An exhibition of 36 photographs – 21 of which were taken in Paris in 1978 by one of Australia’s most well-known photographers, Max Dupain (1911-92) – will go on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales this month.
Donated to the Gallery by Penelope Seidler in 2012, this will be the first time the Paris ‘private’ series portfolio will have ever been seen publicly.
Max Dupain had gifted these works to renowned architect Harry Seidler and in a handwritten note he wrote:
I owe you so much. For nearly twenty five years I have dwelt on your philosophy of architecture. We register alike about clear thinking, logic of application, poetry of form etc etc. [sic] I have tremendous regard for architecture as a stabilising force in this turbulent society and I think my best work will ultimately show the significance of this by virtue of the photographed form thrown up by architecture and by engineering.
Dupain made the trip to Paris, his second outside Australia and his first to Europe, to accompany his long-time colleague and friend, Harry Seidler (1923-2006). Dupain’s task was to photograph the Australian Embassy there, which Seidler had designed (completed 1977). The pair were not only friends but shared a deep appreciation for form and light, for the modernist curves in space that can be created both architecturally and photographically.
Dupain explored many monuments around Paris. These impressions of a place he was seeing for the first time reveal his exploration of a new city and its sites, varying from formal compositions of photographic space, such as the image of Napoleon’s statue on the balcony of Les Invalides, to more personal or candid moments, as with the group of people captured beneath the Eiffel Tower. Many photographs depict 18th- and 19th-century landmarks such as the ornate Alexandre III bridge, the Grand Palais and Chantilly; the compilation offers a view of Paris and its environs shaped by layers of history, mythology and art.
Despite the diversity of subject matter across the 21 images, Dupain always maintained his signature poise and rigour, appreciation of the way light interacts with the objects it touches, and attention to the composition of photographic space through a play of scale.
In addition to the Paris ‘private’ series, 15 of Dupain’s photographs of architectural and botanical forms will be on display. Almost all are taken in and around Sydney; some of the flowers are from Dupain’s Castlecrag garden and iconic Sydney buildings such as the Opera House are included. These images cover 50 years of the photographer’s practice from 1933 to 1983, and indicate his enduring appreciation for the order, logic and harmony which lie at the core of classicism, the movement that produced many of the iconic Parisian monuments he saw, and for the modernism which Seidler endorsed through his work.
The works will be on view from 24 May through to 14 September at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in The Domain, Sydney. Admission is free.
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