on now was all there then, it is just an expansion. There is a very clear trajectory from the birth of photography towards multiplication. After the invention of the carte de visite in the late 1850s they were made like there was no tomorrow. There are millions of cartes de visite in existence.”

There are quite a few of these small card-mounted photographs (the process was patented in Paris, hence the French) in the exhibition too, including one of a woman reflected in water at Port Jackson dating from circa 1865. With the trillions of images now in existence, it is easy to forget that once upon a time catching your reflection in the water, glass or a mirror was the only way to glimpse your own image (short of paying hefty sums for an artist to draw you).

After the invention of photography, people were quick to see how easily they could manipulate the impression created. While photographs are about fixing a moment in time, we can never be really sure just what it is they are fixing. “It’s not as simple as windows and mirrors – what we are looking at has always been constructed in some way,” Annear says. “What’s interesting about the medium is that you think it’s recording, fixing and capturing, but it is just creating an endless meditation on whatever a photograph’s relationship might be to whatever was real at the time it was taken.”

Extract from Megan Backhouse. “How the Photograph Shaped a Nation,” on the Art Guide Australia website, 20 April 2015 [Online] Cited 30/05/2015. No longer available online.


Sue Ford. 'Self-portrait' 1986


Sue Ford (Australian, 1943-2009)
From the series Self-portrait with camera (1960-2006) 2008
Colour Polaroid photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by the Paul & Valeria Ainsworth Charitable Foundation, Russell Mills, Mary Ann Rolfe, the Photography Collection Benefactors and the Photography Endowment Fund 2015
© Sue Ford Archive


George Goodman. 'Caroline and son Thomas James Lawson' 1845


George Goodman (Australian born England, 1815-1891)
Caroline and son Thomas James Lawson
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, presented 1991


Olive Cotton. 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' c. 1939


Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
‘Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind’
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by John Armati 2006


Unknown photographer. 'John Gill and Joanna Kate Norton' 1856


Unknown photographer
John Gill and Joanna Kate Norton
Albumen photograph
Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne


Unknown photographer. 'Alfred and Fred Thomas, proprietors of the Ravenswood Hotel' 1880-90


Unknown photographer
Alfred and Fred Thomas, proprietors of the Ravenswood Hotel
State Library of Western Australia, Perth


Mervyn Bishop. 'Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory' 1975


Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory
Type R3 photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet



Mervyn Bishop (born July 1945) is an Australian news and documentary photographer. Joining The Sydney Morning Herald as a cadet in 1962 or 1963, he was the first Aboriginal Australian to work on a metropolitan daily newspaper and one of the first to become a professional photographer. In 1971, four years after completing his cadetship, he was named Australian Press Photographer of the Year. He has continued to work as a photographer and lecturer.


Axel Poignant (England, Australia, England 12 Dec 1906 – 05 Feb 1986) 'Aboriginal stockman, Central Australia' c. 1947, printed 1982


Axel Poignant (England, Australia, England 1906-1986)
Aboriginal stockman, Central Australia
c. 1947, printed 1982
Type C photograph
35.6 x 24.4cm image/sheet
Purchased 1984
© Courtesy Roslyn Poignant



Though not born in Australia, Axel Poignant’s work is largely about the ‘Outback’, its flora and fauna and the traditions of Australian and Indigenous identity. Poignant was born in Yorkshire in 1906 to a Swedish father and English mother, and arrived in Australia in 1926 seeking work and adventure. After tough early years of unemployment and homelessness, he eventually settled in Perth and found work as a portrait photographer, before taking to the road and the bush in search of new subjects. Poignant became fascinated with the photo-essay as a means of adding real humanity to the medium, and much of his work is in this form. The close relationships he developed with Aborigines on his travels are recorded in compassionate portraits of these people and their lives – the low angles and closely cropped frames appear more natural and relaxed than the stark compositions of earlier ethnographic photography.


Nicholas Caire. 'Fairy scene at the Landslip, Blacks' Spur' c. 1878


Nicholas Caire (Australian born England, 1837-1918)
Fairy scene at the Landslip, Blacks’ Spur
c. 1878
Albumen photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, purchased 1994



Nicholas John Caire (28 February 1837 – 13 February 1918) was an Australian photographer. Caire was born in Guernsey, Channel Islands, to Nicholas Caire and Hannah Margeret. As a boy Caire spoke French found he had a passion for photography that his parents encouraged. Caire moved to Adelaide, Australia, along with both his parents in 1860. Around this time Caire Found a mentor in Townsend Duryea. in 1867 he opened his own studio in Adelaide, Australia. He was married to Louisa Master in 1870 and then shortly after moved to Talbot, Victoria where he continued his photography and started to write for Life and Health Magazine. Caire died in 1918 in Armadale, Victoria.


Frank Styant Browne. 'Hand' 1896


Frank Styant Browne (Australian born England, 1854-1938)
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery collection, Launceston



Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website


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Review: ‘The mad square: Modernity in German Art 1910 – 37’ at The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 25th November 2011 – 4th March 2012


Irene Bayer. 'No title (Man on stage)' c. 1927


Irene Bayer (American, 1898-1991)
No title (Man on stage)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 10.6 h x 7.6 w cm
Purchased 1983
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra



This is one of the best exhibitions this year in Melbourne bar none. Edgy and eclectic the work resonates with the viewer in these days of uncertainty: THIS should have been the Winter Masterpieces exhibition!

The title of the exhibition, The mad square (Der tolle Platz) is taken from Felix Nussbaum’s 1931 painting of the same name where “the ‘mad square’ is both a physical place – the city, represented in so many works in the exhibition, and a reference to the state of turbulence and tension that characterises the period.” The exhibition showcases how artists responded to modern life in Germany in the interwar years, years that were full of murder and mayhem, putsch, revolution, rampant inflation, starvation, the Great Depression and the rise of National Socialism. Portrayed is the dystopian, dark side of modernity (where people are the victims of a morally bankrupt society) as opposed to the utopian avant-garde (the prosperous, the wealthy), where new alliances emerge between art and politics, technology and the mass media. Featuring furniture, decorative arts, painting, sculpture, collage and photography in the sections World War 1 and the Revolution, Dada, Bauhaus, Constructivism and the Machine Aesthetic, Metropolis, New Objectivity and Power and Degenerate Art, it is the collages and photographs that are the strongest elements of the exhibition, particularly the photographs. What a joy they are to see.

There is a small 2″ x 3″ contact print portrait of Hanna Höch by Richard Kauffmann, Penetrate yourself or: I embrace myself (1922) that is an absolute knockout. Höch is portrayed as the ‘new women’ with short bobbed hair and loose modern dress, her self-image emphasised through a double exposure that fragments her face and multiplies her hands, set against a contextless background. The ‘new women’ fragmented and broken apart (still unsure of herself?). The photograph is so small and intense it takes your breath away. Similarly, there is the small, intimate photograph No title (Man on Stage) (c. 1927) by Irene Bayer (see above) that captures performance as ‘total art’, a combination of visual arts, dance, music, architecture and costume design. In contrast is a large 16 x 20″ photograph of the Bauhaus balconies (1926) by László Moholy-Nagy (see below) where the whites are so creamy, the perspective so magnificent.

No title (Metalltanz) (c. 1928-29) by T. Lux Feinenger, a photographer that I do not know well, is an exceptional photograph and print. Again small, this time dark and intense, the image features man as dancer performing gymnastics in front of reflective, metal sculptures. The metal becomes an active participant in the Metalltanz or ‘Dance in metal’ because of its reflective qualities. The print, from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is luminous. In fact all the prints from the Getty in this exhibition are of the most outstanding quality, a highlight of the exhibition for me. Another print from the Getty that features metal and performance is Untitled (Spiral Costume, from the Triadic Ballet) by T Grill c. 1926 – 27 (see below) where the spiral costume becomes an extension of the body, highlighting its form. Also highlighting form, objectivity and detachment is a wonderful 3 x 5″ photograph of the New Bauhaus Building, Dessau (1926) by Lucia Moholy from the Getty collection, the first I have ever seen in the flesh by this artist. Outstanding.

