Geoffrey Powell
1918- 1989



photo-web offers two writers on the work of Geoffrey Powell:

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An Introduction to Geoffrey Powell ~ an extract from the essay by Craig Hoehne

Geoffrey Powell, a filmmaker and later radio personality, began his working life through photography. After his death in 1989, Powell left behind a large archive of material relating to his professional lives. The photographic holdings were quite small, including only a relative handful of prints, some poor quality negatives, but most importantly scrapbooks which contained clippings of his published photography. The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) began collecting examples of Powellís prints from 1984. That institution's interest in the photography of Geoffrey Powell fostered new found awareness of his previously latent imagery.

Powell's photography is primarily remembered through the provocatively titled article, 'Photography-A Social Weapon'. Published late 1946, in the first issue of Contemporary Photography, this places Powell within the setting of Post-War Documentary Movement. Powell is also recalled though participation in the Australian Photography 1947 Competition. Through this forum, a bronze plaque award was presented for 'Family Group' (1945), an image that became Powell's most published and hence best-known photograph. By the time Powell's photography began to be recognised through a wider mainstream audience he had however, completely moved on from the medium.

Throughout his formative years from 1936 to 1940, Powell became a somewhat notorious personality about Sydney's photographic scene. However, his early practice in the medium of photography placed him at the forefront of the great generational debate over pictorial salon photography, verses the ascendant 'modern photography'. As was the fashion during the mid to late 1930s, the young photographer experimented with surrealist imagery and photomontage.

During his early development, Powell demonstrated promise, gaining a junior assistants position with Max Dupain in 1937. It was a big break, but one which Powell failed to capitalise on professionally. Some months later Powell prematurely cut short his 'apprenticeship' at Dupain's studio on a dubious promise of youthful-adventure and a desire for greater personal notoriety. In this he succeeded, but at the cost of his photographic career.

Thereafter Powell largely disappeared from the photographic scene but maintained an small intermittent presence as an itinerant photographer. In 1944 Powell eventually remerged as a newspaper staffer with Sydney's Daily Telegraph.

Shortly after, he obtained a position with the Communist Party biweekly newspaper, Tribune. The switch from the mainstream printed media to the far left fringe saw Powell reinvigorated as a photographer with a social conscience. Via this leftwing milieu Powell was introduced to documentary film-makers who soon become influential. Eventually this association heralded Powell's premature departure from professional stills photography.



Occasionally through the viewfinder:
a consideration of Geoffrey Powell’s photography
Craig Hoehne 2006


A Biography on Geoffrey Powell (PDF)
Craig Hoehne 2006


All of the above remain copyright: © Craig Hoehne 2006

To contact Craig, please contact photo-web
see contact information at the bottom of this page.



Craig Hoehne 2016 paper: Forged under the Hammer and Sickle: The Case of Geoffrey Powell, 1945–1960



Visit the National Library of Australia ~ for a sample of his photographs


The link below has gone missing...

The National Library acquired a number of posthumously printed photographs that were taken by Powell in the early years of his career, in addition to others from the late 1940s, a period in which Powell was a vocal and respected participant in Australia’s postwar documentary photography movement. Powell’s story is just beginning to be told through the work of researchers, such as those at the Geoffrey Powell Archive, and through the histories of those people and institutions that intersected with Powell’s eventful life.

Click here for >>> Jennifer Lovell's 2006 article on Geoffrey Powell published by the National Library of Australia in their magazine ~ includes several images that are able to be enlarged.



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