Camera Obscuras and Brisbane at Cloud Land show

For Robyn Stacey’s upcoming show Cloud Land at the Museum of Brisbane I have written an essay about the history of camera obscuras, Brisbane and Robyn. It was great to get the opportunity to spend a little more Trove-time looking into Brisbane’s own Whites Hill Camera Obscura, to the remains of which which I had previously made a pilgrimage. Thanks to the research of the Museum of Brisbane team we were able to find lovely, high resolution images of Brisbane’s one and only camera obscura:

From the tourist guide 'The Pocket Brisbane', 1913

From the tourist guide ‘The Pocket Brisbane’, 1913

Whites Hill Camera Obscura, c1924

Whites Hill Camera Obscura, c1924

‘Seeing the City, The Delegates to the Australian Newspaper Conference and their wives see Brisbane through the Camera Obscura at White’s Hill’, The Telegraph, 1 June 1935 p13.

‘Seeing the City, The Delegates to the Australian Newspaper Conference and their wives see Brisbane through the Camera Obscura at White’s Hill’, The Telegraph, 1 June 1935 p13.

‘Children from the South Brisbane Intermediate School Rambling Club view the surroundings through the camera obscura at White’s Hill’, The Telegraph, 18 July 1936, p30

‘Children from the South Brisbane Intermediate School Rambling Club view the surroundings through the camera obscura at White’s Hill’, The Telegraph, 18 July 1936, p30

You’ll have to buy the Cloud Land catalogue to read about the history of Bob White, his camera obscura, and his telescopes — and their small but significant role in the psychogeography of Brisbane.  Some things still intrigue me. Why, for instance, in the Tele shots (which I think was the newspaper you read on the tram home from work) is the man operating the camera obscura only wearing a singlet, even though it is June, and possibly quite chilly. Is it some insolent semiotics directed to the well dressed southerners who look gingerly into the image? A year later, in July, the same man is dressed snugly and neatly for the visiting ramblers, who peer appreciatively into the bowl shaped image, which is duly blasted away by the flash of the Tele photographer’s Speed Graphic.

As a child I think I was dimly aware of the the long-ago existence of the hilltop machine. We lived not far from Whites Hill, but it was beyond the reach of our bikes. Although my father did occasionally drive us to the Whites Hill dump at the foot of the hill we never went up — but perhaps he mentioned the long-demolished camera obscura to me on the drive out, he was certainly the right age to have visited it as a kid. (Once, I remember, we  brought a load of broken-up concrete pathway to the Whites Hill dump, as we over-enthusiastically under-armed the chunks from the car boot my father accidentally whacked me on the shoulder with a flat piece, he was mortified, but after the initial shock, I found myself remarkably unharmed.)  The dump, chockers with rubbish culled from a thousand sixties backyards, has been smoothed over for playing fields, and is now barely a memory, less so, even, than the camera obscura.

Two suns at Tianjin

Thanks to my Hong Kong friends for pointing this out to me. They joke that when the Chinese leadership visited the site of Tianjin’s ‘Big Bang’, they commanded two suns to appear in the sky (check out the arm shadows). However Reuters still seems to be using the image without comment.

The image as it appears on Hong Kong's TVmost site.

The image as it appears on Hong Kong’s TVmost site.

TVmost's comment

TVmost’s comment

The image supplied by Reuters and used without comment by the South China Morning Post.

The image supplied by Reuters and used without comment by the South China Morning Post.

Paparazzi could be mistaken for terrorists and SHOT

So, the British Royal family has managed to avoid the real possibility of a slump, precipitated by Charles’s behaviour, back into a Georgian paradigm of mad kings and their mistresses. But the price of their successful reboot into Royal Family 2.0 has been that the new Royals must now be celebrities. Uber celebrities certainly, but celebrities nonetheless. And celebrities live or die by the camera. The work of the celebrity is to control the supply and demand for their photographs by a constant, daily labour of withholding, release and spin. This applies to every celebrity, from Lara Bingle (herself now rebooted as Lara Worthington) to Prince George. Perhaps Royal family 2.0 telegraphed their intention to rewrite the rulebook too obviously when they got, with too obvious a strategic calculation, Kate’s father and George’s grandfather to ineptly snap the first official photographs of the tot. Michael Middleton’s domestic photography, complete with bleached backgrounds and murky shadows, was meant to authentically read across to our own baby snaps, as though the Royals had somehow stumbled across a Jo Spence article in an old copy of TEN 8 magazine from the 1980s, or been given a Martin Parr book for Christmas. But, as every tabloid was forced to ask, were the first official photographs of George pleasingly cozy, or just bad?. Was their strategic calculation a miscalculation?

Then this week we see another egregious swing where, not the cozy power of domestic Britain, but the global power of terrorist-target Britain, is brought into play. A Kensington Palace encyclical warns off non-British paps. The commonwealth ones are thanked for following the script and waiting patiently for regular releases of new Prince George material, they way that grateful Apple users patiently wait for software upgrades. But the non-British paps are warned, in the words of The Mirror, that ‘they could be mistaken for terrorists, and SHOT” if they stalk George. So, in a Royal-created market where new images of George are the most prized on the planet, impoverished international paps are told to accept the steady corporate diet of regular updates on George’s progress, or place themselves in the same extra-judicial category as terrorists or refugees,

Clearly this Royal  reboot isn’t going to be all plain sailing, as the logic of celebrity culture and the global tabloid market for photographs clashes with the logic of state security. Could anyone at The Firm’s headquarters, Kensington Palace, have predicted these complications five years ago?

The Lights of London Town

I am continually failing at controlling my addiction to buying magic lantern slides on ebay. I have just received in the post two remaining life-model slides out of what had originally been a set of four made, Richard Crangle’s estimable Lucerna magic lantern web resource tells me, by York & Son in 1892 to illustrate the 1880 poem by the massively famous melodramatist and social reformer George R Sims.


The Lights of London Town


The way was long and weary,

But gallantly they strode,

A country lad and lassie,

Along the weary road.

The night was dark and stormy,

But blithe of heart were they,

For shining in the distance

The Lights of London lay.


O gleaming lamps of London,

That gem the City’s crown,

What fortunes lie within you,

O Lights of London town.


The years passed on and found them

Within the mighty fold,

The years had brought them trouble,

But brought them little gold.

Oft from their garret window,

On long still summer nights,

They’d seek the far-off country,

Beyond the London Lights.


O mocking lamps of London,

What weary eyes look down,

And mourn the day they saw you,

O lights of London town


With faces worn and weary,

That told of sorrow’s load,

One day a man and woman

Crept down a country road.

They sought their native village,

Heart broken from the fray;

Yet shining still behind them,

The Lights of London lay.


O cruel lamps of London,

If tears your light could drown,

Your victims’ eyes would weep them,

O lights of London Town.


George R. Sims 1880


I love the zoom-in from distant St Pauls, framed by trees in the first slide and barely visible except perhaps in projection, to close-up St Pauls (in exactly the same spot on the screen) framed by the garret window in the second slide. I love the way, in the second slide, the poverty-signifier of the bare walls visually constricts London down to the single schematic London logo. Sims used the same theme for his smash hit play The Lights of London, which was filmed twice in the twentieth century, most recently in 1923. Of course subsequently these something more, walk on the wild side thematics permeated popular culture. Although, perhaps nowadays the urban moths of pop songs, films and art are more likely to be single chancers, rather than eloping couples.

The Lights of London, slide 2 of 4.

The Lights of London, slide 2 of 4.

The Lights of London, slide 3 of 4.

The Lights of London, slide 3 of 4.

Google Photos app tags black couple as gorillas

As discussed in my chapter ‘The Face in Digital Space‘ in the book The Culture of Photography in Public Space, the human face first entered abstract matrices of comparison in the late eighteenth century with the pioneering physiognomist Johann Kaspar Lavatar.  He placed the face in a psychological hierarchy using either zoological analogies or biometric algorithms. As a coda to my analysis is the recent news reports concerning Jacky Alcine, an early adopter of Google Photos, which automatically placed photos of him and his African-American friend in a folder called ‘Gorillas’. It is not possible for an algorithm to be in and of itself racist, but nonetheless Google scrambled to roll out a fix within two hours. However Google’s first fix led to yet more human faces to be categorised as gorillas, so it had to temporarily remove the word ‘gorilla’ as a category while they worked on more nuanced face recognition algorithms. These accidents point to how ‘live’ and ‘hot’ pseudo-Darwinian narratives still are in popular race discourse, such that Google quickly confessed to  being ‘appalled’ by the unintended result of their algorithmic facial analysis. It also points to how easily automatic tagging and profiling systems can overreach themselves in the newly fluid context of face recognition. The face is never neutral, therefore mathematical error quickly transcodes and multiplies itself into linguistic disaster.

Google Photos' algorithmic tagging of Jacky Alcine and friend.

Google Photos’ algorithmic tagging of Jacky Alcine and friend.

Johannes Kaspar Lavater, 'Essays in Physiognomy', plate 52.

Johannes Kaspar Lavater, ‘Essays in Physiognomy’, plate 52.

Johannes Kaspar Lavater, 'Essays in Physiognomy', plate 29.

Johannes Kaspar Lavater, ‘Essays in Physiognomy’, plate 29.

Ghost of Gallipoli formed on Wall at Australian War Memorial

I’m Canberra’s ‘ghost guy’, so when staff from the Faculty of Art and Design at the University of Canberra wanted somebody to open their exhibition Traces and Hauntings at Belconnen Arts Centre who were they going to call? I was delighted to, of course. When thinking about which angle on their work I could take I was pleased to come across this photograph in the Sun Herald (02/08/2015).  The shot was taken by Phillip Gordon of Newcastle, who observed and photographed figures with rifles and their kit by their sides who appeared on the Memorial wall in light rain. Spookily, the person Mr Gordon had come to pay his respects to, Bert Keepence, who had been killed at Lone Pine 100 years before almost to the week, had worked for the Water Board! A spokesperson for the War Memorial said it was just water stains on the sandstone, but as Mr Gordon said, “It blew me away for a bit”. Magical images persist, and are still reported on in our newspapers.

Ghosts of Gallipoli formed on the wall of the Australian War memorial, Sun Herald, 2 August 2015

Ghosts of Gallipoli formed on the wall of the Australian War Memorial, Sun Herald, 2 August 2015

The Face in Digital Space

Published in ‘The Culture of Photography in Public Space’, edited by Anne Marsh, Melissa Miles and Daniel Palmer, Intellect, Bristol, 2015


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’. (Levinas 1979: 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 debates 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 called this ‘faciality’, a process that over-codes the organism of the body with other strata of signification and subjectification. (1988) To them, the face is an abstract machine of ‘black holes in a white wall’ — a technology increasingly becoming enmeshed with other technologies.

Facial history

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.’ (Lavater 1885: 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. In the first frame the angles of the isosceles triangle between the frog’s eyes and its lips is, Lavater tells us, just 25 degrees. Frame by frame the frog’s eyes slowly become more almond shaped and the whole face lengthens until, by the final frame, we find ourselves looking into the face of an androgynous human. The angle between the eyes and lips of this face has now increased to 56 degrees, a facial angle shared, according to Lavater, by Aristotle, Pitt, Frederick the Great, and Apollo.(497)

Eighty years later Charles Darwin completed the project of placing the human face within the realm of animals with his development of the theory 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. (Darwin1 872) 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 seven 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. In this plate 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: 22)

 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. In her autobiography, The Days I Knew, 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’. (Langtry 1925: 40)


Facial velocity

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 has become the chief exemplar of the ever-present possibility that any one of us can suddently become an accidental celebrity. One day in 1999 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 set up a bank of flashlights on scaffolding to capture random passers by as they came into his camera’s plane of focus. diCorcia had exhibited the portrait at the prestigious 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: 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 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, on which they superimposed sexually suggestive speech bubbles. 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 languished once more. (O’Brien 2012) Bingle then climbed back in the celebrity news cycle after she began to date the Avatar actor Sam Worthington, reportedly introducing him to the use of social media platforms such as Instagram. In February 2014 the couple suddenly hit the celebrity gossip headlines when Worthington was arrested in New York for allegedly assaulting a photographer who had allegedly kicked Bingle in the shin. (Clun 2014)

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 are sometimes even 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. ( 2013)

Facial vecotorisation

These examples indicate the high speed of facial velocity. But what of facial vectorisation? 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 these examples of cognitive research indicate that 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, vectorisation, 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 conventional practice for all of us. ‘Extreme makeovers’ are increasingly re-mapping everyday faces, and recalibrating with the scalpel the vectoral angles between eyes, noses and chins in order to ratchet 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 October 2007. (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 promises, 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, including Sam Worthington, 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.

Facial Privatisation

Why is it worthwhile looking so closely at tabloid trash and trivial 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 point-by-point 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. Back in 2001 Justice John 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. (Australian Law Reform Commission 2008)

 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’. (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 openly mutual obligation that, in Levinas’s terms, once arose when one face faced another, and is replacing it with a sense of commercial enclosure. This reification is intensified by the way that all faces, even our own, can be peeled away from our bodies to enter new virtual and algorithmic 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. The velocity with which their face travels through the neworks of the media is what determines their value as a celebrity. 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. It is clear that laws of privacy, photography and reproduction will eventually be changed to confirm for everybody what has already happened in facial valency to a select few. They will come to protect not only the integrity of the personal autonomy and public citzenship of the individaul as accessed through the face, but also the value of the face itself — as an individual’s property



Advanced Surveillance Project (2013), NICTA, Accessed 31 January 2013,

Australian Law Reform Commission (2008), ‘For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice (ALRC Report 108)’, Accessed 31 January 2013.

Bigdeli, A. & Lovell, B. & Mau, S. (2011a), ‘You, yes you: welcome to the world of advanced surveillance”, The Conversation, 23 May, Accessed 31 January 2013.