Following, we have 4 photograms by Lucia’s husband, László Moholy-Nagy which display formalist experimentation “inspired by machine aesthetic, exploring a utopian belief that Constructivism and abstract art could play a role in the process of social reform.” Complimenting these photograms is a row of six, yes six! Moholy-Nagy including Dolls (Puppen) 1926-7 (Getty), The law of the series 1925 (Getty), Lucia at the breakfast table 1926 (Getty), Spring, Berlin 1928 (George Eastman House), Berlin Radio Tower 1928 (Art Institute of Chicago) and Light space modulator 1930 (Getty). All six photographs explore the fascinating relationship between avant-garde art and photography, between they eye and perspective, all the while declaiming what Moholy-Nagy called the “new vision”; angles, shadows and geometric patterns that defy traditional perspective “removing the space from associations with the real world creating a surreal, disjointed image.” This topographic mapping flattens perspective in the case of the Berlin radio tower allowing the viewer to see the world in a new way.

Finally two groups of photographs that are simply magnificent.

First 8 photographs in a row that focus on the order and progressive nature of the modern world, the inherent beauty of technology captured in formalist studies of geometric forms. The prints range from soft pictorialist renditions to sharp clarity. The quality of the prints is amazing. Artists include the wonderful E. O. Hoppé, Albert Renger-Patzsch (an outstandingly beautiful photograph, Harbour with cranes 1927 that is my favourite photograph in the exhibition, see below), Two Towers 1937-38 by Werner Mantz and some early Wolfgang Sievers before he left Germany for Australia in 1938 (Blast furnace in the Ruhr, Germany 1933, see below). These early Sievers are particularly interesting, especially when we think of his later works produced in Australia. Lucky were many artists who survived in Germany or fled from Nazi persecution at the last moment, including John Heartfield who relocated to Czechoslovakia in 1933 and then fled to London in 1938 and August Sander whose life and work were severely curtailed under the Nazi regime and whose son died in prison in 1944 near the end of his ten year sentence (Wikipedia).

August Sander. Now there is a name to conjure with. The second magnificent group are 7 photographs that are taken from Sander’s seminal work People of the 20th Century. All the photographs have soft, muted tones of greys with no strong highlights and, usually, contextless backgrounds. The emphasis is on archetypes, views of people who exist on the margins of society – circus performers, bohemians, artists, the unemployed and blind people. In all the photographs there is a certain frontality (not necessarily physical) to the portraits, a self consciousness in the sitter, a wariness of the camera and of life. This self consciousness can be seen in the two photographs that are the strongest in the group – Secretary at West German radio in Cologne, 1931 and Match seller 1927 (see below).

There is magic here. Her face wears a somewhat quizzical air – questioning, unsure, vulnerable – despite the trappings of affluence and fashionability (the smoking of the cigarette, the bobbed hair). He is wary of the camera, his face and hands isolated by Sander while the rest of his body falls into shadow. His right hand is curled under, almost deformed, his shadow falling on the stone at right, the only true brightness in this beautiful image the four boxes of matches he clutches in his left hand: as Sander titles him ironically, The Businessman.

Working as I do these days with lots of found images from the 1940s – 60s that I digitally restore to life, I wonder what happened to these people during the dark days of World War 2. Did they survive the cataclysm, the drop into the abyss? I want to know, I want to reach out to these people to send them good energy. I hope that they did but their wariness in front of the camera, so intimately ‘taken’ by Sander, makes me feel the portent of things to come. How differently we see images armed with the hindsight of history!

In conclusion, this is a fantastic exhibition that will undoubtedly be in my top ten of the year for Melbourne in 2011.

