Posts Tagged ‘Australian identity

08
Oct
17

Review: ‘Brave New World: Australia 1930s’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 14th July – 15th October 2017

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 - Australia 1953, Australia from 1886) 'No title (Powerlines and chute)' c. 1935

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 – Australia 1953, Australia from 1886)
No title (Powerlines and chute)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the H. J. Heinz II Charitable and Family Trust, Governor, 1993

 

 

In 1934 BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited) commissioned leading pictorialist photographer Harold Cazneaux to record their mining and steel operations for a special publication to mark their fiftieth anniversary in 1935. Cazneaux’s dramatic industrial images blended a soft, atmospheric focus with a modernist sense of space, form and geometry. In 1935-36 Australia exported close to 300,000 tonnes of iron ore to Japan; however, after Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 fear of its expansionist aims in the Pacific increased and soon afterwards the federal government announced a ban on the export of all iron ore to Japan.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

 

Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGV Australia, Melbourne is a small but stylishly designed exhibition that presents well in the gallery spaces. The look and feel of the exhibition is superb, and it was a joy to see so many works in so many disparate medium brought together to represent a decade in the history of Australia: photography, sculpture, painting, drawing, ceramic art, magazine art, travel posters, Art Deco radios, film, couture, culture, Aboriginal art, and furniture making, to name but a few.

The strong exhibition addresses most of the concerns of the 1930s – The Great Depression, beach and body culture, style, fashion, identity, culture, prelude to WW2, dystopian and utopian cities etc., – but it all felt a little cramped and truncated. Such a challenging time period needed a more expansive investigation. What there is was excellent but one display case on slums or magazine art was not substantive enough. The same can be said for most of the exhibition.

There needed to a lot more about the impact of the Great Depression and people living in poverty, for you get the feeling from this exhibition that everyone was living the Modernist high-life, wearing fashionable frocks and smoking cigarettes sitting around beautifully designed furniture surrounded by geometric textiles. The reality is that this paradigm was the exception rather than the rule. Many people struggled to even feed themselves due to The Great Depression, and it was a time of extreme hardship for people in Australia. Life for many, many people in Australia during the 1930s was a life of disenfranchisement, assimilation, oppression, social struggle, poverty, hunger and a hand to mouth existence.

“After the crash unemployment in Australia more than doubled to twenty-one per cent in mid-1930, and reached its peak in mid-1932 when almost thirty-two per cent of Australians were out of work… The Great Depression’s impact on Australian society was devastating. Without work and a steady income many people lost their homes and were forced to live in makeshift dwellings with poor heating and sanitation.” (“The Great Depression,” on the Australian Government website)

New artists and designers may have been emerging, new skyscrapers being built and the new ‘Modern Woman’ may have made her appearance but the changes only affected white, middle and upper social classes. Migrants, particularly those from Italy and southern Europe, were resented because they worked for less wages than others; and only brief mention is made of the White Australia policy in the exhibition but not by name (see text under Indigenous art and culture below). This section was more interested in how white artists appropriated Aboriginal design during this period for their own ends.

With this in mind, it is instructive to read sections of the illustrated handbook (not in the exhibition) produced by the National Museum of Victoria (in part, the forerunner of the NGV) to accompany a special exhibition of objects illustrating Australian Aboriginal Art in 1929:
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“The subject of aboriginal Art – in this case the Art of the Australian Aboriginal – has to be approached with the utmost caution, for, though it comes directly within the domain of anthropology, it is in an indirect way a very important question in psychology and pedagogies. We possess some knowledge of our own mentality through the kind of offices of psychology; but though we have some – many in certain classes – material relics of our primitive and prehistoric ancestor, the only evidence of evolution of thought and the development of his powers of abstract conception must be derived from his art…

Still it appears possible that the study of primitive man, as represented by our Australian black, will throw some new light on the subject, and even if not more important than the old world pictographs themselves, his art work will enable the efforts of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian artists [cultures of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe] to be better comprehended, and their import understood. But, for that study to achieve even a modicum of success, it is essential that the inquiring psychologist divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man – or of the infant of the present day.”1

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This is the attitude towards Aboriginal art that pervaded major art institutions right across Australia well into the 1950s. That the white has to “divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man” – in other words, he has to become a savage – in order to understand Aboriginal art. It says a lot that the Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria then decided to reprint the illustrated handbook in 1952 without amendment, reprinting the publication originally used for the Exhibition in 1929. Nothing had changed in 22 years!

 

Australian Aboriginal Art 1962

 

National Museum of Victoria
Australian Aboriginal Art (cover)
1952 (reprint of 1929 illustrated handbook)
Brown, Prior, Anderson Pty. Ltd., Melbourne (publishers)
Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria
39 pages

 

 

Other small things in the exhibition rankle. The preponderance of the work of photographer Max Dupain is so overwhelming that from this exhibition, it would seem that he was the only photographer of note working in Australia throughout the decade. While Dupain was the first Modernist photographer in Australia, and a superb artist, Modernist photography was very much on the outer during most of the 1930s… the main art form of photography being that of Pictorialism. None of this under appreciated style of photography makes an appearance in this exhibition because it does not fit the theme of “Brave New World”. This dismisses the work of such people as Cecil Bostock, Harold Cazneaux, Henri Mallard, John Eaton et al as not producing “brave”, or valuable, portraits of a country during this time frame. This is a perspective that needs to be corrected.

Highlights for me in this exhibition included an earthenware vase by Ethel Blundell; a painting by that most incredible of atmospheric painters, Clarice Beckett (how I long to own one of her paintings!); a wonderful portrait by the underrated Cybil Craig; two stunning Keast Burke photographs; two beautiful stained glass windows of a male and female lifesaver; the slum photographs of F. Oswald Barnett (more please!); and the graphic covers of mostly short-lived radical magazines.

These highlights are worth the price of admission alone. A must see before the exhibition closes.

Marcus

  1. A. S. Kenyon. “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal.” in Australian Aboriginal Art. Melbourne: Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria, (1929) reprinted 1952, p. 15.

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

 

The 1930s was a turbulent time in Australia’s history. During this decade major world events, including the Depression and the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe, shaped our nation’s evolving sense of identity. In the arts, progressive ideas jostled with reactionary positions, and artists brought substantial creative efforts to bear in articulating the pressing concerns of the period. Brave New World: Australia 1930s encompasses the multitude of artistic styles, both advanced and conservative, which were practised during the 1930s. Included are commercial art, architecture, fashion, industrial design, film and dance to present a complete picture of this dynamic time.

The exhibition charts the themes of celebrating technological progress and its antithesis in the nostalgia for pastoralism; the emergence of the ‘New Woman’ and consumerism; nationalism and the body culture movement; the increasing interest in Indigenous art against a backdrop of the government policy of assimilation and mounting calls for Indigenous rights; the devastating effects of the Depression and the rise of radical politics; and the arrival of European refugees and the increasing anxiety at the impending threat of the Second World War. Brave New World: Australia 1930s presents a fresh perspective on the extraordinary 1930s, revealing some of the social and political concerns that were pertinent then and remain so today.

Text from the NGV website

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)
E. M. Vary, Fitzroy, Melbourne (attributed to) (manufacturer) active 1920s-40s

Sideboard
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), painted wood, painted plywood, steel
(a-e) 84.0 x 119.7 x 48.7 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

Side table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), steel
55.7 x 66.0 x 49.2 cm
Proposed acquisition

Tray table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), steel
(a-b) 52.0 x 60.9 x 42.5 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

 

 

A new generation of artists and designers

While modern art was a source of debate and controversy throughout the 1930s, modernism in architecture, interior design, industrial design and advertising became highly fashionable. In Melbourne a small group of designers pioneered modern design in Australia. Furniture designer Fred Ward first designed and made furniture for his home in Eaglemont, where he had established a studio workshop. It was admired by friends and he was encouraged to produce furniture for sale. In 1932 Ward opened a shop in Collins Street, Melbourne. There he offered his furniture, as well as linens and Scandinavian glass. The fabrics for curtains and upholstery were printed by Australian designer Michael O’Connell with bold designs that shocked some but were favoured by a new generation looking to create modern interiors.

More than in most periods, in the 1930s art, design and architecture were closely integrated with the changing realities of contemporary life. It was a time when the last vestiges of the conservative art establishment were swept away by a new generation of artists and designers who were to drive Australian art in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement at left and Ethel Blundell’s Vase centre on sidboard
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Fred Ward was one of the first and most important designers of modern furniture in Australia. He began making furniture around 1930, and in 1932 opened a shop in Collins Street selling his furniture, as well as textiles by Michael O’Connell and other modern design pieces. In 1934 Ward went into partnership with Myer Emporium and established the Myer Design Unit, for which he designed a line of modular ‘unit’ furniture for commercial production. Ward’s simple, functional aesthetic and use of local timbers with a natural waxed finish was in contrast to the luxurious materials and decorative motifs of the contemporary Art Deco style.

The armchair, sideboard and occasional tables were designed by Fred Ward and purchased by Maie Casey in the early 1930s. The wife of R. G. Casey, federal treasurer in the Lyons Government, Maie was a prominent supporter of modern art and design. Moving to Canberra in 1932, she furnished her house at Duntroon in a modern style with furniture by Ward and textiles by Michael O’Connell. The design of Ward’s armchair closely resembles a 1920s armchair by German Bauhaus furniture designer Erich Dieckmann, who was known for his standardised wooden furniture based on geometric designs.

 

Michael O'Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37) 'Textile' c. 1933

 

Michael O’Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37)
Textile
c. 1933
Block printed linen
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1988

 

 

Michael O’Connell pioneered modernist textiles in Melbourne and was an influential advocate of modern design. Working with his wife Ella from his studio in Beaumaris, O’Connell used woodblocks and linocuts to hand print onto raw linens and silks, which were used for fashion garments and home furnishing. O’Connell’s boldly patterned and highly stylised designs were considered startlingly modern. Some of his early fabrics featured ‘jazz age’ scenes of nightclubs and dancing, while later motifs were based on Australian flora and fauna, or derived from Oceanic and Aboriginal art.

 

Sam Atyeo. 'Album of designs: tables' c. 1933 - c. 1936

 

Sam Atyeo
Album of designs: tables
c. 1933 – c. 1936
Album: watercolour, brush and coloured inks, coloured pencils, 14 designs tipped into an album of 16 grey pages, card covers, tape and stapled binding
30.0 x 19.2 cm (page) 30.0 x 20.8 x 0.8 cm (closed)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the artist, 1988

 

 

Sam Atyeo was a leading figure in Melbourne’s emerging modernist circles in the early 1930s, the partner of artist Moya Dyring and lover of Sunday Reed. He had studied at the National Gallery School, where he was a brilliant and rebellious student. Around 1932 Atyeo became friendly with Cynthia Reed, who managed Fred Ward’s furniture shop and interior design consultancy on Collins Street. After she opened Cynthia Reed Modern Furnishings in Little Collins Street, Atyeo designed furniture for Reed, that was strongly influenced by Ward’s designs.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
32.8 x 25.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2000

 

Ethel Blundell. 'Vase' 1936

 

Ethel Blundell
Vase
1936
Earthenware
17.6 x 16.8 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Mrs Margaret Howie, Governor, 1999
© Ethel Blundell

 

 

Utopian cities

Modernity reflected what was new and progressive in Australian urban life. The image of the city became an allegory for this in art, and efficiency and speed became watchwords for modernity. Many artists celebrated the city and technological advancements in works utilising a modern style of hard-edged forms, flat colours and dynamic compositions. The engineering marvel of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1932, was an ongoing source of fascination for artists, as were images of building the city, industry and modern modes of transport.

The skyscraper was also a powerful symbol of modern prosperity, especially when the Great Depression cast doubt on the inevitability of progress; hence the advent of tall buildings in Australian cities was hailed with relief and optimism. In 1932, at the peak of the Depression, the tallest building in Melbourne was opened: the Manchester Unity Building at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. With its ornamental tower and spire taking its overall height to 64 metres, the building was welcomed by The Age newspaper as ‘a new symbol of enterprise and confidence, undaunted by the “temporary eclipse” of the country’s economic fortune’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria at left; and Evening dress at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Seventh city of the Empire - Melbourne, Victoria' 1930s

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria
1930s
Colour lithograph printed by J. E. Hackett, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee, 2007

 

 

Percy Trompf’s poster celebrates Melbourne’s first skyscraper, the iconic Manchester Unity Building on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. Designed by architect Marcus Barlow in the Art Deco ‘Gothic’ style, it was built at high speed between 1930 and 1932, and provided much needed employment during the Depression. At twelve storeys high and topped with a decorative tower it was Melbourne’s tallest building and contained the city’s first escalators. A powerful symbol of the city’s modernity, it was often featured in images of Melbourne.

 

Unknown, Australia 'Evening dress' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Australia
Evening dress
c. 1935
Silk
144.0 cm (centre back), 36.0 cm (waist, flat)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Irene Mitchell, 1975

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24) 'The works, Yallourn' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24)
The works, Yallourn
1933
Colour linocut, ed. 3/50
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The Joseph Brown Collection
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2004

 

 

Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme were leading figures in modern art in Melbourne. In the 1920s they studied with modernist Claude Flight at the Grosvenor School in London, where they learnt to make colour linocuts that followed Flight’s principles of rhythmic design combined with flat colour. In April 1933 Spowers and Syme visited the Yallourn Power Station in Gippsland, which had been opened in 1928 and was the largest supplier of electricity to the state.

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968) 'Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)' 1931

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968)
Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)
1931
Oil on canvas on plywood
44.7 x 49.2 cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane Purchased 1983
© QAGOMA

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935) 'Taxi rank' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935)
Taxi rank
c. 1931
Oil on canvas on board
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham's 'George Street, Sydney' (1934) from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham’s George Street, Sydney (1934) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

After serving in the Royal Australian Navy during the First World War, Herbert Badham studied at the Sydney Art School and began exhibiting in 1927. In his paintings he was a keen observer of everyday urban life: streets with shoppers, city workers on their lunch break and drinkers in the pub were painted in a contemporary, hard-edged realist style.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Rush hour in King's Cross' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Rush hour in King’s Cross
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
41.2 x 40.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Mr A.C. Goode, Fellow, 1987

 

 

During the 1930s the city provided a rich source of imagery for artists working in modern styles, who celebrated the speed and efficiency of modern transport technology and expanding road and rail networks. Yet as car ownership increased during the 1930s, larger cities began to suffer congestion and the rush hour became part of urban life. Throughout the decade the pace and stress of modern life became a topic of public debate, with conservative commentators decrying this transformation of the Australian lifestyle.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Grace Cossington Smith’s The Bridge in-curve at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Grace Cossington Smith. 'The Bridge in-curve' 1930

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia 1892-1984, England and Germany 1912-14, England and Italy 1949-51)
The Bridge in-curve
1930
Tempera on cardboard
83.6 x 111.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the National Gallery Society of Victoria, 1967
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

 

 

The slow rise of the Sydney Harbour Bridge above the city was recorded by numerous painters, printmakers and photographers, including Sydney modernist Grace Cossington Smith. Her iconic The Bridge-in-curve depicts the bridge just before its two arches were joined in August 1930, and conveys the sense of wonder, achievement and hope that was inspired by this engineering marvel. By painting the emerging, rather than the complete bridge, Cossington Smith also focuses our attention on the energy and ambition required to create it.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Installation view of Frank Hinder’s Trains passing (1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Trains passing
1940
Oil on composition board
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1974

 

 

Frank Hinder was one of the first abstract artists in Australia. After living and studying in the United States, Hinder and his wife, the American sculptor Margel, returned to Sydney in 1934. There they became part of a small avant-garde group that included Grace Crowley, Rah Fizelle, Ralph Balson and the German sculptor and art historian Eleanore Lange, all of whom were interested in Cubist, Constructivist and Futurist art. Hinder later said that this work was inspired by seeing Lange, sitting next to him on a train, reflected in the windows of a passing train.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Commuters' 1938

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Commuters
1938
Tempera on paper on board
Private collection

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976 'The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress' 1937

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976
The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress
1937
Booklet: colour photolithographs and letterpress,
12 pages, cardboard cover
printed by Queen City Printers, Melbourne
20.8 x 26.8 cm (closed)
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Launched in November 1937, The Spirit of Progress express passenger train was a source of immense pride to Victorians. Built in Newport, Victoria, the train featured many innovations, including all-steel carriages and full air-conditioning. Designed in the Art Deco, streamlined style by architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the passenger carriages were fitted out to a level of comfort not previously seen in Australia, and included a full dining carriage. The train ran between Melbourne and the New South Wales state border at Albury, the longest non-stop train journey in Australia at that time, at an average speed of 84 kilometres per hour.

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis' 'Speed!' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis’ Speed! from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924) 'Speed!' 1931

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924)
Speed!
1931
Colour process block print
Art Gallery of South Australia
Adelaide South Australian Government Grant 1986

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s 'Night gown' c. 1938

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s
Night gown
c. 1938
Silk (a) 166.0 cm (centre back) 38.9 cm (waist, flat) (dress) (b) 121.0 cm (centre back) 38.0 cm (waist, flat) (slip)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Mrs A. G. Pringle, 1982

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross left and Frank Hinder’s Jackhammer third from right and Margel Hinder’s Man with jackhammer second right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934) 'Man with jackhammer' 1939

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934)
Man with jackhammer
1939
Cedar
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of J. B. Were & Son, Governor, 2001

 

 

American-born Margel Hinder was one of Australia’s leading modernist sculptors. She had studied art in Boston, where she met and married Sydney artist Frank Hinder. In 1934 they moved to Australia and became an important part of Sydney’s small modern art scene. In Man with jackhammer Hinder has simplified and contained the figure within a square frame, the strong diagonal form of the jackhammer creating a sense of compressed energy and force. Man and machine have fused in this celebration of industry and progress.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Jackhammer' 1936

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Jackhammer
1936
Airbrush on black paper
52.0 x 38.0 cm
Private collection, Sydney
© Enid Hawkins

 

 

Modern Woman

In the 1930s the new ‘Modern Woman’ made her appearance as a more serious and emancipated version of the giddy 1920s ‘flapper’. A woman who worked, she often lived alone in one of the new city apartment buildings, visited nightclubs and showed less interest in traditional marriage and child rearing. A lean body type became fashionable and was enhanced by the lengthened hemlines and defined waists introduced by French couturier Jean Patou in 1929. This slender silhouette was supported by form-fitting foundation garments by manufacturers such as Berlei.

The Modern Woman became one of the most potent images of contemporary life, being celebrated in women’s magazines such as the ultra-stylish Home and the Australian Women’s Weekly, launched in 1933. While such magazines were congratulating her and promoting new consumer goods to the Modern Woman, at the same time she was criticised by conservative commentators. In 1937 photographer Max Dupain wrote: ‘There must be a great shattering of modern values if woman is to continue to perpetuate the race… In her shred of a dress and little helmet of a hat, her cropped hair, and stark bearing, the modern woman is a sort of a soldier… It is not her fault it is her doom’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Peter Purves Smith’s Maisie left, Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Peter Purves Smith’s Lucile at  top right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Lina Bryans The babe is wise at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Maisie' 1938-39

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40)
Maisie
1938-39
Gouache
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Bequest of Lady Maisie Drysdale 2001

 

 

In 1937 the striking, auburn-haired Maisie Newbold was a student at the George Bell School in Melbourne, where she met fellow student Peter Purves Smith and his best friend Russell Drysdale. Maisie and Purves Smith were married in 1946, only three years before latter’s premature death from tuberculosis. Purves Smith painted this portrait at the start of their relationship. It depicts Maisie as a stylish woman wearing the latest fashion, the angularity of her features contrasted by the soft fur of her collar and feathers of her hat. Many years later Maisie married Drysdale.

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig's work 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig’s work Peggy c. 1932
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 - Australia 1909, Australia from 1902) 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 – Australia 1909, Australia from 1902)
Peggy
c. 1932
Oil on canvas
40.4 x 30.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1978
© The Estate of Sybil Craig

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910) 'The babe is wise' 1940

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910)
The babe is wise
1940
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Jean Campbell, 1962

 

 

Lina Bryans’s portrait of author Jean Campbell is titled after Campbell’s 1939 novel The Babe is Wise, a contemporary story set in Melbourne and in which the main protagonists are European migrants. A well-known figure in Melbourne’s literary circles, Campbell was noted for her ‘quick and slightly audacious wit’. Bryans had begun painting in 1937 with the support of William Frater. In the late 1930s she lived at Darebin Bridge House, which became an informal artists’ colony and meeting place for writers associated with the journal Meanjin.

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Lucile' 1937

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40)
Lucile
1937
Oil on board
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 2011 with funds raised through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Appeal

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37) 'Self-portrait' 1932

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37)
Self-portrait
1932
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Acquired with the assistance of the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund 2011

 

 

During the first decade of her life as a professional artist, Nora Heysen completed numerous self-portraits. In many of these she depicts herself in the act of drawing or painting, holding a palette and brush or with other accoutrements of the artist, and thereby asserting her professional identity. Yet these are also highly charged works in which Heysen scrutinises herself (and the viewer) with an unflinching and unsmiling gaze.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Arthur Challen’s Miss Moira Madden above chair
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Arthur Challen 'Miss Moira Madden' 1937

 

Arthur Challen
Miss Moira Madden
1937
oil on canvas
89.8 x 77.4 cm (framed)
State Library of Victoria
Gift of Mrs S. M. Challen, 1966
© The Estate of Arthur Challen

 

 

Body culture

The terrible physical losses and psychological traumas of the First World War changed Australian society and prompted anxious concerns about the direction of the nation. For some this meant an inward-looking isolationism, a desire that Australian culture should develop independently and untouched by the ‘degenerate’ influences of Europe.

The search for rejuvenation frequently involved explorations of the capabilities and vulnerabilities of the human body. In the hands of artists, corporeal forms came to symbolise nationhood, most often expressed through references to the art of Classical Greece and mythological subjects. The evolution of a new Australian ‘type’ was also proposed in the 1930s – a white Australian drawn from British stock, but with an athletic and streamlined shape honed by time spent swimming and surfing on local beaches.

This art often has a distinctive quality to it, which in the light of history can sometimes make for disquieting viewing. With the terrible knowledge of how the Nazi Party in Germany subsequently used eugenics in its systematic slaughter of those with so-called ‘bad blood’, the Australian enthusiasm for ‘body culture’ can now seem problematic. Images of muscular nationalism soon lost their cache in Australia following the Second World War, tainted by undesirable fascistic overtones.

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Harvest' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Harvest
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph (25.6 x 30.5 cm)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2000

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Iris Burke 1989

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Discus thrower' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Discus thrower
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
38.5 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Souvenir of Cronulla' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Souvenir of Cronulla
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of National Australia Bank Limited, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1992

 

 

In the 1930s Max Dupain responded to Henri Bergson’s book Creative Evolution (1907) in which he considered creativity and intuition as central to the renewed development of society, and the artist as prime possessor of these powers. Vitalism, as this philosophy was termed, was believed to be expressed through polarised sexual energies. In this work Dupain focuses on the sexually differentiated ‘energies’ of men and women, associating women with the forces of nature.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Daphne Mayo’s A young Australian in foreground
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25) 'A young Australian' 1930, cast 1931

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25)
A young Australian
1930, cast 1931
Bronze, marble
(a-b) 51.0 x 35.2 x 18.1 cm (overall)
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Purchased 1930
© 1982 by The Surf Life Saving Foundation and the Uniting Church in Australia Property Trust (Q.)

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes and Resting Diana at left; Tom Purvis’ Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations (wall print) at centre rear; and Jean Broome-Norton’s Abundance on plinth at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959) 'Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations' c. 1938

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959)
Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations
c. 1938
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill's 'Neo-classical nudes' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 - Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929) 'Resting Diana' 1931

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 – Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929)
Resting Diana
1931
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

 

The invocation of the Classical body as a modern prototype was a powerful idea in the 1930s. The Graeco- Roman goddess Diana, the virgin patron goddess of the hunt, was popularly invoked as an ideal of female perfection, and represented with a slender and athletic physique. Dorothy Thornhill’s Diana is a remarkable visualisation of such a ‘modern Diana’, her angular body and defined musculature reflecting the masculinisation of female bodies at this time. She is a formidable presence, the quiver of arrows slung nonchalantly across her shoulders a trophy of her victory over the male gender.

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002) 'Abundance' 1934

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002)
Abundance
1934
Plaster, bronze patination
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of ICI Australia Limited, Fellow, 1994

 

 

“High-rise buildings, fast trains and engineering feats such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge jostled against the Great Depression, conservatism and a looming Second World War during the 1930s, one of the most turbulent decades in Australian history. The major exhibition at the NGV, Brave New World: Australia 1930s, will explore the way artists and designers engaged with these major issues providing a fresh look at a period characterised by both optimism and despair. The exhibition will present a broad-ranging collection of more than 200 works spanning photography, painting, printmaking, sculpture and decorative arts as well as design, architecture, fashion, graphics, film and dance.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, commented, “Brave New World explores an important period of Australian art history during which Abstraction, Surrealism and Expressionism first emerged, and women artists arose as trailblazers of the modern art movement. It will offer an immersive look at the full spectrum of visual and creative culture of the period, from Max Dupain’s iconic depictions of the Australian body and beach culture to a vast display of nearly 40 Art Deco radios, which were an indispensable item for the Australian home during the 1930s.”

Presented thematically, Brave New World will show how artists and designers responded to major social and political concerns of the 1930s. The Great Depression, which saw Australia’s unemployment rate rise to 32% by 1932, is seen through the eyes of photographer F. Oswald Barnett in his powerful images of poverty-stricken inner Melbourne suburbs such as Fitzroy, Collingwood and Carlton, and in the works of Danila Vassilieff, Yosl Bergner, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker who were among the first artists to depict Australia’s working class and destitute.

In contrast, many other artists at the time chose to focus upon the vibrant city streets, cafes and buildings of contemporary Australian cities, such as renowned modernist Grace Cossington Smith with her energetic canvasses of flat colours and abstracted forms. Other artists featured in Brave New World including Hilda Rix Nicholas and Elioth Gruner concentrated on more traditional scenes of the Australian bush, which was seen as a place of respite from the frenetic pace of modern city life.

The exhibition will explore artists’ responses to the growing calls for Indigenous rights during the 1930s, which was accompanied by a rising interest in Aboriginal art and particularly the work of Albert Namatjira, the first Indigenous artist of renown in Australia; and the rise of the ‘modern woman’, a female who favoured urban living, freedom and equality over marriage and child rearing.

The 1930s also saw the idea of the ‘Australian body’, a tanned, muscular archetype shaped by sand and surf, come to the fore of the Australian identity. Artists who engaged with this idea, including Max Dupain, Charles Meere and Olive Cotton, will be presented in Brave New World. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 212-page hardback publication, featuring essays by leading writers on each of the exhibition themes. A series of public programs will also be offered including a major symposium, an Art Deco walking tour of Melbourne and a dance performance, recreating Demon machine (1924) by the Bodenweiser company that toured Australia in the late 1930s as well as an original solo by the choreographer, Carol Brown (NZ).

Press release from the NGV

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937) 'Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D'Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour' 1939-40

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937)
Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D’Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour
1939-40
Gelatin silver photograph
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection. Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

The expressive body: dance in Australia

If modern art encapsulated the ideals and conflicting forces of the early twentieth century, then modern dance embodied its restless vitality and the quest for a different kind of subjectivity and expression. To many, modern dance is the pivotal art form for a mid twentieth century concerned with plasticity, the expressive body and tensions between the individual and its collective formation.

The decade of the 1930s is framed by the 1928-29 tour of Anna Pavlova’s dance company and the three tours of the remnant Ballets Russes companies (1936-37, 1938-39,1939-40) that excited many aspiring modernist artists. These tours sowed the seeds for subsequent ballet narratives in Australia, because the eruption of war in 1939 meant that Ballets Russes dancers, including Helene Kirsova and Edouard Borovansky, stayed in the country and established ballet companies. While trained in Russian dance technique, these artists were also influenced by the aesthetics of change in European art and dance that included new bodily techniques, dynamic movement patterns and modern technologies. It was the individual dancers of modern dance, however, including Louise Lightfoot and Sonia Revid, who produced the expressive intensity of a more autonomous art of movement.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA featuring a wall print of Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach c. 1935 by an unknown Australian photographer
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Australia, Unknown photographer. 'Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach' c. 1935

 

Australia, Unknown photographer
Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach
c. 1935
Courtesy of State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Sonia Revid was one of the leading proponents of modern interpretative dance in Melbourne. Born in Latvia, she studied with the great dancer Mary Wigman in Germany before coming to Australia in 1932. Revid is credited with introducing the ‘German Dance’ to Australian audiences, and in the mid 1930s established the Sonia Revid School of Art and Body Culture in Collins Street. She composed her own dances, one of the best known being Bushfire drama (1940), based on the 1939 Victoria Bushfires.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
44.5 x 33.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20) 'Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet' 1936-37

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20)
Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet
1936-37
Gelatin silver photograph
24.8 x 19.4 cm
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

Choreographed by Léonide Massine in 1933, Les Presages (Destiny) was a popular and avant-garde work during the Ballets Russes tours to Australia in 1936-37. It was one of the first contemporary ballets to be choreographed to an existing musical score, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Portrayed in this picture are two principal dancers from the Monte Carlo Ballets Russes: Hélène Kirsova, who remained in Australia and formed her own ballet company in Sydney in the early 1940s, and Igor Youskevitch, who became a leading American ballet dancer, appearing here in the role of the Hero.

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s 'Dress for Slavonic Dances' 1939

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s
Dress for Slavonic Dances
1939
Cotton, silk (velvet) (appliqué), elastic, metal (zip) for a production of the Bodenwieser Ballet, choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
Bodenwieser Collection. Gift of Barbara Cuckson, 2000

 

 

The Slavonic Dances were choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser to represent what she described as the ‘vigour and passionate feelings of the Slavonic people’, and toured with her first company in Australia in 1939. Loosely using folk-dance motifs, this ensemble work would have been a stylish crowd-pleaser in contrast to more serious dances. The appliqué and colourful flower motifs on this dress are similar to designs by Natalia Goncharova for the Ballets Russes, although the simplified appeal of its ‘red bodice, long, swirling skirt, and gathered white sleeves’ were probably designed by one of the company dancers, Evelyn Ippen.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Tamara Tchinarova in Presages' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Tamara Tchinarova in Presages
Published in Art in Australia, February 15, 1937
National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne Shaw Research Library

 

 

Australia Tunes Into The World

These radios comprise a selection of Australian designed and manufactured tabletop models from the 1930s at a time when this new method of communication became an integral part of every home. They reflect the rapid spread of the streamlined style to Australia from the United States, England and Europe, where industrial designers applied machine-age styling to everyday household appliances. The use of new synthetic plastics (Bakelite) and mass production helped to make radios affordable for ordinary people, even in the depths of the Depression, and radio transmission brought the world into every Australian home. As cheap alternatives to the expensive wooden console in the lounge room, these small, portable radios allowed individual family members to listen to serials, quizzes and popular music in other rooms such as the kitchen, bedroom and verandah, as well as in the workplace.

Radios of the 1930s are now appreciated as quintessential examples of Art Deco styling, and one of the first expressions of art meeting industry. These colourful and elegant radio sets were one of the first pieces of modern styling in the Australian home. They were also a symbol of modern technology and a new future.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer) 'Mullard' 1938

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (white)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (speckled green)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (black)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA 'Egg crate' (various colours)' 1938

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA ‘Egg crate’ (various colours)
1938
Bakelite
21.0 x 33.0 x 19.0 cm (each)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA Radiolette 'Empire State' and cigarette box (green)' 1934

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA Radiolette ‘Empire State’ and cigarette box (green)
1934
Bakelite
(a) 28.0 x 27.0 x 15.0 cm (radio) (b) 8.0 x 8.0 x 4.5 cm (cigarette box)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Sun and surf

The beach was a complex location in the Australian creative imagination. It was a democratic site in which the trappings of wealth and position were abandoned as people stripped down to their bathers. It was a place of hedonistic pleasures that offered sensuous engagement with sun and surf, and a primitive landscape where natural forces restored the bodies of those depleted by modern life. It was a playground for the tourist that was considered distinctively Australian. As war loomed again in the late 1930s, it was also a pseudo-militaristic zone in which the lifesaver was honed for ‘battle’ in the surf.

The lifesavers that helped protect the beach-going public were regularly praised as physical exemplars who could build the eugenic stock of the nation. As the Second World War approached, the connection of these trained lifesavers to military servicemen also became painfully apparent.

Male lifesavers were used by artists in promoting Australia to tourists: a poster commemorating the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 positioned the lifesaver as the quintessential representative of Australian manhood. Douglas Annand and Arthur Whitmore’s virile lifesaver proudly gestures towards the new bridge, his muscles as strong and protective as the steel girders that span the harbour.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'On the beach. Man, woman, boy' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
On the beach. Man, woman, boy
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
39.2 x 47.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Showing a naked family on the beach, Max Dupain’s work is a perfect illustration of social concerns of the times. As Australia moved closer to engagement in another world war, fears about the poor physical fitness of the population were debated, with a ‘national fitness’ campaign instituted by the government in 1938. Dupain’s father, George, was one of the country’s first physical educationalists, opening the Dupain Institute of Physical Education and Medical Gymnastics in 1900 and writing extensively on the subject of health and fitness. Max Dupain attended the gym and was well versed in contemporary concerns about fitness.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Male lifesaver, window' and 'Female lifesaver, window' (both c. 1935)

 

Installation view of Male lifesaver, window and Female lifesaver, window (both c. 1935) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Male lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Male lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.5 x 40.8 cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by C. J Dennis

 

 

‘On golden and milky sands, bodily excellence is displayed the year round, clearly defined by the sun in an atmosphere as viewless and benign as the air of Hellas as described by Euripides.’

J. S. Macdonald, 1931

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Female lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Female lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.0 x 40.9 cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by Councillor R. T. Bell

 

 

Although much was made of the ‘gods of the golden sand’, as one poet glowingly described lifesavers, lifesaving clubs were not entirely male in membership. Women lifesavers also made their mark, albeit in more limited numbers and with much less recognition. At the Williamstown Lifesaving Club in Melbourne a woman lifesaver was included in this fine and very rare stained glass window that, along with its counterpart featuring a male lifesaver, graced the newly established clubhouse around 1935.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the male and female lifesavers (centre); Max Dupain’s The carnival at Bondi (fourth from right); Sydney Bridge celebrations (second right); and Douglas Annand and Max Dupain’s Australia (right)
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Sunbaker
(1938), dated 1937, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
38.0 x 43.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976

 

 

Taken on a camping trip near Culburra, on the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales, in January 1938, Max Dupain’s original version of the Sunbaker was a much darker image that existed at the time only in an album gifted to his friend Chris Van Dyke. Dupain lost the original negative and printed this variant version in 1975 for an exhibition. It is an image that is now considered an icon in Australian photography, and has come to represent key values of the interest in ‘body culture’, celebrating health and fitness in the context of the beach.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'The carnival at Bondi' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
The carnival at Bondi
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

‘The lifesaving teams … are splendid examples of the physique, resourcefulness and vitality of our youth and manhood. They are typical of the outdoor life which Australians lead and they are living testimonies to the value of surfing and the vigor and stamina of our race.’

DAILY EXAMINER, July 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Manly' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Manly
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from funds donated by Hallmark Cards Australia Pty Ltd, 1987

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'The seaside calls - go by train - take a Kodak' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
The seaside calls – go by train – take a Kodak
1930s
Colour lithograph
Printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee

 

 

Gert Sellheim was born to German parents in Estonia, at that time part of the Russian Empire. After studying architecture in Europe he travelled to Western Australia in 1926, before settling in Melbourne in 1931, where he began working as an industrial and commercial designer. Working for the Australian National Travel Association, Sellheim created a series of posters promoting beach holidays, which incorporated Art Deco motifs and typography. His most famous design is the flying kangaroo logo for Qantas, which he created in 1947.

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65) 'Sydney Bridge celebrations' 1932

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76)
Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65)
Sydney Bridge celebrations
1932
Colour lithograph
47.6 x 63.6 cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Australia' c. 1937

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76)
Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Australia
c. 1937
Colour and process lithograph
105.3 x 68.4 cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76) 'Follow the sun - Australia's 150th Anniversary celebrations' 1938

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76)
Follow the sun – Australia’s 150th Anniversary celebrations
1938
Colour lithograph and photolithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

The 1930s were the heyday of the travel poster. Posters were commissioned by railway and tourism groups or shipping companies and airlines to promote Australian holiday destinations, both at home and overseas. The Australian National Travel Association was formed in 1929 to promote Australia to overseas markets. As part of its strategy it commissioned posters from leading graphic artists, such as Percy Trompf, James Northfield and Douglas Annand. From the late 1920s Australia began to actively promote itself to the world by using the beach, sun and surf as motifs.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the work of John Rowell, Hilda Rix Nicholas, Gert Sellheim and Percy Trompf on the far wall, and Robert E. Coates Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) on the projector screen at left
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

The Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair projected an image of Australia as a young and healthy nation, a place of industry, sport and tourism. Designed by John Oldham of Sydney architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the modern design of the building was complemented by Douglas Annand’s interior displays featuring the latest graphic design, and audio-visual and photomontage techniques. These photographs of the Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair were taken by commercial photographer Robert E. Coates.