Bigdeli, A. & Lovell, B. & Mau, S (2011b), ‘Something to watch over me: policing our national bordersThe Conversation, 26 May, .>

Bigdeli, A & Lovell, B & Mau, S 2011c ‘All-seeing eye: the future of surveillance and social media’ The Conversation, 27 May, Accessed 31 January 2013, Accessed 31 January 2013.

Bourrat, P. & Baumard, N. & McKay R. (2011) ‘Surveillance Cues Enhance Moral Condemnation’, Evolutionary Psychology,  9(2) pp.193-199.

Byrne, L. (2010), ‘Lara Bingle to sue Brendan Fevola over nude photo’, Herald Sun, 2 March, Accessed 31 January 2013.

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

Clun, R. (2014), ‘Sam Worthington arrested in New York for assaulting photographer who allegedly kicked Lara Bingle’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 February, Accessed 28 February 2014.

Daily Mail (2007), ‘Police name internet paedophile caught out in digitally altered images’, 16 October, Accessed January 31 2013.

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

Deleuze, G. & 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), pp. 19907-19912.

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

Langtry, L. (1925) The Days I Knew, George H Doran Company, New York.

Lavater, C. (1885) Essays on physiognomy, also one hundred physiognomical rules, taken from a posthumous work by J.G. Lavater, and a memoir of the author, 17th ed, trans Holcroft, T., Ward Lock, London.

Law Reform Commission of New South Wales (2010), ‘Report 127 – Protecting Privacy in New South Wales’, Accessed 31 January 2013. <>

Levinas, E. 1979, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans Alphonso (Lingis, M. Nijhoff Publishers The Hague, Boston.

Lingua Franca (2011), ‘Embodied Cognition, interview with Professor Rolf Zwaan’, ABC Radio National Broadcast 10 September, Accessed 31 January 2013.

Marr, D. (2009), ‘Pesky Press Annoying You? Now You Can just Sue Them’, The National Times, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 August 2009, Accessed 31 January 2013.

Media Watch (2010), ‘Identity Fully Revealed’, Episode 05, 8 March, Accessed 31 January 2013.

Nemeth, A. (2012), NSW Photo Rights: Street Photography Legal Issues, 4020, Accessed 31 January 2013. (2013), ‘Tearful Chrissie Swan admits she hasn’t been able to quit smoking while pregnant’, Accessed 10 February 2013.

O’Brien, S. (2012), ‘Lara Bingle’s nude paparazzi snaps a privacy invasion’, Herald Sun, 2 May, Accessed 31 January 2013.

Smith, D. (2011), ‘Why one look will put the fear of god into you’ June 11, Sydney Morning Herald, Accessed 31 January 2013 <

Soltani, N. (2012), My Stolen Face: The Story of a Dramatic Mistake, Random House, Kailash.

Sydney Morning Herald , 2006, ‘Bingle bites back — sues men’s mag’, Stay in Touch, , 11 May,–sues-mens mag/2006/05/10/1146940612505.html. Accessed 31 January 2013.

Sydney Morning Herald 2006, ‘Judge Backs Bingle on Zoo Smut’, 8 December, Accessed 31 January 2013.

The Daily Telegraph (2007), ‘Sonny Bill, Candice toilet Joke’, Sydney Confidential, 14 April, Accessed 31 January 2013.

White, S. (2011), ‘Pardon the Expression’, Spectrum, Sydney Morning Herald, 6-7 August, p. 23.

Wikipedia 2013, ‘Christopher Paul Neil’, Accessed 31 January 2013.

Wikipedia 2013, ‘Death of Neda Agha-Soltan’, entry, Accessed 31 January 2013,

Wikipedia 2013, ‘Personality Rights’, Accessed 31 January 2013.

Zwaan, R 2013 Brain & Cognition, Erasmus University Rotterdam, <, Accessed 31 January 2013.

Delicious Moments: The Photograph Album in Nineteenth Century Australia


Published in The Photograph and Australia, edited by Judy Annear, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015

Photographs were never just images, they were always also things: objects to be touched or held, given or received, hidden or revealed, kept or destroyed. Photographic historians are paying increasing attention to objects such as photographic albums, and as they do so new insights into the way people once loved, shared and remembered are opening up to us.[1] But, as we look afresh at these old albums, connections with the way we use photographs today are also emerging, even though photographs are no longer the things they once were.

On 18 October 1860 a Sydney merchant announced: ‘We have received per mail a few photographic portraits of The Queen, the Prince Consort, and all members of the Royal Family. They have been taken from the life by Mr Mayall of Regent Street and are highly interesting from their truthfulness and unexaggerated appearance’.[2] The royal portraits were in the new carte-de-visite format – full-length portraits photographed in sets of eight by special multi-lens cameras and glued onto small mass-produced visiting cards. By early 1862 Sydney stationers were advertising another new commodity, the carte-de-visite album.[3] These albums had thick, decorated pages with pre-cut slots to hold cartes de visite. By July that year the Sydney photographers Freeman Brothers were announcing that they had ‘arranged a series of variable and appropriate backgrounds, so as to produce increased effect and add interest to the pictures […] in order to meet the increasing demand for these elegant varieties of the photographic art’.[4] The global carte-de-visite craze had hit Australia – the product of the coming together of an international postal service, a modular album, and a standardised photographic format. A popular poem that was placed on the first page of many Australian albums instructed the reader on how to use this new object:

Yes, this is my album

But learn ere you look:

That all are expected

To add to my book.

You are welcome to quiz it

The penalty is,

That you add your own portrait

For others to quiz[5]


The album was therefore a site of mutual obligation and reciprocal exchange. Mayall’s portraits, which reportedly sold in their hundreds of thousands around the empire, set up the royal family as the template for all the other families in the colony, while carte-de-visite albums became a physical manifestation of one’s place in a rigid social system. As she tucked images of the famed, such as those of the royal family with their ‘truthfulness and unexaggerated appearance’, into the same intimate pockets as the portraits of people she knew, each album’s owner stitched herself tightly into her immediate family as well as concentric social circles extending all the way up to the stratospheric reaches of royalty. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted one satirist who poked fun at the ‘claims to gentility’ the carte-de-visite album had unleashed; but his social vignette also points to how tactile the albums were, how startlingly immediate the portraits were, and how the combination of portraits was animated by a compiler’s narration:

 You place it in your friend’s hands, saying, ‘This only contains my special favorites, mind’, and there is her ladyship staring them in the face the next moment. ‘Who is this sweet person?’ says the visitor. ‘Oh that is dear Lady Puddicombe’, you reply carelessly. Delicious moment![6]

 There was much that was formulaic about the carte-de-visite’s iconography. The ‘series of variable and appropriate backgrounds’ Freeman Brothers arranged for their clients would have been necessarily limited, and the repertoire of poses, derived from paintings, equally formulaic.[7] But cartes de visite allowed the middle classes to ‘perform’ themselves as they wanted to be seen, then socially articulate themselves within the juxtapositions of the album, and finally even to see themselves ensconced in global networks. These were all powerful forces so, not surprisingly, albums themselves began to appear as talismanic objects within carte-de-visite portraits. Townsend Duryea, for instance, photographed a young Moonta woman gazing wistfully off into the distance; we don’t know whom she is thinking of, but we are certain their portrait is in the album which sits open in front of her (p xx).

