In May 1955 a group of six Australian photographers showed some 200 photographs in an exhibition held at David Jones Gallery in Sydney. The artists were Gordon Andrews, Max Dupain, Kerry Dundas, Hal Missingham, Axel Poignant and David Potts. It was a key exhibition in representing a shift away from the traditions of pictorialism to the recording of contemporary life.
These photographers were not overtly politically, but primarily engaged with the documentary mode for the fresh approach and vision it offered. Embracing the clarity of modernist photography, and utilising the mobility and spontaneity offered by hand-held cameras like the Leica, these six photographers were determined to make use of the medium’s unique capacity to record their immediate world.
This focus room exhibition entitled 6 photographers presents 29 photographs from the late 1940s to mid 1950s by these artists. The works demonstrate their ambition to make spontaneous and personal recordings of observed things and human behaviour. The photographs are drawn from the Gallery’s collection together with loans from Josef Lebovic Gallery, the National Gallery of Australia, and the Powerhouse Museum. A number of works were in the 1955 exhibition and publications and ephemera from the period will also be displayed.
The documentary philosophy, first articulated by British filmmaker John Grierson in the 1930s and published in the late 1940s, was a driving force in the new direction these photographers were taking. This ethos championed the photographer’s responsibility to their subject, coupled with a belief that the medium could advocate social reform. Axel Poignant’s dignified images of Aboriginal people in outback Australia suggest this aspect of the new photography.
The images capture the old, the new and the everyday – from Dundas’s image of the construction of the Caltex refinery at Kurnell to Dupain’s observation of a family group in At the procession. The increasing affordability and ease of travel to Europe also permitted artists such as Potts, Missingham and Andrews to set their sights on horizons further afield, recording photographically the details of this experience.