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An image of Sunbaker by Max Dupain

Max Dupain

(Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)

Other titles:
Sunbaker (Culburra NSW)
printed 1970s
Media category
Materials used
gelatin silver photograph

37.9 x 42.8 cm image; 47.8 x 50.7 cm board

Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r.image and verso board., ink "Max Dupain '37".
Purchased 1976
Accession number
Major exhibition gallery
Further information

When asked by Helen Ennis in 1991 for an explanation of the fame of the ‘Sunbaker’, Dupain responded:
I’m a bit worried about it. I think it’s taken on too much … It was a simple affair. We were camping down the south coast and one of my friends leapt out of the surf and slammed down onto the beach to have a sunbake … We made the image and it’s been around, I suppose, as a sort of icon of the Australian way of life.1

Although Dupain took some photographs of his friend as the sunbaker in the 1930s, this image did not appear until his monograph was published in 1948.2 The image he chose was slightly different, a little less monumental due to the positioning of the arms, and with less sand and more sky. The negative was lost and in the 1970s the other version was printed for the first time and, through exhibition and reproduction, became the icon that it is today.

By the late 1940s Dupain had left many of his earlier experiments behind and he wrote:
This little collection is a cross section of that which I consider to be my best work since 1935 … 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 create and live.3

The ‘Sunbaker’ represents the shifts in Dupain’s practice from private snapshot to public domain, from ardent modernist experimentation to determined recording of actuality and form.4 Within this image is Dupain’s pervasive interest in the individual body as a metaphor for social wellbeing and an exemplar of pure form.

1. Ennis H 1991, ‘Max Dupain: photographs’, Australian National Gallery, Canberra p 18
2. Plate 7 in Missingham H 1948, ‘Max Dupain: photographs’, Ure Smith Pty Ltd, Sydney
3. ibid p 12
4. See also Jolly M 1999, ‘Sunbaker’, ‘Signature works’, Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney pp 5–6

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

Bibliography (18)

Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian modernism', pg.131-149, Sydney, 2007, 136, 142 (illus.), 195.

Robin Bruckner, Art and Design Book 1, Sydney, 1995, 144 (illus.).

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

Natasha Bullock, Look, 'Soft and sharp: how Australian photography moved between two styles', pg.21-22, Newtown, Oct 2002, 22.

Sandra Byron, Fine and Mostly Sunny: Photographs from the collection, Sydney, 1991. 22

Sandra Byron, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Photography', pg. 125-135, Sydney, 1988, 127 (illus.).

Helen Ennis, Photography and Australia, 'Localism and internationalism', pg.110-133, London, 2007, 113, 114 (illus.). fig.64

Renée Free and Gael Newton, Onsight No.7 - PROFILES, Sydney, 1984?, 22 (illus.).

Leone Huntsman, Sand in our souls, 'The beach and popular culture', pg. 138-145, Carlton South, 2001, 141, 142 (illus.).

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Australian Photography', pg. 198-207, Sydney, 1999, 204 (illus.).

Josef Lebovic Gallery and Helen Ennis, Masterpieces of Australian Photography, Twentieth Century Photography, Sydney, 1989, 150, 151 (illus). 262

NAKADA Masaaki (Editor), Dômo - Australian Living Handbook, Japan, 1999, 17 (colour illus.). plate no. 5

Robert McFarlane, Black + White - The Masters, 'Max Dupain', pg. 194-207, East Sydney, 1999, 195 (illus.).

Gael Newton, Max Dupain retrospective 1930-1980, Sydney, 1980. 26

Gael Newtown, Brought to Light: Australian Art 1850–1965 from the Queensland Art Gallery collection, 'It was a Simple Affair. Max Dupain Sunbaker', pg. 142-47, Brisbane, 1998, 142 (illus.), 143 (illus.), 144, 146-7.

S.H. Ervin Gallery, The Thirties and Australia, Sydney, 1980, 18. 101

Judith White, Look, 'Sydney-side-on', pg.28-29, South Yarra, Apr 2000, 28 (illus.).

Author Unknown, Workcover News, Sydney, 1995, cover (illus.).

Exhibition history (11)

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

Max Dupain Retrospective 1930-1980, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 29 Aug 1980–28 Sep 1980

Ten years on, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Jan 1986–Jan 1986

Celebrity Choice - Sam Neill, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 08 Jan 1987–08 Feb 1987

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

Fine and mostly sunny: photographs from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Sep 1991–01 Dec 1991

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

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

Modern Times, Powerhouse Museum, Australia, 01 Aug 2008–08 Feb 2009

The photograph and Australia, 21 Mar 2015–08 Jun 2015

Onsight: Profiles, Exhibition Venue Unknown, Unknown–Unknown