An image of Sunbaker

Max Dupain

(Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)

Sunbaker

Other titles:
Sunbaker (Culburra NSW)
Location
Not on display
Further information

When asked by Helen Ennis in 1991 for an explanation of the fame of the ‘Sunbaker’, Dupain responded:
I’m 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.1

Although Dupain took some photographs of his friend as the sunbaker in the 1930s, this image did not appear until his monograph was published in 1948.2 The image he chose was slightly different, a little less monumental due to the positioning of the arms, and with less sand and more sky. The negative was lost and in the 1970s the other version was printed for the first time and, through exhibition and reproduction, became the icon that it is today.

By the late 1940s Dupain had left many of his earlier experiments behind and he wrote:
This little collection is a cross section of that which I consider to be my best work since 1935 … Modern photography must do more than entertain, it must incite thought and by its clear statements of actuality, cultivate a sympathetic understanding of men and women and the life they create and live.3

The ‘Sunbaker’ represents the shifts in Dupain’s practice from private snapshot to public domain, from ardent modernist experimentation to determined recording of actuality and form.4 Within this image is Dupain’s pervasive interest in the individual body as a metaphor for social wellbeing and an exemplar of pure form.

1. Ennis H 1991, ‘Max Dupain: photographs’, Australian National Gallery, Canberra p 18
2. Plate 7 in Missingham H 1948, ‘Max Dupain: photographs’, Ure Smith Pty Ltd, Sydney
3. ibid p 12
4. See also Jolly M 1999, ‘Sunbaker’, ‘Signature works’, Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney pp 5–6

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

Year
1937
printed 1970s
Media
Photograph
Medium
gelatin silver photograph
Dimensions
37.9 x 42.8 cm image; 47.8 x 50.7 cm board
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r.image and verso board., ink "Max Dupain '37".
Credit
Purchased 1976
Accession number
115.1976