An image of Firebird

Axel Poignant

(England, Australia, England 12 Dec 1906 – 05 Feb 1986)


Not on display
Further information

After his move to Australia in 1926, Axel Poignant’s life was marked by numerous hardships and tribulations that took him from Sydney – where he occasionally worked as a farmhand - to Western Australia. Beginning his professional career as a photographer in Perth, Poignant’s work evolved from studio portraiture to a steady engagement with photo-documentary. This was a consequence of some of the industrial commissions he received in mid 1930s and his disenchantment with the limitations of the conventional pictorialist approach.

‘Firebird’ represents the peak of Poignant’s experimental period where he was actively seeking a freshness of expression through formalist means. While ostensibly not a dance image, this striking close-up of Pauline Wallace’s head is undoubtedly inspired by Stravinsky’s eponymous ballet with which Poignant would have been familiar with through his association with choreographer Linley Wilson. Poignant made numerous Ballet-Russes inspired studies of Wilson’s students as well as designing the lighting in a number of her productions. The harsh theatrical illumination emphasises the unexpected overhead angle, carving out the model’s disembodied head from the darkness to surreal and poetic effect. These devices were later incorporated much more subtly in Poignant’s documentary work and are symptomatic of the photographer’s tendency to condense the essence of the subject into significant details.

gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured
32.5 x 21.8 cm image/sheet
Signature & date

Signed l.r. backing and l.r. verso backing, brown crayon "Alex Poignant". Not dated.

Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors' Program 2011
Accession number
© Courtesy Roslyn Poignant