Australia's earliest identified photograph was taken in Sydney in 1841, and photographers such as Douglas Kilburn were working in Melbourne shortly afterwards. Antoine Fauchery (1823-61) and Richard Daintree (1832-78), who migrated from France and England respectively, had little success on the goldfields and looked for work in Melbourne, Fauchery establishing a studio in 1857 and Daintree finding work with the Government Survey. During 1858-59 they collaborated to produce Sun Pictures of Victoria, a portfolio of 50 albumen silver photographs for sale by subscription. Fauchery and Daintree endeavoured to portray various aspects of life in the newly wealthy colony: important personages, including Governor Sir Henry Barkly; Aboriginal peoples; life on the goldfields; the streets and principal buildings of Melbourne; the first exhibition building, erected in 1854 and modelled on London's Crystal Palace; the Oriental Bank in Queen Street, an elegant Greek temple that appeared to be floating in the Melbourne mud.
In common with other Australian cities, Melbourne in the following decades was a subject for the panoramic photograph. John Noone of the Crown Land and Surveys Office photographed the city from the tower of the residence of Dr FitzGerald in Lonsdale Street in 1869. Charles Bayliss (fl. 1870-1900) subsequently photographed the city from the newly erected tower of Government House in 1875. Melbourne's imposing Victoria Barracks and the spires of several of Melbourne's churches, somewhat dwarfed today, dominate the Bayliss panorama of 11 albumen silver photographs. Brothers William and Archibald Paterson (fl. 1858-93) chose a more central and established position for their photographs taken in the same year. On 17 May they ascended the spire of Scots' Church, built on one of the highest points of the city. Their endeavour echoed that of Samuel Jackson (1807-76), architect of the church, who made a panoramic pencil drawing from its walls, then under construction in 1841. The Paterson brothers' panorama shows a large and sprawling metropolis, with the suburbs of East Melbourne and Carlton visible in the distance. The photographers John William Lindt (1845-1926), Nicholas Caire (1837-1918), Charles Nettleton (1826-1902) and Charles Rudd (1849-1901) also documented the city's streets, buildings and nearby suburbs. All comprehensively photographed the city and suburbs in series showing educational and cultural institutions, hospitals and banks. By 1900 the advent of the 'Brownie' camera and the rise of the amateur photographer in part ended the necessity of purchasing these sets of photographs to send to distant relatives and friends.
In the first decades of the 20th century, art photography or pictorialism - photography that seemed to evoke an impression of its subject - rose to prominence. Languidly beautiful impressions of Melbourne by photographers such as John Kauffmann (1864-1942) encouraged the rise of photographic salons such as the Victorian Salon for Photography. These salons and societies provided exhibition spaces and support for a generation of gifted amateurs such as Sir Robert Gibson (1863-1934). Pictorialism was also embraced by portrait photographers May and Mina Moore, whose distinctive warm-toned portraits of leading theatrical and other personalities epitomised this style. W. Lucke-Meyer's Melbourne by night (Sydney 1934), a photographic essay accompanied by poet Basil Burdett's Melbourne nocturne, was a final late flowering, depicting a city of shadows and empty streets, beautiful and mysterious with a sinister edge.
The 1930s and 1940s saw the rise of industrial photographers such as the German-born photographer Wolfgang Sievers, an important practitioner of the sharp style of New Photography, who arrived in Melbourne in 1938. The commitment of Wolfgang Sievers (b. 1913) and émigré photographers such as Helmut Newton (1920-2004), Henry Talbot (1920-99) and Mark Strizic (b. 1928) to the New Photography contrasted sharply with the fogginess of pictorialism. Working alongside photographic agencies such as the Commercial Photographic Company and the aerial photographer Charles Daniel Pratt ('Airspy'), they documented Melbourne's growth as the manufacturing centre of Australia, photographing the city's factories, workers, machines and new buildings. Wolfgang Sievers' loving documentation of the landmark Equitable Building (later the Colonial Mutual Life Building, demolished in 1959) also showed the city's fall in the face of progress. Strizic bought a new perspective to well-documented subjects. His Melbourne: a portrait (1960), with text by architect David Saunders, captured Melbourne the persona, sitting as for a portrait. He constructed a photographic mosaic of the city, a portrait 'in the round': its people, its streets, familiar and forgotten corners as well as the constant feeling of movement mixed with a spirit of menace and alienation, the city as a friend to some and a harsh and menacing entity to others. Bill Henson's (b. 1955) images of city crowds take this idea of the loneliness and alienation of people in the glittering metropolis further, producing images that are of Melbourne but that could just as easily be of any other large city. Strizic's photographs contrasted with the earlier work of Jack Cato, an important photographer and author of The story of the camera in Australia (Melbourne, 1955), who produced the photographic essay Melbourne (Melbourne, 1949), in which he depicted a comfortable if slightly smug city of well-mannered streetscapes and buildings, captured just before the postwar building boom. Other photographs by Strizic and Sievers, taken in the wake of the Olympic Games, show a city of new glass office buildings, which disturbed the city's height limit and changed its streets forever.
In recent years, photographers Grant Hobson (b. 1965), Matthew Sleeth (b. 1972) and Mathias Heng (b. 1966), among others, have documented the human dimension of life in Melbourne, focusing on the city's workplaces and life on society's fringes. The literal physical form of the city is documented in the work of photographers such as John Gollings (b. 1944) and Ian Hill (b. 1962). Images of the CityLink road project, the glittering towers of the central city and residential projects on the city's outer fringes all add a contemporary dimension to the composite myriad image of Melbourne.