Calling the Shots: Aboriginal Photographies

It was great being amongst the panel at a symposium to celebrate the fab new book Calling the Shots: Aboriginal Photographies .  As I said on the day, if you had told me back in the 1980s, when we were cataloguing Lindt’s Portfolio of Australian Aboriginals  at the National Gallery and endowing his portrait of Mary-Ann of Ulmarra with the poetic description ‘Bust Portrait of an Aboriginal Woman’, that one day I would meet her great great niece, I wouldn’t have believed you. And I’ve lost count of the number of time I’ve shown the Picturesque Atlas of Australia’s hand-engraved (on steel I think, by W Hirschmann) reproduction of Lindt’s typological portrait to my students as an example of nineteenth century multimedia, but again never imagined I would meet a descendant. What I found most fascinating about Jane Lydon’s book was the way that indigenous Australians seem to invest the ancestral portrait photograph as object — with all its dog-eared, cardboardy, historically-patinated density  — with an ontologically greater weight than the digital copy, which is not as jealously guarded within mnemonic rituals of recollection and story-telling. However, as was raised by Shauna Bostock-Smith, young aboriginal people now have all their contemporary photographs of friends and family in their phones, just like everybody else of course, and they are devastated when they think they have lost their phones. What this book needs is its own Facebook page.

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2 thoughts on “Calling the Shots: Aboriginal Photographies

  1. Thanks so much Martyn- it’s interesting how some images have such strong and lasting appeal. To my eyes the engraving is even more beautiful than the photograph in some ways, although it has exaggerated the sadness of her expression.

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