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
From the Gallery Shop
Sunbaker (Culburra NSW)
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".
Not on display
Shown in 12 exhibitions
The Thirties and Australia, S.H. Ervin Gallery, The Rocks, 19 Jun 1980–13 Jul 1980
Max Dupain Retrospective 1930-1980, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 29 Aug 1980–28 Sep 1980
Ten years on, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Jan 1986–Jan 1986
Celebrity Choice - Sam Neill, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 08 Jan 1987–08 Feb 1987
Four Photographers, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 02 Jun 1990–19 Aug 1990
Fine and mostly sunny: photographs from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Sep 1991–01 Dec 1991
Max Dupain - An Appreciation, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 11 Aug 1992–30 Aug 1992
Soft Shadows and Sharp Lines: Australian photography from Cazneaux to Dupain, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 Sep 2002–17 Nov 2002
On the Beach: with Whiteley and fellow Australian artists, The Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills, 01 Mar 2003–29 Jun 2003
Modern Times, Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo, 01 Aug 2008–08 Feb 2009
The photograph and Australia:
Onsight: Profiles, Exhibition Venue Unknown, Unknown–Unknown
Referenced in 19 publications
Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian modernism', pg.131-149, Sydney, 2007, 136, 142 (illus.), 195.
Natasha Bullock, Look, 'Soft and sharp: how Australian photography moved between two styles', pg.21-22, Sydney, Oct 2002, 22.
Sandra Byron, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Photography', pg. 125-135, Sydney, 1988, 127 (illus.).
Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Australian Photography', pg. 198-207, Sydney, 1999, 204 (illus.).
Robert McFarlane, Black + White - The Masters, 'Max Dupain', pg. 194-207, Sydney, 1999, 195 (illus.).
Gael Newtown, Brought to Light: Australian Art 1850–1965 from the Queensland Art Gallery collection, 'It was a Simple Affair. Max Dupain Sunbaker', pg. 142-47, Brisbane, 1998, 142 (illus.), 143 (illus.), 144, 146-7.
Judith White, Look, 'Sydney-side-on', pg.28-29, Melbourne, Apr 2000, 28 (illus.).
Unknown, Sand in our souls, 'The beach and popular culture', pg. 138-145, Carlton South, 2001, 141, 142 (illus.).
Natasha Bullock (Curator), Soft shadows and sharp lines: Australian photography from Cazneaux to Dupain, Sydney, 2002. no pagination or catalogue numbers
Unknown, Art and Design Book 1, Sydney, 1995, 144 (illus.).
Author Unknown, Workcover News, Sydney, 1995, cover (illus.).
Sandra Byron, Fine and Mostly Sunny: Photographs from the collection, Sydney, 1991. cat.no. 22
Josef Lebovic Gallery and Helen Ennis, Masterpieces of Australian Photography, Twentieth Century Photography, Sydney, 1989, 150, 151 (illus). cat.no. 262
Helen Ennis, Photography and Australia, 'Localism and internationalism', pg.110-133, London, 2007, 113, 114 (illus.). fig.64
Onsight No.7 - PROFILES, Sydney, 1984?, 22 (illus.).
S.H. Ervin Gallery, The Thirties and Australia, Sydney, 1980, 18. cat.no. 101
Max Dupain retrospective 1930-1980, Sydney, 1980. cat.no. 26
Unknown (Editor), Dômo - Australian Living Handbook, Japan, 1999, 17 (colour illus.). plate no. 5
Judy Annear, The photograph and Australia, Sydney, Jun 2015, 104 (colour illus.).