An image of Woolloomooloo girl

Henry Talbot

(Germany, Australia 06 Dec 1920 – 25 Jan 1999)

Woolloomooloo girl

Not on display
Further information

Reunited after 40 years, pioneering fashion photographer and teacher, Henry Talbot, and his subject Janet Barlow, discussed when and why this photograph was taken. Talbot was staying in Kings Cross with photographer Helmut Newton and their wives when they walked through Woolloomooloo ‘looking for good photographs’. He said, ‘I saw the girl lean over the fence, thought that would make a nice picture and snap, snap’. When interviewed Barlow explained. ‘It would have been a Sunday because we washed our hair Sundays after we went down to the Domain to hear the soap-box speakers … I was getting my hair washed and I heard someone was taking pictures and just stuck my head up … I was the biggest stickybeak around.’1

The soap-box speakers in the Domain provided public entertainment and egalitarian opinion for those who heckled or agreed as they strolled by. Janet, her sister and mother shared a two-bedroom sandstone terrace with a lean-to kitchen and outdoor toilet on the corner of Corfu Street and Talbot Place, Woolloomooloo, where the Mathew Talbot Hostel now stands. This timeless portrait connects the subject with the photographer ‘presenting some of the feeling of reality’ to the image in keeping with the ideas at the time about photojournalism or the story essay.2 The towering, stark stone wall of the neighbouring terrace rising above the young figure hanging over her broken wooden fence intensifies human connection to place through its contrasting surfaces. Woolloomooloo was a working-class inner-city suburb of Sydney – finger wharves jutting into the harbour, ships, immigrants, imports, exports, prostitution and pubs – a vibrant centre of contact for working women, sailors, stevedores and observers.

1. Zuel B 1993, ‘A “stickybeak” seeks out the man who shot her in Corfu St’, ‘Sydney Morning Herald’, 28 Aug np
2. Newton G 1980, ‘Silver and grey: fifty years of Australian photography 1900–1950’, Angus & Robertson, Australia

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

gelatin silver photograph, vintage
50.6 x 40.1 cm image; 50.6 x 40.4 cm sheet
Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.

Gift of the artist 1979
Accession number
© Reproduced with permission