Body culture: Max Dupain and the social recreation of the body, c.1919-1939
AuthorCrombie, Isobel Leila
AffiliationArts: School of Fine Arts, Classical Studies and Archaeology
School of Fine Arts, Classical Studies and Archaeology
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsCrombie, I. L. (1999). Body culture: Max Dupain and the social recreation of the body, c.1919-1939 , PhD thesis, School of Fine Arts, Classical Studies and Archaeology, University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOpen Access
Deposited with permission of the author © 1999 Isobel Leila Crombie
Max Dupain is regarded as the most significant photographer working in Australia during the 1930s. In this thesis I examine his work in relationship to the impact in Australia of what has been called the 'body culture' movement. After world war one, many western countries enthusiastically subscribed to schemes designed to control, regulate and develop the body as a means of building individual health and fitness and assisting communal regeneration. Drawing on the pseudo-scientific theories of eugenics, ideas and methods concerning the revitalisation of the body became popular among a diverse range of groups. In a number of countries, including Australia, such discourses were linked to nationalism. The primary focus of my investigation is to explore how 'body culture' developed in Australia and how it was expressed in public culture, education and the visual arts. In particular, I investigate the relationship of Dupain's work to the 'body culture' movement and the role that photography played in general to the imaginative rendering of utopian and dystopian ideas concerning the body in the interwar period in Australia. Using a cultural studies methodology I investigate the dynamic interchange that evolved as photographs were used in a range of popular magazines, specialist publications and high art journals to record, authorise and perpetuate a range of ideological and social constructs regarding the body. As part of this examination, I propose that Australia's most distinctive contribution to 'body culture' was through the development of two physical archetypes associated with the beach - namely, the lifesaver and the surfer – and that the popularity of these icons was largely enabled through photography. In a biographical study of the artist, I investigate the impact of Max's father, George Dupain, a pioneer physical educator and supporter of eugenics, arguing that his influence was significant in the formation of Max's attitude to photographing the body. I examine the influence of vitalism on Dupain's creative development and conclude that his reputation as an exemplar of modernist photography in Australia should more properly be seen as residing in his contributions in the 1930s to classical modernism rather than the broader context into which he is customarily placed. I argue that our understanding of commercial and art photographs of the body, taken by Dupain and others, is both broadened and enlivened when it is seen as embedded in the discourses of 'body culture'. Likewise, I propose that the field of 'body culture' itself could not have captured the public's imagination with as much force as it did in the intelWar period without the aid of this most protean of mediums.
KeywordsMax Dupain; 1911-1992; artistic photography in the 20th century; eugenics in Australia; social aspects of body image in Australia in the 20th century
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