Archive for the 'Australian artist' Category

24
Aug
15

Exhibition: ‘The view from here: The photographic world of Alfred Elliott 1890-1940’ at the Museum of Brisbane

Exhibition dates: 13 February – 30 August 2015

 

This is more like it… what a find!

There are some fascinating punctum (which denote the wounding, personally touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within the image), contained among this recently discovered treasure trove of photographs by Alfred Elliott.

At first, what looks like a real dog is actually a toy sitting in front of Alfred Goldsbrough Elliott, Stanley Terrace, Taringa (1908). And then you notice the hard-nosed stare of the little girl in Dorothy Elliott (1911). She is not a happy camper. Then the scruffy, bare-footed urchin in ‘Welcome to Brisbane’ arch, Queen Street (1895). Or the unhappy woman staring directly into the camera in Grand Arch, Queen Street, visit of the Duke of York (1901), as though her thoughts are being transmitted to us from beyond the grave. And finally, to the two young, blurred children running in front of a white picket fence in Windmill, Wickham Terrace (1895), the smaller of the children noticing the photographer and camera and looking towards both. Just a joy!

And don’t forget, all of these early photographs were taken with a large plate camera (the photographs after 1921 were taken with a film camera and have a totally different feel to them). For an artist to obtain the street photographs and potraits out in the field with this type of camera is superb. Just look at the image Members of the QLD League of Wheelmen, Wellington Point (1897). You can tell the personality of every individual in this image through the clarity, not just of the image but of the thought of the photographer, before he exposed his plate. It is so Australian in its iconography, it could come from nowhere else in the world. This photograph deserves to be up there with one of the seminal images of Australian photography.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thanks to the Museum of Brisbane for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

The view from here: The photographic world of Alfred Elliott 1890-1940

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Brisbane Botanic Gardens, near the Edward Street entrance' 1895

 

Alfred Elliott
Brisbane Botanic Gardens, near the Edward Street entrance
1895
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Brisbane, from the Windmill' 1895

 

Alfred Elliott
Brisbane, from the Windmill
1895
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Aborigines fishing in the Maroochy River' 1890

 

Alfred Elliott
Aborigines fishing in the Maroochy River
1890
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Central Railway Station, from Edward Street' 1922

 

Alfred Elliott
Central Railway Station, from Edward Street
1922
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. ''Citizens' Welcome' arch, Queen Street' 1927

 

Alfred Elliott
‘Citizens’ Welcome’ arch, Queen Street
1927
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. ''Citizens' Welcome' arch, Queen Street' 1927 (detail)

 

Alfred Elliott
‘Citizens’ Welcome’ arch, Queen Street (detail)
1927
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

 

“Museum of Brisbane’s latest exhibition offers an amazing visual portrait of a lost city – Brisbane at the turn of the 20th century – through a rare collection of photographs, all shot by a single resident and left forgotten under an inner-city house for decades. The view from here: The photographic world of Alfred Elliott 1890-1940 showcases the life’s work of the avid Brisbane-based photographer, offering a fascinating chronicle of the places he visited, major events he witnessed and intimate glimpses into his family life.

The historic collection of glass-plate and film negatives remained stored in cigar boxes under a house in Red Hill until they were uncovered in 1983 and acquired by Museum of Brisbane. For the past 30 years ‘The Elliott Collection’ was thought to comprise 285 glass plate negatives, until a neglected cigar box with more than 400 film negatives was uncovered at the Museum’s storage facility last year. This significant discovery has allowed the Museum to further piece together fragments of the passionate amateur photographer’s past. The collection provides a window into both his life and the life of a quickly changing city.

Elliott’s work also captures significant moments in Brisbane’s history, including the Duke and Duchess of York’s visit in 1901 and the farewell of the troops aboard SS Cornwall from Pinkenba in 1899. Museum of Brisbane Director Peter Denham said the collection was an exceptional record of one man’s perspective of Brisbane at a very exciting time.

“These unseen photographs offer a unique view of Brisbane at a significant turning point – the city’s population was booming, grand civic structures were erected and huge social change was occurring,” Mr Denham said. “The interactive elements of The view from here offer visitors the chance to get up close with buildings from our past, as well as investigate the photographic technology from the turn of last century.”

“With the discovery of hundreds of new photos, we have learned a lot about Elliott and his family and were even able to locate his much-loved home in Taringa. It is part of our mission as the city’s museum to uncover new stories and we are thrilled to share these findings with visitors. The exhibition wonderfully captures how much our city has changed and I think it will encourage people to reflect on their own perceptions of Brisbane.” The view from here will run until 30 August 2015.”

Press release from the Museum of Brisbane website

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Dorothy Elliott, Amy Lock, Mrs Lock and Elizabeth Ellen Elliott' Nd

 

Alfred Elliott
Dorothy Elliott, Amy Lock, Mrs Lock and Elizabeth Ellen Elliott
Nd
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Elizabeth Ellen Elliott w the Dillon sisters Mary, Clare, Margo' Nd

 

Alfred Elliott
Elizabeth Ellen Elliott w the Dillon sisters Mary, Clare, Margo
Nd
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Government House, George Street' 1908

 

Alfred Elliott
Government House, George Street
1908
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott, 'Maroochy' 1890

 

Alfred Elliott
Maroochy
1890
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott, 'Maroochy' 1890 (detail)

 

Alfred Elliott
Maroochy (detail)
1890
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Members of the QLD League of Wheelmen, Wellington Point' 1897

 

Alfred Elliott
Members of the QLD League of Wheelmen, Wellington Point
1897
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

 

“The first shipment of tricycles arrived in Brisbane in 1870 and the first race is reported to have been between a cyclist and a Cobb and Co coach from Brisbane to Sandgate. No official timing was recorded.

The initial Brisbane Bicycle Club meeting was held in 1881 at the Belle Vue Hotel. High wheel bicycles including the Penny Farthing were the only bikes available and novelty Penny Farthing races were held in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens where more riders fell off than stayed on. By 1886 Brisbane had 200 bicycles and 50 of these were used for racing…

The first Queensland championship was held at the Breakfast Creek Sports Ground in 1891 and was won by Lou Isles. Isles also rode long distance, riding from Brisbane to Sydney in 1891 a 700 mile trek which he completed in 7 days. Imported bicycles cost £30 although local bicycles could be bought for two pound ten. Successful Queensland riders of the day included Ben Goodsen, Billy Dowd and Percy Davies.

In 1895 a record of 1 hour 2 minutes and 10 seconds was set by George Stombaco for a 34 kilometre race over rough dirt roads from Brisbane and Cleveland. That same year, The League of Queensland Wheelmen held a Christmas Carnival with over 8000 attendees. Brisbane wasn’t the only town with a club as Maryborough, Townsville, Ipswich and Rockhampton also had successful clubs.”

Karen Hind. “Cycling in Queensland.” 18 July 2011 [Online] Cited 19/08/2015.

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Treasury Building, William Street' 1895

 

Alfred Elliott
Treasury Building, William Street
1895
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Victoria Bridge, decorated for the Duke of York' 1901

 

Alfred Elliott
Victoria Bridge, decorated for the Duke of York
1901
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Victoria Bridge, decorated for the Duke of York' 1901 (detail)

 

Alfred Elliott
Victoria Bridge, decorated for the Duke of York (detail)
1901
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

 

“The images chronicle a broad range of Elliott’s life – from private moments with friends on family trips and picnics at the Glasshouse Mountains to key moments in Brisbane’s history such as the construction of Central Railway Station in 1899 and the visit from the Duke and Duchess of York in 1901. Images were captured in locations including Mt Coot-tha, the city’s Botanic Gardens, Tweeds Heads just south of the border and the Moreton Bay Region – all undertaken by train, bus, boat, car and possibly even by horse and bicycle.

Curator Phil Manning, who discovered the last cigar box, said it was evident from the body of work that Elliott was proud of his city.

“He documented the city by walking the streets and going on travels with his family,” Mr Manning said. “He had a strong connection to the British Empire, that was probably the area he was most drawn to documenting … royal visits and the Queensland troops going off to the Boer War. But he’s also photographed Brisbane’s new buildings and structures such as the bridges that went up following the 1893 flood.”

Elliot’s first photographs were dated 1890 and captured on dry-plate glass negatives, including both single image and stereograph negatives. They were a mixture of amateur and professionally produced plates. Elliot used glass plates until 1921 when it appeared he changed to a camera with film.

Very little was known about Alfred Henrie Elliott. He was born in Paignton in England in 1870 and was the youngest of seven children. His family came to Queensland when he was seven years old, with his father taking up post as principal of Humpybong Primary School in Redcliffe, north of Brisbane. Elliott was known to have worked in Brisbane as a civil servant in a variety of roles. His working life also included jobs as a law clerk, professional shorthand writer and a bank clerk.

Patrick Williams and Maria Hatzakis. “Uncovered glass plates and film negatives capturing 50 years of Brisbane’s history go on display,” on the ABC News website, 10 Feb 2015 [Online] Cited on 19/08/2015.

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Eight hour day procession on Queen Street in Brisbane city' 1893

 

Alfred Elliott
Eight hour day procession on Queen Street in Brisbane city
1893
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Alfred Goldsbrough Elliott, Stanley Terrace, Taringa' 1908

 

Alfred Elliott
Alfred Goldsbrough Elliott, Stanley Terrace, Taringa
1908
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Dorothy Elliott' 1911

 

Alfred Elliott
Dorothy Elliott
1911
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Dorothy Elliott' 1911 (detail)

 

Alfred Elliott
Dorothy Elliott (detail)
1911
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Grand Arch, Queen Street, visit of the Duke of York' 1901

 

Alfred Elliott
Grand Arch, Queen Street, visit of the Duke of York
1901
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Grand Arch, Queen Street, visit of the Duke of York' 1901 (detail)

 

Alfred Elliott
Grand Arch, Queen Street, visit of the Duke of York (detail)
1901
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Picnic party on Brisbane River at Seventeen Mile Rocks' 1898

 

Alfred Elliott
Picnic party on Brisbane River at Seventeen Mile Rocks
1898
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Picnic party on Brisbane River at Seventeen Mile Rocks' 1898 (detail)

 

Alfred Elliott
Picnic party on Brisbane River at Seventeen Mile Rocks (detail)
1898
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Queen Street, Brisbane' 1899

 

Alfred Elliott
Queen Street, Brisbane
1899
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Treasury Building, Queen and William Street' 1901

 

Alfred Elliott
Treasury Building, Queen and William Street
1901
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. ''Welcome to Brisbane' arch, Queen Street' 1920

 

Alfred Elliott
‘Welcome to Brisbane’ arch, Queen Street
1920
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. ''Welcome to Brisbane' arch, Queen Street' 1920 (detail)

 

Alfred Elliott
‘Welcome to Brisbane’ arch, Queen Street (detail)
1920
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Windmill, Wickham Terrace' 1895

 

Alfred Elliott
Windmill, Wickham Terrace
1895
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Windmill, Wickham Terrace' 1895 (detail)

 

Alfred Elliott
Windmill, Wickham Terrace (detail)
1895
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Alfred Henry Elliott (1870 - 1954)' 1899

 

Alfred Elliott
Alfred Henry Elliott (1870 – 1954)
1899
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

Alfred Elliott. 'Elizabeth Ellen Elliott and Alfred Elliott' 1899

 

Alfred Elliott
Elizabeth Ellen Elliott and Alfred Elliott
1899
City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane

 

 

Museum of Brisbane

Museum of Brisbane is located on Level 3, Brisbane City Hall (Adelaide and Ann Street, Brisbane QLD)

Opening hours:
Open 7 days a week, 10am -“ 5pm

Museum of Brisbane website

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12
Aug
15

Exhibition: ‘Crowd Source’ at the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 4th April – 23rd August 2015

 

There is an almost Dickensian mellow dramatic feel to some of these 1880s-1900 albumen photographs by Sydney photographer Arthur K. Syer.

While the photographs offer a unique point of view (low down by the waist) of Victorian era Sydney, you get the feeling that Syer was more interested in the fact that his camera was hidden, and the game he was playing to get these photographs, than in the visual construction of the images themselves.

The best of them are photographs – such as Hawker haggling with customers, with its links to the photography of Atget, and crowd scenes like Men in street, where the different poses of the men and the rising and falling of the six items of headgear – which offer a rhythmic consideration and interest that other photographs in the posting lack.

The gem in this group of images is the outstanding Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W. Again, it is the attitude and rhythm of the protagonists within the image frame that makes this diorama so engaging. The man at left looks away from us with his back to the camera, while above him a man stands in the tram perpendicular to him, giving a nice play to the space between the tram carriages. Three people in alternating dark and light hats wait patiently for a old biddie to descend from the open door of the tram, the man holding on to the hand rail of the tram ready to pull himself up, just as everyone still does on old trams in Melbourne to this day. Above on the top deck sits a young man staring straight at the camera (without knowing it is there), with his legs crossed in a most unusual and uncomfortable way.

Below him to the right a gent in a bowler hat talks with his wife, cigar stuck in his mouth. His facial outline, lit by the sun, is echoed in the darkness of the interior of the tram by another man with a beard and hat sitting in shadow. In front of this husband and wife is a son with his mother / grandmother – she, clutching her bag in heavy tassel-fringed cloak, protecting herself with umbrella against the sun – he, in long gents morning coat and hat looking very dapper. It must be mid afternoon by the length of the shadows cast by the sun. To the right of this pair is an older, heavy set man with great beard and hat, looking out of the image to the right. His gaze is cut across by a man sitting in the tram, all darkness and outline, beard and hat, looking out onto the scene from the interior. Finally, to ground the foreground of the image, there is a mother and daughter at bottom right of the image, with the small child clutching at the mother’s dress.

