Posts Tagged ‘George Goodman

08
Jul
18

Review: ‘Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861’ at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne Part 2, featuring photographs from exhibition

Exhibition dates: 15th March – 15th July 2018

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Colony: Frontier Wars (15 March – 2 September 2018) which presents a powerful response to colonisation through a range of historical and contemporary works by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists dating from pre-contact times to present day.

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that this posting contains images and names of people who may have since passed away.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing how some of the photographs were displayed in the case at rear.

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

” …what the generality of the white population of the Colony consist of, which is of the most debased and vilest dregs of Great Britain and Ireland… they never look on the Blacks in the light of human beings, but, would just as soon shoot them as they would a crow, or hunt them as they would a kangaroo. Indeed in some districts the dogs used to be thought good for nothing unless they could kill a Black as well as a kangaroo, and they used to teach them to do so, by giving them some of the poor Black’s blood.”

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James Graham. ‘Overland Letter’ part of the Graham Bros collection at The University of Melbourne archives

 

The bad deeds of some leading frontier politicians, administrators and military men have been almost overlooked; many history books – even more modern online popular resources such as the Australian Dictionary of Biography – diminish, attempt to justify or overlook completely their proven excesses against this continent’s Indigenes. …

“On any occasion of seeing or falling in with the Natives, either in Bodies or Singly, they are to be called upon, by your friendly Native Guides, to surrender themselves to you as Prisoners of War. If they refuse to do so, make the least show of resistance, or attempt to run away from you, you will fire upon and compel them to surrender, breaking and destroying the Spears, Clubs and Waddies of all those you take Prisoners. Such natives as happen to be killed on such occasions, if grown up men, are to be hanged up on Trees in Conspicuous Situations, to Strike the Survivors with the greater terror.”

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Lachlan Macquarie, fifth governor of New South Wales quoted in Paul Daley, “Heroes, Monuments and History,” in ‘Meanjin’, Autumn 2018

 

 

Terror incognita

Firstly, let me state that I am no expert in Australian colonial history, culture or photography. These are very specialised fields. But what I can do is use my eyes, my knowledge and my feelings to provide comment on this exhibition.

This magnificent exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square is a fascinating interrogation of the early history of the Australian nation, yet at the same time I found it very disturbing and sad. The exhibition more resembles a natural history exhibition than an art exhibition, a cabinet of curiosities, a Wunderkammer, were encyclopaedic collections of objects whose categorical boundaries are yet to be defined are mixed with the first European art made on this continent. The exhibition is a microcosm or theatre of the world, and a memory theatre, for all that has passed since before invasion of this land up until the year 1861. The installation mixes together colonial and Indigenous artefacts from within the allotted time period. There is so much to see that I have visited three times and not got to the bottom of this exhibition it is so dense. Paintings, drawings, sculpture, colonial furniture, clothing, pottery, jewellery, photography, maps, artefacts, etc… are displayed in a melange of techniques, offering a huge range of artists and media. Please see Part 1 of the posting for the installation images of the exhibition.

Some observations can be made. Generally, the paintings and drawings are of a very classical form, very tightly controlled and painted. They set out to document the landscape, firstly the Australian landscape as seen in the European tradition, and then in a more realistic yet romanticised form in later paintings. Early colour aquatints of Aboriginal people depict them climbing trees in an almost reptilian manner while later representations picture “a romantic vision of a vast, silent and forbidding land. Two generic Aboriginal people figures are included in the foreground in the guise of the noble savage.” Of a vanishing race. Other collages (a fictionalised representational technique), such as James Wallis’ View of Awabakal Aboriginal people, with beach and river inlet, and distant Aboriginal group in background (c. 1818), propose “a harmonious relationship between the Awabakal, colonisers and the military. Such a suggestion is at odds with earlier events of April 1816 when Wallis, under the direction of Governor Macquarie, led an armed regiment against Dharawal and Gandangara people south of Sydney, in what is now acknowledged as the first officially sanctioned massacre of Indigenous people in Australia.” (Exhibition text) Further, the romanticised vistas of colonial interloper John Glover (1767-1849) evoke, “an idyll where the natives were at one with nature, even as the slaughter was upon them…” (Damian Smith, 2018). This connection to nature can be seen in Glover’s painting The River Nile, Van Diemen’s Land, from Mr Glover’s farm (1837). But, as the exhibition text notes, “Glover had not experienced the conflict or witnessed the violence between Tasmanian Aboriginal resistance fighters and white settlers during the 1820s. By the time of his arrival in 1831, the Tasmanian Aboriginal survivors had been forced to leave Country and relocate to Flinders Island.” These representations of Aboriginal life are pure fiction constructed in the imagination of the artists and colonisers.

