Peter Spearritt May 2007

Ever since the two arches started creeping out from Milsons Point and Dawes Point the Sydney Harbour Bridge has captivated both amateur and professional photographers.  Constructed at the beginning of the age of mass photography, from the box brownie to the full plate camera, the Bridge has attracted some of our greatest photographic interpreters, from Harold Cazneaux and Henri Mallard to Max Dupain and David Moore. Cazneaux romanticed the structure itself while Mallard focussed on the  workers.  After its completion Dupain revelled in both the structure and the harbour and urban setting of the Bridge, while Moore’s vision varied from prosaic traffic jams to oblique aerials of the Bridge in its spectacular harbour setting.

John Storey, who set up an architectural photographic practice in Sydney in the late l970s, grew up at Northbridge, so like all residents of the lower north shore the Bridge soon entered his psyche.  As a teenager the Bridge provided the link between the family home and the City. Swimming carnivals for his High School were held at the North Sydney Olympic Pool, in the shadow of the northern approaches.

Like all professional photographers who capture the Bridge,  Storey has his favourite viewing points.  His most notable landscape perspective has been from Ball’s Head in North Sydney, where he photographs the Bridge from the western side, with the City and the Opera House beyond.  This perspective also enables John to portray the full scale and majesty of the Bridge approaches, as shown here in his photograph of a train glinting on the southern approaches in the late afternoon. This angle is often neglected in much modern photographic interpretation of the Bridge.

John’s photographs of the Bridge in l981, commissioned for my biography written for the 50th anniversary, emphasise the top chord and the steelwork in its landscape setting, seen here in his photograph of the patterns formed by the cross beams on the top chord.  In the pre- Bridge Climb era climbing the Bridge, in the absence of any safety gear, made us appreciate the risks faced by both the original workmen during construction and the maintenance workers ever since.

The extensive series of photographs John  shot in September 2006 place more emphasis on the intricacy of the steelwork, displaying his ability to show patterns in the rivets in the giant chords, as seen in two photographs here.  Over five million hot rivets were hammered in by hand into the arches, the deck and the cross beams.

The advent of Bridge Climb in 1999 added another layer of activity to the Bridge.  Photographers could not only focus on trains, traffic, pedestrians and cyclists, but on people legally climbing the structure, albeit on payment of a relatively high fee.  John manages to capture the sense of both isolation and centrality that climbers feel when they approach the centre pin of the world’s largest steel arch Bridge, symbol for a city and a nation. The photograph here is again from his favoured vantage point at Ball’s Head, with the New South Wales flag fluttering in the afternoon light.

Peter Spearritt, a Professor of History at the University of Queensland, has been researching and collecting the material culture of the Sydney Harbour Bridge since the early l970s.  His two biographies of the Bridge, the first published by Allen and Unwin in l982 and The Sydney Harbour Bridge: a life , 75th anniversary edition published by the University of NSW Press in 2007, traverse the construction and later use of the structure, with a particular interest in how the Bridge is portrayed in high art, photography and popular imagery.  He and John first met while students at North Sydney Boys High School.[]