 

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

 

Installation views of Robert E. Coates’ Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) (digital images, looped)

 

 

Pastoral landscapes

Along with the beach, another national myth evolved around the Australian bush. Although most Australians lived in cities, in the years following the First World War the nation became increasingly informed by a mythology centred on the bush and the landscape. For those who considered the modern city a profoundly depleting force, the bush was a touchstone of traditional ‘values’. It was nostalgically conceived of as an idyllic natural realm whose soil, literally and metaphorically, sustained its people. Both the classical Pastoral ideal of a land in which only sheep and cattle roam, and the Georgic tradition, which celebrated the achievements of agriculture, became dominant themes in landscape art.

Pastoral landscapes were admired above all as representing the antithesis of ‘decadent’ modern life. As art critic and gallery director J. S. Macdonald wrote, such art would ‘point the way in which life should be lived in Australia, with the maximum of flocks and the minimum of factories’. With their emphasis on farming and pastoral industries, such works affirmed white landownership, with Indigenous people largely absent.

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973) 'Blue hills' c. 1936

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973)
Blue hills
c. 1936
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1936

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Spring in the Grampians' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Spring in the Grampians
1930s
Colour photolithograph
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 2000

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The fair musterer' c. 1935

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18)
The fair musterer
c. 1935
Oil on canvas
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 1971

 

 

As a young artist Hilda Rix Nicholas had a successful career in France before returning to Australia after the First World War. In 1934, several years after the birth of her son, Rix Nicholas returned to painting and depicted her new life living on the family property Knockalong, on the Monaro Plains in New South Wales. Depicting the governess of her young son holding the reins of her horse, dog at her feet, and sheep in the distance, in The fair musterer Rix Nicholas claims for women an active role in the masculine world of pastoral Australia.

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The shepherd of Knockalong' 1933

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18)
The shepherd of Knockalong
1933
Oil on canvas
Collection of Peter Rix, Sydney
Courtesy of Deutscher & Hackett

 

 

Depicting the artist’s husband and young son, The shepherd of Knockalong is a reminder of the traditional importance of the wool industry to the nation’s economy. With his legs firmly connected to the ground and pictured as a large figure dominating the landscape setting, the farmer is the benign owner and ‘shepherd’ of the land spreading out behind him, the presence of his young son ensuring dynastic succession. At a time when Aboriginal people were confined to reservations and denied citizenship, Hilda Rix Nicholas’s painting can also be considered as an assertion of the British colonisers’ right to ownership of Australia.

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Western Australia' c. 1936

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Western Australia
c. 1936
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Indigenous art and culture

During the 1930s Aboriginal people were often pejoratively referred to as a ‘dying race’. The Australian Government continued to enforce a ‘divide and rule’ assimilationist policy. Determined by eugenics, this entailed removing Aboriginal people of mixed descent from their families and reserves, and absorbing them into the dominant society, with consequent loss of their own language and customary ritual practices. Increasingly during this period, Aboriginal people formed their own organisations and agitated for full citizenship rights.

This was also a decade that saw increasing awareness of, and interest in, Indigenous art. Albert Namatjira astonished Melbourne audiences at his first solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1938. Comprising forty-one watercolour paintings, all of his works sold within three days of the opening. The following year the Art Gallery of South Australia purchased one of Namatjira’s works. Indigenous art also inspired non-Indigenous artists, including Margaret Preston and Frances Derham who appropriated design elements in their works. The idea of ‘Aboriginalism’, in which settlers sought an Australian identity in the context of Britishness and the Empire, saw artists travelling to the outback to paint and sketch subjects they believed connected them to Indigenous history.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) Kangaroo and 'Aboriginal motifs' 1925-1940

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
Kangaroo and Aboriginal motifs
1925-1940
Linocut printed in brown ink on buff paper
4.6 x 7.3 cm (image) 12.6 x 10.3 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988
© Estate of Frances Derham

 

 

Best known as a progressive educator and advocate of children’s art, Frances Derham was also an active member of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria, and with potter Allan Lowe shared Margaret Preston’s interest in the appropriation of Indigenous art. From the mid 1920s Derham began to incorporate Aboriginal motifs into her linocuts and in 1929, synchronous with the exhibition Australian Aboriginal Art at the Museum of Victoria, Derham presented a lecture to the Arts and Crafts Society, entitled ‘The Interest of Aboriginal Art to the Modern Designer’.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'Kangaroo (at the zoo)' c. 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
Kangaroo (at the zoo)
c. 1931
Linocut printed in brown ink on Chinese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'The Aboriginal artist' 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
The Aboriginal artist
1931
Colour linocut on Japanese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19) 'Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales' 1940-1941

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19)
Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales
1940-1941
Oil and gouache on canvas
53.7 x 45.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated from the Estate of Dr Donald Wright, 2008
© Margaret Preston/Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

 

 

During the 1920s Margaret Preston considered Aboriginal art a source of good design in the decoration of household items. In the 1930s her study of Aboriginal culture intensified, as she developed a greater interest in its anthropological and cosmological elements. In 1940 Preston travelled to the Northern Territory to study Aboriginal art. On her return she developed a more explicit Aboriginal style in paintings featuring earthy tones, strong black outlines and patterns of dots and lines.

 

Unknown Walamangu active (1930s) 'Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)' c. 1935

 

Unknown
Walamangu active (1930s)
Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)
c. 1935
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.), resin
128.3 x 63.9 cm
The Donald Thomson Collection
Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, segregation was the main government policy regarding Aboriginal people. It was re-enforced by the 1909 Aborigines Protection Act, which gave the Aborigines Protection Board the power to control where Aboriginal people lived in New South Wales. In 1937 the Commonwealth Government adopted a policy of assimilation, whereby Aboriginal people of mixed descent were henceforth to be assimilated into white society, while others were confined to reserves. In 1931 Arnhem Land was declared an Aboriginal Reserve by the government and non-Indigenous entry into the region was restricted.

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani Liyagalawumirr active 1930s 'Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story)' 1937

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani
Liyagalawumirr active 1930s
Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story) (installation view)
1937
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.)
The Donald Thomson Collection Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For Yolgnu people, painting on bark or objects is intimately connected with painting on the body, and the Yolgnu term barrawan means both ‘skin’ and ‘bark’. These paintings are transcriptions of the sacred designs that were painted onto men’s bodies and convey the power of the Yolgnu ancestors whose actions created their world. The Wagilag Sisters Dreaming story chronicles the creative acts of the sisters as they travelled across Arnhem Land. Such stories pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to later generations.

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40) 'Walila, Pintupi tribe' 1934

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40)
Walila, Pintupi tribe
1934
Pencil
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1934

 

 

In 1933, on the invitation of Professor H. Whitridge Davies, Sydney artist Arthur Murch accompanied a research team from Sydney University to Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, south-west of Alice Springs. Murch remained there for six weeks painting the landscapes and making portraits of Indigenous people. These were exhibited in Sydney soon after his return.

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938) 'Thomas Foster' (installation view) 1934

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938)
Thomas Foster (installation view)
1934
Oil on canvas
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Isabelle Leason, 1969
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Thomas Foster was born at Coranderrk Station in 1882, the son of Edward Foster and Betsy Benfield. Foster’s was one of the last portraits painted by Leason as part of the unfortunately titled exhibition The Last of the Victorian Aborigines. These portraits were debuted on 11 September at the Athenaeum Gallery in Collins Street, Melbourne, to great public acclaim. Foster, like most of Leason’s subjects, appears shirtless, his arms folded behind his back, pushing forward his chest and clearly showing his scarification marks.

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Corroboree Australia' 1934

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Corroboree Australia
1934
Colour lithograph printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Australian National Travel Association, 1934

 

 

Dystopian cities

Australia was hit hard by the Great Depression. The worst year was 1932, when unemployment reached nearly thirty-two per cent, and by the following year almost a third of all unemployed men had been without work for three years. With wages cut and unemployment rising, many families were left struggling to survive and this poverty was most evident in run-down, inner-city areas. Two émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner, were the first Australian artists to turn their attention to the plight of the urban poor and the disposed. Their powerful, expressive style was influential upon young artists, including Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker.

Economic hardship fostered bitterness and political unrest, and membership of radical groups on both the left and right increased. Boundaries between political agendas and art production became porous in this decade, and many artists believed, like Bergner, ‘that by painting we would change the world’. The complex enmeshment of the creative and political became a defining feature of the decade, and art in Australia became increasingly political, with the political realm involving itself with art.

By the end of the decade the worsening political situation overseas and a sense that another world war was inevitable contributed to a growing sense of unease. Many artists expressed this anxiety and foreboding in their works.

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90) 'No title (War montage with globe)' c. 1939

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90)
No title (War montage with globe)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph
30.4 x 24.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of Mrs Mem Kirby, Fellow, 2001

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Hot rhythm!' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Hot rhythm!
1936
Silver gelatin photograph
24.7 x 17.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

In this work, Max Dupain has the shadow of a slide trombone seemingly bisect the naked body of a woman in a photograph that, in the context of his known views, is less an erotic celebration of modern jazz culture and nightlife than a comment on the disruptive nature of modernity.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Doom of youth' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Doom of youth
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

In Doom of youth – a title taken from Wyndham Lewis’s 1932 polemical book of the same name – Max Dupain creates an allegorical photograph in which a naked male body represents his vision of modern Australia. Using symbols that suggest disempowerment, Dupain implies that the flywheel of mechanisation has doomed youth (the representatives of a nation’s future) to a bleak fate.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep' 1936-37

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep
1936-37
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

Referring to Edward Hughes’s 1912 Symbolist work of the same name, Max Dupain has replaced the painter’s dark-winged goddess of the night, who tries to calm the putti (or ‘stars’) that cling to her, with an updated modern version in which city lights replace starlight. The symbolism of the giant breast that towers over the electric lights of the urban landscape suggests an inversion of the natural for the man-made. The personification of night refers to the Greek goddess Nyx, a powerful force born of Chaos, and the mother of children including Sleep, Death and Pain. Given his often gloomy assessment of modernity, Dupain’s invocation of Nyx seems appropriate in the context.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Herbert Badham’s Paint and morning tea second left and Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait third from right
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961) 'Paint and morning tea' 1937

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961)
Paint and morning tea
1937
Oil on cardboard
75.6 x 71.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1937
© The Estate of Herbert Badham

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker's 'Self-portrait' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In the late 1930s Albert Tucker’s contact with émigré artists Yosl Bergner and Danila Vassilieff was to provide important encouragement for him to pursue his artistic vocation and to make art that was responsive to the issues of his time. In 1938 Tucker was a founding member of the Contemporary Art Society, and he became one of the most articulate voices in the often bitter debates between modernists and conservatives. In the 1940s, together with his partner Joy Hester, Tucker was a key member of the group of artists and writers that formed around John and Sunday Reed at Heide.

From 1936 until the early 1940s Albert Tucker chronicled himself with numerous painted and drawn self-portraits. In these works we witness a harrowing disintegration of his physical self, which mirrored the artist’s overwrought emotional state. He recalled: ‘It was a period when the whole world, and all the people I knew, seemed to be seething with ideas and energies and experiences; and my own mind was a seething mess … The highly emotional, overwrought expressionist paintings suited my state at the time’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with work by Danila Vassilieff on the centre black wall including Street scene with graffiti (left), Truth, Woolloomooloo (second left) and Young girl (Shirley) the large painting at right; and F. Oswald Barnett’s photographs of Melbourne slums in the display cabinet
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Street scene with graffiti' 1938

 

Installation view of Danila Vassilieff ‘s Street scene with graffiti (1938) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Truth, Woolloomooloo' 1936

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34)
Truth, Woolloomooloo
1936
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

 

It is notable that the first artists to depict the poverty of inner-city slums were two recently arrived émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner. Russian-born Vassilieff, who had fought with the white Russian army, first arrived in Australia in 1923 before leaving again in 1929. On his return in 1935 he painted a series of dark streetscapes, depicting the inner suburban areas of Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills in Sydney. Moving to Melbourne, Vassilieff’s expressionist style influenced many young artists, including Lina Bryans, Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan.

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Young girl (Shirley)' 1937

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34)
Young girl (Shirley)
1937
Oil on canvas on composition board
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
National Gallery Society of Victoria Century Fund, 1984

 

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. Rear view of house'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room 48 Palmerston Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne rubbish tip'

 

F. Oswald Barnett (Australia 1883–1972)

Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence
Fitzroy. Rear view of house
North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place
West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion
Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room, 48 Palmerston Street
North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street
West Melbourne rubbish tip

c. 1930-c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph and typewriting on card
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
F. Oswald Barnett Collection
Gift of Department of Human Services, Victoria 2001

 

 

One of the most visible and lasting effects of the Great Depression was the housing crisis in the poor working class areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Many of the nineteenth-century houses had fallen into disrepair, overcrowding was endemic and a great number of families lived in squalid and unhealthy conditions. Throughout the decade ‘slum’ abolition movements in Melbourne and Sydney ran public campaigns to place public housing on the political agenda, leading to the creation of the first state Housing Commissions.

In Melbourne, Methodist layman F. Oswald Barnett led a campaign calling for slum demolition and the rehousing of residents in government-financed housing. He took hundreds of photographs that were used in public lectures and to illustrate the 1937 report of the Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board. This led to the creation of the Housing Commission of Victoria in 1938, with its first major project being the Garden City estate at Fishermans Bend. In Sydney a similar campaign led to the Housing Improvement Act of 1936 and the construction of the first fifty-six home units at Erskineville. (NGV)

The photographs in the F. Oswald Barnett Collection were taken by Barnett and other unidentified photographers in the 1930s. Many of them were used to illustrate a government report on slum housing and/or made into lantern slides for lectures in a public campaign.  F. Oswald Barnett was born in Brunswick, Victoria. A committed Methodist and housing reformer, he led a crusade against Melbourne’s inner city slums. In 1936 he was appointed to the Slum Abolition Board and from 1938-1948 he was the vice-chair of the Housing Commission. In this position he attempted to shape compassionate public housing policy. He later protested vigorously against proposed high-rise housing (Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th century Australia).

 

 

Scenes from Melbourne during the depression (extract)
c. 1935
Black and white film transferred to media player
1 min. 51 sec. silent (looped)
Courtesy of National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Canberra

 

 

While there is an abundance of newspaper and documentary photographs which document the 1930s shanty towns, slums, relief and charity works, there is very little moving image recordings available. Instead, the moving image medium at the time was primarily focused on providing entertainment that would allow the audience temporary relief from the Depression. This rare footage depicts slum areas of inner Melbourne, and provides great insight into the horrible living conditions that many Australian families experienced.

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30) 'The sundowner' 1932

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30)
The sundowner
1932
Painted plaster
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jack and Zena Cohn, 2016

 

 

Ola Cohn studied sculpture with Henry Moore at the Royal College of Art in London in the 1920s. She returned to Melbourne in 1930, where the following year her solo exhibition established her as a leading proponent of modern sculpture. During the Depression the sight of ‘swagmen’ or ‘sundowners’ became commonplace as unemployed men travelled across the country in order to find work. In 1932 Cohn submitted this maquette of a sundowner to a competition for a full-scale sculpture to be erected in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne: unsurprisingly it was not chosen as the winning entry.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren at centre and Albert Tucker’s The futile city at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith's 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51) 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' 1940

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51)
The advance of Lot and his Brethren
1940
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist, 2008

 

 

In the early 1930s, artists depicted the city as a modern utopia, a place of triumphant progress and aspiration later in the decades, a new radical iconography of the city as a place of moral decay and corruption appeared. Painted at the start of the Second World War, Lot and his brethren expresses Bernard Smith’s despair at the conflagration that the world had been plunged into. Based on the biblical story of Lot, who fled from God’s destruction of Sodom, Smith depicts Karl Marx as the saviour who leads his people from the burning city.

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60) 'The futile city' 1940

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60)
The futile city
1940
Oil on cardboard
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, Melbourne
Purchased from John and Sunday Reed, 1980

 

 

At the start of the Second World War Surrealism was an important influence upon Albert Tucker, as were the writings of T. S. Eliot. The futile city was inspired by Eliot’s epic poem The Waste Land (1922): ‘I came on T. S. Eliot, and instantly I recognised a twin soul because here was horror, outrage, despair, futility, and all the images that went with them. He confirmed my own feelings and also became a source … because of the images that would involuntarily form while I was reading the poetry’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner's 'Citizen' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Yosl Bergner was one of approximately 7000-8000 Jewish people, mainly from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, who arrived in Australia between 1933 and 1939 fleeing Nazi persecution. This number included many artists, musicians, architects, writers and intellectuals who were to contribute greatly to Australia’s cultural life. However, government policy remained opposed to large-scale intake of Jewish refugees, and some were met with anti-Semitic sentiments upon their arrival.

 

Yvonne Atkinson (Australia 1918-99) 'The tram stop' 1937

 

Installation view of Yvonne Atkinson The tram stop (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Brave New World' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Brave New World
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 20.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2017

 

 

In 1935 Max Dupain referred to Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World (1932) in his photograph of a woman trapped by technology. Dupain was attracted to this biting satire on the ethical dilemmas of social engineering because it appeared to endorse his own fervently held ideas of how modernity was affecting the individual and national body. At the time his choice to directly reference this book was surprisingly provocative: Brave New World had been banned by the Australian customs department, with existing copies rounded up and burned. Dupain returned again to the theme in 1938, producing this variant version.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Brave New World (wall print) at centre rear with Sideboard and Chest of drawers at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Sideboard and Chest of drawers from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Sideboard' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Chest of drawers' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

Working-class people were the most affected by the high levels of unemployment during the Depression. By 1932 more than 60,000 men, women and children were dependent on the susso, a state-based sustenance payment that enabled families to buy only the bare minimum of food. Many families unable to pay their rent were evicted from their homes. For those suffering economic hardship, ‘making do’ became a way of life, and furniture would be constructed from found items such as kerosene tins and packing crates.

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer) John Long (publisher) 'Upsurge' 1934

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer)
John Long (publisher)
Upsurge
1934
London, March 1934
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Censorship of books was vigorously pursued by federal and state governments during the 1930s. Australia was one of only two countries in the world to ban Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World when it was first published in 1932. Australian author J. M. Harcourt’s novel Upsurge (1934) was the first book to be banned following a recommendation by the newly established Book Censorship Board in 1934. Portraying the lives of Western Australia’s working class during the Depression, it was described by one customs official as ‘thinly disguised propaganda on behalf of Communism and social revolution’.

 

Activism

During the 1930s a small number of artists became active in the militant working-class struggle through their involvement in social and cultural organisations affiliated with the Communist Party, such as the Friends of the Soviet Union, the Workers’ Art Club and the Workers’ Theatre Group, which were formed in Sydney, Melbourne and other metropolitan centres. A number of these artists were also involved with a variety of mostly short-lived radical magazines, helping with their production, as well as providing covers and illustrations. Linocuts were a preferred medium for these artists, as the materials were inexpensive and the images reproduced well.

