Cazneaux took a selection of photographs in and around Surry Hills in the years leading up to the First World War. Many of his pictures such as Surry Hills, Sydney, Albion Street and A Surry Hills Alleyway are sentimental streetscapes, resolved in soft tones and focussed on children’s games or the humble commuter. This photograph is similarly concentrated on a child’s game in the inner-city residential enclave but it deviates from the softness of Cazneaux’s pictorial style seen in other images of this area. The graduation between sunlight and shadow here as represented through dramatic tonal contrasts and sharp lines showing, as Melissa Miles points out, how sunlight and shadow, light and dark could be used both for abstraction and clarity 1.
Harold Cazneaux was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1878. His parents, Pierce Mott Cazneau and Emma Florence (née Bentley) worked in commercial studios in New Zealand before returning to settle permanently in Adelaide during the early 1890s. At the age of 18 Cazneaux went to work alongside his father at Hammer & Co studio as a retoucher. He moved to Sydney in 1904 to join the larger portrait firm, Freeman’s quickly ascending to the position of ‘chief operator’ (as camera portraitists were known). Studio work was highly formulaic, with little scope for creativity. Cazneaux used his time walking to and from work to experiment with pictorialist aesthetics 2. The Photographic Society of New South Wales organised an exhibition of Cazneaux’s photographs in 1909, the first such solo exhibition of its kind in Australia. In 1916 he and fellow pictorialist photographer, Cecil Bostock founded the Sydney Camera Circle. The group was particularly interested in the how pictorialism could be adapted to and extended within an Australian context. The mechanised, standardised and frenetic pace of Freeman’s increasingly took its toll on Cazneaux’s creativity and health, and he resigned in 1917. He moved with his wife and daughters to the Sydney suburb of Roseville, and in 1920 he was employed as the official photographer for The Home magazine. This new position let him work in a varied indoor and outdoor environments. In 1938 Cazneaux was awarded an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of London. He continued to work until his death in 1953.
1. Miles, M 2015, ‘The Language of Light and Dark: Light and Place in Australian Photography’, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal p 152
2. Newton G 1988, ‘Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988’, Australian National Gallery, Canberra p 85
gelatin silver photograph
30.1 x 22.5 cm image; 30.5 x 22.5 cm sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Gift of the Cazneaux family 2000
Not on display
Shown in 1 exhibition
Special Collectors list no. 60A, Josef Lebovic Gallery, Kensington, 1996–1996