Portrait of an operator, Freeman's studio
New Zealand, Australia
30 Mar 1878 - 19 Jun 1953
The photograph provides insight into the commercial portraitist’s milieu. It was taken at Cazneaux’s workplace highlighting both the cumbersome nature of early twentieth century studio technologies and the relatively cloistered environment of the studio space. The camera stand dominates the view, its wheels allowing for mobility in choosing the distance and angle of the shot. The operator looks intensely the subject out of frame calculating the moment to release the shutter.
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 1. 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. Newton G 1988, ‘Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988’, Australian National Gallery, Canberra p 85
gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 22.0 cm image/sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Not on display
Shown in 3 exhibitions
Harold Cazneaux, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Dec 1989–11 Mar 1990
Mirror with a Memory: The Photographic Portrait in Australia, National Portrait Gallery [Old Parliament House], Canberra, 03 Mar 2000–11 Jun 2000
Hold still: the photographic performance, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 May 2018–29 Jul 2018
Referenced in 1 publication
Helen Ennis and Geoffrey Batchen, Mirror with a memory: Photographic portraiture in Australia, Parkes, 2000. no catalogue numbers