Not all nineteenth-century albums followed the modular conventions of the pre-made carte-de-visite album; some were surprising informal. Around Christmas-time 1858 Louisa Elizabeth How, the wife of a wealthy merchant, briefly took up photography.[8] Her photographs of visitors to her harbourside home provide an insight into the day-to-day social life of friends in a domestic space. The settlers John Glen and Charles Morrison lounge with stereoscopes and stereo cards – an earlier photography craze – while William Landsborough, just returned from opening up new land for pastoral claims in southern Queensland, sits stiff-leggedly. His young Aboriginal companion ‘Tiger’ has obviously been told by How to wedge his elbow on the back of Landsborough’s chair in a fraternal gesture. He loosely holds his doffed cap in one hand, but hovers his other hand just above the explorer’s shoulder, barely touching it with his stiff fingers.

Albums such as How’s, which take us so closely into the bodily interrelationships of colonial Australians, are extremely rare. More common are the large, elaborately hand-painted, collaged scrapbook albums that became popular among middle- and upper-class women in the late 1860s.[9] Mrs Lambert, the compiler of one of these albums, Who and what we saw at the Antipodes, not only records the social circles of Sydney’s colonial elite, but also their houses and drawing rooms. For one photograph she flung open the curtains to her own drawing room at 46 Phillip Street. Though the streaming sun reduced the exposure time, Edith Gladstone, the young sister of Countess Belmore, the Governor’s wife, still has to hold her head to keep it from moving while she is photographed reading at a desk. There is an air of casual immediacy to the image, and a domestic informality is revealed as our eye wanders through the clutter of novels, albums and knick-knacks.[10]

Another album, from the Lethbridge family of Queensland pastoralists, contains a lovely, and remarkably modern-looking, portrait of a fresh-faced young girl leaning back in her chair and looking frankly into the camera with her fingers laced behind her head. Somebody, at a later date, has added the necessary metadata in pencil: ‘Effie Dalrymple, sister to Florence Lethbridge’. Thanks to those worker-bees of history, the family genealogists, and the digitisation of photographic collections, it only takes Google 0.45 seconds to find me another image of Effie, this one taken in 1900 after she had been married for twenty years and borne four children to the Mayor of Mackay, David Dalrymple. In the image that Google delivers, her face is now set hard and her hair tightly drawn back.

To jump from a nineteenth-century portrait album to the internet is now an automatic leap. And plenty of people have noticed the structural similarities between carte-de-visite albums and Facebook.[11] This comment from 1862 about the process of being turned into a carte de visite seems remarkably familiar today:


you have the opportunity of distributing yourself among your friends, and letting them see you in your favorite attitude, and with your favorite expression. And then you get into those wonderful books which everybody possesses, and strangers see you there in good society, and ask who that very striking looking person is?[12]


Slide02 Slide06 Slide05

Nineteenth-century albums mediated between the private and the public, allowing people to invent themselves and to feel connected with each other over vast distances of space and time, networked into global, virtual communities. Just like online photo-sharing today.


[1] See, for example: Geoffrey Batchen, Forget me not: photography and remembrance, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2004; Martha Langford, Suspended conversations: the afterlife of memory in photographic albums, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 2001; Elizabeth Edwards, ‘Photographs as objects of memory’, in Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward & Jeremy Aynsley (eds), Material memories, Berg, Oxford, 1999, pp 221–36; Deborah Chambers, ‘Family as place: family photograph albums and the domestication of public and private space’, in Joan Schwartz & James Ryan (eds) Picturing place: photography and the geographical imagination, IB Tauris, London, 2003, pp 96–114; and Verna Posever Curtis, The album in the age of photography, Aperture/Library of Congress, New York, NY & Washington, DC, 2011.

[2] Sydney Morning Herald, 18 October 1860, p 8. For more on carte-de-visite albums in the 1860s see Warwick Reeder, ‘The stereograph and the album portrait in colonial Sydney 1859–62’, History of Photography, vol 23, no 2, summer 1999, pp 181–91.

[3] Sydney Morning Herald, 15 March 1862, p 2; Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Apr 1862, p 7.

[4] Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 1862, p 2.

[5] A carte-de-visite copy of this poem appears in an album in the papers of Isobel Mackenzie, State Library of New South Wales, MLMSS 2996/SPG/1; another is in the State Library of Tasmania, TL.P 779.POR. The poem is also cited in Reeder 1999, p 182; Deborah Chambers 2003, p 99; and Risto Sarvas & David M Frohlich, From snapshots to social media: the changing picture of domestic photography, Springer, London, 2011, p 41.

[6] Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Oct 1862, p 8.

[7] For more on carte-de-visite conventions see Geoffrey Batchen, ‘Dreams of ordinary life’, Photography: theoretical snapshots, Routledge, London, 2009, pp 80–97.

[8] Isobel Crombie, ‘Louisa Elizabeth How: pioneer photographer’, Australian Business Collectors Annual, 1984; and Joan Kerr (ed), Dictionary of Australian artists: painters, sketchers, photographers, engravers to 1870, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992, pp 375–76.

[9] For international examples of these albums see Elizabeth Siegel, Playing with pictures: the art of Victorian photocollage, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 2010.

[10] Martyn Jolly, ‘“Who and what we saw at the Antipodes”: who and what?’,, accessed 30 June 2014.

[11] See Martyn Jolly, ‘A nineteenth-century Melbourne spiritualist’s carte de visite album’, in Anne Maxwell (ed) Migration and exchange, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2014 (forthcoming); Esther Milne, ‘Magic bits of pasteboard: texting in the nineteenth century’, M/C Journal, vol 7, no 1, Jan 2004,, accessed 30 June 2014; Simone Natale, ‘Photography and communication media in the nineteenth century’, History of Photography, vol 36, no 4, Nov 2012, pp 451–56; and Risto Sarvas & David M Frohlich 2011, pp 35-42.

[12] Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Oct 1862, p 8.

Iconoclasm at the National Portrait Gallery

Why are the medieval forces of iconoclasm gaining strength in a visual environment which is reportedly becoming increasingly virtual and digital? After the spate of Rolfoclasm, previously reported on twice in this blog, comes Angus Trumble’s decision to remove Widodo’s portrait from the National Portrait Prize even though they don’t own it, and against the wishes of the person who does (and has already paid the gallery the competition entry fee and freight charges for the privilege of being considered for the prize) — Adam Ferguson. Part of Trumble’s reason was to protect it from rogue iconoclasm; and yes, Diane Arbuses were once spat on in New York, and Andreas Serrano’s Piss Christ was once attacked with an axe in Melbourne, but even if the worst happened Ferguson need only press the Start button on his printer once more to get his print back. However part of Trumble’s reason also appears to be to indulge in a bit of iconoclasm of his own, to align the Canberra gallery, and the honorific power of its walls, with the general anti-Wididodo mood of the nation and its politicians. But Trumble’s remarkable action does make us look at Ferguson’s picture again, with its heavy-handed use of photoshop to give Widodo’s face a Yousuf Karshian makeover of Statesman like gravitas. Trumble should have let Ferguson’s portrait remain on the wall, and let its overblown digital-Pictorialism provide the irony.

