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Australian art


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Matches at Bryant & May, Melbourne

printed 1989


Wolfgang Sievers

Germany, Australia

1913 - 07 Aug 2007


Sievers is one of a number of European photographers who found their way to Australia either before or after the Second World War. In Sievers’s case he was fleeing the rise of Nazism and imminent war, arriving in Australia in 1938. One of his sponsors in his efforts to reach Australia was Axel Poignant in Perth, but Sievers arrived in Sydney. He met Max Dupain but was unsuccessful in finding work so moved to Melbourne and opened his own studio in South Yarra. On arrival in Melbourne Sievers was struck by the parochialism of Australian photography, writing in 1988: ‘In those pre-war days most Australian photographers were either competent commercial hacks or still wallowing in the worst tradition of the late 19th century with mawkish portraits and hazy gumtrees.’1

Born into a cultured family who worked in the arts Sievers was deeply influenced by the Bauhaus; ‘in particular the utopian humanist premise that the quality of modern life is improved through the artist’s direct involvement in mass production and the industrialist’s acceptance of the artist and his[/her] values.’2

‘Matches at Bryant & May, Melbourne’ takes the form of the matches and the machinery and makes them beautiful. Scale disappears and the rollers holding the newly made matches take on a pleasing ambiguity in their order and regularity. This is a celebration of the made and not simply of form. Although the workers do not appear in this photograph, the close cropping and monumentality is balanced by the combination of the small (matches) and large (machinery).

1. Sievers W 1988, unpublished ms, AGNSW artist file, AGNSW, Sydney
2. Ennis H 1983, ‘Wolfgang Sievers and Australian photography’, paper for AMAA/AAA conference, Canberra. See also Ennis H 1991, ‘The life and work of Wolfgang Sievers’, Australian National Gallery, Canberra

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007



printed 1989

Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph


50.5 x 40.5 cm image/sheet

Signature & date

Signed and dated c. verso, pencil "...1939/.../ Wolfgang Sievers".


Purchased 1989


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Wolfgang Sievers

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian modernism', pg.131-149, Sydney, 2007, 146 (illus.).

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

Helen Ennis, Photography and Australia, London, 2007, 89 (illus.). fig.48

Ewen McDonald, AGNSW Collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 40, 41 (illus.).