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980) 'Masses' 1932

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980)
Masses
Cover illustration for Masses, vol. 1, no. 1, printed by Bright Printing Services, published by the Workers’ Art Club, Melbourne, November 1932
1932
Linocut printed in red and black ink
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock's cover illustration for 'Strife', vol. 1, no. 1

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock’s cover illustration for Strife, vol. 1, no. 1 (1930) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Edited by eighteen-year-old communist Judah Waten, with Herbert McClintock as art editor, Strife declared itself ‘an organ of the new culture, destructive and constructive’. The first issue was due for release in October 1930; however, a blasphemous poem by Brian Fitzpatrick published in the magazine prompted a police raid on the Strife office and the editor’s hasty destruction of (most) copies of the issue.

 

Installation view of cover illustration for 'Proletariat', vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator

 

Installation view of cover illustration for Proletariat, vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

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

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03
Aug
17

Review: ‘Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th May – 6th August 2017

“A GREAT review Marcus. As always. A master piece.” ~ Peter Barker, artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' c. 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Sunbaker
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1980

 

Anne Zahalka. 'The sunbather #2' 1989

 

Anne Zahalka
The sunbather #2
1989
From the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1997

 

 

The misery of too much sun

Simply put (where the work in this exhibition is anything but), this is one of the most depressing Australian group photography exhibitions that I have seen in a very long time. I left the exhibition feeling like I wanted to slit my wrists.

“Reimagining” an image is always going to be problematic, especially such an iconic photograph as Max Dupain’s no-face, monolithic, Uluru-shaped, low depth of field, wet, British male tourist lying on Culburra Beach, New South Wales in the 1930s – an image that “supposedly conveys a quintessential Australian identity,” a “casual holiday snap that came to symbolise leisure and freedom in the 1970s [which] was taken in the uncertain economic times before the Second World War.”

The scope for such a contemporary conceptual exercise is vast and the artists in this exhibition don’t waste the opportunity. Variously but not exclusively we have:

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Breakfast Club (1985), a movie in which five teenagers navigate identity issues
  • Indigenous massacres in Australia … positions of the planets between 1789 and 1928, when 63 massacres of Indigenous peoples took place
  • Samoan culture – malu – the female-Samoan tattoo (tatau)
  • The lifeless body of three-year-old refugee Aylan Kurdi, lying face down on a beach in Turkey which now haunts the figure of the Sunbaker
  • Sufi-inspired choreography, the dancers wearing a hammam cloth
  • 1920s swimwear based on wartime camouflage schemes
  • Reclaiming of the feminist body both as a medium of deliberate submission and active resistance through women’s strength, endurance and resilience by undertaking physical and psychological experiments that test the limits of her body, playfully and painfully
  • Denunciating the violence of the sand mining industry on the ecosystem, the land and its peoples
  • Grandfather opal-mine worker in South Australia excluded from Aboriginal rights until 1967
  • Paradox of a nation seen as a sun-blessed paradise while its shores have been a place of contestation and misery
  • Memories of childhood landscapes and research into the Massacre Map published by the Koorie Heritage Trust, which identified sites where Indigenous massacres occurred between 1836 and 1853
  • Digitally animated Sunbaker to make it resonate as a symbol of the 229 years since colonisation

.
How you get from a holiday snap of a tourist visiting Australia, having a swim, flopping down on the beach and all the joy that this entails to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Breakfast Club, female-Samoan tattoos, camouflage schemes, reclaiming the feminist body and more contestation and misery than you can poke a stick at – massacres, more massacres, symbol of 229 years of colonisation and a body of a three-year-old refugee which now supposedly haunts the figure of Sunbaker – is mind boggling. And no, the powerful image of that small body does not haunt Sunbaker. It never will. Only in the titular imagination of the artist!

Some of these reconceptualisations draw such a long bow that the arrow fell out of the sky long before the art work was finished. The trajectory of most of this work is so cerebral that you wonder whether the artists actually thought about visual and associative outcomes, something that the viewer would make connection to and with, before they started making the work. Is this really a good idea? Does the image, Sunbaker, actually evoke any of these relationships? For example, what have positions of the planets between 1789 and 1928 and identified sites where Indigenous massacres occurred between 1836 and 1853 have to do with a sun baker… other than to assuage white guilt over the invasion of Aboriginal land? That is the crux of the matter: it’s all about white guilt.

There is such a thing as acknowledging the past and letting it go, while taking responsibility for the present and the future. As a black American friend of mine said to me recently, he doesn’t blame white people for slavery, and neither do most black Americans… it’s history, acknowledge it and move on; take responsibility for present injustices. Of course, past, present and future time are linked; memory and history influence culture, narrative and identity. But to constantly conceptualise, as much contemporary Australian photography does, the past AS the present through existential angst ridden explorations that produce forgettable images simply beggars belief. Let’s have more contestation and misery; let’s perpetuate the cycle of guilt, shame, misery and despair that we acknowledge was totally wrong. Let’s invert Sunbaker into a demon – a fractured, negative identity – both literally and metaphysically. Two artists literally do this, as though by inverting an image using this trope, you give the negative image profound power.

Other than Anne Zahalka’s wonderful feminist re-imag(in)ing of Sunbaker, the most evocative excavation of relationship to the original image comes from that gorgeous photographer William Yang. Just a celebration of sun, sand, sea, and male identity through beautiful, intimate images of the male body – “At Bondi Beach, people were sunbathing. There was an attractive openness in the atmosphere…” An atmosphere and a generosity of spirit sorely lacking in the rest of the work.

Marcus

PS. And it’s Sunbaker not The Sunbaker!

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Many thankx to Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Sara Oscar’s Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution) (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

 

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW)
Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)
2017
Inkjet print on Hahnemuehle paper
Courtesy the artist

 

 

Sara Oscar draws connections between the present and the past. Interested in how time changes the meaning of images, her practice is drawn to allegory and metaphor.

In late 2015, photographs circulated widely of the lifeless body of three-year-old refugee Aylan Kurdi, lying face down on a beach in Turkey. The pose has come to symbolise the plight of all refugees and now haunts the figure of the Sunbaker. Nauru – a picturesque island in Micronesia that imprisons refugees to Australia under the Pacific Solution – is the subject of this series that draws connections between the themes of colonialism, beach culture and immigration.

 

 

Nasim Nasr (born 1964, Tehran, Iran; lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Still for Eighty Years
2017
Courtesy the artist and Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Monash Gallery of Art and Nasim Nasr

 

 

Nasim Nasr’s multimedia practice explores the cultural differences between East and West, looking at the complex identities that exist at their nexus.

Shot on Culburra Beach, NSW – where Dupain photographed the Sunbaker – Still for Eighty Years juxtaposes traditional motifs from the Middle East with the Australian beach landscape. Here, the beach becomes a place for cross-cultural dialogue. Inviting us to contemplate their mesmerising Sufi-inspired choreography, the dancers wear a hammam cloth specifically woven for the performance. Nasr’s work is a meditation on the transient nature of identity.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Nasim Nasr’s Still for Eighty Years (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

 

Nasim Nasr (born 1964, Tehran, Iran; lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Still for Eighty Years
2017
Production stills from video
Courtesy the artist and Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Justene Williams’ Home security: out of the sun (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Justene Williams (born 1970, Sydney, NSW) 'Home security: out of the sun' 2017

 

Justene Williams (born 1970, Sydney, NSW)
Home security: out of the sun
2017
Dye sublimation print on chromaluxe metal
Courtesy of the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Home security is inspired by Dupain’s involvement in the Department of Home Security during the Second World War as part of the Sydney Camouflage Group. Working for the Australian Government, the group deployed visual illusions inspired by surrealism, cubism and abstraction to conceal military equipment. With his astute photographic eye for shadows, exposure and patterns, Dupain contributed to The Art of Camouflage, a manual that described techniques he later taught to soldiers in Darwin and Papua-new Guinea.

Inspired by the sheltering trees of the Sydney College of the Arts Callan Park Campus and 1920s swimwear based on wartime camouflage schemes, this work continues Williams exploration of the poetics and politics of camouflage.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Daniel von Sturmer’s Sunbaker (MGA replica) (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Continuing his After Images series (begun in 2013), Daniel von Sturmer has photographed the shadow cast by the replica of Dupain’s Sunbaker held in the Monash Gallery of Art collection. Using a specially constructed ‘set’, the resulting work – a 1:1 image of the Sunbaker shadow – questions the aura held by the original, iconic image. How relevant is the original when multiple reproductions exist?

Examining the ability of photography to accurately capture the real world, this abstract black square draws connections between an image’s meaning and how significance is transferred from the original to the shadow.

 

Daniel von Sturmer. 'Sunbaker (MGA replica)' 2017

 

Daniel von Sturmer (Born 1972, Auckland, Aotearoa, New Zealand Lives and works in Melbourne, Vic)
Sunbaker (MGA replica)
2017
Unique archival pigment print
Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne / Sydney

 

 

Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker is a large-scale exhibition of new works commissioned from 15 artists responding to Australian photographer Max Dupain’s iconic ‘Sunbaker’ image. Artists include Peta Clancy, Christopher Day, Destiny Deacon, Michaela Gleave, Nasim Nasr, Sara Oscar, Julie Rrap, Khaled Sabsabi, Yhonnie Scarce, Christian Thompson, Angela Tiatia. Kawita Vatanajyankur, Daniel Von Sturmer, Justene Williams and William Yang. Under the sun is a travelling exhibition produced by the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP).

MGA Curator Stella Loftus-Hills said, “MGA is delighted to be hosting Under the sun and to be revisiting Max Dupain’s ‘Sunbaker’ (1937) 80 years after its creation. Dupain’s iconic photograph entered MGA’s collection in 1980 and this exhibition is a wonderful opportunity for our audiences to view the work in the context of contemporary art and to reflect upon its relationship to current ideas around national identity.”

Under the sun explores views of our culture, our identity and our nationhood through works that surprise, challenge and enthuse audiences. Commissioned by ACP, the mix of artists reflects Australia’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith nature, enabling a creative and often very personal exploration of the question ‘is there something new under the sun?’ These artists contemplate, challenge and interpret the representation of Max Dupain’s photograph – which became an icon of a particular time and a particular vision of Australian culture – while offering unique perspectives on what it could possibly signify in our current society.

ACP Curator, Claire Monneraye said: “Max Dupain’s ‘Sunbaker’, remains an iconic representation of the Australian way of life and a milestone in the history of Australian photography. In this exhibition, the 15 artists have interrogated the social and political implications embedded within this image but also challenged the status of this photograph in our visual culture. Pushing the boundaries of the photographic medium, their works expose the aesthetical complexities at play in discussions around collective identity.

Examining the legacy of the past and questioning the relevance that this image might retain in the future, the exhibition draws on a range of diverse practitioners and creative forms to consider questions of representation and cultural pluralism while also reflecting on the depiction of the idealised body, discussing gender issues, cultural and political ideas relating to immigration and colonisation, and our relationship with the land.”

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

Kawita Vatanajyankur (Born 1987, Bangkok, Thailand Lives and works Bangkok and Sydney, NSW)
Carrier (extract)
2017
Video, duration: approx. 5 mins
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Monash Gallery of Art and Kawita Vatanajyankur

 

 

In this video work, Kawita Vatanajyankur reflects on her experience of migrating to Australia, exploring the resulting shift of identity. Celebrating women’s strength, endurance and resilience, Vatanajyankur’s captivating, seductive – and yet disquieting – videowork critiques the challenges faced by migrant Asian women in relation to everyday labour.

Referring to her performances as ‘meditation postures’, the artist undertakes physical and psychological experiments that test the limits of her body, playfully and painfully. The artist’s self-objectification is part of a feminist art tradition that reclaims the female body, both as a medium of deliberate submission and active resistance.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Kawita Vatanajyankur’s Carrier (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Kawita Vatanajyankur. 'Carrier' 2017

Kawita Vatanajyankur. 'Carrier' 2017

 

Kawita Vatanajyankur (Born 1987, Bangkok, Thailand Lives and works Bangkok and Sydney, NSW)
Carrier
2017
Video stills
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Destiny Deacon’s Sand minding and Sand grabs (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Destiny Deacon. 'Sand minding' 2017

Destiny Deacon. 'Sand grabs' 2017

Destiny Deacon. 'Sand grabs' 2017

Destiny Deacon. 'Sand grabs' 2017

 

Destiny Deacon (Born 1957, Maryborough, Qld Lives and works Melbourne, Vic KuKu (Cape York) and Erub/Mer (Torres Strait) peoples)
Sand minding
2017
Archival inkjet pigment print
Sand grabs
2017
Archival inkjet pigment prints
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Throughout her career Destiny Deacon has orchestrated a personal and political theatre of kitsch and poignant ‘Aboriginalia’ to expose and deconstruct Indigenous issues. Deacon’s anti-art aesthetic confronts us with the cruelty of racism and the sombre reality of Australia’s colonial history.

Acknowledging the sand as central to Dupain’s photograph, Destiny Deacon denunciates the violence of the sand mining industry on the ecosystem, the land and its peoples. While hands are performing a destructive soil surgery, two uncanny dolls emerge from the sand. Both whistleblowers and guardians of the land, they invite us to consider a topical issue and its consequences.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Christopher Day’s Untitled (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Christopher Day. 'Untitled' 2017

 

Christopher Day (Born 1978, Melbourne, Vic, 1978 Lives and works Melbourne, Vic)
Untitled
2017
Pigment print

 

 

After processing, developing and scanning the photographs shot on his 35 mm camera, Christopher Day assembles, crops, combines and rearranges his images, again and again. Blending personal and historical narratives, Day’s complex imagery is ambiguous, humorous and allegorical, challenging simplistic definitions of identity and gender.

In this work a shiny round apple bearing visible teeth marks alludes to the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – each character embodying a set of clichés including Snow White herself, whose beauty and feminine charm become her undoing. The artist also refers to The Breakfast Club (1985), a movie in which five teenagers navigate identity issues.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Michaela Gleave’s Under One Sun (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Michaela Gleave. 'Under One Sun' (detail) 2017

 

Michaela Gleave (Born 1980, Alice Springs, NT Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Under One Sun (detail)
2017
Silver gelatin prints
Courtesy the artist and Anna Pappas Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

Under One Sun highlights the complexity of colonial history and the ambivalence of representing identity. Using Wikipedia’s listing of Indigenous massacres in Australia, Michaela Gleave highlights the lack of the associated verified historical data. Her zoomed out installation documents the positions of the planets between 1789 and 1928, when 63 massacres of Indigenous peoples took place.

James Cook’s first Pacific voyage, to document the 1769 Transit of Venus and investigate the existence of Terra Australis Incognita, opened the way for the European settlement of Australia. Drawing parallels between the development of photography, science and colonisation, the artist reminds us that technological advances in astronomy and navigation helped expand the British Empire, with science often justifying the atrocities committed.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Yhonnie Scarce’s Working Class Man (Andamooka Opal Fields) (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Yhonnie Scarce (Born 1973, Woomera, SA Lives and works Melbourne, Vic and Adelaide, SA Kokatha and Nukunu peoples)
Working Class Man (Andamooka Opal Fields)
2017
Inkjet print on cotton rag paper, vintage metal bucket, blown glass
Courtesy the artist and This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

In this deeply personal work, Yhonnie Scarce pays tribute to her grandfather, who endured many hardships during his life as an opal-mine worker in South Australia. Looking at this family photograph, Scarce felt compelled to tell the story of a man who provided for his family and contributed to society, yet remained excluded from the rights of Australian citizenship until 1967.

Beyond the nostalgic, Scarce includes vernacular photographs in her installations not only to control her personal narrative but also to reaffirm the presence of unsung heroes. ‘Politically motivated and emotionally driven’, Working Class Man (Andamooka Opal Fields) epitomises the experience of many Indigenous Australians while interrogating the effects of colonisation on future generations.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Angela Tiatia’s Dark Light (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Angela Tiatia (Born 1973, Auckland, Aotearoa, New Zealand Lives and works in Sydney, NSW)
Dark Light
2017
Video, duration: 4 min, self-adhesive inkjet pigment print
Courtesy the artist and Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

With Dark Light, Angela Tiatia deconstructs every element of the Sunbaker to reconfigure its exact opposite. The sensual tension created by this process forces us to re-examine the familiar.

Tiatia also reveals deeper contradictions. A chandelier symbolising opulence and power is hung over the artist’s body which is baring the malu – the female-Samoan tattoo (tatau). In pre-Christian times, the malu signified protection and shelter as young women entered womanhood. However, it was condemned by missionaries alongside their male equivalent (pe’a) and some Samoan communities still forbid women to publicly expose the malu. Dark Light sees Tiatia resisting the forces of colonialism embedded within Samoan culture.

 

Christian Thompson (Born 1978, Gawler, SA Lives and works in London, England Bidjara people) 'This Brutal World' 2017

 

Christian Thompson (Born 1978, Gawler, SA Lives and works in London, England Bidjara people)
This Brutal World
2017
Inkjet pigment print
Courtesy the artist and Michael Reid, Sydney / Berlin

 

 

With This Brutal World, Christian Thompson focuses on portraiture and its ability to trouble the relationship between past and present.

Where Dupain’s Sunbaker supposedly conveys a quintessential Australian identity, Thompson reminds us of assimilation policies first outlined at the Aboriginal Welfare Initial Conference of Commonwealth and State Aboriginal Authorities in 1937. Here the artist wears a costume borrowed from London’s National Theatre. His eyes are covered with dried roses and his body is superimposed on the glittering shallow creek beds – images captured during trips to his traditional homelands in outback Queensland. Thompson employs references to the natural world to evoke spirituality.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Julie Rrap’s Speechless (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Julie Rrap (Born 1950, Lismore, NSW Lives and works Sydney, NSW) 'Speechless' 2017

Julie Rrap (Born 1950, Lismore, NSW Lives and works Sydney, NSW) 'Speechless' 2017

 

Julie Rrap (Born 1950, Lismore, NSW Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Speechless
2017
Bronze and steel
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Julie Rrap’s long interest in the politics of the human body informed her investigation of the Sunbaker pose. A casual holiday snap that came to symbolise leisure and freedom in the 1970s, Dupain’s photograph was taken in the uncertain economic times before the Second World War.