Canberra Times, 1 May, 2015

Canberra Times, 1 May, 2015


Should art museums think of themselves as ‘collections’ or ‘archives’?

Lecture at Art Gallery of New South Wales, in association with the exhibition The Photograph and Australia, 29 March 2015

(The research for this lecture was done in association with Dr Daniel Palmer as part of our ARC Discovery Project Photography Curating in the Age of Photosharing)

the powerpoint is below


When the Art Gallery of New South Wales asked me to write an essay on nineteenth century photograph albums for the catalogue to the exhibition The Photograph and Australia they emailed me some jpegs of the albums they would be exhibiting. One jpeg was from an album in the State Library of Queensland that had been compiled by the Lethbridge family of pastoralists. It showed a charming fresh faced girl and I could see immediately why the curator, Judy Annear, had been attracted to it. The photograph’s informality, and the girl’s easy manner was quite anachronous in the context of the other photographs of the period, which I guess was around the early 1870s. A member of the Lethbridge family member had evidently come along later and written in pencil on the album page: ‘Effie Dalrymple, sister of Florence Lethbridge (nee McLean)’. Of course I did what every highly skilled and highly trained photographic researcher with thirty years experience in the field does with such precious metadata, I typed it into Google and hit return. In 0.49 seconds the results came back, I clicked on ‘images’, and in another fraction of a second I was looking at Effie again, this time in 1900. In less than a second she had aged thirty years and all of the fresh bloom of youth had drained from her face which was now pinched and tightly pulled back by her hair. The second photograph Google found for me also came from the State Library of Queensland, but it came via a circuitous root, my first hit was to a computer-student’s blog. He had used the SLQ’s on line image database for a class exercise in data management. It is only through his blog that I got to the SLQ digital record. A few more searches took me to some genealogical sites, and the site of the Mackay Historical Society, and within minutes and I knew what had happened to the lovely girl in the photograph: in 1880 she had married the Mayor of Mackay who went on to become a widely disliked right wing politician in Queensland, and had had four children by him.

My little story exemplifies two things photography does best. First it deals with aging and mortality. Photography can show us with a shock how bodies and faces age and die. By freezing time it makes the passing of time more tragic, especially when you spend that time married to a right wing Queensland politician. The second thing my story shows is that photography is a networked medium. Photographs by themselves don’t mean as much as photographs in relation to other photographs. And photographs are slippery things, they do not want to stay in one format, as objects secured in albums for instance, they want to be copied and duplicated. With the digital revolution photographs are now everywhere, they are digitized into ‘digital assets’ and available in Digital Asset Management Systems, along with other digital assets such as sound files or text files, which are accessible through various Content Management Systems. Individual end users like you and me and the student blogger though which I found Effie again are connecting and threading those databases together as we blog and tweet photographs.

At the preview to The Photograph and Australia the director of the AGNSW Dr Michael Brand proudly announced that the Art Gallery of New South Wales photography collection now numbered 5000 objects. My first thought was: ‘what, only 5000? Is that anywhere near enough? I’ve got more than that on my iPhone in my pocket, and some of them aren’t too bad either.’ Of course what was implied in Dr Brand’s boast was that these were carefully selected photographs, it was a curated collection, assembled by a succession of experts who had developed collection plans, strategic directions, and curatorial policies, which interlinked with the plans, directions and policies of the Art Gallery as a whole. These strategies are even outlined in the 2007 book Guide to the Photography Collection.



There are several things to say about the AGNSW’s collection, as well as the photography collections in other art galleries. This is a collection of photographs as art, and that therefore means it is a collection of photographs as art objects. Since the beginnings of art photography the photo object, as opposed to the photo-image, has been primary. We only need to go back the Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery in 1906 to see the paradigmatic display of photo-objects, each isolated in its elegant amplitude of olive and grey, burlap and hessian. It was clearly to this heightened aesthetic attention to the photograph as object that Harold Cazneaux aspired three years later in his 1909 one man show, although his hang still has the feeling of a cluttered Edwardian parlour, rather than an elegant New York Gallery. Nonetheless the foundation curator of the AGNSW collection, Gael newton chose Harold Cazneux and his Pictorialist friends in the Sydney Camera Circle to be the firm foundation stones of the collection because, in her words Pictorialism was ‘a conscious art movement, aimed at using the camera more creatively.’

The main artefact of this approach to curating is the print. And amongst prints the most highly valued are vintage prints, those made by the photographer close to the date the image was taken. The idea of the vintage print, which still rules the market, contains all of the fetishizations of art objects: a single point of origin in time, a singular artistic vision, and the artist’s crafting hand. Even when there is no artist, the power of the vintage print still remains. For instance on online photo dealer recently offered for sale a set of press prints which had been released to the press by NASA in 1966. The images were made robotically by the Lunar Orbiter 1 as it circled the moon, and radioed data back to earth to be read out in strips onto 35 mm film like a fax achine. The site offers them as ‘vintage silver prints’ in very good condition, not mounted. Their slight yellowing adds to their aura as precious relics from the space age, and these press prints would be worth less, I think if they were still crisp and white.

Around this idea of the vintage print other scopic machineries are built. One is the passé partout (pas par too) mat board, which the Pictorialists loved, which isolates the single image from visual contamination. Another piece of museal engineering is the solandar box where the few lucky prints selected to be collected will be preserved until the end of time. When I was a young curator I was frequently reminded that the initial cost of buying a print was minimal, it was the ongoing cost as that print had to be accessioned, catalogued, tracked, conserved and stored in controlled conditions for ever and ever which was the real cost.

If the matt board and the solandar box are the museal engineering for art photography, the curators are the engineers. Here we see Ralph Eugene, Alfred Stieglitz, Heinrich Kuhn and Edward Steichen gazing intently at a print, I like to imagine that Kuhn is looking so surprised because the print is beginning to smoke under the intensity of their gazes, like we used to burn paper with our magnifying glasses when we were children. After his Pictorialist phase Steichen became a visual engineer of propaganda shows, and he was photographed in action with the Family of Man, building visual architectures out of prints.

