Camping with Max Dupain
Take a look through 'The Camping Book' album which has images taken by Max Dupain and Olive Cotton of camping weekends in 1937-38.PT3M12S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-33h6p 620 349 February 26, 2014
It's the image the nation loves but the artist came to hate.
But the story behind the Sunbaker by Max Dupain reveals how myth and reality often diverge.
''It has become the quintessential Australian image,'' said Alan Davies, the curator of photography at the State Library of NSW. ''But in truth, Max hated it because people would only ask for the Sunbaker.''
More human: Dupain's preferred image of Harold Salvage. Photo: Supplied
It wasn't even the image that Dupain had chosen for publication.
Now for the first time in 70 years, an extremely rare photo printed from the original negative - the one Dupain wanted us to see - has been found in an album of happy snaps recently given to the library.
The Sunbaker print favoured by Dupain was one of 108 photos - many images never seen before - contained in the album given to the library by the sons of the photographer's lifelong friend, architect Chris Vandyke.
The iconic version of the portrait. Photo: Supplied
''It's the holy grail of photography because it puts the Australian's best known image in context,'' said Mr Davies, who said he was ''gobsmacked'' when he first saw the album.
The version of the Sunbaker that most people know is monumental in scale: It shows a man wet from the surf lying on the sand with his arms flat and parallel with the sand.
Yet the image Dupain preferred is more human. It shows Harold ''Hal'' Salvage lying with one hand clasped in the other; his glistening body more in proportion with the sky and beach around him. It was this version that Dupain chose for inclusion in a book on his photography by Ure Smith in 1948.
A different view of Salvage. Photo: Supplied
Because its negative couldn't be found again, all known prints were taken from a second negative - the one adjacent to the original - when the image was popularised between 1975 and 1990.
When interviewed, Dupain said it was a spontaneous shot. Yet the album reveals that like most photographers he refined the shot by taking images of Salvage before and after dipping in the surf. When the photographer's son Rex Dupain was commissioned recently to recreate the image in colour, it took a number of attempts (using modern technology) to get the right result, said his agent, gallery owner Josef Lebovic.
The snapshots in the album were taken by Vandyke and his friends on camping weekends in 1937. One is a visual joke, showing a ''dead man'' lying on the sand. A photo of Dupain, thought to be by his first wife and photographer, Olive Cotton, shows him goofing around with straw in his mouth and hair.
Refused to reveal his favourite image when asked in interviews: Photographer Max Dupain. Photo: Col Townsend
When he was asked about the image, Dupain said he was ''a bit worried about it. I think it's taken on too much … It was a simple affair. We were camping down the south coast and one of my friends leapt out of the surf and slammed down onto the beach to have a sunbake. We made the image and it's been around, I suppose, as a sort of icon of the Australian way of life.''
The photographer usually refused to answer questions about his favourite image when the question was inevitabley asked in every interview. But in one otherwise disastrous interview with a young reporter, he finally answers.
''This is an interview going nowhere, a total disaster and he [Dupain] was grumpy,'' recalled Davies. ''And then out of the blue, 'What's your favourite photo?' And there is a huge pause that goes on forever, and then out of the blue, he starts talking about the Meat Queue.''
''Poor old Max,'' said Davies. ''He was a photographer over a long period - producing so many lyrical images - yet everyone kept asking for the Sunbaker, and it is the same situation today.''
According to Mr Lebovic, the Sunbaker had become a true Australian icon in spite of Dupain's antipathy to it.
''The photographer doesn't create the icon. It is the public. If it is not loved, if it not accepted and demanded, it won't become popular.''
Most people presume the suntanned Australian in the image was photographed on Bondi Beach. In fact the picture was of British builder Harold Salvage at Culburra.
These days, Dupain's images are popular in California, where many buyers assume it represents American beach culture.