Charge! And Charge again! And again! And again!

No other Australian battle has been reenacted as often as the Battle of Beersheba. Although the America Civil War is the most reenacted war in history, something about the 1917 charge of the Light Horse on the Turkish foothold in Palestine has the same elements of attraction for Australian reenactors. It’s probably the comforting links back to preindustrial warfare and to an ‘Outback’ national mythos that makes this ANZAC Melbourne Cup so attractive for those who want to feel what it felt like a hundred years ago.

But, reenactment was at the battle’s very origin. For decades a photograph of distant horsemen against a parched horizon was taken to be an authentic document grabbed by a frightened Turk as the 800 hoses thundered down on him. It wasn’t, it was taken by Frank Hurley more than three months after the battle in early 1918. Hurley characteristically exaggerated the number of men put at his disposal for the reenactment to 1000, but the men themselves resented being conscripted for such a ‘rehearsal’ so soon after the trauma of the actual event, and refused to push  their horses to a full gallop.

A supplied image obtained Wednesday, October 11, 2017 of “‘Thunder of a light horse charge’. This photograph has been described as one of the charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba on the 31st October 1917. It’s now believed to have been taken by photographer Frank Hurley in February 1918. (AAP Image/ Australian War Memorial) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Forty Thousand Horsemen

Hurley filmed the charge again twenty years later in 1938, this time as a teaser for the financial backers of Charles Chauvel’s patriotic blockbuster Forty Thousand Horsmen, eventually released right on cue for World War Two in 1940. They borrowed some cavalry horses from Sydney’s sesquicentenary celebrations and got them thunder over the sand hills at Cronulla as Hurley filmed them from a trench dug into the sand. (The future famous war photographer Damien Parer, who also occasionally included reenactments in his subsequent newsreels, was also there filming amongst the horses)

Beersheba Reenactment, Winton Queensland, September 2017

In September this year a hundred horses reenacted the charge at Winton in Queensland, and on the hundredth anniversary of the Battle a couple of days ago Australian enthusiasts reenacted the charge in front of the prime minister and opposition leader back at Beersheba, now in Israel, on  horses borrowed from an Israeli pony club.

Beersheba Reenactment, Israel, October 2017

Beersheba Reenactment, Israel, October 2017

The first assault on the dignitaries was at a slow trot, but later  thirty horses suddenly returned for a charge at full gallop.

Beersheba reenactment, Israel, October 2017

Counter morphologies of the male body in Australian photography

‘Sorely Tried Men: The male body in Australian photography’

paper delivered at the Art Gallery of New South Wales photography symposium, 27 July, 2013.

Powerpoint accompaniment:

Counter morphologies of the male body

Powerpoint gallery:

I love ANZAC biscuits. I usually make my own, but when I was in Woden Woolies last April I couldn’t resist buying this tin of ‘limited edition’ pre-made biscuits. The tin would be so handy, I thought, I could put my own biscuits in there; and it was so handsome, adorned with a photograph of a tower of soldiers, stripped to the waist and embossed into the lid. It’s a long journey from the Borneo of 1945 to the shelves of Woolies in 2013, but these men had taken it, and I couldn’t help thinking it was the nature of their bodies which had sent this photograph on its way.

Almost seventy years later, the male body remains central to our culture: from the affectless cyborg of the blue-tied corporate type, to our future Prime Minister in red speedos, to the blurred body of the drunken footballer caught on CCTV. But it has long been argued by historians of Australia’s visual culture that it is the modernist male body, epitomized by the ANZAC Soldier on my biscuit tin lid, against which all these variants are now defined.

The interwar period, from the 1920s to the 1940s was crucial in creating the template of the nationalistic Australian body, both male and female. The best analysis of the construction of the male body in photography during this time is Isobel Crombie’s wide-ranging analysis of Max Dupain’s photography in her important book Body Culture. In this period the national body of Australia as a whole and the individual bodies of each Australian were seen as one. Australia, it was claimed, was becoming not only a sovereign nation within the British Empire, but also a distinct race. The race was Anglo-Saxon, and was defining itself by both looking into the past, and into the future. The emergent Australian type could be recognized when it seemed to conform to either ancient classical ideals, the Apollonian upright ‘noble’ figure, or modern streamlined forms, made pneumatic with sexual energy. During this period metaphors of health, vitalism, purity and fitness, along with their opposites — contagion, vitiation, pollution and degeneracy — constructed the body at three interpenetrating levels, the physical level of individual bodies, the national level of the Australian race, and the spiritual level of human connectedness with larger life forces.