By way of contrast, the portraits of landed gentry, such as Thomas Bock’s four paintings of Captain William Robertson and his family (1830s-50s), are elegant and flattering. They are portraits executed in the grand Georgian manner fashionable in England and were greatly prized by colonists. Here is a family who has made it, and they want everyone to know about it. The roots of their representation are in the old country, their allegiance there also, to the mother country. Australia is a colony, part of the British Empire, an outpost of all that is right and proper in the world. Imagine just for a second that you are back in the 1850s. No electricity, only candle power. Now imagine arriving at a home with these portraits, or the landscapes of John Glover, lit by candle light. The skin would be luminescent, the golden frames glowing in the light; the trees in the Glover paintings would have writhed, seeming almost alive in the flickering light. A forbidding landscape indeed.

In portraiture, the same disposition can be seen in the early daguerreotype and ambrotype photographs of Aboriginals and colonists.

“Within a decade of the arrival of European colonists in the Port Phillip District a number of professional photographers had established studios in Melbourne, and prominent among these was Douglas Kilburn. Around 1847, Kilburn made a series of portraits [see below] of people thought to be from the Kulin nation. The images testify to the power of photographs to record kin and define identity. They also show Aboriginal people who had experienced a decade of dispossession following the arrival of settlers. It is believed Kilburn’s subjects were among the numbers of First Nations people who had few choices other than to return to Melbourne because they had been driven out of their Country.” (Exhibition text)

If we look at these small, personal, one-off photographs housed in leather cases that can be closed off from the world, when opened to reveal the Aboriginal sitters … we notice how frontal they are, how they face straight on to the camera, how grouped they are, how they fill the picture plane with little negative space around them, how the camera seems to press in on them, as though to capture every last detail of their countenance and clothing. Their visage. The aspect of their being. These are ethnographic documents as much as they are portraits, for they map the condition of the captives. If, as Michael Graham-Stewart states in his book Bitter fruit: Australian photographs to 1963, “photography operates not only as an instrument of oppression, but also as a means of connecting with people of the past,” what do contemporary Indigenous Australians make of these images. Do they find evidence of wrongdoing and suffering but also of resistance, adaptation, and continuity? Are they also angry and sad at what they have lost, as in a thriving and incredibly diverse culture? I would be.

Again, by way of contrast we look at how the colonists viewed themselves in these personal treasures. Here, we must remember that these early photographs would have been relatively expensive for a family to have commissioned them, almost as expensive say, in contemporary terms, as buying a plasma television when they first came out. Only the well-to-do would have been able to afford to have their portrait taken. Two examples of this providence and bounty can be seen in this posting. The portrait of The Lashmar family by William Millington Nixon (1857-58, see below) shows a family who were pioneering pastoralists on Kangaroo Island in the 1850s. “Despite the relative remoteness of their home, and the harshness of the environment, the family evidently prospered. Thomas Young Lashmar not only had the means to travel to Adelaide with his wife and family, but was also able to commission photographic portraits at a time when it was still a relatively expensive exercise.” (Exhibition text) While Aboriginals while forced from their land and massacred, pastoralists were making money and prospering from the confiscated lands.

Nothing better shows the sense of entitlement that the early pastoralists had (and still do today, with their illegal land clearing) towards their possession of the land and their identity that arose from that possession, than the commissioned set of five portraits by daguerreotype portraitist George Goodman of the daughters of prominent local land holder William Lawson II in the town of Bathurst, north-west of Sydney. Dressed in their finest, the young daughters, arms covered, clutch flowers and either look away from the camera or directly at it. The camera is placed directly at eye level, or slightly below it, and the space around the sitter is open and amorphous, a plain background which isolates the figure in space. Unlike the claustrophobic portraits by Douglas Kilburn of the Aboriginals from the Kulin nation, here the sitters seem to possess the space of the photograph, they inhabit and can breathe in the pictorial plane. In particular, the portrait of Susannah Caroline Lawson (1845, below) pictures a young woman with an incredibly determined stare and haughty demeanour. She seems to radiate a perfect sense of entitlement within the physical presence of the photograph.

