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Wharfies, Circular Quay



Harold Cazneaux

New Zealand, Australia

30 Mar 1878 - 19 Jun 1953


When ships came to dock in Circular Quay labourers would congregate waiting to be chosen as part of a ‘gang’ to unload cargo 1. In this photograph, Cazneaux has captured a motley line-up of expectant labourers against the railings of the Quay. Dramatic tonal contrasts undergird the composition of the photograph; the darkened workers are juxtaposed against steam, smoke and cloud which has been accentuated by Cazneaux. Soft tones shroud the ship, all except its bow which pierces through the haze, adding a sense of drama to the vessel’s presence in the dock.
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 2. 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 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. Geeves P and Newton G 1980, ‘Cazneaux’s Sydney 1904-1934’, The Daniel Ell Press, Sydney p 48
2. Newton G 1988, ‘Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988’, Australian National Gallery, Canberra p 85




Media category


Materials used

bromoil photograph


18.9 x 27.4 cm image/sheet; 22.5 x 31.1 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 7 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 9 publications


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

Natasha Bullock, Harold Cazneaux: artist in photography, Sydney, 2008.

Jorge Calado, À Prova de Água Waterproof, Lisbon, 1998, (illus.). 18

Philip Geeves and Gael Newton, Philip Geeves presents Cazneaux's Sydney 1904-1934, Sydney, 1980, 48, 49 (illus.).

Robert McFarlane, Critic's Choice, Sydney, 1994, 5 (illus.), 9.

Gael Newton, Silver and Grey - Fifty Years of Australian Photography 1900-1950, 1980. plate no. 40

Gael Newton, Project 7: Harold Cazneaux 1878 - 1953, Sydney, 1975. 3

Kay Vernon, Harbour hymns, city songs: visions of Sydney from the collection, Sydney, 1990. 64

Anne-Marie Willis, Picturing Australia - A History of Photography, Sydney, 1988, 137. 80