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An image of The progenitors by Laurence Le Guay

Laurence Le Guay

(Australia 25 Dec 1916 – 02 Feb 1990)

The progenitors
Media category
Materials used
gelatin silver photograph, toned montage, vintage

38.5 x 38.5 cm image/sheet

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Purchased 1979
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

Laurence Le Guay started his photographic career with Dayne Studios in 1935 at the age of 18. In 1938 he was invited to join the Contemporary Camera Groupe which included Max Dupain and Olive Cotton, as well as several older photographers including Harold Cazneaux and Cecil Bostock. The Groupe was committed to practising and promoting a modern Australian approach to photography. Le Guay, like Dupain and other members, was interested in European modernism and wanted to find a way to use this style to create uniquely Australian images.

‘The progenitors’ is one of a series of montage works that Le Guay produced on the theme of modernism and the human condition. In the image, the nude man and woman are positioned as massive figures within an industrial landscape. The woman looks skyward with one hand pressed to her temple, while the man is seated at her feet and gazes up at her and the factory towers. The pose of the woman echoes the towers of the factory behind her, while the light and cloud suggest the enlightenment of the industrial world. The implication is that the couple are a modern Adam and Eve, with their ability to produce a new Australian race intrinsically linked to the productive capabilities of the modern industrial machines behind them. As Isobel Crombie has written:
The title of Le Guay’s work potently suggests the complex mix of issues regarding race, heredity and modernity that circulated during the 1930s … A progenitor can mean a spiritual, political or intellectual predecessor and, in this context, the couple offer the viewer the reassuring promise of future prosperity.1

1. Crombie I 2004, ‘Body culture: Max Dupain, photography and Australian culture, 1919–1939’, Peleus Press/National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne p 121

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

Bibliography (7)

Judy Annear and Daniel Cunningham, The Image of Man, Sydney, 1997. no pagination or catalogue numbers

Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian modernism', pg.131-149, Sydney, 2007, 143 (illus.).

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

Isobel Crombie, Body culture: Max Dupain, photography and Australian culture, 1919-1939, 'Are you an Australian Apollo?, pg.100-128, Mulgrave, 2004, 121, 122 (illus.). fig.5.15

Gael Newton, Silver and Grey - Fifty Years of Australian Photography 1900-1950, 1980. plate no. 69

S.H. Ervin Gallery, The Thirties and Australia, Sydney, 1980, 18. 110

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

Exhibition history (4)

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

Works from the Photography Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 Feb 1989–15 May 1989

The Image of Man: Photography and Masculinity 1920 to 1950, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 07 Feb 1997–06 Apr 1997

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