We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


Argyle Cut (looking west)

circa 1912


Harold Cazneaux

New Zealand, Australia

30 Mar 1878 – 19 Jun 1953

  • Details

    circa 1912
    Media category
    Materials used
    gelatin silver photograph
    20.0 x 25.0 cm image/sheet
    Signature & date

    Not signed. Dated c. verso, pencil ".../ c1912".

    Gift of the Cazneaux family 1990
    Not on display
    Accession number

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Harold Cazneaux

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Construction on the Argyle Cut began in 1843 and was completed in 1864. It consisted of a roadway passage carved through the centre the large sandstone rock mass which lay at the back of The Rocks precinct. The Cut provided an alternative passageway for transporting shipping cargo from the docks into the city centre. Its precise engineering and clean lines made it a sophisticated feature of the otherwise disreputable Rocks area 1. Pictorialist photographers like Cazneaux were attracted to the Cut on account of the light and form of the passageway 2. In the Argyle Cut the two overpasses frame the photograph’s silhouetted subjects. The light in the picture comes predominately from the end of the passageway, further focussing the viewers’ attention on the carriage, mother, and her dawdling children, who appear enveloped within the shadowy roadway structure.
    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 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. Sharpe A 2000, ‘Pictorial History: City of Sydney’, Kingclear Books, Alexandria, NSW, p 20
    2. Francis E 2002, ‘Illuminating the subject: Towards a distinctive Australian pictorial photography’, History of Photography, 26:1, 38-9
    3. Newton G 1988, ‘Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988’, Australian National Gallery, Canberra p 85

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 6 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 3 publications

Other works by Harold Cazneaux

See all 196 works