Underground: photographs of mining and miners 1850 to the present
Dates + times
4 August 2012 – 16 December 2012
Open 10.00 am – 5.00 pm every day
Recorded information +61 2 6240 6501
General information +61 2 6240 6411
For visitors with mobility difficulties +61 2 6240 6411
Previous Photography displays
- Upstairs downstairs: Photographs of Britain 1874-1990
- Penguins and Ice: Photographs of Antarctica 1910–2010
Image detail above: Wolfgang Sievers Miners at Bulli Coal mines, NSW 1985 Type C colour photograph National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1989
This display of photographs shows the landscape, architecture and mechanics of mining, as well as its impact on workers and the environment. Some photographs are surprisingly romantic and mysterious, while others present a corporate and impersonal Machine Age aesthetic.
The earliest images show the confident and self-possessed miners of the American and Australian gold rushes. As the twentieth century progressed, however, miners were more often shown as drones serving huge and heartless engines of industry.
The development of modern society is entwined with a reliance on mineral and metal resources, and many photographers have focused their attention on recording the diverse ways in which people have found and removed ores, oil and gas from the earth. These photographers have been perfect witnesses to the development of this industrial change.
Evocative early daguerreotype and tintype images of miners show the brashness and confidence of the gold rush days while a sense of the raw, pioneering days on the Victorian goldfields is seen in the early views photographs of Richard Daintree and J. W. Lindt. The boom in mining that accompanied the rearmament of Germany is seen in works by E.O. Hoppé and Wolfgang Sievers where a sense of awe and alienation predominate. An interest in the formal aesthetic qualities of the machinery used in mining is seen most strongly in the works of Albert Renger-Patzsch and the typographic studies of the Bechers. A humanitarian thread and concern for the miners’ working conditions comes through in the approach taken by others: by Americans Lewis Hine, W. Eugene Smith, Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein and Milton Rogovin, by Axel Poignant in Australia, By Wayne Barrar in New Zealand and Bill Brandt and England perhaps most particularly in the extraordinary work of Sebastiao Salgado in Brazil. A romantic and heroic dimension to this most ‘down and dirty’ of endeavours can be seen in the work of contemporary photographer Trent Parke and also in the commissioned works of Harold Cazneaux and Wolfgang Sievers who were employed by mining firms to show Australia as a modern and progressive country, built not only on the sheep’s back but on advances in engineering and industry.