Jack Cato

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Jack Cato
Jack Cato Portrait
Athol Shmith, Jack Cato, circa 1955. National Library of Australia, Ref.# vn59459 © the Estate of Athol Shmith, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art
Born(1889-04-04)4 April 1889
Died14 August 1971(1971-08-14) (aged 85)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Other namesJohn Cyril Cato
OccupationPhotographer and Author
Known forauthor; The Story of the Camera in Australia
  • Mary Boote Pearce (24/12/1921–1970; deceased)

John Cyril "Jack" Cato, F.R.P.S. (4 April 1889 – 14 August 1971) was a significant Australian portrait photographer in the Pictorialist style, operating in the first half of the twentieth century. He was the author of the first history of Australian photography; The Story of the Camera in Australia (1955)

Early life[edit]

John Cyril (Jack) Cato (1889–1971), photographer, was born on 4 April 1889 at Launceston, Tasmania, son of Albert Cox Cato, salesman, and his wife Caroline Louise, née Morgan. At the age of 12 years he did an apprenticeship, and studied arts in night school. His father arranged for him to have lessons from a friend who was a metallurgist at Queenstown, where he learnt the properties of metals in photography.[1] John Watt Beattie, a Scottish landscape photographer and also the son of a photographer, introduced young Jack to the medium in 1896. He was further trained in art by Lucien Deschaineux at Launceston Technical School. From 1901 Cato worked under Percy Whitelaw and John Andrew, both local portrait photographers.


In 1906, aged 17, Cato joined Beattie in his Hobart premises and set up his own studio. Later he applied to be official photographer to (Sir) Douglas Mawson's 1911 Australasian Antarctic Expedition. However, Mawson passed him up, and Henri Mallard, in favour of Frank Hurley.[2] Cato travelled that year in Europe finding work with photographers in London, among them H. Walter Barnett, the fashionable society and vice-regal portraitist, and theatre photographer Claude Harris. Through the latter, and with encouragement from Dame Nellie Melba, he pursued freelance work in the theatrical world. Having contracted tuberculosis and, seeking the relief of a warm climate, Cato left England in 1914 to photograph on the expeditions in Rhodesia of Professor Cory of Grahamstown University. He enlisted for war service in South Africa.[3] The anthropological photography earned him a fellowship (1917) of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain.

In 1920 Cato, still convalescing, returned to Tasmania, where he operated his own portrait-studio in Hobart, and there married Mary Boote Pearce (d.1970) on 24 December 1921. He was President of the Tasmanian Photographers' Association in 1923.[4] In 1926 their son John was born and in 1927 they moved to Melbourne.[5] Again with the patronage[6] of Dame Nellie Melba,[7] and through her introductions to society and to theatrical circles, he set up a society portrait studio, first at 244 Collins Street, then permanently in Marcus R. Barlow's (1930) Art Deco Howey House[8] at 259 Collins Street.[9] There, he was conveniently located for clients, close to Melbourne's photographic community and the best department stores and boutiques around Collins Street, Melbourne. He put his Pictorialist style, natural gregariousness,[10] love of theatre[11] and technical knowledge[12] to effect in becoming a leader of the trade in Melbourne for two decades.[13]

His society, theatre and advertising photographs were frequently published in magazines and newspapers including The Australian Women's Weekly, The Argus, Table Talk,[14] The Illustrated Tasmanian Mail,[15] The Hobart Mercury, and The Australasian. He maintained links with professional associations and amateur clubs through occasional exhibitions of his best work,[16] and was senior vice-president (1938) and a life member of the Professional Photographers' Association.

Cato retired from his Melbourne studio in 1946 to begin a career as an author. In addition to a large number of articles in photographic, philatelic and other magazines, as well as serving as chronicler for the Savage Club, he published an autobiography, I Can Take It (1947),[17][18][19] and a pictorial documentary, Melbourne (1949).[20]

The Story of the Camera in Australia[edit]

Cato's The Story of the Camera in Australia (1955) [21] , though it is more populist than academic,[22] is acknowledged [23] as the first Australian national history of the medium.[24] A keen stamp-collector from childhood (also 1935 president of the Royal Philatelic Society of Victoria) he was able to sell his stamps for about £10,000 in 1954 to finance six years of research for this book. He used the La Trobe Library picture and newspaper collections in Melbourne,[25] making only one visit to Sydney and Canberra institutions. Cato also relied on regular personal correspondence with experts, such as (the 100 or so) letters from Harold Cazneaux,[26] the celebrated Pictorialist, and from Keast Burke [27][1] in Sydney, a photography historian and campaigner for the recognition of photography as a historical resource and who was engaged in 1964 as consultant to the collections at the Australian National Library.

