Wolfgang Sievers’ Photographs: From the Future to the Past

‘Wolfgang Sievers’ Photographs: From the Future to the Past’, catalogue essay for Wolfgang Sievers 1913 — 2007: Work, curated by Stuart Bailey, pp 5 — 14, Glen Eira City Gallery, 2007.

One night in 1983 Wolfgang Sievers steadied himself on a tug as it heaved on the waves of Bass Strait and with a long hand-held exposure photographed an oil rig belching a giant tongue of flame and spouting a curtain of water. The experience was the high point of his career as a professional photographer. It was, in his own words, like the grand finale to a fantastic, dramatic opera. When Sievers saw the diabolical Wagnerian result, Inferno, Nymphea Oil Rig, Bass Strait, he thought that he couldn’t have done any better, and decided there and then that it was to be almost his last professional photograph[i]. But in making the decision to ‘stop whilst he was on top’ there was also an element of sourness and disappointment about the progress, or lack of progress, in Australian society, industry and architecture during the half-century his professional career had covered.  As a bombastic vision of industrial power and excess the oil rig photograph was a long way from Sievers’ first industrial photographs. For instance it contrasts strongly with one of his favourite photographs taken in 1939 at the very beginning of his career in Australia, of the dipping of match heads at Bryant & May, in Richmond, Victoria. Although also of a toxic industrial process, this image had a delicate clarity that for him encapsulated the ideas of simplicity and functional beauty which he thought should underpin all of his work.

For Sievers, as for many of the other European artists, designers, photographers and architects who also fled to Melbourne to escape the rise of Nazism, the ideas of pure functional beauty they brought with them were inextricably linked to wider ideas of social progress. The political foment of 1920s Weimar Germany had given rise to the famous Bauhaus, which taught not only the importance of truth to function in design; but also the importance of unifying the artist and the designer, the machine and the worker, to forge a new future society. In the post-war period these ideas were to pervade the entire world through the global rise Modernism, but Sievers also had a direct connection to them through his years in the late 30s at Berlin’s Contempora School of Applied Arts, which was a small private school that had taken up the Bauhaus project after it was closed by the Nazis in 1933.

As a young man in Germany during the 1930s Sievers was inevitably caught up in, and forever formed by, the political events of the time. He moved to Portugal in 1934 to try to make a career as a photographer, but then became briefly involved in the Spanish Civil War against Franco, for which he was arrested by the Gestapo on his return to Germany in 1936. He was not Jewish, though his mother was a Jewish descent, but in 1937 he decided to arrange his emigration to Australia, using as one of his guarantors the documentary photographer Axel Poignant who himself had emigrated to Australia ten years before. He was forced to dramatically expedite his plans when the Luftwaffe called him up for two years service as an aerial photographer. He was given one day’s grace and immediately escaped to England.

He left Germany at the age of 25 steeped in the ‘New Objectivity’ style of photography: he had taken front-on, clear-eyed photographs of poverty in Portugal; he had taken deep-focussed architectural views of nineteenth-century palaces on behalf of his art-historian father; he had been commissioned by the contemporary expressionist architect and family friend Erich Mendelsohn to photograph the last of his buildings in Germany before he himself had fled for Britain in 1933; he had made advertisements for modern products such as sheer stockings, dramatically lit in the latest studio style; and he had made low-angled sunlit portraits of his fellow Contempora School students heroically looking into the future.

He arrived in Melbourne in 1938 and set up a studio in South Yarra with the latest photographic equipment which he had sent on ahead. But he found pre-war Melbourne to be very different to Berlin, and opportunities severely limited. He decided to specialise in industrial and architectural photography, where he could immediately apply what he had learnt about the purity of design and the essential honesty of the machine. He rapidly found several large clients, but from 1942 volunteered to assist in the Australian war effort. After the war Sievers’ career took off again, buoyed by Australia’s building and industrial boom. For his industrial clients Sievers provided shots for their annual reports, publicity brochures and advertising.

One of his biggest clients was the heavy engineers Charles Ruwolt, which were taken over by the British based company Vickers in 1948. A problem many industrial photographers faced was the visual mess and distraction of any factory floor. (This can still be seen in some of Sievers’ shots, such as the grim Sweatshop, Melbourne, 1958). The graphic designers of annual reports generally got around this problem by simply cutting the distracting background out of the photographs, often leaving a heavily airbrushed image of an odd-shaped piece of machinery floating isolated on the page with no sense of scale or drama. Sievers solved the problem photographically by either raising his camera  to look down on the machinery, or lowering the camera to shoot upwards against the roof, and using his own lights to light the machinery whilst leaving the distracting background in darkness. For example in reality the Nordberg Crusher he photographed in 1969 was hemmed around with factory paraphernalia, but Sievers organised a thorough clean up of the area around the crusher and built a platform to elevate his camera, he then descended into the crusher with ladders to light its interior, emphasising its circular shape and its depth. As a bonus he wedged a dramatically lit lab-coated operator into the lower right hand corner for the final shot. The image then created its own graphic force and internal visual drama that could be used in any publicity situation. (According to Seivers himself the subsequent publication of the image in the financial press resulted in a multi-million contract for the company.)

Man and machine were Sievers’ quintessential subjects. To Sievers the essence of a good factory was not labour by itself, nor the technical process in isolation, but that ‘everything is as it should be’, with men directing machines efficiently, and each augmenting the other.[ii] In Sievers’ photographs the operators are functionally connected to the machine by their hands and their eyes — they peer through loupes, or pull levers, or intently measure the details of gigantic pieces of machinery with finely calibrated instruments. The image of a technician establishing the accurate positioning of a hydraulic pump crankshaft with a micro-alignment telescope, Quality Control at Vickers-Ruwolt, 1960, was published in a Vickers Ruwolt brochure. Running across the pages of the brochure in a kind of staccato modernist poem to industry were the words: “From a concentration of trained minds — emerges mechanical excellence … experience is combined with intelligence and work proceeds …from molten metal … to tools of high precision and great power …precision created out of precision … born in the toolroom … the climax—assembly and testing …”. [iii]

These sentiments of corporate pride were given an almost nationalistic resonance a few years later in another, even more constructed, shot for Vickers Ruwolt. In Gears for Mining Industry, 1967, an engineer, like an operatic hero ascending a stage mountain, climbs the teeth of a giant gear which has been especially raised upright by a crane, to steady with one hand and measure with the other the second half of the gear whose several tons has been suspended upside down above him.

During the 1970s and 1980s photographs such as these began their migration from the pages of company reports to the walls of art museums. In 1991 this image was one of four chosen by Australia Post to become a stamp to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Australian photography. It had become a fully fledged icon of Australia as an industrial nation, complementing other national icons such as Harold Cazneaux’s mighty gum tree The Spirit of Endurance, 1937, or Max Dupain’ Sunbaker, 1937, which encapsulated other aspects of the national myth — it’s land and its lifestyle.

However throughout his career there is a continuing visual tension in the respective role of worker and machine. His vision was clearly centred around the trained technician rather than the knockabout aussie manual worker, though he did love to photograph traditional workers who seem to have a heritage of noble labour going back centuries. For example in his 1962 image of a worker in the Miller Rope factory hefting the rough rope in his firm hands Sievers saw ‘the dignity of man … staring you straight in the face’.  In other images, in contrast, such as Finishing of Hitachi Brand Valves for the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme, 1967 or Coal Mining Dredges, Yallourn, Victoria, 1956, the  technicians of the modern industrial age are squashed uncomfortably into tight corners by the looming bulk of the machine.

Workers by themselves, however, unconnected to any machine, rarely figure in Sievers photographs. He admits that his poor English initially made him scared of the human element, although later his bilingualism could be an advantage with Australia’s ethnically diversifying workforce. One of his rare photographs of workers by themselves and with their own autonomous personalities, is the crowd shot taken from an aerial point of view of the Shift Change at Kelly and Lewis, Springvale, 1949, where friendly workers smile and squint up at Sievers’ camera. Nowadays the idea of the dignity of manual labour has been grossly devalued, and corporations are unlikely anymore to be interested in commissioning photographs of their workers as a collective force. In this light the image now has an elegiac character, and reminds me of another Sievers’ aerial view with receding perspective, Old Frankfurt before its total destruction in World War 11, Germany, 1937 — both are photographs taken on the verge of destruction.

The metaphors of theatre or opera are the ones most commonly applied to Seivers’ industrial work. But other genres sometimes come to mind as well. For instance the dramatic side lighting used to apply strong shadows and bright sheens to the equipment in Lathe operator at Marweight, Burnley, Melbourne, 1968, not only isolates the lathe against a black background, but also gives the scene a B Grade Frankenstein appearance. Other shots, such as Sulphuric Acid Plant at Electrolytic Zinc, Hobart, 1959, could almost be described as industrial pornography as the gleaming steel tubes turn and curve in on themselves. (When it was reproduced full page and in full colour in the BHP book The Fabulous Hill, its caption was much more prosaic: ‘This new acid plant will bring Risdon’s capacity for the production of sulphuric acid to 170,000 tons a year.’)[iv]

As his career progressed the symbiotic relationship between his own ideals, forged in the Europe of the 1930s, and the reality of Australian industry swept up in the resources boom of the 1970s and 80s, began to pull apart. Sievers was always a political animal and proud of his past. In 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, he placed a photograph of a GI holding up the severed head of a Vietnamese in his studio showcase window at the Collins Street entrance of the Australia Arcade. He accompanied the image, which had been taken from LIFE magazine, with the following sign: ‘I Wolfgang Sievers: victim of Nazi persecution — prisoner of the Gestapo —volunteer of the AIF and RAAF 1939 — volunteer Australian Army 1942- 1945 PROTEST against the undeclared war — against conscription by lottery — against imprisonment of conscientious objectors whose just stand has been laid down at the Nuremberg trials to be the duty of all men.’ As a result of this protest Sievers estimates he lost 60% of his industrial clients.[v]

Although they are certainly full of drama, Sievers’ photographs are devoid of any sense of noise, smell, dirt or toxicity. Floors have been cleaned, workers’ hands washed, and their chins shaved. Clean lab coats have been put on and 500-watt lights carefully positioned to obscure the ugly backgrounds. As Sievers himself admitted ‘industrial photography is lying most of the time.’ Increasingly, Sievers became concerned with the pollution that was produced by the industries that his photographs pictured as being pollution free, with ‘everything clean and wonderful.’ The worse it got, he said, the nearer he got to the end of his days as a photographer.[vi] He was also concerned with the foreign ownership of Australian resources.[vii] During the 1980s he concentrated more and more on retrospectives of his own career, as well as other historical and political interests.

Sievers was much more than just an industrial photographer, however. The artists, designers, architects and photographers who fled to Melbourne to escape Nazism made enormous contributions to Melbourne’s growth as a cosmopolitan city, and Sievers photographed much of it. For instance he made advertisements for the Prestige company which produced textiles designed by Gerhard Herbst who, like Sievers had trained in Germany and fled to Melbourne in 1939.[viii] Herbst also designed the striking poster advertising New Visions in Photography, a 1953 exhibition Sievers and another émigré photographer, Helmut Newton, held promoting their work as commercial photographers. A boldly designed sign in the exhibition announced:  ‘the aim of this exhibition, the first of its kind in Melbourne, to demonstrate, through actual work done, the potential of industrial and fashion photography as a means of better promotion and bigger sales in business today.’[ix]

He also photographed the cutting edge modernist architecture of fellow émigrés Frederick Romberg, who arrived in Melbourne from Germany via Zurich in 1939 and also knew the influential expressionist architect Erich Mendelsohn; and Ernest Fooks who arrived in Melbourne in 1939 from Vienna where he was a progressive town planner and architect.[x] Like Sievers, both these architects saw their work as directly affecting the development of a socially progressive, technologically modern society. He photographed their work in the international architectural style, with dynamically receding horizontal lines, sternly orthogonal vertical lines, and cleanly isotropic spaces. These deeply-focused sharply-defined views of ideal modernist architecture could have been made at any time in any metropolis modernism had spread too— Europe, Japan, Canada, Brazil or Australia. Today they all seem uncannily empty and devoid of atmosphere, as though they are waiting for the future to happen

In the 1950s émigré architects designed many houses and modernist flats around the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Sievers photographed the house Fooks designed and built for himself in Caulfield in 1966. His photographs beautifully capture the sense of the house experienced as a procession of enclosed and semi-enclosed spaces and courtyards from street frontage through to the garden, all modulated by Japanese inspired timber screens, an undulating timber ceiling, and detailed joinery — a testimony to Fooks’ Viennese heritage.[xi]

But, just as he had parted company with industry, Sievers also found himself parting ways from the mainstream of Australian architecture and design, where the ideal, designed future he envisaged appeared increasingly derailed by thoughtless and crass developments, which could be just as effectively photographed quickly with small format cameras. In 1988 he was invited out of his semi-retirement to photograph the new Parliament House in Canberra, but he refused because he did not approve of the design by the US architects Mitchell/Giurgola. Increasingly looking to the past, Sievers travelled to Berlin and Paris in 1989 to research war criminals who had also emigrated to Australia. Whilst there he briefly rediscovered his excitement in architecture as he photographed I. M. Pei’s newly opened pyramid entrance to the Louvre, with its spectacular and explicitly engineered glass walls.

