Posts Tagged ‘Wreck of the ship George Roper

01
Jul
12

Review: ‘Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 4th February – 8th July 2012

Please note: This posting may contain the names or images of people who are now deceased.  Some Indigenous communities may be distressed by seeing the name, or image of a community member who has passed away.

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Winter scene, Lake Wendouree, from Botanic Gardens, Ballarat
c.1866-88
albumen silver photograph
13.3 x 20.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
View on the Moorabool River, Batesford
c.1879
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Bush scene near Highton
c.1879
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl Curl, 1979

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“Kruger’s sweeping view shows his sophisticated understanding of how an image can be constructed to encourage viewing. He positions people strategically throughout the photograph and at a slight remove so that they are part of, rather than dominant figure in, an intricate visual imaging of the populated landscape. Kruger was also careful to articulate each element clearly, and this clarity greatly appealed to nineteenth-century tastes…

The expectation in the 1870s and, to a lesser degree, today is that the documentary nature of most early photographs makes them ‘transparent’ in meaning. However, this is invariably not the case. Kruger’s photographs are complex constructions embedded as much in the political and social circumstances in which he lived as formed by his own creative talents and imaginative attitudes towards his adopted homeland. It is this combination of rich context, strong sense of time and place, and distinctive creative expression that makes Kruger’s work so notable in the history of Australian photography, and which gives his photographs the potential to engage with us more than 130 years later.”

Dr Isobel Crombie. Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscape, Photographs 1860s – 1880s. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2012, pp.122-125.

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Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes is an interesting large-scale exhibition of the work of the one of Victoria’s leading early photographers. Accompanied by an erudite and well researched catalogue by Dr Isobel Crombie, Senior Curator, Photography, the exhibition and book provide the viewer with one of  their first chances to interrogate German-migrant Kruger’s pictorial style, images that  form an integral part of the National Gallery of Victoria’s nineteenth-century Australian collection.

Arriving in 1854 with his family from Berlin, Kruger changed profession from an upholsterer to a photographer in the mid-1860s, his work then widely ranging from picturesque views of Victoria (especially around his home town of Geelong) to portraits of properties both public and private and images that deal with topical events. Dr Crombie argues that it is his relationship with the landscape that shapes his creative vision, the origins of which are based on his childhood growing up in industrialised Berlin. “Kruger’s images offer a historical perspective on how European settlers altered the environment through farming and other developments, and also how they began to appreciate the picturesque qualities of the bush. Kruger’s images of the Aboriginal settlement of Corranderrk are a fascinating cased study in how photography was used to articulate and mythologise colonial race relations,” observes Dr Crombie. Above all, she continues, ” …the range of Kruger’s photographs of Victoria tell a creative story of place: a distinct and intimate study of a region by a photographer whose command of the medium has a unique quality… Through his orchestration of people within the landscape, his images draw us into a particular experience of the landscape in specific, even self-conscious ways.” (Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscape, Photographs 1860s – 1880s, p.3)

The importance of Kruger’s visual actuity (his clearness of vision) and his place in the pantheon of Australian colonial photography are things that can be called into question. Personally I think that he has a lazy eye; the word that comes to mind when looking at most of his photographs is: banal. Claims made for his picturesque renditions of landscape – some of which remind me of Peter Henry Emerson’s Arcadian photographs of the Norfolk Broads (see Winter scene, Lake Wendouree, from Botanic Gardens, Ballarat, c.1866-88, top) – and excursionists as “complex constructions embedded as much in the political and social circumstances in which he lived” require a contemporary structural exegesis. When looking at the photographs without such theorising his images are mostly basic, straight forward photographs with few perceptive camera angles and which display an emotional and observational distance from the place being imaged. I felt most of the photographs lacked a unique insight into the essence of the land. Perhaps this emanates from an emotional detachment from, and lack of a relationship to, the land; a felt, emotional response to place. Certainly I did not get the feeling of an intimate relationship with the landscape.

