Round and round the world we go, travel in the 1930s

Dahl riding a merry-go-round, 1930s, Collection Powerhouse Museum
Dahl riding a merry-go-round, 1930s. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

I have just catalogued the 1930s photographs from The Dahl and Geoffrey Collings Archive as part of an internship project for my Masters of Art Curatorship at the University of Sydney. Although photography was only a small part of their practice, beginning in the mid 1930s, it paints a very broad picture of their holistic approach to art and design.


This mounted silver gelatine photograph shows Dahl riding a merry-go-round, wearing a beautifully tailored suit and hat, typical of the period; Geoffrey took it while they were living in London between 1935 and 1938. Dahl and Geoffrey travelled extensively in the 1930s moving from Australia to London in 1935, holidaying in France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland and stopping in Tahiti on their way home to Australia in 1938. While on their European odyssey they developed an interest in documentary photography and film, using the camera to record everything they encountered, from idyllic thatch cottages and oast houses in the English countryside to the inhabitants of an agrarian Spanish village.

Dahl’s portrait gives only a glimpse of the Collings’ photographic work. The 1930s component alone contains hundreds upon hundreds of never before seen images from their European journey, painting a vivid picture of the social and political climate of Europe in the 1930s. Although they photographed prolifically, portraits feature more prominently then any other subject in their work, revealing a compassionate eye and a shared desire to capture the humanity of the places which they visited.

10 portraits taken in Spain, in the village of Alquezar, Spain, 1935 and 1936
10 portraits taken in Spain, in the village of Alquezar, 935 and 1936, Collection: Powerhouse Museum

This working photograph that I took during the cataloguing process shows a group of 10 portraits taken in Spain, in the village of Alquezar, where they filmed their first documentary between 1935 and 1936. It highlights their humanistic style but more importantly for the museum, it presents a record of daily life in rural Spain in the months leading up to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War on 17 July 1936.

As an intern the process of cataloguing this collection has underscored the importance of building museum archives, specifically the important role that photography has to play. Photographs, both historic and contemporary, hold an untold wealth of knowledge about our past, the lives of the artists who created them as well as those that live within the frame.

Post by Helena Lucey, Curatorial Intern with Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator

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