The characters in this Dickens play rise and fall from left to right. They wash over you in their happenstance, frozen interaction. It is a superbly constructed image. Interesting as they are in their own vernacular way, it just makes the other images in this posting seem rather, well, prosaic.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to the State Library of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'George Street, The Rocks' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
George Street, The Rocks
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'George Street, The Rocks' c. 1880s - 1900 (detail)

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
George Street, The Rocks (detail)
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Argyle Cut, The Rocks' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Argyle Cut, The Rocks
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Martin Place near the GPO Colonnade' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Martin Place near the GPO Colonnade
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Devonshire and Chalmers Streets near Central Station' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Devonshire and Chalmers Streets near Central Station
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W. (detail) c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W.
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W.' (detail) c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W. (detail)
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W.' (detail) c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W. (detail)
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W.' (detail) c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Forest Lodge double decker steam tram stopped on Elizabeth Street near Supreme Court N.S.W. (detail)
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

 

“Some of the world’s earliest street photographs, capturing many previously unseen views of Sydney from the 1880s will go on public display for the first time in a new exhibition opening at the State Library of NSW, from Saturday 4 April. Crowd Source presents over 50 rare snapshots of Sydneysiders and Sydney’s bustling streets secretly taken with the world’s first hand‐held camera – branded the ‘Detective Camera’ – by amateur local photographer Arthur Syer.

“Arthur Syer took candid photographs of ordinary people in everyday situations which he supplied to illustrators to use as ‘source material’ to help them create a life-like quality and characters in their drawings,” says exhibition co-curator Margot Riley. “Syer’s distinctive low angle photographs evocatively capture the buzz of 1880s Sydney showing the shoe-shiners and fruit sellers, road workers, transport deliveries and barrow shopping, queues at Circular Quay, children playing, shipping and scenes at the horses races,” said Ms Riley.

Syer crossed into the publishing industry through his artist brother Walter, who introduced him to internationally renowned English cartoonist, Phil May. Invited to Sydney by The Bulletin in 1885, May often used Syer’s images to add authenticity to the backgrounds for his illustrations, for example drawings of people at the racecourse.

When the hand‐held camera was introduced in Australia in the mid‐1880s “it became a craze much like the smart phone or selfie stick of today, with photographs for the first time being able to be taken quickly and unnoticed,” said Ms Riley. The camera resembled “a square case… disguised as a … shoeblack’s box, or even a book. The operator places it upon the ground, or under his arm, the pressure of the pneumatic ball opening or closing the hidden lens at the required moment.” (The Sydney Mail, 2 July 1881).

No skill was required to operate the Detective Camera, signalling the beginning of mass photography. It used dry plate negatives – commercialised by George Eastman of Kodak fame – which were available over the counter at photography shops where negatives could be taken for developing and printing.

“This new technology, which also saw the introduction of other novelties like the ‘vest camera’ and ‘watch camera’, triggered debate around issues of privacy which led to the passing of new privacy laws in America,” says Ms Riley. “Manners and rules around candid photography continue to be a hot topic today.”

The State Library holds over 170 original Arthur Syer photographs – the most extensive collection of early Australian street photography known to exist. With the help of the Flickr community the Library has been able to label many of the images in the collection.

Crowd Source is a free exhibition at the State Library of NSW from 4 April to 23 August 2015. #1880Sydney @statelibrarynsw”

Press release from the State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Tram, West Crescent St., North Sydney' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Tram, West Crescent St., North Sydney
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Tram, West Crescent St., North Sydney' (detail) c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Tram, West Crescent St., North Sydney (detail)
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Pyrmont Bridge looking across to City' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Pyrmont Bridge looking across to City
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Circular Quay near First Fleet Park' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Circular Quay near First Fleet Park
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Children crowd around a ladder' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Children crowd around a ladder
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Children crowd around a ladder' (detail) c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Children crowd around a ladder (detail)
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Royal Exchange Building in Bridge Street' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Royal Exchange Building in Bridge Street
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Men in street' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Men in street
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Hawker haggling with customers' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Hawker haggling with customers
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935) 'Shoe shiner with customer' c. 1880s - 1900

 

Arthur K. Syer (d. 1935)
Shoe shiner with customer
c. 1880s – 1900
Albumen print
From an album of Sydney street life, harbour and beach scenes, domestic animals
81 photographs in album: 15.2 x 20.4 cm or smaller

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

 

State Library of New South Wales
Macquarie Street, Sydney
NSW 2000 Australia
T: +61 2 9273 1414

Opening hours:
Monday – Friday 9 am – 5 pm
Saturday – Sunday 10 am – 5 pm

State Library of New South Wales website

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09
Aug
15

Exhibition: ‘John Wolseley – Heartlands and Headwaters’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 11th April – 16th August 2015

 

This is a wondrous exhibition by John Wolseley at NGV Australia. The whole feeling of the exhibition, its scale and intimacy, the attention to detail and the sheer the beauty of the work is quite outstanding. I was fascinated with the text descriptions the artist gives with each piece of work, included here in the posting.

While Wolseley plays with time (deep time, shallow time and now time) and space here it is more than that, for deep time (or “the zone” in the alternative parlance of athletes) is also used in artistic activity to refer to the experience of being lost in the act of creation or the consumption of a work. To the viewer, so it would seem here for we become lost in the art of creation. There is a sense of timelessness, the experience of unusual freedom within time, an unawareness of time, within Wolseley’s work, yet still grounded in the past and present, flowing into the future of this planet. This sense of place, context, space and time(lessness) are lucidly resolved in the artist’s work.

As the Introduction to the exhibition states, Wolseley conceives the exhibition as gesamtkunstwerk , a total work of art, presenting new possibilities for understanding landscape in the twenty-first century. This generally works well in revealing the unique, dynamic processes of natural ecosystems when the work is on the wall. However, the floor of the gallery (natural timber boards) lessened the experience of the “total work of art” for me. If you are designing an exhibition that would seem to me to be immersive (to some extent) then the work needed more grounding than it contains here.

This is a minor observation in an otherwise superlative exhibition. The colours, the sensitivity of the painting, the flow of the images, water, music, prose… are a narrative almost like a fable if the issues were not so real. The heightened imagery and emotional effects of the work make us truly aware that now is the time for action. The future development of the new coal power stations must be stopped. Renewable energy is the energy of the future as much as it is light emanating from the past.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart.

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

 

“Over the past four years, John Wolseley has travelled and painted throughout the Australian continent. He has journeyed from the swamps of the Tasmanian high country to the coastal flood plains of the tropical north, exploring the nature and action of water and how it has shaped the land.

Wolseley has worked on site beside strange and diverse wetlands – sphagnum bogs, ephemeral waterholes, bilabongs and mangrove swamps – and combined his own distinctive mark-making processes with more traditional watercolour techniques. He has ‘collaborated’ with plants, birds and insects and used a range of drawing systems that includes frottaging (rubbing against) burnt trees, burying papers in snad and swamps and nature printing from leaves, wood and rocks.

The artist’s layered and collaged papers have been assembled as an installation in the shape of a giant branching tree, surrounded by large-scale works which enclose the viewer in an immersive environment. Wolseley has rejected European landscape conventions that often reduce a complex, living system to a static and generalised representation. Instead, he endeavours to reveal the unique, dynamic processes of natural ecosystems. Conceived as gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), Heartlands and headwaters presents new possibilities for understanding landscape in the twenty-first century.”

Introduction text to the exhibition

 

John Wolseley. 'History of the Whipstick Forest with ephemeral swamps and gold bearing reefs' 2011

 

John Wolseley
History of the Whipstick Forest with ephemeral swamps and gold bearing reefs (detail)
2011
Watercolour, charcoal and pencil on 2 sheets (a-b)
233.5 x 286.6 cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

One summer’s day I walked from my studio into the forest and followed a dry creek to some swamps and pools bursting with life. This arid landscape, so torn up and churned over, was still miraculously reinventing itself. Such resilience!

In this drawing I bring together the histories of three kinds of time: the ‘deep time’ of geology, ‘shallow time’ since European arrival, and ‘now time’ in October 2011. The history of the hidden workings of the earth I stole from a geologist’s map. Resting on this ancient framework in the painting’s centre is the green swamp. Above this is another map, which tells the story of William Johnson, a visitor to this forest 160 years ago, whose discovery of gold was the birth of the Bendigo goldfields.

When I was working on this painting, this bush was burnt in line with the government’s draconian legislation to burn all public bushland in Victoria every ten years. This often gives no time for vegetation to mature and seed, and biodiversity in certain fire-sensitive ecologies is being ravaged. My reverence for nature’s resilience was moved to a sense of deep chagrin that yet again we are destroying the matrix which is our home.

 

John Wolseley. 'Regeneration after fire - the seeders and the sprouters, Mallee' (detail)  2009-11

 

John Wolseley
Regeneration after fire – the seeders and the sprouters, Mallee (detail)
2009-11
Watercolour, charcoal, pencil and pigment
152.2 x 256.7 cm irreg.
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

I went for a long walk through recently burnt mallee scrub in the Big Desert Wilderness Park. Some of the mallee roots had vivid amber, scarlet and mauve new growth exploding from the surviving stumps. Nearby were scatterings of tiny, bright banksia seedlings that had germinated after the fire, causing seed pods to burst open and expel their seeds. Botanists call such trees ‘seeders’, while their companions, the mallee eucalypts, are known as ‘sprouters’. Sprouters have a large root, known as a lignotuber, which stores water and nutrients – this is part of a brilliant strategy for survival in arid landscapes.

 

John Wolseley. 'From Siberia to Roebuck Bay - the godwits reach the mangrove swamps, WA' (detail) 2012

 

John Wolseley
From Siberia to Roebuck Bay – the godwits reach the mangrove swamps, WA (detail)
2012
Watercolour over pencil, charcoal and coloured chalk
151.9 x 199.0 cm irreg. Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

Each year in June the bar-tailed godwits fly 12,000 kilometres from their breeding grounds in Siberia to the north coast of Australia. I was standing by the sea on the north Kimberley coast when out of a clear sky the godwits arrived in vast, pulsing flocks that swooped down to rest on the mudflats. The land, with its mudflats and sandbanks, had been formed by the great king tides, dragged for eons by the cycles of the moon. And now I could see these great tides of godwit, pulled by another powerful force, flow down and merge with the waters.

 

John Wolseley. 'Natural history of swamps III, heron in swamp - Loy Yang Power Station' (detail) 2009-10

 

John Wolseley
Natural history of swamps III, heron in swamp – Loy Yang Power Station (detail)
2009-10
Watercolour, pencil, ink, black chalk, scratching out and leaf
114.0 x 176.0 cm
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

I was looking at a dam in the grounds of the Loy Yang Power Station, when in flew a black-backed heron. It looked for fish in the water and then peered at a billboard declaring ‘Hazelwood Power Station – WETLAND DEVELOPMENT PROJECT’. I walked down to the vast open-cut coalmine, and looked for fish fossils and Cryptogamic flora among the seams of coal. Then I returned to the heron, which now seemed to be looking at the steam and CO2 belching out of the cooling towers – those clouds of CO2 that came from the coal which was once a carboniferous swamp.

 

 

“For four years, artist John Wolseley has roamed the coastal floodplains of the Northern Territory through to the glacial lakes of Tasmania, exploring and recording in exquisite detail the diverse wetlands of Australia. The works he has created will be revealed at NGV Australia.

This series of eighteen evocative works on paper, many of them monumental in scale (up to 10 metres in size), detail the geographical features and unique plants and animals of these wetlands in works characterised by minutely- observed drawing and rich watercolour washes.

Many works combine collage and unusual markings made through burying works or hoisting large sheets of paper across the charred remains of burnt tree trunks and branches. Through this ‘collaboration’ with the natural environment, Wolseley subverts traditional approaches to the depiction of landscape and seeking to give the natural world a more active presence in the work of art.

‘Heartlands and Headwaters celebrates Australia’s unique and diverse natural environment,’ said Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV. ‘Wolseley’s work is not only of great beauty, but also demonstrates how depicting the landscape has become an important form of activism’.

The mangrove swamps of Roebuck Bay in Western Australia, the flood plains of the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory, the Finke River in the Simpson Desert and the sphagnum swamps of Skullbone Plains in central Tasmania are just some of the sites detailed in these impressive works.

Commissioned by Sir Roderick Carnegie AC, these works celebrate the beauty of the Australian wilderness and encourage an understanding of the significance and environmental fragility of these remote and little-known sites.

 

About John Wolseley

Born in England in 1938, John Wolseley immigrated to Australia in 1976 and has gained recognition in the past four decades as one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists whose work engages passionately with the environment.

Over the years Wolseley has travelled extensively throughout the country, into the arid interior and remote wilderness areas in all states, camping out for extended periods and immersing himself in the landscape.

This approach is reflected in the distinctly non-traditional character of the landscape works Wolseley produces. Instead of presenting a single overarching view of a particular site they are composite images that combine precisely observed details of flora and fauna. Informed by readings in geology, biology, cartography and other disciplines, these provide multiple perspectives on the location’s topography, journal notations and observations of natural cycles or patterns of the area.”

Press release from the NGV website

 

John Wolseley. 'Murray-Sunset refugia with 14 ventifacts' 2008-10

 

John Wolseley
Murray-Sunset refugia with 14 ventifacts
2008-10
From The Great Tree of Drawings 1959-2015, installed 2015
Pencil, watercolour and charcoal on 15 sheets (a-o)
Dimensions variable (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

John Wolseley Murray-Sunset refugia with 14 ventifacts (detail) 2008-10

John Wolseley Murray-Sunset refugia with 14 ventifacts (detail) 2008-10

 

John Wolseley
Murray-Sunset refugia with 14 ventifacts (details)
2008-10
From The Great Tree of Drawings 1959-2015, installed 2015
Pencil, watercolour and charcoal on 15 sheets (a-o)
Dimensions variable (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

This work was made in the Murray-Sunset National Park, where I found an island of unburnt scrub remaining after a bushfire. This refugium, or sanctuary, provided shelter for plants and small creatures from which they could later gradually recolonise the surrounding sand dunes. The small, flying sheets are papers I released to blow on the desert winds for weeks and sometimes months. Each sheet records carbon traces made by the burnt fingers of trees and shrubs. Having been made soft from dews and showers, and dried and tossed by the desert winds, they have become fixed in a variety of sculptural forms.