Sievers’ work is now firmly ensconced in the nation’s image of its past. Art museums and libraries had consistently purchased his key images from the early 1970s onwards, and the National Gallery of Australia toured a major retrospective nationally in 1991 and 1992. In 2004 the National Library of Australia completed the purchase of his complete archive of 51,700 negatives and transparencies and 13,700 prints, which they are now in the process of digitising.[xii] His images, which were once about creating an ideal modern future for Australia, are now subsiding into the nation’s official past. The irony is that the future his photographs so keenly anticipated never actually happened. The wealth and prosperity they predicted certainly came, but the sense of social balance, equality and honesty, where ‘everything is as it should be’, which they were attempting to create, never really did. We can see that clearly now, but Sievers himself could feel it, twenty-five years ago.

Martyn Jolly

[i] Wolfgang Sievers, Wolfgang Sievers: Contemporary Photographers Australia, Writelight, 1998, np.

[ii] Photographers of Australia: Dupain, Sievers, Moore, Film Australia, 1992.

[iii] Vickers Ruwolt Proprietary Limited, Melbourne, Australia, nd, np.

[iv] Alfred Heintz, The Fabulous Hill, BHP, 1960, np.

[v] Daniel Palmer, ‘Wolfgang Sievers’, Flash, Centre for Contemporary Photography Newsletter, June-Spetmeber 2004, pp10-11.

[vi] Photographers of Australia

[vii] Helen Ennis, ‘Wolfgang Sievers’, Photographers of Australia: Dupain, Sievers, Moore, Film Australia, 1992, np.

[viii] Anne Brennan, ‘A Philosophical Approach to Design: Gerhard Herbst and Fritz Janeba’, in The Europeans : emigré artists in Australia, 1930-1960, (ed) Roger Butler, National Gallery of Australia, 1997.

[ix] Helen Ennis, ‘Blue Hydrangeas: Four Emigré Photographers’, in The Europeans : emigré artists in Australia, 1930-1960, p105.

[x] Conrad Hamann, ‘Frederick Romberg and the Problem of European Authenticity’, in The Europeans : emigré artists in Australia, 1930-1960.

[xi] Harriet Edquist, Ernest Fooks: Architect, RMIT, 2001, p20.

[xii] Linda Groom, ‘the Dignity of Man as a Worker; The Sievers Archive’, National Library of Australia News, January 2003, np.

Ten Series/106 Photographs

Mathew Sleeth, ‘Ten Series/106 Photographs’, review in Photofile 82, 2007, p76

Matthew Sleeth Aperture 2007

Maybe there are two ways to present groups of pictures: either as stories or as series. Matthew Sleeth’s picture book Tour of Duty from 2002 told the story of Australia’s mission to East Timor in wonderfully ironic pictures with powerfully centrifugal compositions — and became an instant classic. Since then, however, Sleeth has increasingly used simple ideas to assemble series of deadpan pictures, which he has either published as limited edition artists books, or exhibited as large scale installations.  Ten of these series are gathered together for this handsome and rewarding book, under a title that doffs its hat to the patron saint of conceptual photography Ed Ruscha.

In most contemporary photobooks shots such as a red fire extinguisher wedged between two blue seats on a train, or an indoor plant’s drooping leaves illuminated by the same grimy sun that also picks out the smoke drifting from an unextinguished cigarette, would be used as occasional cutaways to add a psychological ambience of claustrophobia or ennui to the photographer’s unfolding drama. But in this book we find them in the two series 10 Fire Extinguishers and 13 Houseplants, where they can be nothing other than themselves.

Like countless photographers before him Sleeth is a traveller, a voyeuristic cruiser thorough the globalised world of Japan, China, Europe and Australia. His subject is the everyday, and everything about this book is understated, cool and downplayed. But his conceptual series are not as formally objective or archivally rigorous as in the ‘Düsseldorf school’ inspired by Bernd and Hilla Becher — Sleeth’s series are idiosyncratic, provisional and incomplete, and his compositions fractured and fleeting. Nor is his vision of our contemporary corporate reality as dystopian as other photographers — it is not as overheated as Wolfgang Tillmans, say, or as sardonic as Martin Parr. This is not only a humanistic book, it is also a happy book.

It opens with a short series Women in Uniform. These portraits, the only direct ones in the whole book, are not of your usual exotic Japanese cyborgs, but real people who just happen to be wearing uniforms, some of them endearingly scruffy. It ends with a series Feet shot on a Tokyo subway. Similarly these images of dislocated shoes and knees and vinyl are full of personality and warmth.

Sometimes Sleeth’s conceptual conceits for his series work very effectively. For instance his series Red China is linked together by a political pun on the colour red — the colour of communism but also the colour of capitalistic triumph used by corporations such as coco-cola. At other times his conceits can’t sustain the series. Photographing all the signs in the Louvre pointing tourists to the Mona Lisa might have seemed like a cute idea on the day, but it makes for a low point in the book.

The high point of the book is the series Kawaii Baby, in which a cavalcade of Japanese smile and laugh and coo at Sleeth’s toddler daughter, who only ever appears as a puff of golden hair at the bottom of some of the frames. Many individual photographs are tour de forces of compositional complexity combined with restrained emotion. For instance in Pictured #36 a window reflection overlays a network of Christmas lights over a private scene between two people, all superimposed onto a lonely railway platform.

Martyn Jolly

Panic and paranoia? The law and photography in Australia

‘Panic and Paranoia: Photography and the Law’, (with Katherine Giles), Photofile 80, 2007, pp22—25.

Martyn Jolly and Katherine Giles

Every day photographers are experiencing the effects of one of the great contemporary paradoxes of the medium. Never before have photographs been so easy to make and distribute, as millions of digital files are created with mobile phones or digital cameras and uploaded onto the web or distributed electronically. Yet never before have individual photographers felt themselves so inhibited in what they can photograph, where they can photograph and the messages they can put into their photographs. Whether these inhibitions are internalised as a vague feeling that certain types of photography may now be ‘inappropriate’, or whether they come directly from people telling them that photography is ‘not allowed here’, they are all underpinned by an ill-defined sense that the law has somehow changed in relation to photography. Photographers’ blogs are tangled with long threads of discussion about what may or may not be allowed, and are bulging with stories of police, security and members of the public stopping them from taking photographs. As the Sydney photographer, Andrew Nemeth, says on his excellent photographers’ rights website: “Photography is not a crime. Many photographers are fed up with being treated as if they were creeps”.[1]

But how much has the law actually changed? And how much else is now under threat in this current climate of panic and paranoia over morality and security?


In Australia, there is not yet any legal cause of action for a ‘breach of privacy’. Existing privacy laws only refer to the use of personal data by organisations and governments. Nor is the taking of a photograph for the purposes of art, social documentation or as a hobby a commercial use, even if the photograph is later sold. So their subjects are not ‘models’ with the right to ‘release’ their image to the photographer for a particular use. Instead many other laws regulate the area, including: passing-off laws; trespass laws; confidentiality agreements; nuisance and harassment laws; obscenity laws; stalking laws and laws dealing with filming for an indecent purpose.

Denise O’Rourke is currently being sued by two girls under trade practice laws over their portrayal in his documentary Cunnamulla because, they are claiming, he entered into a misleading agreement with them about the subject of the interviews he wanted to do with them. The celebrity model Lara Bingle is using defamation laws to sue the men’s magazine Zoo Weekly for publishing bikini shots of her from earlier on in her career, with the addition of smutty captions.[2] Several men have been charged under offensive behavior laws with using their mobile phones to photograph topless bathers on beaches.

All of these existing laws should be enough to regulate irresponsible photographers, so that the situation in Australia can remain as it currently stands, where, in words of Justice Dowd, “a person … does not have a right not to be photographed”.[3] But nonetheless there is clearly a trend towards a general restriction on the right of photographers to document their world and the people in it. For instance Justice Michael Kirby has argued that extending the law in Australia to protect the ‘honour, reputation and personal privacy of individuals’ would be consistent with international developments in human rights law: “In recent years, stimulated in part by invasions of individual privacy, including by the media, deemed unacceptable to society, several jurisdictions have looked again at the availability under the common law of an actionable wrong of invasion of privacy.”[4]

Since 2002 the technological combination of mobile phone cameras and the internet has become a socially potent combination. This, mixed with publicity about the use of cameras as an integral tool to the sexual assaults on Diane Brimble aboard a cruise ship and a teenager at Werribee,  has led to widespread public concern about photography and pedophilia, pornography, immorality and misogyny. This is having an effect on photographers at large.

In early 2005 the Brisbane Courier Mail found a website with non-pornographic, non-offensive photographs of children playing at Southbank on it, they created an unsubstantiated panic that international child pornography rings had linked to the site. They hadn’t, and ultimately no action was taken. In Victoria, a site with close-ups of schoolboy rowers, which had been linked to by other pornographic sites, was also found.[5] Subsequently, several urban councils attempted, unsuccessfully, to use their municipal powers to stop parents photographing on their sports fields and council beaches. [6] Shortly after, Surf Life Saving Australia called for a complete ban on pictures of its 40,000 young members without the written permission of parents. Although they subsequently backed down, they initially claimed that their young members should be able to “reasonably expect” privacy, even if they were in public areas. Presumably unaware of any irony, they went on to say that they intended to advise their staff to record the appearance, attire and car registration numbers of anybody they spotted breaking this rule.[7]

But the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW) already bans photographing a person in a state of undress or engaged in a private act for the purposes of sexual gratification without their consent. Other jurisdictions prohibit taking photographs of private intimate activities in private personal places such as toilets or change rooms. And specific laws to prevent the new lewd uses suggested by camera phones, such as upskirting, are being bought in by various states, which the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General have now agreed to review and regularize. [8]

Of course, taking lewd pictures of people who might reasonably expect to be unobserved is indefensible, but the tenor of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General’s discussion paper of August 2005, Unauthorised Photographs on the Internet and Ancillary Privacy Issues, implied a wider drift towards a general right for people to control their image, even when they are taken in public and are not offensive. The discussion paper suggested:

Publishing images of a person without their consent removes their freedom to choose how to present themselves to the world. Some may argue that consent is implicit because the activity is in a public place in full view of people. On the other hand, filming results in a permanent record that can be used in many ways. It is natural that where people are aware they are being filmed, they can adjust their behaviour accordingly. If a person has no knowledge they are being filmed they have no way of reducing the intrusion.[9]

In the new environment of hyperdistribution, this argument runs, the lack of control a subject has over the subsequent use of their image has changed the unposed photograph from simply being a candid image, to being an intrusive act. Arguments such as this are a threat to photographers. For instance one of the medium’s most celebrated genres is street photography, which has produced many masterpieces that have illuminated our sense of ourselves as citizens sharing urban space. In Susan Sontag’s words the street photographer is “an armed version of the solitary walker, reconnoitring, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes.” Is this time-honoured romantic alienation about to become criminalized? Possibly. For instance, whilst shooting a couple of bathers sleeping on the sands of Bondi Beach, in implicit homage to his father’s iconic Sunbaker (1937), Rex Dupain suddenly found himself surrounded by four police officers who questioned him for 25 minutes. “Lifeguards and the police are taking the law into their own hands” he complained, “they regard anyone with a camera as a potential pervert. We sit at home and watch close-ups of people lives on disturbing television reality shows but someone taking pictures at the beach is seen as a threat. Our days as a free society are over.” [10]

Police and security guards are not the only ones taking it upon themselves to constrain photographers, irrespective of any law, concerned parents are also getting jittery. In preparing for her exhibition of portraits of her son’s soccer team, Under Twelves, at the Ground Floor gallery in Balmain in late 2005, Ella Dreyfus was scrupulous in making sure all parents knew what she was doing. She showed them a sample of the style of her shots, and all agreed to her project enthusiastically. “Young boys are beautiful; their mothers know this, but does society allow us to acknowledge their beauty?” asked Dreyfus. But a few days before the show some parents apparently got nervous at the prospect of her portraits inadvertently inciting pedophilia, and Dreyfus suddenly found herself requested to withdraw two images from the exhibition, and mark six not for sale.