There are exceptions to the rule of course: the best of the landscape photographs have nothing to do with Arcadian, pastoral life at all. For me Kruger’s photographs only start to come alive when he is photographing gum trees against the sky. Anyone who has tried to photograph the Australian bush knows how difficult it is to evince a “feeling” for the bush and Kruger achieves this magnificently in a series of photographs of gum trees in semi-cleared land, such as Bush scene near Highton (c.1879, above). These open ‘parklike’ landscapes are not sublime nor do they picture the spread of colonisation but isolate the gum trees against the sky. They rely on the thing itself to speak to the viewer, not a constructed posturing or placement of figures to achieve a sterile mise-en-scène. A view of the You Yangs, from Lara Plains (c.1882, below) is a stunning photograph, locating the viewer in the expansionist world of late 19th century society. The ownership of the land is not displayed by the presence of people but by the occupation of the landscape – the fenced off domestic garden space delineated from the pastures beyond with their flock of sheep, buildings and water tower leading the eye to the distant vista of the You Yangs, all “taken” from the porch of the large homestead of the land owner. A beautiful, darkly-hued photograph of dis/possession, ownership and occupancy.

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Fred Kruger
David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
c.1876
Museum Victoria

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Kruger’s most powerful and evocative photographs are, perversely, photographs of the people en situ at the Aboriginal settlement at Coranderrk near Healesville, Victoria. “Coranderrk was an Indigenous Australian mission station set up in 1863 to provide land under the policy of concentration, for Aboriginal people who had been dispossessed by the arrival of Europeans to the state of Victoria 30 years prior” (Wikipedia) which became victim of its own success (in growing hops) and institutional and social racism. “By 1874 the Aboriginal Protection Board (APB) were looking at ways to undermine Coranderrk by moving people away due to their successful farming practices. The general community also wanted the mission closed as the land was too valuable for Aboriginal people.” (Wikipedia)

Kruger was commissioned by the government to take photographs of Coranderrk to support an inquiry into the operation of the station (but secretly to support its dismantling). It is ironic that Kruger’s photographs, his only portraits of human beings in the exhibition, the thing he least liked photographing, have become his most memorable work and only through payment being made. Kruger photographs ‘real natives’ (“full-blood” Aboriginals) standing by their mia-mias (bark homes), their lived experience excised in favour of a traditional pre-contact re-creation. He then contrasts them with the European dressed natives at Coranderrk. These photographs, representing the “civilising” of the residents at Coranderrk, also suggest people’s survival strategies – and how this approach involved a loss of traditional culture. His static portrayals of life at the station and family groups (due to the long time exposures required by the film) deny the animated energy of the lived experiences of these strong people.

The photograph Aboriginal men in canoe, Coranderrk Aboriginal Station (c.1883, below) is an example of this pre-contact re-creation. This dark print, the darkest (in terms of tonality) in the exhibition shows two Aboriginal men in a traditional canoe wrapped in possum skin cloaks. The sad, wrapped Aboriginal men (especially the man on the right) with the threatening, effusive bush behind lead to the original inhabitants of this land almost disappearing into the landscape, being occluded and swallowed up by the bush and by history (don’t forget at this time the Aboriginal people were thought to be on the point of extinction). A disturbing photograph.

The ABSOLUTE reason why you must see this exhibition is just one photograph, David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station (c.1876, above). This small, carte de visite sized photograph says more to me than most of the other photographs in the exhibition put together. It is almost as though the photographer had a personal attachment and connection to the subject. This poignant (in light of following events) dark, brown-hued photograph shows the son of elder and leader William Barak about the age of 9 years old in 1876. In 1882, David fell ill from tuberculosis and arrangements were made to admit him to hospital in Melbourne. These were thwarted by Captain Page, secretary of the Aboriginal Protection Board, and Barak had to carry his sick child all the way from Coranderrk to Melbourne and the home of his supporter Anne Bon. David was admitted to hospital but died soon after, with his father not even allowed to be by his bedside. After David’s death there is a heavy sadness noticeable in Barak’s eyes (see the book First Australians by Rachel Perkins, Marcia Langton, p.104).

Unlike other photographs of family groups taken at Coranderrk, Kruger places David front on to the camera in the lower 2/3 rds of the picture plane on his own, framed by the symmetry of the steps and door behind. David glasps his hands in a tight embrace in front of him (nervously?), his bare feet touching the earth, his earth. The only true highlight in the photograph is a white neckerchief tied around his throat. There is an almost halo-like radiance around his head, probably caused by holding back (dodging) during the printing process. Small, timid but strong, in too short trousers and darker jacket, this one image – of a child, a human being, standing on the earth that was his earth before invasion – has more intimacy than any other image Kruger ever took, even as he tried to engender a sense of intimacy with the environment.