 

John Wolseley. 'Natural history of a sphagnum bog, Lake Ina, Tasmania' 2013

 

John Wolseley
Natural history of a sphagnum bog, Lake Ina, Tasmania
2013
Watercolour, pencil, pen and ink, and sphagnum on 8 sheets (a-h)
155.6 x 407.6 cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

John Wolseley. 'Natural history of a sphagnum bog, Lake Ina, Tasmania' (detail) 2013

John Wolseley. 'Natural history of a sphagnum bog, Lake Ina, Tasmania' (detail) 2013

John Wolseley. 'Natural history of a sphagnum bog, Lake Ina, Tasmania' (detail) 2013

 

John Wolseley
Natural history of a sphagnum bog, Lake Ina, Tasmania (details)
2013
Watercolour, pencil, pen and ink, and sphagnum on 8 sheets (a-h)
155.6 x 407.6 cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

As a creek moves down to the shores of Lake Ina in the central highlands of Tasmania, it swells out into an ancient sphagnum moss swamp. I leant over and peered into a gap between the mats of sphagnum, and a small fish emerged in the crystal water. This brief phantom – a Clarence galaxias – was only miraculously there because its ancestors had been isolated by a glacial moraine (ridge) upstream, which six million years later had saved it from the European trout, which had supplanted most of the other galaxias in the rest of Tasmania. And then, marvellously, it had been saved again by the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, which had purchased these plains to protect them from further loss and degradation.

As the grey shadows moved down the hill and melted into the lake, I soaked and painted the spongy sphagnum mats with tinctures of watercolour – viridian and crimson and Indian yellow – and laid them on several sheets of paper. I did the same with water milfoils, spike reed, tassel sedges and bladderwort, and weighted them down overnight with slabs of bark. Their images were imprinted on the paper, emerging slowly like a photograph being developed.

 

John Wolseley. 'From the edge of the great flood plains of Garrangari and Garrangalli, NT' 2012-14

 

John Wolseley
From the edge of the great flood plains of Garrangari and Garrangalli, NT
2012-14
Pencil, charcoal, black and brown chalk, watercolour, coloured pencil, coloured pastel, frottage and collages of linocut, wood relief printed in black and brown ink, watercolour, charcoal and coloured pencil over pencil and pen and ink on Japanese and wove paper
155.5 x 961.7 cm irreg.
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

In June 2011 I was standing on the edge of the monsoon rainforest bordering a vast flood plain in East Arnhem Land with Djambawa Marawili, the great Yolngu leader and artist. Djambawa recounted how in the dawn of creation ancestral figures had moved up from the coast, digging for edible roots as they went, creating springs of fresh water that still bubble out along the plains. He described how when the first sun came up these ancestor women turned into brolga cranes. As he sang the song several brolgas emerged from the mists and flew slowly towards the coast.

This was the originary moment of this painting. For the next three years, guided by the Dhudi-Djapu clan leader and artist Mulkun Wirrpanda, I collected and drew specimens of plants and trees of the flood plain, and their edible roots and tubers. In the painting I have drawn many of them, along with the various trees festooned with vines.

For me the great miracle of that morning rested in that moment of time – being there, seeing the living land and sensing the ‘deep time’ so intimately linked with the life and art of the people who have lived in it for so long.

 

John Wolseley. 'A Daly River creek, NT' 2012

 

John Wolseley
A Daly River creek, NT
2012
Watercolour, pastel, pencil, charcoal, ink, yellow pencil and collage of woodcut and linocut on Japanese paper (a-c)
152.0 x 602.0 cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

John Wolseley. 'A Daly River creek, NT' (detail) 2012

 

John Wolseley
A Daly River creek, NT (detail)
2012
Watercolour, pastel, pencil, charcoal, ink, yellow pencil and collage of woodcut and linocut on Japanese paper (a-c)
152.0 x 602.0 cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

Here is a flowing tropical creek near Nauiyu, about two hours’ drive south of Darwin. It shows the fecund, flowing mass of life and aquatic plants and fish, and how they are all an integral part of one particular ecosystem. The plants were all drawn on the spot or collected and drawn later in Darwin. It was May 2012 and I went on several trips with the ethnobiologist Glenn Wightman, the Ngan’gi elder Patricia Marrfurra McTaggart AM and other artists from the arts centre at Nauiyu. They showed me the plants in their living habitat so that I could draw them in action, rather than as dried museum specimens – the Nymphaea waterlily, with its long, convulsive stems, several species of bladderwort, water chestnuts and duckweed.

In this tropical aquatic painting I have tried to show how landscape for me is made up of energy fields that I draw as passages of particular plant forms, in which the individual plants move or dance with different rhythms. My intention is to show how these rafts of different species weave in and out of one another, and across the surface of my painting, rather as a passage of a symphony changes key and mood.

 

John Wolseley. 'Cycles of fire and water - Lake Tyrrell, Victoria' 2011-12

 

John Wolseley
Cycles of fire and water – Lake Tyrrell, Victoria
2011-12
Watercolour, charcoal, pencil, sponging and scratching out on 2 sheets (a-b)
154.0 x 610.0 cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

John Wolseley. 'Cycles of fire and water - Lake Tyrrell, Victoria' (detail) 2011-12

 

John Wolseley
Cycles of fire and water – Lake Tyrrell, Victoria (detail)
2011-12
Watercolour, charcoal, pencil, sponging and scratching out on 2 sheets (a-b)
154.0 x 610.0 cm (overall)
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

I was sitting on a low sandbank and drawing the pools of water that lay on this ancient salt lake. A rust-coloured cloud erupted into the air and darkened the sky over the water. The wind grew stronger, as if emanating from the core of the fire, and it carried embers and burning branches like dismembered limbs. I felt a kind of disquiet, almost dread. I knew such fires had always been part of the natural cycles of the bush, but this was one of several I had experienced that season where it felt as if fire itself was behaving in a different, more erratic way; as if the subtle equilibrium of the climate was changing.

From out of the billowing clouds of smoke some spoonbills, ibis and cormorants emerged, and flew far out over the lake. Several of them alighted on a patch of sunlit water and remained there, as if illustrating some cycle of eternal return – from action to stillness, from noise to quiet. But as I watched, the great black cloud drifted over their resting place, moving them on as if they were being chased away from the world they had known.

 

John Wolseley. 'After fire - spiny-cheeked honeyeaters at Lake Monibeong' (detail) 2009-11

 

John Wolseley
After fire – spiny-cheeked honeyeaters at Lake Monibeong (detail)
2009-11
Watercolour, charcoal, pencil, gouache and brown chalk
151.7 x 128.9 cm
Collection of Sir Roderick Carnegie AC and Family
© John Wolseley

 

 

Walking through the recently burnt Cobboboonee Forest in Victoria one morning, I reached a lake where fresh water rested in sand dunes bordering the sea. I stood beside a burnt banksia tree with powdery black, corrugated bark. It had been a stormy night, but now the sea and lake were calm. Several spiny-cheeked honeyeaters swooped down, perched in the tree and sung out jubilantly. It was as if they were filled with elation at all these elements coming to rest in equilibrium – the lake resting within the sand dune, the quietening of the wind and the passing of the fire.

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
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Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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26
Jul
15

Photographs and text: ‘Quandong, New South Wales, Australia’ 1887

July 2015

 

A fascinating set of albumen prints mounted on cabinet cards of Quandong, New South Wales, Australia in 1887. These images are probably among the first ever taken of the area, most likely by a travelling photographer. The reverse of the cards bearing the monogram C.A. or A.C. Each image measures 10 x 8 cm (c. 4 x 3 inches), on slightly larger card (12 x 9.2 cm / 4.8 x 3.6 inches).

It is instructive to look at the structure of the images to see how this unnamed photographer visualised his subject matter. Firstly, the three photographs of the house. Taken from the top of a barn (imagine lugging a large camera up there!), one image offers a three-quarter profile of the homestead, in the background wildness, with two white picket gates providing entry through a guardian hedge that protects the habitation. Next the photographer swings the camera around 180 degrees, photographing the homestead not from front on but again on an angle for dramatic effect, framing the foreground with a fence made of chopped down trees which encloses a sparse, newly planted garden. In one dark exposure, two men stand in formal pose stand with the grandmother sitting wrapped in a shawl beside one of the men. In the other lighter exposure (the photographer obviously had trouble here), we again have a formal placement of people, this time with the grandmother (without shawl) and grandfather sitting opposite each other, probably with their grandsons with dogs in front of them. Anyone who has lived in rural Australia would understand the significance of the verandah as a gathering place and congregational space to sit, and for youngsters, to play with their dogs.

Secondly, we observe the two side-on photographs of the horse and carts. Both show a distinctly formal placement of the objects within the picture plane with a limited spatial depth to the photographs, with no vanishing point. But there are distinctive differences between the two photographs. The horse and trap evidence the status of the people involved, the two horses and large carriage being held steady by a third person and far left of picture. The second photograph is much more informal… the horse and young foal, the man in relaxed pose, hand on knee and then, in the foreground – as though to emphasise the working nature of this cart – a pile of logs and trees fill our vision, a stark contrast to the dark trees in the background. There is nothing in the foreground of the first photograph, forcing the eye to rest on the formal structure of man/horse/men/trap.

Next we observe two photographs of a flock of sheep and men. In the first image the photographer has framed the man and dog at left with horse behind the flock of sheep, while at right a group of three men stand close together before a wooden fence… holding up the right hand side of the image. Wilderness can be seen beyond. Notice how there is a flat empty area at the front of the image which leads the eye to the right and up to the men, thence to the tall trees beyond. Lovely spaces in this image, with the grouping of the sheep and men, the horizontal line of the fence dividing the tonality of the image – dark at the bottom, light at the top. In the second image the photographer has not moved the camera but he has moved the men at right. The framing of the man at left and the horse and flock of sheep are still the same, but now he has removed one man and moved the other two men to be slightly behind the spatial plane of the man with the dog. The sun has come out as we can see the shadow of the two men on the ground, and the exposure must have been short, for we can see the paw of the dog caught in mid-air. It is interesting to note that the photographer does not mind the two trees coming out of the tops of the men’s heads at right, instead of placing them in the negative space between the trees. Further evidence of the nature of the environment in which this homestead was evolving can be found in the photograph At Quandong, an almost modernist rendition of the wilderness, in which the image is divided into a series of horizontal lines – foreground fence, mid-ground fence, horizon line with the wild beyond. The photographer thought this view important enough to warrant a photograph, even though there is nothing obviously substantial contained in the image. It does, however, graphically illustrate the isolation of the homestead within the environment.

Lastly we have the images of Shearing in Woolshed and Shearing, Quandong. The light is absolutely beautiful in both of these images, entering as it does through the door at bottom left of the images and, as an opposite, through the open doors at the top left of the image. Shearing, Quandong is the more successful of the two images through its pure simplicity. Note the strong diagonal from top left to bottom right, which in Shearing in Woolshed is disturbed by the presence of the two overseers. Also note how in the image that was likely taken first, Shearing in Woolshed, the camera is placed higher up. We can tell this by the visibility of the poles behind the overseer and the fact that we can’t see the base of the wooden pole at right. In this image the lad at right has his hat on. In Shearing, Quandong the distance between the door, poles and the top of the image at back is much shorter and we can now see the base of the wooden pole at right. The lad has taken off his hat and put in on the floor there.

How young both of these lads are, with their crew cut hair, using huge manual shears. What backbreaking work it must have been in the heat and humidity… and the one thing that you cannot get an idea of, is the smell of these woolsheds. If you have ever been in one of these woolsheds you know what a pungent aroma these places have.

These photographs were taken a year before the iconic Australian painting by Tom Roberts Shearing the Rams (1888-1890), an archetypal vision of Australian pastoral life, and through them we can see how much they confirm Roberts’ vision of Australian rural life. Leigh Astbury observes that, “Roberts was not, however, the first artist to depict the subject of shearing sheep. It had been previously treated in a few isolated paintings but, more frequently, shearers were shown at work in photographs and in illustrated newspapers and magazines during the 1870s and 80s. An exploration of the contemporary pictorial tradition reveals that in the formulation of his painting Roberts followed an established photographic and illustrative convention, as opposed to originating a new subject for artistic attention.”

“Roberts began preparatory studies for the picture at the Brocklesby station during the spring of 1888 when he made between seventy and eighty sketches of ‘the light, the atmosphere, the sheep, the men and the work’. … During the following spring of 1889 Roberts set out his canvas in the Brocklesby shed and began to paint the final work. He ‘picked out the most characteristic and picturesque of the shearers, the “rouseabouts” and the boy’, and carefully posed them in the manner he required… Shearing the rams was a carefully and consciously formulated painting executed over a long period, not an informal, ‘slice of life’ glimpsed in an Australian shearing shed. 

“Roberts, who worked as a photographer’s assistant, may have been aware of shearing scenes which appeared in contemporary photographs. A photograph entitled Shearing [see below], by a well-known Melbourne photographer, Charles Nettleton, anticipates the construction of pictorial space found in Shearing the rams. There is the same slightly diagonal thrust into distance, accentuated by the lines of the floorboards. The structure of the shearing shed roof plays a similar role in the composition, while one gains the same sense of rhythmic interval as the central poles recede into the background. Equally significant is the way the photograph conveys the quality and sources of light in the shed: the light filters through from outside and permeates the atmosphere.”

(Extract from Leigh Astbury. “Tom Roberts’s Shearing the rams: the hidden tradition,” in Sonia Dean (ed.,). Art Journal 19. National Gallery of Victoria, Nd. [Online] Cited 26/07/2015)

.
This carefully planned composition, based on photographs and black and white illustrations, is a (social) construction and performance based on a reality that excludes outsiders and Other (namely Indigenous Australians in this case in point). Artist Dianne Jones rightly questions this deterministic, colonial envisioning of Australian heritage and national identity.

