‘Meat queue, Sydney’ was one in a series of pictures Sydney photographer Max Dupain undertook for the Department of Information. When interviewed by curator Helen Ennis in 1991 Dupain said:
We were doing a story on queues after the war. They were all over the place – queues for buses, vegetables, fruit. I just happened to come across this butcher shop in Pitt Street, I think it was. Here they were all lined up, and I went around it, took a number of pictures, ultimately ending up with this sort of architectural approach with four of five females all dressed in black with black hats, not looking too happy about the world. Suddenly one of them breaks the queue when I’m focused up all ready to go, pure luck. 1
The solidity of the linear figures taken from mid distance beneath a meat coupon scale which will weigh a proportion of meat with the allowable coupons democratises the women. The picture is given a sudden focus as the central figure decides to move from the queue and unwanted contact is made with the woman ahead. Described as both a documentary photograph, but not necessarily a social comment, the economic food-rationing of postwar Australia is shown in this clear modernist image of black-and-white shapes in shallow space. Form rather than content defines this image. The central figure in a lighter coloured coat is balanced on either side by the darker coats as the black hats, which make a wave along the horizontal, parallel the line of meat hooks.
1. Ennis H 1991, ‘Max Dupain: photographs’, Australian National Gallery, Canberra p 18
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
1946, printed later
gelatin silver photograph
45.3 x 65.1 cm image/sheet; 52.8 x 72.7 cm board
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. and u.c. verso board, pencil "Max Dupain '46".
Not on display
Shown in 7 exhibitions
Max Dupain Retrospective 1930-1980, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 29 Aug 1980–28 Sep 1980
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
Max Dupain - An Appreciation, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 11 Aug 1992–30 Aug 1992
Referenced in 7 publications
Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian modernism', pg.131-149, Sydney, 2007, 137, 189, 197 (illus.).
Natasha Bullock, Look, 'The photo as document', pg.24-7, Sydney, Jun 2004, 24.
Silver and Grey - Fifty Years of Australian Photography 1900-1950, 1980. plate no. 94
Art In Sight, Sydney, 1996, 141, 144, 145, 149, 151, 155, 171.
AGNSW Collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 58 (illus.).
Max Dupain retrospective 1930-1980, Sydney, 1980. cat.no. 68
Australian postwar photodocumentary, Sydney, 2004. no catalogue numbers