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The Spread of Time
The photography of David Moore

David Moore by Heide Smith - colourDavid Moore at his McMahons Point home in 1983 courtesy Heide Smith

introduction | biography

David Moore, Australia’s most renowned and widely travelled photojournalist, died aged 75 on 23 January 2003, two days before the opening of his retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia. His extraordinary and meticulously catalogued archive covers both his homeland and the many countries and subjects he has visited over a sixty year career.

The Spread of Time: The photography of David Moore opened at the Gallery on the Australia Day long weekend and celebrates Moore’s achievements and rich legacy. The exhibition includes never before exhibited images and vintage prints, including his earliest self portrait as a school boy as well as one of his last major works - a powerful suite of six black and white prints called Moon writing which he made in 2001 by using the moon as the ‘torch’ to form a script of calligraphic lines of light as he moved his camera across the night sky above his second home in Tasmania.

Despite ill health Moore spent the latter half of 2002 printing up and assisting in the selection of additional works to bring his already extensive holdings at the Gallery up to date for his first major show at the Gallery. David Moore is one of only a few contemporary photographers represented in the permanent collection by such extensive holdings.

David Moore first became a dedicated and talented teenage photographer courtesy of a box camera given to him when he was eleven by his father, the architect and painter John D. Moore. After service in the navy at the end of World War II, he gained his first professional experience in a commercial advertising studio in Sydney run by Russell Roberts. Then in 1947 Moore gained the placement he had originally hoped for with his preferred mentor Max Dupain who had established his stylish advertising and illustration work studio in Sydney in the mid-1930s and was in the late 1940s re-establishing his practise after service in New Guinea in W.W. II.

Out of hours while working at both his first professional jobs the young David Moore took time to develop his personal documentary work by roaming the city and harbourside in search of a substance and significance not found in studio work and advertising. His best known image from these years is his 1947 photograph of a struggling family in a Redfern slum which was later included in Edward Steichen’s famous Family of Man photography blockbuster exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955 (the show came to Australia in 1959).

In 1951 Moore took the brave step of turning down an offer of a junior partnership with Dupain to seek a career in photojournalism overseas. He worked a passage on the Oronsay to London by taking photographs for the Orient Line. On arrival Moore sold his first story to the Sphere magazine. This was a magazine style photoessay he had shot on his own initiative on the turning around of the Himalaya cruise ship in Sydney Harbour in 1950.

Moore found it hard to break in to the big magazines but by the mid 1950s he was securely established as a regular with the Observer. Moore’s adoption of the lightweight hand-held 35mm cameras used by top photojournalists after his arrival in London also enabled him to capture more spontaneous movement and action in his assignments. During the years he was based in London, Moore was sent on assignments in Europe, Africa and the US.

Moore’s best-known photograph from these years is of a group of nuns at Washington airport taken in 1956. Seen from above the figures are transformed with the white petal forms of their hats set off against a velvety darkness occasionally swept by the curves of arms and sleeves and clusters of hands. A similar finely honed synchronicity of reportage and abstraction can be seen in Moore’s study of a preening swan, the flowing rivers of light at the coronation and the Lourdes Centenary processions in 1952. In his figure studies and portraits Moore’s magazine work encapsulates emotion through movement.

In the 1970s, a younger generation of photographers defined their goal as ‘personal documentary’ work freed from the confines of magazine picture editors and commercial clients. Moore developed new non-commissioned bodies of personal work in these years and from the late 1970s on further developed an abstract formal language and design emphasis in many of his works. These developments and new sensibility also informed Moore's reportage. Although, Moore described his new sensibility as expressing the 'soft spread of time' rather than the 'decisive moments' sought by the magazine picture editors an interest in motion and a flowing rhythms linking the natural and man-made world has been revealed in the National Gallery of Australia exhibition as present in his work since his first efforts as a teenager.

In 1976 James Mollison, Director of then-named Australian National Gallery, acquired the whole of the Moore's first retrospective which was held at the Australian Centre for Photography (an organisation founded by Moore with others). In 1983 Moore donated the vintage prints from his Seven years a stranger exhibition to the National Gallery of Australia and later added a large group of 35 mm colour transparencies and other material from his extensive portrait of Australian artists for In the Making, a seminal book published in 1968. Moore's personal copies of this book and others by European and American photographers who influenced his development are included in the exhibition.

The Spread of Time exhibition which celebrates Moore’s extraordinary career and his role in building the national collection has received support from The Farrell Family Foundation, San Diego.

The exhibition brochure has been assisted by donations from Nikon Maxwell’s Optical Industries, Sydney, and the exhibition poster sponsored by Josef Lebovic Gallery Sydney.