“Jones uses appropriation and reinterpretation to create conversations about issues that are important to her. By placing Aboriginal figures into historical artworks where previously there were none,  Jones makes us aware of their absence from Australian art and from Australian history…

Shearing the Rams provides an example of Jones’ ongoing concern with the lack of accurate Indigenous representation within Australian culture, particularly within iconic nationalistic images. The original oil painting created by Tom Roberts in 1890 celebrated pastoral life and labour, and came to be considered an icon of Australian Impressionism and popular history. Even if the painting itself is not instantly recognisable to the viewer, the sentiment behind it is familiar, it is a sentiment repeated within iconic images of Australia’s post-colonial history. By replacing some of the figures, who are all white men in Roberts’ painting, with male members of her own family, Jones is reasserting their previously unrecognised presence in this part of Australian history. Her family were actively involved in the pastoral industry, but this involvement has not previously been acknowledged or celebrated in any way.”

(Extract from Sarah Norris. “Dianne Jones: Revisiting/Revising Australian Icons,” on the Art Right Now website June 2013 [Online] Cited 16/07/2015)

.
This blindness and bigotry towards others continues to this day in rural and regional Australia. I have experienced it myself in rural areas of New South Wales. A certain right-wing conservatism permeates the land, is almost embedded in its ongoing structures. We need artists like Jones to shine a light into the dark corners of the Australian psyche, for only then will we begin to understand the long path as a nation that we have to travel, the new narratives that we must construct.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

 

Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Cabinet card of Quandong, New South Wales, Australia, 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Shearing, Quandong
1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Unknown photographer. 'Shearing, Quandong' (detail) 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Shearing, Quandong (detail)
1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Cabinet card of Quandong, New South Wales, Australia, 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Shearing in Woolshed, Quandong
1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Unknown photographer. 'Shearing in the Woolshed, Quandong' (detail) 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Shearing in the Woolshed, Quandong (detail)
1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Charles Nettleton. 'Seven Creeks Station near Longwood. Shearing' c. 1880

 

Charles Nettleton (1826-1902, photographer)
Seven Creeks Station near Longwood. Shearing
c. 1880
Albumen silver photograph
23.5 x 28.5 cm. on mount
Currie collection, State Library of Victoria

 

Tom Roberts (1856 - 1931) 'Shearing the Rams' 1888-1890

 

Tom Roberts (1856 – 1931)
Shearing the Rams
1888-1890
Oil on canvas on composition board
122.4 x 183.3 cm

 

Dianne Jones. 'Shearing the rams' 2001

 

Dianne Jones
Shearing the rams
2001

Inkjet on canvas, edition of 10
121.9 x 182.6cm
© Dianne Jones

Please note: This image is used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic scholarship and art criticism.

 

 

Dianne Jones: Revisiting/Revising Australian Icons

“Imagery plays an influential role in the formation of national identity. When this imagery is dominated by a particular cultural and ethnic perspective it results in the formation of a mythology that does not accurately reflect the culture it informs. Through her art practice Jones examines the relationship between popular imagery and national and personal identity. By questioning the validity of the imagery that has illustrated Australian history and has long been considered representative of Australian culture, Jones gives a voice, and a face, to those who were previously denied a place within the paradigm of Australian art.

Jones creates reproductions of classic Australian paintings in which the original image has been altered and reinterpreted. Images by artists such as Tom Roberts, Eugene von Guerard and Max Dupain have come to be representative of a romanticised Australian history. These well-known and well-loved images have had a significant role in defining Australian national identity, their nationalistic tone reflects a particular viewpoint of Australia’s post-colonial history. This viewpoint is limited and denies the experiences of many Australians, including the history of  Jones’ family. In spite of these limitations, these images continue to hold significant cultural value for many Australians. The status of the original paintings Jones reinterprets, as highly valued and iconic works, make them ideal choices for affective reinterpretation.

Jones uses appropriation and reinterpretation to create conversations about issues that are important to her. By placing Aboriginal figures into historical artworks where previously there were none,  Jones makes us aware of their absence from Australian art and from Australian history. She tries to make us aware of the lack of diversity in the images that are seen to illustrate Australian history and represent Australian culture. She highlights the absence of certain cultural groups by placing them back into the picture. In doing this she shows us how we can create a new and more accurate history that is inclusive rather than exclusive…

Shearing the Rams provides an example of Jones’ ongoing concern with the lack of accurate Indigenous representation within Australian culture, particularly within iconic nationalistic images. The original oil painting created by Tom Roberts in 1890 celebrated pastoral life and labour, and came to be considered an icon of Australian Impressionism and popular history. Even if the painting itself is not instantly recognisable to the viewer, the sentiment behind it is familiar, it is a sentiment repeated within iconic images of Australia’s post-colonial history. By replacing some of the figures, who are all white men in Roberts’ painting, with male members of her own family, Jones is reasserting their previously unrecognised presence in this part of Australian history. Her family were actively involved in the pastoral industry, but this involvement has not previously been acknowledged or celebrated in any way.”

Extract from Sarah Norris. “Dianne Jones: Revisiting/Revising Australian Icons,” on the Art Right Now website June 2013 [Online] Cited 16/07/2015

 

 

Cabinet card of Quandong, New South Wales, Australia, 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled [Horse and trap]
Quandong, 1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Cabinet card of Quandong, New South Wales, Australia, 1887

 

Unknown photographer
At Quandong [Horse, foal and cart]
Quandong, 1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Cabinet card of Quandong, New South Wales, Australia, 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Quandong from top of barn
Quandong, 1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Cabinet card of Quandong, New South Wales, Australia, 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Quandong
1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Cabinet card of Quandong, New South Wales, Australia, 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Quandong
1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Unknown photographer. 'Quandong' (detail) 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Quandong (detail)
1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Cabinet card of Quandong, New South Wales, Australia, 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Quandong, N.S.W.
1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Cabinet card of Quandong, New South Wales, Australia, 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Quandong
1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Unknown photographer. 'Quandong' (detail) 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Quandong (detail)
1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Cabinet card of Quandong, New South Wales, Australia, 1887

 

Unknown photographer
At Quandong
1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

Cabinet card of Quandong, New South Wales, Australia, 1887

 

Unknown photographer
Stile at Acme hut, Quandong
1887
Albumen print on cabinet card
10 x 8 cm

 

 

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28
Jun
15

Review: ‘Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne 

Exhibition dates: 31st March – 5th July 2015

Curator: Helen Carroll

 

 

Gorgeous catalogue with luscious plates, insightful text by Bill Henson (below) and evocative poetry by John Kinsella. Stars on the front cover and silver edged pages. No expense spared in production, with money literally thrown at the project, or so it would seem.

The curator, Helen Carroll, talks about ‘wonder’: “It is a capacity for wonder that makes us human”. Henson talking about ‘wonder’ and ‘love’ – about moments that change your life when looking at and breathing in great art. Then why does this exhibition feel so… well, needless? Despite some fascinating individual works of art, collectively there is little wonder on show here.

Perhaps it is because this exhibition looks to be a cut down version of the one first shown at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 2012, with many works missing from what are listed in the catalogue. Or perhaps it is the hang which at the Ian Potter Museum of Art consists of two rooms on the ground floor of the museum, one housing lighter works, the other dark works. Too dichotomous for my tastes. Nothing is ever so cut and dried.

Perhaps it’s the fact that the concept of the exhibition – light in its many guises – seems to have been tagged onto a groups of art works which are anything but about light. Or are about light in a roundabout, merry-go-round kind of way. The wall text states, “Rather than a chronological or stylistically ordered presentation, the exhibition follows a loosely intuitive flow of ideas and imagery, moving through night to day. The artists in this exhibition explore light from the perspective of the optical experience, the connection between the starts and the cycles of life on earth; and from diverse cultural, mythic and spiritual points of departure.” Apparently the works are more about the phenomena of light than about light itself.

While the art works are interesting in their own right they don’t really work together cohesively as a group to investigate the theme of the exhibition. Trying to burden a collection of art bought for investment purposes with a concept not “natural” to the work, or just a curator’s idea of what seems implicit in the work but is just a cerebral construction, simply does not work in this case. As I looked around the exhibition, I felt the works were more about the physicality of time and space (of history and place), about links in the existential chain, than they were about light. For me, this evinced Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the ‘chronotype’ – meaning ‘the connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed’ (in literature). Perhaps the intuitive flow of ideas and imagery and the multiple points of departure work against the very idea the exhibition seeks to investigate. This is so broadly thematic (the effects of light on the world) that it needed to be more focused in its conceptualisation.

It’s also a real worry when text panels in the exhibition quote Richard Goyder, Managing Director, Wesfarmers Limited, as saying that this is the first time that Wesfarmers has showcased the contemporary art of the collection, “and the works selected for Luminous World illustrate some of the ways in which the collection has grown in recent years. For instance, the inclusion of art from New Zealand, where Wesfarmers has a significant business presence, and the heightened emphasis on representing the great diversity of contemporary Indigenous art.”

The inclusion of New Zealand art because Wesfarmers has a significant business presence – not the quality or wonder of the art work – but a business presence. And only now are they collecting contemporary Indigenous art, after the collection has been in existence for more than three decades, 1977 being the first acquisition date. At least he is being refreshingly honest about why the art work has been added to the collection, but it does not give you confidence in the choice of the art work being displayed here. Goyder, Carroll and Kinsella also proselytize about the benefits of employee’s living with this art in their daily working lives and that may be the case. But for the casual visitor to the gallery this collection of art left me feeling cold and clammy – like a fish out of water.

As the add for Reflex copy paper says with more humour than any of this work can muster, I didn’t find “enwhitenment”, or wonder, within the gallery walls. Oh, the luminosity of it all.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to The Ian Potter Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

What is the Night?

‘What is the night?’ Macbeth enquires in the banquet scene, once the ghost of Banquo has departed and his wide has dismissed their mystified guests. Deprived of sleep, and half-psychotic, he urgently needs to know the time. But this is also, implicitly, a philosophical question that hints at the ontological meaning of the night…

Macbeth, Shakespeare’s most elaborate meditation on the night, is a sustained, if not obsessive, exploration of the nocturnal as a realm of alternative values – ones that contradict and threaten to undermine those of the diurnal regime that is ostensibly the domain of politics in the early modern period. In this violent, vengeful tragedy, the language and culture of the medieval night, incarnated above all in the witches, irrupts into the more enlightened languages and culture of a purportedly post-medieval epoch. An apocalyptic night, in Macbeth’s barbaric court, is one of the forces that shape realpolitik. In the Renaissance, a period in which daily life encroaches more and more on the night, especially in public settings, in the form of elaborately lit masques at court, Macbeth thus stages the limits of enlightenment.

At a time when more systematic, socially centralized modes of illumination are increasingly disrupting older patterns of rest, including biphasic sleep – so that, for the early modern ruling class at least, night starts to feel like an extension of the day, its observe rather than its inverse – Shakespeare dramatizes the tyrannical attraction, the absolutism, of darkness. Macbeth describes a process of nocturnalization whereby the night irresistibly colonizes the day, fatally infiltrating both the state and the protagonist’s consciousness. To use a word that has some currency in the seventeenth century, but has long since fallen out of use, Shakespeare’s drama is a study of ‘benightment’.”

Matthew Beaumont. “What is the Night?” in Matthew Beaumont. Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London, Chaucer to Dickens. London and New York: Verso, 2015, pp. 86-87.

 

Luminous World brings together a selection of contemporary paintings, objects and photographs from the Wesfarmers Collection in a conversation about light. Through works of scale and conceptual invention that chart the range and depth of the collection, this exhibition presents significant contemporary paintings, photographs and objects by leading Australian and New Zealand artists acquired by Wesfarmers over three decades and shared together for the first time with the Australian public.

The Potter is the fifth venue for this touring exhibition which to date has travelled to Charles Darwin University Art Gallery, Darwin; National Library of Australia, Canberra; Samstag Museum of Art, Adelaide; and The Academy Gallery, University of Tasmania.

 

 

Brook Andrew. 'Replicant series: Owl' 2005 

 

Brook Andrew
Replicant series: Owl
2005
Ilfochrome print
130 x 195 cm
© Brook Andrew, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

Brook Andrew (1970- ) is a Sydney born/Melbourne based interdisciplinary artist of Wiradjuri and Scottish heritage. Andrew’s conceptual based practice incorporates, sculpture, photography, installation, video and performance. The Replicant 2006 series reflects (literally) upon the act of looking, and consequent interchanges between nature and culture, subject and object, real and represented. These dualities fit broadly within the artist’s addressing of Australian identity, polemics and the politics of difference.

For the Replicant 2006 series Andrew borrowed taxidermied specimens from the education department at the Australian Museum, Sydney. These included native species of indigenous significance such as an owl, possum, flying fox and parrot. He shot each animal – artificially propped in their natural poses – and digitally manipulated each image so as to appear duplicated, a process that evolved out of the Kalar midday 2004 series.

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled' 2009-10 

 

Bill Henson
Untitled
2009-10
Archival inkjet pigment print
127 x 180 cm
© Bill Henson, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

” … And yet certain things – particular experiences that we have are excpetional. They stand apart from the rest of the general activity.

What causes this apprehension of significance – of something in face powerfully apprehended yet not always fully understood?

And why is it that all of us, at some time or other, with have this ‘epiphany’ – Christian or otherwise – in the presence of some work of art, in the experiencing of a performance piece or some unexpected encounter with the true magic of a particular piece of sculpture?

When it happens, I always think of it as being as if one’s life – and everything that it contains – had just been ever so slightly changed, forever. Nothing, if you will, is ever quite the same again.

What happens, I think, is simply that we fall in love – and it’s the apprehension of unexpected beauty that causes us to fall in love.

The sheer force of such beauty can affect us as if it were an act of nature – and of course it is, for despite the arrogance of some theoreticians, culture is never outside nature.

I think that it is this intense, if often quite subtle, love for the subject, and the resultant emotional and intellectual interdependence within that relationship – be it in musical form, something in the visual arts, theatre of dance – that is responsible for – and in fact makes possible at all – these great and fortunate encounters in the arts.

Stare back into time and all kinds of very ‘personal’ things return your gaze. This has always, to me, seemed to a large extent to be what art is about. Sure, it’s personal, but it’s also millennial.

The best art always heightens our sense of mortality. This is not morbidity that I am talking about – rather, we feel more alive in the presence of great art and this is because of a profound sense of continuity – our sense of being inside nature – is expanded.

If you like, art suggests the immortal in all of us.

When we listen to Michelangeli – or, say, Jörg Demus playing Kinderszenen – and we sense that simultaneously proximate and intimate yet utterly abstract presence (was that someone? Schumann perhaps?) and at the same time sense the unbridgeable gulf that exists between ourselves and that distant past – we know that we are in the presence of something magical.

In the end I think that it is love that fuels this activity – that animates the speculative capacity in all of us – and heightens this sense of wonder.

Excerpts from Bill Henson’s speech “Reflections,” in Luminous World catalogue. Perth: Wesfarmers Limited, 2012, pp. 23-24.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

 

David Stephenson. 'Star Drawing 1996/402' 1996

 

David Stephenson
Star Drawing 1996/402
1996
40 x 40″
Cibachrome Print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1997
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

While the subject of my photographs has shifted from the landscape of the American Southwest and Tasmania, and the minimal horizons of the Southern ocean, and the icy wastes of Antarctica, to sacred architecture and the sky at both day and night, my art has remained essentially spiritual – for more than two decades I have been exploring a contemporary expression of the sublime – a transcendental experience of awe with the vast space and time of existence. (David Stephenson, 1998)

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 39/139' 1990-91

 

Bill Henson
Untitled 39/139
1990-91
Paris Opera Project
Type C photograph
127 × 127 cm
Series of 50
Edition of 10 + 2 A/Ps

 

Stieg Persson. 'Offret' 1998 

 

Stieg Persson
Offret
1998
Oil on canvas
183 x 167 cm
© Stieg Persson, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

“Works focusing on light and darkness, and how light creates and reveals our world, from one of Australia’s pre-eminent corporate art collections compiled by Wesfarmers over the past 30 years, will be exhibited at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at The University of Melbourne.

The exhibition, Luminous World: Contemporary art from the Wesfarmers Collection, presents a diverse selection of contemporary paintings, photography and works of sculpture. The works traverse a diversity of cultural, aesthetic and philosophical perspectives, with the curatorial premise of how contemporary artists explore the phenomenon of light in their work.

Some 50 artists from Australia and New Zealand are featured in the exhibition including: Susan Norrie, Rosemary Laing, Howard Taylor, Dale Frank, Paddy Bedford, Bill Henson, Fiona Pardington (NZ), Brian Blanchflower, Brook Andrew, Timothy Cook and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. Included alongside the art is a major new body of poetry by John Kinsella, written in response to works in the exhibition. These are published for the first time under the imprint of Fremantle Press in the book Luminous World, with new writing by artist Bill Henson and composer Richard Mills.

Ian Potter Museum of Art Director, Ms Kelly Gellatly said, “Luminous World highlights the strengths ofthe Wesfarmers Collection, which has generously been shared, through the tour of the exhibition, with the wider community.

“In bringing together works across a range of media by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, Luminous World successfully showcases both the depth and continuing resonance of contemporary Australian practice in a rich, open-ended and exploratory conversation about light.

“To know and experience light and its effects however, one must equally understand its other – darkness. Together, these concerns create an exhibition experience that is at once intellectual, emotional and experiential,” Ms Gellatly said.

The Wesfarmers Collection was started in 1977, and is housed in the Wesfarmers offices around Australia and shared with the community through a loan and exhibition program. A Wesfarmers and Art Gallery of Western Australia touring exhibition.”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

 

 

“For more than three decades Wesfarmers has been collecting Australian art. From General Manager John Bennison’s first acquisition in 1977 of a pastoral scene by the Australian impressionist Elioth Gruner, Wesfarmers’ purpose was to accentuate the value of art in the workplace and encourage and understanding of the importance to society of supporting creative thinking and artistic vision. The company has always been committed to sharing its collection with the community through exhibitions and loans and by opening our workplaces for groups to view the art in our offices.

This is the first time Wesfarmers has showcased the contemporary art in the collection, and the works selected for Luminous World illustrate some of the ways in which the collection has grown in recent years. For instance, the inclusion of art from New Zealand, where Wesfarmers now has a significant business presence, and the heightened emphasis on representing the great diversity of contemporary indigenous art.

We thank the artists whose resonant and timeless works form part of Australia’s rich cultural heritage and hope that the Australian public will enjoy these works and marvel at the ingenuity and artistic vision they represent, as Wesfarmers does, surround by inspirational art in our daily lives.”

Richard Goyder
Managing Director, Wesfarmers Limited

 

The visual world is defined by light; everything we see is processed by the eye as patterns of brightness and colour. Monumental formations in the landscape as well as the most subtle nuances of atmosphere are made real to us by the action of light, transmitted in wavelengths as an infinitely varied register of colour that combine within the eye to shape our sense of space and form.

It is the action of light reflecting off, refracting through and being absorbed by the substance of the world that enables the eye to perceive contours, hues, and textures and mark the passing of time from day to night and season to season.

Luminous World presents a diverse selection of contemporary paintings, photography and works of sculpture, acquired by the Wesfarmers Collection over thirty years and considered through the lens of how contemporary artists variously utilise the phenomenon of light in their work.

Rather than a chronological or stylistically ordered presentation, it follows a loosely intuitive flow of ideas and imagery moving through night to day. The artists in this exhibition explore light from the perspective of the optical experience, the connection between the stars and the cycles of life on earth; and from diverse cultural, mythic and spiritual point of departure.

Published for the first time in the Luminous World catalogue are recent poems by John Kinsella, written in response to selected works in the exhibition, together with new writing by artist Bill Henson and composer Richard Mills that extend an artistic dialogue in which all can share.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Hung fire' 1995

 

Rosalie Gascoigne
Hung fire
1995
Retro-reflective road-sign on wood
209 x 176 cm
© Rosalie Gascoigne, licensed by Viscopy 2012 and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

Elizabeth Nyumi. 'Parwalla' 2010 

 

Elizabeth Nyumi
Parwalla
2010
Acrylic on canvas
120 x 180 cm
© Elizabeth Nyumi, licensed by Viscopy 2012 and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

About Parwalla

This painting depicts the country known as Parwalla, which is Nyumi’s father’s country. This country is far to the south of Balgo in the Great Sandy Desert, west of Kiwirrkurra, and is dominated by tali (sand hills). Parwalla is a large swampy area, which fills with water after the wet season rain and consequently produces an abundance of bush foods. The majority of Nyumi’s painting shows the different bush foods, including kantjilyi (bush raisin), pura (bush tomato) and minyili (seed). The whiteish colours, which dominate the painting, represent the spinifex that grows strong and seeds after the wet season rains. These seeds are white in colour, and grow so thickly they obscure the ground and other plants below.

Biography

When Nyumi was only a very young child her mother died at Kanari soakwater close to Jupiter Well. As a young girl, Nyumi lived with her family group in their country. As a teenager she walked along the Canning Stock Route into the old mission with her father and family group. There she was given clothes and taken to Billiluna Station to be trained as a domestic worker and to work for the wives of the station managers around the region.

Nyumi commenced painting in 1987 and emerged as a leading artist in the late 1990s. She is married to the artist Palmer Gordon and has four daughters, three of whom are still living and beginning to paint with strong encouragement from Nyumi. Her elder brothers Brandy Tjungurrayi and Patrick Olodoodi are both senior lawmen and recognised artists. Nyumi is a very strong culture woman and dancer and an enthusiastic teacher of culture to children, ensuring the traditional dances and songs are kept alive.

Nyumi’s paintings are mainly concerned with the abundant bush food in the country belonging to her family. Initially, she worked with a thick brush, covering the canvas with fluent lines in tones of yellow, green and red. She has now developed a strong personal style of thick impasto dotting, to build up fields of texture heavily laden with white, in which motifs of camp sites, coolamons, digging sticks and bush tucker stand out.

 

Gretchen Albrecht. 'Pink and orange sherbet sky' 1975  

 

Gretchen Albrecht
Pink and orange sherbet sky
1975
Acrylic on canvas
166 x 177 cm
© Gretchen Albrecht, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australia

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Brumby mound #5' from the series 'One dozen unnatural disasters in the landscape' 2003

 

Rosemary Laing
Brumby mound #5 from the series One dozen unnatural disasters in the landscape
2003
C Type photograph
110 x 222 cm
© Rosemary Laing, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

Brumby mound #5 2003 is one of a series of photographs by Rosemary Laing that explores the way European culture has often been uncomfortably imposed on an ancient land. Laing chooses a desert-scape that many identify as quintessentially Australian as the setting for her interventions. The location is the Wirrimanu community lands around Balgo in north-east Western Australia. Onto these traditional lands Laing has incongruously placed items of mass-produced furniture painted to mimic the surroundings.

The words ‘brumby mound’ in her title are a reference to the introduced horses (or brumbies) that are feral and roam uncontrolled, much like the spread of furniture. The seductive beauty of these panoramic images shows the vast spectacle of the Australian bush and makes the disjunction of the natural and the unnatural all the more apparent. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Howard Taylor. 'Bushfire sun' 1996 

 

Howard Taylor
Bushfire sun
1996
Oil on canvas
122 x 152 cm
© Howard Taylor, courtesy of the artist’s estate and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

Michael Riley. 'Untitled' from the series 'Cloud [Feather]' 2000

 

Michael Riley
Untitled from the series Cloud [Feather]
2000
Inkjet print on banner paper
86 x 120 cm
© Michael Riley Foundation, licensed by Viscopy 2012 and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

“Feathers float – so do clouds – and dreams.

Feather – a Wiradjuri word for feather and wing are the same, Gawuurra. Probably Cowra, the name of a town to the south, comes from this. In contemporary Aboriginal practices of other groups, feather-appendage is extended in meaning to string tassel, sacred string marking a journey, connecting landscapes, people, family lineages, and, importantly, the embryo cord linking child and mother.

A wing of the eagle hawk, Malyan, a skin name, a scary dream-being overhead. Is it guardian angel or assassin? In the south-east, a feather left behind is often evidence of such a spiritual visit.

At the funeral of actor and activist Bob Maza in 2000, his son held his father’s Bible and recollected his words, ‘to dare to dream your dreams’. It’s interesting that Michael Riley chose to avoid the word ‘dream’ in naming his final photographic work cloud (2000), avoiding glib connections to ‘Dreamtime’. What rolls past our eyes and through our senses is the culmination of self-examination. In a series of poetic photographic texts made increasingly poignant through events in his personal life, these are dreams of childhood memories in Dubbo, New South Wales: dreams of floating, of release…

cloud appears as more personal and free. A floating feather; a sweeping wing; a vigilant angel; the cows from ‘the mission’ farm; a single Australian Plague Locust in flight, referring to the cyclical swarms of locusts; a comforting Bible; and a graceful emblematic returning boomerang. The boomerang is really the only overtly Aboriginal image in the series and the locust is one of the few native species left that is visible and cannot be swept aside. It persists…

Through the large, simply superimposed images of cloud, Michael was trying to minimalise things, to distil his ideas about physical reality and spirit. All are dichotomously connected to Dubbo and Riley and are also universal. They are not about a place but a state, the surrealistic cow with mud and manure on its hoofs floating by. In contrast to Empire’s scenes of a decayed, overworked and desolated landscape, there is no physical land in the cloud imagery.

Aboriginal creation stories begin with a sunrise and follow the journeys of an original being across a physical, seasonal and emotional landscape – seeing, experiencing, and naming this and that plant, animal, climatic occurrence and emotional feelings. Religious song cycles follow this progression. Michael’s set of large, single-subject memories can almost be thought of as a Wiradjuri song cycle of his land and his life.”

Extract from Djon Mundine. Wungguli – Shadow : Photographing the spirit and Michael Riley” on the Michael Riley: sights unseen National Gallery of Australia website.

 

Paddy Bedford. 'Merrmerrji–Queensland creek' 2005 

 

Paddy Bedford
Merrmerrji-Queensland creek
2005
Ochre and synthetic binder on composition board
80 x 100 cm
© Paddy Bedford, reproduced courtesy of the artist’s estate and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

“Paddy Bedford was a senior Gija lawman born at Bedford Downs Station in the East Kimberly region. Like many indigenous artists, he lived a long life as a stockman before he looked upon the Turkey Creek elders – Rover Thomas and Paddy Jiminji – to begin painting. Bedford’s first works were made with the inception of the Jirrawun Aboriginal Art Cooperative in 1997.

The distinctive minimalist style of his work is but a mask to the multifarious layers of meaning. Bedford’s paintings are inspired by the distinctive landscape and stories of his country in the East Kimberly region of Western Australia, as he depicts from an aerial perspective the traditional dreamings of the Cockatoo, Emu and Turkey; the massacres of local Aboriginal people during the colonial period; as well as episodes from his own life as a stockman and as a senior elder of his community.

Merrmerrji- Queensland Creek, 2005 is characteristically sparse in composition with bold forms, a rhythmic application of dotted fluid lines and a powerfully imposing colour palate, which is gained from a wet-on-wet mixture of white and ochre pigments suspended in a fast drying acrylic medium. The effect is a pearly radiant luminosity, an ambience of the sacred.” (Text from the Annette Larkin Fine Art website)

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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07
Jun
15

Exhibition: ‘Nature/Revelation’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31st March 2015 – 5th July 2015

Curator: Joanna Bosse

 

This is a fascinating exhibition at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, one of the best exhibitions I have seen this year in Melbourne. Unlike the disappointing exhibition Earth Matters: contemporary photographers in the landscape at the Monash Gallery of Art this exhibition, which addresses roughly the same subject matter (climate change and its devastating impact on the earth’s many ecosystems; contemporary notions of nature and the sublime) is nuanced and fresh, celebrating “the unique capacity art has to cut through prevailing rhetoric to stimulate individuals both intellectually and emotionally in the face of current environmental issues.”

Every piece of art in this exhibition is emotionally, intellectually and aesthetically challenging. There is no “dead wood” here. As the press release states, “Nature/Revelation features international and Australian artists who are engaged with poetic and philosophical concerns, and whose work offers potentially enlightening experiences that energise our relationship to the natural world.” And it is true!

I spent over two hours on a couple of visits to this exhibition and came away feeling en/lightened in mind and body. From the formal beauty of Ansel Adams classical black and white photographs to the mesmerising, eternal video Boulder Hand (2012) by Gabriel Orozco; from the delightful misdirection of Mel O’Callaghan’s Moons to the liminal habitats of Jamie North; and from the constructed clouds of Berndnaut Smilde to the best piece in the exhibition, Jonathan Delafield Cook’s Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) (2013, below) – every piece deserved its place in this exhibition. I would go as far as to say that Delafield Cook’s Sperm whale is the best piece of art that I have seen since Mark Hilton’s dontworry (2013) which featured in the Melbourne Now exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. The sheer scale and beauty of the work (with its graphite on canvas attention to detail) and that doleful eye staring out at the viewer, is both empowering and unnerving. It deserves to be in an important collection.

While nature and the world we live in offers moments of revelation, so did the art in this exhibition. The art possesses moment of wonder for the viewer. Kudos to curator Joanna Bosse and The Ian Potter Museum of Art for putting on a top notch show.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the The Ian Potter Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Ansel Adams. 'Clearing winter storm, Yosemite National Park, California' 1935 

 

Ansel Adams 
Clearing winter storm, Yosemite National Park, California 
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
56 x 71 cm framed
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 1980
© 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing work by Ansel Adams

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing work by Ansel Adams (right) and detail of Jonathan Delafield Cook’s Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) (left)

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing work Jonathan Delafield Cook’s Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), 2013

 

Jonathan Delafield Cook. 'Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)' (detail) 2013

 

Jonathan Delafield Cook 
Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) (detail)
2013
Graphite on canvas
6 panels: 245 x 1200 cm overall
Courtesy the artist and Olsen/Irwin Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Jonathan Delafield Cook’s life size drawing of a Sperm Whale specimen possesses a haunting melancholy… [He] creates an encounter that recalls those between Ahab and Moby Dick immortalised in Hermann Melville’s famous novel. Being face-to-face, eye-to-eye with this majestic sentient being – distinguished for having the largest brain of any creature known to have lived on the Earth – is an awe-inspiring experience. The overwhelming enormity of scale and the panorama-like expanse of the whale’s skin rouse an acute awareness of our own small presence in the room (in the world).

Delafield Cook’s work belongs to the naturalist tradition, and his detailed charcoal drawing intensifies the physical qualities of the subject in a way that renders it both a forensic study and an otherworldly fantasy. The personal history of this sleek leviathan is writ large, like graffiti, on its skin: the abrasions, the exfoliations, scars and its ragged tail tell of unknown adventures in an environment that lies beyond our own experience, but one not exempt from degradation or environmental change.

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing work by Ansel Adams (right)

 

 

Gabriel Orozco (born April 27, 1962, Mexico)
Boulder Hand
2012
Video 54 seconds
Courtesy of the artist

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Mel O’Callaghan’s Moons (left) and the video Boulder Hand (2012) by Gabriel Orozco (right)

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Mel O’Callaghan’s Moons

 

Mel O'Callaghan. 'Moons (II)' 2014

 

Mel O’Callaghan 
Moons (II)
2014
pigmented inkjet print
100 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Allen, Paris, and Galeria Belo Galsterer, Lisbon

 

 

“Climate change and its devastating impact on the earth’s many ecosystems is arguably today’s most critical global issue. Nature/Revelation celebrates the unique capacity art has to cut through prevailing rhetoric to stimulate individuals both intellectually and emotionally in the face of current environmental issues. Focusing on contemporary notions of nature and the sublime, the exhibition affirms that the world we live in offers moments of revelation, and that nature can provoke a range of associations – both fantastical and grounded – that profoundly affect us.

Nature/Revelation features international and Australian artists who are engaged with poetic and philosophical concerns, and whose work offers potentially enlightening experiences that energise our relationship to the natural world. Artists include Ansel Adams, Jonathan Delafield Cook, David Haines, Andrew Hazewinkel and Susan Jacobs, Jamie North, Mel O’Callaghan, Gabriel Orozco and Berndnaut Smilde. The exhibition also raises questions about concepts of nature and culture following the arguments of philosopher Timothy Morton.

This exhibition forms a key component of the ‘Art+climate=change’ festival presented by Climarte: arts for a safer climate. This festival of climate change related arts and ideas includes curated exhibitions at a number of museums and galleries alongside a series of keynote lectures and forums featuring local and international speakers.

The University of Melbourne, with the Potter as project leader, is the Principal Knowledge Partner of the Climarte program.”

Text from The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing David Haines’ Day & Night (right) and Jamie North’s Portal II and Slag bowl I & II (left)

 

 

David Haines (born 1966 London, lives Blue Mountains, New South Wales)
Day & Night
2005-2015
Two channel video projection
Courtesy of the artist and Sarah Cotter Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Throughout his practice – which comprises investigations into the elemental in carious media – David Haines explores sensation in both seen and unseen forms. He has a particular interest in latent energies, such as aromas, sound waves and electromagnetic currents.

Haines revisits the classic language of the sublime in his 2004 two-channel video installation Day & night. He presents dual images of the sublime: one an immense cliff face with a sea surging against its rocky base; the other a brooding cloudscape, its form gradually unfolding with a mesmeric momentum. The work is simultaneously serene and disturbing, and awakens that range of complex emotions that Kant named the ‘supersensible’ – beyond the range of what is normally perceptible by the senses. The over-riding emotional rush – the presentiment of danger – associated with this experience is a trademark of the sublime.

The abstract sense of danger shifts however when we notice the tiny figure clinging to the cliff face. The scene is abruptly divested of its fantastical quality (its symbolic power is suddenly made real), as we can’t help but identify with the solitary figure. No longer merely observers, we become participants in the scene before us. The perilous figure in Haines’ work provides a touchstone in terms of the overwhelming grandeur of nature. In the context of the exhibition, s/he could represent each of us as we confront the seemingly insurmountable environmental and humanitarian challenges resulting from the increasingly catastrophic effects of global warming.

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Jamie North 
Portal II
2014
Cement, marble waste, limestone, steel slag, coal ash, plastic fibre, tree fern slab, various Australian native plants and Spanish moss
2 components: 107.0 x 26.0 x 26.0 cm each
Courtesy the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney

.
Jamie North 
Slag bowl I & II
2013
Concrete, coal ash, steel slag, Australian native plants and moss
15 x 37 x 37cm each
Courtesy the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Viewers often mistake Jamie North’s sculptures for actual relics. The sculptures are in fact carefully crafted to emulate liminal habitats where hardy plant species grow in inhospitable conditions. More than mere simulation, each work is itself a miniature ecosystem and has to be tended accordingly.

The sculptures are cast from materials that are commonly found in industrial settings (steel slag, coal ash, marble dust, and concrete) and include local native flora. The specifics of locality are important to North, and his work is a subtle investigation of local environmental systems and the character of place as well as the adaptability of nature in urban settings…

North has an interest in terraforming – the theoretical process of deliberately modifying the atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology of a planet to be similar to the biosphere of Earth. Here, he creates his own terraforms as a reflection on the environmental manipulations that taking place in the everyday.

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Nature/Revelation' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Nature/Revelation at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Berndnaut Smilde’s Nimbus – Probe  and Nimbus D’Aspremont (left) and Jamie North’s Portal II and Slag bowl I & II (right)

 

Berndnaut Smilde. 'Nimbus D'Aspremont' 2012

 

Berndnaut Smilde 
Nimbus D’Aspremont
2012
Digital C-type print mounted on diabond
75 x 110 cm
Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery, London

 

Berndnaut Smilde. 'Nimbus - Probe' 2010

 

Berndnaut Smilde 
Nimbus – Probe
2010
Digital C-type print mounted on diabond
75 x 112 cm
Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery, London

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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31
May
15

Exhibition: ‘The photograph and Australia’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 8th June 2015

Curator: Judy Annear, Senior curator of photographs, AGNSW

 

“Cultural theorist Ross Gibson has written that ‘being Australian might actually mean being untethered or placeless … and appreciating how to live in dynamic patterns of time rather than native plots of space’. Photographs always enable imaginative time and space regardless of their size and how little we might know of the ostensible subject. When people are oriented toward the camera and photographer, there is a gap which the viewer intuitively recognises. The gap is time as much as space. Occasionally – as in an anonymous 1855 daguerreotype taken at Ledcourt, Victoria, of Isabella Carfrae on horseback where we see a servant standing on the verandah, shading her eyes, and in the 1877 Fred Kruger photograph of the white-clad cricketer at Coranderrk – a subject in the photograph presses so close to the picture plane that we know for the time of the exposure they look directly into an unknowable future and collide now with our gaze as we look back.”

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Judy Annear. “Time,” in Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 19

 

 

This is an important exhibition and book by Judy Annear and team at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, an investigation into the history of Australian photography that is worthy of the subject. Unfortunately, I could not get to Sydney to see the exhibition and I have only just received the catalogue. I have started reading it with gusto. With regard to the exhibition all I have to go on is a friend of mine who went to see the exhibition, and whose opinion I value highly, who said that is was the messiest exhibition that she had seen in a long while, and that for a new generation of people approaching this subject matter for the first time it’s non-chronological nature would have been quite off putting. But this is the nature of the beast (that being a thematic not chronological approach) and personally I believe that modern audiences are a lot more understanding of what was going on in the exhibition than she would give them credit for.

In the “Introduction” to the book, Annear rightly credits the work undertaken by colleagues – especially Gael Newton’s Shades of light: photography and Australia 1839-1988, published in 1988; Alan Davis’ The mechanical eye in Australia: photography 1841-1900, published in 1977; and Helen Ennis’ Photography and Australia, published in 2007. As the latter did, this new book “emphasises the ways in which photographs, especially in the nineteenth century, function in social, cultural and political contexts, exploring photography’s role in representing relationships between Indigenous and settler cultures, the construction of Australia, and its critique.” (Annear, p. 10)

While Ennis’ book took a chronological approach, with sections titled First Photographs, Black to Blak, Land and Landscape, Being Modern, Made in Australia, Localism and Internationalism, The Presence of the Past – Annear’s book takes a more conceptual, thematic approach, one that crosses time and space, linking past and present work in classificatory sections titled Time, Nation, People, Place and Transmission. Both books acknowledge the key issues that have to be dealt with when formulating a book on the photograph and Australia: “the medium itself, Australia’s history, and the relationship between them. Is Australian photography different? If so, how, and in relation to what? One has to look at places with not dissimilar histories, such as Canada and New Zealand. And other questions: what has preoccupied photographers working in relation to Australia at various points in time? Have their concerns been primarily commercial, aesthetic, historical, realist, interpretive, or theoretical? Have they developed projects unique to the photographic medium; for example, large-scale classificatory projects? What have they achieved, what did it mean then, and what does it mean now?” (Annear, p.10)

These questions are the nexus of Annear’s investigation and she seeks to answer them in the well researched chapters that follow, while being mindful of “preserving some of the slipperiness of the medium.” And there is the rub. In order to define these classificatory sections in the exhibition and book, it would seem to me that Annear shoehorns these themes onto the fluid, mutable state of “being” of the photograph, imposing classifications to order the mass of photography into bite sized entities. While “the book encourages the reader to explore connections – between different forms of photography, people and place, past and present” it also, inevitably, imposes a reading on these historical photographs that would not have been present at the time of their production.

The press release for the book says, “The photograph and Australia investigates how photography was harnessed to create the idea of a nation.” Now I find the use of that word “harnessed” – as in control and make use of – to be hugely problematic. Personally, I don’t think that the slipperiness and mutability of photography can ever be controlled by anyone to help create the idea (imagination?) of a nation. Nations build nations, not photography. As a friend of mine said to me, it’s a long bow to draw… and I would agree. The crux of the matter is that THERE ARE NO HANDLES, only the ones that we impose, later, from a distance. There is no definitive answer to anything, there are always twists and turns, always another possibility of how we look at things, of the past in the present.

Photography and photographs, “with its ability to capture both things of the world and those of the imagination,” are always unstable (which is why the photograph can still induce A SENSE OF WONDER) – always uncertain in their interpretation, then and now. Photographs do not belong to a dimension or a classification of time and space because you feel their being NOT their (historical) consequence. Hence, all of these classifications are essentially the same/redundant. Perhaps it’s only semantics, but I think the word “utilises” – make practical and effective use of – would be a better word in terms of Annear’s enquiries. It also occurred to me to turn the question around: instead of “how photography was harnessed to create the idea of a nation”; instead, “how the idea of a nation helped change photography.” Think about it.

Finally, a comment on the book itself. Beautifully printed, of a good size and weight, the paper stock is of excellent quality and thickness. The type is simple and legible and the book is lavishly illustrated with photographs. The reproductions are a little ‘flat’ but the main point of concern is the size of the reproductions. Instead of reproducing carte de visite at 1:1 scale (that is, 64 mm × 100 mm), their mounted on card size – they are reproduced at 40 mm x 68 mm (see p. 236 of the catalogue below). Small enough already, this printing size renders the detailed reading of the images almost impossible. Worse, the images are laid out horizontally on a vertical page, with no size attribution of the original, nor whether they are 1/9th, 1/6th daguerreotype’s or ambrotypes, CDV’s or cabinet cards next to the image.

