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Creative Paddington: Max Dupain

By Lola Pinder


The Australian Centre for Photography (ACP) has historically celebrated and supported the country’s photographic heritage. In 1975 the ACP gave Max Dupain his first major retrospective, when the galleries were still located at 76a Paddington Street, Paddington. ACP co-founder David Moore was Dupain’s assistant in the late 40s and continued a relationship with the photographer, as seen in the intimate portrait of Dupain below. 

Max Dupain (1911-1992) remains one of the most celebrated twentieth century Australian photographers. His image Sunbaker is deeply etched in the Australian vernacular as a portrait of the nation. Dupain himself, although he came to resent the fame of the image, described ‘its been around, I suppose as a sort of icon to Australian life.' This work first entered Australia’s popular consciousness with the ACP’s first retrospective of Dupain's work in 1975; Max Dupain – A Retrospective 1930-1975. The image was used for the exhibition poster.

Although Sunbaker has become a staple image when it comes to the name ‘Max Dupain’. However, the vast body of work that has been shown in several exhibitions at the ACP over the past 4 decades show there was much more to this legendary Australian photographer’s nearly 60 year oeuvre. Dupain captured much of Sydney in particular, including the city’s architecture, people, society and beach culture. His use of hard light and sharp focus lent to the representation of Australia, its modernism and harsh sun. 

Dupain’s formalist aesthetic echoed his philosophy for image making; he celebrated the clean and simple in photography. In 1947 Dupain wrote a feature in Contemporary Photography arguing ‘it is necessary to develop photography with particular reference to its mechanistic form. Let it be automatic as much as possible, the human element being selection of viewpoint and moment of exposure, subsequent technicalities being performed skilfully and scientifically.’ His black and white photography captured a celebration of the industrial and the honest in his subject matter. 

In 1999 (after the move to Oxford Street in 1981) Dupain’s Sunbaker returned to adorn the ACP gallery walls for the centre’s 25th anniversary. In the catalogue essay for the exhibition, Martyn Jolly stated ‘The Sunbaker has come a long way, yet it remains simultaneously a private snapshot and a public icon. The Sunbaker is still embedded in time, but his time is now a multiple exposure of a changing Australia’. Today, the Sunbaker hangs on the walls of the social space at the ACP, in the form of the original 1975 exhibition poster. Max Dupain’s iconic image has witnessed the 40 year history of the ACP and will continue to watch the evolution of photographic practice.

This post is part of the Art Month Event Creative Paddington taking place on March 7th in conjunction with Metro Screen and UNSW Art & Design.



Image 1: © Australian Centre for Photography Archive 

Image 2: courtesy Australian Centre for Photography Archive and © David Moore Photography Archive

See more at http://davidmoorephotography.com.au/