Day 327 of Colourisation Project – March 30
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Eminent Australian photographer Max Dupain, acknowledged him as the “father of modern Australian photography.” In 1911, the leading British pictorial journal, Photograms of the Year, ranked him equal to world renowned American Pictorialist, Alfred Stieglitz.
In 1937, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain – the ultimate photographic accolade.
Born this day, 30 March 1878, in Wellington, New Zealand, Harold Cazneaux was one of Australia’s greatest photographers and one of the main proponents of the Pictorialist photographic movement in Australia, which held that photography was a form of high art, closely linked to painting.
Born into an artistic family, he was the son of Pierce Mott Cazneaux, an English-born photographer, and his wife Emily Bentley, a colourist and miniature painter from Sydney. He moved to Australia at age 11 with his parents and later relocated to Sydney where he spent the rest of his days working as a freelance photographer, producing photographic books and contributing photographs and articles to Sydney newspapers and journals such as Home and Art in Australia, as well as overseas periodicals and publications.
Cazneaux was a connoisseur of light. His use of natural light was a defining characteristic of his work and a key element in developing photographs with a distinctly Australian character. Architectural historian and biographer, Zeny Edwards, eloquently describes Cazeneaux’s fascination with the qualities of sunlight and shadow,
“In his photographs, he experimented fearlessly with the resplendence of full sunlight, as well as the filigreed patterns made by filtered sunlight. He confronted and challenged light sources, shadows and reflections and cajoled the mysterious patterns they created into his photographs.”
In 1916, Cazenaeux founded the Pictorialist Sydney Camera Circle. When he and a small group of photographers signed the Sydney Camera Circle declaration, pledging to embrace the unique Australian light and landscape, he had no idea of the profound influence he would have on the development of Australian photographic history.
Rejecting the dominant photographic aesthetic of the late 19th Century, his impressionistic images promoted the camera as an instrument of art. Manipulating negatives and prints to produce soft focus images, Cazneaux projected a uniquely Australian sense of time and place.
His fascination with Sydney produced exceptional photographs that captured the essence of an evolving metropolis, the people, places and events spanning the first half of the 20th century. He captured quintessentially Australian images of surfers, sun-bakers, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, city views and streets, gum trees and rural landscapes as well as portraits of quintessential Australians such as Dame Nellie Melba, Norman Lindsay, Julian Ashton, Hans and Nora Heysen, George Lambert, and Margaret Preston. Portraits of overseas artists such as Yehudi Menuhin and Anna Pavlova also featured in his extensive repertoire.
In documenting Sydney he produced some of the most memorable images of the early twentieth century. Cazneaux was there for the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, from the demolition of buildings and laying of foundations, to the opening ceremony and the famous ‘cutting of the ribbon’ incident by de Groot. His Bridge images represent some of his finest work but more importantly they are a major record of historical importance.
Harold Cazneaux died in his sleep at his Roseville home, on 19 June 1953, aged 75.
His legacy lives on in his body of work, which continues to interest historians, photographers and the general public for its insights into the lives of Australians in the first half of the 20th century.
Collections of his work are held by The National Library of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia.