What makes the lantern slide experience distinctive from other media experiences?

What makes the lantern slide experience distinctive from other media experiences?


National Film and Sound Archive Scholars and Artists in Residence Presentation, 2011


The remarks I am going to make today are based on my initial brief encounter with the NFSA’s lantern slide collections. For the sake of brevity my remarks will not cover two significant collections in the Archive, the song slide collection, which is dealt with by the current excellent foyer show, and the theatre slide collection, which is large and fascinating, but falls outside the ambit of today’s talk. My remarks are based on several other diverse lantern slide collections in the Archive, but they do not go very deeply into any one collection, rather they are intended to be initial thoughts across a broad front which I offer in order to seek direction for the further research I might undertake. I’d also like to acknowledge that in preparing this talk I’ve relied on the previous published research of Elizabeth Hartrick, Chris Long and Shaune Lakin, as well as conversations with Dani Zuvela from Griffith University.



In April 1848 the Daguerreotypist Joseph Newland placed an ad in the Sydney Morning Herald that offered customers, along with a minstrel show, the following:


BEAUTIFUL SCIENTIFIC EXHIBITION OF DISSOLVING VIEWS/ Powerful oxy-hydrogen microscope, and newly discovered optical instrument/ THE CHROMATROPE/Mr Newland will exhibit his beautiful collection of dissolving views (as shown at the Polytechnic, Adelaide Gallery, etc) powerful oxy-hydrogen microscope, and dazzling chromatropes, by the aid of the celebrated/ DRUMMOND LIGHT/the apparatus is of the most splendid and costly description being of a scale of magnificence never before introduced in the colonies — calculated to blend instruction with amusement — to gratify the learned and the unlearned — refresh the memory of the scholar — and afford the general auditor a magnificent display./ 10,000 SQUARE FEET OF ILLUMINATED SCENERY (Hatrick Figure 1.1)

Newland was augmenting his itinerant Daguerreotype business by showing imported hand painted slides on imported magic lanterns. He is also showing an ‘oxy hydrogen microscope’, where live insects trapped between two sheets of glass were enlarged onto the screen, as well as chromatropes, two circular sheets of painted glass which were rotated in opposite directions against each other. All three experiences are driven by the unprecedented optical experience of the high-powered, white, limelight. A further advertisement he placed two weeks later details the transitions the viewer would experience through a total of forty slides, while an orchestra played:


Part I 1. Ponti Rotti, Rome; changing to 2. Hammersmith Suspension Bridge; to 3. Colonnade, Venice; to 4. Sligo Cathedral, Ireland; to 5. Mount Vesuvius by day; to 6. Mount Vesuvius by night; to 7. Chromatrope; to 8. Val el Casat; to 9. Alloway Kirk – Burns’s Monument; to 10. View near Paris; to 11. Punch before dinner; to 12. Punch after Dinner; to 13. Tyre; to 14. Netley Abbey; to 15. Chromatrope; to 1.; Rustic View Summer; to 17. Rustic View Winter; to 18. Leap Frog; to 19. Crypt in York Cathedral; to 20 Chromatrope.


Part II Overture — “Gustavue” — Auber.

Illuminated Natural History

Part III repeated the pattern of part 1in a further twenty slides. (Vine Press House Lorrraine; El Sibal on the Salt Plains of Tunis , with natural bridge; Outside the Caen Cathedral; Inside the same cathedral;  Belem Castle near Lisbon; Tutertachen; Chromatrope; Shirbrook Bridge; Mount of Olives; Greenwich Hospital by Stanfield; Lea Bridge in Summer; Lea Bridge in Winter; Chromatrope; Lake Como, upper Italy; Army and Navy; Hall of 1000 pillars; Brickfielder; Kent East Indiaman in a gale; Kent East India Man on fire; Chromatrope.)


The principle spectacular effect was the dissolve, hence the title of the show ‘dissolving views’. Viewers experienced the frisson of seeing one hand-painted image dissolve into a quite different hand-painted image; or the jouissance of seeing the dissolve effect a temporal transition from day to night in the same scene. Other slides, such as ‘Leap Frog’ were probably single ‘slipping slides’, where a sheet of clear glass with strategically placed areas of black paint was quickly slipped across the hand painted image — obscuring one part of the image, while simultaneously revealing another; or mechanical slides, where one layer of class was quickly rotated, producing a simple animation effect. Between these transitions were placed three displays of the Chromatrope, an entirely abstract effect of colour, pattern and movement creating an almost pulsating effect three-dimensional illusion. Finally, the display of ‘Illuminated Natural History’ enlarged live insects onto the screen.


In the audience’s experience of the show it was the spectacular attraction of the apparatus and the various transition effects that were given priority, over the putative content of the views. When Newland took the show to Maitland in August 1848 the local newspaper specifically commented on the aesthetic and spectacular effects, rather than the actual content, of the three components to Newland’s show. ‘Mr. Newland showed great skill in the gradual fading away of one view and encroachment on it of the succeeding one, until one had finally disappeared, and the other was revealed in all its beauty.’ The paper also remarked on ‘the most dazzling effect’ and ‘brilliant colours’ of the chromatropes; while the ‘extraordinary size and quick and ferocious movements’ of the live weevils which were projected on the screen, ‘almost gave rise to a feeling of fear in the mind.’ (Maitland Mercury and Hunter River general Advertiser 9/8/48 p2



The dissolve between two images was effected by having two lanterns focused on the one screen, with either an iris being closed over one lens while the other was opened; or a pivoting black metal fan with a feathered edges which ‘wiped’ one image while simultaneously ‘unwiping’ the other; or by the gas to one lantern being turned down while the gas to the other was turned up. As a variety of lecturers displayed them through the colonies during the rest of the century many other newspapers reported on the dramatic and narrative evocations dissolving views were able to create in their audience, particularly when accompanied by music and a lecture. In 1852 Alfred Cane exhibited a variety of chromatropes as well as dissolving views in Sydney, and the Sydney Morning Herald was quick to report on the effectiveness of the dissolve.


” A ship in a calm” was a particularly truthful representation of that most tedious, most trying, most wretched predicament. Grazing at the view, one might almost fancy one saw the lazy sharks crawling about in the blue water, carrying on their eternal war against every other creature… Then suddenly the scene changed, the ship is caught in a storm, and with double-reefed foresail only set, struggles vainly against the furious surge, which too fatally drives her onto the inexorable rock. These two representations of the chances of the ocean were followed by “the ship on fire,” and “the raft,” and elicited several rounds of applause, especially from the juvenile portion of the audience, who, with true British feeling, seemed to delight in the danger, although ’twas but in show. (SMH 30/1/52 p2)


Amongst the imported slides James Smith displayed in Melbourne in 1855 was the popular image of Vesuvius erupting. According to The Age the image began as:


‘[t]he Bay of Naples , smiling in the serenity of sunshine, with Vesuvius at rest lowering grandly in the distance. Then: Clouds and thick darkness come over the scene, and the volcano belches forth its red fires and gloomy vapours, and the effect produced is really admirable.” (9/5/55 p6).



The dissolving effects, chromatropes and live microscopic projections were only part of these shows. Also on display was the spectacle of science itself. In Maitland in 1842 Newland also displayed the wonder of raw light itself:


The exhibition concluded with an illumination of the room by the Drummond light [limelight]: the room was too small to fully show the power of the light, but the operator tested its intense heat by burning in it a gimblet, which he actually burnt [it] into three pieces, the iron giving out brilliant sparks just before separating.


In 1854 (according to newspaper reports) nearly a thousand people saw Knight’s dissolving views in Hobart.

“The evening concluded by the exhibition of the chromatic fire cloud. This splendid and curious cloud of fire is caused by driving a quantity of muriatic acid against a board suspended parallel with the ceiling; the acid is then ignited, and a cloud of fire of various colours appears to descend.” (Hobart Courier 8/9/54 p2).


The great South Australian photographer Nicholas Caire found his photographic business failing in 1869 because of the drought, so he took to touring South Australia with two lanterns and sets of dissolving views imported from Britain. However as part of the show he also administered electric shocks from a galvanic battery to members of the audience who desired it. (Hartrick p74)


In the early 1900s the travelling troop of entertainers the Corricks purchased an eight horsepower electric dynamo from Paris which gave 5000 candle power of light to the projector, allowing slides to be projected on the outside of the hall. The dynamo also drove arc lights which illuminated the streets outside the hall, as well as stings of incandescent lights around the proscenium of the stage.



We know that dissolving views were an important part of Australian colonial visual culture, because by the 1850s the terms ‘dissolving views’ and ‘chromatrope’ had firmly entered the Australian language as metaphors. For instance in 1857 a correspondent to the Hobart Courier satirized the various rhetorical exertions of colonial politicians in parliament as an exhibition of dissolving views. In his satire, taxes and debts were ‘dissolving’ the bright future Tasmania’s politicians were laying out:

A mist came over the glowing colours, extensive plains contracted to little valleys, undulating hills became rocky scrub, and the expected gold never came, and behind all appeared TAXES. Tax upon income; tax upon property; tax upon luxuries; tax upon four-wheeled carriages. It was evidently a mistake the obtrusion on so beautiful a vision of these unseemly and disagreeable objects, but unequivocally they made themselves apparent, and thus this beauteous scene dissolved away. (Hobart Courier 11/4/57 p3)


This would be equivalent to a satirist saying today that a politician’s promises were ‘virtual reality’.


In 1852 a poem called Ode to Melbourne was published in the Argus which was a satirical take on Melbourne’s poor drainage and alcoholic binge-drinking culture. It satirized Melbourne’s ‘filthy lanes’ and ‘atrocious smells’. Melbourne was full of pubs and drunkards, so the gutters ran with filth which reflected the debaucheries above:


Oh Pleasant city, full of pleasant places,

Thy very gutters show ‘dissolving views’


The dissolving view, far from the high minded transcendental language of the ads the exhibitors put in the papers, was here associated with the gaudy, the low, the inebriated and the insubstantial.


On the Irish poet’s Thomas Moore’s death in 1852, a literary reviewer critiqued the rich poetical imagery of his orientalist Romances, and used the optical experience of the Chromatrope, then only a few years old, as a powerful metaphor for the showy, the over the top, and the fake:


There is over-profusion of imagery [in Moore’s poem], and a uniformity of splendour, a constant succession of glittering images and high-strained emotions, by which the fancy, at first dazzled and excited, becomes sated and fatigued. We long for some relief and some repose. It is like the dazzling of the eye by too long gazing at a chromatrope, or other display of optical wonders. … The pleasure has been intense, but on that account all the more transitory, and followed by a feeling of disappointment. We have been looking at a grand pyrotechnic display with wonder and delight, but how different are the feelings of calm and lasting pleasure with which the glories of the nightly firmament fill the mind. Such contrast is here between Moore and other poets who are more true nature.


Why am I telling you about mid nineteenth century literary criticism? Because it shows by reflection what a profound impact lantern slides and chromatropes had on everybody during this period.



Throughout the 1850s and 1860s lantern slides were being shown by photographers like Newland and Caire needing to diversify, or by other showmen exploiting the new technology, their exhibitions were never as successful as their ads made out. Often newspapers commented on what disappointing failures their displays were, when they were unable to produce enough light, unable to keep their slides in focus, or unable to correctly size the projected disc to the sheet. However, increasingly in the 1880s and 90s magic lanterns were mass produced and mass marketed, and slide sets accompanied by printed booklets were produced on mass and imported into Australia. Temperance unions such as the Band of Hope as well as religious groups increasingly used these lanterns and slide sets in their meetings.


They were also increasingly incorporated into music hall entertainments. For instance the English baritone George Snazelle toured the colonies in the late 80s and early 90s. His singing, accompanied by piano, organ and chorus was illustrated by dissolving views that added a ‘charming feature to a refined and amusing program’, which also included whistling, recitations and banter. (SMH 26/10/89 p12). His recitation of Tennyson’s The Brook was accompanied by eighteen dissolving views of the Thames. His singing of Gounod’s Nazareth was accompanied by six well know pictures, including Holman Hunt’s the Light of the World. He concluded his evenings with a display of chromatropes. (SMH 19/10/89 p12)


The Light of the World was fast becoming the most famous picture of the nineteenth century. Its Pre-Raphaelite painterly style created the effect of light seeming to emanate from the painting itself. It’s visual and symbolic melding of physical light with spiritual light was therefore perfectly suited to magic lantern projection. A version of the painting even went on a world tour in 1904, coming to Australia and New Zealand. Patrons sat in from of the painting and let it enter their eyes, then the lights in the room were turned down so they could discern a crucifix-like afterimage on their retinas.


The Chorus to Nazareth runs:

Tho’ poor be the chamber, come here, come and adore, Lo! The Lord of Heaven hath to mortals given Life For Evermore, Life For Evermore, Life For Evermore


Snazelle recorded his songs for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company of London between 1898 and 1906, and Nazareth was also recorded by the Australian singer Peter Dawson.


In 1893 Snazelle sung to lantern slides at the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings and the Melbourne Opera House, where they were projected as discs 30 feet in diameter. He displayed The Light of The World again, while singing the hymn Behold I Stand at the Door accompanied by a chorus. By this time Snazelle was also presenting life model slides, which were becoming increasingly popular. Companies such as Bamworth and Co produced slides with live models adopting narrative attitudes in front of painted backdrops. Snazelle presented thirty life-model slides of Dickens’ ‘ A Christmas Carol’, and his daughter sang ballads to the life model slide series Daddy, (Hartrick 100-103)



Daddy, Good Night

Take my head on your shoulder, Daddy

Why do your tears fall, Daddy

I often seem to hear her voice

But I’ve got you and you’ve got me


In life model slide sets the various poses of the life models told a story, but not in the sense of an action linearly extending within a defined length of time, rather in an iterative way, suited to the structure of a popular song with it repeating chorus and separate self-contained verses.



The 1890s saw the convergence of magic lantern lectures, which had been developing for fifty years, with the cinematograph. Companies marketed lantern slide sets as well as Lumiere films, and cinematographic adapters for lanterns were also for sale.


The two modes of display did find themselves in conflict for audiences. In 1897 Henry J. Walker wrote an article Animated Photographs versus Dissolving Views for the UK Magic Lantern Journal and Photographic Enlarger, in which he lamented that the new cinematographic craze which had been taken up by music halls was pushing aside the old dissolving view exhibitions. To defend dissolving views he retreated to the age old argument that the cinematograph was merely mechanical copying, whereas the dissolving view required manual craft on the part of the operator: “The animated photographs I put down as a mechanical triumph, and the success of dissolving views to the skill of the operator”. P110.


But in Australia the two co-existed for about a decade. For instance in1901 Snazelle returned to Sydney with a show called ‘Our Navy’ that combined his singing with imported lantern-slide sets, purchased biograph films and on-stage theatrical wave effects. Travelling companies such as Joseph Check’s Popular Variety Company toured Northern NSW in the late 1890s with a troop of burlesque artists and baritones who also exhibited Edison’s cinematograph, imported lantern slides, and lantern slides taken in the districts through which they were touring. The Corricks also illustrated their songs with sets of dissolving views, as well as screening biograph pictures. Following on from Snazelle, their rendition of ‘The Lads in Navy Blue’ was illustrated by ‘forty modern pictures of ‘Our Navy’’ which they had brought from the slide makers G. West and Sons, of Southsea, England, who specialized in maritime subjects.



In the 1890s Joseph Perry of the Salvation Army used off-the-shelf life-model slides and popular ballads in services to be what he termed ‘Spiritual Barnums’ (as in P T Barnum the American showman). He also projected the words of hymns and showed lantern slides during hymns singing. Most of the slides were purchased from the Melbourne slide importers T. W. Cameron or Cooper and Co. Often these slides were hand-coloured copies of popular engravings, such as those by Gustave Dore.


The War Cry of 16/1/92 reported on a service:


Some magnificent pieces from the life of Christ were introduced. These are from Dore’s pictures and are superb. They speak very loudly, as they are flung upon the sheet, and stand out in bold relief on the canvas. One could see the vindictive look on the faces of those who were driving the nails into the hands and feet of Christ.


Two years later the War Cry reported:


A great many were moved to tears at the sufferings of Jesus on the canvas so ably explained by the Captain. (War Cry 28/4/94)


Although Perry used off-the-shelf slides, he had a bigger budget than other lanternists and was able to refresh his stock frequently. In addition he was able to give his off the shelf slides, such as the Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World, which he had brought from the Melbourne slide shop T. W. Cameron, more directly scriptural significance, as opposed to the merely religiously sentimental meaning they were given by performers such as Snazelle.


The scenes which followed depicted some of the choicest incidents in the life of the ‘Man of Sorrows’, with here and there pictures of symbolical character thrown in. Perhaps it is superfluous to say that spiritual allegory is only understood by those whose spiritual eyes have been opened. To such, the picture ,’”Behold\ I stand at the door and knock’, would be as an open book; ‘For in every breast that liveth\ Is that strange, mysterious door. (War Cry 28/7/94)


The Salvation Army programs also included chromatropes, and it was there that Joseph’s son, Reg, remembers seeing his first chromatrope as a small child sitting on his step-mother’s knee. It made an intense and unforgettable impression on him, and his memory of it in the 1977 film Reg Perry Remembers returns us vividly to the power of nineteenth century visual technology. But even the meaning of the chromatrope, which had been a staple of lantern performances for fifty years by this time, was given more pointed meaning by Perry because it was shown at the same time as the collection plate went round. Minnie L Rowell told the War Cry:


The proceeds of the service were to be devoted to reducing the electric light bill of the corps, and the collection was foreshadowed by the appearance on the sheet of a kaleidoscopic slide resembling a plate. By some wonderful means the patterns on the plate began to turn in and out and round and round in a most indescribable way, till I almost wondered if my head or this comical arrangement would turn inside out. (War Cry 1/7/96)


From 1893 Perry began to produce his own slides based on the life-model slides produced by British companies such as Bamworth & Co. This activity increased in 1896 when Herbert Booth arrived from Britain. In 1897 the combination of lantern slide, phonograph and Kinematograph was being promoted within the Army as a ‘triple alliance’. They were combined in the lectures given by Booth in the late 1890s, with titles such as Social Salvation, which combined slides and films both shot by Perry and brought off the shelf.


In 1900 Booth and Perry produced a recruitment lecture combining both off-the-shelf and home-produced slides and films called Soldiers of the Cross. The lecture, based on the Roman persecution of the Christians, ran for approximately two hours. In it’s original form the fifteen of so films, none of which ran for more than 90 seconds, occupied only a small proportion of the lecture time. All the ones made in Australia are now lost.


The film segments were all single, locked-off shots using the same actors, narrative scenarios, and painted backdrops as the slides. Chris Long, in his Cinema Papers article, maintains that the narrative of the lecture flowed smoothly from slide sequence to film, however he does quote a later program for the film which states: ‘Scenes are first shown by still pictures and then the same incidents are reproduced by cinematograph display.


This produces a fascinating dynamic between the iterative, chorus like structure of the life model slide tableaus and the continuous motion of the short film segments. An early episode features a spectacular stoning of the martyr Stephen.


The War Cry (22/9/00) describes this sequence:

The events that lead to the martyrdom of Stephen passed in review. The Sanhedrim, [Jewish court] the trial, Stephen’s impeachment by the rulers and the stoning of the first martyr. The Kinematorgraphe was employed in this latter scene. The effect on the audience, as they beheld in a moving picture Stephen cruelly beaten to the earth, and killed by fiendish fanaticism of the formal religionist of the day cannot be described. The kinematographe gives way to a picture of Stephen lying dead upon the roadside, while Paul the persecutor stands over him in an attitude of painful contemplation.


The slide sequence begins with a series in the court-room which is similar to the structure of the Bamworth life-model slides, where a series of rhetorical poses are iterated. There is even, as was common in Bamworth slides, a superimposition of a host of angels, probably derived from a purchased slide. We can readily imagine how these would have meshed in with Booth’s lecture as they, to quote the War Cry, ‘passed in review’. But later the slide sequences aren’t iterative, but appear to be diegetic, like frames extracted from a continuous movement: do we see Stephen’s blood pooling around his head as the persecutor Paul appears? Did film of Stephen’s stoning replace the two slides of the stoning, which were only shown when the cinematographic film wasn’t? Or did it come after the slide sequence of the same stoning, to re-iterate it and therefore re-emphasise the familiar tableau-like attitudes of the slides in the new medium of continuous motion pictures? I’d like to argue that it was the latter, as the War Cry says, ‘the Kinematorgraphe was employed in [my emphasis] this latter scene.’


However in other instances Chris Long seems fairly certain that film followed on from slide sequences, and these slide sequences seem to be quite cinematic, almost building up momentum. For instance in a later version of the lecture a scene of Roman soldiers raiding a church service was apparently followed by a filmed chase sequence shot on a new camera in which, according to the War Cry, a Roman soldier is boinged off a bendy plank and splashed into a stream.


Long also mentions films like ‘Paul escaping from Damascus in a Basket’ being commented on in 1901, did they replace similar slide sequences, or repeat and re-emphasize the movement of the slide sequence of the same incident.


Other slide sequences show strongly the bricolage approach of Booth and Perry. This bricolage is fundamental to the way the lantern-slide lecture was developing into the twentieth century. The longest episode from the lecture is titled Christians in the Catacombs, and is about how the Christian rituals of birth and death were continued underground. It begins with a historical map of the catacombs, also inserted are slides made from old stereographs of the catacombs which have been hand coloured to integrate them into the visual flow. Also included are engravings of the catacombs, which seem to have been the basis for the Army’s painted backdrops. According to Chris Long the climax of the episode, a clandestine burial, was also filmed, but it also appears as a tight sequence of slides. So we have a wonderful mixture here of what would, twenty years or so later, become separate genres within twentieth century media. ‘Documentary’ photography; ‘fictional’ acting; cinematography; ‘artistic’ engravings and paintings; ‘travel guides’, and even ‘historical anthropology’ are here all bricolaged together so that one lends authority and rhetorical emphasis to the other.


Perhaps the splitting apart and quarantining of different genres — into say fiction and documentary — which was to happen in the 1910s and 20s, is now collapsing together again at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Perhaps the logic of a You Tube channel, a blog or a web site is now not dissimilar to a lantern slide lecture.



Lantern slides are the missing ingredient which link together previously siloed scholarship on nineteenth century Australian visual technology and spectacle. Mimi Colligan’s Canvas Documentaries: Panoramic Entertainments in Nineteenth Century Australia and New Zealand and Anita Callaway’s Visual Ephemera: Theatrical Art in Nineteenth Century Australia are both fabulous books. But neither of them directly address magic lanterns. Similarly, the history of Australian painting often forgets that paintings could be optical spectacles as well as precious objects, not only in Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World, but also in Longstaff’s Menin Gates at Midnight, which toured Australia in the 1927 and 1928 to the accompaniment of organ music.


From the point of view of today’s museums, magic lanterns and slides from the nineteenth century are especially important. All of the other wonderful visual technologies of colonial Australia have been lost. The ‘transformation scenes’ in pantomimes, which created illusions with lighting effects and mechanical scenery-changes, have been lost. The back-lit transparencies which decorated buildings have been destroyed, likewise the mechanical panoramas. The cyclorama buildings in Sydney and Melbourne have been knocked down long ago. But we do have chromatropes, and we do have mechanical slides, and they can be re-projected to give visitors some idea of the richness of the colonial visual experience. For instance the wonderful 250 watt Mazda light globe in the collection’s Praestantia lantern from Riley Brothers could be replaced with a cool, UV filtered LED light to replicate pretty closely the cool, actinic colour temperature of limelight.



In the twentieth century the lanternslide slowly lost its sense of technological spectacle and uncanny magic. However it persisted as an important part of the emerging twentieth century mass media. Lantern slides increasingly became an ‘intermedia’, a conduit between different media platforms. They became a ‘vector’ along which images could travel. A good example of this is the slide collection of A. J. Abbott. ‘Professor’ Albert J Abbott was a palmist, a phrenologist, a Spiritualist and a pastor in the Free Christian Assembly, one of the many new radical churches which were springing up in Australia around the turn of the century. He couldn’t keep himself out of trouble, in 1896 he was accused of immorality for bestowing ‘pure kisses’ on female members of his congregation. And in 1906 a member of his congregations leapt on stage and hit him with her umbrella, accusing him of bigamy. He wrote various religious tracts, including one that subscribed to a widespread cult at the time that believed King George was descended from one of the tribes of Israel, and he drew elaborate diagrams of ‘God’s Dispensation’.


In about the 1910s he must have been attracted to Spiritualism, and begun to use lantern slides for his lectures. His lantern slide collection includes some old dissolving views, and some phrenological subjects, but are largely devoted to Spiritualism. They contain portraits of leading figures in the movement, including Emma Hardinge Britten who was the co-founder of Theosophy and visited Australia in 1880, and William Terry, leader of the Victorian Spiritualists and publisher of the journal Harbinger of Light. The lecture contains spirit photographs of all the major spirit photographers up to the 1910s: William Mumler, Frederick Hudson, Edouard Buguet, William Crookes, and Richard Boursnell. They are all copied out of books. For instance many are copied from a book published by Georgiana Houghton in 1882. The book was reproduced with carte de visites which had been turned into tiny lithographic plates, and these have been copied by Abbott.


If Abbott had access to the original book, he may have been able to recount the remarkable stories that Houghton told about how she conducted photographic séances at the glass house studio of Frederick Hudson and interacted with spirits in front of his camera. One image is of Georginia Houghton with a spirit called Zilla. Houghton described the photograph:


“We are standing face to face, her right hand is within mine, while with the left she gathers the drapery under her chin. There was a something that had puzzled me to understand, for it seemed almost like an arm passing round my left shoulder, yet it could not be, for both her hands were occupied.”


Houghton took the print to the medium Mrs Tebbs, who contacted the ‘Other Side’, and interpreted the bar of light linking the spirit to her:


“It is a ray of coloured light, flowing from her to you; they are shewing it to me” (here she moved her hands as if seeing the light issue from herself), “it is the link binding you to each other; it flows flows from the heart, but also from all this region below the heart, explaining the phrases  ‘his bowels did yearn upon his brother:’ ‘bowels of compassion’, etc and they are giving me to understand that unless that light can touch the other person, they ought not to have anything to do with one another: — a time is coming when that link will be perceptible to all of us, and thus we will know with whom we may beneficially hold communion. It does not seem the quantity of that stream of light, so much as the quality, which is of importance: — what they first showed me was a lovely pink colour, and now they are showing me some of a rich hue, like arterial blood. It encircles you, though you scarcely see it on this side (beneath the right arm), but it must come quite around, forming a complete bond of union: — you look as if you felt it, and the expression in your face is as if you had learned far more than words could tell; that language would only weaken the force you have received.”



Through the example of A J Abbott we can see that in the twentieth century lantern sliders were increasingly used as conduits through which various images were brought to audiences. They were vectors, not artefacts. For instance we can look at Charles Snodgrass Ryan and Ernest Brooks. Brooks was the official British photographer at Gallipoli, and Ryan was a surgeon, an ornithologist, and an amateur photographer. In April 1915, at the age of 62, Ryan was sent to Gallipoli as assistant director of medical services. He stayed at Gallipoli only until June 1915 when he was evacuated to London via Egypt with enteric fever. He had taken many personal stereo views in Egypt and on Gallipoli, and it was probably when he was in London that his personal stereos were acquired by the Central News Agency. Some of them were then reproduced in the Australian press in September and October 1915. For instance in September 1915 The Melbourne Leader published A captured Turkish Sniper screened by foliage attached to his clothing; On October 30 it published Brooks’ shot of Australians resting in the trenches at Gallipoli; a Ryan’s shots : a  ‘British Officer leading a Turkish officer blindfold through Australian Lines’;Using a periscope rifle in an Australian trench; General Birdwood taking a dip in the sea; ‘From the Lone Pine trenches after the battle Australian Troops all wear white arm bands.


Probably through the Central News agency these images were acquired by the London lantern slide manufacturers Newtons and Co, probably one of the largest global producers of slides (from whom the Salvation Army also imported slides). One half of some of Ryan’s stereo pairs were then hand coloured and sold as slide sets, augmented, by other stock slides of Egypt, same possibly dating from the nineteenth century. This set of slides eventually entered the NFSA collection through the World War Two correspondent Allan Anderson. Meanwhile the original stereos entered the collection of the Australian War Memorial and are on display there. So we have the same image existing during the War as illustrated magazine picture, a handcoloured lantern slide, and one half of a stereo pair. Each of these images identical images in a different forma entered different archives, The NLA, the NFSA and the AWM.



I think with that brief historical context we can now begin to disentangle the lantern experience its domination by other histories, such as the history of cinema or the history of painting. I think we can pull some of the threads together and make a rough table of what, at the turn of the twentieth century, distinguished the cinematograph from the magic lantern:



Dissolving Magic Lantern Views

Music and inter-titles are diegetic (towards narrative and temporal movement) Music and lecture are ekphrastic (towards rhetorical emphasis of single images and statements)
Continuous motion Iterative gesture
Technology subsumed into image Image is a distinct part of a wider technological assemblage including limelight/electricity, dissolving mechanisms, audience wonder, etc
Editing Bricolage
A relatively discrete media object/event An intermedia vector shifting images between medias and genres


I believe that placing cinema in this broader context may help us have a more nuanced interpretation of viewer responses to film during this period. For instance the wonderful Pathé film Toto has been restored by the NFSA from the Corrick collection. Initially we may think that the audience’s main pleasure comes from the wonder of seeing a hand coloured simulation of a kaleidoscope up on screen. However, kaleidoscopes had been around since 1818, and the kaleidoscope craze had gripped Europe eighty years before the film was made. In addition, everybody in the audience had presumably already experienced, or at least heard about chromatrope slides. So the real pleasure for audiences at the time comes from feeling their point of view change from their position in the audience seeing projected images of people on the street, to the point of view of somebody within the film looking through an optical toy.


I also think that the qualities in the right hand column: ekphrasis, iteration, technological assemblage, bricolage, and image vector may have more in common with the contemporary producer and consumer of blogs, web pages and you tube channels, than the contemporary viewer of movies.


Martyn Jolly

Exposing the Australians in Focus

Exposing the Australians in Focus

Harold White Fellowship Lecture, National Library of Australia, 2011


The books I’m going to talk about this evening are the books you find on the bottom shelf at the very back of the second-hand bookshop. They have been slowly bending the chipboard shelves with their weight over the past years forty-five years. Now I think it is time that they were dusted off and re-examined.


There had been a trickle of Australiana photobooks throughout the twentieth century. For instance the British photographer E. O. Hoppe came to Australia in 1930 and shot the book The Fifth Continent. In the next decade Oswald Ziegler began to publish a long series of large-format commemorative volumes co-sponsored by various governments and municipalities. Many of his publications were designed by the European trained designer Gert Sellheim, who often constructed elaborate double-page panorama-montages of national destiny using photographs from a diversity of anonymous sources. Usually the images he used came from stock sources, however every now and again we can trace a montage fragment back to its origin. For instance one of his montages from 1946 contains an image taken by Roy Dunstan, a photographer for the middle class travel magazine Walkabout, of Gwoja Tjungurrayi, known as ‘One Pound Jimmy’. The image was originally taken near T. G. H. Strehlow’s camp in 1935 and first published in Walkabout in January 1936 with the caption ‘The aboriginal, as seen by the early explorers’,


During the 1950s Frank Hurley began to publish his series of ‘Camera Study’ scenery books, and they continued to be published well into the early sixties, even after his death in 1962. And occasionally the posh fine-art publisher Ure Smith would produce genteel photobooks about Sydney, or surfing.


As the 1960s progressed photobooks in this well established mould continued to be produced, but at a steadily increasing rate, and in an increasing diversity of approaches. The New Zealand photographer Robin Smith continued the tradition of Hurley’s scenery books. One of his many books, Australia in Colour, sold 50,000 copies. But the dodgy colour reproductions and haphazard layouts of his books were were beginning to look very tired and old fashioned. As well, corporations such as BHP or James Miller Ropes produced books as promotional tools. An example is The James Miller Story published in 1962 which succeeds in making even the daggiest of industries, rope making, appear glossy, glamorous and modern.


However some creative experiments with photographic formats were also published. For instance in 1957 Angus and Robertson published Piccaninny Walkabout, a children’s book shot on an Aboriginal mission by Axel Poignant, which told it’s story almost entirely in photographs. Three years later a small, charming book of post-Pictorialist photographs won a ‘Book of the Year’ prize. It was Melbourne a Portrait, designed and shot by the photographer Mark Strizic with words, translated into French and German to appeal to the overseas gift market, by the architect David Saunders. The cover was by Len French. The judges commented:

This book of photographs, printed by offset, is an outstanding production. All the illustrations have an attractive softness. Not often is text printed by offset so clearly and evenly carried out. The preliminary pages have been well treated and refreshingly break away from the stereotyped pattern…..


The judge’s comments pointed to one major technological change which was leading to the expansion of photobooks. Offset printing, as opposed to letterpress printing, allowed text and image to be more cheaply, conveniently and intricately integrated on the one page, while retaining photographic quality and textual clarity. The book was printed from Griffin Press in Adelaide, who were to establish a reputation for high quality offset printing. In addition, access to large offset printers in Asia meant that Australian picture books could be printed in Singapore, Hong Kong or Japan in bulk and at low cost. Many glossy promotional books were beginning to be printed in Asia. The Age said of Strizic’s Melbourne a Portrait: ‘It gives a truer picture of Melbourne than a book of more glossily conceived and executed pictures could ever do. It also gives a picture of an exciting and a vital city” Melbourne Truth (2/12/60) called it ‘friendly and intimate … Melbourne’s old familiar places, caught and held by the art of the camera, come alive with fresh beauty…In comparison, the glossy production of the Victorian Promotion Committee, Melbourne — Big, Rich, Beautiful, sinks to the level of a singing commercial’.


But in the mid to late 1960s there was a dramatic acceleration to this increasing flow of photobooks. Books began to be published which were larger in format, better in design, and integrated text and image even more closely. In addition, these books were no longer simply about scenery, or worthy propaganda flattering the progress of this or that municipality, or this or that manufacturing company, they were about Australia itself. And they were timely, about Australia in the 1960s, rather than timeless, about a generic Australia. And they were quite explicitly about the new Australian identity that was emerging in the post war period.


During this period there was a radical increase in the number of independent, start-up publishers in Australia such as Rigby, Landsdowne, Nelson and Jacaranda, all trying to get a slice of the boom in book sales. The value of Australian publishing increased eight fold between 1961 and 1979; and from 1961 to 1971 membership of the Australian Book Publishers Association increased from 37 to 67, of which nearly 40 were Australian owned.