Later life[edit]

From 1960–63 Cato was photography columnist for The Age newspaper in Melbourne. He died on 14 August 1971 at Sandringham, Melbourne, survived by a son, photographer John Cato, and a daughter.

In collections[edit]

Collections of Jack Cato's photographs are held by:

Selected exhibitions[edit]

  • 2002 Included in exhibition Just Married, Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, 6 September-20 October 2002.[28]
  • 1995 Included posthumously with Athol Shmith, Harold Cazneaux, John Lee, Laurence Le Guay and Max Dupain in National Portrait Gallery curated exhibition High Society: Society Portraiture and Photographs[29][30]
  • 1938 Queen Victoria Museum Art Gallery, Launceston [31][32][33]
  • 1937 Group Show of early Kodachromes at Kodak (Australasia) Pty. Ltd., 45 Elizabeth St., Hobart.[34]
  • 1936 Group Show Kodak (A'Asia) Pty. Ltd. Gallery, Collins Street, Melbourne [35]
  • 1934 Group show Centenary International Exhibition of Professional Photography, Athenaeum Gallery, Melbourne. Awarded Silver Medal in Commercial section.[36][37]
  • 1932 Solo Show, Athenaeum Gallery [38]
  • 1925 Solo Show of landscapes, The Bookshelf Gallery, Hobart.[39]
  • 1923 Group Show of the Professional Photographers' Association of Tasmania, Hobart.[40]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Cato, J. & Institute of Photography (2009). Charles Nettleton (3rd ed). Institute of Australian Photography, Melbourne
  • Cato, J. (1971) Philately from Australia, Sept 1971
  • Cato, Jack (1963). Some early Australian Commonwealth postage stamp essays. Review Pubs, Dubbo, N.S.W.
  • Cato, Jack (1955). The story of the camera in Australia. Georgian House, Melbourne
  • Cato, Jack (1949). Melbourne. Georgian House, Melbourne
  • Cato, Jack (1947). I can take it : the autobiography of a photographer. Georgian House, Melbourne
  • Dow, D. M. (1947) Melbourne Savages (Melb)
  • Ayrey, Cato, & Cato, Jack. (1950). Australian wildflowers and their arrangement / by Betty Ayrey ; colour photography by John Cato for Athol Shmith Studios. Melbourne: Georgian House.
  • Cosier, I. (1980) Jack Cato (M.A. prelim thesis, University of Melbourne).
  • Ennis, Helen & National Library of Australia & National Portrait Gallery (Australia) (1996). The reflecting eye : portraits of Australian visual artists. National Library of Australia, Canberra.
  • Narkiewicz, Ewa (2000). 'Jack Cato's Melbourne: an interview with John Cato'. In La Trobe Journal. (65), 17-27.
  • Newton, G. (1980) Silver and Grey (Sydney)
  • Newton, G. (1993 ) ’Cato, John Cyril (Jack) (1889–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP).
  • Professional Photography in Australia, 23, no 5, Aug-Sept 1971
  • Photofile, 4, no 1, Autumn 1986
  • The Great Lindt; a compilation based on research by Jack Cato, R. J. Barcham and Keast Burke. (1955-10-01). In Image. 4 (7), 54(1).
  • Van Wyk, Susan & Shmith, Michael, 1949- & Whitfield, Danielle & National Gallery of Victoria (2006). The Paris end : photography, fashion & glamour. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.


  1. ^ Narkiewicz, Ewa (2000). 'Jack Cato's Melbourne: an interview with John Cato'. In La Trobe Journal. (65), 17-27.
  2. ^ Murphy, Shane & Hurley, Frank, 1885–1962 (2000). Shackleton's photographer: the annotated diaries of Frank Hurley, expedition photographer, Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17 : a book (2nd electronic ed). Shane Murphy, Scottsdale, Arizona
  3. ^ "Mr Cato started by telling the members all about his experiences and engagements both in England and Africa and finally dealt with his tour right to Northern Rhodesia, made as photographer to Professor Cory, who has made a special study of the native races of the African continent." SAVAGE SOUTH AFRICA. (18 June 1923). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 3
  4. ^ HOBART PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITION. (31 August 1923). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 8.
  5. ^ "At their weekly gathering yesterday members of the Hobart Rotary Club bade farewell to Rotarian Jack Cato, the representative of. the photographic profession in the club, who is leaving Hobart for Melbourne and starting a new business there." PERSONAL. (4 August 1927). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 6.
  6. ^ "Hobart Artist Migrates. Mr. Jack Cato, recently of Hobart, commenced his Melbourne career by an amount of publicity many another artist might envy. Dame Melba came, made a speech, and posed for her photograph with a lovely bouquet, in the centre of which was an orchid, which won her admiration; helped to hand round tea, then told the scribblers anything they did not know about Mr. Cato, and left, only when satisfied that she had successfully launched her protegé. In her characteristic speech she said: "I was walking along the streets of Hobart when my attention was attracted by a window in which were some wonderful photographs. In my impertinent way I said, 'I must see into this.' I marched inside, and discovered Mr. Cato. There is always room in the world for great artists, and I regard Mr. Cato as a really great one." The dame then declared the exhibition of pictures, many of which have already appeared in "The Illustrated Tasmanian Mail", open." The Mainland Day by Day. (7 October 1927). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 8.
  7. ^ DAME NELLIE MELBA OPENS SHOW. (7 October 1927). The Argus (Melbourne), p. 13.
  8. ^ HOWEY PLACE BUILDING. The building of Thos. Webb and Sons Pty. Ltd., in Howey place, and the adjoining building in Collins street, will soon be demolished, and a 12-story building (Howey Court) will be erectod on the site. Illustrated is the rear elevation (facing Howey place) of the proposed building. The architect of the building is Mr. Marcus R. Barlow. "HOWEY PLACE BUILDING". The Argus. Melbourne. 7 February 1930. p. 5. Retrieved 3 December 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ Van Wyk, Susan & Shmith, Michael, 1949- & Whitfield, Danielle & National Gallery of Victoria (2006). The Paris end : photography, fashion & glamour. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. p.54
  10. ^ 'Jack Cato Is not only a brilliant photographer; he is a born raconteur.' "THE NATIVES CALLED HIM "GRANDDAD-LONG-LEGS"." The Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 27 Dec 1947: 2.
  11. ^ "He was also a singer, he loved the stage. I think that was more behind Jack Cato than anything: he was a performer, he loved performing, during the African years he was a member of a Pierrot troupe." Narkiewicz, Ewa (2000). 'Jack Cato's Melbourne: an interview with John Cato'. In La Trobe Journal (65), 17-27.
  12. ^ "Throughout the 1930s, and into the 1940s, he continued to use the stylistic conventions of Pictorialism, particularly soft focus lenses, to create complimentary portraits. His custom built lenses enabled him to flatter his subjects. He explained [in Cato, Jack (1947). I can take it : the autobiography of a photographer. Georgian House, Melbourne, p.205]: 'I had a lens made in which the turn of a screw drew the two central lenses apart, giving a soft-focus diffused image, softening the features and all lines, giving soft edges to the hair and a blurring of all outlines. It was tremendously popular.' The greater the age of the sitter, the more diffusion was needed to produce the desired result." Van Wyk, Susan & Shmith, Michael, 1949- & Whitfield, Danielle & National Gallery of Victoria (2006). The Paris end : photography, fashion & glamour. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. p.54–55
  13. ^ "JACK CATO, photographer and raconteur, who, not long ago, produced a most readable book of reminiscences…" Clive Turnbull, in Portrait of A City. (1949, 15 October). The Argus (Melbourne), p. 10.
  14. ^ "TABLE TALK ANNUAL". (30 October 1929). The Advertiser (Adelaide), p. 24.
  15. ^ Peeps behind the scenes of the Melba-Williamson grand opera season are given in a special article by Mr. Jack Cato, F.R.P.S., in "The Illustrated Tasmanian Mail" this week.
  16. ^ Arthur Streeton reviews "an exhibition of photographs by Mr. Jack Cato opened at the Athenaeum Gallery by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons)"; ART PHOTOGRAPHS. (31 May 1932). The Argus (Melbourne), p. 8.
  17. ^ Reviewed: "Tale Of A Cameraman." (22 November 1947). The West Australian (Perth), p. 4
  18. ^ He Takes It!. (4 May 1951). The Argus (Melbourne), p. 10 Supplement: The Argus Week-End Magazine.
  19. ^ "A cameraman captures life". The Daily News (FIRST EDITION ed.). Perth. 6 December 1947. p. 5. Retrieved 1 December 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  20. ^ reviewed by Clive Turnbull, in Portrait of A City. (15 October 1949). The Argus (Melbourne), p. 10.
