Australian Photography Commissions

Talk at Australian Parliament House 20 June 2014 for Anne Zahalka Parliament House commission forum

Australian Photography, Corporate Commissions and Australia’s Parliament House

When Parliament House was being built the scene for art photography was very different to the scene now. Now photography has become just another imaging-option within art, and it really only gets public profile as a medium in its own right through a set of annual photography competitions, in which anyone — amateur, professional or student — can take their chances. But, twenty-five years ago, photography was still relatively ‘hot’ as an art medium and, as well as being seen to be publicly accessible, it was also associated with the young and innovative. Rather than today’s large photographic competitions, which are largely funded by the entry fees of photographers themselves, in the eighties corporate sponsorship was very important in offering new photographers their first break, and offering established photographers further opportunities. Companies such as Polaroid and Kodak sponsored photographers, but the biggest sponsor of the period was the cigarette company Philip Morris, who aligned itself with the National Gallery of Australia and, through its director James Mollison, purchased 700 photographs by over 100 photographers between 1976 and 1980.

Other industries also saw the advantage of using photographers to not only document their activities, but also to gain a corporate shine from being seen to be with-it philanthropists to a young and exciting art medium. Of course photography has always been completely bound up in industry. From the early twentieth century onwards photographers and factories were close acquaintances. Photographers such as George Lewis, who features in the current NGA exhibition of Indonesian photography, was exemplary in importing the visual logic of the portrait studio onto the factory floor. Even before the industrial photographer unpacked his camera gear the machinery had to ‘photograph itself’ by momentarily pausing in its ceaseless whirring so that it would register solidly on the film rather than become a liquid blur. Workers, machinery and lighting were then choreographed, as in a portrait studio, to give just the right impression for the client.

George Lewis 1902

George Lewis 1902

As was the case globally, Australian photographers have also always been associated with industry and architecture. Harold Cazneaux undertook a commission for BHP in 1935; and in 1973 the publisher Oswald Ziegler used Max Dupain’s photographs for one of his celebratory and commemorative volumes, Sydney Builds and Opera House. This exemplifies what could be called a modernist-heroic genre of architectural photography, celebrating industry and architecture primarily, and including workers as a function of the industrial process. Workers are certainly present and even celebrated, but they are a figured within the machinery of construction, a human accent to the formal architecture of the image. In this heroic mode it is the historical force of modernity itself which is the generative power, producing the ‘sculptural forms’ of the architecture which define the photograph, which in turn are ministered to by the supplicant workers who provide a fleshy torque to the composition’s hard architectonics. This heroic genre was getting a fair bit of profile twenty-five years ago. For instance in 1976 David Moore reprinted some photographs taken by Henri Mallard of the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for an Australian Centre for Photography travelling exhibition. Perhaps the last example of this heroic mode is David Moore’s own documentation of the building of the Glebe Island Bridge, published in 1996.





Sydney Builds an Opera House

Sydney Builds an Opera House

Sydney Builds an Opera House

Sydney Builds an Opera House

However, in 1978 one company, CSR, saw the advantage of uniting the benefits of the corporate philanthropy of Philip Morris with the opportunity to directly document the variety of their industrial activities. The story goes that they originally contacted the Australia Council to help them find a painter to celebrate the centenary of their Pyrmont refinery with a great big painting of the refinery. The council steered them toward getting more bang for their twelve thousand bucks by spending the same amount on a group of six photographers. The project, auspiced through Christine Godden, director of the Australian Centre for Photography, went on for a further four iterations. The project was structurally very similar to the future Parliament House Project, it commissioned emerging photographers, but also featured established photographers ‑ even towards the end getting Max Dupain to reprint some images originally taken in the 1950s. The emphasis was on a variety of approaches, from the traditional fine print to the more art school trained style of creative photography. Thus in 1978 Sandy Edwards broke the masculinist mold of the previous heroic mode by photographing the multicultural women on the production line. Micky Allan also broke the heroic mold of picturing workers as a mere manifestation of the Modernist imperative by incorporating noise andvibration — stilled in previous industrial photography — in her production line photographs. Even Bill Henson enveloped the younger workers in his trademark entropic twilight, making them not the vigorous propellers of progress, but the romantic bearers of a lugubrious weight. David Moore even assembled portrait-rows of them, matching the leatheriness of their multicultural faces with the marks on their multifunctional gloves. Also notable in the CSR collection was some of what was called at the time ‘constructed photography’, exemplified by Debra Phillips, who a decade before photoshop blended two separate photographs into the one experiential landscape; or Merryle Johnson who made multiple-viewpoint scenes of ordinary life. However the CSR commission also gave the opportunity for photographers like Grant Mudford to explore the formal properties of the medium using industrial materials and gravel.

Debra Phillips on CSR catalogue cover

Debra Phillips on CSR catalogue cover

Sandy Edwards 192 Cubes 1978. AGNSW Collection

Sandy Edwards 192 Cubes 1978. AGNSW Collection

Micky Allan 1978. AGNSW Collection

Micky Allan 1978. AGNSW Collection

Grant Mudford 1981. AGNSW Collection

Grant Mudford 1981. AGNSW Collection

The Parliament House commission had a lot in common with the CSR commission, and many photographers who worked on Parliament House had previously worked at CSR. However some, for instance Bill Henson, who worked on the CSR commission unfortunately did not come back for Parliament House, I wonder what he would have done if he had? Many of the twenty-eight photographers who shot on the site around the year 1986 worked in a hyper formalist style. One example amongst many is Tony Perry who revelled in the mud and hard shadows, and formally played the white of the concrete off against the dark patterns of reinforcing mesh. For others, like Steven Lojewski, on-camera flash often flattened space, and horizon lines were often pushed way up to force a tension between the 3D space depicted in the image, and the 2D surface of the print. To anybody who lived through this period this is all very, very, familiar, but scrolling through the images now the viewer feels the clench of a claustrophobic air. But nonetheless this style dominates the collection. Other examples in black and white are: Fiona Hall, Glen O’Malley, John Elliot and Charles Page ; and in colour: Douglass Holleley and Ed Douglas. In many of these shots workers are excluded entirely, and in others, such as Fiona Hall’s, they are reduced to tiny ciphers.

Steven Lojewski C1986 Parliament House Collection

Steven Lojewski C1986 Parliament House Collection

Only some photographers seem to capture the full scale and spatial weirdness of the building, most notably Gerrit Fokkema who gave his photographs his trademark surreal irony; and Debra Phillips who seems to have begun her photography by responding to the spaces she entered, rather than imposing her own pre-determined formal sensibility, like a net, over the spaces she looked down into— which many of the other photographers seemed to do.

Gerrit Fokkema C1986 Parliament House Collection

Gerrit Fokkema C1986 Parliament House Collection

Debra Phillips C1986 Parliament House Collection

Debra Phillips C1986 Parliament House Collection

This was a national commission, photographers went anywhere in Australia from which Parliament House’s construction materials were sought, but there was a politics here too. Take for example the sourcing of timber: Anthony Green photographed the dense Huon pine forests of Tasmania as though it was just another formalist exercise, and Richard Stringer’s photographed in the jungles of Kuranda, in far north Queensland, as though it was a postcard; but Gillian Gibb took individual tree portraits in Tasmania, baptising each one with their proper botanical name.

Gillian Gibb C1986 Parliament House Collection

Gillian Gibb C1986 Parliament House Collection

Anthony Green C1986 Parliament House Collection

Anthony Green C1986 Parliament House Collection

Workers are not excluded entirely: Mark Kimber did Sanderesque portraits of them, while Richard Woldendorp and John Williams photograph them emeshed in their environment. (It is only after a little while that we realize with a shock what is missing from these twenty-five year old images of workers, where are the hi-viz vests, today’s instantly recognizable symbol of labour worn by everyone from the prime minister down— here totally absent?). Merryl Johnson, one of several overtly feminist photographers who were chosen, places them as part of a dynamic environment.

Mark Kimber C1986 Parliament House Collection

Mark Kimber C1986 Parliament House Collection

Merryle Johnson C1986 Parliament House Collection

Merryle Johnson C1986 Parliament House Collection

Standing out from all of the rest of the work is Sandy Edwards, who photographs workers not ‘on the job’, but involved in the controversial de-registering of the Builders Labourers Federation. She took photograph of three union members and other union activities in saturated colour. Beneath the images she placed labels filled with her own querulous first-hand experiences. I was around when this collection was first exhibited, and I’ve forgotten most of it, but I still remember the shock of seeing Sandy’s photographs. What comes through is her own tentative self-questioning, a self-conscious awareness of the fragility of the temporary relationships she forged with the unionists and strikers she photographed, and an acute awareness of the politics of the commission itself. (But now, encountering them 25 years later I can’t help but see them through the filter of all the all massive iconography of Thatcher’s Britain that has come out, particularly in cinema, since then. As always, it’s a tragedy that so much of Australia’s visual heritage remains hidden and dormant, while that of other countries spreads across the world.)

Sandy Edwards C1986 Parliament House Collection

Sandy Edwards C1986 Parliament House Collection

Sandy Edwards C1986 Parliament House Collection

Sandy Edwards C1986 Parliament House Collection

Sandy Edwards C1986 Parliament House Collection

Sandy Edwards C1986 Parliament House Collection

So, in these collections we can see larger political dramas — between feminism and patriarchy, between environmental consciousness and the perception of nature as imply a ‘resource’, between the historical project of modern development and the human experiences caught up in it — directly played out in the dialogue between the photographs.

Zahalka has inherited all of this. She, like photographers before her for over a century, has imported the logic of the studio into the workplace. Make no mistake, hers is an industrial photography. She, like photographers before her, has had to work out where to find the ‘dignity’ of labour. Not in the heroic tradition, where a worker’s labour and therefore their dignity is merely a product of a historical project far greater than the individual; and not either — at least in this case — in an oppositional tradition where the worker is cast as an actor in another historical drama of oppression resistance and rebellion. But rather, somewhere between them.

Martyn Jolly



My Anne Zahalka Parliament House 25th Anniversary Commission catalogue essay

Parliament House at Work, 25th Anniversary commission, Anne Zahalka

Anne Zahalka at Work

Everybody wants a behind the scenes tour. Documentary filmmakers and photographers have always catered to this desire to lift the hood on an institution and see how the human machinery underneath works. We all remember seeing documentaries about, for example, the ‘below stairs’ bustle of majestic mansions, the below decks drills of mighty warships at sea, the behind the scenes dramas of great opera houses, or the backroom machinations of political campaigns. Our Parliament House combines all of these aspects — from the aristocratic to the bellicose to the operatic to the Machiavellian  — in the one magnificent site that virtually every Australian has visited, or will visit, at one time or another. And even when we aren’t there in person — trailing through the public level in school groups, queuing for a spot in the public galleries, or attending a function in the Great Hall —we still see one or another of the several tips of the Parliamentary iceberg every night on TV: a shouting match in the chamber, a doorstop interview on a chilly Canberra morning, or the forced chit-chat of caucus or cabinet before the doors are closed on the cameras.

But how does it all run? Or, more specifically, who runs it all? Last year, twenty-five years after it opened, Anne Zahalka was commissioned to photograph Parliament House and, through a process of discussion and experimentation, eventually decided to work with the staff, the ordinary but essential people who keep the vast machinery of the legislature running day in day out, from year to year and from government to government. Of course Parliament House is an extraordinary piece of architecture, not so much a building set in a landscape as a citadel which is part building and part hill, a self-contained city voyaging through time on its own temporal rhythms driven by the imperatives of parliamentary sittings and legislative agendas. And photographers have always loved it; its flat planes, hard edges and abutted textures are made for the camera. Nor was Zahalka the first photographer to be commissioned to photograph it. As it was being built in the 1980s the Parliament House Construction Photography Project commissioned twenty-eight emerging and established photographers to respond to the construction process and the building as it grew into the hill. Most of the photographers concentrated on the tangled formal patterns which the concrete, reinforcing mesh, formwork, and so on made against the mud and bedrock. Only some, most notably Sandy Edwards, photographed the workers themselves — union members in her case — who were needed to actually do the work. As hill mutated into building other photographers, for instance Debra Phillips, got the opportunity to photograph the vast and complex cathedral like spaces that were opening themselves up beneath the buttresses and aprons of concrete above. These photographers can be seen as precedents to Zahalka’s anniversary commission.

But that heroic construction phase was long ago, the building and its staff have long since settled into a regular rhythm, chugging efficiently along as political storms rage above, and it is that on which Zahalka has concentrated. However in her work we still get a sense of the building’s full architectural scale, which so fascinated the construction phase photographers, through the building’s employees. A worker checks her phone in a storeroom for old furniture which has been built, at the lowest level of the building, into the roughly excavated bedrock of the hill itself. In another photograph another worker tugs apart the bus-sized flag which is about to fly high above the swards of rooftop grass, from the top of the massive quadrapod flagpole.

The architecture of the building has also written itself into the very compositional structure of Zahalka’s images. Like the building itself all of her images are strictly symmetrical and organised around a central axis which drives itself straight through the middle of her photographs. Some of her images are even bicameral like our Parliament house. The panoramas, made by digitally gluing several separate exposures together, seem to conjoin two visual halves into one unified image; and one image of the Parliamentary Library, made from two adjacent points of view, allows us to look down two bookshelf aisles at once.

There has always been a tableau-like quality to Zahalka’s photographs. For example in her series Welcome to Sydney, 2002, commissioned by Sydney Airport, new migrants to Sydney from different countries were posed against panoramic Sydney skylines as though they were giant postcards. Within the rectilinear pyramids of these Parliament House images the staff are arranged like actors on a well-lit stage waiting for the curtain to rise. Working with her subjects, Zahalka posed them in their work-settings, sometimes art-directing the furniture and ornaments, and sometimes styling vital details such as the orange electrical lead of the cleaner’s vacuum-cleaner which leads our eye in as it snakes across the carpet of the Prime Minister’s suite. As Zahalka works on the digital files after they had been captured she further controlled the final image.

This sense of the choreographed enactment of dignified work, rather than the instantaneous grabbing of workers from the midst of the mundanity of their labours, is not new in Australian photography. The photography of Wolfgang Sievers is another precedent to Zahalka’s approach. (Sievers did not participate in the 1980s Parliament House Construction Photography Project, though his contemporaries Max Dupain and David Moore did.) Sievers built his reputation constructing elaborate promotional photographs in factories, from which the worker-subjects were often sent home for clean shirts, shaved and cleaned-up, and posed as though they were masters of their machinery, which was dramatically lit against darkness. In front of Sievers’ camera even the grottiest factory looked dramatic, and the most grueling work felt heroic. No wonder Sievers’ photographs, originally taken to promote individual businesses, eventually became iconic images for Australia as a whole. Although not as extreme and artificial as this, Zahalka’s photographs do endow the staff of Parliament House with worth and national value. The image of the pond cleaner scrubbing the bottom of the ceremonial pond in the House’s forecourt, as the hose loops around his legs like a lazy eel, is not ironic. All edifices, no matter how grand, and all institutions, no matter how complex, require dedicated staff from top to bottom, and from outer perimeter garden to inner sanctum. All play their part. Even the cabinet table, around which crucial decisions will shortly be made ‘in camera’, needs to be cleaned, by somebody.

With a formally tuned, but visually witty, sensibility Zahalka has documented these diverse staff members in their diverse work environments; describing, twenty-five years after it was built, Parliament House not as simply a piece of architecture, and not as simply the seat of our government, but as a place, a symbiosis of people, power and architecture.

Martyn Jolly

Canberra Times article on the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery photography exhibition I’m in

New Canberra Museum and Gallery exhibition Lens Love explores the self, subject and environment

Sally Pryor

Canberra Times

November 30, 2013

CT article

Marzena Wasikowska’s Jess, Oskar, Kai and Mia.

It’s one of the most common complaints of modern life – the increasing tendency to photograph life when you should be living it instead. Snapping images of weddings and babies and parties and soon-to-be-devoured meals, as a way of affirming life’s existence when just being there isn’t enough. And why wouldn’t we, when cameras are constantly on hand, be moved to capture every single meaningful moment?