The reproduction size of the daguerreotypes and ambrotypes is even worse, making the images almost unreadable. For example, in an excellent piece of writing at the end of the first chapter, “Time”, Annear refers to “an anonymous 1855 daguerreotype taken at Ledcourt, Victoria, of Isabella Carfrae on horseback where we see a servant standing on the verandah, shading her eyes,”. In the image in this posting (below) we can clearly see this woman standing on the verandah, but in the reproduction in the book (p. 139), she is reduced to a mere smudge in history, an invisibility caused by the size of the reproduction, thereby negating all that Annear comments upon. Instead of the “subject in the photograph presses so close to the picture plane that we know for the time of the exposure they look directly into an unknowable future and collide now with our gaze as we look back,” there is no pressing, hers has no presence, and our gaze cannot collide with this vision from the future past. Why designers of photographic books consistently fall prey to these traps is beyond me.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.
Many thank to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Judy Annear. 'The photograph and Australia'. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 236

 

Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 236

 

 

The first large-scale exhibition of its kind to be held in Australia in 27 years, The photograph and Australia presents more than 400 photographs from more than 120 artists, including Richard Daintree, Charles Bayliss, Frank Hurley, Harold Cazneaux, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Sue Ford, Carol Jerrems, Tracey Moffatt, Robyn Stacey, Ricky Maynard and Patrick Pound.

The works of renowned artists are shown alongside those of unknown photographers and everyday material, such as domestic and presentation albums. These tell peoples’ stories, illustrate where and how they lived, as well as communicate official public narratives. Sourced from more than 35 major collections across Australia and New Zealand, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia and the Australian Museum, The photograph and Australia uncovers hidden gems dating from 1845 until now.

A richly illustrated publication accompanies the exhibition, reflecting the exhibition themes and investigating how Australia itself has been shaped by photography.

 

Extract from “Introduction”

“The task of this book is to formulate questions around Australian photography and its history, regardless of Australia’s, and the medium’s, permeable identity. While early photography in Australia made histories of the colonies visible, and a great deal can be read from the surviving photographic archives, interpretation of this material is often conjecture, and much remains oblique. Patrick Pound describes the sheer mass of photographs and images in the world today as an “unhinged album.”11 This dynamic of making, accumulating, ordering, disseminating, reinterpreting, re-collecting and re-narrating is an important aspect of photography. The intimate relationship, historically, between the photograph and the various arts and sciences, along with the adaptability to technological change and imaginative interpretations, allows for a constant montaging or weaving together of uses and meanings. This works against the conventional linear structure of classical histories and the idea of any progressive evolution of the medium. If what we are dealing with is a phenomenon rather than simply a form then analysing the phenomenon and its dynamic relationship to art, society, peoples, sciences, genres, and processes is critical to our modern understanding of ourselves and our place in the world as well as of the medium itself.12

In the 1970s, cultural theorist Roland Barthes wrote an essay entitled The photographic message.13 While he focussed primarily on press photography and made a distinction between reportage and ‘artistic’ photography, his pinpointing of the special status of the photographic image as a message without a code – one could say, even, a face without a name – and his understanding of photography as a simultaneously objective and invested, natural and cultural, is relevant in the colonial and post-colonial context.

We search for clues in photographs of our past and present. In some ways this is a melancholy activity, in other ways valuable detective work. In many cases it is both. Photography since its inception has belonged in a nether world of being and not being, legibility and opacity. This book preserves some of the slipperiness of the medium, while providing a series of texts touching on the photographs at hand. The history of the photograph and its relationship to Australia remains tantalisingly partial; the ever-burgeoning archives await further excavation.”14

Judy Annear. “Introduction,” in Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 13.

 

11. See ‘Transmission’ pp. 227-33
12. See Geoffrey Batchen, blog.fotomuseum.ch/2012/10/5-a-subject-for-a-history-about-photography accessed 22 April 2014
13. Roland Barthes, ‘The photographic message’, Image, music, text, trans Stephen Heath, Flamingo, London, 1984, pp. 15-31
14. Parts of this Introduction were in a paper delivered at the symposium, Border-lands: photography & cultural contest, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 31 Mar 2012

 

Time

The relationship of the photograph to ‘Time’ is discussed in chapter one, which examines how contemporary artists such as Anne Ferran, Rosemary Laing and Ricky Maynard reinvent the past through photography. The activities of nineteenth-century photographers such as George Burnell and Charles Bayliss are also discussed… The manipulation by artists and photographers of imaginative time – the time of looking at the photographic image – allows for consideration of the nexus between space and time, how subjects can be momentarily tethered and, equally, how they can float free.

Nation

Chapter two considers the idea of ‘Nation’: looking at the public role of the photograph in representing Australia at world exhibitions before Federation in 1901. Photography in this period enabled new classificatory systems to come into existence… Of particular importance was the use of the photograph to cement Darwinistic views that determined racial hierarchies according to superficial physical differences. The photograph also advertised the growing colonies to potential migrants and investors through the depiction of landscapes and amenities.

People

The third chapter, ‘People’, analyses the uncertain post-colonial heritage that all Australian inherit and how that can be evidenced and examined in photographs. The chapter encompasses portraits by Tracy Moffatt and George Goodman, for example, and considerations of where and how people lived and chose to be photographed. These include the people of the Kulin nation of Victoria, those who resided at Poonindie Mission in South Australia, the Yued people living at New Norcia mission in Western Australia, as well as the Henty family in Victoria, the Mortlocks of South Australia, the children living at The Bungalow in Alice Springs and the people of Tumut in New South Wales.

Place

‘Place’ is examined in chapter four, particularly in terms of the use of photography to enable exploration, whether to Antarctica (Frank Hurley), to map stars and further the natural sciences (Henry Chamberlain Russell, Joseph Turner), or to open up ‘wilderness’ for tourism or mining (JW Beattie, Nicholas Caire, JW Lindt, Richard Daintree) … Photographs are examined as both documents and imaginative interpretations of activity and place.

Transmission

Chapter five, ‘Transmission’, considers the traffic in photographs and the fascination with the medium’s reproducibility and circulation… The evidential aspect of the photograph has proven to be fleeting and only tangentially related to the thing it traces. The possibility of being able to fully decipher a photograph’s meaning is remote, even when it has been promptly ordered and annotated in some form of album. Each photographic form expands the possibility of instant and easy communication, but the swarm of material serves only to prove the impossibility of order, classification, and accuracy. The photograph as an aestheticised object continues regardless of platform, and the imaginative possibilities of the medium have not been exhausted.

Sections from Judy Annear. “Introduction,” in Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 12.

 

Charles Bayliss. 'Group of local Aboriginal people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia' 1886

 

Charles Bayliss
Group of local Aboriginal people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia
1886
From the series New South Wales Royal Commission: Conservation of water. Views of scenery on the Darling and Lower Murray during the flood of 1886
Albumen photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased 1984

 

 

This tableaux of Ngarrindjeri people fishing was carefully staged by photographer Charles Bayliss in 1886. Not just subjects, they actively participated in the photography process. It was observed at the time that the fishermen arranged themselves into position, with “the grace and unique character of which a skillful artist only could show.”

“In one extraordinary image created in 1886 by the photographer Charles Bayliss, the Ngarrindjeri people of the lower Murray River were active participants in the staging of a fishing scene. Writing in his journal, Bayliss’s companion Gilbert Parker noted: “Without a word of suggestion, these natives arranged themselves in a group, the grace and unique character of which a skilful artist only could show.” Annear says the image looks like a museum diorama to modern eyes. “But these people were very active in deciding how they wanted to be photographed,” she says. “They were determined to create an image they felt was appropriate.”

The first photographs of indigenous Australians were formal, posed portraits, taken in blazing sunlight. The sitters are often pictured leaning against each other (stillness was required for long exposure times) with eyes turned to the camera and bodies wrapped in blankets or kangaroo skins. Some wore headdresses or necklaces that may or may not have belonged to them.

“Indigenous Australians agreed to be photographed out of curiosity, or perhaps for food,” says Judy Annear, curator of The photograph and Australia, a major new photography exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. “In the past, it was considered that these sorts of early pictures were indicative of the colonial gaze. But now there is a lot of research going on into how these early photos were made. Often, the local people would have been invited to come into a studio and they were paid. They would have been dressed up and told what to do.”” (Text in quotations from the Sydney Morning Herald website)

 

Unknown photographer. 'Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson' c. 1865

 

Unknown photographer
Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson
c. 1865
Carte de visite
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

 

Unknown photographer. 'Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson' (verso) c. 1865

 

Unknown photographer
Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson (verso)
c. 1865
Carte de visite
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

 

Ernest B Docker. 'The Three Sisters Katoomba – Mrs Vivian, Muriel Vivian and Rosamund 7 Feb 1898' 1898

 

Ernest B Docker
The Three Sisters Katoomba – Mrs Vivian, Muriel Vivian and Rosamund 7 Feb 1898
1898
Stereograph
Macleay Museum, The University of Sydney

 

Charles Nettleton (Australia 1825 – 1902) 'Untitled' 1867-1874

 

Charles Nettleton (Australia 1825 – 1902)
Untitled
1867-1874
Carte de visite
6.2 x 9.1 cm image; 6.3 x 10.0 cm mount card
Purchased 2014
Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Charles Nettleton was a professional photographer born in the north of England who arrived in Australia in 1854, settling in Melbourne. He joined the studio of Townsend Duryea and Alexander McDonald, where he specialised in outdoor photography. Nettleton is credited with having photographed the first Australian steam train when the private Melbourne-Sandridge (Port Melbourne) line was opened on 12 September 1854. Nettleton established his own studio in 1858, offering the first souvenir albums to the Melbourne public. He worked as an official photographer to the Victorian government and the City of Melbourne Corporation from the late 1850s to the late 1890s, documenting Melbourne’s growth from a colonial town to a booming metropolis. He photographed public buildings, sewerage and water systems, bridges, viaducts, roads, wharves, and the construction of the Botanical Gardens. In 1861 he boarded the ‘Great Britain’ to photograph the first English cricket team to visit Australia and in 1867 was appointed official photographer of the Victorian visit of the Duke of Edinburgh. For the Victorian police he photographed the bushranger Ned Kelly in 1880. This is considered to be the only genuine photograph of the outlaw.

 

Tracey Moffatt. 'I made a camera' 2003

 

Tracey Moffatt
I made a camera
2003
Photolithograph
Collection of the artist
© Tracey Moffatt, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

“The Art Gallery of New South Wales is proud to present the major exhibition The photograph and Australia, which explores the crucial role photography has played in shaping our understandings of the nation. It will run from 21 March to 8 June 2015.

Tracing the evolution of the medium and its many uses from the 1840s until today, this is the largest exhibition of Australian photography held since 1988 that borrows from collections nationwide. It presents more than 400 photographs by more than 120 artists, including Morton Allport, Richard Daintree, Paul Foelsche, Samuel Sweet, JJ Dwyer, Charles Bayliss, Frank Hurley, Harold Cazneaux, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Sue Ford, Carol Jerrems, Tracey Moffatt, Robyn Stacey, Ricky Maynard, Anne Ferran and Patrick Pound.

Iconic images are shown alongside works by unknown and amateur photographers, including photographic objects such as cartes de visite, domestic albums and the earliest Australian X-rays. The exhibition’s curator – Judy Annear, senior curator of photographs, Art Gallery of NSW – said:

“Weaving together the multiple threads of Australia’s photographic history, The photograph and Australia investigates how photography invented modern Australia. It poses questions about how the medium has shaped our view of the world, ourselves and each other. Audiences are invited to experience the breadth of Australian photography, past and present, and the sense of wonder the photograph can still induce through its ability to capture both things of the world and the imagination.”

The exhibition brings together hundreds of photographs from more than 35 private and public collections across Australia, England and New Zealand, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia and the State Library of Victoria. Highlights include daguerreotypes by Australia’s first professional photographer, George Goodman, and recent works by Simryn Gill. From mass media’s evolution in the 19th century to today’s digital revolution, The photograph and Australia investigates how photography has been harnessed to create the idea of a nation and reveals how our view of the world, ourselves and each other has been changed by the advent of photography. It also explores how photography operates aesthetically, technically, politically and in terms of distribution and proliferation, in the Australian context.

Curated from a contemporary perspective, the exhibition takes a thematic rather than a chronological approach, looking at four interrelated areas: Aboriginal and settler relations; exploration (mining, landscape and stars); portraiture and engagement; collecting and distributing photography. A lavishly illustrated 308-page publication, The photograph and Australia (Thames & Hudson, RRP $75.00), accompanies the exhibition, reflecting its themes and investigating the medium’s relationship to people, place, culture and history.”

Press release from the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

David Moore (Australia 06 Apr 1927 – 23 Jan 2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966, printed later

 

David Moore (Australia 06 Apr 1927 – 23 Jan 2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966, printed later
gelatin silver photograph
30.2 x 43.5 cm image; 35.7 x 47.0 cm sheet
Gift of the artist 1997
© Lisa, Karen, Michael and Matthew Moore

 

 

In this evocative image Moore condenses the anticipation and apprehension of immigrants into a tight frame as they arrive in Australia to begin a new life. The generational mix suggests family reconnections or individual courage as each face displays a different emotion.

