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An image of Pyrmont silos by Max Dupain

Max Dupain

(Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)

Pyrmont silos
1933, printed later
Media category
Materials used
gelatin silver photograph

26.2 x 19.6 cm image/sheet; 44.0 x 35.0 cm original board

Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. image and u.c. verso original board, pencil "Max Dupain '33".
Purchased 1976
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

‘Pyrmont silos’ is one of a number of photographs that Dupain took of these constructions in the 1930s. In all cases Dupain examined the silos from a modernist perspective, emphasising their monumentality from low viewpoints under a bright cloudless sky. Additionally, his use of strong shadows to emphasise the forms of the silos and the lack of human figures celebrates the built structure as well as providing no sense of scale. Another photograph by Dupain in the AGNSW collection was taken through a car windscreen so that the machinery of transport merges explicitly with industrialisation into a complex hard-edge image of views and mirror reflections. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power.

Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace modernism. One of his photographs of the silos was roundly criticised when shown to the New South Wales Photographic Society but Dupain forged on regardless with his reading, thinking and experimentation. Some Australian painting and writing had embraced modernist principles in the 1920s, but as late as 1938 Dupain was writing to the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’:
Great art has always been contemporary in spirit. Today we feel the surge of aesthetic exploration along abstract lines, the social economic order impinging itself on art, the repudiation of the ‘truth to nature criterion’ … We sadly need the creative courage of Man Ray, the original thought of Moholy-Nagy, and the dynamic realism of Edouard [sic] Steichen. 1

1. Dupain M 1938, ‘Letter to the editor’, ‘Sydney Morning Herald’, 30 Mar

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

Bibliography (8)

Judy Annear, Sydney moderns: art for a new world, 'Modernist photography: the machine age in Sydney', pg.184-191, Sydney, 2013, 187 (illus.).

Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian modernism', pg.131-149, Sydney, 2007, 136, 138 (illus.).

Natasha Bullock (Curator), Soft shadows and sharp lines: Australian photography from Cazneaux to Dupain, Sydney, 2002. no pagination or catalogue numbers

Helen Ennis, Photography and Australia, London, 2007, 74 (illus.). fig.40

Brian Ladd and Alan Krell, The Artist & the City, Sydney, 1983, , 17 (illus.). 16

Ursula Prunster, Seeing is believing: the art in photography, Sydney, 1985, 15 (illus.), 18. 100

Michael Wardell, My city of Sydney, Sydney, 2000. no pagination or catalogue numbers

John Williams, Quarantined Culture: Aust Reactions to Modernism, Sydney, 1995, 85, 197, 210, 211, 246.

Exhibition history (7)

The Thirties and Australia, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 19 Jun 1980–13 Jul 1980

The Artist and the City:

Four Photographers, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 02 Jun 1990–19 Aug 1990

Max Dupain - An Appreciation, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 11 Aug 1992–30 Aug 1992

My city of Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 02 Sep 2000–22 Oct 2000

Soft Shadows and Sharp Lines: Australian photography from Cazneaux to Dupain, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 Sep 2002–17 Nov 2002

Max Dupain: the Paris 'private' series and other pictures, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 May 2014–31 Aug 2014