In September 2006 an amateur photographer called Jodie snapped a young man sitting on the steps at Flinders Street Station. He got up and demanded five dollars from her. When she said she didn’t have five dollars he demanded the film, when she told him it was a digital camera things got ugly, and she finally deleted one photograph in front of him before walking away, with him hurling abuse at her. The other shot she kept and uploaded to Flickr, but with his face blacked out. She asked her friends from the Flickr community: ‘Did I do the wrong thing? Should I have uploaded at all? Should I have left the original photo?’[11]

She had attempted to resolve all these dilemmas by erasing her subject’s face in a half guilty, half defiant, compromise to his supposedly violated ‘right to privacy’, while maintaining her own right to photograph the people with who she shares public space. This botched economic transaction between subject and photographer, and its clumsy resolution as the publication of a faceless figure, follows the rising logic of our contemporary visual culture — the logic of the celebrity image.

The celebrity’s commercial capital is their desirable lifestyle, and their enviable body, all encapsulated in their instantly recognizable face. So it is in their interest to regulate and control the production, interpretation and distribution of their image as closely as possible. There are now at least 30 paparazzi in Sydney, and they are at war with celebrities.[12] The frequent incidents between them, such as paparrazi squirting Heath Ledger with water pistols on the red carpet of the Brokeback Mountain premiere, after he allegedly spat at them during the shooting of Candy, are more than crass paparazzi ‘overstepping the mark’, they are symptoms of a fight for the control of a valuable commodity — the celebrity’s face. As one of the paparazzi succinctly put it, “It’s the price of fame, my son. If we stop taking his picture, his price goes down. This is give-and-take. It’s fame. It’s the name of the game. You give us some of your private life because you earn so much money. That’s the way it works”.[13]

Celebrities are applying pressure for a ‘right of privacy’ in Australia for their own purposes. By invoking such a spurious ‘right’ they hope to garner public sympathy for the control and regulation of the supply of their image, but it is harassment and defamation laws that they actually use against photographers. The most famous altercations are between Jamie Fawcett and Nicole Kidman. In early 2005 Kidman took out an interim restraining order against him, claiming he had harassed her and endangered her life by chasing her across Sydney at high speeds.[14] For her wedding, however, she established a temporary truce with the paparazzi, while preemptively devaluing any of their pictures by distributing an official wedding photograph world-wide a few seconds after the ceremony was over. But this New Year holiday season Fawcett and Kidman were at it again, with Kidman complaining of harassment to the Bateman’s Bay police and leaving the country early after he, and a Channel Ten news crew, followed her convoy to the South Coast.[15]

These days everybody is potentially a celebrity, however briefly, and everybody’s face has, at least potentially, a value. Fantasies of instant celebrity are regularly enacted in reality TV shows, and the world of the celebrity can suddenly open to those who have unexpectedly found themselves heroes in the public eye. For instance, the trapped Beaconsfield miners reportedly discussed who should play themselves in the inevitable movie of their rescue (Russell Crowe and Heath Ledger), and the settlement of their deal with Eddie McGuire was delayed while they were locked in negotiation with mine management and the coroner over who would own the rights to video footage the pair took to aide the rescuers during their confinement.

As a result of the pervasiveness of celebrity culture, if we are photographed in public we instinctively tend to think slightly less like citizens mingling in the town square, and slightly more like celebrities caught out on the town. We now carry our faces into public more as our commodity, something we own, something we have carefully grown, groomed and cultivated, something we can always potentially make money from. Within this logic the face is less an interface, and more a logo, a stamped unchangeable rebus of the self, a trademark always potentially on the verge of infringement.

Although there is no automatic right of privacy in Australia, the controllers of any commercial or government premises can make any rules they like as a condition of entry into their property. As the town square becomes the shopping mall, more and more public space is becoming privatised. Pedestrians are no longer citizens experiencing democratic interactions, but consumers having regulated retail experiences. Shopping centre owners want to keep their malls feeling lively and exciting, but they also know that shoppers want, above all else, to feel comfortable and protected, and this falls to automated surveillance systems and private security guards, who can make any rules they like. While the majority of people welcome blanket CCTV coverage because it makes them feel protected[16], self-expressive photography by ordinary individuals is treated with suspicion because its motivations and destinations are not obvious, and it can’t immediately be recuperated into the shopping experience.

For instance in July this year the Southgate shopping centre in Melbourne erected warning signs featuring a camera crossed out with a bright red slash. In one incident a Chubb security guard stopped the grandmother Val Moss from taking photographs from the public footpath “because”, he said, “of the terrorism overseas”. In response her camera club, the Knox Photographic Society staged a demonstration with over 100 photographers. A spokesperson for the shopping centre said; “There are safety, security, privacy and copyright issues which need to be considered with all photography and filming within the centre, and we reserve the right to ask people to stop filming or photographing if it is deemed inappropriate.” [17] No, no, no and no. Safety is not compromised by raising a camera to your eye, nor will security be breached by hand held snaps. There is no right of privacy in public space, so why should there be a right of privacy in the ‘new’ public space of the mall, and copyright is not infringed by taking photographs that will only include goods on display or advertising signs as incidental parts of a general scene.

The real reason for these kinds of blanket bans is to restrict the behavior of people using the mall. They attempt to focus the possible behaviors of customers to a narrow spectrum around the core function of shopping – buying, look into shop windows, recharging on coffee and cake, and feeling protected. This narrow band of profitable behavior excludes all other non-corporate behavior previously acceptable in public, such as self-expression.


Towards the end of 2005 the Federal Government introduced the Anti-Terrorism Act (No 2) 2005 (Cth) containing new sedition laws. To date the laws have not been used to prevent artists from expressing their views. But they could be, and in other countries they have been. The new laws go beyond the traditional definition of sedition as crime of intending to overthrow the government or interfere with elections. They broaden it so that it is an offence to simply urge violence in the community, urge interference in parliamentary elections, urge overthrow of the Government or Constitution or urge someone to assist the enemy or assist those engage in armed hostilities.

This shift of focus towards urging other people to commit seditious acts comes without a clear definition of what urging actually is. The courts will have to define what urging actually means when a case comes before them. In advice to Peter Garrett MP, Peter Gray SC stated that the term urging may, “cover indirect ‘urging’, by way of analogy, or dramatisation, or imagery, or metaphor, or allegory, or allusion, or any of the myriad devices and techniques available to a creative artist.”[18] The work of many artists would already fit within this definition, and the vague language creates an uncertain environment that questions the very nature of freedom of expression in Australia. Until a case comes before the courts, the practical effect of these laws on photographers remains unknown, but the chilling effect is already clear. The ability of photographers to create art that has a direct political message is at the cornerstone of a democratic society. Can art that mimics or comments on terrorism or questions the decisions of Government really be terrorism or sedition?

In 2005 the Australian Law Reform Commission examined the new laws and released a Discussion Paper and recommendations which explicitly recognised the concerns of the Australian arts community and the potential chilling effect on artists. The problem is that the sedition laws do not create a clear distinction between legitimate dissent, including the expression of dissent through of works of art, and actions which should be of concern to national security. This all adds to a climate of fear where the actions of a photographer in simply taking photographs, of, say, a public building or an industrial landscape, immediately becomes suspicious. The eventual implications of the new sedition laws on the Australian arts community are unclear, but the chilling effect is already upon us, and is flowing on to the wider social environment. When a photographer is stopped from taking photographs in a public place by a police officer or a security guard ‘because of the terrorism overseas’, this not only affects all other photographers, it also affects the way every one of us experiences our public places and shared spaces.


We live in a world where more is happening on camera, from everyday trips to the shops to orchestrated sexual assaults, yet more is happening off camera as well, from remote detention facilities to intensive industrial farming practices. However this polarisation of visibility is not really being defined by either the freedom of speech or the right to privacy, but by rules of access made by governments and corporations for their own purposes. In this context we need more photographs taken by thoughtful, curious, inquisitive, dallying, dilettantish photographers, armed with nothing more than an ordinary desire to represent their world, not less. But in order to be an effective mode of public speech photographers need to free themselves from the insidious inhibitions, vaguely wrapped up in concerns about intrusion and sedition, that are currently constraining them every time they lift the camera to their eye.

Martyn Jolly is Head of Photomedia at the Australian National University

Katherine Giles is a solicitor with the Arts Law Centre of Australia

[2] ‘Men’s Magazine Is Smutty: Judge’ The Canberra Times 9 December 2006 p12

[3] R v Sotheren [2001] NSWSC 204 (26 March 2001) paragraph 25 http://wwwaustliieduau/au/cases/nsw/supreme_ct/2001/204html [date accessed?]

[4] The Australian 10 July 2003 pB01

[5] ‘Unauthorised Photographs On The Internet And Ancillary Privacy Issues’ Discussion Paper Standing Committee of Attorneys-General August 2005 paragraphs 7–12

[6] Amanda Hodge ‘Fear Kills Joy Of Watching Children Play’ The Weekend Australian 26–27 February 2005 p8

[7] ‘Surf Body Call For Photo Ban’ Sydney Morning Herald 5 November 2005

[8] ‘Upskirting To Become A Crime’ Sydney Morning Herald 28 July 2006 np

[9] ‘Unauthorised Photographs On The Internet And Ancillary Privacy Issues’ Discussion Paper Standing Committee of Attorneys-General August 2005 paragraph 40

[10] ‘Dupain’s Beach Snaps Draw Police Focus’ DD McNicoll Weekend Australian 9–10 December 2006 p10

[12] ‘Snap Pack’ Dominic Cadden Sun Herald 13 February 2005 p14

[13] Quoted in the Australian Law Reform Commission issues paper number 31 Review of Privacy cited in ‘Shooting Star’ Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend 1 July 2006 p26

[14] ‘Best starring role goes to the beak in Kidman’s paparazzi drama’ Justin Norrie Sydney Morning Herald 12 February 2005Sydney Morning Herald p13

[15] ‘Nicole cuts her hols short’ The Daily Telegraph 2 January 2007 np

[16] Wells Helene A Allard Troy Wilson Paul Crime and CCTV in Australia: Understanding the Relationship Centre for Applied Psychology and Criminology Bond University Australia (2006)

[17] ‘Picture this — if you’re allowed: city puts photo ban in the frame’ Carmel Egan The Sunday Age 30 July 2006 p3

Passion for Research

In order to respond to the two words in Gael’s title for today, ‘passion’ and ‘research’, I have decided on an experiment: to discuss a series of photographs which I have encountered in various archives. Most of these photographs are insignificant in themselves, not great works of art, but they have had something in them that I have found interesting, and which has sent me off on a tangent in my research. Because of these tangents, my research trajectory since I started my career at the NGA has followed a somewhat unexpected path, and has covered a lot of ground. To show you just how unexpected I will start my talk with some photographs I found myself getting excited about several months ago in the State Library of New Wales.

Margery Ectoplasm

Margery Seance

These are some photographs reproduced in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. The photographs are of some animal lung. This lung has been cut into the shape of a hand, with the animal’s trachea serving as a wrist, and the spongey lung tissue cut into fingers. This crude hand had recently been compressed into a woman’s vagina, and then expelled during a Spiritualist séance. It has been flash photographed in the dark by a psychic investigator, a person called Eric Dingwall, who was trying to establish whether or not the woman, called Margery Crandon, had the power to produce ectoplasm, a psychic matter extruded from the other side; and whether this wasn’t the hand of a psychic entity, a spirit manifesting itself to us from the other side of the veil of death.

As I eagerly looked at this photograph I had one of those moments, I thought ‘how did I get here’. I am an atheist, a rationalist, a sceptic, and a materialist. I have a house in the suburbs and a good job teaching photography at a respectable university. What am I doing getting excited about this photograph? I hoped that none of my colleagues would ever find out what I got up to on my research trips.

It was a bunch of photographs that led me down this trail.

When I first started at the NGA I was a callow graduate of an art school, rather than an art history department in a university. I had been trained to think of myself as a contemporary art photographer, though I had also developed a passionate, intimate and, I thought at the time, privileged, love for the history of photography, thanks to my practical art school training. I think what interested me mostly about photography at the time was it’s power as a historical medium, its power to palpably contain history.