Other photographs reinforce this vision of the world that the colonists enacted. Thomas Bock’s Portrait of two boys (1848-50, below) “shows that he was a skilled photographer by 1848… Any parent would have been thrilled by such a vivid image of their sons, especially as, like many colonial sons, they might be getting ready to be sent ‘home’ to the United Kingdom for schooling. The image of the boys was a memento for their parents as well as proof for relatives in Britain that colonial society could produce the same well-dressed and well-bred young boys as the old country.” (Gael Newton)

There is the rub. For migrants who were a long way from home, photography was proof that they were alive, successful, flourishing… and could live up to the expectations of their family back home and the standards of the old country. “Photography served several interrelated roles associated with the experience of migration and colonisation. For those European migrants transplanted halfway across the world, often without family or friends, the most immediate and heartfelt use for the camera was portraiture. Some of Australia’s earliest surviving photographs are small, sturdily cased portraits which provided ‘likenesses as if by magic’ of those depicted and were sent back ‘home’, thus providing an emotional connection to family members.” (Exhibition text) An emotional connection for people living in a far off land to those back “home”, and an emotional connection to family in a forbidding land, to remind themselves of their strength and unity in the face of the unknown.

What this exhibition does not show, because they are later photographs, is evidence of the overt oppression of Indigenous peoples that photography documented. While terra nullius is a Latin expression meaning “nobody’s land” usually associated with colonising Australia, the British Government using this term to justify the dispossession of Indigenous people, there is also another term, terra incognita, a term used in cartography for regions that have not been mapped or documented. In many ways the terror that Indigenous people experienced during invasion is still being mapped and explored. Much of it is still not known or is unaccepted, as a terror incognita. Dr Katherine Ellinghaus in her article “Criss-Cross History Hidden in a Letter,” notes that, “Reconciliation Australia’s own biennial survey [2016] has found that more than one in three Australians don’t accept that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were subject to mass killings, incarceration, and forced removal from their lands.”

This is the terror that still exists in the Australian psyche. The terror of cutting ties to the motherland, the terror of an incognita, an “unknown land”, and the hidden terror prescribed and enacted on the cultural body of the Aboriginal, unacknowledged by some even today.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,853

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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. All installation photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Robert Lyall with the New Norfolk Cup' 1851 Ambrotype

 

Unknown photographer
Robert Lyall with the New Norfolk Cup
1851
Ambrotype
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Robert Lyall was a successful Tasmanian publican and businessman whose interests extended to horse racing. In 1851 his prized horse Patience won the New Norfolk Cup and Lyall was the recipient of a handsome silver presentation cup. Not only evidence of his success and standing, the cup was apparently also of great personal significance to Lyall as he included it as a decorative element when this large-scale ambrotype was commissioned. Unlike more intimately scaled cased images, this photograph was framed so that it could be prominently displayed on the wall. (Exhibition text)

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847 Daguerreotype

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847 Daguerreotype

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Group of Koori men)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype; leather, wood, velvet, brass
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1983

Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Within a decade of the arrival of European colonists in the Port Phillip District a number of professional photographers had established studios in Melbourne, and prominent among these was Douglas Kilburn. Around 1847, Kilburn made a series of portraits of people thought to be from the Kulin nation. The images testify to the power of photographs to record kin and define identity. They also show Aboriginal people who had experienced a decade of dispossession following the arrival of settlers. It is believed Kilburn’s subjects were among the numbers of First Nations people who had few choices other than to return to Melbourne because they had been driven out of their Country. (Exhibition text)

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846) 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Group of Koori men)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype; leather, wood, velvet, brass
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1983

 

 

Kulin

The Kulin nation is an alliance of five Indigenous Australian tribes in south central Victoria, Australia. Their collective territory extended around Port Phillip and Western Port, up into the Great Dividing Range and the Loddon and Goulburn River valleys. Before British colonisation, the tribes spoke five related languages. These languages were spoken in two groups: the Eastern Kulin group of Woiwurrung, Boonwurrung, Taungurong and Ngurai-illam-wurrung; and the western language group of just Wathaurung.

The central Victoria area has been inhabited for an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 years before European settlement. At the time of British settlement in the 1830s, the collective populations of the Woiwurrung, Boonwurrung and Wathaurong tribes of the Kulin nation was estimated to be under 20,000. The Kulin lived by fishing, hunting and gathering, and made a sustainable living from the rich food sources of Port Phillip and the surrounding grasslands.

