‘Focus’: A photographic spotlight on Australian life: 1939 – 1996

We hope you enjoyed Anne’s recent series of posts on the Camberwell Camera Club. (You can find these posts if you click on Photography in the Tag Cloud. Just click on the flowchart symbol on the top right of the website.)

Today we learn about an exhibition of photographs with a difference – photographs capturing Australian life in yesteryear - from 1939 through to 1996. This new exhibition, called Focus, has opened at The National Archives in Canberra, Australia’s capital city.

Nowadays, we all know you can browse just about any subject of history on the internet. But 80 years ago, with amazing foresight in wanting to preserve the legacy of life in Australia, the Australian Government employed over a dozen photographers to capture typical Australian scenes of life over coming decades.

Without this, the conscious recording of daily life, nature, towns and architecture was the province of artists such as Hilda Rix Nicholas, Hans and Nora Heysen and photographer, Olive Cotton, (just to name a few). We have featured all of these artists on the Blog previously.

But the benefit of providing a single, specific brief to these 18 photographers - albeit an extremely broad one – is that the images were all collected, catalogued and recorded in one place, The National Archives of Australia. The result is that the curator, Emily Catt, had a wealth of material to draw on to formulate this exhibition into “themes” which tell the diverse story of Australian life over six past decades, starting with the return of our soldiers after World War II.

Just one of the photographs in the "Focus" exhibition in Canberra. Credit: National Archives of Australia, Facebook.

This fascinating exhibition delves deep into the lives and work of these talented individuals who helped to preserve our rich visual heritage, including Harry Frauca, Max Dupain, (husband of Olive Cotton), Mervyn Bishop and many more.1

The following article by Charlotte Gore, a journalist from the ABC, gives more detail and shows us examples of some of the photographs on show…..

Eighty years ago, the government hired photographers to capture a slice of everyday life. Here’s what they produced
Between 1939 and 1996 the government hired dozens of photographers to document Australian life. Now many of their works of intimate nature photography, striking architectural shots and captured everyday memories are displayed in a new exhibition.
Courtesy of the ABC

This free exhibition runs from 17th of November 2023 to the 10th of June 2024. If you live in, or are visiting, Canberra during this period, I am sure this exhibition is well worth seeing…………

Let us know your impressions if you do manage to see it!


  1. The National Archives of Australia, naa.gov.au