What I realized when I began to work here was that this power was articulated by a machinery, mechanisms of memory and forgetting that operated every day through the processes of selection, accessioning, curating, cataloguing, researching, categorising, displaying, and publishing. And as a kid curator I was a small cog in this vast machinery producing the past.

For the next decade or so my research as an artist was all about the relationship between personal, micro moments of time and memory which were residual in individual photographs, and the public, macro uses of photography for master narratives of nation, history or ideology. It was also about how photography had been used to bind personal affect into collective ideology.

In the Australian War Memorial

In The Australian War Memorial

Whilst working at the gallery I made one series of art photographs, which were curated into a touring show by Geoffrey Batchen after I had left the gallery and returned to Sydney. They were called In The Australia War Memorial, and I was able to print them because a friend let me sneak into the Canberra School of Art after hours without the staff knowing. These are simple snaps of the displays at the war memorial. But I was interested in catching threads or shards of experience, seen here in the eyes of the soldiers in the photographs.

Wonderful Pictures


Wonderful Pictures


This led me, after a few other series of photographs, to a large series called Wonderful Pictures, which were copied from the pages of Australiana picture books. I skimmed over the curved pages of the opened books with a view camera and adjusted the camera movements so the images dilated out. Some of the prints were purchased by the National Gallery and are now in their collection.

Australia a Camera Study

Australia a Camera Study

By this time I was specifically interested in Australian propaganda, and the construction of Australian identities. Many of the books I photographed were produced by a publisher called Oswald Ziegler. He used the designers Gert Sellheim and Douglas Annand, whose poster work is in this collection. Other books were by Frank Hurley who published vast quantities of Australiana in the 1950s. And it was whilst looking at a book by Frank Hurley, Australia a Camera Study in the NGA research library that I had a little epiphany. The NGA library had brought the book second hand, and it had obviously originally been brought as a gift, probably by an English migrant to send back home. Still between its pages, and still probably there now upstairs in the library, were two pieces of toilet paper. On the toilet paper the original purchaser had traced his, or her, own personal, chthonic, quotidian routes and history of inhabitation. They have written: ‘Arthur, Marjorie’s brother lives just off the picture…This is where Jim Miller has his block of land — where we nearly built a Duplex….I pass along this road every time I go to White’s.” and “My Ferry Run”. Hurley photographs were banal, rhetorical, yet another iteration of his nationalist jingoism, yet two pieces of toilet paper can turn them into personal expressions of reconnection, whilst they remain, of course, essentially propaganda images.

Whilst I had been at the NGA I had been involved with the acquisition of some albums of WW11 propaganda photographs by Edward Cranstone, which I had exhaustively researched for an article in Photofile. So this interest in Hurley, and war propaganda, and Australian identity, and masculinity naturally led me to the First World War. I began to be very interested in propaganda photography, because propaganda is all about eliciting intense personal emotion, but in a collective context.

School Children at an Exhibition

I began to research a series of enormous propaganda exhibitions that were held in Britain in the last years of WW1. I was particularly fascinated by a series of composite murals which were produced by a company called Raines and Co.

Canadian Vimy Ridge in Paris

Vimy ridge straight

Vimy ridge component

British Dreadnoughts of the Battlefield

Australian ‘The Raid’ at Raines & Co.

These photographs were montages, and thus in one sense fake, but they were also spectacular, and some of their components were certainly at least taken on the battlefield, so they also had a real affective power for viewers desperate for images of the Front. In my PhD I wrote about how propagandists managed these competing terms of ‘the fake’ and ‘the spectacular’ in the context of an emerging mass media. I discovered that in terms of an individual’s response to the photograph, the two ideas — the true and the fake — were very labile indeed. A certain kind of affective truth can be orchestrated by a photograph.

You don’t have to spend too long amongst the visual culture of WW1 before you begin to get a bit disturbed. It is shot through with the uncanny. There is a real fascination with strange new industrial forms, particularly bomb blasts, by all the war photographers.

The Canadians ‘snapped’ bomb blasts like exotic butterflies. And Frank Hurley gave them allegorical meaning.

Canada in Khaki

Hurley Death’s Head

I had another mini epiphany in the storeroom of National Museum of Film Photography and Television in Bradford, England. I was there with my colleague Denise Ferris. She was researching an obscure nineteenth century printing technique, and I was looking through two official presentation albums of Australian War Photographs. Then I came across this page taken in the Middle East, probably by Hurley. The caption is “A wonderful cloud-like face hanging above the ancient town like a beautiful guardian angel”.

I knew Hurley liked his clouds, adding them as a kitsch benediction to his scenes. Since I had spent so much time rephotographing his books for Wonderful Pictures I also knew that in his later years he often used the same cloud twice. I also knew that the composite allegorical kitsch of the propagandists had been so pervasive that it had even influenced the high faluting Pictorialists. At the end of the War Harold Cazneaux, for instance, made this patriotic picture Peace after war, and memories, which brings all the tropes of the European battlefield composites back home to Australia. This picture is in the collection of the National Gallery.



Morning After the Battle of Passchendael

Australia a Camera Study

Australia a Camera Study

Harold Cazneaux, peace After War, and Memories

Presentation album

But I had never before seen a cloud so spiritually allegorised in such an official context as an expensive presentation album. My interest was piqued because the cloud wasn’t your usual piece of Hurley flummery, but a quite ordinary, innocent everyday cloud that just happened to be in the right spot at the right time. My interest in what was obviously a pervasive Spiritualism was further piqued when I read about Mrs Ada Deane in a book by Jay Winter, Sites of memory, sites of mourning: the Great war in European cultural history. Deane was a spirit photographer who in 1922 supposedly photographed the spirits of fallen soldiers above the crowds at London’s Cenotaph during the two minutes silence. From him I learnt that Spiritualism, and communication with the dead through séances, enjoyed a huge revival after WW1 as a kind of mass mourning ritual.

Ada Deane, Two Minute’s Silence

I had to think of something to do whilst I was in London for three months at the Australia Council studio, so I decided to see if I could find any spirit photography. I began a  research relationship with that wily old lady, Mrs Ada Emma Deane. In London I went to the Society for Psychical Research, and from there to their archives in the Cambridge University Library. Calling up all the Deane files I was rewarded with four huge albums containing over 3000 spirit photographs.

Deane album page

Deane photograph

Deane photograph

I found turning these pages a moving experience, not because of the fake cottonwool spirits, but for the genuine looks of yearning on the faces of the sitters.

From these album pages I produced a body of work called Faces of the Living Dead, where I paid Cambridge to make slides for me and I scanned the slide and burrowed into them in Photoshop.

Faces of the Living Dead

Faces of the Living Dead

Faces of the Living Dead

Faces of the Living Dead (Deane self-portrait)

In doing this work of re-visualizing the archive I continually came up against Mrs Deane herself. Most of the other archives I had worked with had been anonymous or institutional, but Mrs Deane’s personality still inhabited this one. I had to come to an agreement with her ghost by writing her biography, which I published in the form of an artist’s book

Deane and Barlow family.

This is an image of Deane and her daughter and their two spirit guides, along with one of her early patrons, Fred Barlow and his wife. When he died Barlow left his huge collection of spirit photographs to the British Library. They were annotated by Eric Dingwall, the person who had photographed the animal-lung ectoplasm of Margery in the early 1930s. When the British Library decided to publish a book on this collection they asked me to do it, so I re-immersed myself in the bizarre world of the Spiritualists.

I went all the way back to 1848, to the beginnings of spirit photography in the US, and track it all the way forward to the 1930s, to the forensic documentation of ectoplasm which I showed at the beginning of this talk. Along the way my colleague Helen Ennis told me about an Australian album of spiritualist carte-de-visites from the 1870s, and I’m delighted to say that this album is now in the collection of the NGA. It features many of the Spiritualist celebrities and some of the classic spirit photographs of the nineteenth century. It also illustrates the global trade in carte-de-visites that existed at the time.

Mrs Slater

Mr Guppy, Mr Williams and spirit

Miss Fairlamb (Mrs Melon)

Miss Georgina Houghton

Whilst always remaining a materialist and a sceptic I felt I understood the Spiritualist’s relationship to photography. Their use of the process of photography was just a heightened, exaggerated version of our own private uses of personal snapshots. They helped me understand that belief was something which could be invested in the photograph, as much as received from it. When they went through the ritual of posing for their spirit photographs, which was often accompanied by a laying on of hands onto the photographic plate and a saying of prayers over the camera, they entered into a kind of thaumaturgic contract with the photographer, and through them with the medium itself. As the spirit photograph was taken, and the film supposedly exposed to impressions from both the invisible spectrum and the psychic spectrum, the sitters engaged their own processes of memory as they tried to contact their loved ones with their minds. When they entered the alchemical cave of the darkroom and saw their own face well-up from the emulsion, to be joined by another face which, as often as not, they recognised, their belief was sealed by this thud of recognition they felt in their chests.

Spirit photography brings to the fore the performative, transactional nature of the photographic act, it also links the photographic image very close to the presence of the body. In the bizarre spiritualist imagination ectoplasm was closely related to photographic emulsion, it was a kind of bio/techno membrane between two worlds that was either able to form itself into proto limbs of spirit beings, or take the impressions of images projected from the other side. Although bizarre I can also see these séances as a kind of overheated performance about the power of the photograph, and its ability to directly connect us with bodies from the past.

In one sense these mediums are just tricksters, but in another sense they are conducting a kind of cathartic performance art, producing indexical photographic evidence that the dead are still present in the form a ectoplasmic images. But isn’t that what all photographs are, ectoplasmic images of the dead?  I’m not the first person to say that incidentally, the first person to say that was Roland Barthes.

The Spiritualists chose to believe in fake photographs, but isn’t the truth of all photographs a much a communal consensus as anything else? We only have to think of digital images, that ten years ago were feared as threatening photographic truth, which today have unproblematically created their own digital truth and are blithely consumed every day.

So I think all my research has been in one way or another about the palpable existence of the past in the present through the materiality of the photograph. It’s been about photographic truth as a collective act, rather than an inherent ontological trait. And it’s been about how individuals make private meaning through collective rituals.

My art and my writing have always fed each other. Initially I printed Faces of the Living Dead digitally on gloss photo paper, but I was never really happy with them. But since getting into ectoplasm with all it phlegmy materiality, which historically, besides being offal was also lengths of chiffon, I have decided to reprint some images onto silk-satin. This will happen in a few weeks. So on it goes.

I am also now working on the ACT Bushfire Memorial, which involves making some very public glass columns, out of some very private and precious family snapshots which I scanned during two extraordinary days of collective memory for Canberra’s bushfire victims, so my concerns are continuing.

Out of Time: Essays Between Photography & Art

‘Out of Time: essays between photography and art’ by Blair French, review in Photofile 81, 2007, p76.

Out of Time: Essays Between Photography & Art
Blair French
Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, 2006
$25, 120 pp B/W  illustrations

In the 1990s Blair French was a curator at the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP) and managing editor of Photofile, before completing a PhD at Sydney University on the photograph’s central role within contemporary art. These sixteen short essays were mostly written following on from that PhD. Some were originally introductory catalogue essays, some were reviews, and a sequence of five, which are the most substantial in the collection, were commissioned by the CACSA for its Broadsheet. French not only analyses the key tendencies currently defining art photography, but also urges a continuing criticality on behalf of us, the viewers. He does not mean the ability to identify ‘good’ and ‘bad’ photographic genres, but a self-reflexive discrimination towards each specific photograph within its historical moment.

And this is a historical moment of posts: post postmodern simulacra and appropriation, post poststructuralist theories of representation, post the supposed threats of the digital revolution, and post the easy comforts of naïve humanism. But what we are not post, as this collection makes clear, is the reality of social experience, and the privileged indexical connection photography maintains to the real. At the same time, more than ever photography has become a heaving mass of imagery merged and flattened into a representational homogeneity which tends to commodify the image into banal spectacle. It is against this background that French tries to throw into critical relief the practices of a variety of contemporary  Australian and New Zealand photographers.

The essays concentrate on two groups of photographers. Initially he looks at those, such as Selina Ou, Darren Sylvester and Anne Zahalka, who work in the familiar style which has dominated art photography recently — the large, singular, seamless, hermetic, constructed pictorial scene. Later, he expands his attention to those who, in various ways, reprocess the direct presence of history, memory and death in the photograph, such as Lyndell Brown & Charles Green, Silvia Velez, or the New Zealand street-photographer Peter Black.

