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Australian art


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The progenitors



Laurence Le Guay


25 Dec 1916 - 02 Feb 1990


Laurence Le Guay started his photographic career with Dayne Studios in 1935 at the age of 18. In 1938 he was invited to join the Contemporary Camera Groupe which included Max Dupain and Olive Cotton, as well as several older photographers including Harold Cazneaux and Cecil Bostock. The Groupe was committed to practising and promoting a modern Australian approach to photography. Le Guay, like Dupain and other members, was interested in European modernism and wanted to find a way to use this style to create uniquely Australian images.

‘The progenitors’ is one of a series of montage works that Le Guay produced on the theme of modernism and the human condition. In the image, the nude man and woman are positioned as massive figures within an industrial landscape. The woman looks skyward with one hand pressed to her temple, while the man is seated at her feet and gazes up at her and the factory towers. The pose of the woman echoes the towers of the factory behind her, while the light and cloud suggest the enlightenment of the industrial world. The implication is that the couple are a modern Adam and Eve, with their ability to produce a new Australian race intrinsically linked to the productive capabilities of the modern industrial machines behind them. As Isobel Crombie has written:
The title of Le Guay’s work potently suggests the complex mix of issues regarding race, heredity and modernity that circulated during the 1930s … A progenitor can mean a spiritual, political or intellectual predecessor and, in this context, the couple offer the viewer the reassuring promise of future prosperity.1

1. Crombie I 2004, ‘Body culture: Max Dupain, photography and Australian culture, 1919–1939’, Peleus Press/National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne p 121

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




Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph, toned montage, vintage


38.5 x 38.5 cm image/sheet

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 1979


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Laurence Le Guay

Works in the collection


Shown in 4 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 7 publications


Judy Annear and Daniel Mudie Cunningham, The Image of Man, Sydney, 1997. no pagination or catalogue numbers

Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian modernism', pg.131-149, Sydney, 2007, 143 (illus.).

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

Isobel Crombie, Body culture: Max Dupain, photography and Australian culture, 1919-1939, 'Are you an Australian Apollo?, pg.100-128, Mulgrave, 2004, 121, 122 (illus.). fig.5.15

Gael Newton, Silver and Grey - Fifty Years of Australian Photography 1900-1950, 1980. plate no. 69

S.H. Ervin Gallery, The Thirties and Australia, Sydney, 1980, 18. 110

John Williams, Quarantined Culture: Aust Reactions to Modernism, Sydney, 1995, 85, 197, 210, 211, 246.