Due to the upheaval and disturbances from British settlement from the 1830s on, there is limited physical evidence of the Kulin peoples’ collective past. However, there is a small number of registered sites of cultural and spiritual significance in the Melbourne area.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (South-east Australian Aboriginal man and two younger companions)' 1847 (left) and 'No title (Two Koori women)' c. 1847 (right) Daguerreotypes

 

Left

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (South-east Australian Aboriginal man and two younger companions)
1847
Daguerreotype
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2007

Right

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Two Koori women)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype, brass, glass, gold, velvet
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004

Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (Two Koori women)' c. 1847 Daguerreotype

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Two Koori women)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype, brass, glass, gold, velvet
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

As a way of attracting attention to his newly opened business Douglas Kilburn took at least eight daguerreotypes of Aboriginal people in the lands of the Kulin nation. As a result of the nineteenth-century belief that the Aboriginal people were doomed to annihilation, Kilburn intended the images as ethnographic studies rather than individual portraits; nevertheless, his unnamed sitters project a proud and dignified presence. His photographs were popular with local artists such as Eugene von Guérard and John Skinner Prout, who copied them, and they also reached an international audience when they were used as the basis for wood engravings in William Westgarth’s Australia Felix in 1848, Nordisk Penning-Magazin in 1849 and the Illustrated London News in 1850. (Exhibition text)

 

George Goodman Lawson children

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)

Left

Maria Emily Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented 1993

Middle

Susannah Caroline Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype; leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Right

Eliza Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

George Goodman Lawson mother and children

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)

Left

Caroline and Thomas James Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented 1991

Middle

Sophia Rebecca Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Right

Sarah Ann Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

George Goodman arrived in Sydney in 1842 and established the first professional photography studio in Australia. Although he is known to have made photographs of Tasmanian street scenes, his stock-in-trade was portraiture. Goodman travelled to regional towns where he advertised his services as a daguerreotype portraitist. In 1845 he visited the town of Bathurst, north-west of Sydney, and was commissioned to photograph the family of prominent local land holder William Lawson II. The resulting series includes five individual portraits of Lawson’s young daughters and a charming, and surprisingly informal, image showing his wife Caroline Lawson and their young son. (Exhibition text)

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Susannah Caroline Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Susannah Caroline Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype; leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Eliza Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Eliza Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Caroline and Thomas James Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Caroline and Thomas James Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented 1991

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Sophia Rebecca Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Sophia Rebecca Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Sarah Ann Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Sarah Ann Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

Unknown photographer (working 1850s) 'Pair of portraits: George Taylor, his wife Ann (nee Collis Pratt)' c. 1856 Ambrotypes

 

Unknown photographer (working 1850s)
Pair of portraits: George Taylor, his wife Ann (nee Collis Pratt)
c. 1856, Adelaide
Two ambrotypes, colour dyes, gold paint
9.4 x 6.8 cm (each image, oval)
J.C. Earl Bequest Fund 2010
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘No title (Mother and children)’ 1855-56

 

Freeman Brothers Studio, Sydney (1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
No title (Mother and children)
1855-56
Daguerreotype, oil paint; leather, gold, paint, glass, velvet, metal, wood (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2001
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘No title (Mother and children)’ 1855-56

 

Freeman Brothers Studio, Sydney (1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
No title (Mother and children)
1855-56
Daguerreotype, oil paint; leather, gold, paint, glass, velvet, metal, wood (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2001

 

 

One of the largest and most celebrated Sydney photographic studios was run by the Freeman Brothers, whose skilful portraits were much admired. This pair of entrepreneurial photographers used the latest processes, building a large, well-appointed studio and actively promoting their work through display in international exhibitions. James Freeman was also extremely well versed in the potential uses of the medium, delivering a comprehensive lecture on the topic to a Sydney society in 1858. (Exhibition text)

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 - United States 1904, Australia 1850s) 'No title (Seated woman)' c. 1858

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
No title (Seated woman)
c. 1858
Ambrotype, coloured dyes
13.6 h x 10.7 w cm (case)
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Professor Robert Hall. ‘Portrait of a gentleman with check pants’ 1855-65 and Thomas Glaister. ‘George Coppin’ c. 1855

 

Left

Professor Robert Hall (active in Australia mid 19th century)
No title (Portrait of a gentleman with check pants)
1855-65
Stereo ambrotype, colour dyes
8.8 x 17.1 cm (overall)
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
R. J. Noye Collection
Gift of Douglas and Barbara Mullins, 2004

Right

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
George Coppin
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, hand tinted, gilt-matted and glazed
5.2 x 12.7 cm
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

George Selth Coppin (8 April 1819 – 14 March 1906) was a comic actor, entrepreneur and politician, active in Australia. For more information see the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry.