But when photography is more than just an impulsive social interaction, the process of living through images can be much more complicated. A new exhibition at Canberra Museum and Gallery shows how six local photographers have negotiated the porous boundaries between the self, the subject and the surrounding environment.

Gallery director Shane Breynard, who curated the show, says he set out from a cerebral standpoint – photographic film theory from the 1970s and ’80s that focuses on ”the gaze” as ”a concept for that period where the infant becomes aware of themselves”.


Lee Grant, from the series Belco pride.

”They get a shock that they’re an object in the world among other objects – they’re not just a flood of sensation. So I’ve had fun using that as a bit of a thread to select and group works together,” he says.

”Indeed, it’s something that is common among these photographers, that they all have a real sensitivity to the way today, in the modern world, we live half of our lives through an awareness of ourselves in images … we kind of live across time and in the relations of how we might be seen in an image.”

The six artists he chose have ta common anthropological vision of people and their place in the world as well as distinctive preoccupations.


Denise Ferris’s The long hot summer.

Polish-born artist Marzena Wasikowska has three series of photographs in the show, and all relate to her family, including large-scale montages showing her three adult children, and their friends, spouses or children.

The images are immediately striking, and not just because of the instantly recognisable face of her middle daughter, actor Mia Wasikowska, but because of their careful, painterly composition. These are people who have grown up under their mother’s watchful, artistic eye, and their resulting lack of self-consciousness is palpable.

She also presents a study of a recent trip to Poland, her third since leaving her homeland at the age of 11, with images presented in grids that are made all the more poignant through their disconnectedness from each other.


Detail from Martyn Jolly’s ACT Bushfire Memorial Images

Wasikowska’s husband, John Reid, also has works in the show, including his classic Fishman and Walking the Solar System series, both eccentric conceptual forays into the wilderness that immerse him as a subject at the mercy of the elements.

The youngest artist in the show, Lee Grant, is already known for her Belco Pride works – a series exploring her connection to the suburban Canberra of her childhood and adolescence. But her academic past as an anthropologist also shines through in the wary gaze of her subjects, from a group of teenage girls in a fast-food restaurant, to a well-dressed African family lined up in front of their house. Her Korea Project and Oriental Dinnerseries – Grant has a Korean mother – is also an examination of the refracted identity of Asians in Australia.

Head of the ANU school of art Denise Ferris presents works that are as inextricably bound up in the landscape as she is. From where she lives in the Perisher Valley, she has recorded the beauty and the fragility of the often harsh landscape of the mountains, in the midst of winter or the blaze of summer. Her images are sometimes populated with human figures, sometimes partially obscured by snow and thick clothing.

”This picks up on Lens Love, the title of the exhibition,” says Breynard. ”This is a place that Denise adores, and as she’s taking these photographs, there’s something there that she’s searching for and wants to grab and articulate. And it’s not just the landscape without people in it – there’s something about the connection and the way people use the landscape.”

Martyn Jolly has long been fascinated by archival images, and the effect created when he zeroes in on particular details, and removes the surrounding context. His series Faces of the Living Dead uses images from an archive at Cambridge University, images that are today known to be fakes – men and women caught up in the 1870s craze of ”communing” with dead relatives through photographs. The images, which include hazy presences floating around the faces of the grieving hopefuls, are cropped in for maximum and pathetic effect. Jolly also includes his series commissioned as part of the 2003 bushfire memorial – a reproduction of the columns of images he produced depicting the aftermath and recovery. He has used the same technique to crop the images close as a way of highlighting the drama and pathos.

Cathy Laudenbach is fascinated by how stories and experiences interact with particular places, leaving marks that aren’t always discernible to the naked eye.

In one series, The Beauty and the Terror, she has been inspired by the story of Daisy Bates, the Australian journalist who, in the early 1900s, retired to the Australian bush to devote herself to protecting Aboriginal people. Laudenbach includes no people in the images, but a presence is implied through shadows and objects.

”She’s divining, almost, a colonial inhabitation of this landscape,” says Breynard. ”There’s a sense in these photos of something that you can’t grasp – a story unfolding, or a mystery you can’t quite get, or a presence of a spirit.”

Like Jolly, she is also taken by notions of the supernatural, and in another series, The Familiars, she photographs rooms in which people have reported ghostly encounters.

”Today, it’s something characteristic of our time with our smartphones – we point at something and say, ‘That’s a good photo’, and we take it and file it away, and then we look at it again to connect with a time,” says Breynard. ”But these artists, I think, really slow down that time. There’s awkwardness in that, it’s their own searching … They slow you down, and they connect you with the mystery and ineffability of stuff you think you know.”

■ Lens Love, at Canberra Museum and Gallery, runs until February 23.

Read more:

Edward Cranstone, Photographer


Photofile, c1984

Recently the Australian National Gallery benefited from a gift by the photographer Edward Cranstone of seven spiral bound albums containing approximately 350 of his photographs from the Depression and Second World War years.

The albums contain three main groups of work: freelance photography from the late 1930s; photographs taken for the Department of Information between 1939 and 1941; and documentation of the work of the Allied Works Council in building strategic roads, aerodromes, etc. in Australia’s interior between 1942 and 1944.

The Second World War saw a flowering of documen­tary photography in Australia, with photographers like Max Dupain, Frank Hurley, Damien Parer, George Silk, Laurie Le Guay and Edward Cranstone all extensively documenting various aspect of the War. Little of this material has yet been seen in its entirety, and none of it has received the attention in deserves. In the case of Edward Cranstone a body of excellent photography and a fascinating document from war-time Australia’s visual culture is only now coming to light.

Born in 1903, Cranstone took up photography seriously at the onset of the Depression to supplement his income as a jazz drummer.’ Around 1935. to learn more about photographic technique, he approached the famous pioneering Melbourne Pictorialist John Kauffmann, who at the time, perhaps himself in straitened circumstances, was offering lessons. These lessons came for a fee Cranstone could not possibly afford, however a com­promise was soon reached whereby Cranstone worked un­paid in Kauffmann’s studio, and Kauffmann taught Cranstone photography. The relationship suited both par­ties: Kauffmann was still primarily involved in making art photographs, mainly close-up flower studies and views of picturesque Melbourne. The relationship, which lasted a year, is remembered as a very profitable one by Cranstone. Kauffmann lectured him about composition and lighting, took him to exhibitions, lent him books and showed him Pictorialist techniques.

Cranstone was soon freelancing, concentrating on portraiture. When Kauffmann retired in 1938, he sold his studio to one of his pay ing pupils who took Cranstone on as an assistant at a pound a week. Thereupon Cranstone’s work appeared under the studio owner’s name in a rented showcase in Collins Street, where Melbourne’s most prestigious photographic studios were located. At this time Cranstone also began a long association with Edna Walling, the avant-garde landscape gardener well known for her informal, naturally Australian gardens which Cranstone was to photograph for the rest of her career.

Later, towards the end of the war, Cranstone was to join the social circle that gathered around Danila Vassilieff, the flamboyant Russian painter who was a significant influence and inspiration to the expressionistic and politically left wing Melbourne painters of the 1940s. Cranstone’s closest photographic confederates at this time were Geoffrey Powell, Axel Poignant and Damien Parer. Although all were documentary photographers, approached their photography from significantly dif­ferent directions. Powell, politically active on the Left, pro­duced his photography within a particular political and social ideology. Poignant, on the other hand, developed a humanistic and pantheistic basis to his imagery. Damien Parer, who Cranstone first met at Kauffmann’s studio, photographed and filmed within ideas of clear, unen­cumbered reportage.

The polyphony of voices that Cranstone listened to and appreciated at this time reflected the unresolved and dissonant nature of the photographic discourse of the 1930s and ’40s. Pictorialism, which located photography within a traditional art discourse, was still a vital force; however it was increasingly being opposed by Modernist photography, the spare, reduced, flattened forms of which became the parlance for the fashion and magazine in­dustries both overseas and in Australia during the 1930s. The possibilities of a revitalized documentary photo­graphy, actively engaging in the world, were also being discussed at this time. Examples reached Australia mainly through such magazines as Life and Picture Post, for which photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Bill Brandt worked.

Cranstone’s own photography from the ’30s echoes this commotion. His photographs range from extreme close-ups of Rolex watches to views of pastoral Australia elegantly seen through framing gum trees. Bird’s-eye views of bathers at the beach and documentary snapshots of life on Melbourne’s busy streets also feature. His most successful photographs from this period, however, are portraits. Waiting for the skipper, for in­stance, is a sophisticated Modernist image, being broken into strong verticals and horizontals by the yacht’s mast and the horizon line. As is characteristic of many of Cran­stone’s images, the space behind the figures is flattened into a single planar backdrop which emphasises the primary forms of the figures and mast.

In 1937, Cranstone joined the Department of Commerce, which with the beginning of the Second World War in 1939 became the Department of Information. As head photographer, Cranstone recruited two other photo­graphers to cover the War overseas, Damien Parer, who later became well known for his newsreel coverage of the War in New Guinea, and George Silk, who went on to photograph for Life magazine. Frank Hurley later took charge of these photographers in the Middle East.

For the first two years of the War, Cranstone photo­graphed in Australia, documenting the manufacture of munitions and Australia’s own ill-fated warplane, the Wirraway, as well as military training and embarkations. These two years saw the rapid development of Cranstone’s photography into very precisely evocative im­ages of strength and heroism constructed around strong diagonal compositons and severe upward looking camera angles. For instance, in one image a Wirraway sits on a tar­mac silhouetted against a backdrop of brooding storm clouds, its body and wing thrusting up and out of the photograph. In Making of an Anzac. originally taken for, but never published in, American Vogue, all the signs of ‘Australianness’ are present: the jaunty stance, the cocky look, the casually held cigarette, the gum-tree and the far horizon. But the extreme camera angle pushes the horizon line down so that the soldier almost floats above it against a clear sky; similarly, the gum tree becomes a dislocated com­positional element. This exaggerated viewpoint draws at­tention to the ‘gaze’ of the camera and gives an almost iconic force to the figure of the soldier, making him signify “Australian soldiery”.

Two of the best images from this period similarly give the figure iconic status. Both employ an upward looking camera, flattened space, and a backdrop of clear sky. In Naval training, (semaphore) elements of the ship frame the figures, and in their upward movement complement their actions. In Naval training, (foursailors) the figures casually disport themselves across the image, all emphasis is placed on their clear, angelic expressions as they gaze into space, connoting youth, strength and purity. In Munitions manufacture gleaming bomb shells are photographed so that as they are stacked in a spatially receding row they simultaneously fill the picture plane in an aggressive diagonal movement. All of Cranstone’s photography from this period has remarkable internal consistency; and is also consistent with much other imagery that had been produced in Europe, particularly Germany and the Soviet Union, dur­ing the 1920s and 30s.

The deployment of this particular, explicit form of ‘photographic seeing’ that characterises Cranstone’s im­agery had been an issue in Europe for thirty years. The story of its development, progress, and various permuta­tions is an extremely complex one. Briefly, its origins can be traced to the ideas of ‘ostranenie’, or ‘making strange’, developed by the pre-revolutionary Russian Futurists, which were subsequently taken up in the Soviet Union by such photographers as Alexander Rodchenko. These ideas also found voice in Germany, (with photographers like Laszlo Moholy-Nagy), where through the Bauhaus and New Objectiviey movements they eventually merged with the general Modernist canon, which by the 1930s had become thoroughly integrated into the cultural hegemony of the West.

Originally, this radical formalism was seen as being in­herently revolutionary, in fact an optical analogue of political revolution. However, this form of ‘photographic seeing’ began to come under attack in Europe in the 1920s and ’30s. The Russian Society for Proletarian Photojourn­alism and the German Worker Photographer movement accused it of being merely bourgeois formalism inaccess­ible to workers. However, some of its elements can still be found in the official propaganda imagery of both Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany right up to the Second World War. These elements, (most notably the upward-looking camera angle, strong rising forms, and clear, direct lighting), became part of the rhetoric of the heroisation and iconisation of the worker, soldier and machine. At this particular historical instant, revolutionary formalism permutated into na­tionalistic formalism.

Cranstone’s specific access to this imagery is difficult to determine. Some sources, however, are clear. Through­out the War, Cranstone saw and was very impressed by the films of the Soviet Revolutionary director, Sergei Eisenstein, which were shown in Melbourne by the Australia-Soviet Friendship League, an organization of the Com­munist Party of Australia. He was particularly impressed by such films as “Ten days that shook the world” and “Bat­tleship Potemkin “. He may also have had access to official Soviet propaganda imagery, some of which was published in The Tribune during 1-9-39 and 1940, and which bears a close resemblance to his own work. From 1944, Cranstone himself contributed photographs to the Tribune. In any case his imagery has much in common, both conceptually and structurally, with the most sophisticated European propaganda photography of the 1920s and ’30s.

Early in 1942, Cranstone was transferred to the posi­tion of official photographer for the public relations depart­ment of the Allied Works Council (A.W.C.). The A.W.C. was formed as a result of General Macarthur’s discussions with Australia’s Prime Minister John Curtin, held in an ef­fort to expand Australia’s till then somewhat tardy war ef­fort.’ The A.W.C. was modelled on the Soviet Stakhanovites, the Nazi Todt Organization and the U.S. Civil Construction Corps. Under the leadership of the retired politician E.G. Theodore it called up men from the ages of 35 to 55. usually excluded from military service, to form the Australian Civil Construction Corps (C.C.C.). After call-up. men were sent to distant camps in Australia’s interior to begin work on strategic aerodromes, roads, etc. Conditions were harsh, and the conscripted men often in­itially unwilling. In addition there was considerable, and continuing, suspicion of the A.W.C.’s management: E.G. Theodore, who had a chequered past in politics and business, employed as his Director of Personnel a close business associate Frank Packer, the newspaper owner.3

The Unions involved frequently campaigned against what they saw as mismanagement, wastage and favouritism within the A.W.C. Disputes and stoppages were common. The A.W.C. management, in turn, accused the Unions and workers of hindering the war effort. In March 1943 a Commission of Inquiry was held under the National Security Regulations into “Certain Allegations Concerning   the   Administration    of   the   A.W.C.”* Although the Commission found no basis for the allega tions, the inquiry itself is indicative of considerable discon­tent.

A memo from Packer’s department in 1942 stated, “You should realise first that these men are human, and in many instances the circumstances of their call-up creates a certain quite natural feeling of resentment. Brusque, discourteous and overbearing methods in dealing with them only tend to aggravate this feeling. The result is a deep seated discontent which colours their whole future outlook and can cause an immense amount of trouble for officers of the C.C.C. who have to exercise authority over them.”5

All of this added up to a serious P. R. problem for the A. W.C. both internally and externally, and it was into this situation that Cranstone was transferred. Cranstone moved into premises in Collins Street with a small darkroom and an assistant, Vera Hodgson (whom he later married), to process the films, print the negatives and file the photographs. Cranstone was able to move quite freely around Australia with the full support of the A. W.C. He always travelled with the public relations officer, Frank Clancy, who planned the team’s itinerary and wrote the captions for the photographs. In the far north they travel­led very lightly, with only one Rolliflex, a few filters and film kept dry in bags of tea.

Cranstone exposed almost 2,000 negatives for the A.W.C, and approximately 7,000 prints a year were distributed from the department, both in Australia and overseas. At the end of the war it was estimated that ap- proximately 6,000 inches of Australian newspaper space were occupied by Cranstone’s photography per year.6

The most successful publicity project, however, was a travelling exhibition which toured to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra in 1944. It comprised up to 500 of Cranstone’s photographs, some enlarged to 1.5 x 2.0 metres, with accompanying texts. Paintings by William Dobell and Herbert McClintock were also exhibited. The exhibition was enthusiastically received by the press and seen by approximately 80,000 people.