There was also a vibrant discourse on the nature of Australian identity being carried on during this period, with landmark texts being widely read and discussed. These included the smash hit post-war migration novel They’re a Weird Mob, 1957, which sold 300,000 copies in three years; critiques of Australia’s urban environment in The Australian Ugliness, Robin Boyd, 1960; discussion of the supposed success of Australia’s assimilation policies in I, the Aboriginal, by Douglas Lockwood, 1962; critiques of how Australia’s wealth and provincialism had made it uninspiring and indolent in The Lucky Country: Australia in the Sixties, Donald Horne, 1964; discussion of the country’s changing ethnic and age demography in Profile of Australia, Craig McGregor, 1966; and new approaches to thinking about Australian history in a world context in The Tyranny of Distance, Geoffrey Blainey, 1966.


As a background to this there was unprecedented wealth flowing from a mining boom, continuing mass migration from Southern Europe, and the beginnings of what would be our escalating commitment to the Vietnam War from 1966.


Significantly, as well, the Australian film industry would not undergo a renaissance until the 1970s. There were only a handful of feature films made in Australia during the sixties, and most were by overseas directors. The biggest hit was They’re a Weird Mob made by an English director in 1966, eight years after the book was first published. You can count the number of 1960s Australian feature films on the fingers of one hand, but at least sixty significant Australiana picture books were published during the same period


Looking back on this period from 1970, the novelist and journalist George Johnston commented:

I think it is significant that the rise over the past 20 years of a new, different, technological Australia runs almost parallel with the startling increase in and acceptance of books about Australia.’ The magazine quoting him added: ‘Perhaps there is also evidence that Australians are looking for an ‘instant heritage’”. [Walkabout 1970]


The Australians

In 1962 a National Geographic photographer named Robert Goodman came to Australia on assignment. Whilst here he met the Australian photographers Jeff Carter and David Moore, and worked with the Tasmanian born National Geographic staff writer Allan Villiers on a major National Geographic article on Australia. The article came out in September 1963 and established the dominant theme of the decade, the contrast between country and city. The articles he had assisted in lining up for Jeff Carter came out as ‘The Alice in Australia’s Wonderland’ in 1966; and for David Moore as ‘NSW The State That Cradled Australia’ in 1967. Whilst here, Goodman also conceived the idea of producing a high production value coffee table photobook about Australia for a global market.


Goodman, an extraordinarily energetic entrepreneur, got the support of a series of companies who were persuaded of the benefit of having a stock of books to be used as promotional gifts. 12 companies made $150,000 available over three years to finance the book, in return for10,000 copies to be used as promotional gifts. The companies were travel, mining and manufacturing companies and included: Qantas, the National Travel Association, Alcoa, Ansett, Associated Pulp and Paper, BHP, Commonwealth Bank, Felt and Textiles, IBM, International Harvester, Mutual Life and Citizens Assurance Company, P&O, H. C. Sleigh.


Goodman returned to Australia to shoot the book in 1964. He met the novelist George Johnston who had just returned from living abroad for fourteen years, and whose just-published sentimental autobiographical novel My Brother Jack was receiving critical and popular acclaim. Johnston agreed to write the text. Although many photobooks at this period were making use of the new Asian printers in Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, Goodman ensured quality control by using the Adelaide independent publisher Rigby and the Adelaide printery Griffin Press, which was known for its quality, to have control over the colour separation, plate production, and paper quality. This control is indeed palpable in the final product. There is a wide variation in the print quality of the books I am discussing, but The Australians is amongst the best.


Goodman had also made important media connections, including with the class travel magazine Walkabout who a year out from the book’s publication began to build anticipation for it by covering his travel around Australia with his wife. When it was finally published in September 1966 the book was supported by an unprecedented publicity blitz, with articles and mentions in every magazine, from Pix, to the Women’s Weekly, to Walkabout, to Australian Photography, to Vogue Australia, as well as the newspapers. The coverage was tailored to each magazine, the Women’s Weekly featured his wife, Australian Photography showed the gear he had used. Even with the assistance of the copies going to the corporate sponsors, sales were excellent, despite the hefty coffee table price of $7.95. After it’s first edition of 35,000 copies sold out it went through several editions eventually staying in the best-seller list for a total of 14 months, and staying in print until well into the seventies. By 1970 it had sold 90,000 copies. [Walkabout 1970]


The big splash the book made was further increased by two exhibitions which were printed, one by the Australian Government for display in the US, and one by Ansett-ANA for display in Australia. 66 prints were sized from 1.5 metres x 1metre down to 75 cms x 50 cms. The book became a favourite corporate and government gift, being an official Gift of State at the Montreal Expo of 1967.


As well as its bar-setting production values, the other significant shift in the book was its change in subject matter from previous photobooks. It wasn’t about the continent of Australia simply inhabited by some people, it was about the people of Australia as formed by their continent. The empty urban and pastoral vistas of Hurley or Robin Smith, images of imperial potentiality, became landscapes of faces, a collective portrait.


The modernist designer Harry Williamson, a typographer who had trained at the London School of Printing, designed the book. Goodman and Williamson worked together projecting slides onto an enlarger baseboard. Goodman even returned to slide-rolls he had shot in 1962 on his first trip here, but flipped them and re-cropped them. Williamson cleaned up and de-cluttered each spread, and regularly punctuated the reader’s progress through the book with dramatic double-page images. But these spreads weren’t of vast distant landscapes or urban ravines, as we might expect from previous photobooks, but of the faces and most significantly the gazes, of Australians. Williamson said of his design of The Australians:


I believe it was quite a major statement in design. I tried to produce an integrated statement, to relate the pictures to the words and also to work to a specific grid which I designed, based on Bob Goodman’s 35mm shape. I could bleed the 35mm shape across on to the next page and it conditioned the column of text, generating a continuity throughout the book. I learned quite a bit about tuning things up from an editor from Newsweek [Jonathan Rinehart] who we used to edit the text. I’d do things in a rough sort of way, but he’d say ‘Look, we’re going to end every story on a big red shot, or … we’re always going to start this way.’ Although my grid was rational, I learned a lot from him about structure, about orchestration of pictures and that sort of thing.’ Caban 117


The flavour of The Australians was determined by its international context. It was photographed by a hot-shot American photographer, and narrated by a famous writer returning home after fourteen prodigal years as an expatriate. The bulk of Johnston’s text was a sequence of potted history chapters. These chapters followed a trajectory very familiar from lots of other Australiana photobooks — from the ‘land’ to the ‘people’ to ‘industry’, to ‘arts’, to ‘sport’ and finally ‘Anzac’ — but they were given personal colour by a series of short written vignettes mixing Johnston’s nostalgic recollections, anecdotes and social speculation. These paralleled the photographs quite closely, so text and image informed each other. For instance opposite an image of two Australians on a park bench we read:


The simplest generalization is that Australians and Americans are the two most instantly identifiable peoples of the western world. After ten years of living in Europe I could on a Mediterranean waterfront unerringly recognize from 150 yards away an Australian arriving on the noonday steamer. When I returned to my native land I had been absent for almost fourteen years. Yet everywhere I looked they were the same people I had recognized from the quayside, but infinitely multiplied. The first vivid impressions of homecoming I have not had reason to change…..


Reviews confirmed that The Australians had set a benchmark both in terms of the physical quality of the book, and in terms of its broadening of the themes and issues which could be encompassed by a Australiana photobook. Walkabout’s review of The Australians picked up on the book’s design sophistication and the closeness of the collaboration ‘His running text, which parallels the pictures, is a successful exercise in verbal interpretation which manages to avoid any trace of redundancy.” [September 1966]. While the bookseller trade journal Ideas indicated that this was a book to be sold as fundamentally about the national character of Australians caught between bush and city: ‘Both text and photographs reveal the outback — the back breaking pioneer character of the country which lead to the mateship quality of its inhabitants [as well as] the present-day, suburban, industrialized situation, which now leaves a question mark hanging over the character of today’s Australians’ [September 1966:]


Southern Exposure

The extraordinary success of The Australians prompted a series of replies from other publishers, as well as a series of attempts to jump on the Australiana bandwagon. The most trenchant reply came from Collins who published Southern Exposure in 1967, using a text by Donald Horne, who’s ironically titled The Lucky Country had been a talking point since it’s publication in 1964, and the photographer David Beal, whose black and white photographs had traces of the gritty documentary acerbity and class consciousness of photographers like Bill Brandt or Robert Frank.


The dust jacket states blurb its intention clearly:

Southern Exposure is the most original picture book on Australia yet to be published. It marks a departure from the stereotyped, quasi-official, ‘coffee table’ productions which portray in verbal and visual clichés an idealized picture of Australia. As Donald Horne says in his forward: ‘Neither of us — photographer or writer — could be bothered producing the ordinary kind of picture book on Australia. There are no photographs of koala bears in gum trees here … We are trying to get down in pictures and words the Australia we see…..


The cover images are just as explicit, and almost satirical. A prototype of ‘Norm’, the character Phillip Adams was to invent eight years later for a government sponsored exercise campaign called Life Be In It, holds a worker’s shovel but incongruously licks an ice cream — almost a visual encapsulation of The Lucky Country — while on the back cover the ‘real’ Australia remains dry and parched. The faces in The Australians were frontal and open with frank gazes, the faces in Southern Exposure are belligerent or turned away. Their gobs are plugged with bottles, cans or cigarettes. As in the cover, the book is full of sly and sardonic puns. A theatre-goer’s be-jeweled décolletage transmutes with the turn of the page to a drinker’s empty beer glass shoved down her blouse. The book ends with a sequence of two shots implying that both the bush and the suburbs are places where we are equally marooned. Other images, such as of bleached skeletons, a major visual trope of post war Australian iconography, seem to be out to directly trump Goodman’s more glamourized depictions, and Beal’s ANZACS, rather than looking weary but quaintly proud as in Goodman, just look smug and slovenly.


In contrast to Johnston’s expansive and easy-going anecdotes, Horne’s essays are densely written monologues, or almost harangues. To Horne, following on from The Lucky Country, Australians were provincial, complacent and intolerant. Just a skim through the chapter headings and sub-headings are sufficient to give a flavour of his text:

A transported civilization —What the Australians brought with them; Deserts of disaster —Australia’s manic-depressive cycles; The same but different — Australia as a province; Life in the south-seas — Good time Australia; Boxes of brick — Australia as a suburb; Mates— The Australians as a folk; Non-mates — The ‘Blacks’; Bosses — A crisis in leadership; The new Australia — A freshening; Existential Australia — A new style?


The pre-publicity for this book was nowhere near as extensive as that for The Australians. The trade journal Ideas said in July 1967:

Collins are very excited about this book and from what we can see have every reason to be. The photography is excellent and depicts the Australia that most of us know, rather than the Australia many publishers attempt to expose to the eyes of the world. … Absent are the clichés; the overtones of self-congratulation are missing’


The Australian newspaper was also keen:

Everything about it is brilliant, from its sardonic title and sleek presentation to its blistering essay and acute photographs (From ad in Ideas September 1967)


However the book raised the hackles of Walkabout, the travel journal that had doyens from the travel industry on its board, and which had supported The Australians. They complained:

This new genre of picture-book, solidly established last year by The Australians, was given an impeccable and sophisticated pattern by George Johnston’s text and Bob Goodman’s pictures. A welling, wholesome sanguineness swept through it. Australian frailties were admitted with grace, but Johnston’s pride in and Goodman’s American admiration for a people who had tamed but had been simultaneously moulded by a fiercely raw nature, and from scruffy beginnings had built a nation with no small part in the world’s affairs, arts, sciences and sports, seeped through unashamedly. Achievement was the keynote.


In [Southern Exposure], people will read what is tantamount to a lecture to Australians themselves from a superior posture of niggling, radical intellectualism. The Top People, gibes Donald Horne, have come to a dead end, and can’t tell the rest what to do next. Australians are provincial, superficial, and existential, and they have lost the ability to “conceptualise”, raise issues and find broad meaning [except] in action which is now a relief from meaning. They have become imitators and adapters. Even their individualism has become group individualism. They are more concerned with “ordinariness” and mindless conformity.’ [September 1967]


Not surprisingly most Australians agreed with Walkabout’s assessment and weren’t going to pay money to be insulted. The book did reach the best seller list in September 1967, exactly one year after the Australian’s spectacular debut, but stayed there only one month, compared to Goodman’s fourteen. (However many other books I will discuss never made it to best seller status at all.)


It was clear from Walkabout’s over the top reaction that the agenda for photobooks had now shifted, from the purely promotional where it had been for decades, to the personal and political.


Jeff Carter Outback in Focus

Jeff Carter had cleared the equivalent of $3200 from his National Geographic assignment and, more importantly, it had left him with a stock of 3000 colour slides to draw upon. He was regularly publishing letterpress books, where photograph and text were printed on different pages, but in 1967 he moved into offset photobooks with Central Australia in 1967, and Outback in Focus in 1968, published by Rigby, the publishers of The Australians. These books enabled him to place the National Geographic slide stock, and the work he had been doing on an almost weekly basis for the popular magazines Pix and People into the broader more expanded context established by The Australians and Southern Exposure. Even some of the layouts that were occurring in the weekly magazines, such as Pix, People and Australasian-Post, could be transferred to books with higher quality printing.


These books took as their topic Carter’s favourite site, what he called ‘Centralia’. Outback in Focus valorised individual farmers, stockmen and fossickers, but took issue with the pastoral industry as a whole, which he accused of destroying the environment of central Australia. He also critiqued the standard assimilationist trajectories espoused by magazine like Walkabout. In these comforting narratives traditional Aborigines were noble, fascinating and grand, but they were inevitably the last of their generation. White education would produce new Aborigines fully functioning in white society, but still with some residual qualities of Aboriginality.


Carter was quite clear to his readers that this narrative couldn’t play itself out while there was still social and economic exploitation and injustice in Central Australia.  Quasi ‘anthropological’ gangs of figures or faces were a very popular graphic trope in many photobooks. It was used on any exotic species from opera dowagers to Aborigines. In one spread Carter seems to use this ganging layout to give us a standard assimilationist ascension to civilization across the two pages, but only when reading the caption do we realize that he is undermining it.


This Wailbri tribesman is amongst the last generation of Aborigines still capable of a nomadic life.

This man could still live in the bush too, but looks to the ways of the white man for a better life.

This Alice Springs policeman works as a white man, but is not paid as a white man or treated like one.’


On the page before Carter’s triptych another familiar image of a tousled hair aboriginal boy, commonplace enough since the days of Piccaninny Walkabout, comes with the warning:


Friendly, but doubtful now, this youngster’s attitude to white men will almost inevitably harden into active dislike. The onus is squarely on the white man to win the respect and trust of the black minority.


Walkabout, by now connoisseurs of travel books, praised the proximity Carter got to their beloved outback. They themselves had been responsible for reproducing frequently the head of ‘One Pound Jimmy’ taken by Roy Dunstan in 1935, such that it finally becoming iconicised into a postage stamp, so they praised the frank frontality of Carter’s Aboriginal heads — while ignoring the acerbity of their captions.


Some of his pictures here, in particular aboriginal portraits in colour, are magnificent. In flesh tint and texture, definition of form and line, use of light and projection of character they, in my view, transcend the mechanical and become Carter-creative. I have never seen better, nor such good reproduction by a Japanese printer.


Perhaps because two years had elapsed since the publication of The Australians, they didn’t directly take issue with his critiques of the outback as vehemently as they had Beal’s critiques of Australia as a whole.


The author-photographer describes the aboriginal population as he knows it, and deplores the poor treatment they get, despite legislation to improve their lot and their pay. ‘The new laws are scarcely worth the paper they are written on’, he asserts. A lot of outback topics Carter writes about are well in focus, starkly defined indeed. [August 1968]


Like Southern Exposure a year before Outback in Focus spent just one month in the best-seller list in August 1968.


Kings Cross

Other topics can also been looked at to trace this development in the sophistication and agenda of photobooks. Kings Cross was a staple subject of almost all photobooks about Sydney. Kenneth Slessor, author of the quintessential Sydney poem, 1939’s Five Bells and the book Darlinghurst Nights, was the virtual laureate of Sydney. In 1950 he wrote the text for a Ure Smith book on Sydney illustrated by a variety of photographers including Max Dupain, and in 1965 he wrote the text for a book on Kings Cross.


However his prose in Life at the Cross is rather journalistic and anodyne, and the photographs by Robert Walker are rather distant. The book, which in true promotional style includes a welcome from the Lord Mayor of Sydney, never really gets behind the scenes, or when it does there is a sense that the action has been staged. The design uses lots of small photographs to create a sense of business, but their grouping is incoherent, and their visual dynamism is dispersed.


However six years later, after several years of visitation to The Cross from US servicemen on R & R leave from the Vietnam War which began in late 1967, and the beginnings of the hippy movement, Kings Cross was done again by Rennie Ellis and Wes Stacey. Their book, Kings Cross Sydney, is much more satisfying than the earlier book. The picture groupings are graphically dynamic, and we are taken right into the dressing rooms and hippy pads of the area. The text, while not poetical, is nonetheless pungently personal.


Graham Kennedy’s Melbourne

Other publishers undoubtedly saw a bandwagon to jump on. The ‘King of Television’, Graham Kennedy, lent his name and his image to a book published by Nelson in 1967. The Channel 9 photographer Barrie Bell went round with Graham and took a total of six shots which were dropped in amongst the stock photos from the likes of Mark Strizic and Wolfgang Sievers. For a shot by Brian MacArdle of a South Yarra restaurant Graham comments:

Every second Melbournite has become a sort of instant connoisseur who can chat knowledgeably about Cabernet reds and steak Béarnaise. I know, because I’m one of them myself. I used to think it was snobbery to go beyond a steak (medium thanks) with chips, washed down with a lager. Now I know there are few things in this life to beat good cooking, good company, and a glass or two of good wine.


Made in Australia

When the English low cost, mass distribution publisher Paul Hamlyn entered Australian publishing they also saw potential in the photobook boom. After working with the English photographer David Mist on a book about Sydney. They accepted his idea of copying a 1967 book by the London fashion photographer John D Green called Birds of Britain, and doing a Swinging London, Carnaby Street style take on Australian women. The Sydney bon vivant and wine expert Len Evans would write the cheeky Playboy-style captions. Made in Australia the large format book that resulted in 1969 attempted a kind of groovy design aesthetic, but the ungainly addition of graphic elements like speech bubbles shows the limits of offset printing at the time. Nonetheless it was launched by none other than Patrick McNee from The Avengers TV series in Len Evans’ own restaurant.


In Her Own Right

Made in Australia deliberately and completely ignored the Women’s Movement. But in the same year Nelson published a book of essays called In Her Own Right edited by Julie Rigg which addressed what she called ‘the woman problem’:


The unresolved struggle for equal pay; the occupational problems faced by married women — whether or not to work in a society where industrial expansion depends on tapping married women as a convenient labour pool, but in which child care facilities are grossly inadequate — and the problems of the older married woman who finds her skills as a mother redundant once her children have grown, but is ill-equipped to do very much else; the inequalities of status and treatment which women still experience in many areas of occupational and social life.


The book was illustrated with photographs by Russell Richards, and its design was generally conservative and subservient to the text, however occasionally it breaks in to full bleed double page spreads reminiscent of The Australians.


To Sydney With Love

The combination of David Mist and Len Evans was a good one to target the upwardly-mobile, male, urban-dandy market, but other combinations seem more forced. In 1968 Nelson teamed the social commentator Craig McGregor, who had had the idea for In Her Own Right, with the Austrian-born landscape photographer Helmut Gritscher in To Sydney With Love. McGregor attempted a very personal beat-poetry meditation on Sydney. He opened his text late at night standing on the roof of a block of flats in Potts Point looking into Woolloomooloo:


I know this city, I comprehend it utterly, my guts and mind embrace it in its entirety, it’s mine. It was a moment of exhilaration, of exquisite and loving perception, my soul stretched tight like Elliot’s across this city which lay sleeping and partly sleeping around me and spread like some giant Rorschach inkblot to a wild disordered fringe of mountains, and gasping sandstone, and hallucinogenic gums.


But despite this attempt to ramp up the emotional ampage of the book Gritscher, primarily a landscape photographer most comfortable behind a long focal-length lens, shots things very much at a distance and brought the book back down again to the pedestrian level.


In The Making

However in 1968 McGregor collaborated with the photographers David Moore and David Beal as well as the designer Harry Williamson (the designer on The Australians) on another Nelson book which was to be the largest and most technically ambitious book of the decade. The reader’s experience of In the Making was very much led by Williamson’s design, which compared to the robust simplicity of The Australians, over-reached itself in its complexity. Ostensibly about the process of art making, from poetry to opera, the book must have been a confusing experience for the reader. McGregor’s potted biographies were quite trivial, and had a clever archness to them which failed to engage with any real issues. The photographs were often repetitive in their documentation of the artist at work or, confusingly, they were used as abstract design elements to illustrate the meaning of some poems or pieces of music. And the collage-like design with its lack of chapters and headings was often bewildering. It was a giant book, and at $19.95 a very expensive one, even if aimed at the Paddington or South Yarra coffee table market. It seems to have never made it anywhere near the bestseller list.


By the 1970s the number of Australiana photobooks being published died down. Although some notable photobooks were published from time to time in 1970s, not many took the totality of Australian identity as their topic, and few had the big corporate budgets of the 60s books. The adventures of travel writers like Jeff Carter transmuted into the gonzo TV shows of the Leyland Brothers or the films of Albie Mangles. The expeditions of Walkabout magazine transmuted into the TV shows of Bill Peach. What the seventies had, of course, which the sixties didn’t, was an Australian film industry. Perhaps the last book in the traditional style was A Day in the Life of Australia, initiated by another American photojournalist Rick Smolan, and published in 1981.



In conclusion I hope that I have convinced you that the late 1960s produced a series of photobooks which were not only important and formative collaborations between publishers, writers, artists and designers, but also engaged with real issues of the moment. Is there any legacy here for us? These books were produced during a period of economic boom and geopolitical re-alignment. Many of them were structured around the contrast between the economy and culture of the bush, in particular the mining industry and the pastoral industry, and the economy and culture of the city, in particular its suburban inhabitants. The 1960s had a two-speed economy and a two-speed culture. Mining and pastoral interests have recently re-entered our media and our cultural discourse in a big way to argue against things such as the Mining Industry Super Profits Tax, the temporary cessation of the live export trade, or a price on carbon, and to argue for such things as special industry assistance. In doing so they have been able to draw upon a deep well of iconography produced over many decades, largely, though of course not exclusively, by photobooks such as the ones I have discussed. I think at the background to many of these massive PR campaigns is the implication that real jobs, authentic Australians and nationally significant activities remain in the bush, rather than the suburbs, and should naturally take some kind of historical priority in defining the terms of everything else. This is exactly the same background implication that was at issue in The Australians, Southern Exposure, and Outback in Focus


This debate appears to be coming around again, but after having my head stuck in these books for the last couple of month, its terms, and its visual iconography, appear to me to be very familiar.


Facial Velocities

‘Facial Velocities’, Time Machine Magazine, Issue 2, on-line from 28 October, 2011, http://timemachinemag.com/current-issue/facial-velocities-by-martyn-jolly/

Facial Velocities Talk Text

That configuration of eyes, nose and mouth stuck to the front of our heads, which we call the face, not only connects the outer sociological self to the inner psychological self— the old ‘window on the soul’ idea — but it also connects one person to another in a relationship.  For the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas the face was the place of authentic encounter between self and other: ‘The face opens the primordial discourse whose first word is obligation’. (1979, p. 210) According to Levinas, when two faces face each other, each demands something from the other, even if it is only recognition. It is the power of ideas such as this that still underpin controversies around the role of the face in public places of social interaction. For instance the debate around recent attempts by various European governments to ban the burqa and the niqab in public, place the face at the very centre of contemporary definitions of personal autonomy and public citizenship. (Chesler 2010)

In order to perform this social function of human interaction the face has to be abstracted away from the body so that it can enter into a system of semiotic exchange. Deleuze and Guattari (1988) called this ‘faciality’, a process that over-codes the organism of the body with other strata of signification and subjectification. To them, the face is an abstract machine of ‘black holes in a white wall’. It is a technology increasingly becoming enmeshed with other technologies.

But in many ways this process of abstraction and ‘over-coding’ begins much earlier, with John Caspar Lavatar’s popular Essays in Physiognomy from the 1770s. Lavater defined his new science of physiognomy as the ‘the science … of the correspondence between the external and the internal man, the visible superficies and the invisible contents.’ (1885, p. 11) He established that correspondence by either visual analogy, where a bovine-looking person must exhibit dull, bovine personal characteristics; or by biometric algorithms, where the slope of a brow, for instance, indexed cranial capacity and thus intelligence. A brow at a high angle above the nose was the mathematical index of a large brain, but also the visual equivalent of Roman nobility. A brow at a low angle indicated a small brain, and was also literally simian. Lavater’s analogical mapping and algorithmic vectorization allowed him to compare and classify faces, but they also removed the face from the ranks of the purely human, and placed it into an abstracted morphing space which was also shared by animals. Plate 80 of his Essays in Physiognomy demonstrates this with startling clarity as Lavater’s illustrator morphs a drawing of a frog’s face through twelve separate frames. The frog’s eyes slowly become more almond shaped and the whole face lengthens until, by the twelfth frame, we find ourselves looking into the face of an androgynous human.

Eighty years later Charles Darwin completed the project of placing the human face within the realm of animals with his discovery of evolution. In his wildly popular follow-up book of 1872, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, he homed in on the mechanics of the face and established that human facial expression was an instinctual animal behaviour, rather than a social language. (1872) He demonstrated the automatic, biological mechanics of expression by artificially decoupling the external hydraulics of the facial muscles from their usual inner, instinctual motivations. For instance, for plate 7 he obtained from the French scientist Dr Duchene a photograph of the facial muscles of an intellectually impaired man being twitched into the expression of ‘horror and agony’ by the external application of the terminals of a galvanic battery. He then juxtaposed this with a photograph he had commissioned of the photographer Oscar Rejlander acting out exactly the same expression. By photographically proving that muscles could be manipulating by two entirely separate methods — electricity and pantomime — to produce exactly the same expression, Darwin demonstrated that the face lay on top of the self. The face alone, without the self, could enter the plane of abstracted analysis and comparison.

Lavater’s physiognomic analogs and algorithms, and Darwin’s muscular decoupling, had the effect of conceptually delaminating the face from the body. But it was photography that then circulated that face within society. The greatest celebrity of Victorian England was the royal courtesan, partygoer, actress, beauty, and endorser of Pears Soap, Lillie Langtry. Through photography her face left the realm of her body and entered other media spaces. In Victorian England the most lubricious place where newly mobilised images bumped up against each other was the stationer’s shop window, and Lillie’s photographs were right in the middle of every window, disturbing the pre-existing social order. A writer at the time commented on:

… that democratic disregard of rank which prevails in our National Portrait Gallery of the present day — the stationer’s shop window — where such discordant elements of the social fabric as Lord Napier and Lillie Langtry …  rub shoulders jarringly. (Ewing 2008)

Langtry was also the very first person in the world to find herself in a photographic feedback loop, that is, to feel the effects of her photographed face, as it circulated though Victorian visual culture, reflecting back on to her actual body. She recalled:

Photography was now making great strides, and pictures of well-known people had begun to be exhibited for sale. The photographers, one and all, besought me to sit. Presently, my portraits were in every shop-window, with trying results, for they made the public so familiar with my features that wherever I went — to theatres, picture galleries, shops — I was actually mobbed. Thus the photographs gave fresh stimulus to a condition which I had unconsciously created. One night, at a large reception at Lady Jersey’s, many of the guests stood on chairs to obtain a better view of me, and I could not help but hear their audible comments on my appearance as I passed down the drawing-room. Itinerant vendors sold cards about the streets with my portrait ingeniously concealed, shouting ‘The Jersey Lily, the puzzle is to find her’. (1925, p. 40)

In the subsequent 130 years, of course, the velocity of that photographic circulation has only increased in speed and brutality. And now it is not just the mega-famous who find themselves caught up in photographic feedback loops.

Erno Nussenzweig is the poster boy for the ever-present possibility that any of us can become an accidental celebrity. One day in 2000 this elderly, bearded, orthodox Jewish man innocently emerged onto the sidewalk from a subway at Times Square. It wasn’t until five years later that he discovered that at that decisive moment he had been photographed by Philip-Lorca diCorcia who had exhibited the portrait at Pace/McGill Gallery, published it in a book called Heads, sold out its edition of ten prints at between twenty and thirty thousand dollars each, and had eventually won London’s prestigious Citibank Prize with it. Nussenzweig sued for 1.6 million dollars claiming the photographer had used his face for purposes of trade, as well as violated his religious beliefs. His lawyer, Jay Golding, put his case best succinctly to the New York Post who in their report ‘What’s a picture worth — he wants 1.6 Mil’ quoted him as saying: ‘It’s a beautiful picture. But why should this guy make money off of your face?’. (Hafetz 2005, p. 23)  DiCorcia’s lawyer, however, was able to convince the judge that the photographs were taken primarily for the purpose of artistic expression, not commerce, and were therefore protected by the First Amendment.

Or consider the case of Neda Soltan. In 2009 she was videoed by the mobile phones of three separate pro-democracy demonstrators in Iran as she lay dying from a government-sniper’s bullet. After the videos went viral on the internet her face was even turned into a mask and worn by pro-democracy demonstrators at a protest in Paris. (Wikipedia, ‘Death of Neda Agha-Soltan’ 2013) Meanwhile, in the hours after her death, some eager journalists mistakenly harvested a photograph of another Iranian woman with a similar name, Neda Soltani, from her Facebook page. It was this face that was used in many improvised shrines to the other, assassinated Neda. Iranian authorities then began to harass Soltani in order to get her to cooperate with them in claiming hat the original murder had been a set-up by the western media. After twelve days of harassment the other Neda was forced to flee Iran and seek refuge in Germany, from where she wrote a book about her experience, My Stolen Face. (Soltani 2012)

Or put yourself in the shoes of Nicole McCabe, an Australian citizen living in Jerusalem and pregnant with her first child. She also had her photograph harvested from Facebook. In 2010 the Israeli Government had stolen McCabe’s her identity for a Mossad agent to use in order to assassinate a Hamas official. When the story broke and the passports the Israeli’s had forged were circulated in the media, complete with their actual passport numbers, Nicole McCabe decided she did not want to talk to Australian journalists, or be photographed by them. But after having the door slammed on them by McCabe’s angry husband, the journalists simply sourced photographs of her from Facebook, where friends had posted her wedding photographs. Nicole said she felt:

‘sick, angry, embarrassed and upset … even if Facebook is public, they have no right to take what they want without asking. I was more determined than ever not to let anyone take a photo of me.’ (Media Watch 2010)

Or consider the fate of the footballer Sonny Bill Williams. In 2007 he embarked on an afternoon drinking session at the Clovelly Hotel with his team-mates and a group of football groupies that included celebrity iron woman Candice Falzon. Later that night one Clovelly local got a message on his phone. The local reported: “It said Candice Falzon had followed Sonny Bill into the toilets upstairs at the pub and everyone knew about it. The next message I got was an … um … action shot.”  The shot, taken by putting a mobile phone under the toilet door as William and Falzon had sex, was soon being widely circulated amongst the mobile phones of Clovelly, and when it was eventually published on The Daily Telegraph’s website, it attracted a record number of hits. Williams reportedly had to spend all the following morning buying up copies of newspapers in his area in a futile attempt to stop his girlfriend learning of his toilet tryst. Although the person who took the photograph could have been liable for two years jail under the summary offences act for taking lewd photographs in toilets and change rooms, the newspaper itself could not be successfully prosecuted for posting the photograph once it was taken. (The Daily Telegraph 2007)

Incidents such as this show that faces don’t just have features, they also have velocities. The more famous you are the more recognizable you are to more people, but also the faster your face is circulated in the media. Even if you aren’t famous, a lightning bolt of sudden celebrity can dramatically, thought temporarily, catapult your face into a higher strata of recognizability, which propels exchange at a faster velocity.

While some have felt themselves suddenly swept up into these currents of facial velocity, others have attempted, with mixed success, to ride those turbulent currents to even greater fame. Consider the career of Lara Bingle. Once an ordinary bikini model, her celebrity stocks rose in 2006 when she was chosen for a tourism campaign. The men’s magazine Zoo Weekly then published revealing photographs of her that had been taken eleven months earlier, before she was chosen to be the wholesome face of Australia. She sued the magazine for defamation. She won the case when the judge accepted that the magazine was smutty and had implied that she had willingly consented to pose for the sexual titillation of its readers. (Sydney Morning Herald 2006a, 2006b) However by the end of 2006 the tourism campaign had flopped, and Bingle was having an illicit affair with the married footballer Brendan Fevola. But by 2008 her stocks had risen again, she was engaged to the cricketer Michael Clark, and they were one of Sydney’s foremost celebrity couples, even endorsing an energy drink. By early 2010 she had even signed up with celebrity agent Mark Marxson. But then Woman’s Day published a mobile-phone photograph her ex-lover Brendan Fevola had taken of her in the shower back in 2006, which his football mates had been circulating between their mobile phones for some time. Her engagement with Michael Clark broke down and the energy drink company dropped them. Mark Marxson threatened to ‘strike a blow for women’s rights’ by getting her to sue Fevola, but she did not have a case because, unlike in the Zoo Weekly case, no specific laws of defamation were broken. (Byrne 2010) Bingle’s stocks in the celebrity marketplace plummeted but, after a period of careful career management including charity work, family-friendly television appearances, and the avoidance of footballers, they begun to rise again. They rose so far that by 2012 she successfully negotiated with a TV production company to become the subject of a ‘reality’ TV series Being Lara Bingle on a commercial television network. Conveniently, just before the premiere was about to air, another controversy erupted when she was supposedly photographed surreptitiously by the famous paparazzi Darryn Lyons (who was in fact a business partner of Bingle’s) standing nude near the window of the Bondi flat that had been rented for the show. This confected ‘invasion of privacy’ allowed her to tell breakfast radio that: “There should be a law against someone shooting inside your house …. it’s just not right”, thus garnering pre-publicity for the series, and conveniently forming the content of the first episode. That first TV episode rated highly, however subsequent episodes in the series steadily lost viewers, to the point where Bingle’s career languishes once more. (O’Brien 2012)

The camera has ruled Lara Bingle’s career as celebrity, someone defined by our desire to look at her. But this has been the case ever since Lillie Langtry. However the roller coaster ride of Bingle’s value as a bankable celebrity has also been ruled by the sudden eruptions or irruptions, whether planned or not, ‘authorised’ or not, of particular recognisable photographs which re-attach the ‘face’ of Bingle to the ‘brand’ of Bingle in different ways. The speed of their circulation through both social media and the mainstream media, create the volatility of the market for her images. Celebrities sometimes are forced to engage in this market directly. For example, in 2013 the TV and radio presenter Chrissie Swan, who had acquired her celebrity status dispensing homespun wisdom to ordinary women, was photographed smoking whilst she was pregnant, something she herself had campaigned against. So that they could never be published, she engaged in a bidding war with two magazines for the photographs, eventually pulling out after offering $53,000, two thousand dollars less than the winning bid by Womens Day. (news.com.au 2013)

These examples indicate the high speed of facial velocity. But what of facial vectorization? The terrain of the face continues to be the site of scientific research that updates Lavater’s and Darwin’s pioneering efforts and re-affirms the face’s muscular mechanics as central to our humanity — although now not by indexing some immutable inner person as Lavater had supposed, but through their intrinsic role within language comprehension. Contemporary cognitive psychologists such as professor Rolf Zwan, from Erasmus University Rotterdam, are researching the ways that facial muscle-movement directly feedbacks to the brain. For example experiments have shown that if you are smiling you can read sentences about emotions quicker than if you are frowning; and if you have had Botox you have more difficulty interpreting photographic portraits of emotions because in conversation your facial muscles subtly enter into a feedback loop of micro-mimicry with your interlocutor, which Botox decouples. (Lingua Franca 2011; White 2011; Zwaan 2013) Other experiments suggest that if you are in the presence of the representation of a face your moral standards are higher. (Bourrat, Baumard, McKay 2011; Smith 2011)

While the face as a concept remains central to discourses of the human, individual faces are also increasingly caught up in ever-finer meshes of delamination, vectorization, and mobilization. For instance plastic surgery is moving down the social scale from being the prerogative of the famous and the fatuous, to being a commonplace convention practice for all of us. ‘Extreme makeovers’ are increasingly re-mapping everyday faces, and recalibrating the vectoral angles between eyes, noses and chins in order to shift their owners up in scales of beauty.

