Sydney Opera House Portfolio

Sun patterns within the Opera House Podium – 1962

The sheer genius and imaginative flair of Danish architect Jøern Utzon’s 1962 design for Sydney’s Opera House at Bennelong Point presented David Moore’s own imagination with an opportunity to be relished. On his own initiative early on he roamed the building site, later accepting commissions by media outlets around the world such as Newsweek, Life, Black Star, the New York Sunday Newspapers and locally, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and the NSW Department of Public Works.

Besides its novelty in creating a frisson of excitement in the architectural community it is common knowledge that Utzon’s extraordinary opus was plagued by controversy, political discord, recrimination and cost overruns. The NSW Government seemed out of its depth. Moore was present on an occasion when the Government architect Edward Farmer and the Public Works Minister Davis Hughes fell out over the colour of precast cladding on the podium walls (Hughes was at a loss and turned to Moore for an opinion). During a brief portrait session Moore attempted to portray Hughes as the villain of the piece. Eventually it was Hughes who was believed to be responsible for Utzon’s forced resignation.

Jøern Utzon’s reaction to Moore’s epic depiction of the construction of the Opera House was to classify the photographs as ‘marvelous (sic)…by far the best I have ever seen’. Writing in early 1968, he added: ‘the Sydney Opera House needs to be seen with a great artist’s eye such as yours to make people understand (the building’s) poetic qualities’. It was a generous tribute to a fellow spirit, a photographer who was in communion with, and acutely sensitive to, Utzon’s mould-breaking vision.

The 2013 Customs House exhibition dedicated to the Opera House’s construction was designed as Moore’s posthumous returning of the compliment, a homage to the daring and genius of Utzon’s expressionist architecture: an approach which insists on the new, original and visionary. In this case, the concept of architecture as a work of art. Moore himself called the Opera House ‘a fabulous freestanding sculpture’. His meticulous application to documenting the construction process from the bones upward was passionate and committed: a kind of love affair in which his images reflect an awe and respect for Utzon’s work. Alternatively alive with the play of light or suffused with a brooding romanticism, they sing of purity, precision and technical control.

With the benefit of an architect father and elder brother in addition to a period spent as assistant and trainee with Max Dupain, Moore’s appreciation of, and respect for, exemplary design in architecture was no accident. Also of great appeal was the concept of built form as an extension/reflection of its environment. Hence part of the integrity and alluring bravado of the Opera House was for him its harbourside position, its sails endlessly billowing.

For enquiries about these photographs please email Lisa Moore, or Josef Lebovic (Josef Lebovic Gallery).