Moore’s first colour image Faces mirroring their expectations of life in the land down under, passengers crowd the rail of the liner Galileo Galilei in Sydney Harbour was published in National Geographic in 1967.1 In that photograph the figures are positioned less formally and look cheerful. But it is this second image, probably taken seconds later, which Moore printed in black-and-white, that has become symbolic of national identity as it represents a time when Australia’s rapidly developing industrialised economy addressed its labour shortage through immigration. The strength of the horizontal composition of cropped figures underpinned by the ship’s rail is dramatised by the central figure raising her hand – an ambiguous gesture either reaching for a future or reconnecting with family. The complexity of the subject and the narrative the image implies ensured its public success, which resulted in a deconstruction of the original title, ‘European migrants’, by the passengers, four of whom it later emerged were Sydneysiders returning from holiday, alongside two migrants from Egypt and Lebanon.2 Unintentionally Moore’s iconic image has become an ‘historical fiction’, yet the passengers continue to represent an evolving Australian identity in relation to immigration.

1. Max Dupain and associates: http://www.mdaa.com.au/people/moore-05.php. Accessed 17.06.2006
2. Thomas D & Sayers A 2000, From face to face: portraits by David Moore, Chapter & Verse, Sydney

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

David Moore. 'Redfern Interior' 1949

 

David Moore
Redfern Interior
1949
Silver gelatin print
26.7 x 35.4 cm image; 40.3 x 50.5 cm sheet
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 1985

 

David Moore’s career spanned the age of the picture magazines (for example: Life, Time, The Observer) through to major commissions such as the Sydney Opera House, CSR, and self initiated projects like To build a Bridge: Glebe Island. The breadth and depth of his career means there is an extraordinary archive of material which describes and interprets the last 50 years of Australian life, the life of the region, and events in Britain and the United States. He was instrumental in advancing Australian photography throughout his career and in the early 1970s was active in setting up the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. From well-known images such as Migrants arriving in Sydney to Redfern interior, Moore has documented events and conditions in Sydney.

 

Charles Bayliss (England, Australia 1850 – 1897) Henry Beaufoy Merlin (England, Australia 1830 – 1873) 'Untitled' c. 1872

 

Charles Bayliss (England, Australia 1850 – 1897)
Henry Beaufoy Merlin (England, Australia 1830 – 1873)
Untitled
c. 1872
Albumen photograph
Dimensions
24.5 x 29.4 cm image/sheet
Gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

 

Paul Foelsche. 'Adelaide River' 1887

 

Paul Foelsche
Adelaide River
1887
Albumen photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

 

 

This photo of people relaxing on the banks of the Adelaide River in the Northern Territory was taken by Paul Foelsche, a policeman and amateur anthropologist.

The collection of 19th century images brought together in The photograph and Australia show indigenous people in formal group portraits or as “exotic” subjects. They are photographed alongside early settlers, working as stockmen or holding tools. Amateur gentleman photographers such as the Scottish farmer John Hunter Kerr captured such images on his own property, Fernyhurst Station, in Victoria. Another amateur photographer, Paul Foelsche, the first policeman in the Northern Territory, took portraits of the Larrakia people, which have since become a priceless archive for their descendants.

 

NSW Government Printer. 'The General Post Office, Sydney' 1892–1900

 

NSW Government Printer
The General Post Office, Sydney
1892-1900
Albumen photograph
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, presented 1969

 

J. W. Lindt (Germany 1845 – Australia from 1862, Australia 1926) 'Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly gang, hung up for photography, Benalla' 1880

 

J. W. Lindt (Germany 1845 – Australia from 1862, Australia 1926)
Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly gang, hung up for photography, Benalla
1880
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Australia’s first ever press photograph pushed boundaries few journalists would transgress today. Captured by J.W, Lindt in 1880, the photo shows the dead body of a member of Ned Kelly’s infamous gang, strung up on a door outside the jail house in Benalla in regional Victoria.

Joe Byrne died from loss of blood after being shot in the groin during the siege of Glenrowan pub. Another photographer is pictured mid-shot, while an illustrator walks away from the new technology with his hat on and portfolio tucked under his arm. “We see this as the first Australian press photograph. It has that spontaneity media photographs have, and it’s also very evocative with many different stories in it,” the gallery’s senior curator of photographs, Judy Annear, said. (Text from the Sydney Morning Herald website)

 

Richard Daintree. 'Midday camp' 1864–70

 

Richard Daintree
Midday camp
1864-70
Albumen photograph, overpainted with oils
Queensland Museum, Brisbane

 

This image was an albumen photograph (using egg whites to bind chemicals to paper) which was then hand-coloured with oil paints to bring it to life. The photographer took it in the 1860s to advertise Australia as a land of opportunity.

 

Ricky Maynard. 'The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania' 2005

 

Ricky Maynard (Australia 1953 – )
Ben Lomond, Tasmania , Cape Portland, Tasmania
The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania, from the series Portrait of a distant land
2005, printed 2009
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
34.0 x 52.0 cm image; 50.3 x 60.8 cm sheet
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by the Aboriginal Collection Benefactors’ Group and the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2009

 

 

Ricky Maynard has produced some of the most compelling images of contemporary Aboriginal Australia over the last two decades. Largely self taught, Maynard began his career as a darkroom technician at the age of sixteen. He first established his reputation with the 1985 series Moonbird people, an intimate portrayal of the muttonbirding season on Babel, Big Dog and Trefoil Islands in his native Tasmania. The 1993 series No more than what you see documents Indigenous prisoners in South Australian gaols.

Maynard is a lifelong student of the history of photography, particularly of the great American social reformers Jacob Riis, Lewis Hines, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Maynard’s images cut through the layers of rhetoric and ideology that inevitably couch black history (particularly Tasmanian history) to present images of experience itself. His visual histories question ownership; he claims that ‘the contest remains over who will image and own this history…we must define history, define whose history it is, and define its purpose as well as the tools used for the telling it’.

In Portrait of a distant land Maynard addresses the emotional connection between history and place. He uses documentary style landscapes to illustrate group portraits of Aboriginal peoples’ experiences throughout Tasmania. Each work combines several specific historical events, creating a narrative of shared experience – for example The Mission relies on historical records of a small boy whom Europeans christened after both his parents died in the Risdon massacre. This work highlights the disparity between written, oral and visual histories, as Maynard attempts to create ‘a combination of a very specific oral history as well as an attempt to show a different way of looking at history in general’.

 

JW Lindt. 'No 37 Bushman and an Aboriginal man' 1873

 

JW Lindt
No 37 Bushman and an Aboriginal man
1873
Albumen photograph
Grafton Regional Gallery Collection, Grafton, gift of Sam and Janet Cullen and family 2004

 

Professional photographers such as the Frankfurt-born John William Lindt (who became famous for photographing the capture of the Kelly Gang at Glenrowan in 1880) took carefully posed tableaux images in his Melbourne studio. One set of Lindt photographs, taken between 1873 and 1874, show settlers and indigenous people posing with the tools of their trade. One unusual image shows a settler holding a spear and a local man holding a rifle.

Annear says the photographs speak of a time when early settlers and indigenous people were engaged in an exchange of cultures. “These photos weren’t just a passive, one-way process,” Annear says. “It wasn’t just about capture and exoticism. We are finding contemporaneous accounts that point to a level of exchange going on that was extremely important. These photos show who those people were, where they lived and what they were doing. They have a very powerful presence in that regard, and Aboriginal people today are going back through these photographs in order to trace their family trees.” …

Annear says she could have put together an exhibition of images of the “great suffering” experienced by Aboriginal people in Australia, but chose not to. “I found the 19th century material so rich and strong and most people aren’t aware of these images. It seemed like a great opportunity to bring them forward,” she says. “I don’t want to whitewash history, but I do want people to see how rich life was, how people were adapting, and then how that was removed. After Federation and the White Australia policy and other assimilation policies, photos of indigenous people seem to disappear. Why did they disappear? The people were still here. They were greatly diminished in many senses, but nonetheless they were still here.”

Elissa Blake. “Art Gallery of NSW photography exhibition: Stories told in black and white,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, April 2, 2015

 

Charles Bayliss. 'Lawrence Hargrave trochoided plane model' 1884

 

Charles Bayliss
Lawrence Hargrave trochoided plane model
1884
Albumen photograph
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, gift of Mr William Hudson Shaw 1994

 

Unknown photographer. 'Duryea Gallery, Grenfell Street, Adelaide' c. 1865

 

Unknown photographer
Duryea Gallery, Grenfell Street, Adelaide
c. 1865
Carte de visite
State Library of South Australia, Adelaide

 

JJ Dwyer. 'Kalgoorlie's first post office' c. 1900

 

J. J. Dwyer
Kalgoorlie’s first post office
c. 1900
Gelatin silver photograph
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth
Photo: Acorn Photo, Perth

 

Harold Cazneaux. 'Spirit of endurance' 1937

 

Harold Cazneaux
Spirit of endurance
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of the Cazneaux family 1975

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand, Australia 1896 - 1974) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand, Australia 1896 – 1974)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph, vintage
30.5 x 35.5 cm image/sheet
Gift of Iris Burke 1989

 

Unknown photographer. 'Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria' c. 1855 (detail)

 

Unknown photographer
Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, hand-tinted
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2012

 

Unknown photographer. 'Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria' c. 1855

 

Unknown photographer
Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, hand-tinted
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2012

 

 

“In the late 19th century, cameras were taking us both inside the human body and all the way to the moon. By the 1970s the National Gallery of Victoria had begun collecting photographic art, and within another decade the digital revolution was underway. But this exhibition – the largest display of Australian photography since Gael Newton mounted the 900-work Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1838-1988 at the National Gallery of Australia 27 years ago – is not chronological.

It opens with a salon hang of portraits of 19th and 20th century photographers, as if to emphasise their say in what we see, and continues with works grouped by themes: Aboriginal and settler relations; exploration; mining, landscape and stars; portraiture and engagement; collecting and distributing photography.

“A number of institutions and curators have tackled Australian photography from a chronological perspective and have done an extremely good job of it,” Annear says. “I have used their excellent research as a springboard into another kind of examination of the history of photography in this country. Nothing in photography was actually invented here, so I have turned it around and considered how photography invented Australia.”

Most of the photographs – about three quarters of the show, in fact – date from the first 60 years after Frenchman Louis Daguerre had his 1839 revelation about how to capture detailed images in a permanent form. Annear says the decades immediately following photography’s arrival in Australia provide a snapshot of all that has followed since.

“In terms of the digital revolution it is interesting to look back at the 19th century. What is going on now was all there then, it is just an expansion. There is a very clear trajectory from the birth of photography towards multiplication. After the invention of the carte de visite in the late 1850s they were made like there was no tomorrow. There are millions of cartes de visite in existence.”

There are quite a few of these small card-mounted photographs (the process was patented in Paris, hence the French) in the exhibition too, including one of a woman reflected in water at Port Jackson dating from circa 1865. With the trillions of images now in existence, it is easy to forget that once upon a time catching your reflection in the water, glass or a mirror was the only way to glimpse your own image (short of paying hefty sums for an artist to draw you).

After the invention of photography, people were quick to see how easily they could manipulate the impression created. While photographs are about fixing a moment in time, we can never be really sure just what it is they are fixing. “It’s not as simple as windows and mirrors – what we are looking at has always been constructed in some way,” Annear says. “What’s interesting about the medium is that you think it’s recording, fixing and capturing, but it is just creating an endless meditation on whatever a photograph’s relationship might be to whatever was real at the time it was taken.”

Extract from Megan Backhouse. “How the Photograph Shaped a Nation,” on the Art Guide Australia website, 20 April 2015

 

Sue Ford. 'Self-portrait' 1986

 

Sue Ford
Self-portrait
1986
From the series Self-portrait with camera (1960-2006) 2008
Colour Polaroid photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by the Paul & Valeria Ainsworth Charitable Foundation, Russell Mills, Mary Ann Rolfe, the Photography Collection Benefactors and the Photography Endowment Fund 2015
© Sue Ford Archive

 

George Goodman. 'Caroline and son Thomas James Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman
Caroline and son Thomas James Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, presented 1991

 

Olive Cotton. 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' c. 1939

 

Olive Cotton
‘Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind’
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by John Armati 2006

 

Unknown photographer. 'John Gill and Joanna Kate Norton' 1856

 

Unknown photographer
John Gill and Joanna Kate Norton
1856
Albumen photograph
Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Unknown photographer. 'Alfred and Fred Thomas, proprietors of the Ravenswood Hotel' 1880-90

 

Unknown photographer
Alfred and Fred Thomas, proprietors of the Ravenswood Hotel
1880-90
Tintype
State Library of Western Australia, Perth

 

Mervyn Bishop. 'Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory' 1975

 

Mervyn Bishop
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory
1975
Type R3 photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

 

Axel Poignant (England, Australia, England 12 Dec 1906 – 05 Feb 1986) 'Aboriginal stockman, Central Australia' c. 1947, printed 1982

 

Axel Poignant (England, Australia, England 12 Dec 1906 – 05 Feb 1986)
Aboriginal stockman, Central Australia
c. 1947, printed 1982
Type C photograph
35.6 x 24.4 cm image/sheet
Purchased 1984
© Courtesy Roslyn Poignant

 

 

Though not born in Australia, Axel Poignant’s work is largely about the ‘Outback’, its flora and fauna and the traditions of Australian and Indigenous identity. Poignant was born in Yorkshire in 1906 to a Swedish father and English mother, and arrived in Australia in 1926 seeking work and adventure. After tough early years of unemployment and homelessness, he eventually settled in Perth and found work as a portrait photographer, before taking to the road and the bush in search of new subjects. Poignant became fascinated with the photo-essay as a means of adding real humanity to the medium, and much of his work is in this form. The close relationships he developed with Aborigines on his travels are recorded in compassionate portraits of these people and their lives – the low angles and closely cropped frames appear more natural and relaxed than the stark compositions of earlier ethnographic photography.

 

Nicholas Caire. 'Fairy scene at the Landslip, Blacks' Spur' c. 1878

 

Nicholas Caire
Fairy scene at the Landslip, Blacks’ Spur
c. 1878
Albumen photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, purchased 1994

 

Frank Styant Browne. 'Hand' 1896

 

Frank Styant Browne
Hand
1896
X-ray
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery collection, Launceston

 

 

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

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except Christmas Day and Good Friday

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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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