If the facial structure itself can be morphed through surgery, in other instances the facial pixel maps representing the person can be manipulated. The regular Photoshoping of celebrity portraits in our magazines simply replicates in two dimensions the effects of the cosmetic surgeon’s scalpel, and the amount of pixelated deviation away from the ‘truth’ can even be algorithmically calculated and given a value. (Fahid, Kee 2011) Photoshop can also be used to disguise faces. Consider the case of Christopher Paul Neil who liked to post pictures of himself sexually abusing Vietnamese and Cambodian children on paedophile websites. He applied a swirl filter to his face to disguise his identity, but German police simply applied the same filter in reverse and unswirled the pattern and reveal his face. Interpol then posted the image on their website where he was recognised by five different people and identified. After his face was picked up by a surveillance camera at Bangkok Airport he was eventually arrested in. (Daily Mail 2007; Wikipedia  ‘Christopher Paul Neil’2013)

Neil was recognised by a human being, but the technological possibility exists that eventually his face could have been recognised by a machine. Facial recognition software applies algorithms to the same sets of vectors between eyes, nose and mouth that Lavater originally identified. Australia is at the forefront of facial recognition research. We have not only already introduced ‘smart gates’ at our airports to match our facial algorithms with a database, but National ICT Australia (NICTA) received 1.5 million dollars from the Cabinet to research what it describes as the ‘holy grail’ of surveillance: ‘real-time face-in-the-crowd recognition technology’. Concurrent with these Australian research projects, international protocols are also being developed. For instance the US Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology hosted the Face Recognition Grand Challenge open to entrants from industry, universities and research institutes. This means, according to NICTA, that:

The surveillance industry is currently undergoing the same revolutionary changes that shook up the computer industry when internet use took off in the 1990s. Instead of each supplier providing a unique product, the sector will soon be dominated by standards and interoperability. Surveillance will eventually merge into a virtually seamless multimedia network embracing social media, location services, mobile devices, maps, and 3D models. (Advanced Surveillance Project 2013; (Bigdeli, LovellMau, 201abc)

However even though technology is yet to actually deliver on its promise, the idea of facial recognition and facial manipulation has already become commonplace in the media, and almost domesticated. For several years it has been something we can all indulge in as a kind of game. A whole class of smart phone apps are based on face recognition software.  We can also apply face recognition algorithms to the vast reservoirs of faces on the internet, or on Facebook, or in our iPhoto libraries, in order to locate friends we are looking for even when the metadata tags aren’t available; or to look for celebrities; or to calculate how much we look like a celebrity; or to calculate which of our children most looks like us. Many new cameras also have face recognition software built in which recognises, automatically focuses on, and tags, particular people even before the shutter is clicked.

In a way of thinking about the face that is very similar to Lavater’s and Darwin’s, the frontier of contemporary 3D computer animation is the mapping of actual micro-muscular movements onto animated wire-frames. The most famous example of this so far has occurred in the movie Avatar, 2009, where actors wore head-rigs which filmed the movement of motion-tracking markers on their faces. This digital information was then ‘peeled’ off the actor’s face and re-applied to a 3D animation wire-frame model. The use of the same rigs on the actor Andy Serkis for the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, 2011, finally placed the human face and its expressions in the realm as animals, as imagined by Lavater 230 years ago. Significantly, this technology has also become domesticated in on-line games such as Macdonald’s website Avartize Yourself. Other games take forensic ‘age progression’ software used by missing-persons bureaus, and turn them into games such as the iPhone app Hourface.

Why is worthwhile looking so closely at tabloid trash and silly on-line games? Because they, as much as high-end cutting-edge research, are the symptoms of two new tendencies in the valency of the face. Firstly, we are all becoming celebrities, at least potentially. The velocity of our own faces can suddenly speed up when we least expect it. Secondly, our faces are all part of what NICTA calls a ‘virtually seamless multimedia environment’. This is not just analogical space, the bit-mapping and comparison of appearances, but algorithmic space, where faces are vectorised and turned into equations that can instantly interact with a myriad of other equations. The pervasiveness of celebrity culture, combined with the explosion of algorithmic biometrics within merging media and data spaces, has had a profound effect upon the ways in which every one of us regards our own face. The face is congealing as a bastion from which to advance privacy rights and proclaim property rights.

There has been a consistent and inexorable drift in legal opinion in Australia towards a tort of privacy — which we currently do not have — that is ultimately focussed on protecting the human face. Way back in 2001 Justice Dowd was able to confidently claim that a person ‘does not have a right not to be photographed’. But by 2003 Justice Michael Kirby was commenting 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. (Nemeth 2012)

By 2008 Professor David Weisbot, president of the Australian Law Reform Commission, was saying that during their inquiry into privacy law, the ALRC had:

consistently heard strong support for the enactment of a statutory cause of action for serious invasion of privacy. While the debate overseas has focussed on the activities of paparazzi photographers, interestingly, most of the concerns expressed to the ALRC related more to the private sphere than the mainstream media — and to the protection of ordinary citizens rather than celebrities. People are extremely concerned about new technology and the ease with which their private personal images may be captured and disseminated.

In their recommendations the ALRC called for: ‘a private cause of action where an individual has suffered a serious invasion of privacy, in circumstances in which the person had a reasonable expectation of privacy’. (Australian Law Reform Commission 2008)  And in 2011 the NSW Law Reform Commission agreed, releasing draft laws that stated that an invasion of privacy should exist where a person ‘has a reasonable expectation of privacy’, which could potentially even include a public place. (New South Wales Law Reform Commission 2010; Marr 2009))

So, why this paradox? Why, when our personal information is flowing more freely than ever before, when 80% of people want CCTV cameras in their public spaces, and when the vast majority of Facebook users are happy to use its default settings where there is little or no privacy at all, why are we getting increasingly paranoid about our faces? I think it is because the face is caught up in a wider transformation. It is swimming against the tide that is pulling the private into the public because it is part of a stronger current, from signification to possession. Those of us feeling the effects of both celebrity culture and algorithmic data-media are regarding privacy less as a singular inherent right, and more as a fungible personal commodity which can be exchanged in a market place. For instance Nicole McCabe knew her participation in Facebook was not free, she knew she had ‘sold’ it some of her privacy in order to enjoy its benefits, but suddenly and unexpectedly she came to realize that perhaps she had ‘traded off’ too much of her privacy. This mercantile logic is also beginning to pervade other environments of facial interaction, such as public places. Within the politics of the face the receding sense of the private, in the sense of the ‘the discreet’, is being overtaken by an encroaching sense of the privatised, in the sense of ‘the owned’. We all increasingly agree implicitly with Nussenzweig’s lawyer: ‘why should this guy make money off of your face?’.

The abstraction, delamination and mobilization of the face has led to its reification. The face is closing down on the sense of mutual obligation that, in Levinas’s terms, once arose when one face faced another. This reification is intensified by the way that all faces, even our own, can be peeled away from bodies to enter new virtual spaces. Celebrities are merely at the vanguard of this transformation. Celebrities believe they are their own commodity. They believe that their face is the result of their labour and their talent. It is their capital, their brand, their corporate logo. They believe they therefore have a proprietary right in it. In America their faces are even protected by a common law ‘right of publicity’ which grants them, in the words of one key judgement, ‘the exclusive right to control the commercial value and exploitation of [their] name, picture, likeness or personality.’ (Wikipedia, ‘Personality Rights’ 2013) And, just like them, we ordinary people also feel that our own faces are also becoming more monologic, less a window or an interface, and more a logo for ‘Brand Me’. That configuration of eyes, nose and mouth stuck to the front of our heads, which we call the face, is now not so much a portal to the inner self, or a species of physiognomic autobiography, or an interface to our fellow citizens, as much as a rebus of identity, or perhaps a corporate logo for the persona.

Martyn Jolly


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Bigdeli, A & Lovell, B & Mau, S  2011b ‘Something to watch over me: policing our national bordersThe Conversation, 26 May, viewed 31 January 2013, < http://theconversation.edu.au/>

Bigdeli, A & Lovell, B & Mau, S  2011c ‘All-seeing eye: the future of surveillance and social media’ The Conversation, 27 May, viewed 31 January 2013, < http://theconversation.edu.au/>

Bourrat, P & Baumard, N & McKay R 2011 “Surveillance Cues Enhance Moral Condemnation.” Evolutionary Psychology,  9(2) pp193-199

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Chesler, P 2010  ‘Ban the Burqa? The Argument in Favor’, The Middle East Quarterly, Fall, pp34-45.

Daily Mail 2007, ‘Police name internet paedophile caught out in digitally altered images’, 16 October, viewed January 31 2013 < http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-486334/Police-internet-paedophile-caught-digitally-altered-images.html&gt;

Darwin, C 1872, The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals, J Murray London.

David Hafetz 2005 ‘What’s a picture worth — he wants 1.6 Mil’, New York Post, 26 June 2005, p23

Deleuze, G & Félix Guattari, F 1988, ‘Year Zero: Faciality’, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, , trans Massumi, B, Athlone Press, London.

Ewing, W A 2008, Face: the new photographic portrait, Thames & Hudson, London.

Fahid, H & Kee, E 2011, ‘A perceptual metric for photo retouching’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the Unites States of America, 28 November, PNAS 108 (50) 19907-19912

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Facial Fascination

‘Facial Fascination’, National Portrait Gallery, 13 April, 2011

Temperature of the face has increased:

Faces always important:

Scientific basis:

  1. Nineteenth century science erroneously believed that facial ‘types’ indicated criminality and intelligence.
  2. Charles Darwin established that expression was an instinctual animal behaviour.
  3. Paul Ekman’s work in the 1960s established that facial expression, and unconscious microexpressions were biological, a result of deep evolution, rather than cultural. His work has become wide popularized and influenced popular TV shows like ‘Lie to Me’.

The face is still seen as the repository of the self.

Also long history of painted portraiture, miniatures and photography.

But at the same time recent changes have raised the ‘temperature’ of the way that we interact with faces.

Burkas and niqabs

Yesterday the French law threatening fines of 200 euros to women wearing burkas or niqabs came into force. No matter which side of the debate you fell on, nonetheless it established how important faces are. To one side of the argument, since the face is the self it should be open and frank and engaged when out in the collective civic space, to signify your participation in the civic community. To the other side, female faces are dangerous things, constantly soliciting licentious gazes, therefore women are more safe and self-contained if their faces are covered


Facial recognitions software is beginning to effect the way we think about the face, basically it transforms the bit-mapped map of the face as a terrain and transforms it into a short algorithm based on the angles between eyes, nose and mouth.

  1. Camera focusing automatically finds faces in the viewfinder
  2. iPhoto automatically finds faces in my iPhoto library
  3. Airport security
  4. Animation, in movies such as avatar the microexpressions of real actors are peeled of their skulls and directly mapped onto 3D animation wireframes


Then there’s the rise of celebrity culture. This has also ramped up and invaded our own everyday lives, so we are beginning to think more like celebrities, where our face is less an interface, but more a logo for ‘brand me’. Our face is private, less in the sense that it discreetly ours and more in the sense that it is privatized, our property:

  1. Plastic surgery is becoming more commonplace, faces can be morphed and improved
  2. There are continual battles between paparazzi and celebrities, such as that between Nicole Kidman and Jamie Fawcett over the circulation of the celebrity image.
  3. In America people in street photos have attempted to sue photographers


There has been a long line of scandals involving the increasing ease and speed with which photos can be taken and circulated. Lets track back through the scandals, all of which have happened in substantial legal grey areas.

  1. Currently there’s Kate, whose sex with another ADFA cadet was Skyped to the next room.
  2. There’s the St Kilda Photo scandal, where a 17 year old schoolgirl maliciously posted naked photos of footballer Nick Riewoldt on a bed, which she had appropriated from footballer’s Sam Gilbert’s computer, on the web. (Although he also took part in a campaign for bed linen for Linen House)
  3. Another footballer sent his mates mobile phone photographs of Joel Monaghan having sex with a dog, which circulated for a few weeks amongst the mobile phones of footballers, before being tweeted by an animal rights campaigner.
  4. Then there’s Brendan Fevola, sending mobile phone photographs of Lara Bingle in the shower to his mates, which eventually led to the breakdown of her engagement to the cricketer Michael Clarke.
  5. Lara Bingle had previously successfully sued Zoo Weekly for defamation when they photographed sexy photographs of her during the Australian tourism campaign, but she had no legal basis to sue Fevola.
  6. Or then there’s Sonny Bill Williams photographed with a mobile pone having sex with iron woman Candice Falzon in a pub’s toilet cubicle. After the photograph was sent to the Daily telegraph he had to spend all the next day buying up copies of the newspaper in his area so his girlfriend wouldn’t find out.
  7. Then there’s Nicole McCabe, an Australia woman living in Israel. She had her identity stolen by Israel so they could give it to one of their agents to assassinate a Hamas official. Then, when she decided she didn’t want to talk to the Australian media, the media simply lifted her wedding photographs off Facebook. Facebook can do anything it likes with the photos you post, and regularly sells private photographs to the press.

Moral Panics

Then there’s moral panics over the supposed predatory behaviour of photographers.

  1. We have widespread panics over the art photography of Bill Henson.
  2. Regulations against using mobile phones in change rooms and pools
  3. Attempts by councils to widen those regulations to cover beaches and parks.

So this produces the following subtle, but I think profound, tendencies:

Trends in legal opinion

There has been a consistent and inexorable drift in legal opinion in Australia towards a tort of privacy, which we currently do not have, which would be focussed on protecting the human face. Way back in 2001Justice Dowd was able to confidently claim that a person ‘does not have a right not to be photographed’. But by 2003 Justice Michael Kirby was citing the European Convention on Human rights to say that jurisdictions were beginning to look toward an actionable wrong of invasion of privacy ‘stimulated in part by invasions of individual privacy, including by the media, deemed unacceptable to society’. And in 2008 the Australian Law Reform Commission said that it consistently heard strong support for a tort of privacy. Although it noted: ‘the concerns expressed … related more to the private sphere than the mainstream media — and to the protection of ordinary citizens rather than celebrities.’ This year the NSW Law Reform Commission released draft laws that state that an invasion of privacy would exist where a person ‘has a reasonable expectation of privacy’, which could also include a public place.

Consistent with this trend in legal opinion, street photographers consistently report that ordinary people are more wary about being photographed than they were ten years ago. They report that security guards and police feel perfectly entitled to stop photographers photographing even when what they are doing is perfectly legal.

The exhibition

Has all this had an effect on the exhibition? Well obviously not directly. But the whole show does feel quite private and secure.

Many galleries, including this one, balance a public appetite for celebrity with an interest in the psychology of the face. (Martin Schoeller Close Up, playing recognisability off against uncanny closeness; next show: Inner Worlds. The current Annie Liebovitz show has her magazine work enlarged up big, interspersed with her ‘personal’ snaps following he life of her family and her partner printed small and in black and white, when I was there at the weekend, hardly anyone was looking at the black and whites, but they were all gathered around the colour celebrity shots.

Only a very few photographs are candid, taken without the sitter being aware of the camera. Only three photographs (Ballet dancer, journalists, wife and baby) are taken on the street, the place where faces are in most contention. And in only one photograph is there an ‘audience’ within the photograph (NAIDOc Ball). These photographs stand out for me because they relieve the intense domestic privacy of the rest of the show. Quite a few photographs are taken at the beach, that other place of contention, but that has also been made a private almost domestic space by their framing. Similarly there are only a few staged or studio tableau shots.