Cranstone’s photography can therefore be seen to have played a vital role in an extensive and well-orchestrated public relations campaign. The thrust of the campaign is summed up in another memo emanating from Packer’s department. “In so far as it is possible to do so you must, at all times, strive to impress on the men that they are not mere drudges performing a dull and routine task, but Australians, carrying out work of the first importance, without which the nation’s ability to defend itself adequately, or to launch an offensive, will be hamstrung. Everything possible should be done to make the men see themselves as civilian shock troops standing immediately behind the fighting services.”7

These themes of the “army behind the army”8 and “white collar shock troops”‘ are taken up in Cranstone’s photography of the C.C.C. workers and their projects. His imagery exhibits strong affinities with images of the pro­letariat worker used in Europe and the U.S.S.R. between the wars. It redeploys this imagery from a revolutionary, class-conscious context into the context of Australia’s na­tionalistic war-effort. In C.C.C. worker, a diagonal composition and up­ward looking camera angle are again used. Strips of shadow twisting across the worker’s bare torso emphasise his strength and physicality as he pushes a spanner forward and out of the picture plane. This action links, composi-tionally and connotatively, his right hand, as it easily grasps the tool, to his face, as it looks up into the distance. All this iconises the worker — his strength, his skill and his commitment to his task.

Cranstone also photographed the machinery and con­struction work of the C.C.C. In C.C.C. Construction the workers are supported, both physically and compositional-ly, by the beams of a building firmly criss-crossing between the edges of the photograph. In another image of a worker with a drill the worker almost becomes part of the machine, connoting a symbiotic relationship between workers and their tools (front cover). Cranstone’s photography can therefore be seen to have operated along two axes. In his highly codified treat­ment of the specifics of the A.W.C.’s activities he con­structed nationalistic metaphors for strength and commit­ment that could then be metonymically deployed within the documentary narrative structures of contemporary newspaper reports on the A.W.C. as well as the travelling exhibition. Or, to use a different terminology, Cranstone’s photographs were deployed syntagmatically as documents of the strategic works of the A.W.C. and paradigmatically as evocations of a nationalistically committed Australian worker. This paradigm excluded the worker as a classed, aged or self-aware individual.'”

As a reviewer of the exhibition for the Melbourne Herald wrote, “it would be surprising if most people did not take away a warm impression of that typical Australian, stripped to the waist, working on untouched land, levelling it, digging into it or building up from it. In a real immediate way, the show tells the story of how Australia — the coun­try itself — has gone to war.””

After the war Cranstone became a cinematographer for the Commonwealth Film Unit, now Film Australia, until his retirement in 1966. Immediately following the war he continued some politically conscious documentary photography in the slums of Sydney for a short time. However he eventually gave up serious photography.

He regards his photography for the A.W.C. as his most important work, and it remains an impressive body of imagery even today. As he wrote at the end of the spiral bound albums that are the only remaining record of the ex­hibition: “Exhibitied in the capital cities of Australia, they have been able to change completely the attitude of the public towards the C.C.C. This attitude, created entirely by the repeated attacks of the newspapers, persisted right up to the time the exhibition was first shown. This demonstrates very plainly that documentary photography can be a real factor because of its ability to bare the truth.”13

1. I would like to thank Edward and Vera Cranstone for the time they have spent with me. Most of the following biographical information is obtained from an interview recorded with them in March 1983 and an autobiographical manuscript supplied by Edward Cranstone. See also Edward Cranstone, “Documentary Assignment”, Contemporary Photography, vol. 1, no. 2, 1947.

2. Lloyd Ross. John Curtin — a biography. Macmillan. 1977. p.288 See also J.A. Morley, “The Allied Works Council”. Rydge’s Magazine. November 1942.

3. Irwin Young. Theodore — his Life and Times. Alpha Books.! 971. pp.

4. H.P. Brown (Commissioner). Inquiry under the National Security Regulations into the Administration of the Allied Works Council. 5 March 1942. National Library of Australia.

5. W. Steward Howard Manner of dealing with recruits. A.W.C. Person nel Department Circular No. 1. Australian Archives. Brighton, Victoria, ac cession no. M.P. 72, series 1-18.

6. F. Clancy. A Report upon the Photographic Activities of the Allied Works Council 15/12/42 — 30/6/45. Department of Works. Australian Ar chives, op. cit.

7. Quoted in ” “White Collar” Troops Carry On” The Sun 3/8/42.

8. “The civilian army behind the fighting army.” The Sydney Morning Herald 1/8/42.

9. The Sun op. cit.

10. See Roland Barthes. Elements of Semiology. Hill and Wang, 1968.

11. K..K. “Australia Portrayed Stripped to the Waist”. Herald. 3/8/44.

12. Edward Cranstone. Design for War. Vol. 3. Collection: Australian National Gallery.     MARTYN JOLLY

Martyn Jolly is Curatorial Assistant in the Depart­ment of Photography, Australia National Gallery.

The Lives of Max Dupain, 1986

The Lives of Max Dupain

Max Dupain’s Australia Viking, Australia, 1986. $39.95

‘Photofile’, Vol 4, No 4, 1987

Max Dupain’s eminence has been with him for over fifty years. In the 1930s, inspired by the Modernist movement of Europe and America, he first began to champion the New Photography against the remnants of Pictorialism. His eminence continued into the 1940s when, through his first monograph published in 1948 and the Australian Pho­tography 1947 annual, he espoused the ‘creative treatment of actuality’ dictums of the Documentary Movement. Later, in the 1960s and 70s, he was honoured by the architectural profession as Austra­lia’s foremost interpreter of their work.

More recently, however, his eminence has been taken out of his own hands. Gael Newton’s excellent exhibition at the AGNSW in 1980, with its accompanying monograph (his second), re-asserted the importance of the purely Modernist Dupain. Treating her work much more cursorily than it deserves, Gael Newton inserted Dupain into a worldwide Modernist Movement and constructed an artistic oeuvre for him which was fundamentally defined by the purist Modernist motivations of transcendant truth, beauty and form. His career as a commercial photographer, his documentary work of the 40s and 50s, and his later architectural work were all incorporated into the development of his larger artistic presence as Australia’s most eminent Modernist photographer.

This scholarly and useful approach has largely defined Dupain’s subsequent, and growing, eminence. However Max Dupain’s Australia operates tangentially to this familiar construction of Dupain’s importance as an Australian artist.

Although it is his third monograph Max Dupain’s Australia, as its title suggests, functions primarily as a picture book about Australia. Dupain’s artistic eminence is used to privilege his ‘personal’ view of Australia. Throughout the book’s text his personal artistic vision effortlessly transmutes into historical annecdote and commentary and then out of it again. The book’s extended captions often discuss his formalist reasons for composing and exposing a photograph in a certain way, and then go on to discuss the social configurations depicted in the image, all without changing register.

Therefore as a monograph, as a book about Dupain the photographer, Max Dupain’s Australia acts as the re-assertion of the voice of the artist — in the face of written history, and by claiming to be ‘raw’ history. In contrast to the careful scholarship of his second monograph, Max Dupain’s self-commentary is discursive, even eccentric. Yet even in its wilful idiosyncrasy this voice is immediately familiar to any who have read his newspaper reviews.1 It therefore re-asserts his eminence, but now on his own terms. Dupain the critic reclaims Dupain the artist for his own.

In terms of oeuvre Max Dupain’s Australia concentrates on his documentary imagery, particularly from the 1940s — the period of his first monograph    when    he    was    overtly

championing the Documentary Movement. The ideological rationale for the book is based in the 1940s, when truth was integral to the appearance of things, only waiting to be revealed by the perspicacity of an artist. In light of the encroaching Bicentennial celebrations it is significant that much of the book’s content comes from the 40s and 50s. In the postwar period industrial growth, progress, and a single, almost legendary ‘national character’ were valorized. The book also includes substantial amounts of Dupain’s later industrial and architectural work, however, in the context of the books narrative progression, these also become inscribed within its essentially 1940s vision of Australia’s nationhood — a simple people, a rugged land, and an ever expanding economic growth.

Although many of the same images appear in all three of Dupain’s monographs as well as his other books and exhibitions, their different contexts and accompanying commentaries give different inflections to Dupain’s eminence — nurturer of an artistic vision born within 1930s Modernism, or Documentary photographer revealing his country’s Nationhood. The Dupain of the 1980 monograph was a completed historical figure, with all of his influences and developments neatly incorporated into the whole. The Dupain of Max Dupain’s Australia tears at these contrasting historiographic ligaments and a re-animated voice rages from within.

For instance Dupain’s studio work of the 1930s, which is vital to the Dupain of the 1980 monograph because it provides him with a direct link to the Modern Photography Movements of Europe and America, is contemptuously dismissed by the Dupain of Max Dupain’s Australia with just one image and one line: “This typifies the glamour period which I endured at the early stages of my development. It was all about creating a make-believe atmosphere. The silhouette in dress suit and top hat is a rear projection onto a glass screen.”

Face to Face, Jon lewis, 1988

Face to Face

Jon Lewis Coventry Gallery September 20-24, 1988

Martyn Jolly


Back in 1883 the British eugenicist Sir Francis Galton published Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development in which he described his method of ‘composite portraiture’.1 In order to deter­mine the essential physiognomical characteristics of any given social class, racial strain or behavioural type, Galton had devised a fiendish photographic method exactly analogous to statistical distribution analysis.

First he collected individual portraits of members of a designated character type. From a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers he obtained portraits of ‘the vigorous’, from the Director of Prisons he obtained portraits of ‘the villainous’ (which he subdivided into murderers and thieves), and from Guys Hospital he obtained portraits of ‘the diseased’ (sufferers of tuberculosis). All the portraits of each character type were copied onto a single photographic plate. Those features held most in common built up density to become more distinct than the individually variant physical characteristics. Thus the overall impression of the composite would represent the innate norm around which the individual samples deviated. It would be a generic portrait — the physiognomical index of the qualities of each character type.

Composite portraiture was only part of Galton’s detailed anthropometric investigations which were undertaken to aid natural evolution by enabling the British race to breed deviance and degeneracy out of itself.

On a pleasant Saturday afternoon I stood in a pleasant Paddington art gallery looking at a fascinat­ing exhibition by one of Sydney’s nicest photo­graphers. Why couldn’t I get the cold gothic horror of Galton out of my mind?

Surely the comparison was perverse and gratuitous. Jon Lewis’ 200 portraits, although all photographed at the same proximity and under the same lighting conditions as required by Galton’s composite portrai­ture, celebrate diversity, not some ideal racial norm.

But then Lewis did see his work, in some sense, as a ‘national portrait’. He told The Australian:

I was able to say it’s time to have a really hard look at ourselves … and start thinking ‘what are we all about? what are we really celebrating’. I don’t think the Bicentennial has produced any-real tough works of art, someone really saying something.2

Even if this ‘ourselves’ had both its geographical and cultural epicentre at Bondi Junction, the highly potent figure of ‘200’ portraits, repeated in all the press publicity, implied national coverage by way of Bicentennial metonymy and sheer magnitude.

The edge to edge, wall to wall, floor to ceiling hang of the tightly framed faces, divided into alphabetical sections for ease of reference to the accompaying checklist of names, suggested the logic and structure of a photographic archive and catalogue. This, and the obviously considered punctuation of the unrelent­ing rows and columns with the faces of the young, the old, the famous, the aboriginal and the ‘multi­cultural’, urged us to invest a certain, almost scientific comprehensiveness in the project.

What is this Bicentennial ‘we’ about? Face to face with this tough question the press was in remarkable consensus, The Sydney Morning Herald was “moved by the sudden intimacy these photographs permit” by which “controversial people become more human … it is … a rich experience of people — the famous, the infamous and the unknown.”3 For The Australian “it is a measure of the man’s humanity that he extracts such distilled, accurate moments from his subjects, coupled with an intimacy that is sometimes extremely moving.”4 On the Street quotes Lewis himself: “There is a precise moment following some deep breathing when a person first opens their eyes that they display a state of peaceful ‘nothingness’ which for me reveals something which is quite innate.”5

Despite its diagnostic failure it was the persistent invocation of innate humanity which perversely recalled Galton: Face to Face seemed to allow intimate access to Australia’s humanity, just as Galton’s method provided statistical knowledge of the generic characteristics of a range of human types. Both photographers presuppose a faith in the face as the index of a pre-existent nature, brought to light by the act of deep breathing and the method of generic composites.

Yet while Galton’s eugenic agenda is hierarchical and instrumental, in Lewis’ phrenological democracy every face has the same value — ‘humanity’ — and offers the same reading — ‘intimacy’. The immediate diversity of this Bicentennial ‘we’ is atomized, consensual, normatively distributed by the mute logic of warm, human egalitarianism.

Galton’s experiments, forerunners of more sophisti­cated developments in juridical realism and the regulatory sciences, cast an odd light on Face to Face.6 But Lewis’ investigation borrows from the empiricist surveillance and control strategies of science and government only to affirm a democracy of personal intimacy.

In the end all that Lewis’ extravagant survey presents us with is the same familiar thrill photogra­phy has always offered — corporeal presence. No­thing to be afraid of at all, really.

End Notes

  1. Sir Francis Galton, Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development, Macmillan and Co.. New York  1883.
  2. Robert Macfarlane, “A journey into the human face,” The Weekend Australian,  September 10-11  1988.
  3. Christine Godden, The Sydney Morning Herald, Septem­ber 16, 1988.
  4. Robert Macfarlane, Op cit.
  5. “Face to Face”, On the Street,  September 7, 1988.
  6. Allan Sekula, “The Body and the Archive.” October 39, MIT Press, Winter 1986.


David Moore, 1989

David Moore, 1989

‘Photofile’, Vol. 7 Number 1, Autumn 1989

“Certain  [of his] photographs  have   become ‘classics’ —   icons   imprinted  on Australia’s visual memory.” Sandra Byron Curator of Photography Art Gallery of New South Wales


The publishers of David Moore Australian Photographer thought this such an apposite quote that they used it to open the blurb on the inside flap of the book’s dust jacket. I, also, can find no better way to open my review.

The quote comes from the introduction to the book — immediately preceding David Moore’s auto­biographical ruminations which make up the bulk of its text. The introduction also serves as a de facto statement of curatorial intent for the exhibition which was mounted at the Art Gallery of New South Wales to coincide with the publication of this major two-volume monograph. The quote therefore neatly links the ‘gallery retrospective’ and the ‘definitive mono­graph’ — tandem representations of “the achieve­ments of a life in photography spanning almost fifty years.” (Book blurb)

Any differences between two such representations of a photographer’s life are worth considering, not in the search for any ultimate historical veracity, but in order to explore some of the various ways ‘lives’ and ‘life-time achievements’ are written.

These days the art gallery and the coffee-table book seem to just naturally go together, but their alliance often feels somehow unholy. All those Treasuries of Golden Summer Greats rely on the enduring authority of the museum for their immedi­ate appeal, just as museums themselves are in­creasingly encountering the necessity of popularity in a funding environment where fickle corporate philan­thropy is replacing government obligation in the maintenance of the cultural estate.

In this case, however, the marriage was sanc­tified. The publishers, Chapter and Verse, provided the AGNSW with a luxurious accompanying mono­graph  for its  exhibition  which  it  could not have otherwise afforded. In turn, that exhibition became a launch pad for sales of the book (including a signed limited edition, copies of which came complete with your choice of one of four hand-crafted photographs.)

The life of David Moore, as described in the Art Gallery’s well researched introduction to the book, is exactly congruent to his career as an Australian artist. The multiplicity of his work — adolescent experi­ments, international photojournalism, self­consciously artistic architectural constructions — is given an oeuvral coherence by reference to larger art-historical narratives. Moore’s life is woven in and out of the procession of great Australian photo­graphers and artists, and regularly stitched into the background pattern of American and European Modernist art and photography. Thus in 1949 he is found working in the studio of his mentor Max Dupain, but also purchasing books by Brandt, Brassai and Kertesz for his library. In the mid 1970s he is instrumental in setting up the Australian Centre for Photography, whilst also being strongly influenced by international Hard-Edged Abstraction.

