Wolfgang SIEVERS, Escalator site at Parliament Station, Melbourne Enlarge 1 /1

Wolfgang SIEVERS

Germany 1913 – Australia 2007

  • Australia from 1938

Escalator site at Parliament Station, Melbourne 1977 prtd 1988 Materials & Technique: photographs, Type C colour photograph

Primary Insc: not signed, dated verso, l.l., black felt pen "... 1977" titled verso, l.l., black felt pen "... Escalator site ..."
Dimensions: 50.5 h x 40.5 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1989
Accession No: NGA 89.1422
Image rights: © Wolfgang Sievers. Licensed by Viscopy

Although he regards photography in black and white as more creative and demanding, Wolfgang Sievers’s first major body of work in colour set new directions for industrial photography in Australia. He was commissioned to do the photographs for The Fabulous Hill, a lavish 1960 publication on the Broken Hill Associated Smelters plant and activities across Australia. To overcome the greyness of the underground locations, Sievers turned to using colour foils over his lights. He felt the colour symbolised the rich hues of the minerals which were being extracted. The use of colour foils can also be seen in his 1977 view of the construction of the elevator shaft for Parliament Station. The image shows two tiny figures calmly conversing at the top edge of what looks like a hot cauldron; but the discrepancy in scale generates a fantastic element, suggestive of Jules Verne’s 19th-century fantasy story, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

The image is more than a glamorous corporate Public Relations image; it speaks also of the irony that such tiny ‘ants’ can create and control huge engineering complexes. Or does the image also introduce a query about the monsters that humans create? Through the 1970s to 1990s, Sievers was concerned by the decline in the role of the workers as corporations became all powerful, and by the role industry had in the polluting of the environment. As a young man, Sievers fled from the Nazi regime in his homeland to come to Australia in 1939. He has strong political and aesthetic views and his images reflect his ideas on the human condition.

Gael Newton

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002