Photography exhibition showcases street snapshot craze 

Photo exhibition captures what life was like in the mid-20th century

Lead photo above: Candid street photograph of pedestrians taken in Martin Place, Sydney, by an unknown Ikon Studio photographer during 1950.
Ikon Studio - Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums

A new exhibition which gives a glimpse into what life was like in Sydney during the Depression, WWII and postwar years has opened at the Redcliffe Museum.

Titled Street Photography, the exhibition features candid photos of everyday people taken on the streets long before the days of personal cameras, Instagram and Snapchat.

Exhibition curator Anna Cossu says street photography was an extremely popular artform during the mid-20th century.

“Street photography was a big phenomenon in Europe and Australia – the notion of people having their photos taken while they were going about their business in the big city or regional areas was very popular,” Anna says.

“The photographers caught pedestrians unaware - whether that be in mid-stride, talking to their partners or friends, or deep in thought – whatever they were doing in their everyday lives in that moment.

“This of course is very different to what people in that time used to do before personal cameras. People relied on going into a studio and sitting nicely to have their photo taken.

“As street photography became more popular, more people stopped and started posing for photos because they wanted to have their photos taken.”

By the mid-1930s the street photography ‘craze’ saw increasing numbers of photographers on Sydney’s streets, with more than 10,000 people in New South Wales buying from street photography companies every week.

Dressed to the nines 

Anna says the images recall a time when people got dressed up for even the simplest outings.

“What you will see in these photos is people going out shopping, into the big retail centres that no longer exist, or going to the movies all dressed in their most glamorous clothes – otherwise known as their Sunday best,” Anna says.

“The men would be in suits and women would wear hats and gloves, which is what they would have worn when they went to church or to visit relatives.

“In these photos you can read so many different histories – the history of fashion, the history of our cities, and the history of social connections.”

Photo below: 'Slim' Carins, Arthur Langham, Toni Mitchell and Helen Clarke, c1940s, George Street, Sydney
Courtesy of the Lethbridge Family

A snapshot of time

The images which feature in this exhibition were donated from people's own private family albums.  

The exhibition also features a number of contemporary images by photo-media artist Anne Zahalka, who has restaged 10 of the original images with descendants and those still living in similar locations where their parents, grandparents or they once stood.

The exhibition also includes contemporary candid images taken in key places similar to the street photography of the past.

Lastly, a number of photographs were also supplied by local historical societies.

Photo below: Candid street photograph of pedestrians taken in Martin Place, Sydney, by an unknown Ikon Studio photographer during 1950.
Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums


This is a travelling exhibition from Sydney Living Museums, and is the first time it has been shown outside of Sydney.

“Due to COVID, this is the exhibition's first outing outside of Sydney, and the first gallery showing outside of where it began which is really exciting,” Anna says.

“Sydney was such a popular spot to travel to, and you never know who you just might recognise in these photographs.”

The Street Photography exhibition will be shown at the Redcliffe Museum from March 11 to June 5, 2022.

The Redcliffe Museum is located at 75 Anzac Avenue, Redcliffe.

It is open Wednesday to Friday from 10am-4pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-3pm.

Entry is free.

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