Max Dupain was Australia’s most respected and influential modernist black & white photographer of the 20th century.
Dupain was considered the pioneer of modernism in Australian photography, an approach that departed from the sentimentality of soft focused, nostalgic imagery to the simplified world of light contrasts, sharp focus, varying angles and creative compositions.
Dupain received his first camera as a gift in 1924, spurring his interest in photography. Dupain, exhibited his first landscape photographs while attending grammar school, studing at the East Sydney Technical College and the Julian Ashton Art School (both 1933–35).
He later joined the Photographic Society of NSW, where he was taught by Justin Newlan; after completing his tertiary studies, he worked for Cecil Bostock in Sydney. His images capture a long gone era in which Australian society was vastly different. With his documentary eye his images exude quality and demonstrate Dupain’s mastership of light and form.
By 1934 Max Dupain had struck out on his own and opened a studio in Bond Street, Sydney. In 1937, while on the south coast of New South Wales, he photographed the head and shoulders of a friend, Harold Salvage, lying on the sand at Culburra Beach. The image, entitled Sunbaker, subsequently became Dupain’s most famous piece but not until the 1970s. It was purchased in 1976 by the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra and has become a national icon.
Max took fashion and commercial photographs from the mid 1930s for large studio clients such as David Jones and AWA.
During World War II, he left his fashion- and portrait-photography studio to work for the army camouflage unit; he then worked for the Australian Department of Information. Dupain served with the Royal Australian Air Force in both both Darwin and Papa New Guinea helping to create camouflage. The war affected Duapin and his photography by creating in him a greater awareness of truth in documentary. Upon his return to studio work, he de-emphasized picturesque landscapes and portraiture in favour of the more abstract architectural and industrial imagery that established him as one of Australia’s most significant Modernist photographers.
Upon his return to studio work, he de-emphasized picturesque landscapes and portraiture in favour of the more abstract architectural and industrial imagery that established him as one of Australia’s most significant Modernist photographers.
In 1947, these feelings were reinforced when he read a book Grierson on Documentary which defined the need for photography without pretence.
His work was featured in numerous exhibitions and retrospectives, notably an exhibit at the Photographer’s Gallery in London that celebrated his 80th birthday. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1982.
A lot more of his images can be found on his website HERE.