  21. ^ Cato, J. (1955). The Story of the Camera in Australia (1st ed.). Georgian, Melbourne.
  22. ^ "If one leaves aside the glossy monographs on particular individuals or collections, the list of Australian photographic histories is short. Australia's first major national history of photography, Jack Cato's 1955 Story of the Camera in Australia was premised on the belief that photography ‘as no other medium, literary or graphic', was best placed to record and reveal the history of the young nation. Cato's chronology favoured biography, technological developments, and professional genealogies and networks. His inadvertent nod to early historiographers Giorgio Vasari and perhaps Giovanni Morelli set the tone for numerous amateur histories." Sheehan, Tanya, 1976- (2015). Photography, history, difference. Hanover, New Hampshire Dartmouth College Press
  23. ^ "It is unlikely that new research will alter substantially the outlines of the story which Cato set down, although these might be filled in by pursuing more material outside the Sydney-Melbourne axis." Humphrey McQueen in THE STORY BEHIND THE LENS. (5 November 1977). The Canberra Times, p. 12.
  24. ^ "In 1955 The Story of the Camera in Australia was published, the first historical survey of the field written by a former professional photographer-turned-historian, Jack Cato. Cato's book, published long before the institutionalisation of photography as an art form, was concerned with creating a lineage for professional photographers. Cochrane, P. (2001) Remarkable Occurrences: The National Library of Australia's First 100 Years, 1901–2001. Canberra: National Library of Australia
  25. ^ Narkiewicz, Ewa (2000). 'Jack Cato's Melbourne: an interview with John Cato'. In La Trobe Journal. (65), 17-27.
  26. ^ Cato, in his Acknowledgements in Cato, Jack (1955). The story of the camera in Australia (Deluxe ed). Georgian House, Melbourne p.vii, thanks 'the late Harold Cazneaux' for over 100 'long letters' giving him information on the Pictorial Movement.
  27. ^ first in his Acknowledgements, Cato gives prominent credit to Keast Burke, "editor of The Australasian Photo-Review, whose fortnightly letters over a period of four years advised, suggested, and criticised this work as it developed; who generously placed a number of historical items at my disposal, and brought the resources of Kodak (Australia) Pty. Ltd. to my assistance–to him, and to them, my grateful thanks." Cato, Jack (1955). The story of the camera in Australia (Deluxe ed). Georgian House, Melbourne p.vii
  28. ^ Shmith, Michael, 1949- & Matthews, Emma & Monash Gallery of Art (2002). Just Married! : 6 September until 20 October 2002 : [exhibition catalogue]. Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Vic
  29. ^ Clark, Julia, 1949- & National Library of Australia & National Portrait Gallery (Australia) (1995). High society : society portraiture & photographers 1920–1960. National Library of Australia, Canberra
  30. ^ ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT Australia's high society recalled in photographs. (11 February 1995). The Canberra Times, p. 51.
  31. ^ SPECIAL ART DISPLAYS. (23 November 1938). The Examiner (Launceston, Tasmania), p. 6 Edition: LATEST NEWS EDITION and DAILY.
  32. ^ EXHIBITIONS AT ART GALLERY. (14 December 1938). The Examiner (Launceston, Tasmania), p. 3 Edition: LATEST NEWS EDITION and DAILY.
  33. ^ "RARE DISPLAY OF PHOTOS Fine Exhibition at Museum An outstanding one-man exhibition of photographic studies by Mr. Jack Cato, F.R.P.S., of Melbourne, will be on view at the art gallery of the Queen Victoria Museum today. This is the second of a series of temporary exhibitions recently inaugurated at the art gallery, and will be open until 16 December. The first exhibition, consisting of nine early sketches and drawings lent by Mr. H. S. East, will also remain on view till that date. Mr. Cato, who lived in Hobart for some years, is at present one of the best known photographers in Melbourne, and his exhibition is probably the finest ever seen in Launceston. It consists of 35 photographs; portraits in monochrome, colour, and tone prints, landscapes, seascapes, and commercial art. It is difficult to select any one photograph from the display, as all are almost perfect examples of the photographer's art. Photographs of Charles Wheeler and Arthur Streeton, among the best known of Australian artists, are out standing, and there are a number of exquisite examples of hand tinting and two fine paper negatives. All the photographs were taken in Australia, England and Africa, and the work was done entirely on Australian-made paper and plates. The display is being exhibited by courtesy of Kodak (Australasia) Ply. Ltd." RARE DISPLAY OF PHOTOS. (2 December 1938). The Examiner (Launceston, Tasmania), p. 7 Edition: LATEST NEWS EDITION and DAILY.
  34. ^ HUONVILLE BIVOUAC. (18 January 1937). The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), p. 5.
  35. ^ CAMERA STUDIES. (29 October 1936). The Argus (Melbourne), p. 4.
  36. ^ Reviewed by Arthur Streeton; Photographs, Drawings, and Pottery. (13 November 1934). The Argus (Melbourne), p. 5.
  37. ^ AWARDS TO PHOTOGRAPHERS. (15 November 1934). The Argus (Melbourne), p. 5
  38. ^ reviewed by Harold Herbert in ‘ART’ (11 June 1932). The Australasian (Melbourne), p. 14.
  39. ^ AMUSEMENTS. (1 December 1925). The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), p. 8.
  40. ^ CURRENT TOPICS. (31 August 1923). The Examiner (Launceston, Tasmania), p. 4 |edition=DAILY