The Photograph and Australia: Harold Cazneaux

Harold Cazneaux, Australia 1878-1953 / Spirit of endurance 1937 / Gelatin silver photograph / Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of the Cazneaux family 1975

Harold Pierce Cazneaux was born in 1878 in Wellington, New Zealand, son of Pierce Cazneaux, an English-born photographer, and his wife Emily, née Bentley, a colourist and miniature painter from Sydney. In the 1890s the family moved to Adelaide where Harold started to work in his father’s studio. As a young man his passion for photography as an art form was aroused by an exhibition of new ‘pictorial movement’ photographs from England.

Cazneaux’s photographs convey a strong sense of place and time and break from the constraints of earlier studio photography. So much of his photography is about the outdoors and using the effects of light to create mood and atmosphere. Cazneaux’s Spirit of endurance 1937 has become one of Australia’s most recognised photographs. The photograph was an icon of its time due to Cazneaux’s reputation, and his description of it as his most Australian photograph. It came to commemorate the death of his only son at Tobruk in 1941.

Cazneaux’s stature is based on the extraordinary diversity of his work. He produced a series of portraits of well-known artists, musicians, and actors and many books including, ‘Canberra, Australia’s Federal Capital’ (1928), ‘Sydney Surfing’ (1929), ‘The Bridge Book’ (1930), ‘The Sydney Book’ (1931), ‘Frensham Book’ (1934), and the jubilee number of the ‘B.H.P. Review’ (1935). As a critic he wrote for the Australasian Photographic Review and the Gallery Gazette, London, and columns for the Lone Hand and Sydney Mail. Sometime president of the Photographic Society of New South Wales, he was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain in 1937.

Spirit of endurance is on display with over 650 historical and modern works until 11 October in ‘The Photograph and Australia’ exhibition.