He writes in intelligent support of many of these photographers, but has thoughtful criticisms to make of others. For instance, although Deborah Paauwe’s photographs of sexualised adolescent girls knowingly mobilize a potent set of photographic conventions and social histories, for French they fail to connect with any tangible experience, so they ultimately don’t make any real trouble for the viewer, as they should. In another nicely nuanced reading of Selina Ou, French is worried by the stultifyingly conventional sense of detachment the photographs relentlessly give to their subjects. He occasionally widens his focus to encompass photography’s institutions. For instance he is critical of the installation of Trente Parke’s show Minutes to Midnight  at the ACP, where he finds the artist’s tendency to ‘optical hyperbole’ exacerbated by the overbearing theatricality of the hang which overcooked it into mere visual distraction.

Although I thought his rather forced discussions of artists like Derek Kreckler and Geoff Kleem needn’t have been reprinted, with perhaps more space spent on reproductions, this collection establishes Fernch as a serious thinker and an astute reader of the contemporary Australian photography.

Martyn Jolly

Martyn Jolly is Head of Photomedia at the Australian National University School of Art

Nicole and Jamie: Fatal Attraction

ABC Unleashed Blog November 2007

Nicole Kidman and Jamie Fawcett are at it again. Last week she took the stand in a Sydney courtroom to say, in a hushed whisper, that the paparazzo had made her feel ‘really, really, scared’ as he followed her car across Sydney while she was on her way to Greenwich for dinner with her parents. For his part Fawcett complained that while he had been photographing, on behalf of The Daily Telegraph, their first Christmas holidays together at Rosedale on the South Coast, Keith Urban had slowed their car down so Kidman could swear ‘f_ _k off, Jamie Fawcett’ to him from the passenger window.

Both were witnesses in a supreme court defamation hearing at which Fairfax was using the defence of truth against damages being awarded to Fawcett for a Sun Herald gossip column that had called him Sydney’s ‘most disliked freelance photographer’, and a ‘cowboy type’ who had wreaked ‘havoc’ on Kidman’s private life. The fatal attraction between the two is long and complex. Kidman is one of the world’s top celebrities, demanding huge fees for movies whether they are flops or hits, an actress whose fame does not rest so much on her thespian abilities (indeed critics often seem surprised when she turns in a good performance) as on her being constantly in the public eye because of her private life. Jamie Fawcett is merely the most notorious of the thirty or so paparazzi that work the Sydney beat, feeding the insatiable appetite of supermarket magazines for celebrity gossip. As Fawcett says, ‘Most readers of celebrity magazines want to see photographs of celebrities going about their lives, doing ordinary things, doing the shopping, arguing with the kids.’

Kidman took out an interim AVO against Fawcett after the car chase incident and accused him of planting a bugging device outside her home. Later, she attempted to create a temporary truce with Sydney’s photographer pack by sending a slab of beer out to them during her preparations for the Keith Urban wedding. But in April this year, presumably unaware of any contradiction,  parked a 24/7 solar-powered surveillance van of her own outside her Darling Point mansion to photograph anybody who approached, and demand they say their name into a tape recorder. Fawcett, on the other hand, hired a yacht to sail near to where Urban and Kidman were honeymooning in Tahiti to photograph them with an extreme telephoto lens. But these spats are just more skirmishes in on ongoing war between celebs and paps in Sydney. For instance Sydney photographers squirted Heath Ledger with water pistols on the red carpet of the Brokeback Mountain premiere in retaliation for him spitting at them while he was shooting Candy.

If we iris out to this larger war we can see that what is really at stake is not Nicole’s precious privacy but the circulation of her face in the media. A celebrity’s capital is their instantly recognisable face. It is that which tops the designer frock on the red carpet, and that which is imperfectly disguised behind goggle sunglasses as the designer tots are loaded into the Hummer. Like any economic capital the use and distribution of the celebrity face needs to be closely controlled and regulated: it needs to remain scarce so its value remains high, but it also needs to be continually used so that it maintains its currency. This is what both celebrity and paparazzo implicitly understand and why they must be perpetually in conflict. As one paparazzo succinctly put it: ‘It’s the price of fame, my son. If we stop taking his picture, his price goes down. This is give and take, it’s fame. It’s the name of the game. You give us some of your private life because you earn so much money. That’s the way it works.’

Both push against the wall of acceptability from opposite sides. To Fawcett a celebrity should accept the responsibility of being photographed from any public space, since there is no legal right of visual privacy in public spaces for the rest of us. To Kidman, returning to her home town should grant her special ‘time off’ from the Hollywood hurly-burly. Kidman refuses to acknowledge that Sydney is now no longer the quaint home town of mum’s lamb roast, but has been turned by PR agents such as her own Wendy Day into a permanently over-exposed stage for celebrity spectacle, plugged as instantly into the global circulation of celebrity images as Hollywood, London or Paris. Fawcett, who himself has now become a celebrity in his own right, photographed by the AAP snapper Dean Lewins leaving the court room in a grey overcoat, refuses to realize that the toxic contract between celebrity and photography has caused its own blow back, where everybody has become more suspicious of the ulterior motives of men with cameras. All of us, whether celebrity or pleb, now instinctively wonder about what contracts we may be unwittingly entering into when we are photographed in public.

Meanwhile the judge has reserved her decision.


On February 27 the NSW Supreme Court judge Carolyn Simpson ruled in favour of Fairfax. Fawcett was not entitled to any damages, plus he was ordered to pay Fairfax’s legal costs which, when added to his own legal bill, will amount to several hundred thousand dollars. The Judge accepted Fairfax’s argument that the defamatory meanings in the case — including that Fawcett had behaved in such an intrusive and threatening manner that he had scared the actor — were true. In her judgment she said: ‘Ms Kidman was clearly afraid. The evidence amply demonstrates that Mr Fawcett’s conduct was `intrusive’ and `threatening’. ‘He was clearly motivated to obtain such a photograph, and he recognised that his remaining opportunities on that evening were very limited indeed.’ The Justice also found that Fawcett had placed a listening device outside Kidman’s eastern Sydney home in 2005, despite police not having charged him after investigating the incident. Outside court Fawcett said he was very disappointed with the judge’s ruling and was likely to appeal. “It is a massive economic decision for me,” said Fawcett, adding that he was “already hurting financially”.

Although this was a defamation case against a newspaper about derogatory comments made in its gossip column, it is likely to be received as a case where paparazzo versed celebrity and the paparazzo lost. It is likely to be accepted as a case that gives credence to the growing belief that there is some right of ‘privacy’ that protects the face, even in public, and some prima facie intrusiveness to any use of the camera.

Martyn Jolly

Faces of the Living Dead

‘Faces of the Living Dead’, paper, Junk Writing Conference, University College Worcester, UK, 2002,  7 — 9 August.

In the aftermath of the World War One spirit photography became extraordinarily popular in Britain and Australia. Among its high profile advocates was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the famous creator of that arch rationalist Sherlock Holmes. In 1919 Doyle went to Britain’s most famous spirit photographer, William Hope, to try to obtain a photograph of his son who had died as a result of wounds received in the war. He published the resulting image in Britain’s Sunday Pictorial, and in Melbourne’s Herald, and wrote:

I opened the packet in the darkroom and put the plate in the carrier. I had already carefully examined the camera and lens. I was photographed, the two mediums holding their hands on top of the camera. I then took the carrier into the darkroom, took out the plate, developed, fixed and washed it, and then, before leaving the darkroom, saw the extra head upon the plate. On examining with a powerful lens the face of the ‘extra’ I have found such a marking as is produced in newspaper process work. It is very possible that the whole picture, which has a general, but not very exact, resemblance to my son, was conveyed onto the plate from some existing picture. However that may be, it was most certainly supernormal, and not due to any manipulation or fraud. [1]

Doyle’s testimony is characteristic of many people’s experience of spirit photography. There was a ‘laying on of hands’ by the spirit photographer; the presence of the sitter during the alchemical processes in the darkroom;  and despite obvious signs that the spirit image had been appropriated from another source, ultimate belief because the sitter felt a compelling sense of recognition for the spirit extra.

Doyle had been a jingoistic propagandist during the war, in which he not only lost his son, but also his brother. Virtually very other family was experiencing similar grief. Since the war the, “sight of a world which was distraught with sorrow and eagerly asking for help and knowledge”, had compelled him to use his fame and personal wealth to proselytise the cause in bluff pugnacious lectures delivered from platforms across the world.[2] In 1920 and 1921 he spoke to 50,000 people in Australia alone. According to Melbourne’s Age the message of his lectures, that the dead lived and could communicate, would provide implicit comfort to, “the mothers of Australian lads who died so grandly in the War”.[3]

In 1920 another medium photographer, Mrs Ada Deane, joined William Hope in offering sittings for one guinea each at the British College of Psychic Science in West London. The satirical newspaper John Bull sent two anonymous investigators to a sitting.

We were asked to sit on a wicker settee before a dark screen or background. Then, handing us each a hymn book, a hymn was selected and sung. At the close of this Mrs Deane commenced to sing vigorously We Shall Meet on the Beautiful Shore, and intimated that we should ‘join in’. … Mrs Deane then collected our slides in her hands, placing one at the top and one at the bottom. She instructed us to place our hands in a similar manner over hers, and in this position we recited the Lords Prayer.[4]

They took some of Mrs Deane’s photographic plates to the photographic manufacturer Ilford who examined them and reported that they had been pre-exposed to light in a plate-holder. The paper headlined with: AMAZING SPIRIT CAMERA FRAUDS, PSYCHIC EXPERIMENTER CAUGHT RED HANDED IN TRANSPARENT DECEPTION AND TRICKERY.

But many Spiritualist believers simply couldn’t understand how such a ordinary, earnest woman, as Mrs Deane so obviously was, who had brought comfort and joy to thousands of sorrowing hearts, could be periodically attacked by sceptics and accused of cheating her clients with elaborate sleight-of-hand tricks. Mr F. W. Fitzsimons, for instance, found Mrs Deane to be a cheery, pleasant faced old soul, simple and uneducated in the ways and evils of the world of men, and with the hallmark of absolute honesty imprinted on her face. On one of his visits to Mrs Deane, Fitzsimons encountered a sad, care-worn-looking man in the garb of a clergyman. The clergyman was clutching a psychic photograph of his recently deceased wife. “My wife and I had been married twenty years, and we were childless”, he explained, “she was all I lived for. Recently she died, and my religion has given me no comfort or solace. I was in despair, and grew resentful against God. A friend told me about faces of deceased people appearing on photographs. I had four exposures made. Two were blanks, one had the psychic face of someone I did not recognise, and the other held that of my wife, and here it is”. “Can such a thing be true?”, he asked Fitzsimons, tears gathering in his eyes, “To me it seems impossible, yet I succeeded in getting the picture of my wife”. “If such a thing be true, why does not the suffering, anguished world know about it?”, he cried. “Because”, Fitzsimons answered, “people as a whole are steeped in materialism, self-conceit, ignorance, intolerance and bigotry”.[5]

Spirit photographs functioned in quite a different way to the monumental, closed, mute, funeral portrait. The portrait photograph has often been associated with the irrevocability of death because it freezes a moment of life permanently in the past, while giving it only a vicarious presence in the present. In this morbid theory the photograph intimates our own mortality because one day we, too, will remain frozen in time. In a sense the photograph ‘corpses’ time. Spirit photography was such a compelling idea during this period because it took the ‘corpsed’ photograph and miraculously revivified it as evidence of life beyond the grave. By inserting a ghost into the photograph, it made the photograph itself less corpselike. It reversed the past tense, the ‘that has been’ of the photograph, into a future tense: ‘this will continue to be’.

I’ve been guiltily fascinated by spirit photography for a couple of years now. Very much against my better judgement I’ve devoted my time to becoming an expert on spirit photography, and have published a small biography of Mrs Deane. I just haven’t been able to stop myself going back day after day to libraries and archives to find out more about Spiritualism and early spirit photographers. In the Cambridge University Library I came across nearly one thousand spirit photographs taken by Mrs Ada Deane, pasted in grids of twelve into the pages of four large leather bound albums. I got Cambridge to make copies of some of the photographs for me and I burrowed into them with Photoshop to produce a series of art works for an exhibition. I found myself gravitating not to the spirit ‘extras’, but to the faces of those who had paid for their sitting with Mrs Deane. These people, once so desperate for an image of their departed loved ones, are now themselves all dead also, but ironically revenant in the photograph. As they were photographed in the act of channelling an image from the Other Side their faces appeared confused, doubtful, worried, tired and distracted.