Exploring the ambivalence of the pose and transposing this contradiction to now, Rrap draws attention to the paradox of a nation seen as a sun-blessed paradise while its shores have been a place of contestation and misery. Speechless places the viewer in two positions, showing the viewpoint of both the person who speaks out and the one who keeps their head down.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Peta Clancy’s Fissures in time (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Peta Clancy. 'Fissures in time #3' 2017

Peta Clancy. 'Fissures in time #1' 2017

Peta Clancy. 'Fissures in time #2' 2017

Peta Clancy. 'Fissures in time #4' 2017

 

Peta Clancy (Born 1970, Melbourne, Vic, Lives and works Melbourne, Vic)
Fissures in time (L to R) #3 #1 #2 #4
2017
Archival pigment prints
Courtesy the artist

 

 

Drawing on memories of childhood landscapes, Peta Clancy repeatedly visited several locations in Victoria, taking photographs with her large-format camera. Informed by her research into the Massacre Map published by the Koorie Heritage Trust, which identified sites where Indigenous massacres occurred between 1836 and 1853, the artist has produced placeless images that question our relationship to landscapes of trauma and how we perceive reality.

After photographing a site, Clancy returned to install a large print on a custom-designed frame in front of the same landscape; slicing through the paper, then revealing sections of the scene behind before re-photographing it. The resulting images challenge you to see with fresh eyes.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of William Yang’s SUMMER, A suite of images and My Time at South Bondi (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
SUMMER, A suite of images
2017
Digital pigment prints
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

My Time at South Bondi
2017
Video with music by Daniel Holdsworth
Duration: 4 min
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

 

A prolific documentary photographer, storyteller and performer, William Yang creates works that tell an intimate, autobiographical story.

For this installation, William Yang draws on his extensive archive of images, memories and sensual experiences, showing the unique atmosphere of freedom that prevailed on Sydney beaches in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Taken around Bondi and Tamarama, Yang has captured the joy of an era and the beauty of the elements with humour and generosity. More than reminiscence or exposé, Yang’s images reveal sensitive connections and insightful reflections about cultural identity.

 

William Yang. 'Golden Summer' 1987/2016

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Golden Summer
1987/2016
Digital print with gold foil
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Lifesaver Double' 1987/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Lifesaver Double
1987/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW) 'Lifesavers #3' 1987/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Lifesavers #3
1987/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Splashproof #1' 1994/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Splashproof #1
1994/2017
Digital print with digital text
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Splashproof #2' 1994/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Splashproof #2
1994/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Splashproof #3' 1994/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Splashproof #3
1994/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Bondi Beach (1970s)' 1970s/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Bondi Beach (1970s)
1970s/2017
Digital print with text
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Tamarama Lifesavers' 1981/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Tamarama Lifesavers
1981/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang 'Checking Out Bondi' 1981/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Checking Out Bondi
1981/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW) 'Childhood of Icarus' 1975/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Childhood of Icarus
1975/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Khaled Sabsabi (Born 1965, Tripoli, Lebanon Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
229 (extract)
2017
Three-channel video with sound
Duration: 3 min 49 sec
Hand-painted laser prints on transparencies
C-type prints
Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Monash Gallery of Art and Khaled Sabsabi

 

 

Khaled Sabsabi has recreated the negative of the Sunbaker by reframing the image and playing with the essential codes of the photographic medium. Sabsabi has multiplied, handpainted and digitally animated the photograph to make it resonate as a symbol of the 229 years since colonisation.

229 challenges the representation of race by inverting black and white, forcing us to question the almost imperceptible alterations, and examine notions of copyright and origin. Ultimately, 229 asks the viewer to be actively engaged and socially responsible.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Khaled Sabsabi’s 229 (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

 

Khaled Sabsabi (Born 1965, Tripoli, Lebanon Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
229
2017
Production stills from video
Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
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Victoria 3150 Australia
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20
Jul
17

Exhibition: ‘Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition’ as part of the NGV Festival of Photography at NGV Australia, Melbourne Part 1

Exhibition dates: 31st March – 30th July 2017

 

Individual art works from the NGV collection (in artist alphabetical order) appearing in Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition at NGV Australia

 

” … from an air guitar to Being and nothingness … “

 

Part 1 of this bumper posting. More to follow.

My hand is progressing slowly. A return to part-time work in the next couple of weeks, for which I will be grateful. It has been tough road dealing with this injury.

Marcus

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

 

 

Antoine-Louis Barye (France 1796-1875) 'Walking lion' c. 1840

 

Antoine-Louis Barye (France 1796-1875)
Walking lion
Lion qui marche
c. 1840, cast 1900
Bronze
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1927

 

Antoine-Louis Barye (France 1796-1875) 'Walking tiger' c. 1841

 

Antoine-Louis Barye (France 1796-1875)
Walking tiger
Tigre qui marche
c. 1841, cast 1900
Bronze
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1927

 

John Armstrong (England 1893-1973) 'Invocation' 1938

 

John Armstrong (England 1893-1973)
Invocation
1938
Tempera on plywood
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with funds donated by Ian Hicks AM and Dorothy Hicks, 2006

 

 

Invocation is one of a series of paintings, which John Armstrong begun in the 1930’s as a direct statement against the rise of Fascism in Europe. John Armstrong observed Fascism in Italy at first hand and became an active left wing campaigner against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He was commissioned as an official war artist, designing a cover for a leaflet in the 1945 election campaign and contributed occasional articles and poetry to left wing journals. In his painting Victory, he imagined the result of a nuclear holocaust, which attracted the attention at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1958.

Text from the Leicester Galleries website

 

Eugène Atget (France 1857-1927) 'Eclipse' 1911, printed 1956- early 1970s

 

Eugène Atget (France 1857-1927)
Eclipse
1911, printed 1956- early 1970s
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1978

 

 

Surrogates and the Surreal

Atget’s photograph Pendant l’éclipse (During the eclipse) was featured on the cover of the seventh issue of the Parisian Surrealists’ publication La Révolution surréaliste, with the caption Les Dernières Conversions (The last converts), in June 1926. The picture was uncredited, as were the two additional photographs reproduced inside. Although Atget firmly resisted the association, his work – in particular his photographs of shop windows, mannequins, and the street fairs around Paris – had captured the attention of artists with decidedly avant-garde inclinations, such as Man Ray and Tristan Tzara. Man Ray lived on the same street as Atget, and the young American photographer Berenice Abbott (working as Man Ray’s studio assistant) learned of the French photographer and made his acquaintance in the mid-1920s – a relationship that ultimately brought the contents of Atget’s studio at the time of his death (in 1927) to The Museum of Modern Art almost forty years later.

Text from Art Blart posting Eugène Atget: “Documents pour artistes” at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York

 

Pierre Bonnard (France 1867-1947) 'Siesta' 1900

 

Pierre Bonnard (France 1867-1947)
Siesta
La Sieste
1900
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1949

 

Eugène Boudin (France 1824-98) 'Low tide at Trouville' 1894

 

Eugène Boudin (France 1824-98)
Low tide at Trouville
Trouville, Mareé basse
1894
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1939

 

John Brack (Australia 1920-99) 'Self-portrait' 1955

 

John Brack (Australia 1920-99)
Self-portrait
1955
Melbourne, Victoria
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Women’s Association, 2000

 

 

Striking in its candour, with its subject stripped of vanity and dressed in early-morning attire, Self portrait is a piercing study of a man engaged in the intimacy of shaving. Although images of women at their toilette have been frequently depicted by both male and female Australian artists, it is unusual for men to be shown or to show themselves in this context. Modest in scale, Brack’s image is conceived in a complex yet subtle colour scheme, applied with clarity and precision. ~ Geoffrey Smith

 

Britains Ltd, London manufacturer (England 1860-1997) 'Milk float and horse' c. 1950

 

Britains Ltd, London manufacturer (England 1860-1997)
Milk float and horse
no. 45F from the Model home farm series 1921-61
c. 1950
Painted lead alloy
National Gallery of Victoria
Presented by Miss Lucy Kerley and her nephew John Kerley, 1982

 

Jacques Callot (France 1592-1635) 'The firing squad' 1633

 

Jacques Callot (France 1592-1635)
The firing squad
L’Arquebusade
Plate 12 from Les Misères et les malheurs de la guerre
(The miseries and misfortunes of war) series
1633
Etching, 2nd of 3 states
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1950

 

Paul Caponigro (born United States 1932) 'Nahant, Massachusetts' 1965

 

Paul Caponigro (born United States 1932)
Nahant, Massachusetts
1965
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Society of Victoria, 1977

 

Jean Charles Cazin (France 1841-1901, lived in England 1871-75) 'The rainbow' late 1880s

 

Jean Charles Cazin (France 1841-1901, lived in England 1871-75)
The rainbow
L’Arc-en-ciel
late 1880s
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1913

 

Marshall Claxton (England 1813-81, lived in Australia 1850-54) 'An emigrant's thoughts of home' 1859

 

Marshall Claxton (England 1813-81, lived in Australia 1850-54)
An emigrant’s thoughts of home
1859
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria
Presented by the National Gallery Women’s Association, 1974

 

 

Marshall Claxton’s painting An emigrant’s thoughts of home (1859) belongs to a clutch of works, both fine and popular, both pictorial and literary, that for an Australasian audience are perhaps the most resonant of the many products of Victorian culture. Emigration, a social and political phenomenon for mid-nineteenth-century Britain, and the essential lubricant of British imperialism, inspired a profusion of paintings, prints, novels, plays, poems, essays and letters that speak eloquently about the realities and myths of Victorian Britain and its role in the world, engaging concepts of the family, womanhood, the artist’s role and function and, indeed, the meaning of life. ~ Pamela Gerrish Nunn

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003) 'Teacup ballet' 1935, printed 1992

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003)
Teacup ballet
1935, printed 1992
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1992

 

 

Among Cotton’s most famous photographs, Teacup ballet has very humble origins. It was taken after hours in the Dupain studio and used a set of cheap cups and saucers Cotton had earlier bought from a Woolworths store for use around the studio. As she later recounted: ‘Their angular handles suggested to me the position of “arms akimbo” and that led to the idea of a dance pattern’. The picture uses a range of formal devices that became common to Cotton’s work, especially the strong backlighting used to create dramatic tonal contrasts and shadows. The picture achieved instant success, and was selected for exhibition in the London Salon of Photography for 1935.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003) 'The sleeper' 1939, printed 1992

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003)
The sleeper
1939, printed 1992
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 4/25
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1992

 

 

The sleeper 1939, Olive Cotton’s graceful study of her friend Olga Sharp resting while on a bush picnic, made around the same time as Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, presents a different take upon the enjoyment of life in Australia. The woman is relaxed, nestled within the environment. The mood is one of secluded reverie.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Edward Curtis (United States 1868-1952) 'Kalóqutsuis - Qágyuhl' 1914, printed 1915

 

 

Edward Curtis (United States 1868-1952)
Kalóqutsuis – Qágyuhl
1914, printed 1915
Photogravure
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Ms Christine Godden, 1991

 

 

Not only was he one of the greatest ethnographic photographers of all time (as well as being an ethnographer recording more than 10,000 songs on a primitive wax cylinder, and writing down vocabularies and pronunciation guides for 75 languages) … he was also an aesthetic photographer. Looking at his photographs you can feel that he adhered to the principles of the nature and appreciation of beauty situated within the environment of the Native American cultures and peoples. He had a connection to the people and to the places he was photographing…

Curtis created a body of work unparrallleled in the annals of photography – an ethnographic study of an extant civilisation before it vanished (or so they thought at the time). Such a project stretched over thirty years, producing 45-50 thousand negatives “many of them on glass and some as large as fourteen by seventeen inches” of which 2,200 original photographs appeared in his magnum opus, The North American Indian…

While all great photographers have both technical skill and creative ability it is the dedication of this artist to his task over so many years that sets him apart. That dedication is critically coupled with his innate ability to capture the “spirit” of the Native American cultures and peoples, their humanity.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987) 'Building the bridge' 1929

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987)
Building the bridge
1929
Colour linocut on Japanese paper
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

Kerry Dundas (born Australia 1931, lived in Europe 1958-67) 'A girl is carried away under arrest' 1961-63

 

Kerry Dundas (born Australia 1931, lived in Europe 1958-67)
A girl is carried away under arrest
from the Youth against the Bomb series
1961-63
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1971

 

Max Dupain (1911-1992) 'Bondi' 1939

 

Max Dupain (1911-1992)
Bondi
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
30.3 × 29.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976

 

Walker Evans (United States 1903-75) 'Hitchhikers, near Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1936, printed c. 1975

 

Walker Evans (United States 1903-75)
Hitchhikers, near Vicksburg, Mississippi
1936, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

Walker Evans (United States 1903-75) 'Auto dump, near Easton, Pennsylvania' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Walker Evans (United States 1903-75)
Auto dump, near Easton, Pennsylvania
1935, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

William Frater (born Scotland 1890, arrived Australia 1913, died 1974) 'The blue nude' c. 1934

 

William Frater (born Scotland 1890, arrived Australia 1913, died 1974)
The blue nude
c. 1934
Oil on canvas on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mrs Lina Bryans, 1969

 

 

His contribution to art in Australia was, however, as a painter who introduced Post-Impressionist principles and challenged the notion that art was an imitation of nature.

Frater’s oeuvre developed between 1915 and 1920 towards a simplification of design, an interplay of massed lights and shadows, and sonorous low-keyed colour that reflected his interest in the classical seventeenth century painters in interaction with the analytical tonal theory of Max Meldrum. Notable examples of his predominantly figure and portrait paintings are ‘The artist’s wife reading’ (1915) and ‘Portrait of artist’s wife’ (1919). An experimental Colourist phase followed in the next decade. His first solo exhibition was held in May 1923 at the Athenaeum, Melbourne, and he exhibited with the Twenty Melbourne Painters from the late 1920s, and the Contemporary Group of Melbourne in the 1930s.

His approach in the 1930s was markedly indebted to Cézanne, especially in the portraits which predominated until his retirement… Frater gave aggressive leadership to the small group of modernists in the 1920s. His example, teaching, lecturing and crusty style of polemic did much to disrupt the academic style as the arbiter of pictorial values and to pioneer a change of taste in the community.

Text from the Australian Dictionary of Biography website

 

Emmanuel Frémiet (France 1824 - 1910) 'Gorilla carrying off a woman' 1887

 

Emmanuel Frémiet (France 1824 – 1910)
Gorilla carrying off a woman
Gorille enlevant une femme
1887
Bronze
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of the artist, 1907

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934) 'Hillcrest, New York' 1970, printed c. 1977

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934)
Hillcrest, New York
1970, printed c. 1977
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1977

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934) 'Mount Rushmore' 1969, printed c. 1977

 

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934)
Mount Rushmore
1969, printed c. 1977
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1977

 

 

The ‘tourist gaze’

As Grundberg notes, Friedlander’s terse depiction shows both the sight and the tourists themselves, being brought into existence through the effects of looking, reflecting, framing and imaging. These, he adds, are all linked to the general project of culturally appropriating the natural world. ‘Natural site has become acculturated sight’ (Grundberg 1990: 15).

As the image makes clear, the ‘sight’ or the ‘site’ is a ‘seeing’ without a subject, for it pre-exists the arrival and activity of any individual tourist-photographer, who, once located there, is framed as much as framing. The sight is not so much an object to be viewers an already structured condition of seeing, a situation which places the sightseer even as he or she freely choose to look or shoot.

The effects of photography’s presence in the tourist system merely completed a process under way before photography’s birth. As tourists, even at the moment of photographing, even if touring cameraless, we are not so much looking as looking at images, or looking for images. Tourism provides us less with experience than with events to be seen, Or rather, events to look at. The privileging of the visual grants us separation from our own experience… We look on or look in through the distancing arrangements of the camera or through eyes educated to see with the same ontological remoteness. The world of the tourist is ‘over there’, in the past-present, in the exotic-ordinary. It is framed off, the object of imaging or description, in some spectacular distance, or set back as performance (Greenwood in Smith 1989).

Peter Osborne. Traveling Light: Photography, Travel and Visual Culture. Manchester University Press, 2000, pp. 81-82.

 

Barbara Hepworth (England 1903-75) 'Eidos' 1947

 

Barbara Hepworth (England 1903-75)
Eidos
1947
Stone, synthetic polymer paint
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with the assistance of the Samuel E. Wills Bequest to commemorate the retirement of Dr E. Westbrook, Director of Arts for Victoria, 1981

 

 

Eidos a Greek term meaning “form” “essence”, “type” or “species”. The early Greek concept of form precedes attested philosophical usage and is represented by a number of words mainly having to do with vision, sight, and appearance. The words, εἶδος (eidos) and ἰδέα (idea) come from the Indo-European root *weid-, “see”. Eidos (though not idea) is already attested in texts of the Homeric era, the earliest Greek literature. This transliteration and the translation tradition of German and Latin lead to the expression “theory of Ideas.” The word is however not the English “idea,” which is a mental concept only.

The meaning of the term εἶδος (eidos), “visible form”, and related terms μορφή (morphē), “shape”, and φαινόμενα (phainomena), “appearances”, from φαίνω (phainō), “shine”, Indo-European *bhā-, remained stable over the centuries until the beginning of philosophy, when they became equivocal, acquiring additional specialised philosophic meanings. (Theory of Forms Wikipedia)

 

Lewis Hine (United States 1874-1940) 'Sam Pine, 8 year old truant newsboy who lives at 717 West California Street' 1917

 

Lewis Hine (United States 1874-1940)
Sam Pine, 8 year old truant newsboy who lives at 717 West California Street
1917
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1980

 

David Hockney (born England 1937, worked in United States 1964-68, 1975- ) 'Reclining figure' 1975

 

David Hockney (born England 1937, worked in United States 1964-68, 1975- )
Reclining figure
1975
Etching and liftground etching, ed. 38/75
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Margaret Toll, 2006

 

Edmond-François Aman-Jean (France 1860-1936) 'Woman resting' c. 1904

 

Edmond-François Aman-Jean (France 1860-1936)
Woman resting
La Femme couchée
c. 1904
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1905

 

Max Klinger (Germany 1857-1920) 'Cast of artist's hands' 1920

 

Max Klinger (Germany 1857-1920)
Cast of artist’s hands
1920
plaster
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mrs Marcelle Osins, 1994

 

Fred Kruger (born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died) 'Coast scene, Mordialloc Creek, near Cheltenham' c. 1871

 

Fred Kruger (born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died)
Coast scene, Mordialloc Creek, near Cheltenham
c. 1871
Albumen silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

 

 

The best of the landscape photographs have nothing to do with Arcadian, pastoral life at all. For me, Kruger’s photographs only start to come alive when he is photographing gum trees against the sky. Anyone who has tried to photograph the Australian bush knows how difficult it is to evince a “feeling” for the bush and Kruger achieves this magnificently in a series of photographs of gum trees in semi-cleared land, such as Bush scene near Highton (c. 1879). These open ‘parklike’ landscapes are not sublime nor do they picture the spread of colonisation but isolate the gum trees against the sky. They rely on the thing itself to speak to the viewer, not a constructed posturing or placement of figures to achieve a sterile mise-en-scène.

Dr Marcus Bunyan from a posting on the NGV exhibition Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes.

