Posts Tagged ‘Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land

31
May
15

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

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 8th June 2015

Curator: Judy Annear, Senior curator of photographs, AGNSW

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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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

 

 

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

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Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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11
Jul
13

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

Exhibition dates: 15th June – 20th July 2013

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

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

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Un/settling Aboriginality

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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

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Australia and postcolonialism / neo-colonialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two Australian artists, two different approaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ricky Maynard 'Coming Home' 2005

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

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

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

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

Murray Mansell Big Dog Island, Bass Strait, 2005 31

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

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

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

Old George Maynard 1975 32

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

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

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“It’s pretty important you know, the land, it doesn’t matter how small, it’s something, just a little sacred site, that’s Wybalenna.
There was a massacre there, sad things there, but we try not to go over that. Where the bad was we can always make it good.”

Aunty Ida West 1995 Flinders Island, Tasmania 33

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Maynard’s photographs are sites of contestation, specific, recognisable sites redolent with contested history. They are at once both local (specific) and global (addressing issues that affect all subjugated people and their stories, histories). Through his art practice Maynard journeys from the periphery to the centre to become a fully recognized historical subject, one that can take an active role in shaping events on a global platform, a human being that aims to create what he describes as “a true visual account of life now.”34 But, as Ian McLean has noted of the work of Derrida on the idea of repression, what returns in such narratives is not an authentic, original Aboriginality but the trace of an economy of repression: “Hence the return of the silenced nothing called Aboriginal as the being and truth of the place, is not the turn-around it might seem, because it does not reinstate an original Aboriginality, but reiterates the discourses of colonialism.”35
Sad and poignant soliloquies they may be, but in these ‘true’ visual accounts it is the trace of repression represented through Western technology (the camera, the photograph) and language (English is used to describe the narratives, see above) that is evidenced in these critiques of neo-colonialism (a reiteration of the discourses of colonialism) – not just an authentic lost and reclaimed Aboriginality – for these photographs are hybrid discourses that are both local/global, European/Indigenous.

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In his art practice Brook Andrew pursues a more conceptual mutli-disciplinary approach, one that successfully mines the colonial photographic archive to interrogate the colonial power narrative of subjugation, genocide, disenfranchisement through a deconstructive discourse, one that echoes with the repetitions of coloniality and evidences the fragments of racism through the status of appearances. “Through his persistent confrontation with the historical legacy of physiognomia in our public Imaginary”36 in video, neon, sculpture, craniology, old photography, old postcards, music, books, ethnography and anthropology, Andrew re-images and reconceptualises the colonial archive. His latest body of work 52 Portraits (Tolarno Galleries 15 June – 20 July 2013), is “a play on Gerhard Richter’s 48 Portraits projects, which lifted images of influential Western men from the pages of encyclopaedias, 52 Portraits shifts the gaze to the ubiquitous and exotic other.”37 The colonial portraits are screen-printed in black onto silver-coated canvases giving them an ‘other’ worldly, alien effect (as of precious metal), which disrupts the surface and identity of the original photographs. Variously, the unnamed portraits taken from his personal collection of old colonial postcards re-present unknown people from the Congo, Africa, Argentina, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Algeria, Australia, South America, etc… the images incredibly beautiful in their silvered, slivered reality (as of the time freeze of the camera), replete with fissures and fractures inherent in the printing process. Accompanying the series is an installation titled Vox: Beyond Tasmania (2013), a Wunderkammer containing a skeleton and colonial artefacts, the case with attached wooden trumpet (reminding me appropriately of His Master’s Voice) that focuses the gaze upon an anonymous skull, an unknowable life from the past. In the catalogue essay for the exhibition, Ian Anderson observes, “His view is global – and even though my response is highly local – I too see the resonances of a global cultural process that re-ordered much of humanity through the perspective of colonizing peoples.”38
While this may be true, it is only true for the limited number of people that will see the exhibition – usually white, well-educated people, “The realities of the commercial art world are such that it is chiefly the white upper crust that will see these works. Make of that what you will.”39 Through a lumping together of all minority people – as though multiple, local indigeneties can be spoken for through a single global indigeneity – Andrew seems to want to speak for all anonymous Indigenous people from around the world through his ‘industry of difference’. Like colonialism, this speaking is again for the privileged few, as only they get to see these transformed images, in which only those with money can afford to buy into his critique.

Personally, I believe that Andrew’s constant remapping and re-presentation of the colonial archive in body after body of work, this constant picking at the scab of history, offers no positive outcomes for the future. It is all too easy for an artist to be critical; it takes a lot more imagination for an artist to create positive images for a better future.

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Brook Andrew. 'Portrait 19 (Manitoba, Canada)' 2013

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Brook Andrew
Portrait 19 (Manitoba, Canada)
2013
Mixed media on Belgian linen
70 x 55 x 5 cm
Edition of 3 + 2 AP
Real photo postcard
Title: An Old Savage of Manitoba

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Brook Andrew. 'Portrait 9 (Arab)' 2013

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Brook Andrew
Portrait 9 (Arab)
2013
Mixed media on Belgian linen
70 x 55 x 5 cm
Edition of 3 + 2 AP
Real photo postcard
Title: Danseuse arabe
Publisher: Photo Garrigues Tunis – 2008
Inscribed on front: Tunis 20/8/04

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Conclusion

By the mid-eighties black and indigenous subjectivities were no longer transgressive and the ‘black man’s’ burden’ had shifted from being a figure of oblivion to that of a minority voice.40 Black subjectivities as minority identities use the language of difference to envisage zones of liberation in which marginality is a site of transformation. But, as Ian McLean asks, “Have these post or anti-colonial identities repulsed the return of coloniality?”41 In the fight against neo-colonialism he suggests not, when the role of minority discourses “are simultaneously marginalised and occupy an important place in majority texts.”42 Periphery becomes centre becomes periphery again. “Minority artists are not left alone on the periphery of dominant discourse. Indeed, they are required to be representatives of, or speak for, a particular marginalised community; and because of this, their speech is severely circumscribed. They bear a ‘burden of representation’.”43 McLean goes on to suggest the burden of representation placed on Aboriginal artists is one that cannot be escaped. The category ‘Aboriginal’ is too over determined. Aboriginal artists, like gay artists addressing homosexuality, can only address issues of race, identity and place.44

“Aboriginal artists must address issues of race, and all on the stage of an identity politics. Black artists, it seems, can perform only if they perform blackness. Reduced to gestures of revolt, they only reinforce the scene of repression played out in majority discourses of identity and otherness. Allowed to enter the field of majority language as divergent and hence transgressive discourses which police as much as they subvert the boundaries of this field, they work to extend certain boundaries necessary to Western identity formations, but which its traditions have repressed. In other words, minority discourses are complicit with majority texts.”45

As social constructs (the heart of the political terrain of imperial worlds) have been interrogated by artists, this has led to the supposed dissolution of conceptual binaries such as European Self / Indigenous Other, superior / inferior, centre / periphery.46 The critique of neo-colonialism mobilises a new, unstable conceptual framework, one that unsettles both imperialist structures of domination and a sense of an original Aboriginality. Counter-colonial perspectives might critique neo-colonial power through disruptive inhabitations of colonialist constructs (such as the photograph and the colonial photographic archive) but they do so through a nostalgic reworking and adaptation of the past in the present (through stories that are eons old in the case of Ricky Maynard or through appropriation of the colonial photographic archive in the case of Brook Andrew). Minority discourses un/settle Aboriginality in ways not intended by either Ricky Maynard or Brook Andrew, by reinforcing the boundaries of the repressed ‘Other’ through a Western photographic interrogation of age-old stories and the colonial photographic archive.

Both Maynard and Andrew picture identities that are reductively marshalled under the sign of minority discourse, a discourse that re-presents a field of representation in a particularly singular way (addressed to a privileged few). The viewer is not caught between positions, between voices, as both artists express an Aboriginal (not Australian) subjectivity, one that reinforces a black subjectivity and oppression by naming Aboriginal as ‘Other’ (here I am not proposing “assimilation” far from it, but inclusion through difference, much as gay people are now just members of society not deviants and outsiders).

Finally, what interests me further is how minority voices can picture the future not by looking at the past or by presenting some notion of a unitary representation (local/global) of identity, but by how they can interrogate and image the subject positions, political processes, cultural articulation and critical perspectives of neo-colonialism in order that these systems become the very preconditions to decolonisation.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan
July 2013

Word count: 3,453 excluding image titles and captions.

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Brook Andrew. 'Portrait 7 (Australia)' 2013

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Brook Andrew
Portrait 7 (Australia)
2013
Mixed media on Belgian linen
70 x 55 x 5 cm
Edition of 3 + 2 AP
“An Australian Wild Flower”
Pub. Kerry & Co., Sydney One Penny Stamp with post mark on image side of card. No Address.

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Brook Andrew. 'Portrait 40 (Unknown)' 2013

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Brook Andrew
Portrait 40 (Unknown)
2013
Mixed media on Belgian linen
70 x 55 x 5 cm
Edition of 3 + 2 AP
“Typical Ricksha Boys.”
R.111. Copyright Pub. Sapsco Real Photo, Pox 5792, Johannesburg
Pencil Mark €5

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Brook Andrew. 'Portrait 44 (Syria)' 2013

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Brook Andrew
Portrait 44 (Syria)
2013
Mixed media on Belgian linen
70 x 55 x 5 cm Edition of 3 + 2 AP
Real photo postcard
Title: Derviches tourneurs á Damas
Printed on verso: Turquie, Union Postal Universelle, Carte postale

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Endnotes

1. Abraham, Susan. “What Does Mumbai Have to Do with Rome? Postcolonial Perspectives on Globalization and Theology,” in Theological Studies 69, 2008, pp. 376-93 cited in Kenzo, Mabiala Justin-Robert. What Is Postcolonialism and Why Does It Matter: An African Perspective. Nd [Online] Cited 13/06/2013.

2. Loomba, Ania et al. “Beyond What? An Introduction,” in Loomba, Ania et al. (ed.,). Postcolonial Studies and Beyond. Durham, N.C.: Duke University, 2005, pp.1-38.

3. Rukundwa, Lazare S and van Aarde, Andries G. “The formation of postcolonial theory,” in HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 63(3), 2007, p.1174.

4. “Neither imperialism nor colonialism is a simple act of accumulation and acquisition. Both are supported and perhaps even impelled by impressive ideological formations that include notions that certain territories and people require and beseech domination, as well as forms of knowledge affiliated with domination: the vocabulary of classic nineteenth-century imperial cultural is plentiful with such words and concepts as ‘inferior’ or ‘subject races’, ‘subordinate people’, ‘dependency’, ‘expansion’, and ‘authority’.”

Said, Edward. “Overlapping Territories, Intertwined Histories,” in Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto and Windus, 1993, p.8.

5. Ibid., p.2.

6. Ibid., p.19.

7. Young, Robert J.C. “Postcolonial Remains,” in New Literary History Vol. 43. No. 1. Winter 2012, p.20.

8. See McCarthy, Cameron and Dimitriadis, Greg. “The Work of Art in the Postcolonial Imagination,” in Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 21(1), 2000, p.61.

9. Ibid., p.61.

10. Young, Op. cit., p.21.

11. Young, Ibid., p.23.

12. “Critical analysis of subjection to the demeaning experience of being othered by a dominant group has been a long-standing focus for postcolonial studies, initiated by Frantz Fanon in his Black Skin, White Masks (1952).”

Young, Robert J.C. “Postcolonial Remains,” in New Literary History Vol. 43. No. 1. Winter 2012, p.36.

13. Ibid., p.37.

14. Ibid., p.38.

15. Ibid., p.39.

16. Rukundwa, Op cit., p.1173.

17. Ibid., p.1173

18. Anon. “The 30-year cycle: Indigenous policy and the tide of public opinion” on The Conversation website 06/06/2012 [Online] Cited 16/06/2013.

19. Karvelas, Patricia. “Senate approves Aboriginal intervention by 10 years,” on The Australian website June 29, 2012 [Online] Cited 16/06/2013.

20. ABC/AAP. “AFL: Adam Goodes racially abused while leading Sydney to Indigenous Round win over Collingwood Sat May 25, 2013” on the ABC News website [Online] Cited 15/06/2013.

21. Anon. “Eddie McGuire, Adam Goodes and ‘apes’: a landmark moment in Australian race relations,” on The Conversation website, 31 May 2013 [Online] Cited 15/06/2013.

22. Araeen, Rasheed. “The artist as a post-colonial subject and this individual’s journey towards ‘the centre’,” in King, Catherine. View of Difference. Different Views of Art. Yale University Press, 1999, p.232.

23. Ibid.,

24. Trees, Kathryn. “Postcolonialism: Yet Another Colonial Strategy?” in Span, Vol. 1, No. 36, 1993, pp.264-265 quoted in Heiss, Anita. “Post-Colonial-NOT!” in Dhuuluu Yala (To Talk Straight): Publishing Aboriginal Writing in Australia. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2003, pp.43-46.

25. Skerritt, Henry F. “Drawing NOW: Jus’ Drawn'” in Art Guide Australia, September/ October 2010, pp.34-35 [Online] Cited 17/06/2013.

26. Ibid.,

27. Ennis, Helen. “The Presence of the Past,” in Ennis, Helen. Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p.141.

28. Ibid., p.135.

29. Ibid., “Black to Blak,” p.45.

30. Maynard, Ricky quoted in Perkins, Hetti. Art + Soul. Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Publishing, 2010, p.85.

31. Mansell, Murray quoted on the Stills Gallery website [Online] Cited 22/06/2013.

32. Maynard, George quoted on the Stills Gallery website [Online] Cited 22/06/2013.

33. West, Ida quoted on the Stills Gallery website [Online] Cited 22/06/2013.

34. Maynard, Ricky. “The Craft of Documentary Photography,” in Phillips, Sandra. Racism, Representation and Photography. Sydney, 1994, p.115 quoted in Ennis, Helen. Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p.106.

35. McLean, Ian. “Post colonial: return to sender” 1998 paper delivered as the Hancock lecture at the University of Sydney on 11/11/1998 as part of the annual conference of the Australian Academy of Humanities which had as its theme: ‘First Peoples Second Chance Australia In Between Cultures’.

36. Papastergiadis, Nikos. “Brook Andrew: Counterpoints and Harmonics.” Catalogue essay for Brook Andrew’s exhibition 52 Portraits at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, June 2013.

37. Rule, Dan. “Brook Andrew: 52 Portraits,” in Arts & Entertainment, Lifestyle, in The Saturday Age newspaper, June 29th 2013, p.5.

38. Anderson, Pangkarner Ian. “Re-Assembling the trophies and curios of Colonialism & the Silent Terror.” Catalogue essay for Brook Andrew’s exhibition 52 Portraits at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, June 2013.

39. Rule, Dan. Op. cit.,

40. McLean, Ian. “Post colonial: return to sender” 1998.

41. Ibid.,

42. Ibid.,

43. Ibid.,

44. “Whether they like it or not, they [Aboriginal artists] bear a burden of representation. This burden is triply inscribed. First, they can only enter the field of representation or art as a disruptive force. Second, their speaking position is rigidly circumscribed: they are made to speak as representatives of a particular, that is, Aboriginal community. Third, this speaking is today made an essential component of the main game, the formation of Australian identity – what Philip Batty called ‘Australia’s desire to know itself through Aboriginal culture’.”

McLean, Ian. “Post colonial: return to sender” 1998.

45. Ibid.,

46. Jacobs observes, “As the work on the nexus of power and identity within the imperial process has been elaborated, so many of the conceptual binaries that were seen as fundamental to its architecture of power have been problematised. Binary couplets like core / periphery, inside / outside. Self / Other, First World / Third World, North / South have given way to tropes such as hybridity, diaspora, creolisation, transculturation, border.”

Jacobs, J. M. “(Post)colonial spaces,” Chapter 2 in Edge of Empire. London: Routledge, 1996, p.13.

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Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' 2013

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' 2013

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' 2013

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' (detail) 2013

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' (detail) 2013

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' (detail) 2013

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Brook Andrew
Vox: Beyond Tasmania (full piece and detail shots)
2013
Timber, glass and mixed media
267 x 370 x 271 cm

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Bibliography

Anderson, Pangkarner Ian. “Re-Assembling the trophies and curios of Colonialism & the Silent Terror.” Catalogue essay for Brook Andrew’s exhibition 52 Portraits at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, June 2013.

Araeen, Rasheed. “The artist as a post-colonial subject and this individual’s journey towards ‘the centre’,” in King, Catherine. View of Difference. Different Views of Art. Yale University Press, 1999, p.232.

ABC/AAP. “AFL: Adam Goodes racially abused while leading Sydney to Indigenous Round win over Collingwood Sat May 25, 2013” on the ABC News website [Online] Cited 15/06/2013.

Abraham, Susan. “What Does Mumbai Have to Do with Rome? Postcolonial Perspectives on Globalization and Theology,” in Theological Studies 69, 2008, pp. 376-93 cited in Kenzo, Mabiala Justin-Robert. What Is Postcolonialism and Why Does It Matter: An African Perspective. Nd [Online] Cited 13/06/2013.

Anon. “Eddie McGuire, Adam Goodes and ‘apes’: a landmark moment in Australian race relations,” on The Conversation website, 31 May 2013 [Online] Cited 15/06/2013.

Anon. “The 30-year cycle: Indigenous policy and the tide of public opinion,” on The Conversation website 06/06/2012 [Online] Cited 16/06/2013.

Ennis, Helen. “The Presence of the Past,” in Ennis, Helen. Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p.141.

Heiss, Anita. “Post-Colonial-NOT!” in Dhuuluu Yala (To Talk Straight): Publishing Aboriginal Writing in Australia. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2003, pp.43-46.

Jacobs, J. M. “(Post)colonial spaces,” Chapter 2 in Edge of Empire. London: Routledge, 1996, p.13.

Karvelas, Patricia. “Senate approves Aboriginal intervention by 10 years,” on The Australian website June 29, 2012 [Online] Cited 16/06/2013.

Kenzo, Mabiala Justin-Robert. What Is Postcolonialism and Why Does It Matter: An African Perspective. Nd [Online] Cited 13/06/2013.

King, Catherine. View of Difference. Different Views of Art. Yale University Press, 1999

Loomba, Ania et al. “Beyond What? An Introduction,” in Loomba, Ania et al. (ed.,). Postcolonial Studies and Beyond. Durham, N.C.: Duke University, 2005, pp.1-38

Maynard, Ricky. “The Craft of Documentary Photography,” in Phillips, Sandra. Racism, Representation and Photography. Sydney, 1994, p.115 quoted in Ennis, Helen. Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p.106.

McCarthy, Cameron and Dimitriadis, Greg. “The Work of Art in the Postcolonial Imagination,” in Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 21(1), 2000, p.61

McLean, Ian. “Post colonial: return to sender” 1998 paper delivered as the Hancock lecture at the University of Sydney on 11/11/1998 as part of the annual conference of the Australian Academy of Humanities which had as its theme: ‘First Peoples Second Chance Australia In Between Cultures’.

Papastergiadis, Nikos. “Brook Andrew: Counterpoints and Harmonics.” Catalogue essay for Brook Andrew’s exhibition 52 Portraits at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, June 2013.

Perkins, Hetti. Art + Soul. Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Publishing, 2010, p.85.

Phillips, Sandra. Racism, Representation and Photography. Sydney, 1994, p.115.

Rukundwa, Lazare S and van Aarde, Andries G. “The formation of postcolonial theory” in HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 63(3), 2007, p.1174.

Rule, Dan. “Brook Andrew: 52 Portraits,” in Arts & Entertainment, Lifestyle, in The Saturday Age newspaper, June 29th 2013, p.5.

Said, Edward. “Overlapping Territories, Intertwined Histories,” in Said, Edward. Culture and imperialism. London: Chatto and Windus, 1993, p.8

Skerritt, Henry F. “Drawing NOW: Jus’ Drawn'” in Art Guide Australia, September/ October 2010, pp.34-35 [Online] Cited 17/06/2013.

Trees, Kathryn. “Postcolonialism: Yet Another Colonial Strategy?” in Span, Vol. 1, No. 36, 1993, pp.264-265 quoted in Heiss, Anita. “Post-Colonial-NOT!” in Dhuuluu Yala (To Talk Straight): Publishing Aboriginal Writing in Australia. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2003, pp.43-46.

Young, Robert J.C. “Postcolonial Remains,” in New Literary History Vol. 43. No. 1. Winter 2012, p.20.

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“Brook Andrew’s newest exhibition is a blockbuster comprising 52 portraits, all mixed media and all measuring 70 x 55 x 5 cm.  The portraits are of unknown people from Africa, Argentina, Ivory Coast, Syria, Sudan, Japan, Australia … They are based on 19th century postcards which Brook Andrew has collected over many years. These postcards were originally made for an international market interested in travel.

‘Colonial photographers made a trade in photographic images, which were on sold as postcards and souvenirs,’ writes Professor Ian Anderson in Re-assembling the trophies and curios of Colonialism & the Silent Terror. According to Brook Andrew, ‘names were not recorded when Indigenous peoples were photographed for ethnographic and curio purposes. The history and identity of these people remain absent.  In rare instances, some families might know an ancestor from a postcard.’

The exhibition takes it title from a book of drawings by Anatomist Richard Berry: TRANSACTIONS of the ROYAL SOCIETY OF VICTORIA. Published in 1909, Volume V of this rare book contains FIFTY-TWO TASMANIA CRANIA – tracings of 52 Tasmanian Aboriginal skulls that were at the time mainly in private collections.

‘These skulls,’ says Brook Andrew, ‘represented a pan-international practice of collecting Aboriginal skulls as trophies, a practice dependent on theories of Aboriginal people being part of the most primitive race of the world, hence a dying species. This theory activated many collections and grave robbing simultaneously.’

In 52 Portraits Brook Andrew delves into hidden histories such as the ‘dark art of body-snatching’ and continues his fascination with the meaning of appearances. ‘He zooms in on the head and torso of young men and women,’ says Nikos Papastergiadis. ‘Brook Andrew’s exhibition, takes us to another intersection where politics and aesthetics run in and over each other.’

The original images embody the colonial fantasies of innocence and backwardness, as well as more aggressive, but tacit expression of the wish to express uninhibited sexual availability. Brook Andrew aims to confront both the lascivious fascination that dominated the earlier consumption of these images and prudish aversions and repressive gaze that informs our more recent and much more ‘politically correct’ vision. His images make the viewer consider the meaning of these bodies and his focus also directs a critical reflection on the assumptions that frame the status of these images.

The centre piece of the exhibition is a kind of Wunderkammer containing all manner of ‘curiosities’ including a skull, drawings of skulls, a partial skeleton, photographs, diaries, glass slides, a stone axe and Wiradjuri shield. Titled Vox: Beyond Tasmania, the Wunderkammer/Gramophone plays out stories of Indigenous peoples.

In the interplay between the 52 Portraits and Vox: Beyond Tasmania, Brook Andrew aims to stir and open our hearts with his powerful 21st century ‘memorial’.”

Press release from the Tolarno Galleries website

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Tolarno Galleries
Level 4
104 Exhibition Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Australia
T: 61 3 9654 6000

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri 10 am – 5 pm
Sat 1 pm – 5 pm

Tolarno Galleries website

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28
Jul
11

Review: ‘Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 14th August 2011

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Ricky Maynard
The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania
2005
from the series Portrait of a Distant Land
gelatin silver resin-coated print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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“For me, photographs have always been personal and I hope to convey the intimacy of a diary. Photography has the ability to tell stories about the world and how the photograph has power to frame a culture.”

Ricky Maynard

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Having posted about this exhibition when it was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney I was looking forward to seeing it ‘in the flesh’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art. I have seen the exhibition three times now and each time I have left feeling underwhelmed.

While it is encouraging to see the development of an Aboriginal photographic art practice and the documentary depiction from inside this culture as a form of visual oral history, there is something leaden about this story telling. Other than a few incisive images I had no feeling for these photographs; the photographs don’t really take me anywhere. The best of them give access to the spaces they depict (usually the landscapes of distant islands or mountains that evoke “a sense of absence that exist within these landscapes,” a sense of displacement and departure) but most of the work seems to be blocked at the surface of the image: there just seems to be no way in to the emotional and psychological aspects of the photographs. The viewer is hardly ever drawn into the pictures force field. Occasionally they come alive but even when photographing scenes of friends and happiness there is a deadness about the work – a portrait of an emotionally distant and constrained land that is understandable (due to the “existence of the struggle beneath the surface”) but does not make for very compelling art. Even in the printing the highlights are occluded and grey as though a miasma hovers over their production. Commenting in The Age newspaper, Dan Rule observes that series such as Maynard’s mid-80s ‘The Moonbird People’ that describes the Aboriginal community of his native Flinders Island during the annual mutton bird season, “are at once formally sparse and richly layered in the textural and historical narrative of the land.” Poetic and bearing an incredible weight of history. Personally I didn’t buy into the poetry of the storytelling and I found the photographs heavy going as though that incredible weight of history was inexorably weighing them down. If you want to see real poetry in the art of photography look at the work of William Clift.

I am asked by the curator Keith Munro “Do not forget these faces” but there is nothing truly memorable about them unlike, for example, some of the photographs of Sue Ford or Carol Jerrems. A perfect example are the photographs of Wik elders from the series ‘Returning to places That Name Us’ (2000, see three photographs below). The viewer is caught at the surface of these images, observing the minutiae of detail, the faces closely cropped at the forehead and neck against a contextless white background. These are confronting images of presence at the large size they are produced in the exhibition but what else are they? At a smaller scale one might have related to the scars, creases and furrows of the Elders like the bark of the tree weathering the storm, an intimacy with a fellow human being and their life journey – but not here. My favourite photograph was an untitled landscape from the series ‘In the Footsteps of Others’. In this beautiful image a mountain hovers in the distance while in the foreground dark grasses and trees are shot through with raked sunlight. A mysterious, haunting evocation of space and place that left me wanting more precisely because of its ambiguity and longing.

While the photographs capture individuals and their relationship to place it is a journey they do not take me on. This is the crux of the matter for a photographer – allowing the viewer to see things that are not immediately visible, to construct their own narrative and take that leap of faith invested in the equivalency of the image. For me this never happened with this exhibition.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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Ricky Maynard
Mission
2005
from the series Portrait of a distant land
gelatin silver resin-coated print
70 x 100 cm
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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Ricky Maynard
Custodians
2005
from the series Portrait of a distant land
silver gelatin resin-coated print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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Ricky Maynard
Broken Heart
2005
from the series Portrait of a Distant Land
gelatin silver resin-coated print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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Portrait of a Distant Land is an exhibition of 60 works by leading indigenous photographer Ricky Maynard, spanning two decades of his practice. Through his photographs Ricky Maynard offers a journey of alternative perspectives and cultural insights. His passion and meticulous attention to detail encapsulates an honest and deeply felt interpretation of his people and the land they inhabit.

Drawing on six bodies of work, this remarkable exhibition was first shown as part of the inaugural Photoquai Biennale organised by Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

Maynard is based on Flinders Island in Bass Strait and has been recording the lives of his people since the mid 1980s. Several of Maynard’s renowned photographs trace songlines, massacre sites, key historical events, important meeting places, sacred cultural sites and practices of Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

The artist works closely with the communities he photographs and his approach to social documentary represents a major development in the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

In Urban Diary (1997) Maynard focuses on the experiences of Aboriginal people in Melbourne’s beachside suburb, St Kilda, while his portraits of Wik elders in Returning to Places that Name Us (2000) are inspired by the landmark High Court of Australia’s ruling which recognised the existence of the traditional lands of the Wik people located on Cape York in northern Queensland. Also on view are images from the series The Moonbird People (1985–88) which depicts a Tasmanian Aboriginal community during the annual muttonbird season, and No More Than What You See (1993), a confrontational and emotionally-charged portrait of Indigenous people incarcerated in the South Australian prison system.

Maynard’s personal pilgrimage and spiritual journey as a member of the Ben Lomond and Big River people of Tasmania comes full circle with his images of important cultural sites, ochre trails and scarred trees represented in the series In the Footsteps of Others (2003).”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art

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Ricky Maynard
Untitled
1997
from  the series Urban diary
gelatin silver fibre print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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Ricky Maynard
Untitled
1997
from  the series Urban diary
gelatin silver fibre print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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Portrait of a Distant Land

“DO NOT FORGET THESE FACES – THEY HOLD SOMETHING YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE 1

Through his photographs Ricky Maynard offers a journey of alternative perspectives and cultural insights. His passion and meticulous attention to detail encapsulates an honest and deeply felt interpretation of his people and the land they inhabit.

Maynard, of Tasmanian Aboriginal descent, is a documentary photographer who lives on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait between Tasmania and the southeast Australian mainland. This exhibition presents his latest developing body of work Portrait of a Distant Land, which he began in 2005, as well as a selection of images from five earlier series including The Moonbird People (1985-88), No More Than What You See (1993), Urban Diary (1997), Returning to Places that Name Us (2000) and In The Footsteps of Others (2003), tracing key aspects of Maynard’s practice to the present day.

The ten works from the Portrait of a Distant Land series trace song lines, key historical events, massacre sites, petroglyphs and midden2, important meeting places, sacred cultural sites and practices of Tasmanian Aboriginal people. Presented alongside insightful and poignant quotations by community members who have maintained their local cultural heritage, these powerful images reaffirm a cultural dynamic forged by a strong belief in the importance of upholding cultural integrity both in and through picture making. Importantly, they provide the viewer with a greater understanding of both individual and  collective histories from outside a dominant gaze. Wybalenna on Flinders Island as depicted in Death in Exile and The Healing Garden for instance, is one of numerous historically-scarred sites; and for Maynard Vansittart Island encapsulates the crude and culturally insensitive research and documentation by dominant societies that continues to this day. Some photographs such as Mission, Broken Heart and A Free Country capture moments of reflection while others, like Traitor and The Spit are powerfully loaded references to either specific historical acts of oppression that contributed greatly to the devastation of Aboriginal people of Tasmania or recall childhood memories of people and place. Alongside these works, Coming Home is an example of cultural assertion: it depicts the ongoing significance of muttonbird hunting to Maynard’s people.

The annual muttonbirding season is the subject of Maynard’s powerful and innovative black and white series The Moonbird People, a deeply personal story relating the importance of this tradition to the people on the islands in Bass Strait3. The series was commissioned for the book After 200 Years: Photographic Essays on Aboriginal and Islander Australia Today, produced as part of Australia’s bicentennial celebrations in 19884. These images record a cultural practice that significantly predates European colonisation and continues today.

Urban Diary focuses on the experiences of Aboriginal people in Melbourne’s beachside suburb, St Kilda. This body of work captures the interactions between members of the community whilst also depicting some of the challenges Aboriginal people face in urban environments. Through his ability to connect with his subjects, Maynard reveals and honours the humility of this group of individuals who have invited him into their lives.

In the early 1990s, Maynard was given special access by the South Australian Correctional Service to document the life of Aboriginal inmates held in South Australian prisons. No More Than What You See goes beyond mere documentation. The photographs not only reveal the regimented and sanitised environment that inmates are forced to inhabit, they emphasise the dehumanising aspects that have had an indelible impact upon their lives – suggesting personal experiences that may have led to imprisonment and demonstrating the effects of prison life upon them. The fact that the photographs were taken in 1993 during the International Year of the Indigenous People, makes the series more poignant.

Contributing to the provocative nature of this diverse range of images of male and female inmates are the piercing eyes that confront us and expressions of individuality: the family snapshots pinned to the walls of their cells that express the desire to make even the most hostile spaces appear homely. Maynard’s portrayal stands in stark contrast to the impersonal and statistical report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-90) 5 and to the common presumption that young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees will become adult offenders.

There is a change of direction in Returning to Places that Name Us. This series of exclusive large-scale portraits was inspired by the landmark High Court of Australia’s Wik ruling which recognised the existence of the traditional lands of the Wik people located on Cape York in northern Queensland. 6 Maynard’s visit to Aurukun to photograph Wik elders became complicated because the Federal Government responded to the High Court ruling on Native Title with the introduction of an amended Wik ‘Ten Point Plan’. In his portraits of Wik elders, Maynard’s aim was to:

IDENTIFY IN THESE PICTURES THE EXISTENCE OF STRUGGLE BELOW THE SURFACE, TO SEE THINGS THAT ARE NOT IMMEDIATELY VISIBLE AND TO RECOGNISE THAT WHAT THINGS MEAN HAS MORE TO DO WITH THE OBSERVER. 7

As Maynard has stated: ‘… I seek a balance between craftsmanship and social relevance. Photography has the ability to tell stories about the world and… the photograph has the power to frame a culture.’ 8

Important cultural sites found in the artist’s ‘country’ are the focus of the series In The Footsteps of Others including ochre trails, petroglyphs, stonework sites and scarred trees. Points of travel, contact and interaction, departure and displacement are also referenced. What you begin to sense in these landscapes is a strange absence, an echo of which occurs in his current body of work Portrait of a Distant Land. There is also a strong sense of presence within this absence – of markings, events and cultural practice that have been in existence for thousands of years.

In all of his photographs, Ricky Maynard’s emphasis is on the broader social and cultural context: he is determined not to present Aboriginal people as victims. Rather, he challenges the assumptions of many non-Indigenous Australians and proposes social change by questioning popular notions of historical events and shared histories. He addresses elements of historical amnesia or highlights social issues that affect Aboriginal people.

While this form of documentary photography is not something new, what becomes an interesting development is the formation of an Aboriginal photographic practice, documenting a cultural framework that sees Maynard acknowledge the importance of co-authorship between image maker and subject. This is significant from a wider Aboriginal viewpoint and certainly from the local perspective he represents in his latest body of work.

Focusing on Aboriginal people who historically were ignored and continually denied their cultural heritage, Ricky Maynard considers landscape photography to be a process of rediscovery, a ‘revaluation of where we find ourselves’… ‘a continuing journey’, a way ‘to address issues of identity, site, place and nation’. 9 His personal pilgrimage and spiritual journey as a member of the Ben Lomond and Big River people of Tasmania back to the country where he produced his very first body of work The Moonbird People becomes then, much more than just a portrait of a distant land.”

Keith Munro
Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

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Footnotes

1. Quote accompanying Custodians 2005, from the series Portrait of a Distant Land.

2. Petroglyphs, pictures carved into stone, are one of the oldest forms of human expression. A midden (or kitchen midden) is an archaeological term used worldwide to describe any kind of feature containing waste products such as animal bones, shells and other refuse that indicate a site of human settlement. Shell middens, some nearly 40,000 years old, have been found in Australian coastal regions.

3. Muttonbirding is the seasonal harvest of petrel chicks, especially the shearwater species, for food, oil and feathers. It usually refers to the more sustainable and regulated harvesting of chicks in the southern regions of Australia and New Zealand for five weeks every autumn. For the Bass Strait Islanders it is short-tailed shearwater, or ‘yolla’; and in Aotearoa/New Zealand it is the sooty shearwater or ‘titi’.

4. Penny Taylor (ed), After 200 Years: Photographic Essays of Aboriginal and Islander Australia Today, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1988.

5. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody led to fundamental changes to the way the criminal justice system deals with Indigenous people in Australia. The Commission (October 1987 and November 1990) investigated the deaths of 99 Aboriginal persons in police and prison custody between 1983-87. The disproportionate rate at which Aboriginal people were arrested and imprisoned in Australia was identified as the principal and immediate explanation for deaths in custody. Although more than 300 of the Commission’s recommendations were adopted, little has changed and there is still widespread suspicion in the Aboriginal community about a spate of deaths in custody.
www.austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjproject/rsjlibrary/rciadic/rciadic_summary/rcsumk01.html

6. Following the 1992 Mabo Decision that established that native title is recognised under Australian law, The High Court of Australia’s 1996 Wik Decision further investigated land ownership of pastoral leases. The Wik Decision recognised native title rights for land that was owned on behalf of the Australian public by government; issuing co-existence to Indigenous peoples and pastoral owners. The Native Title Amendment Act (commonly referred to as the ‘Ten Point Plan’), passed by the government in 1998 in response to the Wik Decision, counteracted the coexistence and authorised the absolute governing of land rights issues to the newly established Native Title Tribunal. www.nlc.org.au/html/land_native_wik.html

7. Artist statement, Returning to Places that Name Us 2000.

8. Artist statement, In Response to Place, exhibition catalogue, City Gallery, Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne, 2007.

9. Ibid.,

.

.

Ricky Maynard
Bruce, Wik elder
2000
from the series Returning to places that name us
gelatin silver fibre print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

.

.

Ricky Maynard
Arthur, Wik elder
2000
from the series Returning to places that name us
gelatin silver fibre print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

.

.

Ricky Maynard
Gladys, Wik elder
2000
from the series Returning to places that name us
gelatin silver fibre print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

.

.

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
Swanston Street between Faraday and Elgin streets in Parkville
The University of Melbourne
Victoria 3010 Australia

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

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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10
Jul
09

Exhibition: ‘Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land’ at Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 4th June – 23rd August 2009

 

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
Coming Home
2005
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
37.4 × 54.1 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

 

I can remember coming here as a boy in old wooden boats to be taught by my grandparents and my parents. I’ll be 57 this year and I have missed only one year when my daughter Leanne was born. Mutton birding is my life. To me it’s a gathering of our fellas where we sit and yarn, we remember and we honour all of those birders who have gone before us. Sometimes I just stand and look out across these beautiful islands remembering my people and I know I’m home. It makes me proud to be a strong Tasmanian black man. This is something that they can never take away from me.

Murray Mansell, Big Dog Island, Bass Strait, 2005

 

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

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania
2005
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
34.0 x 52.0 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

 

This winter the Museum of Contemporary Art presents a major survey of photographic works by documentary photographer Ricky Maynard, encompassing more than two decades of the artist’s practice.

Portrait of a Distant Land features more than 60 evocative and captivating photographic works, drawn from six bodies of work, which document the lives and culture of Maynard’s people, the Ben Lomond and Cape Portland peoples of Tasmania.

The exhibition is curated by MCA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs Keith Munro and is presented at the MCA from 4 June until 23 August 2009. Born in Launceston, Tasmania in 1953 Maynard is a self taught documentary photographer now based on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait between Tasmania and mainland Australia.

Maynard first came to prominence in the late 1980s with a photographic essay about Aboriginal mutton bird farmers and he has continued to document physical and social landscapes which form a visual record and representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

“For me, photographs have always been personal and I hope to convey the intimacy of a diary. Photography has the ability to tell stories about the world and how the photograph has power to frame a culture,” said Maynard, describing his practice.

The works presented in Portrait of a Distant Land survey a broad range of themes and issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today. It includes photographs which document sites significant to Maynard’s people: ranging from serenely beautiful landscapes which follow the song lines, tribal movements and historical displacement routes of his ancestors, to the confrontational and emotionally-charged images of Indigenous people incarcerated in the South Australian prison system.

The six photographic series by Maynard which are featured in the exhibition are The Moonbird People (1985-88), No More Than What You See (1993), Urban Diary (1997), In The Footsteps of Others (2003), Returning To Places That Name Us (2000) and Portrait of a Distant Land (2005- ). Together these works create a form of visual diary of multiple landscapes derived from collective oral histories of Maynard’s people.”

Press release from the MCA website [Online] Cited 05/07/2009 no longer available online

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

 

Ricky Maynard. ‘Arthur, Wik elder’ from the series ‘Returning to places that name us’ 2000

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
Arthur, Wik Elder
2000
From the series Returning to Places that Name Us
Gelatin silver photograph
96.1 x 121.4 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

 

The owner of an enviable collection of antique cameras, 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. He is interested in the power of the uninflected image – of sheer veracity – as an agent of record and change. 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. ‘To know the meaning of a culture you must recognise the limits and meaning of your own,’ the artist explains. ‘You can see its facts but not its meaning. We share meaning by living it.’ Maynard’s photographs are, he says, about ‘leaving proof’ – about ‘… life in passing and in complicated times’.

The word ‘Wik’ has come to denote a historic decision of the High Court of Australia rather than the name of the Indigenous peoples from the western Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland. In his intimate portraits of elders from these communities, Maynard aims to unpick this abstraction. Etched on each face is the complexity of an unspoken life story, delineated, one imagines, by hardship, perseverance and the burden – and wealth – of an extraordinary living memory. As he wrote in his artist’s statement for the exhibition Returning to Places that Name Us in 2001, ‘… I wanted a presence and portraits that spoke, and through this process to present an idea, rather than preach messages’. In this series, Maynard achieves his aim of capturing meanings that no other medium could convey.

Hannah Fink in ‘Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004

© Art Gallery of New South Wales. Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 14/03/2019

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953) 'Gladys Tybingoomba' 2001

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
Gladys Tybingoomba
2001
From the series Returning To Places That Name Us
Gelatin silver photograph
© Ricky Maynard

 

 

Ricky Maynard. 'Custodians' from the series 'Portrait of a Distant Land' 2005

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
Custodians
2005
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
43.0 x 41.2 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

Ricky Maynard. 'Vansittart Island' from the series 'Portrait of a Distant Land' 2007

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
Vansittart Island
2007
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
33.9 x 52.1 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

Ricky Maynard. 'The Spit' from the series 'Portrait of a Distant Land' 2007

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
The Spit
2007
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
41.8 x 50.4 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953) 'The Mission' 2005 From the series 'Portrait of a Distant Land'

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953)
The Mission
2005
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
43.0 x 41.2 cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

 

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’.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 14/03/2019

 

 

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)
140 George Street
The Rocks, Sydney, Australia

Opening hours: 10am – 5pm daily

MCA website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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