I also published a small biography of Mrs Deane which I conceived of as a kind of artist’s book. The Spiritualists where prolix writers and enthusiastic publishers, and I found many journals, pamphlets, proselytising tracts and reminiscences to draw on. I collected all the ones relevant to Mrs Deane and then ordered them into a narrative and strung them together by either directly quoting, or closely paraphrasing them. I tried to retain the flavour of their original prose—which is always pulled between the breathless excitement the writer obviously feels for what they are experiencing, and the need they also feel to appear to be sober and dispassionate in their reporting of positive evidence for spiritualist phenomena—while homogenising and modernising the texts just enough to make it a smooth read. I sometimes thought that I was acting as an amanuensis for these people. Although I remain a materialist, my enthusiasm for their enthusiasm matched their enthusiasm for what was to them the manifest truths of spirit photography and automatic writing.

Besides spirit photography there were many other ways in which the dead made their continuing existence known to the living. Spirit guides acted as go-betweens, taking possession of the medium, speaking with her voice, and relaying messages from relatives and loved ones whilst she was in a trance. Spirits also moved planchettes or ouija borads to speel out messages letter by letter, or tapped in code. But beside the direct voice trance medium the most common means of communication was automatic writing. This was done either in a complete trance or whilst semiconscious.

Within Spiritualism theories of automatic writing didn’t draw on models of inspiration, delirium or poetic suggestion, rather they drew on technological models of telecommunication. For instance the experience of William Howitt is described by his daughter.

My father had not sat many minutes passive, holding a pencil in his hand upon a sheet of paper, ere something resembling an electric shock ran through his arm and hand; whereupon the pencil began to move in circles. The influence becoming stronger and ever stronger, moved not only the hand but the whole arm in a rotary motion, till the arm was at length raised, and rapidly— as if it had been the spoke of a wheel propelled by machinery—whirled irresistibly in a wide sweep, and at great speed, for some ten minutes, through the air. The effect of this rapid motion was felt by him in the muscles of the arm for some times afterwards. Then the arm being again at rest the pencil, in the passive fingers, began gently, but clearly and decidedly, to move.[6]

This was a mechanical model, seeing the medium as a kind of human telegraph machine. Within this model even infants could become automatic writers. Mr Wason, a well known spiritualist from Liverpool, saw a six months old baby write: “I love this little child. God bless him. Advise his father to go back to London on Monday by all means—Susan.” Celina, a child of three and a half, wrote: ” I am glad to manifest through a charming little medium of three and a half who promise well. Promise me not to neglect her.”

This direct machinic model of automatic writing was complemented by another model of collaborative amanuensis. This relied on a more complex quasi Freudian model of an inner and outer mind which separated an imagistic notion of an essential ‘thought message’ out from the language and scriptography into which it was translated. When the psychic pioneer Frederick Myers died he continued to write from the Other Side through a medium called Miss Cummins. His discarnate spirit wrote:

The inner mind is very difficult to deal with from this side. We impress it with our message. We never impress the brain of the medium directly, that is out of the question. But the inner mind receives our message and sends it on to the brain. The brain is a mere mechanism. The inner mind is like soft wax, it receives our thoughts, their whole content, but it must produce the words that clothe it. That is what makes cross-correspondence so very difficult. We may succeed in sending the thought through, but the actual words depend largely on the inner mind’s content, on what words will frame the thought.[7]

Towards the end of 1922 a London medium began to receive messages from the Other Side, via automatic writing, that a photographic group of ‘Tommies’ and sailors who had passed on in the war had been prepared, and if she carried out their directions they had every hope of getting this image onto a photographic plate. The spirits requested that Mrs Deane take a picture at Whitehall during the Two Minutes Silence. A group of spiritualists were placed in the crowd to produce a ‘barrage of prayer’ and so concentrate the psychic energy, and Mrs Deane took two exposures from a high wall over the crowd, one just before the Silence, and one for the entire two minutes of the Silence. When the plates were developed the first showed a mass of light over the praying Spiritualists, and in the second what was described by the spirit as a “river of faces” and an “aerial procession of men” appeared to float dimly above the crowd. Further spirit messages gave details about how the images were produced:

Material is used from the active body of the medium to build up the picture. The material is either impressed by the communicator directly himself, or moulds are made beforehand. The armistice photographs were probably prepared beforehand in groups and either impressed upon the plates before, during, or after the Two Minutes Silence.[8]

I am interested in spirit photographs because, on the one hand, in the emotional effect they had on their audience, and in the visceral connection with their absent loved ones which they gave them, they seem to confirm all that is most powerful about photography; however, on the other hand, in their structure and execution, and in their use of amateurish ‘special effects’, they seem to erode the very ontological foundations on which that photographic power is built. For me, therefore, spirit photographs enable an, admittedly eccentric, critique of the normative epistemology of twentieth century photography.

Spirit photographs are performative. Their power lies not in their relationship to a pro-filmic Real elsewhere in time and space, but their audience’s relationship to them in the audience’s own time and place. They solicit a tacit suspension of disbelief from their audience, while at the same time they brazenly inveigle a tacit belief in special effects. These special effects are traded from other genres such as cinema or stage-craft using the currency of the audience’s thirst for belief. They shamelessly exploit the wounded psychology of their audience to confirm their truth, not by their mute indexical reference to the Real, but through the audience’s own indexical enactment of their traumatic affect. Their truth is not an anterior truth, but a manifest truth that is indexed by the audience as they feel the shock of recognition of their departed loved ones.

The theory of the spiritualist portrait does not conform to the more obvious model of the photographer’s studio, with spirits manifesting themselves to be photographed in front of the camera. Rather the dominant model is the printer’s press, or sculptor’s foundry, where image moulds are prepared on the Other Side, and then impressed into soft photoplasm during the sitting. On an obvious level, the elaborate explanations which spiritualist researchers came up with to explain the effects were their attempts to maintain belief in the face of what were more easily explainable as signs of fraud (flat looking extras, hard cut-out edges, the presence of half-tone dot screens, different lighting, and so on). But in doing so they invented and sustained an extraordinarily compelling, moving, and poetic photographic system.

The complex theory of spirit photography sees the spirit photograph as a completely different thing to the ordinary photograph. The locus for the spiritualist system of photography is not the camera, the lens and the shutter. That technical assemblage, of a shutter vertically slicing a rectilinearly projected image, has been central to photographic theory, with a direct lineage going back to the renaissance. Instead, the locus for spiritualist photography was the sensitive photographic plate alone.

The process of making a spirit photograph is not that of ‘snapping’ an image of an anterior scene and thereby making a direct stencil from the Real; rather it is a process of activating the photographic emulsion as a soft, wet, labile membrane between two worlds — the living and the dead, experience and memory. The spirit photograph’s emulsion is sensitised chemically by the application of developers, and magically by the meeting of hands and the melding of mutual memories. The resultant image is not the mute and inert residue of an optical process, decisively excised from time and space, but a hyper-sensitised screen which two images had reached out from opposite sides to touch, both leaving behind their imprint.

Photographic emulsion — creamy, gelatinous, sensitive to light, bathed in chemicals, and cradled by hands — became poetically and technically related to the most mysterious, potent substance in the spiritualist’s world: ectoplasm. Ectoplasm was rooted in the materiality of the body, it was feminine, moist and labile and often smelt of the bodily fluids it was imagistically related to (because, in fact, it was usually chiffon secreted in the medium’s vagina, or ingested by her before the séance). Ectoplasm could form itself into shapes (in the nineteenth century it could even embody, or body forth, complete material spirits who would walk around the room), but it could also act as an emulsion — receiving imprints or filling moulds. In spirit photography ectoplasm was not only a physical stage in a process of transubstantiation, but also a technological interface, a bio/techno diaphragm.

To me the recently renewed interest in spirit photography reveals the continued power and enigma of the photographic image, despite predictions in the 1990s of its digital demise. The spirit photograph of the 1920s resonates with the ways the photograph as artefact is still used today in both public and private rituals of memory, mourning and loss.

Martyn Jolly

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his Son, Harbinger of Light, 1919, October 1919.

N. Fodor, Encyclopedia of Psychic Science, London, Arthurs Press Limited, 1933,

Conan Doyle in Australia, Light, 1920, December 18, 1920.


F. W. Fitzsimons, Opening the Psychic Door: Thirty Years Experiences, London, Hutchinson & Co, 1933,

E. Stead, Faces of the Living Dead, Manchester, Two Worlds Publishing Company, 1925,

[1]Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his Son, Harbinger of Light, 1919, October 1919.

[2]Doyle entry in, Fodor, Encyclopedia of Psychic Science, London, Arthurs Press Limited, 1933.

[3]Conan Doyle in Australia, Light, 1920, December 18, 1920.

[4]Pilley, John Bull, 1921, 17 December 1921.

[5]Fitzsimons, Opening the Psychic Door: Thirty Years Experiences, London, Hutchinson & Co, 1933, .

[6] Automatic writing entry in, Fodor, Encyclopedia of Psychic Science, London, Arthurs Press Limited, 1933.


[8]Stead, Faces of the Living Dead, Manchester, Two Worlds Publishing Company, 1925, .

Eyes, Lies and Illusions

‘Eyes, Lies and Illusions’, review in Art Monthly Australia, May, 2007, pp10 — 14.

Drawn from the Werner Nekes Collection
Australian Centre for the Moving Image
2 November 2006 to 11 February 2007

Many popular histories of cinema insult the audiences of the past with the myth that at one of the first demonstrations of the cinematograph in 1895 the audience, convinced that a real train was bearing down on them, ran screaming from hall. Of course they didn’t. They certainly cried out in astonishment, but not because they were naively duped. Rather, as the operator made the familiar projected photograph suddenly lurch into movement they realized they were finally witnessing a new category of illusionism that had long been anticipated. This event was as much just another astounding moment from a centuries-long history of illusionism, as it was the nativity scene for the movies. For a long time the industrial-strength historicism of Hollywood has tended to occlude the larger and more dispersed history of which it is a part. But although it is full of arcane byways and bizarre events, this history can nonetheless still tell us a lot about our own mediated relationships with reality.

Although it has directly addressed central philosophical questions of optical perception, epistemological belief and physical embodiment over many centuries, the history of illusionism lies scattered over a bewildering array of toys, devices, instruments, performances, and barely creditable anecdotes. For instance we have the camera obscura, an instrument for the sober investigation of nature, which was modified into a magic lantern, rolling its phantasmic images out across the darkness. The magic lantern was then incorporated into the phantasmagoria — a diabolical theatre-show first staged in an abandoned French nunnery in Paris during the Terror. And then we have all the wonderful optical toys of the nineteenth century, ennobled with their fabulously ornate Greek names: the anorthoscope, the coptograph, the phenakistiscope, the thaumatrope and the zoetrope. Or we have all the many and various graphical illusions, finely engraved by the likes of Hogarth and Dürer, but also found as cheap reproductions on cigarette cards or on the backs of countless comic books.

This history has progressed from being associated with the diabolical in the medieval period, since illusionists copied the stratagems of the devil who also performed his seductions by mimicry; to being associated with the domestic parlour in the nineteenth century, where rational children were educated to be wary of tricks of perception or fickle appearance; to being associated with the mass distractions of popular entertainment in the modern period. Along the way each of these periods has embedded its potent associations into subsequent developments like geological substrata.

Like an optical illusion itself, this fabulously diverse history has evaded standard historiographic scrutiny or disciplinary recuperation. Yet it is a coherent field that brings together different disciplines which at first sight might appear to have very little in common, but which have increasingly becoming seen to be inextricably bound up with each other: optics, technology, physiology, perspective, colour theory, magic, religion, belief, and spectatorship. It has only been individual collectors, driven by their private passions and deep compulsions, who have intuited these connections and preserved this supremely ephemeral heritage for all of us.

Preeminent amongst these collectors is Werner Nekes, a German professor and experimental filmmaker, described as one of the last surviving baroque polymaths, who has been amassing his own Wunderkammer of the history of illusion for forty years.  Since 2001 parts of his vast collection have formed the basis of exhibitions at major institutions around the world such as the Getty and London’s Hayward Gallery. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image has cannily piggy-backed on the Hayward exhibition and staged their own version in Melbourne.

In the Melbourne selection we really got the sense that we are experiencing a major collection as we look, for example, at an original copy of Athanasius Kircher’s classic Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (The Great Art of Light and Shadow), from 1646, or look at one of the few magic lanterns to have survived from the 1600s, which even in its corroded and rudimentary simplicity is recognisably the direct ancestor of that staple of the contemporary art exhibition, the data projector.

