One of the characters in Stephen Spender’s novel The Temple, written in the early 1930s, is a young German photographer. They met in Hamburg in 1929. Spender, a university student just discovering the autobiographical bent of his own inspiration, observed that his friend’s attitude was very different. Instead of wanting to preserve the sensuality of the moment in monumental form, the German photographer set out to report the opposite – the death of every moment – which, at the time of being lived, is also passing. His photographs, he told Spender, were not intended to live, they were not communicative. Records of moments already gone at the click of a shutter, they annihilated even memory. Or were intended to do so.
Spender’s description of his friend’s imagery – ‘a great stream of magnificent young people, mostly young men, lying on the sand, standing, with their heads enshadowed and pressed back as though leaning against the sun, rising from bulrushes and grasses, swimming in seas and rivers, laughing from verandas, embracing one another’ is immediately reminiscent of Max Dupain’s famous ‘Sunbaker’ image of 1937 and his numerous other records of the good life on Australian beaches.