 

Thomas Glaister. ‘No title (Gentleman)’ c. 1854

 

Meade Brothers Studio, Melbourne (studio active in Australia 1850s)
Thomas Glaister (attributed to) (photographer England 1825 – United States 1904)
No title (Gentleman)
c. 1854
Daguerreotype, colour pigments; gold, leather, velvet, brass, glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of T. H. Lustig and Moar Families, Governor, 2001
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Thomas Glaister. ‘No title (Gentleman)’ c. 1854

 

Meade Brothers Studio, Melbourne (studio active in Australia 1850s)
Thomas Glaister (attributed to) (photographer England 1825 – United States 1904)
No title (Gentleman)
c. 1854
Daguerreotype, colour pigments; gold, leather, velvet, brass, glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of T. H. Lustig and Moar Families, Governor, 2001

 

Thomas Bock. ‘William Robertson Jnr.’ c. 1852 and ‘Margaret Robertson’ c. 1852

 

Left

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
William Robertson Jnr.
c. 1852
Daguerreotype, hand coloured
case: 9.2 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 5.5 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

Right

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
Margaret Robertson
c. 1852
Ambrotype, hand coloured
case: 9.3 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 6.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

News of scientific discoveries reached Australia via the flotillas of ships plying the southern trade routes. The first demonstrations of photography occurred in England and France in 1839. News of this reached Australia that same year and was described in an account in the Tasmanian newspaper The Cornwall Chronicle on 19 October 1839. Former convict Thomas Bock was one of the earliest Tasmanian photographers, first advertising his studio in September 1843. His daguerreotype portraits resemble his paintings and drawings in their composition and use of hand-colouring. (Exhibition text)

 

Thomas Bock

1790 – 1855

Thomas Bock, artist, printmaker and photographer, is believed to have been born at Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, in 1790. He completed an apprenticeship as an engraver with Thomas Brandard in Birmingham and in 1814 established his own business there, advertising himself as an ‘Engraver and Miniature Painter’. In April 1823, Bock and a woman named Mary Day Underhill appeared at the Warwickshire Assizes charged with ‘administering concoctions of certain herbs to Ann Yates, with the intent to cause a miscarriage.’ Both were found guilty and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. At the time of his conviction, Bock was thirty-two, married and father to five children. Bock arrived in Hobart aboard the Asia in January 1824. His convict record stated he had ‘served an apprenticeship to the Engraving Business’ and described him as ‘well connected and very orderly.’ The colonial authorities found immediate use for Bock, some of his earliest Tasmanian works being bank notes engraved for the Bank of Van Diemen’s Land and a drawing of executed cannibal, Alexander Pearce, made in July 1824 at the request of the Colonial Surgeon. Bock worked as a printmaker during the 1820s, engraving stationery along with illustrations for publications such as the Hobart Town Almanack while also producing portraits. He received a conditional pardon in 1832 and free pardon a year later, thereafter establishing a highly successful practice as Hobart’s most sought-after portrait artist. Bock was particularly known for his portrait drawings utilising watercolour, pencil, chalk and pastel (or ‘French crayon’), but his practice was diverse, incorporating printmaking and oil painting as well as photography. On his death in Hobart in March 1855 he was described as ‘an artist of a very high order’ whose works ‘adorned the homes of a number of our old colonists and citizens.’

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'William Robertson Jnr.' c. 1852

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
William Robertson Jnr.
c. 1852
Daguerreotype, hand coloured
case: 9.2 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 5.5 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

William Robertson (1839-1892), barrister and politician, was the third of the seven children of pastoralist William Robertson (1798-1874) and his wife Margaret (née Whyte, 1811-1866). Robertson was born and educated in Hobart and then at Wadham College, Oxford. He is believed to be the first Australian to row in an Oxford eight, his team victorious against Cambridge in the Boat Race of 1861. Robertson graduated with a BA in 1862 and was married and called to the bar the following year. On his return to Australia, Robertson practised law in Hobart before heading to Victoria in 1864. He worked as a barrister in Melbourne and then assisted in the management of the family property, Corangamarah, which he and his three brothers jointly inherited on the death of their father in 1874. Robertson served as a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly between 1871 and 1874 and again from 1881 to 1886; he was also President of the Colac Shire council in 1880-81. After the dissolution of the partnership with his brothers in 1885, Robertson became sole owner of Corangamarah, later called The Hill, and in retirement enjoyed the lifestyle of an ‘hospitable and sports-loving country gentleman.’