The exhibition attempted to install the projection devices, peep boxes, transparent pictures and other illusions in the gallery space to recreate as sensitively as possible the often intimate encounter between viewer and image which the power of the illusion relied upon. It was also at pains to not just be an exhibition of pre-cinema, but carry the broader story of illusionism on in parallel to cinema. The core Werner Nekes collection was complemented by the work of twentieth century artists and contemporary international and Australian artists which recreated and relived some of the original wonder first felt by the original viewers of all these strange devices.

We had Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs from 1935, cheekily throbbing in and out as their motors ground away on the wall. We had Christian Boltanski’s The Shadows, playing a joke on the fear of death by reducing the scary shadows of skeletons and ghosts to the improvised little dolls from which they were cast. Then there was the show’s highlight, Anthony McCall’s magisterial Line Describing a Cone from 1973, which in its formal austerity could also be used as a prism through which to reconsider the whimsical extravagance of the rest of the show. Line Describing a Cone is a 16mm film shown in a fog-filled room. At the beginning of the thirty-minute duration of the film a single point of light is projected through the fog, this slowly grows to be a curved line, then eventually becomes a circle, drawing a complete hollow cone within the fog-filled space. As they move about in the space the bodies of participants incise themselves into the cone, revealing it as actual, physical and present, at the same time as it is optical, virtual and recorded.

The exhibition was accompanied by a fabulous catalogue, a reprint of the original Hayward publication which stands alone on its own terms. It has an essay by Marina Warner, the historian of belief and illusion, who covers the whole field in a characteristically panoramic sweep, from Aristotle who said ‘the soul never thinks without a mental image’, to the present day when, according to postmodern philosophers such as Slavoj Zizek, our reliance on visual prostheses has turned us all into wanderers in ‘the desert of the real’. There is also an authoritative and fascinating account of pre-cinema history by Laurent Mannoni. But the best thing about the catalogue is the illustrations, which retain all the sense of fun and wonder of the original objects. Roll up the supplied silvered cardboard into a tube to reveal a pornographic scene illicitly secreted within an anamorphic distortion of 1750. Move the supplied clear plastic sheet back and forth over Ludwig Wilding’s op-art graphic of 1999 to make the moebius strip appear to cycle around perpetually.

On page 190 the oldest illusion of them all — the afterimage, know even to the ancients — is demonstrated. You stare at a reproduction of a 1930s postcard for a minute or two, then flick your eyes across to the opposite blank white page. Suddenly an unmistakable image of Greta Garbo pulses out at you before fading, like a squid squirting ink into the ocean. Where was Greta? Was she on the page, or in our retina? And why did the retinal afterimage seem to suddenly cohere so surprisingly, and fade so poignantly? Was it because Garbo’s face, that of the reclusive movie star who straddled another paradigm shift in the history of illusion from silent to sound cinema, is still such a collectively recognisable icon in mass culture? Elsewhere the catalogue informs us that in 1765 the afterimage was scientifically investigated by Chevalier Patrice d’Arcy, who swung a lump of burning coal on a rope and timed the revolutions. Through this diabolically cunning method he established that the afterimage lasts for eight-sixtieths of a second, thereby establishing the minimum frame rate of sixteen frames a second for the cinematograph, which was not to be practicable for another 130 years.

The lesson this show teaches us is that historically deception keeps pace with perception. One will never outpace the other because they are in constant exchange. Our continual pleasure in illusion is the reminder, yet again, that each is grounded in the other. We may feel only a faint residual delight at the recreated lantern slide projections of two hundred years ago, which have been made historically quaint for us by the subsequently engineered elaborations on the basic technology, but we will assuredly be bodily thrown back in our seats by the latest CGI effects of the next Hollywood blockbuster we see. However we just need to enter Renato Colangelo and Darren Davison’s walk-in camera obscura erected for the show in Federation Square to feel the exact same wonder that underpins both historical moments. We see people silently walking, upside down, past Flinders Street Station. They are there, but here as well; real, but yet unreal at the same time.

Martyn Jolly

International Documentary Photography

Of course every photograph is in some sense a document of something else. The very essence of the photography is its ability to make pictorial ‘documents’ of events, be they an abstracted photogram of glass objects arranged and exposed in a darkroom, or an image of a car running a red light recorded by an automatic traffic camera. Nonetheless, the word ‘documentary’ has become used to describe a very particular photographic practice within the medium, or perhaps more accurately, a very particular ethos subscribed to by some photographers. The word has become used not so much to describe a discrete photographic style, or even a particular historical movement, but a complex set of almost moral attitudes to the medium passionately adhered to by some photographers. To the documentary photographer the camera is a tool with which they can personally witness, and perhaps even change, the world.

During the American Civil War (1861-65) the photographer Matthew Brady hired a corps of other photographers to cover all of the major battles for him from their photographic vans, feeding a hungry market in the cities with over 8000 stereo views and cartes-de-visite, which were available for sale from his New York studio. Some were also hand-cut into wood engravings for illustrated magazines. Although the vast majority of the photographs were relatively mundane, the battle views, which because of long exposure times had to be taken after the event, quickly became the most famous. Even though some photographers re-arranged the corpse-strewn battlefields, dragging the corpses into more dramatic compositions and even getting assistants to pose as additional corpses, the visceral connection such photographs forged between the war and the viewer at home was overwhelming. In 1862 the New York Times commented: ‘If [Mr Brady] has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it. […] These pictures have a terrible distinctness. By the aid of a magnifying-glass the very features of the slain may be distinguished.’ [1]

Towards the end of the 1800s the New York police reporter turned social reformer Jacob Riis began to use the flare of magnesium flash powder to penetrate the obscurity of the slums of the Lower East Side. Riis’s flash photographs captured his dishevelled subjects in raw oblivion to the camera’s presence. As the New York Sun reported the ‘night pictures were faithful and characteristic, being mostly snapshots and surprises. In the daytime [the photographers] could not always avoid having their object known, and struggle as they might against it, they could not altogether prevent the natural instinct of fixing up for a picture from being followed’[2] Riis showed his pictures as lantern slides with accompanying commentary, and published them, not as hand cut wood engravings, but as direct half-tone reproductions, in the seminal book How the Other Half Lives, 1890. As a result of his campaigning significant changes were made to the laws surrounding New York’s tenements.

The National Child Labour Committee also recognised the persuasive power of the photograph. Between 1908 and 1918 they hired the sociologist Lewis Hine to travel around the US taking photographs of child labourers in mines and factories. He used deliberate camera angles and framing to emphasise the small stature and pathetic isolation of the child workers, and recorded their names, ages, origins and circumstances. The resulting images, such as Dinnertime. Family of Mrs A. J. Young, Tifton G.A. 1909; Raymond Bykes, Western Union, Norfolk, Va. 1911 and Norman Hall, 210 Park Street, G.A. 1913, were published in the social reform magazine Survey, and used for lantern slide lectures and posters. In the posters the photographs were often laid out graphically to visually tell a story. In ‘Making Human Junk’ for instance, the ‘good material’ of healthy children is processed by a factory into the ‘junk’ of child labourers. To Hine the photograph was a ‘symbol that brings one immediately into close touch with reality […] it tells a story packed into the most condensed and vital form. […] it is more effective than the reality would have been because, in the picture, the non-essential and conflicting interests have been eliminated.’[3]

By the 1920s that the word ‘documentary’ was being used to describe this new genre of photography. In 1926 the British influential film theorist John Grierson coined the most commonly used definition of the word: the ‘creative treatment of actuality’. This phrase somewhat gnomically captured documentary’s double sense of the camera penetrating a raw social reality, supposedly unaffected by the photographer’s presence, while at the same time the photographer’s ‘vision’ selected, interpreted, symbologized and narrativised that reality in order for it to have maximum impact on the viewer.

This ethic reached its full flowering during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1935 the US Government under its New Deal policies set up the Farm Security Administration. Its Historical Section conducted a photographic survey of rural deprivation. The economist Roy Stryker hired a group of photographers, including Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, to travel across the continent, particularly in the poor South, and send back exposed film to him in Washington to be developed, edited, captioned and distributed to newspapers and magazines. By the end of its life the FSA had assembled an archive of 180 000 images.

Dorothea Lange had previously produced documentary photographs of depression poverty such as White angel breadline, San Francisco of 1932, which with its dynamic composition dramatically compressed the human tension in the scene. For the FSA she produced another image with a similarly compacted triangular composition — Migrant Mother 1936. It was reproduced immediately in the San Francisco News, leading to food being sent to the pea pickers camp where it had been taken, and was hung in the Museum of Modern Art in 1941, which led to it becoming a national icon of madonna-like forbearance in the face of suffering.

Walker Evans shot his subjects frontally with a large-format camera, describing, as in Untitled (street scene Southern city) c1936, the solidity of surfaces and forms in objective, rectilinear detail. In 1938 he exhibited his FSA photographs at the Museum of Modern Art and published them in the monograph American Photographs, where for the first, rather than being reproduced amongst columns of text in magazines and newspapers, they were reproduced as art in a careful sequence, one image at a time, and with minimal captioning. The introduction to the book described Evans’s work as ‘straight’ photography — ‘there has been no need for Evans to dramatize his material with photographic tricks, because the material is already, in itself, intensely dramatic. Even the inanimate things, bureau drawers, pots, tires, bricks, signs, seem waiting in their own patient dignity, posing for their picture.’[4]

In 1936 Evans had lived for a time in the shack of an Alabama sharecropper family. On assignment from Fortune magazine, he and the writer James Agee probed into the minutia of the their downtrodden lives as they shared their private space. When Evans’s fine-grained images of the dry, scrubbed surfaces of the house and the lined, weathered faces of the family were reproduced, together with Agee’s extended lyrical text, in the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1941, they served to not only dignify, but almost ennoble the family’s stoical poverty.

Many FSA-style photographs were reproduced in Life magazine, the most famous picture magazine of the period. Commencing publication in 1936, Life used new high-speed presses, coated paper-stock, and quick-drying inks to cheaply reproduce photographs in both quality and quantity. Featuring easy to digest ‘picture stories’ — photographs with short captions spread across several pages — Life reached a circulation of six million by 1960, before the alternative entertainment of television began erode it sales figures.

Life’s optimistic patriotism and belief in American values fed directly into a massive exhibition of 503 giant photographic enlargements selected from 273 photographers by the famous photographer and curator Edward Steichen. Called The Family Of Man, it was exhibited as a spectacular installation at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955, and then toured the world in several versions as a form of Cold War propaganda, even reaching Moscow in 1959. It saw the human race as one big ‘family’, modelled on the supposed ideal the American nuclear family, and celebrated birth, love, marriage, and death as eternal humanist values. The exhibition was massively popular, but was not without its critics. When it reached Paris in 1956 the cultural theorist Roland Barthes excoriated it for cloaking continuing social inequalities across the world with supposed ‘universal’ values: ‘Whether or not the child is born with ease or difficulty, whether or not his birth causes suffering to his mother, whether or not he is threatened by a high mortality rate, whether or not such and such a type of future is open to him: this is what your Exhibitions should be telling people, instead of the eternal lyricism of birth. The same goes for death: must we really celebrate its essence once more, and thus risk forgetting that there is still so much we can do to fight it?’[5]

The advent of smaller cameras such as the Leica, designed around cinematographic film and introduced in 1925, had allowed photographer to work  in more difficult and different places. Picture agencies, such as Berlin’s Dephot agency founded in 1928, or New York’s Black star Agency founded in 1936, began to supply photographs from their networks of photographers to the new, cheap, mass circulation, flick-through, picture magazines such as Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung (begun 1884), Britain’s Picture Post (begun 1938) and Paris’s Vu (begun 1928), who used skilled graphic designers to lay them out in visually exciting collages of image and text.

