David Potts was recognised early in his career as a perceptive observer of society with an ability to capture the essential mood of a situation. He joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1944 and following war service trained in photography under the Repatriation Scheme. After working in the Department of Medical Illustration at the University of Sydney he began work in the Russell Roberts photographic studio which concentrated on fashion and commercial work. ‘The rabbit trapper’ has become David Potts’s iconic image of Australian bush life, taken in Dorrigo, on assignment for a magazine article.
Dorrigo in northern New South Wales, rich in rainforest timber during the 19th century, was later cleared for dairy farms. The proliferation of rabbits and their destruction of country was particularly hard felt by farmers during the 1930s and 1940s. The Depression forced people to trap rather than shoot rabbits which were then sold for meat or pelts. The processed fur felt formed another Australian icon – the Akubra, made famous by the Diggers’ slouch hats, country men and it appears – rabbit trappers. This intimate portrait captures a man who listens and yarns, hat pushed off his forehead as he leans against the stove, relaxed in his kitchen. The utensils hanging on the wall imply the rabbit trapper is more than just a cook of rabbit stew, making pastry, grates, skims and beats. The backlighting of the figure captures the weathered wrinkled face, but as he engages with someone to his left in his simple room it is his eyes that become the singular feature. The watcher is being watched.
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
gelatin silver photograph, vintage
47.1 x 31.1 cm image/sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Gift of the artist 1980
Not on display
© David Potts
Shown in 5 exhibitions
Three years on: acquisitions 1978-81, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Oct 1981–01 Dec 1981
Ten years on, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Jan 1986–Jan 1986
Works from the Photography Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 Feb 1989–15 May 1989
Australian postwar photodocumentary, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 Jun 2004–08 Aug 2004
6 photographers, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 05 Dec 2009–Feb 2010
Referenced in 6 publications
Gael Newtown, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'Photography - Australian, European and American', pg. 67-84, Sydney, 1981, 80. cat.no. 34
Rose Peel, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian postwar photo-documentary', pg.189-207, Sydney, 2007, 194, 196 (illus.).
Helen Ennis, Photography and Australia, London, 2007, 98 (illus.). fig.53
Natasha Bullock, Australian postwar photodocumentary, Sydney, 2004. no catalogue numbers
Gael Newton, Silver and Grey - Fifty Years of Australian Photography 1900-1950, 1980. plate no. 95
Ewen McDonald, AGNSW Collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 60 (illus.).