Photo of the Day

photos and stories from the Powerhouse Museum

Spring fields on the outskirts of Peking

June 16th, 2014 by


This photograph from the Hedda Morrison collection looks almost like a drawing. The photographer’s modernist interest in the graphic and abstract qualities of the image is evident in her choice of a high angle view to show the verticals of the furrows as recede into the distance.

According to our collection records the photograph was taken from a hillock at the Black Dragon Pool (‘Hei longtan’) giving a striking view of the flat arable plains below. The Black Dragon Pool is in the Western Hills of Peking beyond the old Summer Palace (‘Yuan Ming Yuan’) and the Jade Fountain (‘Yuquanshan’). The Temple of the Black Dragon’s spirit (‘Hei long tan shenmiao’) lies close by. The hillock is famous for its large pool of clear water and the temple to the Dragon King which was first built in 1486 during the Chenghua reign of the Ming Dynasty. It is where a number of the Qing emperors prayed for rain.

Hedda Morrison, (1908-1991), was born Hedda Hammer in Stuttgart, Germany. She acquired her first camera, a Box Brownie, at the age of 11. In 1931, after completing studies at the State Institute for Photography in Munich and working in the studio of photographer Adolf Lazi (1884-1955), she answered an advertisement in a photography journal for a job in Peking.

In Peking Morrison managed Hartung’s photographic studio from 1933-1938. After her contract expired she continued to work freelance from a small darkroom in her home in Nanchang Street. The young photographer travelled around the city, usually by bicycle, often photographing its inhabitants. This photograph is  part of the Hedda Morrison Photographic Collection


Photography by Hedda Morrison

No known copyright restrictions

Hack the collection: 3D scanning

June 13th, 2014 by


Yesterday in our photo studio we had an all day session 3D scanning certain objects from our collection to be used in an upcoming program as part of the Sydney Design Festival 2014.  The program is called ‘Hack the Collection’ and matches 10 contemporary designers with 10 objects from the collection that have been 3D scanned.  Designers spend two intensive days hacking the 3D object files, using as much creativity as they can muster to design their own hacked interpretation.   Working in a studio environment, the designer’s challenge is to design and print their hacked object on Makerbot 3D printers in the Fablab in 2 days. You will be able to see the designers in the process and get updates from our MC, with printing tips and designer interviews as the objects take shape.  The 3D scanned files of Museum objects will be available on the web as open source. The designers are Brooke Jackson, Caroline Alexander, Cinnamon Lee, Guido Maciocci (AR-MA), KINK, Kristian Aus, Louis Pratt, Steve Phillips, Rebekah Araullo, Vesna Trobec.  This program will run Sat 16 and Sun 17 August in the Fablab from 10am to 4pm.

_R8H7463-600px shot by Shannon Glasson

Above: Shane Rolton from WYSIWYG 3D  scanning one of our objects. Photograph by Shannon Glasson

We have chosen ten objects from the Museum’s key disciplines to scan and these will be on display in showcases adjacent to the FabLab .  After the completion of the Hack the Collection program on the 17 August, designer interpretations of these Museum objects which have been printed on 3D printers in the FabLab will also be on display.  They will also be downloadable, remixable with printable meshes available soon so keep an eye out for this upcoming program.

3D scanning

Other photography by Paula Bray

License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia


Sharing tea, damper and flies in the outback

June 12th, 2014 by

85/1284-1216 Glass negative, full plate, 'A Camp in the Back Blocks, Tea and Smoke Oh', Kerry and Co, Sydney, Australia, c. 1884-1917

This image shows a group of station hands sharing tea and damper under a makeshift shelter. Given the remoteness of many farms and stations, stopping to swap yarns and share ‘smoko’ was vitally important to the morale of the men.

Closer inspection of the image reveals another reality of outback life. Numerous flies can be seen on the backs of the men’s jackets, also waiting their chance for a sample of afternoon tea!

85/1284-1216 Glass negative, full plate, 'A Camp in the Back Blocks, Tea and Smoke Oh', Kerry and Co, Sydney, Australia, c. 1884-1917

Post by Lynne McNairn, Web and Social Technologies

Photography: Kerry & Co, c 1890

No known copyright restrictions

Camping under sail

June 11th, 2014 by

2008/165/1-87 Glass plate negative (1 of 193), bush camping scene with four men, glass, photographer possibly Arthur Phillips, Australia, c. 1910

This image from the Phillips Glass Plate Negative Collection shows a group of men relaxing on a riverbank. They appear to be using a sail rigged up as an awning. A water bag, billy and towels  are hanging under the shelter. Intriguingly a heavy cast iron stove sits behind the men. Perhaps they lugged it up from their boat or perhaps it was left here at their regular picnic site.

The collection record states ‘ The group possibly comprises Arthur Phillips and friends camping near the Shoalhaven River. (from identification of another photograph by Arthur Phillips’ daughter).’

