The Launch of the River Hunter

Posted by jdg | 7:03 PM

Ship launch from Cockatoo Island Dockyard - The "River Hunter" A class standard steamship released along a slipway into Sydney Harbour, 1945, Photograph by Alan Evans.

I was cleaning up my desktop this morning and saw this picture there; it's one I return to often. I first saw it on one of my favorite websites (I Had Dreams Like That, which sadly hasn't been updated in some time) last fall, and it has haunted me ever since. He found it in the Historic Houses Trust picture collection, here.

There are so many things that make this a perfect photograph for me, from the technical matter of its symmetry and the shared perspective with the figures in the foreground and the anonymity of the figures in the background. I wondered if it would work as well in black and white:

I don't think it does. I like the orange version better. The man's hat stands out more in the orange. It feels more like a snapshot (it is). The original is only 5 x 7.5 cm. It's tiny.

I love how the subjects backs are turned. How could anyone turn away from this moment? Having the man and the boy's faces turned away allows us to almost imagine ourselves in their place: the wonder of the boy as the giant ship is launched, the pride of the anonymous man in worker's clothes who might have helped build it. And then there are the universal themes heavy in any picture of a ship launching, but especially this one. A job is done. A journey is beginning. As downtown guy says, "Some stay home, some go to sea."


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