This work is an intimate photographic portrait of the young Australian photographer Max Dupain. The photograph was taken five years after Olive Cotton came to work at Dupain’s photographic studio, and shortly after the pair married in 1939.
It shows the handsome, young Dupain fresh from surfing. Attention is drawn to his lean and muscular body which are given prominence by Cotton’s use of dramatic lighting. Her emphasis on his torso reflects the interest that the couple had in classical sculpture. As curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria, Isobel Crombie explains, ‘The emphasis on his classically proportioned torso suggests that he has physically enacted his belief that modern men and women should model their bodies on those of Greek and Roman statuary.’ (Isobel Crombie, Body Culture: Max Dupain, Photography and Australian Culture, 1919-1939, National Gallery of Victoria and The Images Publishing Group, Melbourne, 2004, p.190.)
It is significant that this photograph was taken at a time when the ideals of physical health and fitness were prominently held in Australian society. Like many Australians in the 1930s, both Cotton and Dupain were advocates of the importance of physical fitness and both photographers swam and surfed regularly at Sydney’s ocean beaches. For Cotton this was always seen as a highly personal portrait, and it was not exhibited publicly until 1997, five years after Max Dupain died.
Text © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia