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An image of Untitled (head of a woman) by Hans Hasenpflug

Hans Hasenpflug

(Germany, Australia 1907 – 02 Apr 1978)

Untitled (head of a woman)
Media category
Materials used
gelatin silver photograph

28.8 x 24.3 cm image; 29.5 x 24.7 cm sheet

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Gift of Mr Christopher Hamilton, the artist's son 1984
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

Hans Hasenpflug arrived in Australia in 1927 aged 21. He had been born into an educated Stuttgart family but it does not appear that he became involved in photography until 1932 when he was employed by Leica Photo Service, Sydney. Hasenpflug went on to work for prominent photographer Russell Roberts from 1935 to 1937 before moving to Melbourne and working with Athol Shmith from 1938 to 1942. As an enemy alien Hasenpflug was not allowed to work on industrial assignments during World War Two but he was not interned and was naturalised in 1945. Hasenpflug exhibited in photography salons in the 1930s and his work appeared in ‘Table Talk’, the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’, ‘Woman’ and the ‘Sunday Telegraph’.

Hasenpflug was a versatile advertising photographer. He specialized in fashion and product advertising and some portraiture. Despite his apparent lack of photographic training until the 1930s, he seems to be have been strongly influenced by the European avant-garde. Many of his photographs, regardless of genre or subject matter, depend on diagonals through the picture plane and on raking light.

This is true of ‘Untitled (head of a woman)’. Strong light has created deep shadows across the subject, a closely cropped image of a woman’s face. This, combined with the oblique camera angle, creates a vivid and disconcerting image. The woman is staring directly into the camera, yet a band of strong shadow across the centre of the image creates a blank eyed effect. The pupil free eyes seem inhuman; mask-like or alien. This is in stark contrast to the woman’s open smile that dominates the bottom of the work. The strong, full light on this area highlights her lips, gums and teeth to an almost hyper real extent. These contradictions create an image that on the surface seems friendly and intimate, yet contains an undertone of threat. The inherent strangeness of the image makes it unlikely that this was a commissioned photograph, but rather the artist’s experiment with his medium.

Bibliography (3)

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

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

Helen Ennis and Geoffrey Batchen, Mirror with a memory: Photographic portraiture in Australia, Parkes, 2000. no catalogue numbers

Exhibition history (5)

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

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

Mirror with a Memory: The Photographic Portrait in Australia, National Portrait Gallery [Old Parliament House], Canberra, 03 Mar 2000–11 Jun 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

What's in a face? aspects of portrait photography, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 Sep 2011–05 Feb 2012