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image icon 'Meat queue', 1946

'Meat queue', 1946
Art Gallery of South Australia logo


This is a black-and-white photographic work made in 1946 by Max Dupain (1911-92), which measures 45.8 cm x 65.4 cm. Several women and a man are in a butcher’s shop, queuing to be served. The people - apart from the man and the woman on the far left who are looking towards the camera - are caught in a variety of attitudes. Everyone looks serious and, although they are queued closely together, no one appears to acknowledge anyone else. The women are all wearing black hats with their hair pulled back into buns, and dark-coloured, tailored jackets and skirts or overcoats. Behind the group is a wall of white tiles on which is attached a metal rail. Some cuts of meat can be seen hanging on the rail in the far left of the image. A poster on the wall reads ‘MEAT COUPON SCALE’.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a photographic work by Max Dupain (1911-92), who is regarded as one of the most significant Australian photographers of the modern era - photography was a childhood passion for Dupain, who was given his first camera at the age of 13; he trained as a photographer in the late 1920s, at a time when art photography and pictorialism (a photographic movement of the early 20th century that subscribed to the idea that art photography needed to emulate the painting and printmaking of the time) dominated the photographic scene within Australia; by the mid-1930s he had began to use an approach very similar to that of Europe’s ‘New Photography’, which involved the photographer working like a reporter to document scenes from everyday life
  • captures a single moment for all time - ‘Meat queue’ shows the influence that the French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), who is considered to be the father of photojournalism, had on Dupain’s work; Cartier-Bresson stressed the need for the photographer to capture the ‘decisive moment’; while Dupain’s lifelong photographic work encompassed a wide range of subjects, including the building of the Sydney Opera House, other architectural photography and elegant figure studies, he is best known for his observations of everyday life and culture in which he demonstrated a talent for capturing moments that expressed what it meant to be an Australian
  • is a powerful visual image - critical opinion suggests that it is Dupain’s aesthetic sensibilities (such as his use of light and form) that make his images visually striking, but it is difficult to ignore the human dimension of his subject matter; the artist once said ‘Modern photography must do more than entertain, it must incite thought and, by its clear statement of actuality, cultivate a sympathetic understanding of men and women and the life they live and create’
  • supports Dupain’s own claim that he was essentially an Australian historian - he recorded the era of post-Second World War food rationing in ‘Meat queue’; he went from the city to the outback to record events, such as the building of the Sydney Opera House in 1969, and social rituals, such as the ‘6 o’clock swill’ (the front bar stampede for last drinks before pubs shut at 6 pm), which are now part of the history of Australian life and culture
  • references a specific aspect of Australian social history - as part of the Australian Government's 'Total War' strategy in the Second World War, certain foods, including meat, were rationed in the period between 1943 and 1948; the official ration was around 1 kg per adult per week; the coupons system (government-issued coupons were exchanged in shops for food) used during this time regulated the allocation of specified foods; the woman in the front left of the photograph may be holding a ration book with coupons in her right hand.