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'Margaret Robertson' c. 1852

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
Margaret Robertson
c. 1852
Ambrotype, hand coloured
case: 9.3 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 6.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Margaret Robertson (née Whyte, 1811-1866) was the daughter of settlers George and Jessie Whyte, who emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land from Scotland in 1832. In September 1834, Margaret married Scottish-born entrepreneur and landowner William Robertson (1798-1874), who had arrived in the colony in 1822 and who, in the decade leading up to his marriage, had acquired land nearby to a property owned by Margaret’s family. The first of Margaret and William’s seven children – four sons and three daughters – was born in 1835. The family resided in Hobart until the early 1860s, when Roberston relocated to his Victorian estate, where Margaret died in February 1866.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Thomas Bock (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'No title (Portrait of two boys)' 1848-50

 

Thomas Bock (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
No title (Portrait of two boys)
1848-50, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Daguerreotype
case closed 7.0 h x 6.0 w cm case open 7.5 h x 13.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2009
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The daguerreotype was first demonstrated in Australia in Sydney in May 1841. Late the following year, London’s George Goodman set up the first commercial studio in Sydney, claiming to have an exclusive license to use the daguerreotype in the colonies. Goodman was working in Hobart in August 1843, where he came in direct competition with British convict artist Thomas Bock.

Although an engraver by trade, Bock had a keen interest in photography and, in the Hobart Town Advertiser of 29 September 1843, he advertised that ‘in a short time he would be enabled to take photographic likenesses in the first style of the art’. Infuriated, Goodman threatened legal action and Bock promptly withdrew until five years later when he opened a portrait photography studio in Hobart.

Bock’s stepson Alfred assisted him in the photography-side of the studio business. They had seen daguerreotype portraits brought from London by Reverend Francis Russell Nixon in Hobart in June 1843 – before Goodman’s arrival in Tasmania – and had purchased a camera from a Frenchman in Hobart so that they could learn the new art form using photographic formulas published in English magazines. Their lack of proper training, however, shows in Hobart dignitary GTYB Boyes’s records of August 1849, in which he comments, ‘Bock understands the nature of his apparatus but very imperfectly!’ Despite this and other unfavourable remarks between 1849 and 1853, Boyes continued to visit Bock’s studios for daguerreotype portraits.

Bock’s portrait of two freckle-faced boys dressed in matching outfits shows that he was a skilled photographer by 1848 – a year before Boyes’s initial disparaging remark. Any parent would have been thrilled by such a vivid image of their sons, especially as, like many colonial sons, they might be getting ready to be sent ‘home’ to the United Kingdom for schooling. The image of the boys was a memento for their parents as well as proof for relatives in Britain that colonial society could produce the same well-dressed and well-bred young boys as the old country. The sitters are as yet unidentified but the daguerreotype has been dated by comparison with several identified examples of double portraits of children that have survived out of the hundreds of images made by the Bock studio.

Gael Newton
Senior Curator, Photography
in artonview, issue 61, autumn 2010

 

William Millington Nixon (England 1814 - Australia 1893, Australia from 1855) 'The Lashmar family' 1857-58

 

William Millington Nixon (England 1814 – Australia 1893, Australia from 1855)
The Lashmar family
1857-58
Daguerreotype, coloured inks; gold, leather, brass, metal, velvet and glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Shortly after his arrival in Adelaide in 1855, William Millington Nixon began making daguerreotypes, and quickly become a skilled daguerreotypist. By 1858 he had built a reputation as a portraitist and established a studio in King William Street, Adelaide.

The Lashmar family were pioneering pastoralists on Kangaroo Island in the 1850s. Despite the relative remoteness of their home, and the harshness of the environment, the family evidently prospered. Thomas Young Lashmar not only had the means to travel to Adelaide with his wife and family, but was also able to commission photographic portraits at a time when it was still a relatively expensive exercise. (Exhibition text)

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Portrait of a nun)' c. 1860

 

Unknown photographer
No title (Portrait of a nun)
c. 1860
Ambrotype with hand tinting
4.0 x 16.5 x 12.5 cm (box)
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
R.J. Noye Collection
Gift of Douglas and Barbara Mullins, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 - United States 1904, Australia 1850s) 'Reverend Jabez Bunting Waterhouse' 1861

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
Reverend Jabez Bunting Waterhouse
1861
Ambrotype, coloured-dyes
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

WATERHOUSE BROTHERS: Jabez Bunting (1821-1891), Joseph (1828-1881), and Samuel (1830-1918), Wesleyan ministers, were the fifth, ninth and tenth children of Rev. John Waterhouse (d. 1842) and his wife Jane Beadnell, née Skipsey. In 1838 their father, a prominent Yorkshire Methodist, was appointed general superintendent of the Wesleyan Methodist Mission in Australia and Polynesia with a roving commission. With his wife, seven sons and three daughters, he reached Hobart Town in the James on 1 February 1839.

Jabez was born in London on 19 April 1821, educated at Kingswood School in 1832-35 and apprenticed to a printer. In Hobart, A. Bent’s printing premises were purchased and worked by Jabez. In 1840 he became a local preacher extending his ministry to convict road menders. Received as a probationer in 1842, he returned to England to enter Richmond (Theological) College and in 1845 was appointed to Windsor circuit. After his ordination at the Methodist chapel, Spitalfields, he was sent to Van Diemen’s Land in 1847, and ministered successively in the Hobart, Westbury, Campbell Town and Longford circuits. In 1855 the first conference of the Wesleyan Church in Australia appointed him to South Australia; he served at Kapunda, Willunga and Adelaide, his ministry marked by his business acumen and his role as secretary of the Australasian Conference at Adelaide in 1862.

In 1864 Waterhouse was transferred to New South Wales and was appointed successively to Maitland, Goulburn, Orange, Waverley, Parramatta, Newcastle and Glebe. In 1874-75 he was secretary of the New South Wales and Queensland Annual Conference and president in 1876; he was elected secretary of the first three general conferences of the Australasian Wesleyan Methodist Church: in Melbourne 1875, Sydney 1878 and Adelaide 1881. In 1882 he retired as a supernumerary, but remained on committees such as those of the Sustentation and Extension Society and the Missionary Society, frequently looking after missionary interests during the absence of George Brown. He supported the Wesleyan Church in Tonga in the dispute with S. W. Baker and published The Secession and the Persecution in Tonga … (Sydney, 1886). Regarded as a gifted preacher by his denomination and as the architect of most of the conference legislation, he died of heart disease and dropsy at Randwick on 18 January 1891 and was buried in the Wesleyan section of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife Maria Augusta, née Bode, whom he had married at Windsor, England, on 13 August 1847, and by seven sons; his second son John was headmaster of Sydney High School.

Niel Gunson. Australian Dictionary of Biography

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Walter Davis’ and ‘Jemima Jane Davis’ c. 1860

 

Left

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Jemima Jane Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

Right

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Walter Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Walter Davis’ c. 1860

 

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Walter Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Jemima Jane Davis’ c. 1860

 

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Jemima Jane Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Walter Davis’ c. 1860

 

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Walter Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Portrait of a man, woman and child)' c. 1860

 

Unknown photographer
No title (Portrait of a man, woman and child)
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, brass, glass, silk (velvet) (case)
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Portrait of mother and child)' c. 1855

 

Unknown photographer
No title (Portrait of mother and child)
c. 1855
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, brass, glass, silk (velvet) (case)
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney
Gift of Tooth & Company Ltd under the Australian Government’s Tax Incentives for the Arts Scheme, 1986
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. ‘Jemima, wife of Jacky with William T. Mortlock’ and ‘Jacky, known as Master Mortlock’ c. 1860

 

Left

Unknown photographer
Jemima, wife of Jacky with William T. Mortlock
c. 1860
Daguerreotype
Ayers House Museum, National Trust of South Australia, Adelaide

Right

Unknown photographer
Jacky, known as Master Mortlock
c. 1860-65
Daguerreotype
Ayers House Museum, National Trust of South Australia, Adelaide

Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The Mortlock family were wealthy pastoralists in South Australia. Along with the daguerreotypes of family members they commissioned around 1860 are two portraits of their domestic servants known as Jemima and Jacky. Each member of the Mortlock family has been named in these images, but the identity of the two Aboriginal sitters has been lost – initially with the assignment of European first names and then the addition of the surname ‘master Mortlock’, which identified them as servants of the pastoralists who employed them. (Exhibition text)

 

Unknown photographer. 'Brothers William Paul and Benjamin Featherstone' c. 1860

 

Unknown photographer
Brothers William Paul and Benjamin Featherstone
c. 1860
Ambrotype, gold paint
15.5 x 12.1 cm (case)
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
J.C. Earl Bequest Fund, 2010
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 - United States 1904, Australia 1850s) 'Professor John Smith' c. 1858