This concern with the photograph as object is of course a natural fit for an art gallery. When most art gallery collections were being founded in the 1970s it fitted in with the collection logic all of their other objects — prints, paintings, sculptures, decorative art and so on which had previously been collected in the season before. Only since the 1990s, with the growth in video art, computer art and multimedia art has another potentially ‘virtual’ or non-object based collecting category entered the art gallery. But the idea of a curated collection of photographs is still a natural fit to an art gallery. The collection to which Dr Brand referred, then, is very different to an archive. While an archive is potentially infinitely expandable and is only restricted by contingencies such as storage space, the collection is deliberately shaped. Representative selections are handpicked from representative photographers, so that the collection itself in its very structure forms a picture of photography, or as the curators would hasten to add I’m sure, one picture amongst many other possible pictures.

Curators are continually rewriting their policies in order to re-draw the picture they want to make of the photograph and Australia. For instance Gael Newton began the AGNSW collection in the 1970s with an emphasis on Pictorialism, while before she retired from the National Gallery of Australia last year she shifted the collecting emphasis of that collection to the Asia and the Pacific, in order to re-draw the picture it was making of photography relevant to Australians in the twenty-first century. While there can never be too many images in an archive, here can be too much in a curated collection which needs to be restricted in number so it can be shaped. Notions of quality come into play.


In a curated collection an image of ‘poor quality’, from a set of say twenty prints brought from a photographer, will reduce the effectiveness of the entire set; however in an archive where there might be hundreds or thousands of photographs, so one more or less good or bad image doesn’t matter. For instance while the National Library of Australia has catalogued 10,987 Wolfgang Sievers photographs and put them on line. The AGNSW has just 22. The 22 the AGNSW owns are a fine selection, covering his career from his early days in Germany to his later big scale corporate work, as well as some early colour. The selection of 22 tells us what has been accepted by scholars as Sievers’ main story as a creative artist, the relationship between the noble worker and his industrial tools. The NLA on the other hand acquired the lot when Sievers died a few years ago, and has almost completed the mammoth task of putting them online, with only a couple of thousand to go. It would take a lot of work to get the shape of Sievers as a creative photographer from the NLA’s vast archive, but it is a resource within which we can find evidence Australian industry, architecture and advertising.


So that might seem to be one distinction between gallery and library, collection and archive — one tells us about the creative individual, the other is a resource through which their photographs can tell us about our society and history. This distinction has been characterized by other scholars as that between ‘canon’ and ‘archive’. Another distinction might be between curation and retrieval: in a gallery collection photographs have already been selected to tell a story, and other experts will, from time to time, sequence them into exhibitions; in the archive meanings await retrieval through user searches.

But this distinction between canonical collection and archive and is not clear-cut, and in fact they have been institutionally entangled for the last 100 years. For instance, at the end of the First World War, perhaps in the throes of the same nationalistic fervour we are feeling one hundred years later, the amateur photographic magazine the Australasian Photo Review called for a ‘national collection of Australian photographic records’. The Mitchell Library was one of several institutions who responded positively to this idea, even suggesting a list of twelve different categories of photographs which amateurs could take for a future repository. The photographs included:

  1. The topography of districts, such as panoramic views, extended landscapes etc., showing general features of districts
  2. Street views and principal thoroughfares, artistic by-ways, etc., not only cities and town, but even of small country centres.
  3. Celebrations, pageants, festivities, great functions, etc, no matter whether they are political, civic, social or religious
  4. Celebrities and even oddities (including public men, politicians, authors, artists, actors, leaders of industry, agitators and reformers, town characters, etc.)
  5. Trade and industry, commerce and transport, depicting the various operations connected therewith
  6. Public buildings, statues, monuments, churches — old and new, architectural curiosities and follies, etc.
  7. Public parks and gardens and memorial avenues.
  8. Prize stock, famous horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, etc.
  9. Sport and pastimes, such as racehorses and their jockeys, racing yachts and their crews, famous cricketers and footballers, sculliers, etc.
  10. Nature studies, such as growing trees and flowering plants in situ, birds nests in natural position, animals at play, etc.
  11. Aboriginals, showing their physical features, corroborees, habits and customs, sports and pastimes
  12. Any other phase of life, scientific photographs, collections of views illustrative of tours in Australasia and the Pacific

It is interesting that The Photograph and Australia conforms almost perfectly to this hundred year old template.

Thirty years later, at the end of the Second World War, the idea of a national collection was raised again. Laurence le Guay, the editor of the new magazine Contemporary Photography, devoted an entire issue to new sharp bromide enlargements Harold Cazneaux made from his Pictorialist negatives of Old Sydney, and declared that they ‘would be a valuable acquisition for the Mitchell Library or Australian Historical Societies.’ However, once more the library failed to follow through, and Cazneaux’s photographs remained uncollected.

Nevertheless, the interest in photography as an Australian tradition and the persuasiveness of the idea of significant public collections of historic photographs continued to build. By the 1960s both libraries and state art galleries were beginning to make serious policy commitments to collecting photographs. The aims were to both collect photographs as documents of Australian life, and to record the importance of photography as a visual medium. For instance, the National Librarian of Australia, Harold White, began to work with Keast Burke who in 1956 had proposed a two tier national collection: one part to be purely about the information which photographs contained, and assembled by microfilming records and copying images in the library’s own darkrooms; the other part to be about the medium itself, made up of ‘artistic salon photographs’ and historic cameras.

The National Gallery of Victoria became the first state gallery to collect photography. The first work to enter the collection – David Moore’s documentary photograph Surry Hills Street (1948) – was acquired through a grant from Kodak. In the same year the NGV imported The Photographer’s Eye, a touring exhibition from New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which had been the first art museum to establish a Department of Photography in 1940. The exhibition was curated by MoMA’s John Szarkowski, undoubtedly the most influential photography curator of the second half of the twentieth century, and a curator in the lineage of Stieglitz and Steichen. The Photographer’s Eye was a statement of his formalist position on photographic aesthetics. Its title was adapted for a local version, The Perceptive Eye (1969–1970).

By 1973 the yet-to-be-opened National Gallery of Australia had purchased its first photograph, an artistic confection by Mark Strizic (Jolimont Railway Yards, 1970) that looked more like a print than a photograph. Two years later the AGNSW was laying the foundation for its collection with the acquisition, exhibition and book on the early twentieth century photographs of Harold Cazneaux, collected by them as fine-art Pictorialist prints, rather than as the sharp bromide enlargements that had been published by Contemporary Photography in 1948. However at the same time the National Library of Australia was also collecting Cazneux prints in accordance with its policies to collect exemplars of the medium, and documents of history. In the end the AGNSW ended up with 203 carefully selected Cazneaux’s, while the NLA ended up with 1414.

It was only after this period, in the late 1970s, that the dual nature of the photograph as both a carrier of historical and social information, and an aesthetic art object and exemplar of an individual’s creativity, which had co-existed over the previous decades, was finally separated between libraries and galleries. Both galleries and libraries found themselves embedded in the newly constructed infrastructure of the Whitlam era: the newly established Australia Council, rapidly expanding tertiary courses in photography, new magazines and commercial galleries, and the establishment of the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney in 1974.