Australian Photography as a whole

Australian photography dominated by prizes.

  1. National Photography Prize 25,000 1200 x 25 = $30,000 One in twenty chance of being picked.
  2. Doug Moran Contemporary Photography Prize SLNSW $100,000
  3. Head On Portait Prize ACP $50,000
  4. Albury Gallery acquisition Prize
  5. Monash Gallery Bowness Photography Prize
  6. Gold Coast Gallery Joseph Ulrick and Win Schubert Contemporary Photography prize

Curator Sarah Engledow — according to catalogue essay, has deliberately avoided the sensational or the gimmicky or the too arty, perhaps to contrast it against the Head On portrait prize. The dominant style seems to be an intense, basic sincerity. The overall themes that emerge are the family, and the stages of life

Winner is deliberately low key, non-gimmicky, but intense.

The Hang

The hang is given some coherency, as we follow from childhood to adolescence to old age, with a final room based on the eternal cycles of birth and death. This could be called a ‘Family of Man’ hang. Photography’s most famous show from the 1950s, where the metaphor of growing up in a family was applied to the entire human race.

Because these shows are selected from emailed jpegs, and it is up to the photographer to enlarge and print their photographs, there are often unfortunate errors of scale which have to accommodated. But fortunately in this show too big pictures and tacky frames are kept to a minimum with some exceptions:

Too big: Sisters; Les and Eileen

Too small: My ancestors, myself and my alternate

Just right: Donna Gibbons, Martin Smith

Too tacky: Robert; Vicki Lee and Bill Higginson

Successful walls:

Wall of patriarchs, good solid photography harking back to ‘traditional styles’ of say August Sander

Australian tableau photography in the 1980s

‘Australian tableau photography in the 1980s’, National Gallery of Australia photography symposium, 21 May, 2011.

1980s Australian Art Photography

Three formal techniques characterize 1980s Australian art photography: hand colouring, collage and tableau. I want to argue that these three things were determined by one underpinning factor: that the new art photographers of the 1980s were very aware that they were a new generation, succeeding preceding generations. I will also argue that these three techniques were infuenced by several key theoretical ideas which were widely influential at the time.


Let’s pick a date at random: 1984. The Australian Centre for Photography was one decade old. It is now almost four decades old. Specialist magazines like Photofile were widely read, and other magazines like Art Network regularly discussed photography; museums like the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria and the National Gallery of Australia regularly exhibited photography; and corporations like Phillip Morris, CSR and Polaroid all had Australian photography collections.

A previous generation of photographers, lets call them the ‘1970s’, had succeeded in establishing this infrastructure of art photography. In the decades before the 1970s — the 1960s — Australian art schools didn’t teach art photography much, commercial galleries didn’t sell art photography much, museums and collectors didn’t buy it much, and art magazines didn’t review it much. But in the 1980s they did.

The decade of change — the 1970s — was a decade dominated by the 35mm black and white snapshot. Of course there are some exceptions. Some conceptual and performance artists such are Robert Rooney, Tim Johnson [Johnson SLIDE] or Robert Owen did use photographs as a kind of ‘neutral’ recording tool for their performances or for their conceptual stratagems. And some photographers did work in colour or alternative techniques during the 1970s. Nonetheless the dominant paradigm was the snapshot. [Jerrems SLIDE]The snapshot was the way the 1970s generation defined themselves against the previous generation or primarily commercial and journalistic photographers. In 1978 the Australian’s reviewer Sandra McGrath took up the cause of the 1960s generation of commercial photographers who had been disenfranchised by what she termed ‘the great camera art explosion’.

‘’He’s a commercial photographer’ has overtones of — well he’s not that creative, or his work isn’t personal, or maybe it isn’t arty enough. It all seems a bit unfair. The usual photographic exhibitions in recent years have been obsessed on the “snapshot” generation, who in turn have been obsessed with photographing their pregnant girlfriends, party antics, bed-sitters, friends making love, shooting up or drinking beer. Everything has been photographed very casually, very intimately and very informally. It may be more appropriate to call this younger generation the Narcissus generation.’

If that was the 1970s, look how it had changed by the 1980s. The title of a project show curated by Gael Newton in 1981 summed it up. She called it: Reconstructed Vision: Contemporary Work with Photography. [Install SLIDE]The titles of other key books and exhibitions from the period continue this them, such as Kurt Brereton’s Photodiscourse from 1981 or the Virginia Coventry edited book, The Critical Distance, from 1985.The automatic vision of the snapshot was under interrogation, it needed to be broken down, rebuilt, and deliberately worked with. This new generation were not narcissists casually inhabited the medium, but self-conscious camera workers breaking their vision down from the outside.


What tools were used to reconstruct vision? Several potent ideas were circulating in Australia at the time, which were distilled from a much wider body of writing collectively called ‘theory’. In the art world of the 1980s these ideas, which were often quite simple, and extracted from larger and more complex, circumspect and philosophically embedded texts, gained an almost autonomous status as free-floating short-hand ideas, charged with contemporaneity and ready to be appropriated and applied to a wide variety of creative circumstances.

The Gaze

Laura Mulvey’s 1975 article Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema, which was widely anthologised at the time, took the scopic structures of classical Hollywood cinema as the paradigm for the more general act of looking within patriarchal culture at large. Hollywood cinema gave pleasure to both men and women, but the pleasure it gave through the filming of its beautiful stars actually had encoded within it patriarchal ideology itself.

‘In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly.’

Cameras therefore bore a gendered gaze, a look which turned women from active subjects to passive objects. This power was insidiously built into the very structure of camera vision. To resist patriarchy you must also resist the gendering power of the camera’s look. [Rrap SLIDE]At the opening of the decade Julie Rrap’s installation Disclosures: A Photographic Construct brought her own performed body directly in the line of fire of the camera’s gaze to provoke, ricochet, expose and deconstruct it’s role. As George Alexander said: Julie Brown-Rrap’s work is both a physical ordeal as well as a visual experience. As she acts out objectification, she displaces it.

[Hewson/Waker SLIDE]


The semiotician Roland Barthes’ two key articles The Photographic Message and The Rhetoric of the Image from the early 1960s were translated into English and published in 1977, and were widely influential. Barthes mapped the science of signification from the linguistic realm onto the visual realm. Photographs became texts that could be interpreted and analysed, but only with a set of tools available to the cognoscenti. They now had two layers, the layer of denotation, still attached to the real, but on top of that, another layer, a layer of connotation, which was attached not to the real, but to culture and politics. A photograph of somebody was no longer just a photograph of somebody. It was a piece of that actual person transferred onto the paper, on top of which the rhetorical language of their pose, their clothing, their gesture, their background, their lighting, and the angle with which they’d been shot were all added. Moreover, the bottom layer of denotation worked to make innocent (Barthes’ potent word) the top layer of connotation. The cultural and political messages of various powerful interests were thus surreptitiously slipped into photographs that, if we weren’t careful, might appear to be reality itself! Luckily ordinary people had art photographers to protect them from the pernicious influence of these messages.

Precession of the Simulacra

This hyperbolic reading of the power of images was ramped up further by Jean Baudrillard. In 1983 one of his articles was translated by the Australians Paul Foss and Paul Patton and received its first global publication in English in Art & Text  magazine. In Baudrillard’s formulation the simulacra was not an inferior copy of an original and unique real, rather it is part of an infinite chain of simulation which the real itself had now become part of. The real was not the beginning point off this chain of simulation, it was now produced by simulation — the ‘precession of the simulacra’ of the article’s title. In this millenarian fantasy the real itself was so corroded by images that it had become, in Baudrillard’s words, a desert! Baudrillard said:

‘It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself, that is, an operation to deter every real process by its operational double, a metastable, programmatic, perfect descriptive machine which provides all the signs of the real and short circuits all its vicissitudes.’

What is produced by these significatory operations is hyperreality — a physical reality sheltered from any distinction between the real and the imaginary. The following year Baudrillard himself visited Sydney to a celebrity’s reception. At about the same time the Italian theorist Umberto Eco also visited Australia to a hero’s reception. His book Travels in Hyperreality was published in English 1986. It was a collection of old newspaper essays which took a playful anthropological look at various ‘hyperreal’ phenomena, particularly in America, like wax works and Disneyland.

The simulation machines of the 1980s were not only the wax works, theme parks and automata which Eco loved, but also: glossy magazines; movies; television (particularly live television broadcast via satellite); xerox machines and billboards. This media landscape was not dissimilar to the media landscape which had been the background of pop art in the 1960s. However forms of electronic and live media were becoming increasingly important, and the age of the personal computer was just on the horizon. The photograph was a cheap, efficient way to evoke and engage with all of these industrialized forms of simulation at the domestic scale of the photo artist.

Heady, apocalyptic theories such as these had a big effect on young impressionable photographers. In 1985 one of them overdosed on Baudrillard, and gave himself Marinetti-like delusions. He wrote:

We no longer feel any joy in camera vision. We no longer delight in the eye. Photographers were once ever alert to the new, the revealing, the penetrating. Not any more. No more vertiginous camera angles, no more witty compositions, no more frozen moments, no more timeless landscapes… Now our photographer’s eyes are numbed. The stroboscopic ‘shocks of recognition’, provoked by ‘decisive moments’ in time, have reached the frequency of a TV’s pulsation. … The photograph was once the function of a vertical thrust – a probing lens, a straining eye. Print clarity, lens resolution and artistic perception were all indices of this depth. …. All the photographs in the world have congealed to form a global, gelatinous skin. Photography is now not so much a window on the world as an oily film which coats it. …Current photographic practice has ceased to be defined by the vertical thrust entailed in the act of taking a photograph. It is no longer a series of individualistic probes. Now it is defined by the horizontal slide of the photograph’s infinite displacement and endless proliferation through reproduction. (A reproduction in which the mechanical and electronic exponentially multiply the photograph’s inherent reproducibility.) Now we blindly feel our way across the global, mobius surface of photography with the expectation of revealing nothing new. … We abandon vision in favour of the surface, penetration in favour of the survey. We invite the quotational, parodic and ironic to play across the photographic field.

Who wrote that? I think it might have been me. I wrote it for a sheet that accompanied a show called Killing Time at Mori Gallery which was curated by Bruce Searle and included Jacky Redgate, Anne Zahalka and Kendal Heyes, amongst others.


Another key philosophic term which was dislodged from it’s original context and made available for re-use in the 1980s was Walter Benjamin’ concept of aura. In 1936 Benjamin had argued that the magical value of the old fashioned authentically hand-made, original and unique work of art, it’s aura, which had worked away over centuries to kept the masses enthralled to the cult of art, was being stripped away in the modern epoch by mass-consumed and mechanically-reproduced photographs and films. Yet photographers in the 1980s remained enthralled by the aura. Supposedly a redundant bourgeois value, it nonetheless remained fascinating and seductive, particularly for those working in mechanical mediums. Could an aura be remanufactured, or at least simulated, within the very medium that was supposed to destroy it?

Despite the power of these ideas of the gaze, the simulacra, hyperreality, the aura and visual rhetoric, the photographers of the 1980s continued to be very interested in the Real. Not the real directly — the personal narcissism of the 1970s snapshooters in their bedrooms and at their parties — but the overarching narratives of reality. I will show that the narratives which most concerned them were identity narratives, particularly Australian identity, subcultural identity, and gender identity.


Three techniques were used in response to these ideas: handcolouring, collage and tableau. Each was reconstructive, each signalled a generational break with the snapshooters of the seventies, while also signalling an allegiance to both longer histories of critical resistance and to larger bodies of ‘authentic’ art production.


Collage bore the most explicit allegiance to social and cultural critique. We had all been taught about John Heartfield’s anti-Nazi montages at art school, and the German collage artist Klaus Staeck, a second generation Heartfield, was exhibited at the first WOPOP conference in Melbourne1980. [Staeck SLIDE]

Collage directly intervened in the smooth media flows of books and magazines. All you needed were scissors and glue and a retouching brush. Significantly, these were the first tools to be the most frequently used from the Photoshop palette when it finally came along ten years later in the early nineties.

In 1980 Anne Zahalka played with kitsch images of Australiana in her series Beautiful Australia, [SLIDE] as did Midnight Oil four years later when they used an apocalyptic collage by the Japanese artist Tsunehisa Kimura for their album Red Sails in the Sunset. [SLIDE] Zahalka also used collage to reinscribe received Australian historical narratives. [SLIDE] In The Immigrants she used family snapshots to write the post-war migrant history of her family into McCubbin’s anglo-colonial painting The Pioneer. In collaging iconic imagery, works such as these appropriated some of that iconic imagery’s residual political and cultural power.


Less explicit, I think, were the historical links that handcolouring had to women’s practice in the industrial photo studios of the earlier part of the twentieth century. But in Robyn Stacey’s hands handcolouring went from a feminizing, hand crafted application of nurturing care directly onto the surface of the print as object, [SLIDE] [SLIDE] [SLIDE] towards a more hyperreal mediatised space, as she used punkish flouro colours [SLIDE] [SLIDE], or reshot her handcoloured images and reprinted them on glossy Cibachrome paper. [SLIDE] [SLIDE] The handcolouring was therefore shifted from the personal register, where it had been in the 1970s, to the mediated register. From the physical to the virtual.

This technique introduced another element into the mix, historical genre. Historical genres were amateurised and domesticated, taken from the control of industrialized media production and overarching historical narratives and given idiosyncratic and personal meanings. Other photographers, such as Fiona Macdonald, also produced series, without hand colouring, which nonetheless recreated familiar media genres in a deliberately lo-fi way. [SLIDE] [SLIDE] To a certain extent there was an element of retro-hipsterism in this play with genre, but also a recognition that genre meant power and that there was a politics in you controlling genre rather than it controlling you. Robyn Stacey’s retro handcolouring looked great on the covers of Died Pretty records, [SLIDE] [SLIDE] [SLIDE] but it could also construct historical allegories when, for instance, it was reproduced during 1988 the Bicentennial year in the book Island in the Stream in a work called Modified Myths. [SLIDE] [SLIDE] [SLIDE] [SLIDE]

The Cibachrome print with its hard metallic duco was the perfect print-medium for the period. It was as far as possible as you could get from the Kodak tri-x film D76-developer print of the 1970s, and as close as you could get to glamour and spectacle and artefactual ‘aura’ on a tight budget. It did, however, restrict the scale of the print; and scale, how to get as much of it as possible, was something which all photographers at this time struggled with. Sometimes the need for scale drove photographers back to black and white to get the size they wanted, for example in Jacky Redgate’s magnificent cornucopia image, which seemed monumental at the time. [SLIDE] When the Polaroid corporation brought out their massive Polaroid camera that took 50 x 60 cm unique polaroids, photographers such as Fiona Hall, Anne Zahalka, Robyn Stacey and Debra Phillips got the opportunity to make giant polaroids. [SLIDE]


But of course the leitmotif of the period was the tableau. [Zahalka SLIDE] No other visual tactic sums up the period as succinctly as the tableau. At the time I think the tableau artist were largely unaware of the long history of tableaus in photography and lantern-slides, except for the famous examples of Oscar Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson. Their tableaus leapfrogged these more immediate histories and gave them access to visual rhetorics drawn from the history of western painting that had been absorbed as a kind of collective unconscious into mass media imagery.

Tableaus and techniques like handcolouring could be used to manufacture a kind of photographic aura. As Catriona Moore wrote in the catalogue Pure Invention, a show of women photographers, including Robyn Stacey and Jacky Redgate that travelled to Japan, faking aura could be a form of feminist empowerment:

Our feelings are prompted by the attention these photographs give to technique, stage-craft, masquerade. This work has an almost tactile, artisanal or sculptural quality, built through an association with cinematic, painterly or theatrical forms. Mechanical reproduction here paradoxically invests an almost carnal aura of hitherto denigrated or low-life popular cultural signs. The complicitous spectator appreciates this ‘faked’ auratic quality. We too take centre-stage to feign a [past] connoisseurial glory, an immersion and abandonment to the seduction of palpable surface effects and stylish mise-en-scene. We recognise well-known codes and gambits of glamour, and appreciate our own informed sensibility.

[Ferran SLIDE] Tableaus referred both to the weight of western visual patrimony via the prestige of painting, as well as to the dominant media for the twentieth century imaginary, cinema. As Adrian Martin wrote in an article about Scenes on the Death of Nature in a 1986 Photofile, tableaus could slow down the heady onrush of media imagery:

Tableau based work is curious and paradoxical: we witness films slowing down to, desiring to emulate the still photograph, and literally trembling with the tension required: and we gaze at photos in a perpetually frozen moment of torsion as if trying to animate themselves in order to take their place as simply passing frames in some unknown, imaginary film.

As well they could evoke supposedly timeless myths:

the question today is… what can you know with the movable (not immutable or originary) structures of myth? Modern culture is full of strategic ‘drifts’, from the rewritings of mythic fiction…that choose not to adopt the regressive mode of ‘return’ to a before-and-beyond. Myths told in the present are (whether they know it or not) of and for the present.

Anne Ferran herself agreed. She said:

The idea was not to claim any power of resistance for these images but to go the other way, to make them overtly passive and unresistant to see what effect that would have. One of the problems to be dealt with is whether these pictures are literally passive and compliant or whether they are (instead/also) somehow about passivity and compliance. Whether they are exactly what the pretend to be or something else as well.

