We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.



printed 1970s


Max Dupain


22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992

  • Details

    Other Title
    Sunbaker (Culburra NSW)
    printed 1970s
    Media category
    Materials used
    gelatin silver photograph
    37.9 x 42.8 cm image; 47.8 x 50.7 cm board
    Signature & date

    Signed and dated l.r.image and verso board., ink "Max Dupain '37".

    Purchased 1976
    South Building, ground level, 20th-century galleries
    Accession number

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Max Dupain

    Works in the collection


  • About

    When asked by Helen Ennis in 1991 for an explanation of the fame of the ‘Sunbaker’, Dupain responded:
    I’m a bit worried about it. I think it’s taken on too much … It was a simple affair. We were camping down the south coast and one of my friends leapt out of the surf and slammed down onto the beach to have a sunbake … We made the image and it’s been around, I suppose, as a sort of icon of the Australian way of life.1

    Although Dupain took some photographs of his friend as the sunbaker in the 1930s, this image did not appear until his monograph was published in 1948.2 The image he chose was slightly different, a little less monumental due to the positioning of the arms, and with less sand and more sky. The negative was lost and in the 1970s the other version was printed for the first time and, through exhibition and reproduction, became the icon that it is today.

    By the late 1940s Dupain had left many of his earlier experiments behind and he wrote:
    This little collection is a cross section of that which I consider to be my best work since 1935 … Modern photography must do more than entertain, it must incite thought and by its clear statements of actuality, cultivate a sympathetic understanding of men and women and the life they create and live.3

    The ‘Sunbaker’ represents the shifts in Dupain’s practice from private snapshot to public domain, from ardent modernist experimentation to determined recording of actuality and form.4 Within this image is Dupain’s pervasive interest in the individual body as a metaphor for social wellbeing and an exemplar of pure form.

    1. Ennis H 1991, ‘Max Dupain: photographs’, Australian National Gallery, Canberra p 18
    2. Plate 7 in Missingham H 1948, ‘Max Dupain: photographs’, Ure Smith Pty Ltd, Sydney
    3. ibid p 12
    4. See also Jolly M 1999, ‘Sunbaker’, ‘Signature works’, Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney pp 5–6

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

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 12 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 19 publications

Other works by Max Dupain

See all 449 works