Each of his major photographic moments — Sydney documentarian, overseas reporter, Australian iconographer, or seventies abstractionist — is evalu­ated as either like, or not like, a global equivalent. We are shown how overseas models were customized by Moore. For instance, his work from the late 1940s may look like the Farm Security Administration Project, but it is not, its precepts have been retooled to suit the photographer. His photography is naturalis­tic, not humanistic: motivated by aesthetics, not concern. In fact the persistent geometry of his compositions, although changing angularity in ratio to international tastes, is found to be the scaffolding upon which his entire oeuvre, and his life, is built.

The AGNSWs ‘life’ adroitly lodges the artist on its storage shelves under ‘M’ for Modernist. In contrast David Moore’s self-account indulges nothing but his own copious recollections and opinions. In his ‘life’ we lose all reference points to oeuvral intention or art-historical placement. He is continually seduced by himself, writing his own career as one of intrepid determination punctuated by fortuitous moments. Its narrative spreads itself along intricate pathways. As readers we are carried along with him, observing all the things he observed, participating in his moments of revelation, experiencing the global coverage of his travels, and sharing in his vividly recalled excitement at actually being there — then. His mastery of the art of photography is assumed, we are only asked to look at his world with his eyes.

Although both were large and comprehensive, the exhibition and the book each contained a slightly different selection of images, further inflecting the twin lives of David Moore in line with the tandem texts.

Certain images specifically chosen for the AGNSW exhibition firmly locate the artist within the received history of Modernist photographv. Images like “TAA Aircraft Detail” cl948, “David Potts Sleeping On Yacht Deck” cl948, or “Pedestrians Martin Place” cl949 — none of which were deemed by the photographer to be worthy of inclusion in his monograph — become key images to the AGNSW, strongly recalling for the viewer as they do classic images by other Modernist masters such as Callahan, Bay or Moholy-Nagy. The exhibition also de-emphasises Moore’s colour work, comprising one whole volume of the two-volume monograph, while devoting more attention to his ‘experimental’ work of the seventies. His career is thus given a monochroma­tic, formalist consistency within itself. It is made continuous with the work of other major figures in the Gallery’s collection (as well, of course, as the photo­graphy collections of other art museums). For the AGNSW Moore’s life becomes canonic to the interna­tional collecting logic of art museums, which is onlv fit and proper.

In contrast the selection Moore himself made for the monograph is open and discursive — following the meandering anecdotal pathways of his auto­biography. Images of personal revelation, images of historical interest, or images to which simply an exciting story is attached — all are given equal billing, all are the bustling incident which crowd an adven­turous life. Rather than being streamlined around a central artistic thrust, the photographer’s own selec­tion extends in all directions at once in grand abandon.

The art gallery and the coffee-table book demand two lives — the canonical and the anecdotal. Here each interpenetrates the other in happy partnership. In whose life, however, were those iconic classics imprinted on Australia’s visual memory?

No other Australian photographer since Frank Hurley has been as aware of, to use one of David Moore’s own chapter titles, “The Overseas Market from Australia”. His seven years in London in the 1950s, the closing decade of the Golden Age of picture magazines, taught him the rules and regulations of the foreign photo exchange market. Working free­lance for a variety of picture editors and agencies he became one of an elite corps of photojournalistic globe-trotters. Plugged in by cable communication to the instantaneous demands of his big-city clients he was able to, by virtue of expense account and grim determination alone, penetrate the outer reaches of the globe at their command. It is this almost omnipotent ecstasy of instantaneous image produc­tion which he is most eager to share with us in his text; even to the point of devoting one whole chapter to the “Magic of Cables” in the colour volume of the monograph.

By the mid 1960s he had staked out just about the entire Asian and Pacific region as his patch. Assignments from the Time-Life Books Division World Library Series and National Geographic led to such images as “Pitjantjatjara Children” (1963), “New­castle Steelworks” (1963), and “European Migrants Arriving in Sydney” (1966). These national icons were taken with the same professional diligence as his other assignments from the same period: his coverage of indigenous Asian sport for Sports Illustrated or Polynesia for National Geographic, for instance. Those images which are now so familiarly ‘ours’ — reproduced in a thousand books, magazines, post­cards, social studies texts, and popular history exhibi­tions — were originally made to be ‘theirs’: obedient responses to the call from the centre for images of its exotic periphery.

Is it this import/export dynamic which gives the most famous of Moore’s images their unambiguous, summary clarity? Is this why the Rousseauian Pitjant­jatjara Children, the steelworker’s sons on their suburban bikes, and the apprehensive European Migrants, seem to all perform, as though on cue, for some unseen audience — initially American, now us? For instance, the emotional contradiction of “European Migrants Arriving in Sydney” is neatly presented in the latticed choreography of an extended family of faces emerging from a velvety background, behind a framing handrail, and beneath a proscenium arch of supplicant hands. This staging is given an almost epic quality by the way their anticipatory gazes knit together as each generation strains to penetrate the nether regions somewhere behind the photographer’s left shoulder. The original colour transparency is now usually printed in black and white to further abstract the particular towards the


Moore’s icons have quickly outgrown the inten-tionality of their moments of creation. One of his anecdotes is illuminating. Wandering down a Redfern lane on an aesthetic mission from Modernism, Moore was accosted by a desperate woman who mistook him and his borrowed Speed graphic as possessing the politically useful authority of a newspaper. “Take a picture and print it,” she demanded. “Redfern Interior” (1949) was the result. Persuaded by Max Dupain not to destroy the negative the rest was safely allowed to become history: inclusion in the Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and elevation to the heights of classical iconicity in Australia followed. The picture wasn’t really taken under false pretences as Moore feared. At the time he may not have possessed the authority of a press photographer, but his manifest destiny invested him with a greater authority. The woman’s immediate distress was dissolved in the universal image of ‘stoicism in adversity’ she became.

Similarly, many of his other images have gone on to lead complex ‘lives’ on their own account. Throughout his career Moore’s closest colleagues have been editors, designers and writers. The vintage magazines displayed at the exhibition demonstrated that the visual syntax of mass reproduction and public display has neatly interconnected with Moore’s own carefully nurtured formalism. His photographs are most commonly composed of bold horizontal and vertical blocks tautened with delicate diagonal braces. Their dynamic design irresistably hooks the browser’s roving eye; their precision engineering tightly inter­locking with the margins, headings, edges and col­umns of type on page layouts and display panels to form a single high-performance graphic unit. This, Moore’s essential skill as a photographer, is what steadily pumps his images through the capillaries of our visual culture.

His marvellous artistry lies in his ability to neatly package complex social issues into visual aphorisms. Of course this is the basic language of photojournal­ism, with a noble lineage. However, the somewhat glib summations of Moore’s ‘classics’ — the Brave New Migrants, The Stolid Redfern Matriarch, the Obsequious Prime Minister — are given a further emphatic certainty by his dourly efficient composi­tions. A photograph like “President Johnson and Prime Minister Holt at Canberra Airport” 1966 (taken for LIFE magazine but never used) has almost mutated into a political cartoon. It squeezes an entire geo-political relationship into a few deft strokes and a cheeky punchline.

The formal mechanics of Moore’s photographs perfectly mesh with the design machinery of their reproduction and the cultural industry of their dissemination. Is this the process which gradually elevates particular journalistic events to national icons, imprinting them on our collective visual mem­ory? Neither the canonic life of the gallery artist, nor the decisive revelations of the intrepid photographer, seem sufficient to explain this phenomenon by them­selves.

However, it is certain that, from keen student of the Modernist canon to eager functionary within the global circulation of signs of ‘otherness’, Moore has been a willing worker, driven bv the desire to lead an interesting life.


Martyn Jolly

I would like to thank Sandra Bvron and David Moore for their cooperation and help. Martyn Jolly


Australian First World War Photography 1999

pdf: Australian First World War Photography 1999

Australian First World War Photography

History of Photography, Vol. 23, No. 2, Summer, 1999.

On the twenty-sixth of September 1917, during the Third Ypres Campaign on the Western Front in Flanders, Frank Hurley and Charles Bean began a long argument about photographic verisimilitude. Captain Frank Hurley, one of Australia’s newly appointed war photographers, wanted to combine several different negatives into a single battle tableau, and C. E. W. Bean, Australia’s long-standing war correspondent and official war historian, prohibited it.

An amateur photographer himself, Bean valorized pho­tographic objectivity in his own reportage writing. After he was appointed official Australian ‘eyewitness’ to the war in 1915, he referred to himself in his diary as an Australian recorder’ and was angered when Australian newspapers preferred to publish the more lurid and fanciful accounts of the Reuters pool reporters over his own official dispatches, which ended up being described as ‘colourless’ by the Bulletin.” To Bean, however, ‘the private interests of papers are something which cut right across the interests of the country — scoops, competition, magnification and exaggera­tion are out of all harmony with what is best for country’. In 1916 he began a campaign to establish an Australian War Records Section which would ‘preserve and tenderly care for the sacred things which will some day constitute the greatest public possession Australia will have’. It would collect war relics (a term he preferred to trophy),3 which would act as both vivid historical expository devices, and as spiritual shipping containers in which to bring some essence of the experience of the Anzacs4 back to Australia from France, where many thousands of their bodies were to remain. It would also collect photographs as ‘sacred records — standing for future generations to see forever the plain simple truth’.5

To Bean, both photographs and relics sat on the same continuum, because both received and retained direct index-ical impressions of the fighting. For example, in July 1918, Bean had two, front-and-back, anthropological-style photo­graphs taken of two diggers6 when they came out of the fighting.7 Then he had their uniforms and all their gear taken from them and replaced by a completely new outfit. In the words of Bean’s biographer: ‘Everything that was taken from these soldiers, with all the emanations evocative of battle, fear, death, endurance and heroism, was to be sealed up, just as it came from these men, and sent back to Australia so that their countrymen might feel these emana­tions and be reminded what manner of men these had been’.8

To Bean both the war relic and the record photograph would also provide a ready-made archaeological substratum for the nascent Australian nation. For example, in 1919, after the Armistice, Bean returned to Gallipoli with the Australian Historical Mission and, in a scrupulous valedictory labour, combed the ground for relics which he referred to as ‘ “antiquities” only four years old’.9 These were then forens-ically examined to determine how far inland the Australians had penetrated on the morning of the first landing. Significant finds were photographed in situ. A seemingly insignificant photograph of a water bottle lying under a bush, Australian relics on the north-easternmost spur of Battleship Hill, is only activated into historical, and spiritually mnemonic life by its caption: ‘This was probably the point reached by Tulloch’s Company on 25th April 1915’.10

The Australian War Records Section was established in June 1917, and two Australian photographers, Hubert Wilkins and Frank Hurley, were appointed to the Section shortly thereafter. If Bean revered the photograph as an inviolable historical record and immutable spiritual artefact, to Hurley it was a manipulable, spectacular showcase. Frank Hurley was much more than just a photographer. At the time of his appointment to the Section he was a household name as a polar explorer and a showman film maker, photographer and adventurer.11 He already had extensive experience with the production of popular attractions, all of which used the latest film and photographic technology, and all of which featured himself as showman. A youthful apprenticeship in Sydney as a postcard photographer special­izing in spectacular subjects and unusual effects prepared him for the heroic work he produced on the Mawson Antarctic expedition of 1911 — 13 and the Shackleton Antarctic Expedition of 1914—16. Hurley produced and appeared with theatre presentations of the cinema film and lantern slides he shot on these expeditions. His film of the Mawson expedition, Home of the Blizzard, was screened in Sydney in 1913 whilst Mawson was still stranded in Antarctica. Hurley appeared at each screening as the figure of the returned imperial explorer to give a personal recitation to accompany the film.

After receiving the honorary rank of Captain from the AIF,1 Hurley established with Bean a clear separation between the duties of himself and Lieutenant Hubert Wilkins: ‘Wilkins will attend to the records, and I myself to the publicity pictures and aesthetic results’.13 Bean saw the division of labour between the two photographers in similar terms, but placed quite different weightings on their relative importance. Whilst admitting that both photographers were ‘utterly daring fellows’, Bean always felt more affinity for Wilkins. To him Hurley was merely a ‘keen commercial man’ devoted to publicity and propaganda, whereas Wilkins was committed to providing future historians with records accurate enough to be relied on as historical evidence.14 Bean not only saw these as ‘conflicting activities’,1= but to him the publicity photographer was necessarily excluded from the urgent historical imperatives of military, and there­fore national, destiny. Only the record photographer who risked his life out of ‘his own sense of duty’16 truly ‘played [his] part as [an] Australian soldier’.17 After the Third Ypres Campaign, Bean warmly recommended Wilkins for a Military Cross, and rather lukewarmly recommended Hurley for a Mention in Dispatches.18 Wilkins received his Military Cross but Hurley never received his Mention in Dispatches.

However, like Bean, Hurley was overwhelmed by the horror of the Front and greatly impressed by the futile bravery of the Anzac soldiers, which he immediately saw in the same nation-forming terms as Bean. His picturesque imagination was excited by the weird juxtapositions of modern warfare, where expansive scenes of pastoral beauty existed within a few kilometres of the compacted hell of the trenches, and everything was overseen by awesome new technologies. Hurley had trouble scenographically encompassing this visual sweep. During the Battle of Polygon Wood the speed and intensity of battle were his biggest problem. Both Hurley and Wilkins wanted to capture the random instantaneity of aerial bombardment: ‘In spite of heavy shelling by the Boche, we made an endeavour to secure a number of shell burst pictures. … I took two pictures by hiding in a dugout and then rushing out and snapping’.19

It was that evening that Hurley and Bean began their argument: ‘Had a great argument with Bean about combina­tion pictures. Am thoroughly convinced that it is impossible to secure effects, without resorting to combination pic­tures’.20 Composite printing was a staple technique with which Hurley was well acquainted. He had already produced composites from his Shackleton Antarctic Expedition nega­tives. The technique was widely used by amateurs to add moodily artistic cloud effects to landscapes, but postcard companies and illustrated newspapers also occasionally used it to recreate complex scenarios. 1

The dispute was important to both men because the Australian High Commission in London was planning an exhibition of war pictures at the Grafton Galleries in May 1918. Bean also sought to get a perspective on the argument by retreating to his diary: ‘ … had a long argument with Hurley who  wants  to  be  allowed  to  make  “composite” pictures for his exhibition — i.e. to put in a shell burst made by trench mortars at St Pol. I can see his point, he has been nearly killed a dozen times and has failed to get the pictures he wants — but we will not have it at any price’.22 Five days after their initial confrontation Hurley and Bean continued their argument, and both hardened their stances. Bean got General Headquarters to prohibit Hurley from making com­posites and Hurley, banking on his prestige as a famous polar explorer, tactically responded by tipping the ante:

Had a lengthy discussion with Bean re pictures for exhibition and publicity purposes. Our authorities here will not permit me to pose any pictures or indulge in any original means to secure them … . As this absolutely takes all possibilities of producing pictures from me, I have decided to tender my resignation at once. I conscientiously consider it but right to illustrate to the public the things our fellows do and how the war is conducted. They can only be got by printing a result from a number of negatives or re-enactment. This is out of reason and they prefer to let all these interesting episodes pass. This is unfair to our boys and I conscientiously could not undertake to continue to work.23

I sent in my resignation this morning and await result of igniting the fuse. It is disheartening after striving to secure the impossible and running all hazards to meet with little encour­agement. I am unwilling and will not make a display of war pictures unless the Military people see their way clear to give me a free hand.24

However, Hurley continued to photograph and film. Called to General Headquarters to photograph the 1st Anzac staff, he spoke to General Birdwood who promised to ‘fix matters up’.25 A few days later Hurley was able to report in his diary: ‘Headquarters have given me permission to make six combination enlargements in the exhibition so I withdrew my resignation … . However it will be no delusion to the public as they will be distinctly titled, setting forth the number of negatives used, etc. All of the elements will be taken in action’.26 In early November Hurley was sent to Palestine to cover the Australian Light Horse. Away from the strictures of both the Front and Bean, he flourished. He found the battalions, and battalion commanders, extremely amenable to staging re-enacted ‘stunts’ for his camera.

