Max Dupain’s Paris Series Displayed for First Time

May 28, 2014 Updated: May 28, 2014

Photographer Max Dupain (1911-1992) rarely traveled overseas, gaining fame for his iconic photos of Australia, but an exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales reveals for the first time rare photos from a trip to Paris.

Dupain was 67 in 1978 when he took his first trip to Europe at the behest of Harry Seidler, one of Australia’s most prestigious architects. Seidler had been commissioned to design the Australian Embassy in Paris and when the building was completed in 1978, he insisted that it be documented by Dupain, considered one of Australia’s best photographer.

Dupain had run his own photographic studio in Sydney in the ’30s, but it was during the war that he concluded that the power of photography lay, not in creating illusions, but in capturing truth. He described photography as “the creative treatment of actuality” and by the 1970s he was lauded for his work. His image, The Sunbaker (1937), is his most famous piece.

According to Helen O’Neill, author of a Seidler biography, Dupain disliked travelling and apart from war service, had never left the shores of Australia. He was not at all keen to travel to Paris, but Seidler insisted.

Dupain begrudgingly took the trip and between May 26 and June 2, 1978, he captured the city’s most famous monuments with his unique vision.

Seidler did not hear from Dupain on his return to Australia but months later a box of photographs titled Paris Private was delivered to Seidler’s Sydney home. The collection included a handwritten note in which Dupain explained: “I owe you so much…I have dwelt on your philosophy of architecture. We register alike about clear thinking, logic of application, poetry of form…”

The collection was donated to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2012 by Harry Seidler’s wife Penny. In their first public display, the 21 Paris photos are exhibited alongside 15 works by Dupain of Sydney, including Dupain’s Castlecrag garden and iconic Sydney buildings such as the Opera House.

The exhibition, which covers 50 years of the photographer’s practice from 1933 to 1983, will be on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until September 14.