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Steam and sunshine, Newcastle BHP



Harold Cazneaux

New Zealand, Australia

30 Mar 1878 - 19 Jun 1953


An English reviewer wrote of the photographs Cazneaux was commissioned to make for the BHP company in 1934: ‘I heartily disagree with his excursions into industrial subjects … whatever value these records of steel-making and the like may have for commercial purposes, their interest is as records and not as pictures … Mr Cazneaux does not approach them from a pictorial angle.’1 It is difficult today to understand the nature of this criticism, as ‘Steam and sunshine, Newcastle BHP’ sits clearly within the pictorialist tradition. Perhaps at the time Cazneaux’s contrasts were thought too sharp and his strong geometric composition too consciously modern. Certainly, a younger generation of ‘modernist’ photographers during the 1930s were looking to industrial subjects for inspiration. Max Dupain, a leader of this group, began his studies of Pyrmont silos in 1932. Industrial subjects, however, were not new to Cazneaux. He had taken images of commerce on Darling Harbour and in the Pyrmont Marshalling Yards as early as 1909–10 and even during the 1920s he was using angles and compositional devices which foreshadowed a more modernist style. In many ways, Cazneaux’s BHP photographs reveal his ability and willingness to work across stylistic boundaries. Here he blends pictorialist focus with a modernist sense of space, form and geometry, in much the same way American photographer Edward Weston did.

1. Dudley Johnston J 1936, ‘London news and doings’, ‘Australasian Photo-Review’, 2 Nov p 536

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




Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph


37.1 x 27.7 cm image/sheet

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of the Cazneaux family 1975


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Harold Cazneaux

Works in the collection


Shown in 4 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 7 publications


Judy Annear, Sydney moderns: art for a new world, 'Modernist photography: the machine age in Sydney', pg.184-191, Sydney, 2013, 187 (illus.). not exhibited

Natasha Bullock, Harold Cazneaux: artist in photography, Sydney, 2008.

Steven Miller, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian pictorialism', pg.71-91, Sydney, 2007, 88 (illus.).

Gael Newton, Silver and Grey - Fifty Years of Australian Photography 1900-1950, 1980. plate no. 50

Gael Newton, Australian Pictorial Photography, Melbourne, 1979, 8, 17. 28

Jill Sykes (Editor), Look, Sydney, Jun 2008, 30 (illus.).

Anne-Marie Willis, Picturing Australia - A History of Photography, Sydney, 1988, 177. 111