17
Sep
09

Review: ‘First Jobs’ by Tracey Moffatt at Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 7th August – 27th September 2009

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Tracey Moffat. 'First Jobs, Fruit Market' 1975

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Tracey Moffat
‘First Jobs, Fruit Market’
1975

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Tracey Moffat. 'First Jobs, Housekeeper' 1975

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Tracey Moffat
‘First Jobs, Housekeeper’
1975

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Tracey Moffat. 'First Jobs, Store Clerk' 1975

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Tracey Moffat
‘First Jobs, Store Clerk’
1975

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There are some wonderful bodies of photographic work on show around Melbourne at the moment and this is one of them.

Featuring twelve archival pigment on rice paper with gel medium prints, Tracey Moffatt’s series ‘First Jobs’ (2008) is a knockout. Images of the artist are inserted into found photographs which are then ‘hand coloured’ (like old postcards) in Photoshop. Moffatt’s series conceptualises the early jobs that she had to do to survive – investigating the banality of the jobs, the value of friendships that were formed coupled with an implicit understanding of the dictum ‘work is life’.

Moffatt’s images hark back to the White Australia policy of the 1950s and the home and living books of that period. With their hyper-real colours, strange coloured skies, green washing machines and purple tarmac Moffatt amps up the voltage of these images and subverts their idealisation. Here is the re-presentation of the physical and spatial isolation of the figure (store clerk/housekeeper) or the sublimation of the usually female figure into the amorphous mass of the whole (meat packing/pineapple cannery) in quintessentially Australian environments. Here also is comment on the nature of a patriarchal society – the smiling receptionist sitting under the portrait of her male boss, awaiting his command.

The spaces of these photographs seem to (literally) consume the artist and her remembrance of these jobs. Despite her smiling face in each of the images we implicitly understand the banality of the jobs for we have done them oursleves. We know these spaces intimately: the spaces inhabit us as much as we inhabit them. As the viewer we experience the being of these images, their reveberation, where the two kinds of space – the space of intimacy and the world space – blend.1

The only sour note of the series comes not in the work itself but in the accompanying artist statement (see below). In this churlish expose of the ‘woe is me, I’m a full time artist and isn’t it so difficult to be a full time artist’ variety, Moffatt complains about the miserable voices in her head and about having to get up off the couch because she is the only person able to make the work and the money. Oh to be so lucky to actually make a living as a full time artist and have the time and space to be creative 7 days a week! Would I have her situation anytime soon? Ha, um, yes.”

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Tracey Moffat. 'First Jobs, Corner Store' 1977

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Tracey Moffat
‘First Jobs, Corner Store’
1977

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tracey Moffat. First Jobs, Receptionist 1977

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Tracey Moffat
‘First Jobs, Receptionist’
1977

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Tracey Moffat. 'First Jobs, Meat Packing' 1978

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Tracey Moffat
‘First Jobs, Meat Packing’
1978

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“Over the years my friends and I joke about our dreadful past jobs. Jobs we worked as teenagers and young students. Awful jobs that we would rather forget about such as cleaning out the local cinema after a screening of The Exorcist in 1974.

When I was a kid I always had jobs and I always made my own money whether it was receiving a dollar for pulling up the weeds in the yard or baby sitting for neighbours or working at the local green grocers. The thing about making a bit of your own cash was that you could buy your own clothes and not have to wear the clothes that your mother picked out.

In 1978 at seventeen I worked in factories peeling pineapples. I also packed meat and shelled prawns. Such back breaking labour was exhausting but the money was good.  After one year I saved enough money to travel to Europe and backpacked around for nine months. Then in 1980 I went to art school in Brisbane but continued part-time work as a waitress to pay for art materials.

After art school I was desperate for money to pay the rent and I worked many jobs. Some were: scrubbing floors in a women’s refuge, washing dishes in a canteen and parking cars in a car park beneath a restaurant called Dirty Dicks (I had no driver’s licence, but the patrons were always drunk and didn’t care.)

I am resentful and appalled at the work I had to do to survive. I hold a grudge towards rich kids who never had to slave like I did. Secretly though I’m proud of myself. When I think of those early years I realize that I was learning to be tough and work whether I liked it or not. I put my head down and was forced to be productive. I was learning how to get on with other people and learning to handle a boss. These days I do nothing but make art and have exhibitions. Being an artist feels like being on a permanent but jittery holiday in comparison to those early working days. Now I sleep in until 9.30am and press the ‘ignore’ button on my phone if I don’t feel like talking to anyone. But, as Bette Davis put it, it is ‘The Lonely Life’. You have come up with the ideas and make them happen. No-one else is going to do it for you.

But I remember the good things about the factory floor. Walking into work everyday and saying hi to people you knew, there was a camaraderie. The work was mindless but it didn’t mean that your mind couldn’t go places. Then there was knock-off time. The bell would ring and you would be out the door with a wad of cash in your hand and not a care in the world.

In being a full-time artist there never is any knock-off time. There’s always a nagging, miserable voice of ideas in your head and you MUST get up off the sofa and produce work. The bell never rings and you never know where your next buck is coming from. Your mind is constantly wound up. You’re never really physically tired not like when you had a real honest job. But would I go back to working in a factory just to get good a night’s sleep? Ha, um, no.”

Tracey Moffatt, 
New York 2008

Press release from Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

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Tracey Moffat. 'First Jobs, Pineapple Cannery' 1978

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Tracey Moffat
‘First Jobs, Pineapple Cannery’
1978

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Tracey Moffat. 'First Jobs, Parking Cars' 1981

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Tracey Moffat
‘First Jobs, Parking Cars’
1981

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Tracey Moffat. 'First Jobs, Canteen' 1984

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Tracey Moffat
‘First Jobs, Canteen’
1984

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1. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969, p.203.

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Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
Tel: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours: Wednesday–Saturday, 11am–6pm
Sunday, 1pm–5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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4 Responses to “Review: ‘First Jobs’ by Tracey Moffatt at Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy, Melbourne”


  1. 1 jacqui
    August 21, 2011 at 9:15 am

    really innovative, interesting idea for photographic art. you pulled it off too, looks amazing, and leaves you remembering your first jobs..

  2. August 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Generally I don’t learn article on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very pressured me to check out and do it! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, very great post.

  3. September 19, 2009 at 3:15 am

    thanks for posting these images – hope to see show this weekend…


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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