Hurley returned to London in May 1918 to prepare for the exhibition of Australian war pictures at the Grafton Galleries. He arranged to have 130 negatives printed, his six composites and other images enlarged to mural size at Raines & Co in Ealing, and colour lantern slides made from the Paget colour plates. He enthusiastically described the exhibition in his diary:

The exhibition was well patronised today. The colour lantern is working excellently. The colour slides depict scenes on the Western Front, Flanders and also Palestine. They are gems and elicit applause at every showing. A military band plays through­out the day. … Our largest picture ‘THE RAID’ depicting an episode at the Battle of Zonnebeke [is a combination of twelve negatives] and measures over 20ft x 15’6′ high. Two waves of infantry are leaving the trenches in the thick of a Boche Barrage of shells and shrapnel. A flight of bombing aeroplanes accompanies them. An enemy plane is burning in the foreground. The whole picture is realistic of battle, the atmospheric effects of battle smoke are particularly fine. Another sensational picture is ‘DEATH THE REAPER’. This remarkable effect is made up of two  negatives.  One, the foreground, shows the mud splashed corpse of a boche floating in a shell crater. The second is an extraordinary shell burst: the form of which resembles death. The Palestine series are magnificent … . It is some recompense to see one’s work shown to the masses and to receive favourable criticism after the risks and hardships I have taken and endured to secure the negatives.27

The composite Hurley referred to as ‘The Raid’ was sub­sequently variously known as An episode after the Battle at Zonnebeke,2 or sometimes Over the Top29 (figure 1). The foreground is constructed from the final two images of a rapid sequence of three photographs he shot of a group of soldiers going over the top (figure 2). In the composite, these sequential images of the same soldiers become spat-ialized two lines of advancing troops, and planes, shrapnel and smoke have been added into the background. The original sequence was most probably taken during a training exercise or a re-enactment since they have been accessioned out of series by the Records Section; in addition, it is extremely unusual to see any photographs, let alone a sequence of three, taken from such an exposed position during a battle; and, finally, the actual battle was fought in torrential rain and a quagmire of mud, whilst in the compos­ite the ground appears dry.30

Although oil and water colour sketches were exhibited in a separate room, the photographs received most press attention. In particular the colour lantern slides received notices that confirm Hurley’s enthusiastic diary entries.31 A day or so later Wilkins visited London sporting his Military Cross. Hurley commented darkly, ‘Strings have been pulled’.32 Bean also came to London and visited the exhibi­tion. He had already discovered that Hurley had attempted to smuggle some colour plates out of France for the exhibi­tion without going through the censor — he was angry, but not surprised, at Hurley’s unscrupulousness.33 He was further angered when he realized that Hurley now intended to abandon the task of photographing the continuing trials of the Anzacs in France in order to return to Australia to continue his showman career. And he did not like -what he saw when he visited the exhibition either:

Our exhibition is easily the best I have seen, although there is too much Hurley in it — his name is on every picture with few exceptions — including some that Wilkins took; and what should be a fine monument to the sacrifice of Australians in France is rather an advertisement for Hurley. … Hurley was married in Egypt and is determined to go back to Australia straight. I shall see that he does not have management of this exhibition there.34

As the exhibition continued to attract larger and larger numbers of visitors (on one Sunday a thousand people saw it in three hours) Bean mobilized his forces against Hurley’s plans. Hurley recorded it all in his diary, only hinting that he knew who might be pulling the strings:

I am urging that the present set of enlargements be sent to Australia for propaganda. No better medium could we possibly have. The exhibition has been pronounced by experts to be the best since the beginning of the war.33

I have omitted a week from my diary, having been so disgusted with the treatment I have received from the High Commissioner’s  office and  the A.  I.   F.  It has worried me considerably. A deadlock has been arrived at which excludes me from taking the Exhibition of my own pictures to Australia …. The only reason Australia House ascribe to their attitude is because I am soliciting publicity. They accuse me of making a Hurley show of the exhibition, which is an infernal lie. … It seems beyond conception that government officials can assume such an attitude which is nothing but the outcome of personal jealousy. … I do not intend to let the matter drop here, but will have it taken up further by the Australian press.36

The exhibition was sent on a provincial English tour. Hurley unsuccessfully tried to persuade Australia House to produce a duplicate set to take to Australia. He resigned on 11 July and received permission to make smaller versions of the AIF photographs, including the composites, for his private use, paying for the materials himself.37

Meanwhile, Bean was, in his own way, attending to the propaganda potential of photographs. His attempt to prohibit Hurley from taking his composite tableaux to Australia did not mean that he was ignoring the value of photography for propaganda altogether. Whilst Hurley was arguing with the High Commissioner, Bean was organizing for 72 small 4×6 cm photographs to be available for purchase by the troops, at a shilling each. Bean also produced several series of lantern slides for the recruiting authority in Australia. As Bean admitted, ‘the originator of this scheme was really Hurley’.38

Back in Australia, Hurley was amongst friends once more. In early 1919, after the Armistice, he got permission from the Minister for Defence to exhibit his personal collec­tion of the smaller AIF photographs at Kodak’s Sydney Salon, which paid for the framing and mounting. The proceeds of the exhibition, some £300, were donated to the Red Cross. He used the press consummately to complain about his treatment in London. A talk he gave to the Photographic Society of New South Wales was reported under the headline ‘Australian War Pictures Kept In England’,39 and two corres­pondents wrote letters of support to the Sydney Morning Herald, which conveniently allowed Hurley to reply:

Sir, After seeing Captain Frank Hurley’s wonderful war pictures … 1 cannot help wondering how it is that we have not become acquainted with them before. They are the real thing, and are of historic value. … I believe this collection is only one third of the pictures he has photographed on the battlefield, the others are in the keeping of military authorities in London. Why have they not reached Australia? Isn’t it worthwhile making some effort to obtain them for our National Art Gallery or Mitchell Library or some other place where they could have a permanent home, and serve as a memento of what our soldiers actually did in the great war, when they travelled 12 000 miles to help the Motherland. I write as an Anzac’s sister. I am etc. May Summerbelle.40

… The last I heard of the collection of pictures was that they rested in peace, or rather pieces, in the vault of Australia House, London, in a shroud of red tape and cobwebs. Surely, indeed, this is gross injustice to the people, and a poor tribute to those who had deeply at heart the immortalisation of doings great in the history of our nation. … I am etc. Frank Hurley, Captain.41

Hurley’s Kodak Salon exhibition received much publicity. The composites were reproduced in many different newspa­pers and magazines. Hurley had assured the AIF that there would be ‘no delusion to the public’,42  and in the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition he freely admitted that: ‘In order to convey accurate battle impressions, I have made several composite pictures, utilising a number of negatives for the purpose’.43 However, the catalogue does not identify the composites, and when they were reproduced sometimes their composite nature was noted, sometimes not. All the time, however, the authenticity of the composites was stressed. Considerably stretching the truth, the catalogue stated that ‘The elements of these composites were all taken in action and submitted to the G. O. C. A. I. F. who gave his approval for their production’.44 It was crucial for the reception of the images as authentic that all the component parts of the composites be assumed to be taken in action. Newspaper reviews certainly worked on that assumption.

War Pictures Realistic Collection Capt. Hurley’s work

‘The Dawn of Passchendaele’ immediately arrests attention, this is a very striking picture with all the sinister suggestions appropriate to that dreadful day. It was taken under machine gun fire at a spot where some stretcher-bearers had laid down their stricken burdens overnight to await for a relief party. The recumbent, shrouded figures — the attitude of complete exhaustion in which a guarding bearer leans against a wall — tell a mute story of suffering and endurance which gives the heart a sharp pang and stirs the imagination to a perhaps more intimate realisation of what prodigies of devotion and sacrifice those shell swept trenches of Flanders witnessed.43


The pictures … are photographs taken at great risk during battles, and not fancy pictures faked from a safe position behind the lines. I received this news from the mouth of a returned soldier who said, ‘They are the goods, in the thick of the fight was Hurley with his camera; both he and his camera must have been charmed’.46

These responses to Hurley’s composites (figures 3—5) are themselves a kind of composite: the reading of the ‘sinister suggestions’ produced by the addition of heavy clouds conforms to a conventional mode of pictorial decipherment which uses a generic lexicon derived from salon painting, whilst, at the same time, the assumption that the compo­nent parts are actual adds a ‘sharp pang’ of authenticity. The word ‘faked’, here, is used to distinguish composites sup­posedly comprising authentic components from staged re-enactments.

Hurley, explaining himself to a camera club readership, appropriated their word ‘impression’ in order to further validate his composites. Within camera clubs, ‘impression’ was normally used to describe ‘artistic’ or ‘pictorial’ photo­graphs, but Hurley used it more generally to describe an authorized auteurial mode of photographic malleability:

Special permission was granted … for the making of ‘Photographic Impression Pictures’ …. None but those who have endeavoured can realise the insurmountable difficulties of portraying a modern battle by camera. To include the event on a single negative, I have tried and tried, but the results are hopeless.   Everything  is  on  such  a  vast scale.   Figures  are

scattered — the atmosphere is dense with haze and smoke — shells will not burst where required — yet the whole elements are there could they but be brought together and condensed. The battle is in full swing, the men are just going over the top — and I snap! A fleet of bombing planes is flying low, and a barrage burst all around. On developing my plate there is disappointment! All I find is a record of a few figures advancing from the trenches — and a background of haze. Nothing could be more unlike a battle. It might be a rehearsal in a paddock. Now if negatives are taken of all the separate incidents in the action and combined, some idea may be gained of what a modern battle looks like.

Ironically, Hurley had, in fact, used photographs taken of ‘a rehearsal in a paddock’ to create his most hyper-real and convincing battle scene. Besides dexterously fudging the truth, Hurley also took the opportunity to reply, inter alia, to Bean’s interdiction by citing the ultimate authority — the digger:

During a recent exhibition held in London by the High Commissioner for Australia, one such picture, depicting a scene near Zonnebeke, was enlarged up to 300 square feet. Attired in civilian dress, I often mingled with the ‘diggers’ to hear their scathing criticism. When I find they approve and pass favourable judgement, then I feel convinced such impres­sion composites are justified.4

Immediately after his exhibition Hurley offered to sell his prints to the National Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of New South Wales) and they were eventually acquired by the Mitchell Library. Two years later, in August 1921, the first photographic exhibition from Bean’s Australian War Museum opened at the Melbourne Aquarium, and was seen by 83 000 people in five weeks. Mural-sized enlargements and colour prints were on display, and particular photographs could be ordered to raise money for the future Memorial. Like Hurley’s show, the exhibition reproduced the horror of the war on an immediate level:

There, most truly and vividly, war in all its frightfulness is pictured …. The horror of all those things so vividly shown in these photographs makes itself most terribly felt …. Every phase of the war is presented without trimmings or politeness. It is a real record, and one which Australians will value and be proud of. The photographs have been selected from 20 000 negatives in the possession of the War Museum’s committee. They were so accurate and complete that the military censors in France insisted on their being treated as secret documents.49

But this exhibition, compiled on Bean’s terms, was able to achieve more, even, than had Hurley’s own exhibition: the archival monumentality of the 20000 negatives in the nation’s collection, plus their ontological status as ‘real records’ which at one time even had the strategic status of ‘secret documents’, gives these images an extra artefactual solidity. In addition, the exhibition was a mnemonic event that directly addressed itself to each returned digger and each grieving relative individually:

[I]t is estimated that nearly 60 percent of the personnel of the A. I. F. appear in the views, which are ‘keyed’ and indexed so that it is possible to identify nearly every man who was ‘snapped’. … By means of a unique system of indexing, hundreds of relatives have been able to see photographs of men who were killed or missing, and soldiers who have returned have identified themselves and their comrades on the battle fronts.50

Two years after that, in 1923, the twelfth volume of Bean’s Official History was devoted entirely to photographs, 753 in all, each one meticulously captioned and each one, Bean was careful to note in his introduction, ‘as far as possible, scrupulously genuine. … The pictures here printed have not been retouched in any way except to remedy scratches or other obvious flaws in the negatives’.51

In photography the division between the fake and the not-fake has always been unstable. Bean’s argument with Hurley took place before the full development of the documentary genre in the 1920s and ’30s which established the technical slice of the shutter-blade, guillotining and encapsulating a contingent moment, as the only guarantor of truth. However, in the case of Hurley’s composites, photographic authenticity is guaranteed by the manual virtu­osity of scenographic effect which is able to assemble multiple moments into a single tableau, with a second-degree pictorial expressivity to provide legibility, and an exegetic, performat­ive testimony from the impresario/witness to provide authenticity. To the contemporaneous viewer Hurley’s com­posite techniques were not illicit fakery, but licit special effects tacitly deployed to produce a legitimate scenario worthy of emotional and phenomenological investment.

Hurley’s argument with Bean also took place when the specific gravity of the photograph as artefact was still high — before photography’s atomization during the age of its mechanical reproduction — when the photograph was primarily encountered as an object to be pasted into an album or placed on a mantelpiece. Bean’s pious reverence for the purity of the photograph related as much to its status as a potent relic to be eternally exposited by his larger history, as to its putative ‘documentary’ ability to contain a self-evident historical truth. For Bean the main game was long-term national memory, and that needed artefactually stable images which interlocked into a monumental reliquary archive. In that context, Hurley’s composites were dangerous fakes because they drained the indexical charge from the relic.

Hurley’s composites are quaint historical footnotes now, and would not move audiences even if they still existed in their original salon picture size. The heroic stories they told, and their rich pictorial embroidery, now seem threadbare and slightly disreputable. On the other hand, none of Wilkins’s record photographs have become iconic either, despite being reproduced many times. Many do, indeed, look like rehearsals in a paddock, and tend to be crippled without Bean’s meticulous captions. Hurley’s sensational effects compromised the photograph’s optical and temporal specificity, but strategically produced an immediate, though evanescent emotion. Bean’s collection of indexical photo­graphic records did become integral to his highly successful Memorial, but they are only able to act as a monument to the dead within larger sustaining institutional structures and mythic mnemonic mechanisms.

Despite the subsequent historical slippage of the terms in which it was couched, their argument lined up along either side of a dialectic that has remained persistently entrenched within photography. The major theorists of photography within modernity (Benjamin, Bazin, Barthes) all   subsequently   elaborated   on   this   dialectic   when   they distinguished, in various ways, between the indexical charge of the photograph as artefact and the semiotic mutability of the photograph as image. Current postmodern developments in digital technology have added new twists to their argu­ment. Recent journalistic anxiety over the supposed threat of the digital to the autonomous authority of the news photograph would have had a familiar ring to Bean. Photography’s role within the newly digital mass media is less now as a provider of an endless series of rectangular, guillotined slices of time and space, and more as a font for a continuous stream of mutable visual data to be assembled and reassembled into various pictorial configurations. Exegetic protocols are currently being established within the media to set the various levels of agreed fakery, from factual reportage to editorial illustration. In addition, the media’s own ubiquitous presence throughout the real means that the distinction between a spontaneous and an enacted profilmic event is more and more difficult to make. And the growing archive of historical photography and film, which distingu­ishes less and less between documentary and fictional sources, means that the past is known as much through fabulated as actual historical images.5

As the twentieth century progressed, the guillotining blade of the camera shutter became the core of photography’s technical ontology. The documentary movement entrenched the snapshot image as photography’s normative style, and the indexical photograph became our culture’s key historical and mnemonic artefact. But although it might once have appeared that the issue of fakery had been settled for good, it now seems that an argument of eighty years ago is far from over yet.