In this historical context the photographer as creative artist, and the photograph as art object gained brief cultural ascendancy. The longed-for acknowledgement from overseas materialised in the form of John Szarkowski himself, who was invited on a ‘papal’ tour by the ACP in 1974. Szarkowski gave six public lectures titled “Towards a Photographic Tradition’ .The purpose of the national tour, as Howe put it at the time, “was to liberate photography from the world of technique and commerce and to suggest that it could also be of absorbing artistic and intellectual interest.”

Photography was considered to be a medium with its own intrinsic characteristics”. At the AGNSW Gael Newton deployed a clear art historical teleology, she built on the Pictorialist foundation with a monograph on Max Dupain in 1980, seen as the modernist successor to the Pictorialists. However, galleries also engaged with the contemporary art photography of the graduates from the new art schools, as well as emerging postmodern ideas. For instance the title of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ 1981 exhibition Reconstructed Vision defined this new style of work against, but within the overall trajectory of, the newly established historical traditions.

While the gallery use art historical strategies to embed photography within their structures was certainly in the cultural ascendancy at this time, nonetheless libraries were also confirming their commitment to photography, but as a non aesthetic-object based, content-driven, curatorial strategy. The contemporary cultural relevance of the subjectivist photo boom of the seventies, combined with Modernist and Postmodernist teleologies, drove the aesthetic strategies of galleries, but the nationalistic socially cohesive agendas of events like the 1988 Bicentenary drove the content-based strategies of library photo collecting. At the same time as curators in galleries were building such art historical teleologies, library curators like Alan Davies at the State Library of New South Wales were taking a more encyclopedic approach producing comprehensive surveys such as 1986’s The Mechanical Eye in Australia. At the same time as gallery curators were seeing ‘creative’ photography finally getting the recognition it deserved from a reluctant art establishment still fixated on painters like Brett Whitley, vision of vast searchable databases began to open up for librarians. In a forerunner to today’s participatory online photographic projects, in 1983 Euan McGillivray and Matthew Nickson proposed a snapshot collecting project, Australia as Australians Saw It, which would copy photographs in the possession of individuals, then index them and make them accessible through the latest technology, which at that time was microfiche. Their idea never got off the ground. But, two years after the publication of The Mechanical Eye in Australia, during the bicentenary, Alan Davies, curator at the State Library of New South Wales, travelled to twenty-three country towns and copied about seven thousand vernacular photographs from 576 individuals. Under the title At Work and Play, they were made accessible by a videodisc keyword search (a forerunner to today’s digital database and tagging methodology).


The contest between the logic of the gallery and the library in the 1970s and 1980s was a global phenomenon, and part of poststructuralist, Marxist theoretical discourse. This situation was dramatized in the US by the critic Douglas Crimp in 1979 who saw the institutional aesthetization of photography as a contraction of its power as a medium. In The Museum’s Old, the Library’s New Subject he wrote:

Photography will hereafter be found in departments of photography or divisions of art and photography. Thus ghettoized, it will no longer primarily be useful within other discursive practices; it will no longer serve the purposes of information, documentation, evidence, illustration, reportage. The formerly plural field of photography will henceforth be reduced to the single, all-encompassing aesthetic. Just as, when paintings and sculptures were wrested from the churches and palaces of Europe and consigned to museums in the late eigh­teenth and early nineteenth centuries, they acquired a newfound autonomy, relieved of their earlier functions, so now photography acquires its autonomy as it too enters the museum. But we must recognize that in order for this new aesthetic understanding to occur, other ways of understanding photography must be dismantled and destroyed. Books about Egypt will literally be torn apart so that photographs by Francis Frith may be framed and placed on the walls of museums. Once there, photographs will never look the same. Whereas we may formerly have looked at Cartier-Bresson’s photographs for the information they conveyed about the revolution in China or the Civil War in Spain, we will now look at them for what they tell us about the artist’s style of expression.


Fast forward to the present in Australia. Over the intervening 40 years, since the establishment of various departments and the ACP, the boundaries of photography have expanded. However, galleries have largely kept to the historical trajectories inaugurated in the 1970s. In the 1980s, photographic reproductive processes became central to postmodern art, which had the flow-on effect of boosting photography’s place in the art museum. But postmodernism did not fundamentally alter the increasing focus of departments of photography on artefacts of ‘art photography’.

Into the 1990s and 2000s, and until perhaps the AGNSW’s The Photograph and Australia show, departments of photography essentially continued a monographic and consolidation phase, aided by the international prominence of large-scale colour photography as art, such as the Düsseldorf School. Simultaneously, we have witnessed the digital revolution, which has produced a whole new generation of photographers using online photosharing services like Flickr and Instagram, whose effects until now have been felt much more widely felt outside the gallery. In response to the digital revolution libraries and social history museums have invested institutional effort into digitizing their image collections and making them available online. They have brought software from international companies that give them sophisticated Digital Asset Management Systems for organizing images and other data in the same digital space, and they have brought Content Management Systems for delivering that information to users in different ways. In the digital space of social history museums and libraries the logic of ‘asset management’ and ‘content delivery’ is merging. For instance the popular Emu Digital Asset Management System advertises a ‘narrative’ module which automatically connects together diverse digitized objects within the catalogue itself, but across normal taxonomic categories, for instantaneous publishing on line, or to be available for public searches. This is in contrast to traditional gallery spaces where storerooms, catalogues, and exhibition spaces are maintained as separate entities. Likewise the Android labels on objects in museums are multimedia rich, and can be updated instantaneously from a curator’s desktop through the institution’s Content Management System. This is in contrast to the art gallery’s commitment to the status as an object to be experienced in the flesh, hung in static exhibition installations.

The Melbourne scholar Scott McQuire has compared the ‘vault’ approach to what he calls an ‘operational archive’, in the vault approach the collection is kept in a specific space, from which its objects are occasional produced; the ‘operational archive’ on the other hand is continually active as data is transferred in and out. In this distinction there is a shift from cataloguing, where a discrete process of description and accessioning adds static information such as title, date, subject, to active ‘tagging’ where users continue to add tags to the image. This shift might also be between a curated exhibition, where a set of pictures is chosen and sequenced, to an active search, where an archive is sampled using a keyword. A further distinction might be between a spatialized ‘display’ of photographs, and a temporalized ‘stream’ of photographs in, say, an Instagram feed.


If the primary aim of photography curating in the 1970s was to establish photography as art, this has clearly been achieved. Photography is ubiquitous within contemporary art, but ironically now not as an autonomous tradition – rather as a mode integrated within wider practices. But if the now forty-year old institutional structures are still largely with us, if museums continue to have departments, curators and galleries of photography, this is still largely for the autonomous and separate history of photography, for the knowledge of specific collections and conservation techniques, rather than for its networked ubiquity with our art and culture. So even if photography is now safely and deeply embedded in the art museum, its precise role is still up for grabs.

Clearly, museum departments can no longer work in isolation. However, what the mere integration of photography into the newly contemporary art museum all too easily elides is that photography’s place there has always been unstable, its ambiguous status as object and information continually threatening the grounds of the art museum’s hierarchies and collection policies.

