Max Dupain – 'The Meat Queue'

'The Meat Queue', is one of a series of pictures Max Dupain produced for the Department of Information.

In 1991 Dupain told curator Helen Ennis: 'We were doing a story on queues after the war. They were all over the place – queues for buses, vegetables, fruit. I just happened to come across this butcher shop in Pitt Street, I think it was. Here they were all lined up, and I went around it, took a number of pictures, ultimately ending up with this sort of architectural approach with four or five females all dressed in black with black hats, not looking too happy about the world. Suddenly one of them breaks the queue when I'm focused up all ready to go, pure luck.'

The solidity of the linear figures taken from mid-distance beneath a scale used to weigh a portion of meat according to the coupon allowance democratises the women. The picture is given a sudden focus as the central figure decides to move from the queue and makes unwanted contact with the woman in front.

Described as a documentary photograph, but not necessarily a social comment, this clear, modernist image depicts the food rationing of post-war Australia through black-and-white shapes shown in a shallow space. Form rather than content defines the image. The central figure in a lighter-coloured coat is balanced on either side by the darker coats; and the black hats make a wave along the horizontal, parallel to the line of meat hooks.