  1. D. McCarthy,  Gallipoli to the Somme:  The Story of C.  E. Sydney: John Ferguson 1983, 233, 270.
  2. C.  E.  W. Bean,   C.  E.   W.  Bean Diary, Australian  War Memorial, AWM38, 3DRL606, series 1, item 88, 19 September 1917.
  3. C. E. W. Bean, Gallipoli Mission, Canberra: Australian War Memorial 1948, 6.
  4. Members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
  5. M. McKernan, Here is Their Spirit, Brisbane: University of Queensland Press 1991, 42.
  6. Australian colloquialism for an Australian soldier, particularly those that served in the First World War.
  7. AWM E2818, E2819, ‘Two diggers from the 5th Australian Division’, 30 July 1918.
  8. D. McCarthy, Gallipoli to the Somme, 34.
  9. Bean, Gallipoli Mission, 4.
  10. Ibid., 111.
  11. J. Thomas, Showman, Canberra: National Library of Australia 1990; D. Millar, Snowdrift and Shellfire, David Ell Press 1984.
  12. Australian Imperial Force.
  13. F. Hurley, My Diary, Official War Photographer, Commonwealth Military Forces, from 21 August 1917 to 31 August 1918, typewritten manuscript, National Library of Australia, MS883,Series 1, Item 5, 5 September, 1917. Bean, Gallipoli Mission, 20.
  14. x
  15. C.  E.  W.  Bean and H.  S.  Gullett,  Photographic Record of the  War:
  16. Reproductions  of Pictures  taken  hy  the Australian   Official Photographers,
  17. Sydney: Angus and Robertson 1923, vii—viii.
  18. C.  E. W. Bean,   Wilkins and Hurley recommendations, Australian War
  19. Memorial, AWM38, DRL6673, item 57, 24 October 1917.
  20. Bean and Gullett, Photographic Record of the War, vii—viii.
  21. C. E. W. Bean, Wilkins and Hurley recommendations.
  22. Hurley, My Diary, 26 September 1917.
  23. Ibid.  ‘
  24. For example, the Australian War Memorial holds a composite postcard
  25. by Underwood, ‘Battle in Skies During Zeppelin Raid on England’,
  26. AWM, H18216.
  27. C. E. W. Bean Diar)>, 71-2.
  28. Hurley, My Diary, 1 October 1917.
  29. Hurley, 2 October 1917.
  30. Hurley, 3 October 1917.
  31. Hurley, 6 October 1917.
  32. Hurley, 26, 27, 28 May 1918.
  33. C.        F. Hurley, Catalogue of an Exhihition of War Photographs, Sydney:
    1919, Cat. No. 77.
  34. F. Hurley, Press cuttings, National Library of Australia, MS883, series 2, items 29-36, Newsy Notes (August 1919), n.p.
  35. The first shot from the sequence was exhibited as ‘ “Fix Bayonets”, Australian Infantry preparing to resist a counter attack at Zonnebeke’, State Library of New South Wales Collection PXD19-PXD31. Catalogued in C. F. Hurley, Catalogue of an Exhihition of War Photographs, Sydney: 1919, cat no. 36; and D. O’Keefe, Hurley at War, Sydney: The Fairfax Library 1986, 53. The second shot from the sequence was exhibited, as a detail from the larger composite, as ‘A wave of infantry going over the top to resist a counter attack, Zonnebeke’, SLNSW Collection. Catalogued in C. F. Hurley, cat. no. 41; and D. O’Keefe, 51. The third shot from the sequence is in the Australian War Memorial at E5429 as A photograph taken in France in June 1919 [incorrect date] illustrating the commencement of an attack’. The background aircraft montage was also exhibited separately as ‘Shrapnel bursting amongst reconnoitring planes. Picture taken over the tail of a leading machine’, SLNSW Collection. Catalogued in C. F. Hurley, cat. no. 45. (However, Hurley did not take his first flight until he was sent to Palestine at the end of 1917.)
  36. ‘Colour Photographs. Capt. Hurley’s Work in Palestine’, The Times, London, (6 June 1918), 5. Hurley, My Diary, 4 June 1918.
  37. D.        McCarthy, Gallipoli to the Somme, 333.
    C. E. W. Bean Diary, 5, 6, 7 June 1918.
    Hurley, My Diary, 4 June 1918.
    Hurley, My Diary, 14-21 June 1918.
  38. Information given hy Captain Frank Hurley (Official Photographer A. I. F.)
  39. during interview with Principal Librarian on 27/6/19, State Library of New
  40. South Wales, 27 June 1919.
  41. C. E. W. Bean Diary, 26 June 1918.
  42. Hurley, Press cuttings, National Library of Australia, MS883, series 2,
  43. items 29—36, n.d., n.t., n.p.
  44. Hurley, Press cuttings, Sydney Morning Herald (19 March 1919), n.p.
  45. Hurley, Press cuttings, Sydney Morning Herald (20 March 1919), n.p.
  46. Hurley, My Diary, 6 October 1917.
  47. C. F. Hurley,  Catalogue of an Exhihition of War Photographs, Sydney:
  48. 1919, n.p.
  49. Hurley, n.p.
  50. Hurley, Press cuttings, Sydney Morning Herald (13 March 1919), n.p.
  51. Hurley, Press cuttings, The Sun (12 March 1919), n.p.
  52. Captain F. Hurley, ‘War Photography’, The Australasian Photo-Review
  53. (15 February 1919), 164.
  54. C. F. Hurley, (15 February 1919), 164.
  55. Australian War Pictures: A Wonderful Collection’, The Age (20 August
  56. 1921), 3.
  57. ‘Display of War Pictures, Appeal of the Personal Touch’,  The Argus
  58. (21 August 1921), 5.
  59. C.        E. W. Bean and H. S. Gullett, Photographic Record of the War, viii.
  60. D.        MacDougall, ‘Films of Memory’, in Visualizing Theory: Selected
    Essays from V. A. R. 1990-1994,
    New York and London: Routledge