 

Kusakabe Kimbei (Japan 1841-1934) 'No title (Couple with a cabinet photograph and ghost in background)' 1880s

 

Kusakabe Kimbei (Japan 1841-1934)
No title (Couple with a cabinet photograph and ghost in background)
1880s
Albumen silver photograph, colour dyes
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 2004

 

 

Kimbei Kusakabe arrived in Yokohama in 1856 and became Felice Beato’s pupil, hand-coloring his photographs until 1863. In 1881, he opened his own studio and promptly became one of the most prosperous and influential photographers of his generation, rivalling the Western artists that had until then dominated the market. With his coloured portraits, everyday scenes and landscapes, he is the purveyor of souvenir images for Westerners visiting Japan. Kimbei Kusakabe depicted men in serene social and economic contexts while women – his favourite subjects – were represented in romantic portraits as well as domestic and cultural scenes. The young mysterious and submissive geisha was particularly appealing to Western audiences and the Japanese photographer helped establish their visual identity as icons of feminine beauty and social etiquette. Kimbei Kusakabe’s rare images are a rich resource for the comprehension of a Japan that has now disappeared. (Text from The Red List website)

Kusakabe Kimbei worked with Felice Beato and Baron Raimund von Stillfried as a photographic colourist and assistant before opening his own workshop in Yokohama in 1881, in the Benten-dōri quarter, and from 1889 operating in the Honmachi quarter. He also opened a branch in the Ginza quarter of Tokyo. Around 1885, he acquired the negatives of Felice Beato and of Stillfried, as well as those of Uchida Kuichi. Kusakabe also acquired some of Ueno Hikoma’s negatives of Nagasaki. He stopped working as a photographer in 1912-1913. (Wikipedia)

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Towards Los Angeles, California' 1936, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965)
Towards Los Angeles, California
1936, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Ditched, stalled and stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965)
Ditched, stalled and stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California
1935, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

Russell Lee (United States 1903-86) 'Interlude, after watching the Fourth of July Parade, Vale, Oregon' 1941, printed c. 1975

 

Russell Lee (United States 1903-86)
Interlude, after watching the Fourth of July Parade, Vale, Oregon
1941, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

José López (born Cuba 1941, lived in United States c. 1961-92, died United States 1992) Luis Medina (born Cuba 1942, lived in United States 1961-85, died United States 1985) 'Boy asleep by the beach' 1976

 

José López (born Cuba 1941, lived in United States c. 1961-92, died United States 1992)
Luis Medina (born Cuba 1942, lived in United States 1961-85, died United States 1985)
Boy asleep by the beach
1976
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1978

 

Ruth Maddison (born Australia 1945) 'No title (Woman collecting a Christmas present from the car)' 1977-78

 

Ruth Maddison (born Australia 1945)
No title (Woman collecting a Christmas present from the car)
from the Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland series
1977-78, printed 1979
Gelatin silver photograph, coloured pencils and fibretipped pen, ed. 1/5
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1980

 

 

This was a very hands on process, an observation confirmed by artist Ruth Maddison. “The process was like hand watering your garden, an intense exchange and engagement with the object. When I started I was completely untrained, but I loved the process. I just experimented in order to understand what medium does what on what paper surface. There was the beauty of its object and its physicality. I just loved the object.” Her series Christmas holiday with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1977/78, below), photographed over Christmas Day and several days afterwards, evidences this magical transformation. Vernacular photographs of a typical Australia Christmas holiday become something else, transformed into beautiful, atypical representations of family, friendship, celebration and life.

Dr Marcus Bunyan commenting on the National Gallery of Australia exhibition Colour My World: Handcoloured Australia Photography.

 

Henri Matisse (France 1869-1954) 'Reclining nude on a pink couch' 1919

 

Henri Matisse (France 1869-1954)
Reclining nude on a pink couch
Nu couché sur canapé rose
1919
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1952

 

Amedeo Modigliani (born Italy 1884, lived in France 1906-20, died France 1920) 'Nude resting' c. 1916-19

 

Amedeo Modigliani (born Italy 1884, lived in France 1906-20, died France 1920)
Nude resting
c. 1916-19
Pencil on buff paper; laid down
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1948

 

László Moholy-Nagy (born Hungary 1895, lived in Germany 1920-34, lived in United States 1935-37, United States 1937-46, died United States) 'Helsinki' 1927, printed 1973

 

László Moholy-Nagy (born Hungary 1895, lived in Germany 1920-34, lived in United States 1935-37, United States 1937-46, died United States)
Helsinki
1927, printed 1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1991

 

 

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

From a posting on the exhibition The Photograph and Australia at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

Henry Moore (England 1898-1986) 'Reclining figure distorted - Sectional line' 1979

 

Henry Moore (England 1898-1986)
Reclining figure distorted – Sectional line
1979
Chalk, charcoal, wax crayon, ballpoint pen and watercolour over pencil
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Ginny Green, Sandra Bardas OAM family, Vicki Vidor OAM and Bindy Koadlow in memory of their parents Loti Smorgon AO and Victor Smorgon AC through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2014

 

William De Morgan (designer, England 1839-1917) 'Startled tigers, dish' c. 1880

 

William De Morgan & Co., London (manufacturer, England 1872-1911)
William De Morgan (designer, England 1839-1917)
Startled tigers, dish
c. 1880
Earthenware
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1980

 

Helen Ogilvie (Australia 1902-93) '(Four figures seated at a table listening to a phonograph through earpieces)' c. 1947

 

Helen Ogilvie (Australia 1902-93)
(Four figures seated at a table listening to a phonograph through earpieces)
Illustration to Flinders Lane: recollections of Alfred Felton by Russell Grimwade. Melbourne University Press,Carlton, 1947
c. 1947
Wood-engraving on Japanese paper, proof
National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

“What interested me I think were the English wood engravers. I would have seen them in reproductions in books … I think it appealed to me as an artistic expression because it was done so directly with the hand. I know that when a painter is painting the hand is connected with the brain. But with wood engraving it seemed to me it was almost more so. And I got very worked up about it, but I had no way of learning … I know how I got started. Eric Thake was the man who said to me, “I’ll show you how to use your tool.”‘

from Anne Ryan, ‘Australian etchings and engravings 1880s-1930s from the Gallery’s collection’, AGNSW, Sydney 2007

 

John Perceval (Australia 1923-2000) 'Lover's walk in the corn, summer, England' 1964

 

John Perceval (Australia 1923-2000)
Lover’s walk in the corn, summer, England
1964
Oil and toy mouse on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Fingal Pastoral Property Limited, Fellow, 1997

 

Peter Peryer (born New Zealand 1941) 'Seeing' 1989

 

Peter Peryer (born New Zealand 1941)
Seeing
1989
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1996

 

G. B. Poletto (Italy 1915-88) 'No title (Ava Gardner in wardrobe still for On the beach: Street)' 1957

 

G. B. Poletto (Italy 1915-88)
No title (Ava Gardner in wardrobe still for On the beach: Street)
1957
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 2003

 

David Potts (Australia 1926-2012, lived in England 1950-55) 'Cat show, London' 1953

 

David Potts (Australia 1926-2012, lived in England 1950-55)
Cat show, London
1953
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased through the KODAK (Australasia) Pty Ltd Fund, 1975

 

August Sander (Germany 1876-1964) 'Itinerant basket makers' 1929

 

August Sander (Germany 1876-1964)
Itinerant basket makers
from the People of the Twentieth Century project
1929, printed 1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1974

 

 

Nomadism

In the literature on nomadism, there is considerable disagreement over the range of societies that should be designated as “nomadic,” but there is some consensus that at least three categories of mobile peoples should be recognised. The first category, to which many wish to restrict the term “nomadic,” is that of pastoral nomads… The second broad category of nomads is that of hunter-gatherers, whose mode of subsistence sets them apart from both pastoralists and sedentary farmers…

The third basic category is that of Gypsies, itinerant basket-makers, tinkers, weavers, mimes, magicians, musicians, horse dealers, nostrum traders, carnival people, circus performers, and so on. Characterised the variously as “service nomads,” “economic nomads,” “commercial nomads,” “craftsman nomads,” “non-food producing nomads,” “floating industrial populations,” “peripatetic tribes,” “peripatetic peoples” or plain “peripatetics,” these are spatially mobile peoples who primarily exploit resources in the social environment. They exploit what Berland and Salo call a distinct peripatetic niche: “the regular demand for specialised goods and/or services that more sedentary or pastoral communities cannot, or will not, support on a permanent basis.”

Ronald Bogue. Deleuze’s Way: Essays in Transverse Ethics and Aesthetics. London and New York: Routledge, 2007, pp. 114-115.

 

Ben Shahn (born Lithuania 1898, lived in United States c. 1925-69, died United States 1969) 'A deputy with a gun on his hip during the September 1935 strike in Morgantown, West Virginia' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Ben Shahn (born Lithuania 1898, lived in United States c. 1925-69, died United States 1969)
A deputy with a gun on his hip during the September 1935 strike in Morgantown, West Virginia
1935, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

Athol Shmith (Australia 1914-90) 'Misses Mary and Rae Plotkin, bridesmaids at the wedding of Mrs Edith Sheezel' 1940

 

Athol Shmith (Australia 1914-90)
Misses Mary and Rae Plotkin, bridesmaids at the wedding of Mrs Edith Sheezel
1940
Hand-coloured gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mary Lipshut through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gift’s Program, 2012

 

Baron Raimund von Stillfried (Austria 1839-1911, lived throughout Europe and Asia 1871-1910) 'No title (Tattooed bettōs, porters)' c. 1875, printed c. 1877-80

 

Baron Raimund von Stillfried (Austria 1839-1911, lived throughout Europe and Asia 1871-1910)
No title (Tattooed bettōs, porters)
c. 1875, printed c. 1877-80
Albumen silver photograph, colour dyes
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of The Herald & Weekly Times Limited, Fellow, 2001

 

 

“There are two employments which I have mentioned among those of domestic servants because they would be so classed by us, but which in Japan rank among the trades. The jinrikisha man and the groom belong, as a rule, to a certain class at the bottom of the social ladder, and no samurai would think of entering either of these occupations, except under stress of severest poverty. The bettōs, or grooms, are a hereditary class and a regular guild, and have a reputation, among both Japanese and foreigners, as a betting, gambling, cheating, good-for-nothing lot. An honest bettō is a rare phenomenon.”

Alice Mabel Bacon. Japanese Girls and Women. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company The Riverside Press, 1891, p. 319.

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (born Japan 1948, lived in United States and Japan 1976- ) 'Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount' 1993

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (born Japan 1948, lived in United States and Japan 1976- )
Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount
1993
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 8/25
National Gallery of Victoria
Bowness Family Fund for Contemporary Photography, 2009

 

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s famous series Theaters is represented in the exhibition by the work Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount (1993) where  Sugimoto “photographs auditoriums of American movie theaters, and drive-in movies, during showings. The exposure time used for the photograph corresponds with the projection time of the film. This allows him to save the duration of the entire film in a single shot. What remains visible of the film’s time-compressed, individual images is the bright screen of the movie theater, which illuminates the architecture of the space. That its content retreats into the background makes the actual film a piece of information, manifesting itself in the (movie theater) space. As a result, instead of a content-related event, film presents itself here as the relationship between time and spatial perception.”3

If we think of the camera lens as being fully open, like an eye without blinking, for the duration of the length of the film then the shutter of the lens has to be set on “B” for Bulb which allows for long exposure times under the direct control of the photographer. “The term bulb is a reference to old-style pneumatically actuated shutters; squeezing an air bulb would open the shutter and releasing the bulb would close it… It appears that when instantaneous shutters were introduced, they included a B setting so that the familiar bulb behaviour could be duplicated with a cable release.”4 In other words light waves, reflecting from the surface of objects, are controlled by the photographer over an indefinite period (not the short “snap” of the freeze frame / the decisive moment), accumulating light from thousands of years in the past through the lens of the camera onto the focal plane, coalescing into a single image, controlled and constructed by the photographer.

Dr Marcus Bunyan from a review of the NGV exhibition Light Works (2012)

3. Kellein, Thomas and Sugimoto, Hiroshi. Time Exposed. Thames & Hudson, First edition, 1995, p. 91, quoted on the Media Art Net website. [Online] Cited 08/09/2012.
4. Anon. “Bulb (photography),” on the Wikipedia website. Nd. [Online] Cited 08/09/2012.

 

James Thomas (England 1854-1921, lived in Italy 1889-1906) 'Thyrsis' 1914

 

James Thomas (England 1854-1921, lived in Italy 1889-1906)
Thyrsis
1914
Bronze, patina
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1915

 

Joseph Turner (active in Australia 1856- 1880s) 'No title (Laying the foundation stone of the Geelong clock tower)' 1856

 

Joseph Turner (active in Australia 1856- 1880s)
No title (Laying the foundation stone of the Geelong clock tower)
1856
Daguerreotype leather, wood, silk, gilt metal and glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1974

 

 

Market Square was a town square located in the centre of Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Consisting of eight acres (2.9 hectares) of land, the area was reserved by Governor Sir George Gipps as a town square during the initial surveying of Geelong. The area later became a produce market, before being progressively built upon. Today the Market Square Shopping Centre occupies the site, having been opened in 1985 by the City of Geelong…

A clock tower was built in the centre of the square in 1856. It was the idea of the second mayor of Geelong James Austin, who offered to pay for a clock tower in Geelong to mark his term as mayor. The clock was featured in The Illustrated London News in March 1855. Components for the clock arrived in Geelong on November 13, 1855 from England, but the location for the clock had yet to be decided. Suggestions of high ground at top of Moorabool, Yarra or Gheringhap Streets were put forward at the time, the indecision lasting into early 1856. In July 1857 a decision was made, and the foundation stone was finally laid in the Market Square…

The clock tower remained until October 1923 when it was demolished to make way for the CML Building. There was a public outcry, and no one was willing to demolish it. However, it was deemed too impractical to move intact, and was brought down by steel cables attached to traction engine. The site of the clock tower is marked by a plaque in the Market Square Shopping Centre.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Wegman (born United States 1943) 'Horned hound' 1991

 

William Wegman (born United States 1943)
Horned hound
1991
Polaroid photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1992

 

 

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

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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11
May
14

Text / exhibition: ‘Australian vernacular photography’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 18th May 2014

 

Australian vernacular photography. Such a large subject. Such a small exhibition.

With only 27 photographs from various artists (18 of which are shown in this posting), this exhibition can only ever be seen as the runt of the litter. I would have thought such a large area of photographic investigation needed a more expansive exposition than is offered here. There are no photobook, photo booth, Aboriginal, anonymous, authorless, family, gay or marginalised cultural photographs / snapshots. There are no light leaks, blur, fingers obstructing lenses, double exposures – all examples of serendipity and happenstance which could enter into an aesthetic arena.

Vernacular photography1 can be defined as the “creation of photographs, usually by amateur or unknown photographers both professional and amateur, who take everyday life and common things as subjects… Examples of vernacular photographs include travel and vacation photos, family snapshots, photos of friends, class portraits, identification photographs, and photo-booth images. Vernacular photographs are types of accidental art, in that they often are unintentionally artistic.”2 ‘Found photography’ is the recovery of a lost, unclaimed, or discarded vernacular photograph or snapshot.

While all of the photographs in the exhibition are unique images, some are definitely not vernacular in their construction – they are planned and staged photographs, what I would call planned happenstance (after John Krumboltz’s theory of career development). A perfect example of this are the photographs by Sue Ford (Sue Pike, 1963, printed 1988, below), Anne Zahalka (The girls #2, Cronulla beach, 2007, below) and Fiona Hall (Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975, below) which have an air of ceremonial seriousness that belies their classification as part of this exhibition. My favourites are the fantastic images by Glen Sloggett – witty, colourful, humorous with the photographer “acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history” – they are nevertheless self-deprecating enough that this does not impact on their innate “found” quality, as though the artist had just wandered along and captured the shot.

The route that the AGNSW has taken is similar to that of MoMA. Residing in the collection and shot by artists, these “vernacular” photographs are placed in a high art context. Their status as amateur or “authorless” photographs is undermined. This exhibit does not present vernacular photographs as just that. As the article on the One Street blog notes, what is being exhibited is as much about what has been collected by the AGNSW, its methodical and historicising classification, as it is about vernacular photographic form: chance, mistake and miscalculation. It is about creating a cliché from which to describe an ideal Australian identity, be it the beach, larrikinism, or the ANZAC / sporting “warrior”, and not about a true emotional resonance in the image that is created by, or come upon by, chance.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.
Many thankx to the Art Gallery 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.

 

1. “Vernacular photography,” on One Way Street blog 20th October 2007 [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

“What is vernacular photography? Too broad to be understood as a genre per se, it can encompass anonymous snapshots, industrial photography, scientific photography, “authorless” photography, advertising, smut, as well as work that might be perceived as “other” than any of this random list. It could be understood as an oppositional photography – outside technical or artistic histories, yet, especially with the snapshot, it could also be entirely conventionalized, a manifestation of visual banalities, or an image so enigmatic that its meaning or genesis is entirely obscured. It is mistakes & failures as much as it may not be. & how we understand the images may or may not be separate from their initial intents. Is this a category we are making up?
The idea of the vernacular in photography is also an indication of photography as a medium informing the everyday, prevalent, “naturalized.””

2. Szarkowski, John. “INTERVIEW: “Eyes Wide Open: Interview with John Szarkowski” (2006)” by Mark Durden, Art in America, May, 2006, cited in “Vernacular photography,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

 

Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography

“At first, I was simply interested in bringing attention to a diverse range of photographic objects and practices that had not been much written about. But I soon recognized that these objects represented a significant challenge to the predominant history of photography. This history, dominated by the values ​​and tropes of art history, was not well-equipped to talk about photographs that were openly commercial, hybrid and mundane. Ie: the history of photography ignores most types of photography. My interest, therefore, has become more methodological and theoretical, in an effort to establish new ways to think of photography that could address the medium as a whole. I suggest that any substantial inclusion of vernacular photographs into a general history of photography will require a total transformation of the character of that history…

I suggest that any inclusion of vernacular photography in the larger story, will require a complete transformation of the character of that story; it will require a new kind of history altogether. My writings may have encouraged this idea, but I am just one of many scholars who have been pursuing this goal. Indeed, I would say that this idea is now the norm. The next step is to look beyond this and engage other parts of the history of photography that have been similarly neglected. For example, there are many researchers at the moment that are examining the photographs produced outside Europe and the United States, such as China, Indonesia, and Africa…

Snapshots are complicated objects. They are unique to each maker and almost always completely generic. They happily adopt the visual economy that mediates most photographic practices: same but different. You might say that every snapshot is an authentic copy of a prescribed set of middle-class values and familiar pictorial clichés. That does not make them any less fascinating, especially for people who treasure them. But it does make them difficult to write about…

It is certainly possible to recognize the existence of regional practices of photography. I wrote, for example, about the making of fotoescultura in Mexico, and about a specific form of ambrotype in Japan. No doubt one could claim to see some regional aspects of snapshots made in the United States that distinguish them from ones made in Australia or, say, Indonesia. But the more challenging task is to talk about those things that can’t be seen. For example, snapshots made in Australia and China may look exactly the same to my eye, but it stands to reason that they don’t mean the same thing (after all, access to the camera for personal photos is a fairly recent phenomenon in China). We must learn how to write these kind of differences.”