In 1936 Vu sent the Dephot agency photographer Robert Capa to cover the Spanish Civil War, where he photographed a falling republican soldier. When the photograph was republished by Life the following year it was captioned: ‘Robert Capa’s camera catches a Spanish soldier the instant he is dropped by a bullet through the head in front of Cordoba.’[6] Although recent scholarship has convincingly suggested that this famous photograph was staged, it is still a touchstone for twentieth century photo-journalism because it gave the viewer a strong sense of the intrepid bravery of the photographer risking his own life so the viewer could be vicariously immersed in the unfolding event itself.[7]

Henri Cartier-Bresson switched to the Leica in 1932 and began a caree photographing around the world selling his images through picture agencies. He photographed nimbly, moving quickly and unnoticed through events, seeking the instant where the three dimensions of the event, and the two dimensions of the photograph, would cohere into what he called the ‘decisive moment’. In his 1952 book The Decisive Moment he wrote: ‘In photography there is a new kind of plasticity, [a] product of the instantaneous lines made by movements of the subject. […] But inside movement there is one moment at which the elements in motion are in balance. Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it.’[8] This famous philosophy, which is evident in various degrees in all of his photographs, including At the Opera 1950s, became a shorthand way to describe the visual power of the attuned photographer to apparently encapsulate an entire event in a single image.

In 1947 Cartier-Bresson, Capa, and other photographers, founded the photo agency Magnum, which became the most prestigious and famous face of the documentary ethos. In the 1950s Ernst Haas (Egyptian boys, 1955); Elliot Erwitt (New York City, 1953 and Moscow, 1959); and Willy Ronis (Le vigneron girondin, 1945), were members. Recent members have included Sebastiao Salgado and the art photographer Martin Parr. Salgado works on global projects with big humanitarian themes, such as his book Workers of 1993. Although grittily ‘real’, his photographs are also highly stylised, with compositions echoing old master paintings and endowed with a heightened sense of universal significance by dramatic high-contrast printing. Parr, on the other hand, who also works in book form, celebrated the cheap pleasure of the British working classes in bilious colour and with cruel irony in such books as The Last Resort, 1986.

As other forms of mass entertainment began to compete with the picture magazines, documentary photographers relied more and more on the art book and the gallery exhibition as a venue for their work. Weegee blasted New York’s late-night streets with a flash-gun and press camera to produce images such as Tramp 1940. But his shocking high-contrast crime scenes only became true pulp-opera when they were assembled into the inkily-black book New York, Naked City in 1945. In 1955 Robert Frank received a Guggenheim Fellowship to travel through America on a Beat-style road trip. Taking 28,000 photographs with his Leica, he sequenced 83 of them into the book The Americans, published in 1959. Although Frank was inspired by Evans’s American Photographs, his book subscribed to neither the desiccated nobility of the FSA, nor the cosy humanism of the Family of Man, rather it discovered isolated and lonely Americans caught within a worn-out, grainy America, which was in the process of fracturing into subcultures.

In the subsequent decades American photographers such as Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand  and William Eggleston  incessantly worked the sidewalks with their 35mm cameras, cramming the jumble of the street into their photographic frames. They edited the hundreds of thousands of photographs they took into thematic books and exhibitions with little or no text. An exception to this model of the street photographer was Diane Arbus, perhaps the most famous of the post war American documentary photographers, who was still working for magazines such as Harpers Bazaar when she was selected, along with Friedlander and Winnogrand, for the Museum of Modern Art’s seminal New Documents exhibition of 1967. Her portraits of eccentric, marginalised, vulnerable people undergoing ‘slow-motion private smashups’, to use Susan Sontag’s words, gained in universal power as they were removed from the narrative context of the picture stories for which they were taken, and exhibited in isolation on the gallery wall.[9]

Although it is now considerably more threadbare than in its glory days of the 1930s the genre of documentary photography still survives. The advent of digital photography has not changed the fundamentally ‘documentary’ nature of the photograph— we all still habitually believe that a photograph represents actuality. We are all still curious about ‘how the other half lives’, be they the desperately poor, the obscenely rich, or the distantly exotic. The decisive moment of the photograph retains its power to stop us in our tracks and momentarily mesmerise us, in a way a video grab still can’t.

Perhaps the aspect of documentary to have suffered the most damage is the idea of intrepid documentary photographers heroically seeking after the truth. Now they have to share space in the public’s imagination with less savoury types of photographers, such as sleazy paparazzi. In addition many of their icons have been revealed to be as theatrically staged as the rest of photography’s genres, and their motivations and effectiveness have also come into question. Once their photographs are out in the public domain can they protect their meanings from being hijacked by the many different contexts in which they are used, and the different captions they are given? Are they not just feeding our desire for short-term spectacle, our need to visually consume a momentary ‘hit’ of pity or disgust before we turn the page?

Photographers have responded to these questions in a variety of ways. For instance Larry Clark in Tulsa, 1971 or Nan Goldin in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1986 abandoned any sense of sociological objectivity or creative distance as they photographed from within their own lives, documenting the subcultures they were members of, and desperate events they actively took part in. Other photographers such as Laura Mulvey in The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems, 1975 attempted to reveal the ‘constructed’ nature of photographic truth by treating their photographs not as self-sufficient and self-explanatory chunks of reality, but by embedding them in laborious structures of textual qualification which declared that photography too was just another language system. The Chilean photographer Alfredo Jaar photographed in Rwanda just after the massacres of 1994. He wanted to bear witness to the genocide, but refused to flood the world with yet more disposable images of horror and despair. Instead, in the work Real Pictures, 1995, he built funereal monuments out of 372 sealed black boxes, each one containing one of his colour photographs of the massacres, with a textual description of the unseen image on the top of the box. Recently the ‘other half’, once the mere passive subjects of the documentary photographer’s compassionate camera, have now become image-makers themselves. Examples include Britain’s Black Audio Film Collective set up by black photographers and filmmakers in Hackney in London in 1982 in the aftermath of inner-city protests against racism

Perhaps the enduring thing documentary photography has bequeathed to us is not so much the familiar historical icons it has produced over its history, but its vast repositories of millions of unknown images which are now collected in picture libraries and data banks around the world. Many of them, like the Corbis archive, founded by Bill Gates in 1989, are now online and instantly accessible. But even these mega documentary archives, which have consumed older picture libraries, photo agency and newspaper collections, are being rivalled by the smaller quirky personal collections and the diverse vernacular archives which are constantly being unearthed. Perhaps these personal snapshots and anonymous record photographs, which were taken not in order to advance a social cause or express a creative vision, will ultimately be just as valuable to us as those taken under the banner of the word ‘documentary’.

[1] Quoted in Michel Frizot. A new history of photography, Kèonemann, Kèoln 1998, p144

[2] ‘Flashes from the Slums: Pictures Taken in Dark Places by the Lightning Process, Some of the Results of a Journey through the City with an Instantaneous Camera —the Poor the Idle and the Vicious’, New York Sun, February 12, 1888, reprinted in Beaumont Newhall. Photography : essays & images : illustrated readings in the history of photography, Secker & Warburg, London 1981, p156)

[3] Lewis Hine, ‘Social Photography: How the Camera May Help in Social Uplift’, quoted in Alan Trachtenberg. Reading American photographs : images as history, Mathew Brady to Walker Evans, Hill and Wang, New York, NY 1989, p207

[4] Walker Evans and Lincoln Kirstein. American photographs, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, N.Y 1988 np

[5] Roland Barthes, Mythologies, Paladin Grafton, London 1973, p102

[6] Life, 12 July 1937, p19

[7] Alex Kershaw. Blood and champagne : the life and times of Robert Capa, Macmillan, London 2002; Caroline Brothers. War and photography : a cultural history, Routledge, London ; New York 1997

[8] Henri Cartier-Bresson, ‘The Decisive Moment’, in Vicki Goldberg. Photography in print : writings from 1816 to the present, Simon and Schuster, New York 1981, p385

[9] Susan Sontag. On photography, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1979, p36

David Wills’ B3

Absolutely everybody in Australia, and many other people around the world, would recognise the Bananas in Pyjamas instantly.  To Australian children the lovable bananas in their blue and white striped pyjamas come from a phase they all went through in pre-school. They adore B1 and B2, as the characters call each other, as they rollick across their TV screens getting themselves into, and out of, all sorts of muddles with a delightfully light sense of humour. To Australian adults they are probably the least annoying of all the children’s TV characters. With their slightly camp relationship to each, and their absolutely unique shape — not a cuddly teddy bear or a twee fairy but a two metre tall banana — the identical odd couple of B1 and B2 are ripe for affectionate parody.

The Bananas in Pyjamas are part of the stable of children’s TV characters shown by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. A vast range of Banana merchandise, from plush toys to bed sheets, to backpacks, is available under licence for parents and grandparents to buy for their children’s presents. The ABC guards its copyright as jealously as any other corporation, but at the same time ordinary Australian people feel a sense of ownership and participation in the ABC that they don’t feel for other trans-national media organisations. Therefore, patterns from which you can knit your own Banana have been regularly published in popular magazines such as the Australian Women’s Weekly and in various home-craft magazines. Vernacular, home knitted Bananas regularly appear in children’s bedrooms, alongside the officially merchandised Banana clones which are produced in their thousands by factories in China.

You can’t just walk in and buy these lovingly knitted Bananas from toyshops or ABC franchises. You have to be attending a school fete or Saturday morning market, where you will stumble across them lying in anticipation on a lady’s trestle table, newly knitted in fresh wool and nestled amongst the piles of all of her other knitting — baby’s clothes and coat-hanger covers and beanies. Or you have to be browsing through a garage sale or Op Shop, where you might find one, with its wool smudged and fluffed after a lifetime’s use, amongst all of the other bruised and battered toys a child has grown out of, which they are now offering up for hopeful sale.

For several years David Wills has been rescuing Bananas from the lonely isolation of such places and assembling them into a collection. These ‘other’ Bananas aren’t stamped from the same factory template as the official plush toys, rather a different pair of hands has knitted each one from the same pattern. Each knitter has been more or less skillful in her stitching, each has chosen wool at a higher or lower level of virulence in the Bananas’ signature colours of yellow, blue and white, and each has stuffed the Bananas with more or less wadding, distending the stitches to different degrees in different shapes. Most importantly, each has applied in her own unique way those vital details: the stitching of the mouth and eyes and stalk — that last touch that finally animates the previously inert Banana with personality and life.

David Wills has taken each of these alternate Bananas — aberrant offshoots from an ideal root-stock — and made a series of respectful head and shoulder portraits of them. Toys and dolls have long been a favourite subject for photographers. But these images aren’t just microscopic still-lives of toys, or table-top tableaus of dolls and figurines enacting some socially parodic scenario. They are fully constituted portraits. Each Banana squarely faces the camera, and is allowed to present his own stitched-on face and his own acquired personality to the viewer. This is not a rogues gallery of mugshots. Photographed against a red background and framed in gold, the Bananas present an array of faces to be admired, like oil paintings in an ancestral hall, executive portraits in a boardroom, or graduand portraits in a yearbook. Bravely posing for their portraits in front of Wills’ camera, these knitted toys have none of the abjection of Mike Kelley’s hand knitted toys. They are not the pathetic tragic residue of an excess of cloying love, rather the individuality of that love, which is revealed by the careful repetition of Wills’s respectful portraiture, seems to have granted them an uncanny vitality, independence and autonomy.

Looking along the rows of faces the viewer can compare and contrast the ways in which the identical DNA of the original Banana knitting pattern has been nurtured into unique individuality. In general these Bananas, like their original models, exude generous bonhomie, they open their arms out to us and give us a great big goofy smile. Intelligence was never the original Bananas’ strong point. Part of B1 and B2’s charm, apart from the fact that they are only differentiated by the small ‘B1’ and ‘B2’ embroidered on their collars, is that as they are getting themselves into yet another muddle they are the are always the last to realize what their pre-school audience already, delightedly, knows. Most of the faces stitched onto the other knitted Banana have a similar naïve openness. Some even seem to open their pyjama jackets to us, showing us their generous woolly hearts like a cuddly Jesus. But not all of them. Once the core Banana DNA has bolted the stable of industrial replication it can genetically mutate into all kinds of new creatures. Some of the knitted Bananas seem to have changed gender, growing a well-padded maternal bosom between their outstretched arms. Others seemed to have even crossed over to the other side, with the blue stripes of their pyjamas darkening to black, and their wide grins being pinched into a Mephistophelian leer.

What allows these contrasts to take place, of course, is not only the unique love and care with which they were originally knitted, but the rigorous system of portraiture that allows us compare them. Evolution has trained us to interpret faces. We have to read the language of the face, no matter how crudely the eyes and mouth are delineated, just as we have to compare expressions when we see them presented in a clean grid, where the nuances of expressive inflection are amplified by their modulation of a serial pattern. In David Wills’ care these Bananas, who are mustered together after being scattered to the far corners of Australian vernacular culture, are now no longer alone, but re-united with their siblings. This family of ‘B3s’ are found to be just like each other on the one hand, but also utterly strange to each other on the other. And in that they are exactly like us.

Martyn Jolly