Sun bathers, swimmers, surfers and surf life savers are the stars of a new exhibition, Waves & Water – Australian beach photography, opening 22 December at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Covering Australian beach culture from the 1880s, the exhibition consists of iconic photographs from leading Australian photographers including Harold Cazneaux Max Dupain, Ray Leighton, Jeff Carter, Roger Scott, Ian Lever, Narelle Autio, Anne Zahalka, and Michael Cook.

Offering differing perspectives of the Australian beach and the people who populate it, the exhibition provides a fascinating insight into beach culture, and our obsession with Australia’s beaches and the tanned athletic bodies that use it.

One of the most famous photographs featured in the exhibition is Max Dupain’s Sunbaker taken in 1937. Others from this celebrated photographer include Manly Beach (1938), Surfboat Launch (1938), Bondi (1939), and Figures on the Beach (1952). 

The exhibition also includes work by Dupain’s early mentor Harold Cazneaux whose romantic turn-of-the-century art, experimenting with mood, atmosphere and impression, features Sydneysiders enjoying a day at the beach and South Australian coastal scenes.

The rise of surfing culture was one of the topics that independent photographer and author Jeff Carter captured in the1960s on his surfing safari to the Gold Coast. His images capture the everyday lives of regular beachgoers and surfers as illustrated in Tribal Gathering (1964).

Underwater photography became a trademark of fellow photojournalist Roger Scott in the 1970s. His images taken in the water were radically different and provided him fresh, spontaneous and exuberant images of swimmers diving into the surf, a subject explored more recently in large scale by Narelle Autio whose work can be seen in the show.

The exhibition also includes Anna Zahalka’s more recent montages and reinterpretations of classic beach images including photographs such as Max Dupain’s Sunbaker. In these works Zahalka questions the role the beach plays in our national identity, turning the traditional viewpoint on its head with startling photos of pale skinned redheads, Japanese surfers and hijab-clad swimmers.

Slicing through all this image-making is the work of Michael Cook who explores the beach as a site of encounter and appropriation of identity of Australia’s first peoples. 

The exhibition also features vintage swimwear from the museum’s collections dating from the 1910s, the Australian Surf Life Saving team marchpast suit from the 1960s and a burqini head-to-toe swimsuit as well as vintage surf boards, buckets and other beach equipment.

Waves & Water opens on 22 December and will remain on display until 24 June 2018. Admission is FREE. 

Media inquiries: Shirani Aththas (02) 9298 3642; 0418 448 690;  
Jude Timms (02) 9298 3645: 0418 219 841; email