Interview by LG. “Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography,” on the LesPHOTOGRAPHES.com website Nd (translated from the French) [Online] Cited 04/05/2014

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

After relocating from USA to Australia in 1973, Ed Douglas spent a few years living in the country prior to taking on a teaching position at Sydney College for the Arts in 1976. The series City-spaces was commenced in Sydney and then developed further when Douglas moved to Adelaide in 1977. Having been schooled in the formal traditions of American documentary photography, Douglas’s images appear like notations of an urban explorer attempting to locate himself in a new country. Seemingly fragmentary, they look at the specificities of the mundane and the ordinary. Close acquaintances such as photographers Ingeborg Tyssen and John F. Williams appear in City spaces #29 and City spaces #28, indicating the personal nature of the series.

Intimately scaled and tonally rich, the black and white images exalt the formal beauty which can be found in the random textures of daily existence. They are also permeated with gentle humour and a sense of quiet drama that unfolds in the strangely misplaced confluences of objects, figures and spaces. Douglas’s interest in the formal and emotional qualities of topography was emblematic of new approaches in documentary photography of the time. His 1983 series of colour photographs depicting the gypsum mine on Kangaroo Island (collection of AGNSW) developed this trajectory further by fusing the aesthetics of abstraction and objective documentation.

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #40, Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #40, Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 x 30.7 cm image
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Woman hosing, Canberra' 1979

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Woman hosing, Canberra
1979
Gelatin silver photograph
34.9 x 46.5 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

Gerrit Fokkema’s photographs of everyday Sydney and Canberra in the early 1980s are examples of Australian photography becoming more self-aware. These decisive snapshots of suburban life reveal an irony and conjure Fokkema’s own history growing up in Queanbeyan. Though captured in seemingly banal settings, the images intrigue, pointing to issues beyond what is represented in the frame. The housewife watering the road and a young tattooed man in front of a car are both depicted alone within a sprawling suburban landscape, suggesting the isolation and boredom in the Australian dream of home ownership. The sense of strangeness in these images is consciously sought by Fokkema, aided by his embrace of the glaring and unforgiving ‘natural’ Australian light.

Gerrit Fokkema’s Woman hosing, Canberra is an affectionate and gently ironic portrait of suburban life in Canberra. Fokkema was familiar with his subject matter, raised as he was in the nearby township of Queanbeyan. After studying photography at Canberra Technical College 1974-77 he became the staff photographer for the Canberra Times in 1975. He held his first exhibition in the same year at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. His career as a photo-journalist lead him to work with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1980 and participation with several international Day in the life of…. projects between 1986 and 1989.

Fokkema uses the ‘decisive moment’ of photo-journalism to reveal the incidental quirks of ordinary life in this image. The bland uniformity of the streetscape, with its identical archways and mundanely shuttered doors, is punctuated by the absurd proposition of a woman watering the street rather than the adjacent grass. Her presence is the only sign of life in an otherwise inanimate scene, and her actions suggest a kind of strangeness that lies within the normality of suburbia. Many of Fokkema’s images play with such chance incidences and odd juxtapositions, revealing his interest in surrealism and the notion of automatism. Indeed, the repeated archways and the lone figure inhabiting otherwise empty urban space of Woman hosing, Canberra recall the proto-typical surrealist painting, Mystery and melancholy of a street 1914, by Giorgio de Chirico. Fokkema’s image is, however, very much a product of Australia – of its bright ‘available’ light and of the dream of home-ownership. Fokkema has continued to document the Australian way of life. In 1986 he left newspapers to freelance as a commercial photographer and published Wilcannia, portrait of an Australian town. He has since exhibited works based on tender observations of his family members and of family life.

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

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Blacktown man' 1983

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Blacktown man
1983
Gelatin silver photograph
30.6 x 40.6 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

The work of Gerrit Fokkema exhibits a particular sensitivity to the uneasiness of people in Australian landscapes, both urban and rural. Fokkema was born in New Guinea in 1954, but raised in Canberra and worked as a press photographer before freelancing from 1986. Although his photographs demonstrate an interest in the formal qualities of landscape, the sense of rhythm his compositions generate also evoke the monotony of Australian space – sweeping terracotta roofs and long straight paths. This monotony is only interrupted by the presence of the human figure, usually isolated, alone and awkwardly out of place. In Blacktown Man 1983, the flat image of the man appears dramatically superimposed on the land and sky of the suburban street. By reminding us of our sometimes uncomfortable relationship with the spaces we inhabit, Fokkema’s work rejects any attempt to romanticise Australian life.

 

John F Williams. 'The Rocks, Sydney' 1973

 

John F Williams
The Rocks, Sydney
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
22.6 x 34.1cm
Purchased 1989
© John F Williams

 

Trent Parke. 'Backyard swing set, QLD' 2003

 

Trent Parke
Backyard swing set, QLD
2003
From the series Minutes to midnight
Type C photograph
109.9 x 164cm
Gift of Albie Thoms in memory of Linda Slutzkin, former Head of Public Programmes, Art Gallery of New South Wales 2006
© Trent Parke

 

 

Australian vernacular photography traces developments in photographic practice from the postwar period through to the present day, with images ranging from documentary or ‘straight’ photography (where the subjects are usually unaware of the camera), through to those that look self-reflexively at the constructed nature of the medium.

The increasing role of photography in the latter part of the 20th century attests to the rising need Australians felt to apprehend the nation, personal identity and society through images. Many of these photographs offer frank perspectives on Australian culture without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photographers. Photographing the everyday became a way of understanding how Australia saw (and sees) itself, with recurrent themes such as beach culture, suburbia, race relations, protest and the role of women among the central concerns of image-makers then and now.

By the 1960s Australian photographers were comparing their work with international peers, thanks to photographic publications and the watershed 1959 tour of The family of man exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Institutional support for photography didn’t come until the 1970s; however those committed to the medium forged on, intent on capturing their visions of Australia photographically. The family of man exhibition toured Australia in 1959 and was enormously influential, with its themes of birth, love and death common to all humanity. However, possibilities for Australian photographers to be noticed were rare until the 1970s due to the lack of institutional support. Nonetheless, photographers from David Moore and Robert McFarlane to the young Sue Ford forged on, trying to find their own vision of Australian life and how it could be represented photographically. This exhibition looks at some of the photographers from then as well as those working more recently – such as Anne Zahalka, Trent Parke and Glenn Sloggett – to consider their various approaches to the depiction of modern Australian life.

In the Australian Photography Annual of 1947, photographer and director of the Art Gallery of NSW Hal Missingham wrote: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport… where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – what do they do – what do they wear, and think?”

Text from the AGNSW website

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 - Oct 2010) 'The Sunbather' 1966

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 – Oct 2010)
The Sunbather
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
39.1 x 27.6 cm image
© Jeff Carter

 

“I don’t regard photography as an art form, although I know it can be for others… To me the camera is simply an unrivalled reporter’s tool. It is an aid to getting the story “properly true,”” Jeff Carter said in 2006. Working mainly as a photojournalist, Carter wanted to make images that depicted social reality. He aimed to show the ‘unknown’, those people who are rarely seen. His approach resulted in frank, arguably even unflattering, images of Australian life, such as this of a beach-goer in the 1960s, heralding the changing social mores of the time.

 

John F. Williams (Australia 1933 - ) 'Sydney' 1964, printed later

 

John F Williams (Australia 1933 – )
Sydney
1964, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
24.3 x 24.3 cm image
© John F Williams

 

Sydney photographer, lecturer and historian John F. Williams has a long and personal interest in the ramifications of the Allies’ commitment to and sacrifice in the First World War which he later explored in his 1985 series From the flatlands. Williams became an amateur street photographer, inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson and the photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. He read The family of man catalogue and saw the exhibition in 1959 but he rejected its “saccharine humanism and deliberate ahistoricism” choosing instead to socially document the raw character of Australia.1

When interviewed in 1994 Williams said: “After the [First World War] you had a range of societies which were pretty much exhausted, and they tended to turn inwards. In a society like Australia which had a poorly formed image of itself, where there was no intellectual underpinning, the image of the soldier replaced everything else as a national identity.”2

Sydney expresses the ‘Anzac spirit’ born in the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Somme and Flanders, a character study of an independent, introspective soldier. With an air of grit, determinedly smoking and wearing his badge, ribbons and rosemary as remembrance, Sydney stands apart from the crowd, not marching with his regiment. Williams embraced the ‘element of chance’ or the ‘decisive moment’ as he documented the soldier in a public place observing the procession. Taken from a low angle and very close up the man is unaware of the photographer at the moment the shot was taken, apparently lost in his own memories. The old soldier represents a generation now lost to history but portraits such as these continue to reinforce the myth of national identity.

1. Jolly, M. “Faith sustained,” in Art Monthly, September 1989, pp. 18-19
2. “John Williams – photographer and historian: profile,” in Sirius, winter, Macquarie University, Sydney, 1994, p. 5

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

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – ) 'Happening Centennial Park, Sydney' c. 1968

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – )
Happening Centennial Park, Sydney
c. 1968
Gelatin silver photograph
25.9 x 17.6 cm image
© Robert McFarlane

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994) 'Surf carnival, Cronulla' 1968, printed 1978

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994)
Surf carnival, Cronulla
1968, printed 1978
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
38.1 x 26.3 cm image
© Hal Missingham Estate

 

Photographer and former Art Gallery of NSW director, Hal Missingham wrote in the 1947 Australian Photography annual: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport…? Where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – What do they do – What do they wear, and think?” This image points to Missingham’s own attempts to answer that question. An interesting counterpoint to the images taken at Cronulla around 40 years later, here Missingham shows a group of young women standing behind a fence watching as young men train to be lifesavers.

Hal Missingham often holidayed at his beach house at Garie in the Royal National Park south of Sydney, not far from Cronulla. In 1970 he published Close focus a book of photographic details of rocks, pools, sand and driftwood. As a beachcomber and observer of beach culture Missingham delighted in his immediate environment. Surf carnival, Cronulla is a quintessential Australian scene, one that frames an important aspect of national identity and culture. As passive observers, the 1960s was a time when many girls were still ‘minding the towels’ for the boys who surfed or competed in carnivals. Barricaded from the beach and its male activity the young women in bikinis are oblivious to the photographer who has foregrounded their relaxed tanned bodies behind the wire as they in turn observe and discuss the surf lifesavers in formation at the water’s edge. Although a beach is accessible for the majority of Australians and is now an accepted egalitarian space where women bodysurf, ride surfboards and compete along with beachgoers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, Surf carnival, Cronulla suggests a specific demography.

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

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 - ) 'Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975' 1975

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 – )
Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
28.2 x 27.9 cm image
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1987
© Fiona Hall

 

 

Australian vernacular photography considers how photographers have used their cameras to depict Australian life, and how ideas of the nation have been constructed through photographic images.

Sixteen Australian photographers are represented by some 27 photographs taken from the 1960s to the 2000s. The photographs range from the more conventionally photo-documentary through to later works by photographers positioned more consciously in an art context. A selection of photography books of the period are also on display.

Artists include: Jeff Carter, Ed Douglas, Peter Elliston, Gerrit Fokkema, Sue Ford, Fiona Hall, Robert McFarlane, Hal Missingham, David Moore, Trent Parke, Roger Scott, Glenn Sloggett, Ingeborg Tyssen, John F Williams, William Yang and Anne Zahalka. Each of these artists in their own way interweave personal, documentary and fictional aspects through their images.

The works in Australian vernacular photography expose the sense of humour or larrikinism often seen as typical to Australia through showing aspects of beach and urban culture that hadn’t been imaged so bluntly before the 1960s. The characters that emerge range from leathery sunbathers, beer-drinking blokes and hippies, to beach babes, student protesters and suburban housewives, shedding light on the sense of liberation and self-recognition that arose during this period.

As photography struggled to gain recognition as an art form in the mid 20th century, the influence of exhibitions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York’s Family of Man, which toured Australia in 1959, was vital in allowing Australian photographers to compare their work to that of their international peers.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, photographers such as Jeff Carter, Sue Ford, David Moore, Roger Scott and John F Williams worked in a photo-documentary mode that was less about staging a shot or creating formal harmony within the frame than about capturing a moment of lived reality. To this end, such photographs involved minimal intervention from the photographer, both before and after the shutter release. Subjects were often unaware of being photographed and extensive darkroom manipulation was frowned upon, the rawness of prints was supposed to signal authenticity.

This approach resulted in images that seemed to offer a frank perspective on Australian culture, without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photography, which had sought to construct ideals rather than document what was actually there. As artists began to realise what they could do with the camera, so too did the images evolve. By the 1980s and ’90s photographers were making images that showed the subject’s awareness of being photographed, as with Gerrit Fokkema, or presented a harsh, even aggressive perspective on the depicted situations by removing people altogether, as with Peter Elliston. This signalled the increasingly self-conscious role of photographers themselves in the equation, suggesting the influence of post-modern theories of subjectivity and their effect on the images produced.

By the time we reach the 2000s, artists such as William Yang, Anne Zahalka and Trent Parke are acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history. The exhibition maps out this history and offers unexpected insight into the construction of a particularly Australian vernacular within photographic practice.”

Press release from the AGNSW

 

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 - 06 Nov 2009) 'Sue Pike' 1963, printed 1988

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 – 06 Nov 2009)
Sue Pike
1963, printed 1988
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
34.2 x 34.2 cm image
Gift of Tim Storrier 1989
© Estate of Sue Ford

 

Sue Ford’s photograph of her friend Sue Pike blow-drying her hair in the kitchen captures the young woman preparing for a night out. Ford often photographed those close to her as well as continually making self-portraits throughout her career. The photograph is domestic and intimate, showing a common aspect of life for young women in the 1960s. It suggests the procedure of preening necessary to go out and find ‘marriage and children’, while the alcohol and cigarette indicates the emerging movement for women’s liberation.

“My earliest “studio portraits” … were of my friends from school … These photo sessions were approached with a ceremonial seriousness, My friends usually brought different clothes with them and during the sessions we would change clothes and hairstyles.” Sue Ford 1987 1

Sue Ford took the majority of her photographs at this time with the camera set on a 1/60th of a second at f/11, a ‘recipe’ she wrote which had more chance of success. Poetic, fragmentary text relating to Ford’s 1961 photo-essay in “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961–1981” identify the young women’s recipe for flirtatious endeavour – ‘gossamer hairspray’, ‘peroxide’, ‘plucked eyebrows’, ‘big hair rollers to achieve “La Bouffant”‘, ‘Saturday nite’ and ‘Jive’. Sue Pike exemplifies the era of girls preparing for a night out with the boys in their ‘FJ Holdens and Hot Rods’. Staged in the kitchen, probably on a Saturday afternoon, Sue Pike, in a padded brunch coat with hair in rollers plugged into a portable hair dryer, will be a part of the action, the gossip and camaraderie. A further portrait taken in the same year shows Sue Pike metamorphosed as a beautiful bride, carefully coifed ash blonde hair under a white net veil, eyes momentarily shut, traditionally decorated with pearls and posy. Ford suggests in her prose and portraits that there are choices to be made – ‘marriage and children’ or mini-skirts and the Pill, as her old school friends go in different directions.

1. Ford. S. “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961-1981,” Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, 1987, p. 4

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

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – ) 'The girls #2, Cronulla beach' 2007

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – )
The girls #2, Cronulla beach
2007
Type C photograph
72.5 x 89.5 cm image
Gift of the artist 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Anne Zahalka. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

As part of a generation of Australian women artists who came to the fore in the early 1980s, Anne Zahalka’s practice has always been concerned with questioning dominant myths and cultural constructs. The broad sweep of Zahalka’s oeuvre has often been underpinned by a common strategy: the world in her images appears as theatre where place, gender and national identity are questioned.

Many of Zahalka’s more recent works are located outside the studio though the natural environment can be seen to be equally constructed. In The girls #2, Cronulla beach, the photographer has returned to the seaside, which was the setting for one of her most iconic series, Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989. The girls was made as a response to the Cronulla riots and after an introduction to Aheda Zanetti, the designer of the burqini. Zahalka “also knew of a documentary film being made following the recruiting of Lebanese men and women into the lifesaving club. It seemed like there was change adrift on the beachfront.”1 The permutations and post-modern anxiety about what constitutes Australian identity seen in the Bondi… series, have spilled out into the real world. But the image of these young Muslim women lifeguards seems to celebrate the potential to transgress accepted value systems.

Anne Zahalka said in 1995: “I am primarily concerned with… representations to do with place, identity and culture. Through the appropriation and reworking of familiar icons and styles I seek to question (and understand) their influence, meaning and value.” Twelve years later, Zahalka continues this line of inquiry with the series Scenes from the Shire. In this image, three Muslim girls wearing Burqinis (swimwear made for Muslim women conceived by Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti) are standing cross-armed on Cronulla beach, a lifesaving raft is in the background. Zahalka made this work in response to the Cronulla riots of 2005. The image juxtaposes Muslim tradition with the Australian icon of the lifesaver, suggesting cultural overlap and changing national identity.

1. A. Zahalka et al, “Hall of mirrors: Anne Zahalka portraits 1987-2007,” Australian centre of photography, Sydney 2007, p. 43

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – ) 'Ruby's kitchen Enngonia' 2000, printed 2002

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – )
Ruby’s kitchen Enngonia
2000, printed 2002
From the series miscellaneous obsessions
Type C photograph
35.5 x 53.5 cm image
© William Yang

 

William Yang was born in North Queensland, a third generation Chinese-Australian. He is known both as a photographer and for his monologues with slides which he has presented around the world to great acclaim. One of these, Sadness 1992, was adapted for the screen by Tony Ayres and won AWGIEs amongst other awards. A major retrospective of Yang’s work, Diaries, was held at the State Library of NSW in 1998. Through April 24 – June 1, 2003 Yang presented all his monologues at Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney.

Yang has documented various subcultures over the last 30 years and this is reflected in his photographs as well as his monologues. A remarkable storyteller with a unique style, his current work is a synthesis of his ongoing concerns. While these concerns spring very much from his experiences growing up with a Chinese background in far north Queensland, through to his exploration of the gay community in Sydney, the work transcends the personal and becomes a meditation on the subtleties of the ordinary and everyday.

This series of images reflects Yang’s current life of travel and contact with his far flung friends and extended family. Though the subject, at its most superficial, is food, where, when and who is there at the time is of equal importance. Consequently each photograph in the series presents a web of connections and is underpinned with similar intentions to Yang’s other work, regardless of the subject.

