Life on the streets in the post-war years

Street photography exhibition at Museum of Sydney captures 'fleeting moments'

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Street photographers put Sydneysiders in the frame.


BEFORE the days of selfies, Instagram, iPhones and Facebook street photographers were the ones putting Sydneysiders in the frame during the 1930s to late ‘50s.

These snappers would roam the streets of central Sydney taking pictures creating a vast archive of black-and-white, postcard-sized candid images of the city and its people.

At the height of its popularity in the mid ‘30s, over 10,000 people in NSW were buying photos from street photography companies every week.

Now a new Street Photography exhibition at the Museum of Sydney will explore the heyday of this once popular, but now forgotten, genre.

Following a public call-out by Sydney Living Museums, over 1500 personal images have been contributed.

They give a glimpse into the everyday life of Sydney and its people during the Depression, World War II and the post-war years.

Each image is a fleeting momento of a day spent in the city and reveals who we were, the changing fashions and social mores. - Anna Cossu, Sydney Living Museums curator

A total of 250 of these images from people’s family albums, which have have been digitised and enlarged, form the basis of the exhibition which runs until next July. 

“Armed with small portable cameras and positioned in key places around the city, the photographers caught pedestrians unaware - mid-stride, talking or deep in thought as they went about their day, and the public loved it,” said Sydney Living Museums curator Anna Cossu.

However as street photography companies went out of fashion, very few negatives lasted making this collection valuable.

“Each image is a fleeting momento of a day spent in the city and reveals who we were, the changing fashions and social mores,” Ms Cossu added.

Presented alongside this largely unseen pictorial record of Sydney is a series of works by photomedia artist Anne Zahalka.

She has restaged nine of the original images, with descendants and those still living, in similar locations where their parents, grandparents or they once stood.

The exhibition also includes new images taken at live photographic locations in key places around the city similar to the street photography of the past.

  • At Museum of Sydney, cnr Phillip and Bridge Streets, opens December 8. Free with museum entry:$15, concs $8, family $30, members and under-5s free,

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