Max Dupain ~ A Quintessentially Australian Photographer

Day 332 of Colourisation Project – April 4

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

His mantra was simple: 

“Modern photography must do more than entertain, it must incite thought and by its clear statements of actuality, cultivate a sympathetic understanding of men and women and the life they live and create.”

He produced many iconic images celebrating Australian culture and identity, the most famous being Sunbaker, a 1937 black-and-white photograph depicting the head and shoulders of a man lying on a beach, taken from a low angle. Quintessentially Australian, it is arguably the most widely recognised of all Australian photographs.

But it was his more abstract architectural and industrial imagery that established  Maxwell Spencer Dupain as one of Australia’s foremost Modernist photographers.

Max Dupain

Photographer: Geoffrey Powell ~ Max Dupain 1938 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Born this day, 4 April 1911, Dupain’s career spanned several photographic genres. Creating bold, graphic compositions of sharply focused images, his repertoire includes landscapes, beaches, nudes, still life and architecture.

Whilst his commercial photography was his bread and butter, Dupain eschewed the ‘cosmetic lie of fashion photography or advertising illustration’. His commercial output was as diverse as his clients, which included David Jones, the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the prestigious ‘modern lifestyle’ magazine, The Home. It also included commissions for various Australian Government departments and large corporations from the 1940s through to the 1960s. His images were often used to promote immigration, trade and investment.

From the late 1960s, Dupain specialised in what he called his ‘long suit’ – modern and historic architecture. He developed an influential style that emphasized the geometric forms and graphical lines of his subjects. Commissioned in 1961 by the National Trust of Australia to document Australian heritage buildings, he also photographed Canberra’s national buildings, such as the National Library. His architectural images with a focus on the shapes within architectural structures were highly acclaimed, making Dupain the pre-eminent photographer of architecture in Australia, a position he held for more than 50 years.

Dupain sums up his passion for architecture this way:

“Dealing with architecture brings me very close to the state of mind required to making pictures. A fine building embodies so many elements of practical and aesthetic content: design, form, texture, human scale, craftsmanship and context. The photograph has to reiterate all these things or fail and you have only the bare necessities to do it: optics, chemistry and light”. *

From 1958 to 1973 he documented the construction of the Sydney Opera House, the most iconic symbol of Australian modernity. Through the use of scale and perspective, the geometric shapes and sharp lines of the building lent itself well to Dupain’s modernist aesthetic. Documenting its construction over the course of the 16 years it took to build, Dupain took thousands of images, securing for Australian Archives an important documentary history.

Dupain continued to operate his studio on Sydney’s Lower North Shore up until his death in 1992 at the age of 81, leaving behind a legacy of more than one million photographs. His works have been collected by most major Australian galleries, and private collectors world-wide. A large collection of his work is held by the National Archives.

In 1982, Dupain was honoured with an Order of the British Empire, and in 1983 he was awarded a life membership with The Royal Australian Institute of Architects.

“One hopes that the new generation of photographers in Australia will graduate to the outdoors and make naturalness and spontaneity the underlying qualities of their work rather than a superficial pleasantness which characterizes so much of it today.”  – Max Dupain, (1947)


* [Source: Zeny Edwards ‘Sydney’s Dupain’ in Jill White, Dupain’s Sydney, Chapter & Verse, Sydney, 1999, p.12]
This entry was posted in Architecture, Australia, Black & White, Colorization, Colourisation, Photography and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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