The Photograph and Australia
By Renae Smith
The photograph & Australia is a major exhibition currently in display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The exhibition, which will be running until 8 June 2015, is the largest exhibition of Australian photography held since 1988 and displays both iconic images, and works by unknown and amateur photographers.
The exhibition 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.
The exhibition’s curator - Judy Annear, senior curator of photographs, Art Gallery of NSW tells us that the exhibition weaves “together the multiple threads of Australia’s photographic history” and “investigates how photography invented modern Australia.”
We decided to speak to Judy Annear to find out what exactly inspired her to put together this incredible collection of photographs from more than 35 private and public collections across Australia, England and New Zealand.
As a curator of photographs, we imagine you have a huge interest in the field of photography in general. Has this always been an interest of yours?
I’ve been Senior Curator Photographs at the Art Gallery of NSW since 1995. This position has allowed me to work with a number of contemporary and historical photographers, such as Bill Henson, Man Ray, Bettina Rheims, and to curate many international and Australian photography exhibitions. For the last 4 years, I’ve been working on The photograph and Australia, which is currently on show at the gallery.
What inspired you to put together The photograph and Australia exhibition? I imagine it would have been a very hard task.
It has been a challenging, but also very rewarding exhibition to curate. I proposed the exhibition to the director and exhibitions executive committee in 2010, and have been working on it since then. There hadn’t been an exhibition drawing on collections nationwide since Shades of Light at the National Gallery in Canberra, in 1988. I thought that a new look at the history of photography in Australia was therefore long overdue.
Why do you think The photograph and Australia is important for people to see?
This exhibition gives viewers the opportunity to see treasures from more than 35 collections, and to consider the ways in which photography invented modern Australia. Photography as a medium arrived here in the 1840s – the same time as the evolution of all but two of the colonies - a very interesting moment in our history. Australia’s photographic history is extremely rich, yet the 19th century material is little known.
Rather than arranged chronologically, the exhibition is clustered according to four themes: Aboriginal and settler relations, exploration, portraiture, and transmission.
Do you have a favourite image in the collection, or a favourite group of images?
As a curator, I think that all of the works are as important as each other. I do have to say that it is wonderful to see the 19th century photographs because you can experience how the photographers worked out how to do what they did. In the 19th century photography was a very cumbersome process.
Can you tell us more about the symposium that will be held at the Art Gallery of NSW on 18 April 2015? What can attendees expect?
The symposium is an important international event, with speakers from New Zealand, Korea and Australia discussing photography, and its apparent ability to move effortlessly and pervasively through physical and virtual worlds. In the 1860s photography became more easily reproducible and enabled a craze of taking, collecting, categorising – and this craze continues today with the digital revolution.
Organised with the Power Institute for Art and Visual Culture, Sydney University, speakers include Helen Ennis, director at the Centre for Art History and Art Theory, Australian National University School of Art, Patrick Pound, Melbourne based artist, Keum Hyun Han, independent curator and chief researcher at the Asian Culture Information Agency, Asian Cultural Complex, Gwangju, Helen Grace, adjunct professor at the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, The University of Sydney, and Geoffrey Batchen, professor, School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington.
For more information on the symposium and tickets please visit: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au
Accompanying the exhibition is a lavishly illustrated 308-page publication , The photograph and Australia (Thames & Hudson, RRP $75.00), which is the product of Judy’s extensive research contributions by Michael Aird, Kathleen Davidson, Martyn Jolly, Jane Lydon and Daniel Palmer and a postscript by Geoffrey Batchen.
The photograph and Australia will be open to the public at the Art Gallery of NSW in the major exhibition gallery from 21 March to 8 June 2015, before travelling to the Queensland Art Gallery, where it will be open to the public from 4 July to 11 October.