At the background of all these metaphors were strong currents of social Darwinism, which threw up two specific sciences: eugenics, the deliberate selection for breeding of the fittest and purest part of the population in order to aid the evolutionary advancement of the race; and anthropometrics, the diagnostic measurement of the human body. Because their simultaneous popularity with the Nazi regime in Germany made them suddenly and deeply unfashionable with the onset of World War Two and the Holocaust, it is easy to forget how pervasively popular and mainstream these sciences were in the interwar period. But popular they were: for example suburban surf carnivals mimicked militaristic displays of standardized ideal racial types, and in1926 the corsetry company Berlei in collaboration with physiologists from the University of Sydney undertook an anthropometric study of 6,000 Australian women, some of whom were measured at a special tent erected at Bondi Beach. Termed the National Census of Women’s Measurements it analysed twenty-three different measurements from each woman, which led to the development of the Berlei ‘five Australian figure type’ classification scheme and the ‘figure type indicator’ which was sent out to retailers who would take the customer’s exact measurements and then use them to classify the woman’s figure type for corset selection. As Sue Best has pointed out, the average type was not a statistical average at all, but was a physiologically arbitrary ideal which most Australian women would necessarily fail to live up to.

In the interwar period bodies were things to be sculpted — carved by the ocean, or re-moulded by new corsetry technologies. Bodies were generally seen as moving along one main vertical axis, from degeneracy to regeneracy. The type of body at the top of this axis, the Apollonian body, was most often what was pictured. There are far fewer pictorial examples of the bottom, degenerate end. Crombie illustrates two in her book. She reproduces two 1939 images by Dr Julian Smith from his Pictorialist ‘character studies’: The Blonde, by implication an Aryan type at the top of the racial axis, and ‘Leaf Music’, where the hapless sitter has had his hair styled and has been lit and posed by Smith to imply that he is at the bottom of the axis. The other illustration of degeneracy is A. O. Neville’s well-known and chilling illustration Three Generations, where a happy family portrait is turned into a eugenically genocidal prophecy for Australia.

So far so familiar. I don’t think anything I have said so far would be news to any one here. So I want to spend some time adding some small tangents to this vertical Apollonian axis, specifically in relation to the male body. The force of the ideal male body is upward and outward, a vertical pressure of racial vitality funneled by a tight column of torso muscle and tightly sheathed in a smooth membrane of tanned skin. At its most extreme it is a pneumatic phallus. But even during WW11, just a few years after the classic Modernist photographs of the 1930s, this norm was given surprising new meanings which showed how wobbly the Apollonian axis was.

From 1942 the Civil Construction Core conscripted men between the ages of 35 and 55, who were otherwise ineligible for military service, to work on large building projects in northern and interior Australia. However they quickly began to attract adverse publicity. There was industrial unrest on many projects with workers accusing the management of inefficiency and rorting, and management accusing the workers of unpatriotic union activity. Against this background the Department of Information sent the photographer Edward Cranstone to all the CCC projects. His photographs were published in everything from the communist newspaper the Tribune to the Women’s Weekly, and were eventually formed into a large exhibition, which also included paintings of CCC workers by Dobell and other artists, that toured capital cities in 1944.

As a member of the Communist Party of Australia Cranstone was exposed to a rich source of propagandistic imagery. Soviet socialist photographs were regularly published in the Tribune, and their influence can be clearly seen in Cranstone’s Modernist visual rhetoric — his use of upward looking camera angles, strong diagonal compositions, bright sunlit forms and heroic poses. As one article reviewing the exhibition stated:

The Australian worker—bareheaded, steady-eyed, stripped to the waist—is the dusty, sweating keynote to a display [….] 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.

Cranstone’s men are heroic soldier/worker/pioneer hybrids. The battle they fight is in the industrial workplace and on the colonial frontier. Cranstone has to strive very hard to fit his workers, which were by definition not Australia’s finest, into the Apollonian type. In some images skin is pumped out by muscle, sheened by sweat, and ribboned by shadow as the men vigorously swing crowbars and work machinery, however in other images the visual rhetoric seems too extreme for the men’s actual bodies to live up to.