We have seen this in Australia in relation to the location of photography between the library and the art museum, in terms of a split between information and aesthetics, a documentary database versus an aesthetic object. Photography’s recent insertion into digital networks reveals these tensions yet again, but with even more complexity. Within the modernist logic which originally auspiced photography in the art gallery, the networked digital image, circulating as reproducible information, is guaranteed to be excluded. If gallery photography departments continue to adhere to the logic which gave birth to them the potential for different kinds of photography in the art gallery could go largely unnoticed. But there may be the potential for art galleries to judiciously incorporate some aspects of the archival image mode, retain their integrity, and enhance their relevance to contemporary culture.

In identifying the future potential of photography in the art gallery, perhaps we can learn from artists. For instance The Photograph and Australia has deliberately placed Patrick Pound’s computer programming work, which is about the continual digital slippage of photographs, next to a bank of cartes de visite and postcards. Furthermore, if curators are engaged in creating innovative contexts for public engagement, networked photography opens up new possibilities for this to happen. I am not arguing that the art gallery ought to emulate the hyper-linked experience of the internet, or the swipe-based logic of mobile media. However, I am proposing that authoritarian presentations of a connoisseurial canon need to become part of a larger project: exploring photography’s protean nature as a medium and its potential to complicate spectatorship and activate audiences in new ways.


It is clear that the cat is already out of the bag, and that previously separate spaces and categories have already collapsed for art galleries as they have for libraries and museum. For instance something that drive curators in both galleries and libraries absolutely crazy is twitter feeds such as @historyinpics, which is run by two teenagers, a 17 year old from Victoria and a 19 year old from Hawaii. The experts say that this Twitter stream is a genuine phenomenon. Last year it had twice as many followers as the Library of Congress, and reportedly earned the teenagers $50,000 a month, last week it had 2.38 million followers, of which, apparently, only 5% are bots. Every day a new photo which has been scraped from an online archive is tweeted, and though there is preponderance of Hollywood movie stars the feed is addictive, and it is now how many people understand historic photographs. But these photographs are entirely cast adrift, without authors or attribution or location. The site infringes copyright, frequently posts fake photographs, and rarely credits the photographer. It may be history candy, but it give its followers no sense of history.


The Google institute is a way that institutions can wrest back this powerful internet space from the ignorant teenagers who currently rule it. It allow them to put parts of their collections online, and it allows users to ‘curate’ their own sequences. For instance the AGNSW’s ‘Posts from the Past’ is an online slide show of 22 cartes de visite from the exhibition The Photograph and Australia with some captioning, and some ability for the user to re-arrange and compare the photographs. However this is essentially still a very short slide show, a short extract from a larger installation, and it still has the sense of a finite experience served up to the user


Similarly HistoryPin is used by institutions to pin images from their collections onto Google maps.


The hashtag #collectionfishing is also used by archivists to try to get their collections out to the public.


Some more interesting examples of how curators in social history museums are using the opportunities afforded by Digital Asset Management Systems and Content Management Systems can be found in the new World War One Galleries of the Australian War Memorial. The gallleries cost over thirty million dollars to prepare, but from my point of view the results are problematic. The spaces are congested with technology, and the visitor’s head is filled with audio soundtracks featuring ‘war’ sound effects and children singing plaintive songs. Any personal affective response which the viewer may have to the auratic power of the artefactual material is pre-empted and crowded out by the emotional manipulation of the galleries themselves which think and feel for us — and think and feel a very restrictive, jingoistic version of the ANZAC myth as formative to our national identity. Nonetheless there are some interesting aspects to the installation which indicate future directions for development. One aspect is to do with quantity, the other is to do with scale.

A large quantity of photographs are included in The Life at Anzac display which was developed to showcase the Memorial’s collection of amateur photographs taken by the soldiers at Gallipoli, and to introduce visitors to the realities of soldier life at Gallipoli – beyond the narrative of the landing and battles at Lone Pine and the Nek which are frequently reproduced in the media. The Memorial’s curators wanted to minimise the curatorial voice and draw directly from the records of soldiers to interpret their experience at Gallipoli. The 372 photographs selected for use in the display were uploaded to the Collection Management System. Twenty-two tags were developed based on what the photographs and diaries illustrate – what the soldiers have chosen to capture and tell us about their experiences. For example: living amongst the dead, lost friends, dugouts, behind the lines, weather — storm, heat, snow — faces, general views, medical, religion. From this set of twenty-two, one to three tags were assigned to each photograph, so that multiple subjects could be explored in each photograph. The Memorial curators told me that they didn’t have to force any of the tags onto the images, most images ‘spoke’ to them pretty clearly, they said.  Each column in the display relates to a tag, some tags cover multiple columns because of the quantity of images. 153 quotes from soldier diaries were also entered on to the CMS and assigned tags. These appear at random when a visitor pulls up a photograph. The Memorial has the ability to change the display remotely through the CMS, adding new content (images, tags & quotes), theming the selection to a particular event or visit, or changing the selection entirely. The photographs selected represent a very small proportion of what the Memorial holds and it hopes to include more as resources/allow. The users interaction is subtle which was important given the limitations of the physical space. The ‘falling rain’ or cascade appearance was chosen to give the impression of an infinite collection and introduce some movement and graphic energy.

The other aspect is scale, this is seen in a slide show produced from a high-resolution scans of the glass plate negatives made by Frank Hurley and Hubert Wilkins, these are projected from a bank of 49 separate data projectors, so the projection is not pixelated and is at the level of the film grain. However unfortunately the visual power of this technology is compromised by its positioning.

While not suggesting that art galleries do anything like these kind of social history displays, which are very ideologically directed in their affective power, perhaps there may be some clues for art museum to develop new ways to approach contemporary photographic practice.

Interestingly, although the Australian War Memorial World War One galleries rely so much on digital images, they still need to evoke the artefactual, auratic quality of snapshots, however these need to be simulated in inkjet prints.


The digital revolution is affecting the practice of art photographers. Many artists do not work in a single visual space any more, producing prints for books or exhibition, say. They work across platforms. For instance the photographer Lee Grant carefully edited 65 photographs into the book Belco Pride, about the Canberra suburb of Belconnen. But she has 200 photographs of Belconnen that she considers to be part of the set. Many other photographers work in this way, so there could be a curated selection of say 65 photographs, or there could be various iterations of the archive produced by users.

Many other photographers produce a continual stream of Instagram posts, which are as integral to their practice as their officially published work.

Other artists return to particular topics or subjects over an extended period of time revisiting them and changing them.


This implies that there could be the potential for curators to not only purchase a selection of prints from a photographer, but to ‘contract’ with a photographer to maintain an interface to their ‘operational archive’ to use Scott McQuire’s term, as it grows and mutates. There could be the potential to not replace the power and the beauty of the unique object, but to augment it with other ways of creatively experiencing the photograph as a networked image, as well as a crafted print.

Martyn Jolly