Rex & Max Dupain's Sydney

As the only son of Australia’s most famous photographer, it’s hardly surprising that one of Rex Dupain’s earliest memories is of being held over the developing tank in his father’s Clarence Street studio, seeing the prints swirl around under water like fish. Rex would grow up to become a painter, rejecting photography out of hand, but later be drawn back to the medium after his father’s death in 1992.

For the first time, the work of prominent Sydney photographer Max Dupain was exhibited together with that of his son Rex Dupain, at the Museum of Sydney.

Max and Rex Dupain have created an extraordinary body of imagery of Sydney spanning seven decades. The exhibition contained more than 75 images, including many rarely seen vintage prints by Max Dupain and new work by Rex Dupain.

’Like many fathers and sons, the Dupains had a competitive relationship and a clash of personalities’, said Inara Walden, curator of the exhibition. As a teenager Rex not only rejected the values of his father’s generation, but photography as well. From the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s, he was one of the few inhabitants of the developed world who did not possess a camera.

Max Dupain’s work uncompromisingly embraces progress and modernism, from his celebratory images of the new Harbour Bridge in the 1930s to the construction of Sydney’s first skyscrapers, the AMP Building and Australia Square in the 1960s. Rex Dupain’s Sydney of the 1990s and 2000s, on the other hand, is a ’shambolic’ glittering metropolis: at night a dense ocean of lights, and by day a contemporary city exuding seductive energy.

But peel back the layers of gleaming new skyscrapers, and this is the very same city Max Dupain photographed for more than fifty years. The fog on the harbour, the bridge, ferries, beaches and life on the streets have not changed much in all that time. The cast of citizens may have altered beyond recognition ñ from the largely Anglo-Saxon faces of Max’s time to the multicultural mix of Rex’s Sydney - but they are still doing many of the same things their forebears did in the 1930s and 40s.

The Museum of Sydney invited art critic John McDonald to interview Rex Dupain and produce a critical essay about the Dupains and their Sydney photography. Much of the exhibition text drew upon this essay, which was published in full in the book Inside Sydney - Photographs of Max and Rex Dupain, developed in association with the exhibition (New Holland 2004).

According to John McDonald: ’Sydney is the constant factor in the linked, but non-overlapping photographic careers of Max and Rex Dupain, with certain places and motifs that echo between  generations. Bondi, for instance, has been a hunting-ground for both generations. So too, the harbour and the life of the streets.’

Rex has not consciously followed in his father’s footsteps, but in photographing the city’s landmarks, he is putting his own stamp on a motif closely associated with Max’s distinctive vision. He can be assured that Sydney herself has not stood still, waiting for another Dupain to come along.

28 August 2004 - 5 December 2004
20°  Cloudy