Skip to content




Australian art


View More:


The orphan sisters



Harold Cazneaux

New Zealand, Australia

30 Mar 1878 - 19 Jun 1953


Cazneaux was born into a photographic family in 1878. During the 1870s his parents, originally from Australia, ran a photographic studio in Wellington, New Zealand, before returning home and settling in Adelaide, where Cazneaux’s father worked as a portraitist for William H Hammer. Harold too eventually worked for Hammer as an artist-retoucher while attending classes in design at the Adelaide School of Art. Although he became a consummate photographic technician, Cazneaux insisted that the study of art and design was necessary if the photographer was to become an artist rather than remain a mere operator. An 1898 exhibition by John Kauffmann, recently returned to Adelaide, convinced him of the expressive possibilities of photography.

Cazneaux moved to Sydney in 1904 to take up a job for the successful studio of Freeman & Co. Although he continued in the commercial studio system for 20 years, the environment took its toll. In 1917, with a young family of six children, he suffered a breakdown. While recovering, family and friends convinced him to open a studio, which he eventually operated from his home in Roseville. During the 1920s his work received increasingly wide exposure, with publisher Sydney Ure Smith employing him as official photographer for the luxurious lifestyle magazine ‘The Home’ and on other publications.

Cazneaux’s 1909 exhibition of 75 photographs is credited with being the first major solo show by an Australian photographer. It was enthusiastically reviewed and a number of photographers have written about its influence on their subsequent development. Sydney Ure Smith’s interest in photography probably dates from this time.1 For the photographer himself, the exhibition was an opportunity for critical reappraisal. He recalled: ‘I can thank that little show in many ways: it was the start of starting all over again for me.’2 After the exhibition new directions are apparent in his work. The photographs become more light-filled, with subjects less staged. ‘The orphan sisters’ is a fine example of early work. At this time he was employed as a portrait photographer for the Freeman studio. This photograph, which shows a debt to such English practitioners as Julia Margaret Cameron, has been severely cropped: the original negative is of a more conventional, vertical and waist-length double portrait.

1. Cazneaux H 1949, ‘Sydney Ure Smith’, ‘Australasian Photo-Review’, Dec p 784
2. Cazneaux H 1925, ‘Review of the pictures’, ‘Harrington’s Photographic Journal’, 1 Apr p 20

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




Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph


19.6 x 23.5 cm image/sheet; 27.0 x 28.3 cm card (irreg.)

Signature & date

Signed l.r. card, pencil "H. Cazneaux". Not dated.


Gift of the Cazneaux family 1975


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Harold Cazneaux

Works in the collection


Shown in 7 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 11 publications


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

Natasha Bullock, Look, 'Harold Cazneaux: artist in photography', pg.28-31, Sydney, Jun 2008, 31.

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

Valerie Hill, The Cazneaux Women, 'Matrix and fragments of influence 1690s-1900s', pg.18-33, St Leonards, 2000, 20 (illus.), 30 (illus.).

Steven Miller, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian pictorialism', pg.71-91, Sydney, 2007, 82 (illus.).

Denise Mimmocchi, Australian Symbolism: the art of dreams, Artful atmospheres: Symbolism and photography’, pg. 123-136, Sydney, 2012, 123, 127 (colour illus.), 144.

Francis J Mortimer (Editor), Photograms of the Year, London, 1915, 15. plate no. 55

Gael Newton, Project 7: Harold Cazneaux 1878 - 1953, Sydney, 1975. 11

Ursula Prunster, Seeing is believing: the art in photography, Sydney, 1985. 7

Wayne Tunnicliffe, Bridled Passions, Sydney, 1996, (illus.). no catalogue numbers

Editor Unknown (Editor), Lone Hand, Sydney, 01 Feb 1915, 152.