Composite Propaganda Photographs during the First World War 2003

pdf: composite propaganda 2003

‘Composite Propaganda Photographs during the First World War’,
History of Photography, Vol 27, No 2, Summer, 2003, pp 154-165
During the final two years of the First World War, a series of propaganda photography exhibitions were held in London. The centrepieces to these exhibitions were giant mural enlargements. Some of these spectacular battle scenes were artificially coloured and some were composites produced from several different negatives. The exhibitions were popular successes, and the mural images attracted favourable press attention. They also produced a degree of controversy behind the scenes with respect to their status as ‘fakes’.
Pictorial War Propaganda in Britain
In the first years of the war, all forms of propaganda began to be used more frequently and more strategically by all belligerent nations. By 1916 war propagandists were taking seriously the potential of pictorial propaganda. Britain appointed official photographers and set up a pictorial department to distribute British photographs and films overseas. From early 1917, when the war had bogged down in the trenches and there was danger of public disaffection, propaganda became as concerned with managing domestic opinion and mood as with promoting foreign policy interests abroad. By the closing stages of the war it had become apparent ‘that almost for the first time in history success in war had become directly dependent on general public opinion’. Pictorial propagandists quickly recognised the importance of the new media, such as the cinema or illustrated newspapers, for disseminating their images. Images became central to public understanding of the war, and photography and film supplanted the written word as the most powerful weapon in propaganda.
The driving force behind pictorial propaganda in Britain was Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian financier who, as Max Aitkin, had come to Britain in 1910 and quickly rose in politics through his wealth, newspaper interests as owner of the Daily Express, personal friendships and high-level political allegiances. At the outbreak of the War, Aitkin persuaded the Canadian Prime Minister to make him ‘Official Canadian Eyewitness’. In January 1916 he was allowed to set up and run the Canadian War Records Office. By the end of the year he had also become the Chairman of the British War Office Cinematographic Committee. Early the following year the new British Prime Minister Lloyd George granted him the peerage of Lord Beaverbrook as a reward for his support in the overthrow of the Asquith government. A year later, in 1918, Lloyd George made Beaverbrook Britain’s first Minister of Information. Beaverbrook energetically set about shaping what had previously been piecemeal efforts into a single operation.
From the start British propagandists distanced them¬selves from the sensational fabrications and gross jingoism of Boar War propaganda. In the phrase of the first head of the British Foreign Office’s Bureau of Propaganda, Charles Masterman, they were to use ‘the propaganda of facts’.2 While acknowledging this tenet, Beaverbrook demonstrated a more sophisticated understanding of media-based propaganda within the complex and fragmented social environment of wartime Britain. When he became Britain’s Minister of Information in 1918, he declared what his approach had been throughout the war. Public opinion must not be allowed to form itself, it must be formed for it — by the truth certainly — but the truth ‘in an acceptable form’:
It is useless to imagine that the mere existence of a fact will penetrate everywhere by its own weight, or that facts themselves do not requrre treatment according to which audience they are to be presented. Public opinion is indeed so volatile a thing that nothing except a mixture of tact and persistence will induce it to accept and realise what to the preacher is self evident.3
Earlier, as head of the Canadian War Records Office, Beaverbrook had realized that photography would be central to the documentation of this war because it was thoroughly in tune with the dual responsibility of a government records office to disseminate information and collect documents. The photograph was able to operate along both the axes of publicity and record keeping, propaganda and history. Photographs took part in the urgency of the moment, while simultaneously implying the importance of that moment for posterity. ‘Many of these have not yet passed the censor’, wrote Beaverbrook, ‘but five or ten or twenty-five years from now, they will be shown to us and our sons and will link the decades together in a way unimagined by our ancestors’.4
Beaverbrook also had the most acute understanding of anyone in Britain of the importance of photography and film for the new psychological depth of the task propaganda had to perform. He felt the visceral primacy of the image over the written word, and he understood the importance for war propaganda of the technical affinity that the most modern forms of visual experience had with the most modern forms of warfare.
Under modern conditions nations are fighting and are sacri¬ficing bone and sinew to an extent never known before — and realisation alone can justify the sacrifice. We must see our men climbing out of the trenches before we can realise the patience, the exhaustion, and the courage which are the assets and trials of the modern fighting man.”1
As the war dragged on, photography became even more important to Beaverbrook because the directness of the image was able to combat the fatigue the public was feeling with respect to the war itself and with the increasingly hollow-sounding rhetoric of traditional propaganda. Photographic facts addressed themselves particularly to the working classes and were able to form a direct point of contact between the totally estranged experiences of those in Britain and those on the front.
It is hard enough for the civilian, on whose endurance to the end the issue of the world war depends so largely, to realise conditions at the front: without photography it would be practically impossible. But what the mind can’t take in by the reading of descriptions, the eye can assimilate from the actual outline of the scene and the men depicted on the plate. Besides, the great bulk of mankind soon wearies of the word. At the bottom of his heart man feels of the war story that of the makers of such books there is no end, and that much study of them is weariness to the flesh. Photography has about it the convincing atmosphere of naked reality. He has only got to open his eyes to see it. So is modern science applied to the acts of war as well as of peace.’
Beaverbrook’s other innovation as head of the Canadian War Records Office was to use the established film and photography trades for the production and dissemination of propaganda. The official British and Canadians photographers
came largely from London’s most pictorially oriented illustrated newspaper, the Daily Mirror, which had since 1904 exclusively used photographs as illustrations. The Canadian official photographs were licensed for distribu¬tion through picture agencies on a commercial basis. ‘No propaganda reaches the hearts and minds of the people’, wrote Beaverbrook, ‘unless it is so convincing and that the public is ready and anxious to pay a price to see or read it’.7
In addition, in the emerging mass media environment of the time, there were many rivals for the attention of the public, and appetites easily became jaded. In this context, a fundamental principle of propaganda must be that ‘obvious propaganda is not only of little value but may even do more harm than good.’ Although Beaverbrook wanted his images to carry the authoritative premium of the ‘official’ imprimatur, he also wanted them to become an intimate part of the public’s media consumption, a consumption that was driven by the compulsions of choice and desire. Moreover, because this public appetite was changing and continually seeking formal novelty, only trade photographers trained under commercial imperatives, not bureaucrats, could provide effective propaganda.
Official war photographs were disseminated into a very fluid, polyvalent media environment. In the illustrated papers of the time photographs were not diegetically integrated into the news articles. They were generally given their own section in the paper — in the case of the Daily Mirror, as a front page, back page and centre double-page spread — with supporting captions. The caption might denote either a non-specific ‘scene at the front’, or a specifically reported on raid. Valencies of authenticity and scenographic legibility were exchanged between different kinds of image and text across the page. Photo¬graphic realism became the core model for all illustration, and the fresh, proximate, eyewitness report became the model for all text. Illustrated magazines such as the Illustrated London News, for instance, which still largely relied on drawing and paintings to convey scenographic information, often published an uninformative photo¬graph of a particular engagement, followed by a stirringly composed drawing of the same engagement, with the caption ‘drawn from eyewitness accounts’.
Although the intrepid official photographer became a key figure in this newspaper landscape, the idea of the ‘photojournalist’ — the autonomous photographer inde¬pendently reporting on events as they unfolded — made no sense at the time. Official photographers were given honorary ranks and saw themselves as propagandists, not reporters, their photographs were part of the war effort, not a comment on it.
The Problem of the ‘Fake’
In this context, propagandists and photographers found themselves having continually to finesse the balance between
the qualities of authenticity, actuality and immediacy in their images and their legibility as historical scenes. This was new iconographic terrain, where everything was at stake. The value of authenticity had never been more politically crucial, but at the same time the need to provide scenographic spectacle to feed the public appetite for images, and the need to re-cohere fragmentary and disjointed images into readily legible pictures, created a huge temptation to fake.
Faking took place in several forms. Photographs taken during training were passed off as real battle reportage or scenes were deliberately staged for the camera. Photographs themselves were manipulated with bomb blasts or aeroplanes being montaged into the pictures, and elaborate composites were sometimes constructed from several negatives. Virtually every photographer or filmmaker faked to some extent, and everybody seemed to know about it.
Not only did the accusation of fake directly threaten the propagandistic value of the photograph or film, it could also upset the internal politics of the army and undermine the photographer’s honorary position within its structure. Fakes could bring photographers and cinematographers into disrepute with soldiers at the front. For instance, a shot with a dog supposedly minding its master’s kit and rifle in the snow was returned to the official photographers from General Staff with the terse note: ‘I am instructing the photograph censors not to pass this type of photo in the future. To every soldier serving with a combatant unit, this must be patently and obviously a “fake”‘.10
Although such instances of faking remained relatively rare, and were usually officially disavowed and surrepti¬tious, they were nonetheless an integral part of pictorial propaganda. In his position as the Chair of the War Office Cinematographic Committee, Beaverbrook sacked a Lieutenant Bovill, a film cameraman, because his wholesale faking made his footage useless. At the same time, Beaverbrook continued to sponsor the successful British film cameraman Lieutenant Malins and Canada’s official photographer Ivor Castle, both of whom were widely suspected to have faked from time to time.
Propaganda   Exhibitions
The most explicit ‘fakes’ made during the First World War were the central set pieces to a series of massive photographic exhibitions that Beaverbrook initiated. In 1916 and 1917 Beaverbrook organised two exhibitions of ‘Canadian Official War Photographs’ at the Grafton Galleries in London. The success of these exhibitions led to two British exhibitions: an exhibition of ‘Imperial [British, Canadian and Australian] War Photographs’ at the Royal Academy in January 1918; and ‘British Official War Photographs in Colour’ at the Grafton Galleries in March 1918. By this time Beaverbrook had become Minister of Information. The Australian War Records Section concluded the sequence with an exhibition ‘Australian Official War Photographs and Pictures’ at the Grafton Galleries in May 1918.
The first Canadian exhibitions not only went on to tour — first in England and then to France and to North America — but they were also the locus for considerable press attention, visits by royalty and huge public attendance. They were partnered as media events by the reproduction in newspapers and magazines of images made from them. They were also points from which images were sold to the public in a variety of formats and prices, ranging from nine pence to several hundred pounds.
These exhibitions were organised by Ivor Castle, an experienced English press and war photographer, whom Beaverbrook had recruited to the Canadian War Records Office in mid 1916 from the photography department of the Daily MirrorV Castle photographed Canada’s role in the disastrous Somme offensive of late 1916, and then returned to London to mount in December 1916 the first exhibition of over 200 Canadian War Photographs. The photographic printing company Raines & Co of Ealing enlarged these negatives to sizes ranging from one square metre to two by three metres and mounted them in heavy oak frames. The proceeds from the picture sales went to the Canadian War Memorials Fund to pay painters to paint grand battle pictures for a post war memorial.
Captions to photographs in this exhibition emphasizd both the technical sophistication of the photographs, and the bravery of the photographer:
Heavy Barrage Fire
This is the only panoramic photograph of a shell barrage in the world … It is obvious from the picture the risk which the photographer ran in taking it.
The Shelling of Courcelette
The photographer approached as near to the scene as he could without being killed, and declares it to be a veritable ‘hell on earth’.12
In this exhibition, however, staged photographs were also shown without compunction. The exhibition’s central sequence of photographs, which supposedly showed lines of troops heroically clambering ‘over the top’ into an onslaught of enemy machine gun fire, was in fact taken behind the lines at the St Pol training school. The canvas breech covers on the training rifles held by the soldiers had been cropped out, and shell bursts, which were probably shot separately at the nearby trench-mortar school, had been montaged into the sky.1
Shortly after the photographs had been staged and three months before their display in the exhibition, this sequence had been received enthusiastically by the press, which had published them as up-to-the minute news photographs. They were published by the Illustrated London News with the caption: ‘”Over the Top”: The meaning of a phrase now familiar.’14 They were also reproduced on the front page of the Daily Mirror, with the caption ‘These Striking Photographs Show In Vivid Fashion An Attack By The Canadian Troops’.13 A month later the Daily Mirror published them again, along with a dashing portrait of Ivor Castle posing in a trench (figure 2), in order to advertise their sale as postcards, with profits to go to the Canadian War Memorials Fund.16
When the enlargements were exhibited at the Grafton Galleries two months later, they relied on a more elaborately fabricated catalogue text to verify them:
The Last Over The Top
Here is to be seen a remarkable picture of a German shrapnel shell bursting over a Canadian trench just as the Canadians are going over the parapet. A fragment from this shell killed the man whose body is seen sprawled across the parapet.17
This incident of staging remained officially unac¬knowledged, and Castle, coming from a commercial background and having a flare for publicity, went on to exaggerate his personal derring-do in the magazine Canada in Khaki: ‘Taking photographs of the men going over the parapet is quite exciting. Nothing, of course, can be arranged. You sit or crouch in the first-line trench while the enemy does a little strafing, and if you are lucky you get your pictures’. This studied insouciance gave Castle’s colleague on the Daily Mirror, William Rider-Rider, who was the second official Canadian photographer recruited to the Canadian War Records Office in June 1917, a lot to live down when he visited some units. There, he later recounted, he was met by remarks such as, ‘Want to take us going over the top? Another faker?’19
As the exhibition toured to Canada and the United States over the next two years, the ‘over the top’ pictures continued to be met with press acclaim for their realism, vividness and sense of immediacy. In all of these press accounts the figure of the intrepid photographer, who like the soldiers themselves risked death to capture his shots, figured strongly.
Cinema  Propaganda
Castle staged his ‘over the top’ pictures at about the same time as the seminal propaganda film Battle of the Somme was breaking all box office records in Britain. The centrepiece to the film was a similarly stirring ‘over the top sequence’, which had been filmed a month or so before. The first two shots in the sequence were staged, probably also at a training school behind the lines, by the British War Office’s Official cinematographer, Lieutenant Geoffrey Malins.”
The Second Canadian Exhibition
After the success of his first Canadian exhibition, Castle remained in London until April 1917, when he returned to France and photographed the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge. These photographs formed the basis of the second exhibition, also sponsored by the Canadian War Records Office, which opened in July 1917 (figure 3). Like its predecessor this exhibition featured 188 enlargements in oak frames, some of which were further enhanced by artificial colouring. The pictures were reported as depicting the Canadian operations with a ‘terrible realism’ and supplying a ‘most intimate insight’ into the difficulties of the front.”1 As in the first exhibition, the intrepidity of the official photographer was highlighted in the catalogue.
Barbed Wire and the Shells
The Canadian official photographer was out along the front line when the Germans suddenly began a bombardment. The pho¬tographer had to take cover for three hours, but he emerged periodically to take pictures of the Germans’ morning ‘hate’.
The Death Cloud
It is one of the hardest things in the world to get a really good ‘snap’ of bursting shrapnel. Pretty as this little cloud of smoke looks, it is very deadly, and the man who handles the camera at such a moment does so at the risk of his life.
Many of the pictures were giant enlargements. The catalogue drew the visitor’s particular attention to picture
number 158 (figures 4, 5), ‘which is the largest photo¬
graph in the world taken on “no man’s land” by the
Canadian Official photographer as the Canadians went over to the attack on Thelus Village’. The picture would have been hard to miss since it occupied an entire wall of the central gallery and measured six by three metres. Raines & Co had printed it in five separate panels. The image was a composite of several different negatives, with printed-in shell bursts in the sky and printed-in bodies in the foreground. The catalogue’s extended caption served as a film-like commentary, taking the visitor step by step through the correct way to experience the picture:
The Taking of Vimy Ridge
No individual soldier taking part in a modern battle can have the faintest idea of the scope of the battle, or the conditions of that battle. Distance and perspective are necessary to secure the correct impression of the actual facts. For this reason it is idle to stand close to this picture. It must be looked at and studied from a sufficient distance to enable one to understand the immensity and importance of the scene before one. It is true that the Canadian Official photographer, who took this picture, was in the midst of the men who were advancing to the attack, but knowledge of his craft alone enabled him to take a picture, the real wonder and sense of which can only be studied with quiet reflection and at a distance. Nonetheless the  terrible  nearness of things  in which the photographer stood, which enables one to, as it were, ‘watch the battle from the neighbouring hill’, at the same time sweeps one into the conflict. One becomes absorbed into the picture. It is as though one were on the battlefield itself. The picture of the battle is taken in profile. It is taken from the flank looking along the line of attack. To the left of the picture, beyond the frame, one must imagine the smoke of our guiding and sheltering barrage fire. Guiding, yes, but sheltering only to a degree. Through that barrage the German shells are hurtling. The white smoke in the distance, which lies along the ground like a dewy mist above meadows at dawn, is smoke from the counter barrage of the German’s piercing our own. Every fleck of smoke, indeed, in the grim sky is smoke from bursting enemy shells. The great splodges of black smoke show where German shrapnel is showering thickly. Far along the ridge, in the middle distance, through the lane of men, may be seen the tanks heavily engaged. In the immediate foreground lie those who have already made the supreme sacrifice. Between, strolling to their ‘rendezvous with death’, are the men who made Vimy deathless. At the moment they are on what had been ‘no man’s land’ but a short time before; there still protrude from the broken ground the supports which held the German wire entanglements swept away from our guns. It is an awful pageant of war as it is waged today. It is an impression, nay, indeed a reality, of the splendid horror snatched by the photographer, in the fraction of a second, from the clutchings of death.23
This extended description not only navigates the audience through the abstracted, fragmented and disorienting experience of modern warfare, but also instructs it how to experience the picture in the gallery space. The viewer is asked to immerse himself within the battle, while also retaining a distance from it. This phenomenological act of doubling attempts to project an experiential bridge between those in London and those in the trenches. It links the two new, modern experiences — warfare and giant photograph exhibitions — through the mechanisms of nationalist empathy and the virtual space created by advanced photographic technology.
Like the first exhibition, this one was a spectacular success. At one point people queued for nearly two hundred metres to get in, and the exhibition raised £1100 for the Canadian War Memorials Fund. It was also the occasion for much associated press coverage. The Daily Mirror, whose photography department Castle had formerly headed and to which he would return after the War, was especially enthusiastic:
To gaze, for instance at the huge picture showing the Canadians going to the attack at Vimy Ridge is to be carried away in imagination to the grim realities of war. To obtain a full impression of the splendid awesomeness of this amazing masterpiece of photographic art the visitor should stand some distance away. The result will be thrills as if one were on the battlefield itself24
The exhibition later toured Britain, and a copy went to Paris and Canada. The success of the Canadian War Records Office did not go unnoticed. John Buchan, head of Britain’s Department of Information, wrote in August 1917 to Sir Reginald Brade of the British War Office. He  wanted  to   revamp   and  increase  the  support  and supervision afforded to British photographers because the flood of good quality Canadian photographs was lending support to criticism in the US press that ‘Canada [was] running the war.’  Buchan was opposed, however,  to emulating Beaverbrook by  putting British propaganda photography on an entirely commercial footing. He did not want to tie distribution to the monopoly of one commercial agency and, balking at Beaverbrook’s commer¬cial understanding of the new dynamics of public image consumption, thought it unwise to restrict attendance at propaganda exhibitions by charging admission.”3
Castle’s use of composites had the full support of Beaverbrook. He was planning an exhibition of Imperial War Photographs for January 1918 and was determined to retain the right of the Canadian Office to make composites for display. ‘Fake them … that’s what you could call it’, he declared in a meeting.” He brazened down British General Staff by directly requesting a ruling from the Chief Censor as to how they should be treated. He received the crisp reply: ‘All photographs whether “composite” or single exhibited as representing an actual scene on the Western front should be censored. If the Canadian Photographic Section care to exhibit “composite” photos clearly marked as such, then it will suffice if each separate photo has been censored’.27
The biggest composite was produced not for the Canadians, however, but on behalf of the British, for the exhibition ‘British Official War Photographs in Colour’ held in March 1918. Beaverbrook now led Britain’s Ministry of Information, and Ivor Castle probably orchestrated the composite, although he was still nominally attached to the Canadian War Records Office. At Raines & Co the photographs in the exhibition were printed in sepia, then broadly hand coloured with spray guns, before being coloured in detail by hand. They were mistakenly assumed by some daily newspapers to be colour photographs.~x Mounted prints measuring 1.3 by 1 metres were on sale for £150, with an additional 50% added for hand colouring. The catalogue to the exhibition proclaimed:
Great Record of the War
No photographic exhibition has ever been attempted on such a scale before. It comprises many thousands of square feet of photographs, coloured under the supervision of experts, with the most particular care to detail. Truth to colour has never been sacrificed for the sake of creating an impression, but nonetheless the impression which this amazing collection conveys will be ineffaceable. If all the Master Artists of the world had laboured for a year they could not have produced a record of War so humanly vivid, arresting and complete. One walks through the doors of the Grafton Galleries on to the grey flats of Flanders, and on to the golden but burning sands of the deserts of the east. It is as though one was transported on a magic carpet into the battle zone half the world over. This wonderful collection is the apotheosis of the camera. The unflinching eye of the lens has looked on the War
in all its aspects, and has recorded more faithfully even than any historian could do, the greatest and the smallest things in the greatest and most wonderful war in history.-
The centrepiece to the exhibition was the new ‘largest photograph in the world’ (figure 1), a hand-coloured composite, which, despite General Staffs request, was not identified as such:
Dreadnoughts of the Battlefield This, the largest photograph in the world, was taken during a recent advance on the Western Front. The tanks, those giant landships which indomitably plough the oceans of mud in France and Flanders, are moving forward to attack. In the photograph heavy shells may be seen bursting thickly in the line of their path, but no barrage daunts them. The picture is so vivid that it brings the realisation of modern battle into the heart of London. The best way to appreciate its wonders is to stand away from it as far as possible, when every detail will stand out in stereoscopic relief. The picture actually measures 23ft 6in by 17ft, without the frame, and it was necessary to make it in two sections, as the builders of the Galleries never anticipated a ‘canvas’ on such a scale. Neither doors nor windows could accommodate a picture of such gigantic dimensions.3″
This picture therefore subsumes into itself all previous and rival technologies: the humanity of the history paint¬ing, the magic carpet ride of cinema and the corporeally based illusionism of the stereoscope. The magnitude of this gesamtkunstwerk can only be achieved through composite montage, but this montage has to be disavowed in order to preserve the integrity of photographic verisimilitude, while inscribing it into a new regime of modernist spectacle. As a Ministry of Information press article commented: ‘It is a far cry from the old garish family group pasted in the album of Victorian days to the great picture twenty-four feet by seventeen feet showing the first tanks in action.'” When the King and Queen visited the exhibition to view ‘the soul of the War laid bare in pictures’, they remained for a long time in front of this picture. The King remarked that the photographs were the finest he had seen.32
After two months at the Grafton Galleries, the exhibition had been seen by a quarter of a million people and had raised £7000 for charity. The exhibition was then moved into the East End, to the People’s Palace in Mile End Road, presumably to address itself more directly to London’s working classes. A smaller version of the exhibition simultaneously toured smaller towns, and a set of battle photographs was prepared for dispatch to the United States.
Australian   Propaganda
The establishment of a Canadian War Records Office in January 1916 had been a model and a goad for Australia’s War Recorder, C.E.W. Bean, to agitate for the establish¬ment of an Australian War Records Section, which he finally achieved in June 1917. The Canadian office was always more generously resourced and commercially aggressive than the Australian section. Because of Lord Beaverbrook’s status as simultaneously Canadian War Records Officer, Chairman of the British War Office Cinematographic Committee, Peer, newspaper proprie¬tor and Whitehall power broker, the Canadian War Records Office had also had much more weight in London. In fact, in late 1917 and early 1918 Bean had to fend off several attempts by Beaverbrook to bring the entire Australian photography section under his wing.” The two organizations also took radically different approaches to their work. Bean was a reporter and a historian. Although he sometimes skewed his reportage for propaganda purposes, he was nonetheless committed above all else to making a record of the war, which he saw in nation building terms.’4 Beaverbrook was a poli¬tician and newspaperman, committed to propaganda and publicity and, above all, the management of public opinion.
Like Beaverbrook, however, Bean was also convinced of the crucial role the photograph must play in war records, not because of its propaganda charge but because of its status as an inviolable historical artifact. Beaverbrook used experienced English press photographers as Cana¬dian official photographers because they knew best the contemporary media landscape. Bean wanted to use Australian photographers to record Australian soldiers, because they would be contributing to the foundation of an Australian heritage. In August 1917 the two Australian photographers Bean had requested — Hubert Wilkins and Frank Hurley — were appointed directly to the Australian Imperial Forces.
After a few weeks at the front, one of the photogra¬phers, Frank Hurley, became convinced that the only way to make convincing battle photographs was to make composite prints. Hurley was already well acquainted with the techniques of composite printing. Before the war he had read a paper to the Photographic Society of New South Wales on the subject, demonstrating his study by combining several different negatives taken of different animals at the zoo into a single scene, complete with clouds.” * He had also made composite prints in London just before his appointment as an Australian official photographer.
In November 1916 Hurley had arrived in London as a hero. He was the photographer and cinematographer of the Shackleton Antarctic expedition, which had just returned to London after a sensational escape from the ice. On 5 December 1916 Hurley’s expedition photographs were published exclusively across all of the photography sections of the Daily Mirror. The Shackleton expedition had been financed against expected future earnings from the sale of the film and photograph rights. Because much material had been lost in the crushing of the Endurance or left on the ice, the backers of the exhibition decided that Hurley should return to South Georgia to shoot more wildlife scenes to supplement the Antarctic material. Before leaving in February 1917, however, Hurley worked in the darkrooms of the Daily Chronicle, owned by one of the expedition’s backers, as well as with the Paget Company, where his colour lantern slides ‘were developed, and at Raines & Co, where his negatives were printed. During this period, Hurley made the most of the limited number of plates that he had brought back from Antarctica by combining some of them into composite prints. He also worked with a variety of British companies to manufacture cutting-edge display technology for the marketing of the expedition’s photographs and films. Newtons, for instance, who were lantern slide experts, constructed a special lantern able to project colour images on to a screen five metres square.
Hurley was in London, working with the Shackleton material at Raines & Co and making composite prints, during the period when the Canadian exhibitions were being mounted. He would have easily recognized the printed-in clouds and composites, but his diary does not record that he visited the exhibitions. Nor does it record him meeting Castle until a week or so after his own decision to make composite prints of the fighting in Flanders.’
Hurley and Charles Bean had a running argument, extended over several days, about Hurley’s right to make composites.37 The idea was anathema to Bean, for whom the war photograph was becoming a sacred, inviolable historical artefact. The example of the Canadian composites was there for each man to draw upon as they argued. Bean wrote in his diary:
[HIad a long argument with Hurley who wants to be allowed to make ‘composite’ pictures for his exhibition … I can see his point, he has been nearly killed a dozen times and has tailed to get the pictures he wants — but we will not have it at any price. The Canadians to some extent print their battle pictures with shell bursts from other photos — but we don’t want to rival them in this.’
Hurley, on the other hand, declared to his diary:
I am unwilling and will not make a display of war pictures unless the Military people see their way clear to give me a free hand. Canada has made a great advertisement out of their pictures, and I must beat them.’
At about this time Beaverbrook had approached Hurley to make composite prints for the Canadians outside of the Australian areas. ” This may have been what emboldened Hurley to threaten to resign he if did not get his way. Australian GHQ eventually gave Hurley permission to reproduce six composites, requesting only that they be clearly labelled as such.
In early November Bean sent Hurley to Palestine to cover the Australian Light Horse. Away from the stric¬tures of the front and of Bean, he flourished. He found the Australian light horse battalions amenable to staging re-enactments for the camera. He met with the commanders beforehand and planned with them whole, day-long programmes of ‘stunts’.
In late 1917, while Hurley was still in Palestine, the other Australian photographer, Lieutenant Wilkins, chose the Australian photographs for the exhibition of Imperial Photographs. Each country had its own gallery, and a giant enlargement dominated each gallery. Incongruously, the Australian mural enlargement was not of a battle scene, but was a triumphal image of the Band of the 5th Australian Infantry Brigade marching confidently through the still smoking ruins of the French town of Bapaume (figure 6). Bean visited the exhibition, and it did not escape his notice that some of the Canadian photographs were composites. ‘Ours were simply and strictly true’, he observed, T would rather have them a thousand times’.
Hurley returned to London in May 1918 to prepare for the exhibition of Australian war pictures, organised in London through the Australian High Commission. He arranged to have 130 negatives printed, his six composites and other images enlarged to mural size at Raines & Co, and colour lantern slides made from the Paget colour plates. As well as Hurley’s composites, some of the photographs exhibited were of re-enactments. The Australian War Records Section attempted to ensure that they were given titles that protected them from the accusation of fake. For instance, a shot of a re-enactment of a charge at Gallipoli, probably taken behind the lines by the British official photographer Ernest Brooks, was entitled ‘Illustrating how the Australians charged the Turkish trenches at Gallipoli’. Some re-enactments slipped through the net, however, and officers visiting the exhibition commented upon those. The Australian War Records Section com¬plained to the Australian High Commission: ‘I have heard today a great deal of adverse comment upon the pictures. It comes from those who … know that the pictures cannot possibly be true, [they] say the obvious inaccuracy of the titling of the pictures made them doubt all the others, and in their opinion quite spoilt the whole show. Personally I am inclined to agree with them’. “
The exhibition still featured Hurley’s composites, however, most spectacularly showing a large composite exhibited under the protectively generalised title ‘The Raid’.43 The catalogue description of this composite was considerably more circumspect and ambiguous than the strident sensationalism of the captions for the Canadian and British composites, although it does retain their sense of cinematic montage.
The Raid
A large composite picture. Australian troops are seen advancing to the attack prior to the Battle of Broodseinde. A heavy enemy barrage is seen falling on the distant ridge. Aeroplanes are shown flying low for the purpose of machine gunning the enemy trenches. At the extreme right of the picture is an aeroplane down in flames. This picture shows the thick smoke and haze which are characteristic of the battlefield in this sector.44
Hurley was also keen to test the reaction of the soldiers to his composites:
Attired in civilian dress, I often mingled with the ‘diggers’ to hear their scathing criticism. When I find they approve and pass favourable judgement, then I feel confident such impression composites are justified.”13
Hurley’s composite was made up of twelve negatives and far surpassed Castle’s in intricacy. It was not coloured, however, nor was it the latest ‘largest photograph in the world’ (missing out by half a metre or so). Perhaps because giant composite murals had already been seen in London and perhaps because Hurley had no close personal links with the newspapers, the composites for which he had fought so hard aroused little interest in the London press. The lantern slides received more press attention. The British Journal of Photography reported that the half-hourly displays of half-plate Paget plates projected onto a full-size lantern screen were in fact the first real colour photographs to be exhibited of scenes and incidents of the war. Hurley’s status as an explorer photographer was also recognized, as well as his highly developed sense of the picturesque which, for the journal, was as important as the intrinsic interest of the subject. For instance, he exploited the emotional potential of colour by contrasting the ‘wealth of flower and foliage in France’ to the ‘ruin wrought by warfare close at hand’.41 The Times agreed:
A cluster of soldiers’ graves, described as ‘one of Australia’s most sacred spots’, is covered with flowers which have sprung from the shell scarred earth. It might seem that nothing could grow in such soil, and the ordinary photograph would have to be very good indeed to persuade to the contrary. But the coloured photograph is complete proof. These pictures …. should not be missed by any who would learn what photography can accomplish.
Like his British and Canadian counterparts, Bean was now fully attentive to the propagandistic potential of photographs and to the need to massage public opinion. Whilst the exhibition continued its run in London, Bean catalogued the official Australian photographs, including Hurley’s composites, that were to be made available for sale to the public directly from Australia House at a shilling each. Beaverbrook’s British Ministry of Informa¬tion was already selling official photographs directly to the public from a shop front at Piccadilly. Bean also produced several series of lantern slides for the recruiting authority in Australia. As he admitted, ‘the originator of this scheme was really Hurley’.
This extraordinary series of exhibitions attempted to engage, and then re-engage, the public directly in the war. Using all the new visual technologies then available, while drawing on familiar and long established modes of pictorial representation, they attempted to link the experience of the viewing public in London with the unimaginable experiences of those in the trenches. These images sold ‘thrills’ into a competitive marketplace, but thrills that attempted to bring together and reconnect a fracturing nation. Although these images coveted their authenticity, they were also willing to trade some of it in return for the values of coherent spectacle. Different propagandists and photographers evidently took different attitudes with respect to how many facts could be exchanged for how many thrills.
1. Beaverbrook, Memorandum for the Committee from the Minister of Information, House of Lords Records Office, BBK/E/3/4,  1918, 1.
2. J. Carmichael, First World War Photographers, London: Routledge 1989, 16.
3. Beaverbrook, Memorandum for the  Committee,  BBK/E/3/4,   1.
4. Beaverbrook, Report submitted by the Officer in charge, Imperial War Museum, Canadian War Records Office Records, 11 January 1917.
5. Ibid.
6. Beaverbrook, Draft of the ‘Ministry of Information, its Organisation and Work’ for publication in the Windsor magazine, HLRO, BBK/E/3/49, 18 June 1918.
7. Beaverbrook, Report submitted to the Officer in Charge, IWM, 13 March   1918.
8. Beaverbrook, Ministry of Information Minute, HLRO, BBK/E/2/18, 1918, 3.
9. For a more detailed discussion of illustrated newspapers during the First World War, see J. Taylor, War Photography: Realism in the British  Press,  London:  Routledge   1991,   18-51.
10. M. N. Lytton, Note from Photography Section, GHQ, to Ministry of Information, IWM, Ministry of Information files, Box 1, No. 3, 8 January 1918.
11. Canadian official photography is discussed in greater detail in, P. Robertson, ‘Canadian Photojournalism during the First World War’, History of Photography 2:1 (January 1978), 37-52.
12. Catalogue of the Canadian Official War Photographs Exhibition, London: 1916,”n.p.
13. Robertson,    ‘Canadian   Photojournalism’,43.
14. ‘Over the Top’, the meaning of a phrase now familiar. The Canadians making one of their brilliant attacks. Men leaving their trenches’, Illustrated London News, London (21  October 1916), 4.
15. ‘GOING OVER THE TOP: A CHARGE BY THE CANADIAN TROOPS ON THE SOMME FRONT’, The Daily Mirror, London (16 October 1916), 1.
16. ‘CANADIAN OFFICIAL WAR POSTCARDS’, The Daily Mirror, London (6 November 1916), 4.
17. Catalogue of the Canadian Official War Photographs Exhibition.
18. I. Castle, ‘With a camera on the Somme, by the Official Photographer with the Canadian Forces’, Canada in Khaki, London: Canadian War Records Office  1917, 68.
19. Robertson,   ‘Canadian   Photojournalism’,   43.
20. For a detailed study of parallel issues in propaganda films see N. Reeves, Official British Film Propaganda During the First World War, London: Croom Helm 1986 and N. Reeves, ‘Official British Film Propaganda’, The First World War and popular cinema 1914 to the present, New Brunswick:  Rutgers University Press 2000.
21. ‘News and Notes: Canadian War Photographs’, The British Journal of Photography (20 July 1917), 381.
22. Catalogue of the Canadian Official War Photographs Second Exhibition.
23. Ibid.
25. J. Buchan, Utter to Sir Reginald Brade, War Office, HLRO, BBK/ E/3, 14 August 1917.
26. C. E. W. Bean, C. E. W. Bean Diary, Australian War Memorial, AWM38, 3DRL606, series 1, item 94, 20 November 1917.
27. B.-G. J. Charteris, Note to Major Neville Lytton, IWM, Ministry of Information files, 6 January 1917.
28. ‘Exhibitions: Imperial War Photographs in Colour’, The Britisli
Journal of Photography (8 March 1918),  117 and (15 March 1918),
29. ‘Catalogue of the British Official War Photographs in Colour London:
30. Ibid.
31. Beaverbrook, Draft of the ‘Ministry of Information, its Organisation and Work’ for publication in the Windsor magazine, 18 June 1918, HLRO, BBK/E/3/49, 18 June 1918, 9.
32. ‘SOUL OF THE WAR, The King’s tribute to Realism in Pictures, VISIT TO EXHIBITION’, The Daily Mirror Sunday Pictorial, (3 March 1918), 2.
33. C. E. W. Bean Diary, Australian War Memorial, AWM38, 3DRL606, series 1, item 94 20 November 1917, and Ministry of Information file note, IWM, Ministry of Information Files, Box 2, Number 4, 22 March 1918.
34. J. F. Williams, ‘The gilding of battlefield lilies’, The Quarantined Culture: Australian Reactions to Modernism 1013-19)9, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1995, D. MCarthy, Gallipoli to the Somme: the Story of C.  E.   W.  Bean, Sydney: John Ferguson 1983.
35. F. Legg, Once More On My Adventure, Sydney: Ure Smith 1966, 20. F. Hurley, My Diary, Official War Photographer, Commonwealth Military Forces, from 21 August 1911 to 31 August 1918, typewritten manuscript, National Library of Australia, MS883, Series 1, Item 5, 26 October 1917.
38. 39.
This argument and Frank Hurley’s war photography are discussed in greater depth in M. Jolly, ‘Australian First World War Photography: Frank   Hurley   and   Charles   Bean’,   History   of Photography   23:   2 (Summer 1999), 141-148. C.  E.  W. Bean Diary, item 165, 71-72. Hurley, My Diary,  2 October 1917.
40. C.  E.  W.  Bean Diary, 20 November 1917.
41. McCarthy,  Gallipoli to the Somm, 314.
42. Captain Treloar to L. C. Smart, 25 May 1918, Re: Exhibition in the Grafton Galleries, AWM, AWM16, 4375/11/13, 25 May 1918. Catalogue of Australian Official War Pictures and Photographs, London: 1918. Ibid.
45. C. F. Hurley, ‘War Photography’, The Australasian Photo-Review (15 February 1919),  164.
46. ‘Colour Photography of the Battlefield’, The British Journal of Photography (7 June 1918), 24.
47. ‘Colour Photographs. Capt. Hurley’s Work in Palestine’, The Times, London,sssss (June 6, 1918), 5.
48. C. E.  W. Bean Diary, item 116, 26 June 1918.

