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Max and Olive: The Photographic Life of Max Dupain and Olive Cotton

17 Dec 2016 - 5 Feb 2017

A National Gallery of Australia Exhibition. This was the first exhibition to look at the work of these two photographers as they shared their lives and studio.

The exhibition showcased 70 works drawn from the photography collection of the National Gallery of Australia and included some of the most memorable and iconic works of these two photographers from  the 1930s and 1940s.  

Belinda Hanrahan, Director of Hazelhurst Gallery said this will be an opportunity to see wonderful works by these two well-known Australian photographers who shared their lives and studio.

Olive Cotton and Max Dupain were key figures in Australian visual culture. They shared a long and close personal and professional relationship. This exhibition looked at their work made between 1934 and 1945, the period of their professional association; this was an exciting period of experimentation and growth in Australian photography, and Cotton and Dupain were at the centre of these developments.

This was the first exhibition to look at the work of these two photographers as they shared their lives, studio and professional practice. Looking at their work together is instructive; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain's more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton's more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.

This exhibition focused on the key period in each of their careers, when they made many of their most memorable images. Keenly aware of international developments in photography, Cotton and Dupain experimented with the forms and strategies of modernist photography, especially Surrealism and the Bauhaus, and drew upon the sophisticated lighting and compositions of contemporary advertising and Hollywood glamour photography.

They brought to these influences their own, close association with the rich context of Australian life and culture during the 1930s and '40s. Their achievement can be characterised, borrowing terms they used in discussions of their work, as the development of a 'contemporary Australian photography': a modern photographic practice that reflected their own, very particular relationships to the world and to each other.

Supported by the National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach Program, an Australian Government program aiming to improve access to the national collections for all Australians.


The National Gallery of Australia is an Australian Government Agency.

Image:  Max Dupain Sunbaker 1937 (detail) gelatin silver photograph  National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982.

More Information: 02 8536 5700

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