Rare chance to buy famous Australian photographer's large prints at auction

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 14th June, 2023


One of Australia’s most famous photographers and an internationally respected master of his craft, Wolfgang Georg Sievers (1913-2007) compositions were often magic personified and changed the face of industrial and architectural photography in this country forever.

So important is he to Australia’s photographic history that 65,000 of his images reside in the National Library of Australia in the national capital, Canberra – the largest single collection on record.

Now, auction goers will have a rare chance to purchase some of the largest works he ever produced when 20 of his prints (lots 2420-2440) are offered through Melbourne-based Abacus Auctions forthcoming three-day sale of stamps, postal history, coins and banknotes, sporting memorabilia and other collectables from 11am Wednesday June 28 to Friday June 30 at 29 Hardner Road, Mount Waverley.

With a Jewish mother and architectural historian father, Wolfgang was only 25 when he escaped Hitler’s Berlin and migrated to Australia.

After World War II, he was employed by many of Australia’s leading corporations to brighten an industrial landscape he found somewhat staid and boring and the Department of Overseas Trade then engaged him to help project an image of the country as a progressive industrial and manufacturing nation.

Often using human interaction with machinery to graphically illustrate his subject, Wolfgang pushed the boundaries of modern photography as can be seen in the 1962 picture Employee Making Rope with Ropeway at Miller Rope, Brunswick, Victoria (lot 2425) and the 1967 image entitled Gears For Mining Industry, Vickers Ruwalt, Burnley, Victoria (lots 2427 and 2428).

An iconic archival quality photograph regarded as Sievers most famous image, it highlights the enormity of one man’s attempts at maintaining giant machinery. The latter of the two lots measures 101cmx130cm and is the largest print known to exist – making it one of Australia’s most important 20th century photographs.

Every image made since 1970 was produced by Bond Imaging founder Lothar Huber who subsequently became a close friend.

The prints were originally on display at Geelong’s Focal Point Gallery as “The Photographic Art of Wolfgang Sievers” before being transferred to Abacus Auctions for auction.

Ten per cent of the net sale proceeds will be donated to the charity Ronald McDonald Houses.

One of the images entitled Scene of Rooftops in the Old Part of Frankfurt, 1937 (lot 2420) harks back to his time in pre-World War II Germany – an aerial highlight of the architectural significance of mediaeval Frankfurt – almost destroyed during the war.  

Another is the Manufacture of Matches, Bryant & May, Richmond Vic 1939 (lots 2421-2423) including an archival C-type print.

Lots 2429 and 2430 are entitled Stockpiling bauxite, Comalco, Weipa, Cape York, North Queensland, 1971, while lot 2435 is a 1980 print called Dragline Scoop, Drayton Coal Mine, NSW.

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