Australian photographic modernism and the commercial image

‘Those of our readers who have been following overseas advertising must have noticed that commercial photography has been developing along new and imaginative lines.’
- Australasian Photo-Review in 1929, publicising the release of the book Illustrative photography in advertising

While the aesthetic and formal strategies of European modernist photography were motivated by social and political upheaval following the First World War and the Bolshevik revolution, the broader photographic community in Australia did not as readily abandon the principles of pictorialism.

It was not until Max Dupain started experimenting with, and writing about, photography that a uniquely Australian mode of modernism began to take shape.

AGNSW collection Max Dupain Untitled (woman with nose dropper) (1936-1939) 100.2003.12
AGNSW collection Max Dupain Untitled (woman with nose dropper) (1936-1939) 100.2003.12
AGNSW collection Max Dupain Untitled (fashion illustration: hands with pearl necklace) (1930s) 102.2003.21
AGNSW collection Max Dupain Untitled (fashion illustration: hands with pearl necklace) (1930s) 102.2003.21
AGNSW collection Max Dupain Untitled (woman with binoculars) (1930s) 102.2003.13
AGNSW collection Max Dupain Untitled (woman with binoculars) (1930s) 102.2003.13
AGNSW collection Max Dupain Untitled (smiling couple) (1936-1939) 100.2003.7
AGNSW collection Max Dupain Untitled (smiling couple) (1936-1939) 100.2003.7
AGNSW collection Max Dupain Untitled (photo-montage of golf clubs and moulded wood pieces) (circa 1951-circa 1952) 103.2003.30
AGNSW collection Max Dupain Untitled (photo-montage of golf clubs and moulded wood pieces) (circa 1951-circa 1952) 103.2003.30
AGNSW collection Max Dupain Untitled (escalators) (circa 1951-circa 1952) 103.2003.28
AGNSW collection Max Dupain Untitled (escalators) (circa 1951-circa 1952) 103.2003.28

Yet even as modernist photography was still being referred to as ‘freakish’ within Australian publications and by devoted pictorialists, it was accepted for commercial photographers to adopt the stylistic mannerisms of formal modernism in promotional campaigns for the products of the modern industrial world.

Beyond this swift uptake within the commercial sphere, many of the photographers who would go on to define Australian photographic modernism - including Wolfgang Sievers, Lawrence Collings and Dupain - also accepted advertising commissions alongside their own artistic practice and brought a critical eye to the commercial world.

AGNSW collection Lawrence Collings Curved steel (circa 1947) 279.1995
AGNSW collection Lawrence Collings Curved steel (circa 1947) 279.1995
AGNSW collection Lawrence Collings Controlled repetition (circa 1947) 278.1995
AGNSW collection Lawrence Collings Controlled repetition (circa 1947) 278.1995
AGNSW collection Wolfgang Sievers Agarol medical advertisement, Contempora School in Berlin (1938, printed 1989) 166.1989
AGNSW collection Wolfgang Sievers Agarol medical advertisement, Contempora School in Berlin (1938, printed 1989) 166.1989
AGNSW collection Wolfgang Sievers, Erich Balg Stocking advertisement at Contempora School, Berlin (1938, printed 1989) 170.1989
AGNSW collection Wolfgang Sievers, Erich Balg Stocking advertisement at Contempora School, Berlin (1938, printed 1989) 170.1989
AGNSW collection John Lee Studio June Prior photographed with a perspex scaled model of a perfect sugar crystal (1948) 28.1984
AGNSW collection John Lee Studio June Prior photographed with a perspex scaled model of a perfect sugar crystal (1948) 28.1984