Not all tableaus of the period relied on a manufactured aura, or shifted questions of desire into a rhetorical space. Some, such as Judith Ahern’s magnificent Cowboygirl were, while being allegorical, also just as immediate and painfully autobiographical as well. [Ahern SLIDE]

Other tableaus more explicitly referred to film. In 1985 Kendal Heyes, Anne Zahalka, and two others (Joy Stevens and David James) held an exhibition of Cibachromes at Artspace. To our eyes now these Cibachromes look quite small. They were shot in a studio with a rear projected 35mm slide, with the figures in the foreground also being lit by slide projectors. In a period before the self-equalizing digital image the projector’s hotspot gives each image a wonderfully groggy, gluggy, overheated feel.

Anne Zahlka’s Tourist as Theorist (Theory Takes a Holiday) [SLIDE] [SLIDE] [SLIDE] [SLIDE]  used the artificiality of the tableau and it’s seqentiality to visually ‘theorize’ the hyperrerality of tourism —where the simulacrum of the glossy colour brochure precedes the real experience of jostling crass crowds. Zahalka wrote: ‘In an attempt to possess, to appropriate, the tourist photographed the sight, was photographed with the sight, brought souvenirs and postcards, but was never able to fully accede to its pure presence’.

Kendal Heyes’s series From a Shipwreck [SLIDE] [SLIDE] [SLIDE] [SLIDE] [SLIDE] was made up of: ‘philosophical fragments, metaphorical figure by some of my favourite authors, brought together in ‘set pieces’ from a hypothetically completed text, a movie.’

As I concluded in my catalogue essay to the show:

‘Photodramas’ does not attack photography or film. It is not avant-garde, nor revolutionary. Rather it seeks to both loosen and rupture traditional cinematic and photographic modes of reading. The viewer is invited to inhabit the fissures and travel the faultlines of these ruptures, to read the stories without being their subject, to view the photographs without being the camera’s eye. In fact, to be the worst possible audience — interested but obstreperous.


[Mental as Anything SLIDE] How are we different to those strange creatures from long ago, back last century in the 1980s, those ancient photographers with their crazy ideas and theories of everything. I would like to conclude by making some extremely broad and sweeping generalizations, to which you will all be able to immediately think of exceptions I know. But I will make them anyway.

They were historically conscious. We aren’t.
They were concerned with the past as a presence and a force in the present. We aren’t.
They were interested in photography as a discipline and a medium. We aren’t.
They read books that seemed to be of the moment and attempted to put what they read into action. We don’t.
They thought of themselves as a new generation, not necessarily avant-garde or radical, but definitely a new generation succeeding the previous ones. Our young photographers no longer do.
They thought of themselves as Australian, not in a parochial or nationalistic sense, but in the sense that they were concerned with the problem of Australian identity, or with the problem gendered, racial and sexual identities within an Australian context as much as a global context. We no longer worry about ‘Australianness’ in that way.
They were more suspicious than we are.
They were suspicious of pictures of the body. There are very few bodies in this period. With the obvious exception of Bill Henson few photographers photographed bodies. The body was generally displaced during this period. [Fereday SLIDE] It is often evoked through metonymic substitutes for it, folds of red drapery being a favourite. [MacDonald SLIDE] When bodies did appear, such as in the work of Julie Rrap, it was in a clinical laboratory of the gaze for the purposes of auto-critique. [Rrap SLIDE]
They were suspicious of public spaces. They didn’t go out much with their cameras. Public spaces and landscapes were often displaced into the studio. [Zahalka SLIDE] The kept to their studios and handled a lot of the issues of the day not directly, but by proxy.

Thank You

Martyn Jolly

Cardinal Points: The Significance of Visual vectors in Australian landscape Photography

‘Cardinal Points: The significance of visual vectors in Australian Landscape Photography’, Art Gallery of New South Wales photography symposium, 9 April, 2011

For Australia’s landscape photographers of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the acknowledgment of their point of view as photographers suddenly became very important. They all used very different strategies, but their intentions were strongly aligned.

For instance Wesley Stacey, shooting one-handed out of the windows of his Kombi as he freewheeled across Australia, often included his rear vision mirror or his window frame in the shot. And the shots themselves were presented as artefacts, instamatic ‘snaps’ with rounded corners like you’d get from the chemists, simply mounted onto long boards.

Douglas Holleley also travelled across Australia in a kombi, courtesy of the Australian taxpayer on an Australia Council Grant. He packed a quick-shooting Polaroid SX-70 camera as well as Polaroid film for an 8 x 10 view camera. Of course his rigorous grids are much more formalistically structured than Stacey’s deliberately spontaneous compositions, yet they also draw attention to the point of view of the photographer, incorporating what Gael Newton and Robert MacFarlane called a ‘geodesic perspective’, a subjectively imposed geometry to interpret raw nature. Yet Holleley’s geometry, combined with his rich gelatinous chemical pigments and the shifts in focus and angle of view in each segment also created an almost three-dimensional, optically induced, phenomenological environment almost as immersive as Stacey’s hyperactive hippy instamatics. As Newton and McFarlane say; ‘…forms often explod[ing] on the consciousness of the viewer’. (And I remember Douglas demanding that I squint and align my eyes to the separate vanishing points in order to get the full retinal wallop.)

Although using different photographic materials, a sense of the viewer’s direct involvement was often the same objective for every photographer. On his travels across Australia Jon Rhodes took traditional 35mm images. But in his magnificent album Australia he, like Holleley, recommends paying attention to the optical effect on the retina of the a wide-angle, deep focus, and dense assertive grain structure of his images: “I think the best viewing distance for these pictures is at least 10 to 12 inches — the closer the better. Try also looking at them with one eye (instead of two) for most wonderful 3-D effects …”

The viewer’s acting of looking became important for Marion Marrison in her underrated 1979 series Bonnet Hill Bush taken in a patch of suburban scrub near where she lived in Tasmania. Four years before, Marrison had worked on the Australian Conservation Foundation’s documentation of the union Green Bans on various acts of environmental vandalism in Sydney. For that book she photographed Kelly’s Bush, a piece of Sydney Harbour foreshore saved from development, as well as cemtennial Park and the Botanic Gardens. Rather than undertaking epic pilgrimages across Australia, Marrison found a microcosmic Australia literally in her own backyard. And rather than imposing a geometry on it, she finds a geometry within it, visually curating the fallen trunks and branches into an order which registers her own personal point of view, and her own presence as an aesthetic appreciator immersed in the environment — however modestly scaled.

But the most explicit, constructed acknowledgement of ‘point of view’ was in Lyn Silverman’s series Horizons. It was reprinted, along with two short texts written for the photographs by Meaghan Morris in 1980 as: ‘Collecting ground sample and locating them in relation to the horizon from where the were photographed’ and ‘Two types of photography criticism located in relation to Lynn Silverman’s series’ in Art & Text 6 1982. The scientistic vibe of the titles was augmented by an explorer’s map tracing the photographer’s outback journey. On the pages of the journal the bottom row of photographs, each one primly pinned into position by the photographers own hiking boots, was rhymed by an informal text by Morris about Silverman’s photographs; while the top row of photographs, of the distant horizon and sky, was rhymed by a more ‘theoretical’ text by Morris about the role of the desert in Australian culture.

The top text deals with how the urban imagination invests the desert with meaning. The desert is a site for the mythic construction of the ‘real’ Australia, while in contradiction it is also experientially constructed as elusive, self-effacing, boring and repulsive. “The wanderer, artist, tourist who goes there repeats the great itineraries of the predecessors, follows the broken lines on the map of a trap which has already been made. The generalized space of the inland solicits an act of repetition which is always, in the beginning, a rediscovery of the same.” (pp71-72)

The bottom text describes how the photographs reconstruct the viewer’s experience of inland space. They contrast the familiar scan of a generalized horizon with the lingering difference and precision of the exact details of the bushes and stones at the photographer’s/viewer’s feet. “The work then confronts us, not with objective and subjective interpretations of the same space, but with two different ways of manipulating subject-object relationships. One makes myth, the other makes personal statement; one includes us, the other addresses.” (pp67-68) The horizon addresses a universal ‘us’ with an imperial view, while the ground includes us individually into the photographer’s particular place and time. “What remains is a set of tracks. Not the single broken line of the traveler marking progress on a map; but a double line, an exploration of reversibility, the trace of a movement on a strange, still space in which everybody looks at elsewhere, and somebody looked at here.”

The photographs themselves, while shot with a 35mm camera, were developed in the high acutance developer Rodinol, which gives each tiny clump of film grain a distinctly sharp edge, so while not having the simmering granular tactility of Rhodes’ 35mm shots, or the creamy emulsive pigmentation of Holleley’s Polaroids, or the raw instamatic casualness of Stacey’s snaps, they produced their own retinal qualities — a sharp microscopic mesh anchoring the field of vision equally across the entire surface of the photograph.

So, why were these distinct formal and optical strategies used at this time? Because the landscape had long been the neglected poor cousin in Australian photography. While there had been lots happening in fashion photography, street photography, photojournalism, and magazine editorial photography from the 1960s into the 1970s, landscape photography had remained stagnant since the 1950s, cycling through the same formats of the picturesque, the picaresque, the pastoral and the aerial. At the same time however the landscape continued to serve the function it had always served in Australia culture, of being the site where issues of Australian identity were debated. And Australian identity, a perennial hot topic, became even hotter in the 1970s with the political resurgence of the Left; feminism; the resurgence of Aboriginal activism; the impacts of globalization on regional identities; the beginnings of a shift in focus from Europe  and America to Asia; and the beginnings of the modern Green movement with green bans and campaigns to save the wilderness. All of these issues were set against post modern discourses which were


Gael Newton and Robert McFarlane, ‘Introduction’, Visions of Australia, Douglas Holleley, Angus and Robertson, 1980

Marion Marrison and Peter Manning, Green Bans, Australian Conservation Foundation, 1975

Lyn Silverman, ‘Collecting ground sample and locating them in relation to the horizon from where the were photographed’ and Meaghan Morris ‘Two types of photography criticism located in relation to Lynn Silverman’s series’, Art & Text 6, 1982.

Australian Photography in the 1980s: Connoisseurs of the Code

‘Martyn Jolly: Commentary’, Anne Marsh, Look: Contemporary Australian Photography since 1980, Macmillan Art Publishing, Melbourne, ISBN 978-1-92-1394-10-2, p385.

I remember the graffiti that appeared on a wall in my first year of art school, it read: ‘Postmodern Cadets’. Postmodernism was the one word that described the decade. At art school I read Roland Barthes’ semiotic deconstructions of the photographic message, first published in English in 1977. Other touchstone events were WOPOP’s Australian Photography Conference held in Melbourne in 1980, the first issue of Art & Text in 1981, and Sydney University’s Futur Fall conference in 1984, at which Jean Baudrillard spoke. I loved (and still love) the traditions of photography — the fine print, the grabbed street shot — but the 1980s was the decade that made all those traditions problematic — another favourite 1980s word. Photography was no longer the product of its own discrete history but was now in dialogue with painting, performance, video and film. It was no longer just an art form but was now an integral part of the cultural discourse around the powers of the mass media, the desires and disciplines of the body, and the telling of history. From being relegated to the sidelines, the photograph suddenly found itself at the very centre of attention as the model for what was happening to reality itself — which was said to be becoming thin, brittle and increasingly defined by the exchange of signs. For photographers, the decade was marked by a schizoid relationship to the photograph — both suspicion and seduction. This tension produced an amazing variety of work, from the grimly declamatory to the extravagantly coloured. As photographs grew in size, ambition and self-importance, we all became connoisseurs of the code, sharing amongst ourselves our knowledge of visual styles, genres, modes, subtexts and connotations with a kind of guilty delectation.

Martyn Jolly

Generating a new sense of place in the age of the metaview

‘Generating a new sense of place in the age of the metaview’, Journal of Australian Studies, Volume 35, Issue 4, 2011. With James Steele

A new sense of place in the age of the metaview

In the period since its invention, photography has become one of the main means through which we create and maintain our sense of place. For a long time photography has grounded our human evocations of a site’s cultural, historical or natural significance to its actual physical location. As Joan M Schwartz and James R Ryan put it, ‘Photographs shape our perceptions of place … photographic practices — from tourist photography to domestic photography — play a central role in constituting and sustaining both individual and collective notions of landscape and identity. Moreover, photography has long played a central role in giving such social imagery solid purchase as part of the ‘real’.’[1] For many of us it is our prior understanding of a site’s significance through seeing photographs of it that we feel to be so strongly confirmed by our own eventual experience of its actual material reality. For instance we understand the significance of the Tasmanian wilderness through all the photographs of it by Peter Dombrovskis and Olegas Truchanas. And we process our experience of the sheer physical presence of Uluru through all the thousands of photographs of it we have seen.

If photographs have been turning spaces into places for such a long time, what can be said about that process now after two revolutions, the first being the digitisation of the film-based imaging in the 1990s, and the second being the explosion of online uploading, archiving, access and distribution of photographs on the web in the 2000s. How have these revolutions affected the framing, sharing and experiencing of places?


With the invention of photography the convention of the wooden frame around a painting, which had been developing in the West for a thousand years, became technologised and internalised into the camera itself, first into the glass-plate holder, and then into the viewfinder which punched a rectangular ‘picture’ out of the circular image thrown by the lens. Before photography frames were wooden artefacts that separated the art from the architecture in order to, in Immanuel Kant’s words, ‘stimulate representation by their charm, as they excite and sustain the attention directed to the object itself’.[2] After photography, however, framing became a more instrumental act that concentrated and directed the eye of the viewer. In the case of landscape photography this framing act incorporated the conventions already developed in landscape painting. The succeeding planes of mountains and hills, the compositional vectors of valley and rill, led the viewer’s eye into the virtual space of the picture. Many subsequent critiques of European imperialism have also seen this act of scopic framing and penetration as emblematic of the commandeering and domination of the land itself.[3]

In the case of stereo views the narrativization of the enframed space almost became violent as the viewer seemed to be virtually jolted out of their chair and phenomenologically drawn into the 3D illusion of the picture. As the essayist Oliver Wendell Holmes enthused to his readers in 1859: ‘The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting has ever produced. The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out as if they would scratch our eyes out.’[4]

Photography brought to the forefront the frame’s capacity for not only gathering up, concentrating and organising the viewer’s attention, but also for — again almost violently — cutting what was inside the frame off from the reality that continued to extend beyond it. By the mid twentieth century to compose was also to crop. As John Szarkowski remarked in 1966 ‘The Photographer looked at the world as though it was a scroll painting, unrolled from hand to hand, exhibiting an infinite number of croppings — of compositions — as the frame moved onward’.[5] Szarkowski’s conventional art-historical analogy is certainly well chosen as a means of acknowledging photography’s close historical relationship to both Western and Oriental painting traditions, but it misses the full agility of the camera as the photographer swooped the camera up and down and zoomed in and out. The slicing edge of the photograph added a graphic intensity to the spatial drama of the view, boxing spaces up with shapes that were amputated and truncated by the frame. Frames were particularly good at giving monuments and landmarks a graphic iconicity. For instance the conventional postcard framing of Uluru sitting on the horizon has a flag-like recognisability.


Photography had always been a medium of quantity. From the beginning photographs were packaged into albums to be circulated, or reproduced in books to be published. The digital revolution and the rise of the internet exponentially accelerated that old order. Almost five billion images have been uploaded to the photo-sharing site Flickr since it began in 2004[6]. Over two billion photos go up onto Facebook each month.[7] The central object of the medium, the photograph as artefact — be it daguerreotype, stereograph, print or book – is disappearing under the weight of the simplicity, accessibility and reach of the new, digital form. New possibilities opened up by the online digital environment have changed the way images communicate and audiences are moving to new virtual environments to experience images. New methods of finding, sorting and viewing images are being developed. Ease of access to these images is creating new technological opportunities to assemble and present transient collections of related images. Such collections can be easily shared so others can experience them, or in their turn actively reorder, expand or limit the images, how they see them, and what meaning they derive from them.

Although algorithmic recognition software, such as face recognition software, is beginning to be developed to search for images by directly matching the features in the images themselves (colour, faces, shapes and so on), the most common way of locating images on the internet is still through simple text searches. [8] To find an image through a text search the text a user seeks to match with a photograph must have somehow been previously associated with the image in a way that makes sense to a search engine. Typically, the title of the photograph, its description or text surrounding an image embedded in a web page is used to make the match with search terms. This associated text is metadata: data (text descriptions) about data (the image) that makes access to the image possible through text-based searches. There are other sorts of metadata as well, for example, librarians catalogue photographs with a range of descriptors, while whenever a picture is taken digital cameras automatically save data about such things as the shutter speed, aperture, camera type, lens type, and the date and time the exposure was made.

Search engines can use this extended metadata to aid user searches. Specialist sites like the National Library of Australia’s Trove allow users to search catalogue data to find items that interest them in the collections not only of the National Library itself, but also other institutions across Australia and even beyond: books, newspapers, journals, maps, music, oral history, paintings, photographs and more besides.[9] Items are indexed by Trove to help searchers find items on Australia and Australians. Trove is a portal or metasearch engine, providing access to items using data provided by a range of sources, many of which are external to the National Library and out of its control.

Flickr uses a similar approach in its Commons Project.[10] Flickr Commons exposes the photography collections of a number of large institutions, including the Australian War Memorial, State Library of New South Wales and Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. In a process known as crowdsourcing, Flickr encourages its community of users to add their own tags and comments about the photographs they see in the Commons. The tags and comments become part of the public data associated with the photographs, discoverable through searches by other users.