Post by Lynne McNairn, Web and Social Technologies

Photographer possibly Arthur Phillips, c. 1910

No known copyright restrictions

Circular Quay c 1950, c 1900 and 1999

June 10th, 2014 by
Circular quay c 1950

Circular Quay, C 1950, photographer unknown. Image: Powerhouse Museum (95/115/4-2)

The above image shows Circular Quay in about 1950. The city is still quite low rise and is very recognisable as the city in the earlier Tyrrell Collection image from about 1900 shown below. The docks along west Circular Quay are still working cargo docks; the wool stores along east Circular Quay appear to be largely intact and the buildings facing the ferry wharves include the massive stone Mort & Co. Wool store which was demolished in the 1960′s to make way for the 26 storey AMP Building – Australia’s first skyscraper.

85/1284-2118 Glass negative, half plate, 'Circular Quay', Kerry and Co, Sydney, Australia, c. 1884-1917

Circular Quay by Kerry & Co, c 1900. Image: Powerhouse Museum (85/1284-2118).

Since the 1960′s skyscrapers have come to dominate Circular Quay as they do cities the world over. The ferry wharves and the ferries themselves remain a constant of Sydney’s transport and culture.

Cirrcular Quay, Sydney

Circular Quay by Dr Edwin P. Ewing, Jr, 1999. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Post by Lynne McNairn, Web and Social Technologies

No known copyright restrictions

Miss Dulou

June 9th, 2014 by


Photographic portraits were produced for a variety of purposes such as commemoration of marriages, childhood or entry into military service or a particular profession. We know nothing of the circumstances surrounding the production of this portrait of Miss Dulou except that her hair and clothing indicate that it is likely to have been taken some time in the 1880s.  Her hair is styled into a light fringe and she wears a single tiny piece of jewellery in the shape of a bird on her lapel.


Photography by unattributed studio, Tyrrell Collection, 85/1286-1387

No known copyright restrictions

The big store on Broadway

June 6th, 2014 by



According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Joseph Neal Grace, founder of the Grace Brothers department store in Sydney, knew the importance of a good window display. The elaborate scene depicted in the photograph above, (detail below) was created to promote the sale of blind ticking.

The visual display artist has included potted palms, artificial flowers on a trellis and a mannequin dressed in fashionable sportswear and carrying a tennis racquet. At the time this photograph was taken, 1920s-1930s, Grace Bros. Ltd, “The Big Store on Broadway”, boasted three and half acres of furniture.  Also visible in this photograph are the hand lettered price tags and slogans created by the store’s ticket writers.

More about the landmark Grace Brothers building on Broadway can be found on the Sydney Architecture website.


Photography by unattributed studio, Tyrrell collection 85/1286-1598

No known copyright restrictions

Old Balmain

June 5th, 2014 by


Following on from yesterday’s photograph of men at work on the Balmain tramway dummy and counterweight system this photographs shows the street empty of workmen and gives an idea of the steepness of the downhill run to the water.  The dummy and counterweight system was commissioned in 1903 and installed to prevent runaway trams on the  downhill trip to the Darling Street Wharf. A descending tram would push a dummy car down the hill, while a counterweight travelled in the opposite direction. As trams ascended, the dummy was pulled upwards by the counterweight.

Post by Kathy Hackett, Photo Librarian

Photography by unattributed studio, Tyrrell Collection 85/1286-1730
No known copyright restrictions


Work on the Balmain tramway dummy

June 4th, 2014 by


This photograph was taken in the early years of the 20th century and shows workmen in the process of installing a tramway dummy in Darling Street, Balmain. The purpose of the dummy and counterweight system, commissioned in 1903, was to prevent runaway trams on the steep slope to the Darling Street Wharf.

A descending tram would push a dummy car down the hill, while a counterweight travelled in the opposite direction. As trams ascended, the dummy was pulled upwards by the counterweight. Local children often boarded the dummy.

Post by Kathy Hackett, Photo Librarian

Photography by unattributed studio, Tyrrell Collection 85/1286-1729
No known copyright restrictions


Steampunk glasses or ophthalmic equipment?

June 3rd, 2014 by


We recently photographed this piece of ophthalmic equipment in our collection store to be included in our 2020 Vision .  This object was made in the USA 1850-1925.

It is uncertain where and when the first spectacles or eye glasses were made; however, since at least 1300 (in Europe) they have made life a much more rich experience for those whose eyesight requires some refractive adjustment. By the early twentieth century, optometry was a medical discipline and practice. Tools like this ophthalmic refraction head were used to quickly and accurately measure the grade of lenses required to correct certain vision impairments.

Medical practice tools such as this object demonstrate both the changes and improvements in the development of medical instruments, and the aspects of the technologies that have remained in the tools.

Damian McDonald
Curator, March 2014

Photography by Marinco Kojdanovski

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