“I don’t think I have a great technical attitude but I am interested in people,” William Yang said in 1998. Yang is known for his candid photographs of friends and situations he encounters. The images are usually accompanied by a story about his life, sometimes handwritten on the print itself, sometimes spoken aloud in performative contexts. He uses narrative as a way of locating his images in a particular moment in his personal history as well as social history at large. Yang explores themes around Australian and gay identity in a way that is frank and sometimes confronting. In this work, from a series about food, a chunk of kangaroo meat sits casually atop a laminate bench; other Australian icons such as Wonder White and Weet-Bix are also visible. The work allows for a multiplicity of signs to coexist: the slaughtered Australian mascot, the drab generic kitchen, the processed ‘white’ bread, with the Chinese-Australian photographer observing it all.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Cheaper & deeper' 1996

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Cheaper & deeper
1996
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.0 x 79.9 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Based in Melbourne, Glen Sloggett has exhibited extensively across Australia, including a touring exhibition with the Australian Centre for Photography, New Australiana 2001. Internationally, his work was included in the 11th Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh, 2004 and the 9th Mois de la Photo ‘Image and Imagination’ in Montreal 2005.

Sloggett’s work depicts scenes from Australian suburbia with a startling mix of warmth and melancholy. Devoid of people, his photographs reflect the isolation and abandonment that afflicts the fringes of Australian urban centres. His images don’t flinch from the ugly, kitsch, and bleak. Sloggett says, “No matter where I go, I always find places and environments that are in the process of falling down. These are the images of Australia that resonate most strongly for me as an artist. I want to capture the last signs of optimism before inevitable disrepair.” (Glen Sloggett, quoted in A. Foster. Cheaper and deeper, ex. Bro. ACP 2005) His images of disrepair are infused with black humour and at the same time, affection for Australian suburbia.

From dumpy derelict flats to pavements graffitied with the words ‘mum killers’, Sloggett’s photographs capture an atmosphere of neglect. One classic image depicts a pink hearse, with the slogan Budget burials cheaper & deeper!! stencilled in vinyl on the side window. Another image shows an industrial barrel, on which is scrawled the evocative word ‘Empty’. In a third image, a dog rests on the pavement outside ‘Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning’ – the bold red and yellow lettering on its window in stark contrast to the cracked paint of the exterior wall, and half-clean sheet that forms a makeshift curtain. These images have a profundity that is at once touching and surprising; as Alasdair Foster has commented, “In a world of rabid materialism and shallow sentiment, Sloggett’s photographs show us that life really is much cheaper and deeper.”

These five works by Glenn Sloggett serve as forms of photographic black humour. Devoid of people and always in colour, his photographs often take mundane elements from the world and make us notice their tragicomedy. This group is rooted in a play with text, where the tension between what is written and what we see is paramount. Sloggett makes comment on Australian life and culture, showing how the fringes of towns and the paraphernalia of the everyday give insight into the Australian psyche.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Hope Street' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Hope Street
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Empty' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Empty
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Kong's 1 hour dry cleaning' 1998

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning
1998
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.2 x 80.0 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

 

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11
Jul
13

Text: ‘Un/settling Aboriginality’ Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Brook Andrew: 52 Portraits’ at Tolarno Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 15th June – 20th July 2013

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

Download the text Un/settling Aboriginality (1.1Mb pdf)

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Un/settling Aboriginality

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Abstract: This text investigates the concepts of postcolonialism / neo-colonialism and argues that Australia is a neo-colonial rather than a postcolonial country. It examines the work of two Australian artists in order to understand how their work is linked to the concept of neo-colonialism and ideas of contemporary Aboriginal identity, Otherness, localism and internationalism.

Keywords: postcolonialism, postcolonial, art, neo-colonialism, Australian art, Australian artists, Aboriginal photography, hybridism, localism, internationalism, Otherness, Australian identity, Brook Andrew, Ricky Maynard, Helen Ennis.

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Australia and postcolonialism / neo-colonialism

Defining the concept of postcolonialism is difficult. “To begin with, “post-colonial” is used as a temporal marker referring to the period after official decolonisation,”1 but it also refers to a general theory that Ania Loomba et al. call “the shifting and often interrelated forms of dominance and resistance; about the constitution of the colonial archive; about the interdependent play of race and class; about the significance of gender and sexuality; about the complex forms in which subjectivities are experienced and collectivities mobilized; about representation itself; and about the ethnographic translation of cultures.”2

“Postcolonial theory formulates its critique around the social histories, cultural differences and political discrimination that are practised and normalised by colonial and imperial machineries… Postcolonial critique can be defined as a dialectical discourse which broadly marks the historical facts of decolonisation. It allows people emerging from socio-political and economic domination to reclaim their sovereignty; it gives them a negotiating space for equity.”3

While colonialism and imperialism is about territory, possession, domination and power,4 postcolonialism is concerned with the history of colonialism, the psychology of racial representation and the frame of representation of the ‘Other’. It addresses the ongoing effects of colonialism and imperialism even after the colonial period has ended.
“Past and present inform each other, each implies the other and… each co-exists with the other.”5 Even after colonialism has supposedly ended there will always be remains that flow into the next period. What is important is not so much the past itself but its bearing upon cultural attitudes of the present and how the uneven relationships of the past are remembered differently.6 While the aims of postcolonialism are transformative, its objectives involve a wide-ranging political project – to reorient ethical norms, turn power structures upside down and investigate “the interrelated histories of violence, domination, inequality and injustice”7 and develop a tradition of resistance to the praxis of hegemony.

McCarthy and Dimitriadis posit three important motifs in postcolonial art.8 Briefly, they can be summarised as follows:

1/ A vigorous challenge to hegemonic forms of representation in Western models of classical realism and technologies of truth in which the eye of the Third World is turned on the West and challenges the ruling narrating subject through multiple perspectives and points of view.

2/ A rewriting of the narrative of modernity through a joining together of the binaries ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’, ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’, and ‘civilised’ and ‘primitive’. “Culture, for these [postcolonial] artists, is a crucible of encounter, a crucible of hybridity in which all of cultural form is marked by twinness of subject and other.”9

3/ A critical reflexivity and thoughtfulness as elements of an artistic practice of freedom. This practice looks upon traditions with dispassion, one in which all preconceived visions and discourses are disrupted, a practice in which transformative possibilities are not given but have to worked for in often unpredictable and counter-intuitive ways.

According to Robert Young the paradigm of postcolonialism is to “locate the hidden rhizomes of colonialism’s historical reach, of what remains invisible, unseen, silent or unspoken” to examine “the continuing projection of past conflicts into the experience of the present, the insistent persistence of the afterimages of historical memory that drive the desire to transform the present.”10 This involves an investigation into a dialectic of visibility and invisibility where subjugated peoples were present but absent under the eye of the coloniser through a refusal of those in power to see who or what was there. “Postcolonialsm, in its original impulse, was concerned to make visible areas, nations, cultures of the world which were notionally acknowledged, technically there, but which in significant other senses were not there…”11 In other words, to acknowledge the idea of the ‘Other’ as a self determined entity if such an other should ever exist because, as Young affirms, “Tolerance requires that there be no “other,” that others should not be othered. We could say that there can be others, but there should be no othering of “the other.”12
The “Other” itself is a product of racial theory but Young suggests that “the question is not how to come to know “the other,” but for majority groups to stop othering minorities altogether, at which point minorities will be able to represent themselves as they are, in their specific forms of difference, rather than as they are othered.”13 Unfortunately, with regard to breaking down the divisiveness of the same-other split, “As soon as you have employed the very category of “the other” with respect to other peoples or societies, you are imprisoned in the framework of your own predetermining conceptualisation, perpetuating its form of exclusion.”14 Hence, as soon as the dominant force names the “other” as a paradigm of society, you perpetuate its existence as an object of postcolonial desire. This politics of recognition can only be validated by the other if the other choses to name him or herself in order to “describe a situation of historical discrimination which requires challenge, change and transformation… Othering was a colonial strategy of exclusion: for the postcolonial, there are only other human beings.”15

Important questions need to be asked about the contextual framework of postcolonialism as it is linked to race, culture, gender, settler and native: “When does a settler become coloniser, colonised and postcolonial? When does a race cease to be an oppressive agent and become a wealth of cultural diversities of a postcolonial setting? Or in the human history of migrations, when does the settler become native, indigenous, a primary citizen? And lastly, when does the native become truly postcolonial?”16

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This last question is pertinent with regard to Australian culture and identity. It can be argued that Australia is not a postcolonial but a neo-colonial country. Imperialism as a concept and colonialism as a practice are still active in a new form. This new form is neo-colonialism. Rukundwa and van Aarde observe that, “Neo-colonialism is another form of imperialism where industrialised powers interfere politically and economically in the affairs of post-independent nations. For Cabral (in McCulloch 1983:120-121), neo-colonialism is “an outgrowth of classical colonialism.” Young (2001:44-52) refers to neo-colonialism as “the last stage of imperialism” in which a postcolonial country is unable to deal with the economic domination that continues after the country gained independence. Altbach (1995:452-46) regards neo-colonialism as “partly planned policy” and a “continuation of the old practices”.”17

Australia is not a post-independent nation but an analogy can be made. The Australian government still interferes with the running of Aboriginal communities through the NT Intervention or, as it is more correctly known, Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007. Under the Stronger Futures legislation that recently passed through the senate, this intervention has been extended by another 10 years. “Its flagship policies are increased government engagement, income management, stabilisation, mainstreaming, and the catch cries “closing the gap” and “real jobs”.”18 As in colonial times the government has control of a subjugated people, their lives, income, health and general wellbeing, instead of partnering and supporting Aboriginal organisations and communities to take control of their futures.19

Further, Australia is still a colony, the Queen of England is still the Queen of Australia; Britannia remains in the guise of the “Commonwealth.” Racism, an insidious element of the colonial White Australia Policy (which only ended in 1973), is ever prevalent beneath the surface of Australian society. Witness the recent racial vilification of Sydney AFL (Aussie Rules!) player Adam Goodes by a teenager20 and the inexcusable racial vilification by Collingwood president Eddie McGuire when he said that Goodes could be used to promote the musical King Kong.21
“The dialectics of liberation from colonialism, whether political, economic, or cultural, demand that both the colonizer and the colonized liberate themselves at the same time.”22 This has not happened in Australia. The West’s continuing political, economic and cultural world domination has “lead to a neo-colonial situation, mistakenly called post-coloniality, which does not recognize the liberated other as a historical subject (in sociological theory, a historical subject is someone thought capable of taking an active role in shaping events) – as part of the historical transforming processes of modernity.”23 As has been shown above, Aboriginal communities are still thought incapable of taking an active role in shaping and administering their own communities. The result of this continuation of old practices is that Australia can be seen as a neo-colonial, not postcolonial, country.

Kathryn Trees asks, “Does post-colonial suggest colonialism has passed? For whom is it ‘post’? Surely not for Australian Aboriginal people at least, when land rights, social justice, respect and equal opportunity for most does not exist because of the internalised racism of many Australians. In countries such as Australia where Aboriginal sovereignty, in forms appropriate to Aboriginal people, is not legally recognised, post-colonialism is not merely a fiction, but a linguistic manoeuvre on the part of some ‘white’ theorists who find this a comfortable zone that precludes the necessity for political action.”24

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Two Australian artists, two different approaches

There are no dots or cross-hatching in the work of Ricky Maynard or Brook Andrew; no reference to some arcane Dreaming, for their work is contemporary art that addresses issues of identity and empowerment in different ways. Unlike remote Indigenous art that artist Richard Bell has labelled ‘Ooga Booga Art’ (arguing that it is based upon a false notion of tradition that casts Indigenous people as the exotic other, produced under the white, primitivist gaze),25 the work of these two artists is temporally complex (conflating past, present and future) and proposes that identity is created at the intersection of historically shifting subject positions, which destabilises any claim to an ‘authentic’ identity position and brings into question the very label ‘Aboriginal’ art and ‘Aboriginality’. By labelling an artist ‘Aboriginal’ or ‘gay’ for example, do you limit the subject matter that those artists can legitimately talk about, or do you just call them artists?
As Stephanie Radok has speculated, “surely as long as we call it Aboriginal art we are defining it ethnically and foregrounding its connection to a particular culture, separating it from other art and seeing it as a gift, a ‘present’ from another ethnography.”26 Be that as it may, artists can work from within a culture, a system, in order to critique the past in new ways: “The collective efforts of contemporary artists… do not reflect an escapist return to the past but a desire to think about what the past might now mean in new, creative ways.”27

Ways that un/settle Aboriginality through un/settling photography, in this case.

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Since the 1980s photographers addressing Indigenous issues have posed an alternative reality or viewpoint that, “articulates the concept of time as a continuum where the past, present and future co-exist in a dynamic form. This perspective has an overtly political dimension, making the past not only visible but also unforgettable.”28 The perspective proposes different strategies to deliberately unsettle white history so that “the future is as open as the past, and both are written in tandem.”29

Artists Ricky Maynard and Brook Andrew both critique neo-colonialism from inside the Western gallery system using a relationship of interdependence (Aboriginal/colonial) to find their place in the world, to help understand who they are and, ex post facto, to make a living from their art. They both offer an examination of place, space and identity construction through what I call ‘the industry of difference’.

Ricky Maynard works with a large format camera and analogue, black and white photography in the Western documentary tradition to record traditional narratives of Tasmanian Aboriginal people in order to undermine the myth that they were all wiped off the face of the planet by colonisation. Through his photography he re-identifies the narratives of a subjugated and supposedly exterminated people, narratives that are thousands of years old, narratives that challenge a process of Othering or exclusion and which give voice to the oppressed.

Portrait of a Distant Land is done through the genre of documentary in a way that offers authenticity and honest image making in the process. It has to deal with all those ethical questions of creating visual history, the tools to tell it with and how we reclaim our own identity and history from the way we tell our own stories. It comes from the extension of the way the colonial camera happened way back in the 19th century and how it misrepresented Aboriginal people. The Government anthropologists and photographers were setting up to photograph the dying race. Of course it simply wasn’t true. That was a way that colonial people wanted to record their history. You see those earlier colonial and stereotypical images of Aboriginal people in historic archives, their photographic recordings were acts of invasion and subjugation used for their own purpose.”30

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Ricky Maynard 'Coming Home' 2005

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Ricky Maynard
Coming Home
2005
from Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver print
34 x 52cm, edition of 10 + 3 AP

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“I can remember coming here as a boy in old wooden boats to be taught by my grandparents and my parents.

I’ll be 57 this year and I have missed only one year when my daughter Leanne was born. Mutton birding is my life. To me it’s a gathering of our fella’s where we sit and yarn we remember and we honour all of those birders who have gone before us. Sometimes I just stand and look out across these beautiful islands remembering my people and I know I’m home. It makes me proud to be a strong Tasmanian black man.

This is something that they can never take away from me.”

Murray Mansell Big Dog Island, Bass Strait, 2005 31

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Ricky Maynard. 'Vansittart Island, Bass Strait, Tasmania' 2005

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Ricky Maynard
Vansittart Island, Bass Strait, Tasmania
2005
from Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver print
34 x 52cm, edition of 10 + 3 AP

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“As late as 1910 men came digging on Vansittart and Tin Kettle Islands looking for skeletons here.
We moved them where none will find them, at the dead of night my people removed the bodies of our grandmothers and took them to other islands, we planted shamrocks over the disturbed earth, so the last resting place of those girls who once had slithered over the rocks for seals will remain a secret forever.”

Old George Maynard 1975 32

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

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Ricky Maynard
The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania
2005
from Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver print
34 x 52cm, edition of 10 + 3 AP

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“It’s pretty important you know, the land, it doesn’t matter how small, it’s something, just a little sacred site, that’s Wybalenna.
There was a massacre there, sad things there, but we try not to go over that. Where the bad was we can always make it good.”

Aunty Ida West 1995 Flinders Island, Tasmania 33

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Maynard’s photographs are sites of contestation, specific, recognisable sites redolent with contested history. They are at once both local (specific) and global (addressing issues that affect all subjugated people and their stories, histories). Through his art practice Maynard journeys from the periphery to the centre to become a fully recognized historical subject, one that can take an active role in shaping events on a global platform, a human being that aims to create what he describes as “a true visual account of life now.”34 But, as Ian McLean has noted of the work of Derrida on the idea of repression, what returns in such narratives is not an authentic, original Aboriginality but the trace of an economy of repression: “Hence the return of the silenced nothing called Aboriginal as the being and truth of the place, is not the turn-around it might seem, because it does not reinstate an original Aboriginality, but reiterates the discourses of colonialism.”35
Sad and poignant soliloquies they may be, but in these ‘true’ visual accounts it is the trace of repression represented through Western technology (the camera, the photograph) and language (English is used to describe the narratives, see above) that is evidenced in these critiques of neo-colonialism (a reiteration of the discourses of colonialism) – not just an authentic lost and reclaimed Aboriginality – for these photographs are hybrid discourses that are both local/global, European/Indigenous.

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In his art practice Brook Andrew pursues a more conceptual mutli-disciplinary approach, one that successfully mines the colonial photographic archive to interrogate the colonial power narrative of subjugation, genocide, disenfranchisement through a deconstructive discourse, one that echoes with the repetitions of coloniality and evidences the fragments of racism through the status of appearances. “Through his persistent confrontation with the historical legacy of physiognomia in our public Imaginary”36 in video, neon, sculpture, craniology, old photography, old postcards, music, books, ethnography and anthropology, Andrew re-images and reconceptualises the colonial archive. His latest body of work 52 Portraits (Tolarno Galleries 15 June – 20 July 2013), is “a play on Gerhard Richter’s 48 Portraits projects, which lifted images of influential Western men from the pages of encyclopaedias, 52 Portraits shifts the gaze to the ubiquitous and exotic other.”37 The colonial portraits are screen-printed in black onto silver-coated canvases giving them an ‘other’ worldly, alien effect (as of precious metal), which disrupts the surface and identity of the original photographs. Variously, the unnamed portraits taken from his personal collection of old colonial postcards re-present unknown people from the Congo, Africa, Argentina, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Algeria, Australia, South America, etc… the images incredibly beautiful in their silvered, slivered reality (as of the time freeze of the camera), replete with fissures and fractures inherent in the printing process. Accompanying the series is an installation titled Vox: Beyond Tasmania (2013), a Wunderkammer containing a skeleton and colonial artefacts, the case with attached wooden trumpet (reminding me appropriately of His Master’s Voice) that focuses the gaze upon an anonymous skull, an unknowable life from the past. In the catalogue essay for the exhibition, Ian Anderson observes, “His view is global – and even though my response is highly local – I too see the resonances of a global cultural process that re-ordered much of humanity through the perspective of colonizing peoples