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Australian art


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Old cottages, The Rocks

circa 1912


Harold Cazneaux

New Zealand, Australia

30 Mar 1878 - 19 Jun 1953


The Rocks residential cottages were the artistic subject matter of many of Cazneaux’s contemporaries including Sydney Ure Smith, Julian Ashton and his colleagues from the Sydney Camera Circle. The foreground of the picture is occupied by the undulating, rocky and weedy terrain of an un-kept thoroughfare. The side wall of a sandstone brick terrace runs down the left-hand side of the picture and a row of workers’ terraces splice the mid-ground. The low angle of the shot emphasises the clouds in the sky. Cazneaux was equally cautious of The Rocks area, which he considered to be the haunt of unruly criminals, as he was enthralled by the rustic beauty of the suburb’s masonry 1. Old Cottages, The Rocks is a bromoil print which was created through an intervention in the photographic process. A gelatin silver photograph is bleached and fixed, then soaked in water. A greasy ink is then applied and gradually built up to the required density 2.
Harold Cazneaux was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1878. His parents, Pierce Mott Cazneau and Emma Florence (née Bentley) worked in commercial studios in New Zealand before returning to settle permanently in Adelaide during the early 1890s. At the age of 18 Cazneaux went to work alongside his father at Hammer & Co studio as a retoucher. He moved to Sydney in 1904 to join the larger portrait firm, Freeman’s quickly ascending to the position of ‘chief operator’ (as camera portraitists were known). Studio work was highly formulaic, with little scope for creativity. Cazneaux used his time walking to and from work to experiment with pictorialist aesthetics 3. The Photographic Society of New South Wales organised an exhibition of Cazneaux’s photographs in 1909, the first such solo exhibition of its kind in Australia. In 1916 he and fellow pictorialist photographer, Cecil Bostock founded the Sydney Camera Circle. The group was particularly interested in the how the Pictorialism could be adapted to and extended within an Australian context. The mechanised, standardised and frenetic pace of Freeman’s increasingly took its toll on Cazneaux’s creativity and health, and he resigned in 1917. He moved with his wife and daughters to the Sydney suburb of Roseville, and in 1920 he was employed as the official photographer for The Home magazine. This new position let him work in a varied indoor and outdoor environments. In 1938 Cazneaux was awarded an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of London. He continued to work until his death in 1953.
1. Francis E 2002, ‘Illuminating the subject: Towards a distinctive Australian pictorial photography’, History of Photography, 26:1, 39
2. Baldwin G 1991, ‘Looking at photographs: a guide to technical terms’, J Paul Getty Museum, USA pp 11-12
3. Newton G 1988, ‘Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988’, Australian National Gallery, Canberra p 85



circa 1912

Media category


Materials used

bromoil photograph


16.6 x 21.9 cm image/sheet; 26.6 x 34.1 cm card

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of the Cazneaux family 1975


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Harold Cazneaux

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication