Max DUPAIN<br/>
<em>Sunbaker</em> (1938); 1937 {dated}; (c. 1975) {printed} <!-- (recto) --><br />

gelatin silver photograph<br />
38.0 x 43.1 cm (image)<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976<br />
PH216-1976<br />


‘It was a simple affair. We were camping down the south coast and one of my friends leapt out of the surf and slammed down onto the beach to have a sunbake  – marvellous. We made the image and it’s been around, I suppose as a sort of icon of the Australian way of life.’
Max Dupain in Max Dupain: Photographs, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1991, p.19

In this photograph, Max Dupain depicts a sunbaker completely relaxed and at one with the land.  He lies with his back exposed to the sun, light sparkling off the seawater and sweat on his skin.

There is a monumental simplicity about the form of the sunbaker in this composition, emphasised by the low viewpoint and the dramatic tonal contrast between the figure and the landscape.

The model for Sunbaker was Harold Salvage, a British builder. Dupain took several photographs of Salvage, who was among a group of friends accompanying him on a surfing trip to Culburra Beach near the Shoalhaven River, NSW, in 1937.

Dupain did not print the version of Sunbaker we are most familiar with until a retrospective exhibition of his photographs in 1975. Another version taken at a slightly higher angle was included in a book of his photographs published in 1948 (NGV touchscreen 2002–2003).

Classroom discussion:

  • Suggest whySunbaker has become ‘a sort of icon of the Australian way of life’.
  • Dupain made an important contribution to the development of modern photography in Australia. What aspects of this image might be described as modern?
  • Sunbaker was made more than 70 years ago. Does it look like an historical image?  Explain.
  • Sunbaker is considered to reflect the optimism felt in Australian society in the period after the Depression and before the World War II. Why do you think the photograph might be viewed in this way?


I. Crombie & S. Van Wyk,2nd sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria (exh. cat.). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2002.

NGV touchscreen research, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2002–2003.