Max Coolahan

Queensland, Australia, 1918-1985

Max Coolahan was sent to a Jesuit seminary school when he was only seven, after suffering abuse in his early years. After a limited formal education, Coolahan served in the signals division during World War Two, where he was trained as a photographer for the purposes of gathering military intelligence. He was seriously injured in New Guinea and was discharged as a result, subsequently experiencing what would now be considered post-traumatic stress disorder, but was then diagnosed as “shell-shock.” While in a rehabilitation program at the East Sydney Technical College, Coolahan met his wife-to-be Kate Castle, a designer and illustrator, who he married in 1951. They moved to New Zealand in 1952, settling in Wellington, where Kate worked in the fashion industry while Max worked as an editor in the School Publications Branch of the Ministry of Education, producers of the School Journal. While working in Wellington, Coolahan purchased a hut in the Orongorongo Valley, a stretch of dense bush south of Lower Hutt. Coolahan withdrew to the Orongorongo bush when he suffered attacks of PTSD, often for months at a time, and eventually began to take photographs there, using a medium-format camera he constructed himself using lenses from rifle sights. Coolahan was a meticulous photographic practicioner, and turned the raw materials of the New Zealand landscape into a series of highly structured modernist art photographs. He exhibited two shows of his work in Wellington: Images from Nature in 1962 and Images and Abstracts in 1963. Some of these images were selected for a UNESCO travelling exhibition which toured internationally, including to Japan and Israel. Coolahan did not pursue an art career, however, working as a teacher at Onslow College from 1962 until ill-health forced him to retire in 1983. His sharply-focused and carefully composed nature studies have been compared to those of San Francisco’s Group f64, or the later works of Edward Weston.

Essays
Auction Results

Pit-sawn log

1959-60

gelatin silver print

392mm x 495mm

Achieved $600.63

untitled

c. 1960s

gelatin silver print

405mm x 480mm

Achieved $510.54

untitled

c. 1960s

gelatin silver print

505mm x 405mm

Achieved $600.63