Many thankx to Michael Thorneycroft for his help and The National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the accredited photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photograph (Berlin Radio Tower)' 1928/29


László Moholy-Nagy (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Berlin Radio Tower
Gelatin silver print
36 × 25.5cm
Julien Levy Collection, Special Photography Acquisition Fund
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn



Over the winter and spring of 1927–28, Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy took a series of perhaps nine views looking down from the Berlin Radio Tower, one of the most exciting new constructions in the German capital. Moholy had already photographed the Eiffel Tower in Paris from below, looking up through the tower’s soaring girders. In Berlin, however, Moholy turned his camera around and pointed it straight down at the ground. This plunging perspective showed off the spectacular narrowness of the Radio Tower, finished in 1926, which rose vertiginously to a height of 450 feet from a base seven times smaller than that of its Parisian predecessor (which opened in 1889). Moholy attached exceptional importance to this, his boldest image: he hung it just above his name in a room devoted to his work at the Berlin showing of Film und Foto, a mammoth traveling exhibition that he had helped to prepare. Moholy also chose this view and one other to offer Julien Levy, the pioneering art dealer, when Levy visited him in Berlin in 1930. The following year the pictures went on view at the Levy Gallery in New York, in Moholy’s first solo exhibition of photographs.

Text from the Art Institute of Chicago website


László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photograph (Light Prop)' 1930


László Moholy-Nagy (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Das Lichtrequisit (The light prop)
Gelatin silver print
24 × 18.1 cm (9 7/16 × 7 1/8 in.)
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2014 Estate of László Moholy-Nagy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



The Light-Space Modulator is the most spectacular and complete realization of László Moholy-Nagy’s artistic philosophy. Machine parts and mechanical structures began to appear in his paintings after his emigration from Hungary, and they are also seen in the illustrations he selected for the 1922 Buch neuer Künstler (Book of new artists), which includes pictures of motorcars and bridges as well as painting and sculpture. Many contemporary artists incorporated references to machines and technology in their work, and some, like the Russian Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin, even designed plans for fantastic structures, such as the ambitious Monument to the Third International, a proposed architectural spiral of glass and steel with moving tiers and audiovisual broadcasts. (See Tatlin’s Tower.)

In the Light-Space Modulator, Moholy-Nagy was able to create an actual working mechanism. Although he censured capitalism’s inhumane use of technology, he believed it could be harnessed to benefit mankind and that the artist had an important role in accomplishing this. Moholy had made preliminary sketches for kinetic sculptures as early as 1922 and referred to the idea for a light machine in his writings, but it was not until production was financed by an electric company in Berlin in 1930 that this device was built, with the assistance of an engineer and a metalsmith. It was featured at the Werkbund exhibition in Paris the same year, along with the short film Light Display Black-White-Gray, made by Moholy-Nagy to demonstrate and celebrate his new machine.

The Light-Space Modulator is a Moholy-Nagy painting come to life: mobile perforated disks, a rotating glass spiral, and a sliding ball create the effect of photograms in motion. With its gleaming glass and metal surfaces, this piece (now in the collection of the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard University) is not only a machine for creating light displays but also a sculptural object of beauty, photographed admiringly by its creator.

Katherine Ware, László Moholy-Nagy, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), 80 © 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum


Albert Renger-Patzsch (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946) 'Harbour with crane' c. 1927


Albert Renger-Patzsch (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Harbour with crane
c. 1927
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 22.7 h x 16.8 w cm
Purchased 1983
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


Wolfgang Sievers. 'Blast furnace in the Ruhr, Germany' 1933


Wolfgang Sievers (Germany 1913 – Australia 2007)
Blast furnace in the Ruhr, Germany
gelatin silver photograph
27.5 h x 23.0 w cm
Purchased 1988
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra



The Ruhr region was at the centre of the German acceleration of industry in pre-war Germany, with rapid economic growth creating a heavy demand for coal and steel. In keeping with Modernist trends in photography, Sievers shot this blast furnace – the mechanism that transforms ore into metal – from an unusual, dynamic angle. It dominates the frame, appearing menacing and strange. Despite being imprisoned and beaten by the Gestapo, Sievers studied and taught at a progressive private art school until graduation in 1938. In that year he escaped Germany after being called up for military service, ending up in Australia.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


August Sander. 'Match seller' 1927


August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Match seller
from the portfolio People of the 20th century, IV Classes and Professions, 17 The Businessman


Robert Wiene, Director (German 1873-1938) Still from the 'Cabinet of Dr Caligari' 1919