While claims will be made about the importance of Kruger’s photographs of the Australian landscape and their sense of ease in this environment, a relational concept predicated on security and familiarity, his photographs remain deeply detached from the reality of lived experience. To my eyes they are documents of their time that rarely rise above basic reportage despite claims of the importance of placing people within the environment and the unique vision of the photographer. A sense of travel, one of the most important aspects of Kruger’s work as he journeyed around Victoria, is also absent in this exhibition, mainly because of the thematic nature of the sections of the exhibition and the hang. Sections such as buildings, places, homesteads, Coranderrk, for example, leave little sense of the adventure of travel and the integration of all of these things into a holistic whole. Perhaps a more inclusive hang would have disavowed this disjuncture and given a greater sense of the excitement of travel in colonial Victoria, the exploration of newly colonised spaces. Only in the section on Coranderrk do I believe that we actually get a feeling for the enigmatic Kruger and his personal connection to other human beings and the land to which he migrated. The wonderful catalogue, a select group of beautiful photographs, the section on life at the Aboriginal settlement at Coranderrk and the small, intimate photograph of David Barak are the main reasons to travel this path in the 21st century. The last is especially poignant, moving and illuminating. Well done to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing us to see these rare photographs.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
A view of the You Yangs, from Lara Plains
c.1882
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk
c.1877
albumen silver photograph
13.3 x 18.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Aboriginal men in canoe, Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
c.1883
albumen silver photograph
19.9 x 27.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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On 4 February the National Gallery of Victoria will open Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes, the first comprehensive survey of Fred Kruger’s (1831-88) photographs ever to be mounted. Fred Kruger was one of the leading landscape photographers of the 19th century in Australia, working extensively throughout Victoria. Kruger migrated from Germany in 1860 and a few years later opened a photographic studio in Carlton, Melbourne before moving his thriving practice to Geelong.

Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes features over 100 works drawn predominantly from the NGV Collection and incorporates loans from Museum Victoria, the State Library of Victoria and private collections. Many of the photographs in this exhibition depict iconic locations that will be familiar to Victorians, providing visitors with a glimpse back more than 130 years to scenes at the You Yangs, the Esplanade at Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale among others. This compelling exhibition also showcases Kruger’s highly distinctive command of photographic language, providing a fascinating insight into the political and social life of Victoria in the 1800s. Kruger’s photographs show how European settlers altered the environment through farming and other developments while also depicting their growing appreciation of the picturesque qualities of the bush. The contrast between Kruger’s heavily industrialised home city of Berlin and the spaciousness of his adopted home country intrigued him as he pictured the Victorian landscape as an environment of prosperity, productivity and ease.

Isobel Crombie, Senior Curator, Photography said:  “Kruger’s photographs draw us into an intimate experience of the landscape and are achieved through his orchestration of people within natural environments.”

Frances Lindsay, Deputy Director, NGV said: “Kruger’s photographs are complex constructions embedded as much in the political and social circumstances in which he lived, as they are formed by his own creative talents and imaginative attitudes towards the land that he had made his home.”

Kruger made the most of the photographic opportunities presented to him. From the late 1860s he drove a horse and cart around Victoria taking both scenic views and private commissions. His most political commission was to record life at the Aboriginal settlement of Coranderrk Station at the request of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines.

Working at a time of rebellion at the station, Kruger’s images highlighted colonial race relations and still have importance today. These photographs were also widely circulated at the time, being reproduced in illustrated newspapers, included in international exhibitions and sold as part of albums. It is this combination of rich context, strong sense of time and place and distinctive creative expression that makes Kruger’s work so notable in the history of Australian photography.

This exhibition is accompanied by a major publication comprehensively exploring Fred Kruger’s career. 
This exhibition may contain the names or images of people who are now deceased.  Some Indigenous communities may be distressed by seeing the name, or image of a community member who has passed away.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria website

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
View on Barwon River, Queen’s Park, Geelong
c.1880
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Steamboat jetty and bathing houses, from Esplanade, Queenscliff
c.1878-82
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Coast scene, Mordialloc Creek, near Cheltenham
c.1871
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Wreck of the ship George Roper, Point Lonsdale
1883
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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