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Australian art


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printed 1970s


Max Dupain


22 Apr 1911 - 27 Jul 1992


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


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


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Max Dupain

Works in the collection


Shown in 12 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 19 publications


Judy Annear, The photograph and Australia, Sydney, Jun 2015, 104 (colour illus.).

Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian modernism', pg.131-149, Sydney, 2007, 136, 142 (illus.), 195.

Robin Bruckner, Art and Design Book 1, Sydney, 1995, 144 (illus.).

Natasha Bullock (Curator), Soft shadows and sharp lines: Australian photography from Cazneaux to Dupain, Sydney, 2002. no pagination or catalogue numbers

Natasha Bullock, Look, 'Soft and sharp: how Australian photography moved between two styles', pg.21-22, Sydney, Oct 2002, 22.

Sandra Byron, Fine and Mostly Sunny: Photographs from the collection, Sydney, 1991. 22

Sandra Byron, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Photography', pg. 125-135, Sydney, 1988, 127 (illus.).

Helen Ennis, Photography and Australia, 'Localism and internationalism', pg.110-133, London, 2007, 113, 114 (illus.). fig.64

Renée Free and Gael Newton, Onsight No.7 - PROFILES, Sydney, 1984?, 22 (illus.).

Leone Huntsman, Sand in our souls, 'The beach and popular culture', pg. 138-145, Carlton South, 2001, 141, 142 (illus.).

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Australian Photography', pg. 198-207, Sydney, 1999, 204 (illus.).

Josef Lebovic Gallery and Helen Ennis, Masterpieces of Australian Photography, Twentieth Century Photography, Sydney, 1989, 150, 151 (illus). 262

NAKADA Masaaki (Editor), Dômo - Australian Living Handbook, Japan, 1999, 17 (colour illus.). plate no. 5

Robert McFarlane, Black + White - The Masters, 'Max Dupain', pg. 194-207, Sydney, 1999, 195 (illus.).

Gael Newton, Max Dupain retrospective 1930-1980, Sydney, 1980. 26

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.

S.H. Ervin Gallery, The Thirties and Australia, Sydney, 1980, 18. 101

Judith White, Look, 'Sydney-side-on', pg.28-29, Melbourne, Apr 2000, 28 (illus.).

Author Unknown, Workcover News, Sydney, 1995, cover (illus.).