Robert Wiene, Director (German 1873-1938)
Still from from the Cabinet of Dr Caligari
5 min excerpt, 35mm transferred to DVD, Black and White, silent, German subtitles
Courtesy Transit Film GmbH
Production still courtesy of the British Film Institute and Transit Film GmbH


Felix H Man. 'Luna Park' 1929


Felix H Man (German 1893-1985)
Luna Park
Gelatin silver photograph
18.1 x 24cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased, 1987
© Felix H Man Estate


Hannah Höch. 'Love' 1931


Hannah Höch (German 1889-1978)
From the series Love
21.8 x 21.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased, 1983



Hannah Höch made some of the most interesting Dada collages and photomontages, including Love, an image of two strange composite female. Höch’s technique of pasting images together from magazine clippings and advertisements was a response to the modern era of mass media, and a way of criticising the bourgeois taste for ‘high art’. In many of her works, Höch explores the identity and changing roles of women in modern society.



The Mad Square takes its name from Felix Nussbaum’s 1931 painting which depicts Berlin’s famous Pariser Platz as a mad and fantastic place. The ‘mad square’ is both a physical place – the city, represented in so many works in the exhibition, and a reference to the state of turbulence and tension that characterises the period. The ‘square’ can also be a modernist construct that saw artists moving away from figurative representations towards increasingly abstract forms.

The exhibition features works by Max Beckman, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Christian Schad, Kurt Schwitters and August Sander. This group represents Germany’s leading generation of interwar artists. Major works by lesser known artists including Karl Hubbuch, Rudolf Schlichter and Hannah Höch are also presented in the exhibition in addition to works by international artists who contributed to German modernism.

The Mad Square brings together a diverse and extensive range of art, created during one of the most important and turbulent periods in European history, offering new insights into the understanding of key German avant‐garde movements including – Expressionism, Dada, Bauhaus, Constructivism, and New Objectivity were linked by radical experimentation and innovation, made possible by an unprecedented freedom of expression.


World War 1 and the Revolution

The outbreak of war in 1914 was met with enthusiasm by many German artists and intellectuals who volunteered for service optimistically hoping that it would bring cultural renewal and rapid victory for Germany. The works in this section are by the generation of artists who experienced war first hand. Depictions of fear, anxiety and violence show the devastating effects of war – the disturbing subjects provide insight into tough economic conditions and social dysfunction experienced by many during the tumultuous early years of the Weimar Republic following the abdication of the Kaiser



The philosophical and political despair experienced by poets and artists during World War 1 fuelled the Dada movement, a protest against the bourgeois conception of art. Violent, infantile and chaotic, Dada took its name from the French word for a child’s hobbyhorse or possibly from the sound of a baby’s babble. Its activities included poetry readings and avant‐garde performances, as well as creating new forms of abstract art that subverted all existing conditions in western art. Though short‐lived, in Germany the Dada movement has profoundly influenced subsequent developments in avant-garde art and culture. The impact of the Dada movement was felt throughout Europe – and most powerfully in Germany from 1917-21.



The Bauhaus (1919‐33) is widely considered as the most important school of art and design of the 20th century, very quickly establishing a reputation as the leading and most progressive centre of the international avant‐garde. German architect Walter Gropius founded the school to do away with traditional distinctions between the fine arts and craft, and to forge an entirely new kind of creative designer skilled in both the conceptual aesthetics of art and the technical skills of handicrafts. The Bauhaus was considered to be both politically and artistically radical from its inception and was closed down by the National Socialists in 1933


Constructivism and the Machine Aesthetic

Having emerged in Russia after World War I, Constructivism developed in Germany as a set of ideas and practices that experimented with abstract or non-representational forms and in opposition to Expressionism and Dada. Constructivists developed works and theories that fused art and with technology. They shared a utopian belief in social reform, and saw abstract art as playing a central role in this process.



By the 1920s Berlin has become the cultural and entertainment capital of the world and mass culture played an important role in distracting a society traumatised by World War 1, the sophisticated metropolis provided a rich source of imagery for artists, it also come to represent unprecedented sexual and personal freedom. In photography modernity was emphasised by unusual views of the metropolis or through the representation of city types. The diverse group of works in this section portray the uninhibited sense of freedom and innovation experienced by artists throughout Germany during the 1920s


New Objectivity

By the mid 1920s, a new style emerged that came to be known as Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity. After experiencing the atrocities of World War 1 and the harsh conditions of life in postwar Germany, many artists felt the need to return to the traditional modes of representation with portraiture becoming a major vehicle of this expression, with its emphasis on the realistic representation of the human figure


Power and Degenerate Art

After the seizure of power by the National Socialists in 1933 modern artists were forbidden from working and exhibiting in Germany, with their works confiscated from leading museums and then destroyed or sold on the international art market. Many avant‐garde artists were either forced to leave Germany or retreat into a state of ‘inner immigration’.

The Degenerate art exhibition, held in Munich in 1937, represented the culmination of the National Socialists’ assault on modernism. Hundreds of works were selected for the show which aimed to illustrate the mental deficiency and moral decay that had supposedly infiltrated modern German art. The haphazard and derogatory design of the exhibition sought to ridicule and further discredit modern art. Over two million people visited the exhibition while in contrast far fewer attended the Great German art exhibition which sought to promote what the Nazis considered as ‘healthy’ art.


Karl Grill. 'Untitled [Spiral Costume, from the Triadic Ballet]' c. 1926-27


Karl Grill (German, active Donaueschingen, Germany 1920s)
Untitled (Spiral Costume, from the Triadic Ballet)
c. 1926 – 27
Gelatin silver print
22.5 x 16.2cm
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles



In 1922, Oskar Schlemmer premiered his “Triadic Ballet” in Germany. He named the piece “Triadic” because it was literally composed of multiples of three: three acts, colours, dancers, and shapes. Concentrating on its form and movement, Schlemmer explored the body’s spatial relationship to its architectural surroundings. Although an abstract design, the spiral costume derived from the tutus of classical ballet.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles website


August Sander. 'Secretary at West German radio in Cologne' 1931, printed by August Sander in the 1950s


August Sander (German 1876-1964)
Secretary at West German radio in Cologne
1931, printed by August Sander in the 1950s
from the portfolio People of the 20th century, III The woman, 17 The woman in intellectual and practical occupation
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 22.0cm
Die Photographische Sammlung /SK Stiftung Kultur, August Sander Archiv, Cologne (DGPH1016)
© Die Photographische Sammlung /SK  Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney





  • Berlin’s population doubles to two million people


  • Expressionists move from Dresden to Berlin


  • Social Democratic Party (SPD) the largest party in the Reichstag


  • Expressionists attain great success with their city scenes


  • World War I begins
  • George Grosz, Oskar Schlemmer, Otto Dix, Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann and Franz Marc enlist in the army


  • Grosz declared unfit for service, Beckmann suffers a breakdown and Schlemmer wounded


  • Marc dies in combat
  • Dada begins at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich


  • Lenin and Trotsky form the Soviet Republic after the Tzar is overthrown


  • Richard Huelsenbeck writes a Dada manifesto in Berlin
  • Kurt Schwitters creates Merz assemblages in Hanover
  • Revolutionary uprisings in Berlin and Munich
  • Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and flees to Holland
  • Social Democratic Party proclaims the Weimar Republic
  • World War I ends


  • Freikorps assassinates the Spartacist leaders, Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg
  • Bauhaus established in Weimer by Walter Gropius
  • Cologne Dada group formed
  • Treaty of Versailles signed


  • Berlin is the world’s third largest city after New York and London
  • Inflation begins in Germany
  • National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) founded
  • Kapp Putsch fails after right‐wing forces try to gain control over government
  • First International Dada fair opens in Berlin


  • Hitler made chairman of the NSDAP


  • Schlemmer’s Triadic ballet premiers in Stuttgart
  • Hyperinflation continues


  • Hitler sentenced to five years imprisonment for leading the Beer Hall Putsch
  • Inflation decreases and a period of financial stability begins


  • Hitler writes Mein Kampf while in prison
  • Reduction of reparations under the Dawes Plan


  • New Objectivity exhibition opens at the Mannheim Kunsthalle
  • The Bauhaus relocates to Dessau