Another type of metadata that can be attached to items like photographs is the location where the photograph was created. With digital photographs, this information can be embedded electronically in the image file itself, along with other standard metadata like the date and time the photograph was taken, any keywords associated with the image, copyright information and so on. As the digital photograph is shared across the internet, so too is the embedded metadata. Digital photographs with location data embedded in them are said to be ‘geotagged’.

When the Panoramio layer is turned on in Google Earth, small icons, or the images themselves, appear on the surface where geotagged photographs were taken. Clicking the icons or images displays the photograph. Icons also appear for other geotagged photographs that were taken nearby, and can be similarly displayed.


Panoramio layer on Google Earth showing the presence of geotagged images along the Champs-Élysée

As more and more photographs have location metadata attached, it becomes easier to find different views of a place, or even the same view but taken at different times. Currently about eight million geotagged photographs are uploaded to Flickr every month.[11] These pictures can be searched and reconfigured to create other pictures, for instance in 2009 over 35 million geocoded photographs were harvested from Flickr to create a ‘heat map’ of the world showing where the photographs had been taken[12].


World Heat Map: http://www.cs.cornell.edu/~crandall/photomap/, used with permission


What is emerging is the possibility of software applications within online environments creating an enhanced sense of a place by using the increasing numbers of photographs available of a particular location. A single photograph is one moment in time, while the more photographs there are of a place, the greater the possibility of capturing the events, the structures, and the beauty of the place that provides meaning and defines it as something worth experiencing. An even richer sense of place can be further revealed through the comments added by the user community.

Before digital photography, snapshot photographs circulated in different spheres to official photographs, and historic photographs were kept in different collections to contemporary photographs, but now they are all just a hyperlink from each other. Different images of the same place taken at different times can help us build up a more complete ‘picture’ of the activities and events that happened there, giving us a new sense of the place that would be impossible to extract from any one image. Traditionally, different photos were looked at individually, on the wall of a gallery, in the pages of an album or book, within a pile of holiday prints back from the chemist, or at a slideshow on a Saturday night. Just as the Renaissance picture frame was remediated into the camera, these old forms of viewing have been remediated into the internet, with its document, page, slide-show and album metaphors. But computers are also capable of previously impossible forms of display: using software, similar images can be combined, stitched together in panoramas, used to create tone-mapped images, or laid out in three-dimensional space so that viewers can navigate through them almost at random.

Through the use of these online technologies viewers now have the opportunity to experience extended views of landscapes that grow beyond the rectangular frames of cameras. These views can be called ‘metaviews’ for several reasons. Firstly because they are not framed by a rectangular boundary cropping a composed scene out of an infinitely extensive reality, rather they are ‘enframed’ by search terms applied to the metadata attached to each picture in an online archive. This sifting of the metadata may gather together pictures that share a common locality established by proximate GPS co-ordinates for instance, or a similar compass direction, or a similar time of the year, or the same key word in the caption. The viewer’s eye composes a sense of a view by travelling through a sequence of photographs that erase the frame. Just as the eye was led through traditional landscapes, or the viewer apparently entered the very depths of the stereographic view, in the metaview the user navigates through a contiguous collection of images.

The experience of the view they get is therefore a second order view, a metaview in a second sense because it is constructed from first order components — photographs. It is not, however, a slide show or a cinematic or paginated sequence because it is not a deliberately authored enunciation, rather it is a technological enframing which in and of itself ‘excites and sustains’ the user’s attention which is directed to the metaview. These enframed views are ‘meta’ in a third sense because they become a virtual place within the space of the web, a place that, often, users can navigate themselves. They are another ‘site’ on top of the website the viewer is using. As William J Mitchell noted, increasingly ‘the places we frequent have IP addresses as well as geographic coordinates.’ [13]

Computer software currently exists where individual photographs can be stitched together to extend the frame by creating panoramas, or gigapixel images[14], where the viewer can pull back to see the whole scene or zoom in to any part for fine detail. High Dynamic Range (HDR) images are created using computer software by combining several photographs of the same scene taken with difference exposures, to bring out details in the shadows and the highlighted areas that normally would not be able to be distinguished with film or digital photography. QuickTime VR images[15] are spherical images that can be viewed in a web browser. They can show a full 360 degree view of an object or space, allowing the viewer to choose the perspective from which they want to see the scene. Google’s free SketchUp software[16] is a 3D modelling application that allows users to skin their 3D models with actual photographic images, providing the viewer with more angles to view the subject of the model than would normally be possible using individual images.[17] Microsoft’s Photosynth[18] and AutoDesk’s Photo Scene[19] place photographs taken of the same subject or scene from different perspectives in a three-dimensional space and provide the viewer with tools to navigate through the scene on the computer screen.

Currently, most metaviews are created from the collection of a single photographer, although there are some examples where online communities contribute images of a particular place or event, and the metapicture is created from the contributions of many people[20].  Unlike the traditional ‘decisive’ moment, these metaviews have the potential to span time, from microseconds to more than a century, giving viewers insights, for example, into the impact of human activity on the environment; insights that would be harder or impossible to achieve with individual photographs. Different points of view may reveal information hidden in the single framed photograph. In his article Walls of Light – Immaterial Architecture, Scott McQuire refers to ‘cumulative knowledge established by the series or set’[21]. Collections of images related by time and place add a dynamic dimension to the individual photograph, transcending the original frame and allowing us to peer outside it into space the original photographer was unable or unwilling to let us see, giving us a wider perspective and greater insights than would otherwise be possible. Multiple perspectives on the same place or event may provide viewers greater opportunities to be witnesses rather than consumers of packaged stories, allowing them the sense that they are informing themselves and making up their own minds.


If individual photographs of somewhere give us evidence of what happened or exists there, then many photographs, say of different events at that location or of the location through time, might provide more of the resonance that turns space into place. Previously, photographers have always sought to encapsulate the significance of a view in a single frame. The paradigmatic example in Australia is Peter Dombrovskis’ picture of Rock Island Bend on the Franklin River, reproduced in full-page colour in Australia’s newspapers on election eve 1983 with the slogan ‘Could you vote for a party that would destroy this?’, it was arguably responsible for  electing Bob Hawke’ Labor government.[22]  Other significant parts of Australia, such as Uluru, have become widely experienced through their amenability to iconic, graphic iconicity. The metaview is now available to be used to contribute to the material experience of more Australian places, perhaps those not so immediately amenable to spectacular encapsulation.

The first signs of this movement are beginning to appear. For example Picture Australia is the National Library of Australia’s service that allows users to search the pictorial collections of many of Australia’s collecting institutions.[23]  Individuals can also contribute photographs to the Picture Australia pool using Flickr: simply by joining a Picture Australia Flickr group, tagging their photos and contributing them to the group, those user-contributed photographs on Flickr with metadata matching a user’s search criteria will be returned to other users searching Picture Australia. The National Library also uses the Flickr groups to identify contemporary images that may be added to its own collections. With the sheer deluge of images coming available on the internet, the utilisation of Flickr contributors’ own efforts to tag and nominate photographs that fit the Picture Australia criteria gives the National Library a mechanism to cope with the flood.

A recent project with the Kosciuszko Huts Association (KHA) is an example of how the National Library has been able to harness the power of the internet to augment its limited resources for accessioning images. The National Library had previously accepted over 2 000 photographs, negatives, and slides contributed by KHA members, but the Library was not in a position to accession further photographs. Keen that all these additional images not be lost to the community, the Library suggested to the KHA that its members upload the images to Flickr and contribute them to the Picture Australia ‘Ourtown’ Flickr group. While the number of photographs actually shared by the KHA on the group remains relatively small, projects such as this nonetheless indicate the potential for groups with their own idiosyncratic histories and private collections to form larger searchable archives.

On 23 July, 2010, at Whites River Hut in the High Country a skier threw spirits into a pot-bellied stove to light it, not knowing that there were still glowing embers there. The resulting fire quickly took hold inside the hut, but a party of passing skiers extinguished it before the hut was completely destroyed[24]. The KHA sent out a call to its members to contribute photographs of the hut before the fire to its photography website so that a 3D model of the hut, outside and in, could be developed using Google’s SketchUp application, and plans drawn up to repair the damage. The metaview afforded by the 3D model allows the viewer to experience something that has been lost, to get a sense of the place as it was before a destructive event. The purpose is not only to help give viewers an appreciation of the value of the structure in its environment, but to provide the information necessary to support a reconstruction project.

In this case, despite several year of effort before the fire to collect them online, sufficient photographs of the hut were not immediately available to create the 3D model, but a call-to-action among KHA members immediately after the fire saw sufficient photographs for the 3D model to be made contributed to the KHA photo website. Had the photographs scattered across the internet in, for example, KHA members’ Flickr accounts, on Panoramio or in the online collections of cultural institutions, contained location metadata the call-to-action may not have been required.


Whites River Hut, Kosciuszko National Park, February 2010 [ Photo: James Steele]

Finding geotagged photographs easily remains difficult. A Google Image Search for Whites River Hut returns 1.35 million results but, in fact, few of the images are relevant. If, for instance, these images were geotagged, it could be possible to search just for images within the immediate vicinity of the hut, and building the metaview would have been a much easier project.

It is clear from examples such as these that the technology to search images by location, essential to the creation of a metaview of a particular place, is still nascent. For instance a name-based search for a location on Trove returns not only photographs, but a range of other sources including books, journals, magazine and newspaper articles, oral history recordings and maps, not all of which may relate to the particular location under investigation. What does not yet exist is an effective search engine for images from across the internet that returns results based on the unique location where the image was captured. Online photo collections services Flickr, Panoramio and Picasa have map-based interfaces to their own collections that allow visitors to browse for photographs taken in particular locations, but as yet there is no over-arching search engine that would return all the photographs from a particular location across all three services and the rest of the internet at once. Limiting the results of a Google Image Search by location would be an important feature, but it requires the images to have the necessary and accurate metadata encoded along with the image; an ability for the search engine that located and interpreted the image file to understand the embedded location data; and an interface to allow the user to limit their search to a particular location, or to have the results grouped by location if the searcher was unsure of where the place they were searching for actually was.

Building new means of navigating the found set of co-located images is also a challenge. Microsoft’s Photosynth provides a better experience of a place than the scattered icons and picons of Google Earth’s Panoramio layer. However the experience is still one of moving between the flat, framed rectangles of the original photographs that have been digitally stitched together into the synthetic view. In one sense this effect is a salutary, but constant, reminder for the user of the origins of the view as disparate photographs. However a more seamless, immersive, and perhaps visually exhilarating experience of a place could also be generated through the amalgamation of games technologies like Epic Games’ Unreal Engine which could recreate real-world environments in 3D with photographs harvested from the internet. [25] [26]

In any case crowdsourced metaviews, as they become more accessible in the future, potentially offer a much richer experience of the place, drawing on different points of view of different visitors at different times. These representations may provide resonances that enrich the viewer’s experience of a place beyond the framed, well-executed, single image. Even now experiencing Uluru via Google Earth allows a far more complex and complicated interaction for the casual viewer than that available through the iconic but flat picture postcards or Australiana picture books. There is the potential through this sense of ‘virtual fly-through’ to provide the user with an exhilarating sense of access to significant places that is a more materially based experience than the iconic image can ever provide. It may even replace the commanding monocular imperial gaze with one that is more engaged and enmeshed in the place.


Uluru on Panoramio[27]

However, currently iconic views of iconic places still dominate Google Earth’s metaviews. Maps of the distribution and concentration of photographs on Google Earth demonstrate that the Opera House, Bondi Beach and so on are all places where the crowd still gathers to take their own photographs, just as the professionals have stood there before them to make their postcards. However metaviews which incorporate additional images taken from different perspectives, at different times of the day, showing fleeting visitors or transient events offer at least the possibility of an enriched understanding of these already famous places. Other places, for instance those shrouded by difficult terrain, property laws, prohibitive cultural taboos and so on may also become accessible through metaviews when enough sufficiently tagged images become available.

This may take some time however. There are still many factors restricting the scope and scale of geotagged images being collected and navigated. For instance Panoramio, the source for Google Earth’s picture layer, has strictly enforced rules about what can and cannot be contributed to the site, and what will or will not be selected for viewing on Google Earth. Actual people manage the selection process manually, and the rules exclude (with some exceptions, interpreted by the people making the decisions), among other things: portraits of people, or photos of people posing; cars, planes or any machine; pets or animals; flowers and details of plants; close-ups, details, inscriptions, or signs; events, such as exhibitions, concerts, and parades; interiors; anything under a roof. [28] These exclusions prevent many examples of culture from being displayed alongside other images of a place. The excluded images may contain evidence of activities and details that help viewers interpret the place. While Google (which owns Panoramio) has every right to set its rules for users of the site and to control the process by which images are displayed on it, the rules and processes limit the opportunities for the service to enrich viewers’ experiences of the place. By its restrictions on what can and cannot be displayed, Google Earth is not a service where place can be explored. Evidence of space and location are available, but not the human activity and artefacts that make a space a place.

The metaview has the potential to give us a new sense of place if we can overcome the barriers to images being contributed and made available to the community. Crowds are capturing images with digital cameras and libraries are scanning older images, but we are not yet sharing them easily. Perhaps we are afraid of being ripped-off or the images being somehow misused. Metadata is being added to images, but it needs to be more accurate, more extensive, and using generally agreed language and standards. Search engines continue to improve and provide extra dimensions to finding photographs that exist on the internet, but the display of the results largely continues to be limited to outdated and two-dimensional, using page, document and book metaphors and logics in their interfaces, rather than image based or scopic metaphors and logics.

And of course the geopolitics of wealth, religion, culture and class define the geography of World Wide Web, just as they define our real world. As is so starkly revealed by the world heat map of photographs uploaded to Flickr, the technologies that are being developed to record the images, store them, share them and display them, and the people with the resources to access the technologies and the skills required to use them, are the richer and more educated people of the world. It is they that determine the direction of the technologies and the uses to which they are put, defining the perspective we take through the metaview.

Nonetheless it is clear that we are at the threshold of the age of the metaview. In Australia, libraries and ordinary people are beginning to collaborate in an unprecedented way to allow us an enhanced scopic access to Australian places. What remains to be seen is whether or not these new modes of experience will change the nature of the places we collectively decide to value as our national heritage. Will it continue to be those places that are most amenable to being encapsulated into a single frame as a vista, or will other places, where perhaps multiple layers of experience lie embedded, also now rise to national significance?

[1] I. B. Tauris, Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical Imagination, London, 2003, p 6.

[2] Quoted by Paul Duro ‘Introduction’, The Rhetoric of the Frame: Essays on the Boundaries of the Artwork, Cambridge University press, 1996 p2. Immannuel Kant, Critique of Judgement.

[3] See for example, James Ryan, Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1997.

[4] Vicki Goldberg (Ed.), Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1981, P107.

[5] John Szarkowski, The Photographer’s Eye, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966.

[6] Image number 4,882,190,327 went up on 11 August 2010.

[7] According to a blog post on the official Facebook Blog dated 6 February 2010 [http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=206178097130 accessed 7 September 2010], over 2.5 billion photos are uploaded to Facebook every month.

[8] See http://www.face-rec.org/algorithms/#Image for a bibliography of image-based face recognition algorithms. Accessed 5 September 2010.

[9] http://trove.nla.gov.au/ accessed 11 August 2010.

[10] http://www.flickr.com/commons/ accessed 16 August 2010.

[11] See http://www.flickr.com/ accessed 7 September 2010. The current monthly count of geotagged things is shown on the front page of the site.

[12] Crandall, David, Lars Backstrom, Daniel Huttenlocher and Jon Kleinberg. Mapping the World’s Photos. WWW2009, April 20-24, 2009, IW3C2, Madrid, Spain. http://www.cs.cornell.edu/%7Edph/papers/photomap-www09.pdf, accessed 19 July 2009

[13] WJ Mitchell, ‘Wunderkammer to World Wide Web: Picturing Place in the Post Photographic Era’, in Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical Imagination, I. B. Tauris, London, 2003, p299.

[14] http://www.gigapan.org/ accessed 6 September 2010.

[15] See http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_giovanni/vr_tour/index-en.html for examples of QuickTime VR. Accessed 6 September 2010.

[16] http://sketchup.google.com/intl/en/ accessed 5 September 2010.

[17] See http://sketchup.google.com/3dwarehouse/cldetails?mid=6c88a243c853e4c86dbd167550660c4&prevstart=0&start=12 for examples of 3D models of Kosciuszko huts constructed using photographs of the huts. Accessed 5 September 2010.

[18] http://photosynth.net/ accessed 6 September 2010.

[19] AutoDesk calls the results from images combined with its Photo Scene Editor application Photo Scenes. http://labs.autodesk.com/technologies/photofly/PhotoGuide_PSE_TermsandDefinitions/ accessed 15 August 2010.

[20] A well-known example of the crowdsourced metapicture is “The Moment”: http://photosynth.net/view.aspx?cid=05dc1585-dc53-4f2c-bfb1-4da8d5915256 accessed 15 August 2010.

[21] McQuire, Scott. “Walls of Light – Immaterial Architecture” In Value-Added Goods: Essays on Contemporary Photography, Art & Ideas, edited by Stuart Koop, 159-67. Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2002. p162

[22] See Geoffrey Batchens Terrible Prospects, in the Lie of the Land, National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University, 1992, pp 46-47.

[23] http://www.pictureaustralia.org/ accessed 16 August 2010

[25] http://www.epicgames.com/ accessed 6 September 2010.