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
Professor John Smith
c. 1858
Daguerreotype
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Presented by Miss Kate Crouch, 1942
Photo:
© Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. 'Emily Spencer Wills' c. 1859

 

Unknown photographer
Emily Spencer Wills
c. 1859
Daguerreotype, coloured dyes; brass, glass, leather, wood
1/6th plate daguerreotype with applied colour in al brass matt (without original leather case)
Frame: 8.5 x 7.2 cm, sight: 6.6 x 5.4 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra Gift of T S Wills Cooke 2014
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photo:
© Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. 'Emily Spencer Wills' c. 1859

 

Unknown photographer
Emily Spencer Wills
c. 1859
Daguerreotype, coloured dyes; brass, glass, leather, wood
1/6th plate daguerreotype with applied colour in al brass matt (without original leather case)
Frame: 8.5 x 7.2 cm, sight: 6.6 x 5.4 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra Gift of T S Wills Cooke 2014
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Photography served several interrelated roles associated with the experience of migration and colonisation. For those European migrants transplanted halfway across the world, often without family or friends, the most immediate and heartfelt use for the camera was portraiture. Some of Australia’s earliest surviving photographs are small, sturdily cased portraits which provided ‘likenesses as if by magic’ of those depicted and were sent back ‘home’, thus providing an emotional connection to family members.

This group of family portraits shows members of the Wills family, including Thomas Wentworth Wills, who was a prominent sportsman and one of the authors of the rules of the game that later became known as Australian Rules. (Exhibition text)

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Group of people in front of a crushing plant on a goldfield)' 1860s and Henry King (Australia 1855-1923) 'Henry Kay' 1855-60

 

Left

Unknown photographer
No title (Group of people in front of a crushing plant on a goldfield)
1860s
Ambrotype; embossed leather, wood, velvet, brass, gilt metal
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 2007

Right

Henry King (Australia 1855-1923)
Henry Kay
1855-60
Ambrotype, coloured dyes
2 photographs: ambrotypes with hand-colouring ; 8.9 x 6.5 cm. (oval, sight, f.1) in pinchbeck and gilt brass mount 10.9 x 8.3 cm. and 9.6 x 7.0 cm. (oval, sight, f.2) in gilt brass mount 10.9 x 8.2 cm., in brown union case 12.0 x 9.4 cm
Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs W.G. Haysom 1964

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The discovery of gold in 1851 led to extraordinary change in the colonies as migrants flooded in and previously unknown wealth enabled expansion and development. Across the colony mines were dug and small towns and settlements were established. This ambrotype shows a working mine in central Victoria and also reveals the environmental damage that resulted from the scramble for gold.

The desire to make a fortune on the goldfields brought about significant social change. Migrants such as Henry Kay, who arrived from Penang in the 1850s, came seeking gold but stayed on in various other roles, including that of court interpreter. (Exhibition text)

 

Henry King (Australia 1855-1923) 'Henry Kay' 1855-60

Henry King (Australia 1855-1923) 'Henry Kay' 1855-60

 

Henry King (Australia 1855-1923)
Henry Kay
1855-60
Ambrotype, coloured dyes
2 photographs: ambrotypes with hand-colouring ; 8.9 x 6.5 cm. (oval, sight, f.1) in pinchbeck and gilt brass mount 10.9 x 8.3 cm. and 9.6 x 7.0 cm. (oval, sight, f.2) in gilt brass mount 10.9 x 8.2 cm., in brown union case 12.0 x 9.4 cm
Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs W.G. Haysom 1964

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
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Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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31
May
15

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

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 8th June 2015

Curator: Judy Annear, Senior curator of photographs, AGNSW

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

Extract from “Introduction”

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Time

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

Nation

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

People

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

Place

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

Transmission

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Tracey Moffatt. 'I made a camera' 2003

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

David Moore. 'Redfern Interior' 1949

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Paul Foelsche. 'Adelaide River' 1887

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Melvin Vaniman. 'Panorama of intersection of Collins and Queen Streets, Melbourne' 1903

 

Melvin Vaniman
Panorama of intersection of Collins and Queen Streets, Melbourne
1903

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Richard Daintree. 'Midday camp' 1864–70

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Charles Bayliss. 'Lawrence Hargrave trochoided plane model' 1884

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Harold Cazneaux. 'Spirit of endurance' 1937

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sue Ford. 'Self-portrait' 1986

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Frank Styant Browne. 'Hand' 1896

 

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

 

 

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Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

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Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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