Category Archives: Photography

Max Dupain and Chris Vandyke

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Vandyke house at East Hills, 1948. Photo by Max Dupain. Powerhouse Museum collection, gift of Tony Vandyke.

You might have seen the story re the State Library of NSW’s recent acquisition of a photo album containing a different version of Max Dupain’s well-known 1937 ‘Sunbaker’ photo.

That Max disliked the widely published version doesn’t strike me as headline cultural news (well done to the State Library’s pr people tho). But the fact that the story was front page is confirmation of Max’s own annoyance that what has become a nostalgic salute to the old Australia of beaches and sunshine is more famous than his urban portfolio, the defining majority of Dupain’s output. The Library rubs it in somewhat by referring to the Sunbaker as ‘the holy grail of Australian photography’.
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Innovation, mining and bush regeneration

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Broken Hill before and after bush regeneration. Image  Albert Morris, hand coloured by Margaret  Morris 1938, Courtesy Broken Hill Regional Library and the Barrier Field Naturalists

Broken Hill Commons before and after bush regeneration. Image Albert Morris, hand coloured by Margaret Morris 1938, Image: courtesy the Barrier Field Naturalist Club and Broken Hill Regional Library

Broken Hill in the far west of NSW is not necessarily the first place you would think of as the beginning of bush regeneration. It is known more for its mining than its environmental history. However the earliest green action in Australia was inspired by Albert Morris and the Barrier Field Naturalists Club in Broken Hill. In 1936 its members enlisted the help of a mining company and through the process of native re-vegetation, defeated the drifts of sand that were swallowing the outskirts of this famous mining town.

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The Opera House industry

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Photo by Max Dupain 1966, Powerhouse Museum collection. Courtesy Max Dupain & Associates.

We’ve just installed a small exhibition to mark the fortieth anniversary of Sydney Opera House on 20 October. The anniversary, by the way, is of the official 1973 opening by the Queen, not the first public performance there on the 28 September 1973, an interesting choice of dates.

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Selfies from the past, revealing but concealing

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Powerhouse Museum collection, object 93/178/4. Gift of Franz Lazi, 1993.

Powerhouse Museum collection, object 93/178/4. Gift of Franz Lazi, 1993.

Selfies are rampant today. We can see the phenomenon as harmless fun, as creative self-expression, or perhaps as a threat to civilisation, drowning us in egocentric banality. But of course people have long indulged in self-portraiture, and today I want to focus on an unusual pair of selfies that reveal one man in contrasting settings, telling us two stories about himself. This first image, created in 1947, portrays professional photographer Adolf Lazi as strong and calm, a connoisseur of Chinese sculpture and interested in books. He is playing to the camera without looking into the lens. Because he refuses to let us look into his eyes, the portrait is a little unsettling: while we see something about his relationship to the external world, we are not privileged with a glimpse of the inner Adolf.

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The Mr Taylor recovered glass plate negative

Doing jigsaws at work, recapturing an 1880s image

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The Mr Taylor recovered glass plate negative

The recaptured image from an all but destroyed glass plate negative

Most people don’t have the patience to attempt what our recent intern, Amir Mogadam from the Universtiy of Newcastle has just finished – probably one of the most challenging jigsaws you’re ever likely to see. But conservators are a patient if somewhat quirky mob. Amir worked with conservator Rebecca Main on a storage project to condition report, treat and rehouse a collection of large glass plate negatives (515 x 415mm) which were produced around 1870-1880 at the Freeman Brothers Studio, Sydney.
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Architects and photographers

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Max Dupain, Sydney Ancher house, Neutral Bay, 1958. Courtesy Max Dupain & Associates.

The careers of architects and photographers are often intertwined. An outstanding case is Max Dupain, Australia’s leading photographer of architecture, whose work was crucial in building the reputations of several architects including Harry Seidler, Sydney Ancher and Glenn Murcutt.

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3D scanning in the 1930s

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Powerhouse Museum collection, object  2004/68/1. Gift of Frederick Pollock, 2004.

Powerhouse Museum collection, object 2004/68/1. Gift of Frederick Pollock, 2004.

If you visit the Powerhouse Museum between 10 am and 1 pm on 9 March for our 25th birthday celebrations, you will be able to see the accurate detail captured in this bronze bust of Sydney pharmacist Ernest Pollock. Created by the process of Sculptography in Osaka in 1934, it demonstrates that 3D scanning is not a recent achievement. I will be one of several curators in the museum over the weekend, each with a group of objects to discuss with visitors. The theme of my selection is ‘making things’.

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A looped string bag or bilum made from plant materials in Papua New Guinea in the early to mid 1900s. Powerhouse Museum collection 2011/44/12-2

String bags, AIDS and Papua New Guinea

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A looped string bag or bilum made from plant materials in Papua New Guinea in the early to mid 1900s. Powerhouse Museum collection 2011/44/12-2

A looped string bag or bilum made from plant materials in Papua New Guinea in the early to mid 1900s. 2011/44/12-2 Powerhouse Museum collection

Always bulging, because that’s their nature, string bags are almost a thing of the past, relegated to memory by designer totes and paper carrier bags. One of the few string bags I see these days is the orange one my daughter uses to stuff all the beach toys into. This week however I’m reminded of those capacious multi-purpose string bags known as bilums that are traditional to Papua New Guinea. The connection? The photographic exhibition Access to Life which has just opened at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum for World AIDS Day 2012. Sydney is the tenth city in the world to show Access to Life, but the first to add Papua New Guinea as a special regional component.

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Designer Suburbs – architects and affordable homes in Australia

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Pettit & Sevitt brochure 1964. Powerhouse Museum collection, gift of Ken Woolley.

Pettit & Sevitt brochure 1964. Powerhouse Museum collection, gift of Ken Woolley.

My new book Designer Suburbs: Architects and affordable homes in Australia is back from the printers and will be launched soon.

Designer Suburbs began a couple of years back when our former curatorial colleague Judith O’Callaghan asked me if I’d like to co-author a book about the architect-designed project homes of the 1960s and 1970s.

We were struck by the fact that the houses built by Pettit & Sevitt in Sydney and Merchant Builders in Melbourne are still regularly featured in the popular media as examples of the best of suburban architecture, thirty years or more after the demise of these building companies.

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Round and round the world we go, travel in the 1930s

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Dahl riding a merry-go-round, 1930s, Collection Powerhouse Museum

Dahl riding a merry-go-round, 1930s. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

I have just catalogued the 1930s photographs from The Dahl and Geoffrey Collings Archive as part of an internship project for my Masters of Art Curatorship at the University of Sydney. Although photography was only a small part of their practice, beginning in the mid 1930s, it paints a very broad picture of their holistic approach to art and design.

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