Argyle Cut (looking west)
New Zealand, Australia
30 Mar 1878 - 19 Jun 1953
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
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
Shown in 6 exhibitions
Souvenirs of Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 14 Mar 1992–10 May 1992
Observing Sydney - Views of and from Observatory Hill, S.H. Ervin Gallery, The Rocks, 07 May 1993–13 Jun 1993
My city of Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 02 Sep 2000–22 Oct 2000
Modernism/Japonism in photography 1920s-1940s: Ishida Kiichiro and the Sydney Camera Circle:
Harold Cazneaux: artist in photography, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 05 Jun 2008–10 Aug 2008
Painting The Rocks: The loss of old Sydney, Museum of Sydney, Sydney, 07 Aug 2010–28 Nov 2010
Referenced in 3 publications
Unknown, Harold Cazneaux: artist in photography, Sydney, 2008.
Unknown, Modernism/Japonism in photography 1920s-1940s: Kiichiro Ishida and Sydney Camera Circle, 2002, 86 (illus.). cat.no. S9
Unknown, My city of Sydney, Sydney, 2000. no catalogue numbers