Max DUPAIN, Onward and upward Enlarge 1 /1


Australia 1911 – 1992

Onward and upward 1934 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photograph Support: cream matt textured photographic paper

Primary Insc: signed and dated on backing sheet A l.r., pencil "- Max Dupain '34 -" titled on backing sheet A l.l., pencil "Onward and upward" dated on backing sheet B reverse u.c., pencil "... / ... / 1934" titled on backing sheet B reverse u.c., pencil "Onward & Upward / ..." inscribed on backing sheet B reverse u.c., pencil "... / Bond St Studio Fire Escape / ..."
Dimensions: printed image 30.3 h x 21.8 w cm sheet 30.3 h x 21.8 w cm backing sheet (a) 34.0 h x 24.8 w backing sheet b) 40.0 h x 33.0 w
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1982
Accession No: NGA 82.1065
  • Purchased 1982

Puns are often found in Dupain’s pictures. His title for this image of a fire escape outside a high-rise building appears to align with the Modernist promise of progress through good design. However, Dupain’s characterisation of the modernist promise of social mobility and improvement through technology and good design is an ambivalent one. In this image, ascension and progress seem to lead nowhere; progress is simply an end in itself. Cotton also photographed a fire escape around this time, although she played the subject with a straighter bat: viewed from below and reflecting the viewpoint of one person looking out of a window, Cotton’s fire escape finds beauty in the geometric patterns created by the interplay of nature and the built environment, and of light and dark.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra