Posted by: Bruce | July 4, 2012

Street Photography, Sydney 1945

Recently from the WordPress blogs my attention was caught by the post, Spotlight on Street Photography blogs. I have a few old family photos to help organise etc but I remembered one particular photo amongst a lot of gems. A faded stamp on the back of the photo reveals “G. McGrath, p8 Her Majesty’s Arcade, Sydney. Extra copies are available by quoting number”.

Considering the photo was taken around 1945, it is in pretty good nick and a slight fiddle removed a little of the fading towards sepia and put back some black and white.

I can give a few details on this photo because the two snapped walking down one of Sydney’s main streets, maybe George or Pitt, were later to become my Mum and Uncle. Very much a ‘ Back to the Future’ image.

Prior to this post I put the bright lights on Mum and she gave up the following. She doesn’t remember the occasion when it was taken but street photographers were a fairly common breed. A lot of people couldn’t afford cameras of their own and so when approached on the street either agreed to be photographed or not. They were given a card and could order a print if they wanted. She said that this type of photography ran into a bit of trouble and died out maybe 5-10 yrs later. I wonder how this type of photography would, or could, go now?

Whatever the occasion, it is great to look at now. To see the clothing worn, the faces of two girls on the right side of picture watching the shot it seems. Given that my Mum and her brother were from a farm outside Taree and were far from well off, they scrubbed up fairly well I thought. I notice her brother has a tie and/or collar pin, my Mum has gloves. Mum was around 21-22yrs at this time, her brother 3yrs older. I wonder what they were talking about and where they were heading? After all, they were single, they’d left their farm and now lived in the big smoke.

Words for today:   Shoulder pads and collar pins.

Everything old is new again.

More to come; same blog time, same blog channel.


  1. Interesting post! What a great story about how the photo was taken! That’s unusual to hear! I absolutely love looking at old photos and asking the same questions about who? what? where? and why? about the timing the photo was taken. Usually some very interesting stories and facts I never knew before surface from these moments. I suppose that’s why photos are so precious! They are memories and stores captured forever! Thanks for a beautiful written post!


    • Glad you liked it. I admit with this shot I have a personal interest in addition to the image standing alone. A Back to the Future photo of my Mum and Uncle adds that little extra for me. I wonder if some of your photos will do the same one day? Bruce


      • Interestingly I came across this pic and blog whir trying to explore history of a family pic printed by Majestic Photo Service P 10a Her Majesty’s Arcade … had not thought it was taken by a street photographer (as not professional composition of shot) BUT on reflection these candid pics were all the rage. We have some history to uncover around that arcade, your pic is a nice stimulant and reflects maybe multiple studios in same arcade … as your pic cites p8 and ours cites 10a … of course no way of knowing if they were contemporaneous or a decade apart.


      • Given the time frame, end of WW2, perhaps the mood of Australians contributed to a few photography businesses flourishing. As my Mum said, street photography ran into problems and seemed to fade away over 5 years or so. Competition may have been pretty healthy for a while though and, as you say, multiple studios have have existed in the same arcade. I don’t know how a street photographer would go these days; the value of their shots could only increase at time passes but ‘candid’ street shots would have to be arranged. Good luck in your research, it’s interesting stuff. Thanks for your information and taking the time to write.


  2. I do love looking at old photos. they don;t need to be as well composed to be interesting because of the other qualities they bring. it does feel voyeuristic sometimes though looking at someones old family snaps. 🙂


    • Old photos, as you say, sure have their own qualities. I think street photography composition varies with the subject; sometimes candid shots or nothing; a tough way to make money. I wonder at the gear and film used; no auto-focus or superzooms in 1945, no instant check on exposure.
      I hadn’t thought of the voyeuristic angle. I included family details for authenticity. Maybe you’re lucky I didn’t post a family album. Still, I’m happy for anyone to enjoy the image of this moment in 1945.
      You have some great shots in your portfolio, looks like you should never have put the camera down earlier.
      Thanks for taking the time for your thoughts.


      • Thanks a lot. I’m still very up and down with my camera use. I’m sure I’ll get fully vested soon


  3. Hi Bruce,
    I have several photos of my mother and a mystery man which, after reading your post, I now realise were taken by a street photographer in Sydney during the war. There are several by the Leicograph Company based in The Strand Arcade. The man she is with is not our father, but there is much suspicion that she actually married this man first. When asked who it is she has always claimed she doesn’t remember and yet there are several photos of her with the same man. One has both their first names with the one surname written on it. Bit of a giveaway there. Thanks for adding another, albeit small, piece to the puzzle.


    • Hi and thanks for your interesting comment. I wonder how many ‘couples’ were caught in the lens by street photographers back then, only to appear later before curious eyes followed by awkward questions. It could be one reason why street photographers dropped in popularity, people might have tried to avoid them!
      The same surname does seem a bit of a giveaway but you never know. You might have to get out the bright lights and shine them on your Mum; she might give in then.
      Is it getting chilly in Kobble Creek now?


  4. I have a photo of my parents, dad in uniform and walking with mum when they had just started dating. I also have one of my dad’s two sisters walking together and in the background there are a couple of soldier “checking them out” … I think it was a fantastic idea. I always wondered who actually took the photo and when watching the genealogist TV show “Who Do You Think You Are” Jackie Weaver had a picture of her parents and she mentioned these “wandering photographers”. then a friend gave a link to this blog. And I too have a photo of my mother with a “mystery man” sitting rather cosily (for the time) on a park bench (a WW2 pilot, no less!)


    • They sound like very interesting photos to see Victoria, along with the their stories. Do you have any further information to go with them such as location; perhaps Sydney too? Did your mother have anything to say about the mystery man? Your father?
      I think being a dashing pilot was probably a good thing on the women scene, a bit a chick magnet I reckon.
      It sounds as though you looked at the comment from Kobble Creek and now there are two photos of mothers with a mystery man.
      For balance, a couple of street shots of dads with mystery women is needed!
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave your thoughts Victoria. Regards, Bruce.


  5. I have a street photo of my parents just after they married in 1947. My father has written on the back of the photo “When we were young one day 1948” I don’t know where the photo was taken, in Sydney somewhere, but my father looks very handsome and my mother just beautiful. We had a male visitor to the house and he looked at the photo and said “who is that woman she’s beautiful” and I was so proud to say “that’s my father and mother, also taken by G McGrath. My father passed away a few days ago so I’m feeling very emotional and sentimental.


    • Thanks for a wonderful comment and interesting , tiny insight of your parents and the photograph Cathie. A simple but nostalgic note left by your father on the photo which you clearly love to view, has me curious to see for myself. I wonder what photographer G. McGrath would think of the impact his photos carry through to present day.

      I’m sorry for your loss Cathie.

      Regards, Bruce


  6. […] photography in the 1940’s with photo by photographer G. McGrath. I have two such posts, here and here (desperately seeking Norma), and Ed advised that he too has an image by G. Mc Grath. A […]


  7. I have a photo of my mother (now 100) and her mother taken by G. McGrath of P15 Her Majesty’s Arcade. They had just bought new hats at DJ’s. It was taken some time before February 1945. In the background there is a neon sign saying “Home Service Bottle Shop”.


    • Howdy Alf. Sounds like an interesting picture of your Mum and Grandmother, including the hats of the day. How are you able to date the photo, you are pretty specific? Your Mum now 100; wow. My mum is heading for 93 but her memory is not what it was. I wonder if Home Service meant delivery? If so, does that happen now with bottle shops? Thanks for taking the time to give us a little more history Alf. Mr McGrath would be happy I’m sure. Is the photo still in good nick? Regards, Bruce.


  8. “MOVIETTES 19P Her Majesty’s Arc. Sydney”. That is printed on the back of a photo I have of my mother, aunt and grandmother, walking, in step, down a street in the CBD of Sydney. They are dressed up to the nines with gloves and the rest. It is and impressive photo. This must have been taken in the late thirties and for some reason it says “George street” to me. Our family also have photos taken in the Corso, Manly, outside St. Matthew’s Anglican Church. There must have been a resident street photographer on the footpath as we have half a dozen different shot’s of family members taken on that spot. Maybe the photographer in Her Majesty’s Arcade move from shop to shop over the years. Regards Charlie


    • Thanks for that info Charlie (and sorry for the slow reply). The photos sound great and are surely a gem to have in your family photo albums. Mr McGrath was one of many street photographers I guess and there was probably some pretty hot competition for the walk-up photo opportunities. I wonder if there were many other suburbs where street photographers plied their trade? My Mum said that they seemed to disappear and were sometimes not that popular. It might be the same these days if street photographers hustled for business. Somehow I just can’t see it working now, for various reasons, although I’m sure there are people who would be happy for a street shot. What do you think?


  9. bonjour, j’ai une photo chez moi (en France) de G. MC Grath. Etait-il un photographe connu?


    • Bonjour Nathalie. That is as far as my French goes Nathalie, pretty sad effort by me isn’t it? I did try some translation and understand that you live in France and have a photo (in your home) taken by G.McGrath. I don’t quite understand the second part, your question about the photographer or the photo. Do you mean is G.McGrath famous or something? Please try to tell me because it’s interesting to know that one of his street photos is in France. Who is in the photo?

      Thanks for reading my blog Nathalie. Just remember, you can say anything to me in French. Even if you call me names I’m sure it will sound like music to my ears and I’ll imagine a scene with you and I in Paris.


  10. Hi Bruce,
    My mum was digging through old photos of my late father 19/04/2020 who was photographed on his way to his first job interview (where he stayed employed until retirement) escorted by his mum (my nanna) in the same place by the same photographer with the same details on the back of the ordered copies in 1950. Haven’t times changed! Thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading and adding your own interesting story to the list. Your Dad must have liked his job! What a great photo to have in your album. And yes, times have changed. Regards Bruce ( sorry I don’t know your name)


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