Robyn Stacey Presents, 1985

Robyn Stacey Presents

Mori Gallery, Sydney October 8-26, 1985


Photofile, Autumn 1986 page 30


Robyn Stacey’s photography has always been concerned with self-perception of self-image. Her handcoloured portraits portray an individual’s sense of their own special character as they present it to her camera.


Her first one person exhibition, held at The Australian Centre for Photography in 1983, approached this problem in a more casual, informal and ‘documentary’ manner than her recent show at Mori Gallery. For her first exhibition she photographed a range of social types, from topless barmaids to Aborigines, to Punks and Rockers. The portraits were generally taken in their subject’s ‘natural’ environments, then enlarged and delicately handcoloured with colour pencils. In this first exhibition, as in the second, her subjects confidently posed for their portraits. However, this self-contained display of self-image generally took place within a particular social environment. All of her subjects were immediately inscribed within a specific social relationship.

This often contradictory interaction between a self contained personality and the surrounding social landscape gave the images a poignant, bitter-sweet accent, as self-image played off social position. For instance in the Queensland Out West series, purchased by the Australian National Gallery, there is a memorable image of three Aboriginal youths clowning for the camera. One proudly wears a tee-shirt bearing the tragically ironic words ‘Shaddup You Face’, from the mock-Italian pop song of the time. In another series of photo­graphs, purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, a punk father tenderly plays with his baby, who sports a mohawk haircut almost as impressive as his dad’s.

Robyn Stacey, Body and Soul I, 1985 colour print

Stacey’s sensitive handcolouring, with the fibres of her pencil strokes just breaking through the photographic surface, added to the emotive power of these images. Their immediate charm may lie in the fact that they fall safely into a long photographic tradition — the documentation of social and cultural phenomena in which the photographer acts as a hyper-sensitized reporter, sending poetic dispatches back from the periphery of society. This tradition has

been celebrated since Robert Frank, at least.

In her latest exhibition, subtitled Well Known Unknowns, Stacey confidently steps out of this tradition and onto the slippery, constantly sliding surface of mediatized imagery and personalised fantasy. In these portraits she retreats from a particular social environment into the non-specific cultural potentiality of the studio. Her subject’s self-perception of self-image becomes the therapeutic acting out of an inner fantasy. Character collapses into characterization as she photographs her friends as mermaids, devils, boxers and Film Noir heroes. She becomes complicit in their manifest imaginings. Quite another photographic tradition is being reinterpreted now, the tradition of the studio portrait, the

glamour photograph, and the fashion spread.

In the sense in which fantasy is important to us all, these image still function as portraits of ‘real’ people. However, Stacey does not sink into that well worn mode of portraiture in which fantasy is used to describe an interior ‘psychological’ space. These portraits are dislodged from a particular psychologi­cal reality, as well as a particular social or cultural environment. They freely float across a thoroughly mediatized field made up of an array of conno-tatively redolent costumes, props, colourful cutouts and dappling projections.

Her images have a disarmingly eccentric, 2D feel. Even the picture surface itself seems to participate in this retreat from the specific and the real. Some of the images, for instance Fantasy at 20,000 Fathoms, axe hand-coloured photographs that have been copied onto colour film; others, such as Water Baby, axe copied 20 x 24 inch Polaroids. These techniques give the photographs a sort of elusive non-presence which oscillates between two kinds of materiality: neither photo­graphic nor graphic, neither true not false, both handcrafted object and technological product.

The referent of these images is no longer a particular personality, rather it becomes popular culture as personal possession. Stacey’s photographs are portraits of chimeric individualities constructed from the dislocated fragments of lovingly remembered postcards, posters, cartoons, films, videos, toys and art works — all the things that comprise Western popular culture.

However, these images are not a commentary on pop culture, they are not reducible to the kitsch or the camp, or even to the second degree. They are to be believed in, Body and Soul. They have been made as serious and well meant additions to the field of mediatized imagery. Ultimately, they are more than just the fun and games of a particular inner city milieu. As portraits they function as images of a personal disavowal. Liberal-humanist notions of cultural and social determinancy are repudiated, and a global regime of univalent, non-denotational imagery is embraced.

However, in this delightful oscillation between personality and image there remains a Taste of Terror which finally gives these images their edge: these images so cunningly and wittily eschew the normal photographic referents of the ‘real’, the ‘psychological’ and the ‘commentary’, they are so self contained, yet so elusive, that they appear to be in danger of spinning Outta Sight all together.


Martyn Jolly