  • Germany joins the League of Nations


  • Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis released
  • Unemployment crisis worsens
  • Nazis hold their first Nuremburg party rally


  • Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The threepenny opera premieres in Berlin
  • Hannes Meyer becomes the second director of the Bauhaus


  • Street confrontations between the Nazis and communists in Berlin
  • Young Plan accepted, drastically reducing reparations
  • Stock market crashes on Wall Street, New York
  • Thomas Mann awarded the Nobel Prize for literature


  • Resignation of Chancellor Hermann Müller’s cabinet ending parliamentary rule
  • Minority government formed by Heinrich Brüning, leader of the Centre Party
  • Nazis win 18% of the vote and gain 95 seats in the National elections
  • Ludwig Miles van der Rohe becomes the third director of the Bauhaus
  • John Heartfield creates photomontages for the Arbeiter‐Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ)


  • Unemployment reaches five million and a state of emergency is declared in Germany


  • Nazis increase their representation in the Reichstag to 230 seats but are unable to form a majority coalition
  • Miles van der Rohe moves the Bauhaus to Berlin
  • Grosz relocates to New York in as an exile


  • Hindenberg names Hitler as Chancellor
  • Hitler creates a dictatorship under the Nazi regime
  • The first Degenerate art exhibition denouncing modern art is held in Dresden
  • Miles van der Rohe announces the closure of the Bauhaus
  • Nazis organise book burnings in Berlin
  • Many artists including Gropius, Kandinski and Klee flee Germany
  • Beckmann, Dix and Schlemmer lose their teaching positions


  • Fifteen concentration camps exist in Germany


  • The swastika becomes the flag of the Reich


  • Spanish civil war begins
  • Germany violates the Treaty of Versailles
  • Olympic Games held in Garmisch‐Partenkirchen and Berlin
  • Thomas Mann deprived of his citizenship and emigrates to the United States


  • German bombing raids over Guernica in Spain in support of Franco
  • The Nazi’s Degenerate art exhibition opens in Munich and attracts two million visitors
  • Beckmann, Kirchner and Schwitters leave Germany
  • Purging of ‘degenerate art’ from German museums continues 1


1. Timeline credit: Chronology compiled by Jacqueline Strecker and Victoria Tokarowski from the following sources:

  • Catherine Heroy ‘Chronology’ in Sabine Rewald, Glitter and Doom: German portraits from the 1920s, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, exh cat, 2006, pp. 39‐46.
  • Anton Kaes, Martin Jay and Edward Dimendberg, eds, ‘Political chronology’, The Weimar Republic sourcebook, Berkely 1994, pp. 765‐71.
  • Jonathan Petropoulos and Dagmar Lott‐Reschke ‘Chronology’ in Stephanie Barron, ‘Degenerate Art’: the fate of the avant‐garde in Nazi Germany, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, exh cat, 1991, pp. 391‐401.



László Moholy-Nagy. ‘Bauhaus Balconies’ 1926


László Moholy-Nagy (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Bauhaus Balconies
Silver gelatin photograph


John Heartfield. 'Adolf, the superman: swallows gold and spouts rubbish' from the 'Workers Illustrated Paper', vol 11, no 29, 17 July 1932, p. 675


John Heartfield (German 1891-1968)
Adolf, the superman: swallows gold and spouts rubbish
From the Workers Illustrated Paper, vol 11, no 29, 17 July 1932, p. 675
38.0 x 27.0 cm
John Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste zu Berlin
Photo: Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Kunstsammlung, Heartfield 2261/ Roman März
© The Heartfield Community of Heirs /VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney



John Heartfield’s photomontages expose hidden agendas in German politics and economics of the 1920s and 30s. This image was published six months before the National Socialist Party came to power, and shows Hitler with a spine made of coins and his stomach filled with gold. The caption says that he ‘swallows gold’, alluding to generous funding by right-wing industrialists, and ‘spouts rubbish’.


Max Beckmann. 'The trapeze' 1923


Max Beckmann (German 1884-1950)
The trapeze
Oil on canvas
196.5 x 84.0 cm
Toledo Museum of Art
Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey
Photo: Photography Incorporated, Toledo



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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, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor 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.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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