This may have been what led some commentators to react against their overt visual rhetoric and mechano-machismo, which had been clearly imported from elsewhere and applied externally to their subjects. In Canberra the exhibition was displayed hidden away in the basement of Parliament House rather than in the usual exhibition space of Kings Hall. The Speaker of the House, complaining about the Modernist paintings of William Dobell with their thick fleshy strings of paint, claimed that the show ‘was a grave reflection on the manhood of Australia generally, and particularly the fine types who have discharged essential duties during a critical period in Australia’s history.’ He added, in reference to Cranstone’s brand of photographic Modernism, that a ‘photograph allegedly taken in a quarry made me feel that I was in Dartmoor [Gaol].’ In using an internationalist visual rhetoric to rehabilitate the Australian worker Cranstone had stretched the Apollonian model to breaking point.

Damien Parer was also employed by the DoI, but as a war cameraman. The footage he shot in New Guinea was supplied to newsreel companies to be cut into their weekly newsreels. Parer’s most famous newsreel, Cinesound’s Kokoda Frontline, was essentially a collaboration between himself and the head of Cinesound Ken Hall. Damien Parer appeared as the ‘star’ to introduce the newsreel. After some titles telling us that Parer has already been responsible for some of the ‘classic footage’ of the War and that he is a reliable witness, Kokoda Frontline opens on Parer, in his uniform, in an empty domestic room, leaning casually against a table. The camera slowly moves in on his handsome face as he speaks directly to the camera, attempting to explain to his audience how close the war is:

I’ve seen the war, and I know what your husbands, your sweethearts and brothers are going through.

After this introduction the film cuts to some spectacular combat footage, but most important to the film are the intimate close-ups of the soldiers in retreat down the Kokoda Track with which the film ends. The soldiers either pass in slow procession past the camera, or compose themselves into tableaus as they have their bandages tenderly applied by their mates, or their cigarettes lit. Cut into these sequences are extended close-up shots of the faces of native bearers and Australian soldiers which act as still portraits of various emotions. The hortatory voice over commentary during these scenes contrasts with Parer’s tender pain, but it re-emphasises the theme he established:

This is war, the real thing. The utter weariness of sorely tried men is evident in their faces. […]Half the distance from Sydney to Melbourne men are sweating, suffering, dying in that jungle so that it cannot happen here. Are they getting all the support they deserve, from the mines, from the factories, from the ordinary civilian? […]

In the final seconds Parer’s soft face of concern returns, angelically superimposed over shots of the feet of the soldiers pushing down through mud. He repeats, but now in ghostly tones:

I’ve seen the war, and I know what your husbands, your sweethearts and brothers are going through.

The soldiers in Parer’s films are very different to Cranstone’s workers. The frontline on which they fight is not the domesticated colonial frontier of the purifying, astringent desert, but the dark uncannily wet tunnels of a jungle beyond the borders of Australia. The men are not assertively doing, but passively suffering. Parer’s soldiers are sick, bleeding and blinded. They rely on the tenderness of comrades or natives to survive. Their feet slip through mud as they lean on sticks or each other. They are not symbolic nationalist cyphers like Cranstone’s men, they are individuals, suffering psychological, as well as physical privations on our personal behalf. Parer was a devout Catholic and many have seen spiritual and religious connotations in his work. Many historians have linked Paper’s Catholicism to the composition of one of the final shots of Salvation Army Major Albert Moore lighting a cigarette for a wounded soldier, which is similar to a medieval or renaissance Deposition of Christ painting. The religious analogy is strengthened by the fact that the soldier is naked, covered from the waist down by an army blanket

Through their suffering these men will lead us to redemption. We, the audience of Parer’s newsreels, are feminised: we are wives, mothers or sisters who weakly complain at home and don’t acknowledge the danger from overseas. We see with our own eyes that our delusion and triviality has personally dispirited Parer, when he arrived back he was ‘full of beans’ with ‘the spirit of the troops’ but now he has experienced our complacency, he is worried and upset, his voice drops, and his face tightens.

There is abjection here too, not the auto-phallicisation of man and machine as in the CCC, but a polymorphous blending of mate into mate and man into mud. Australians would have easily recognised this abjection as already part of the ANZAC myth, Australian men similarly suffered together on the beaches of Gallipoli or in the trenches of France.

Parer’s trinity of ‘mother, wives and sisters’ are always present whenever the sacrifice of soldiers is evoked been evoked. For instance the sculptural centrepiece for the memorial which Sydney had built for its WW1 ANZACs was Rayner Hoff’s Sacrifice 1934, in which a symbolic Australian mother, wife and sister hold aloft a lithe, cleansed and perfect male body crucified on a sword, successfully borne up out of the miasma of battle and into a transcendent erotic masculinity. However in Kokoda Frontline Parer is sadly compelled to inform the women of WW11 Australia that, unlike these women, they have abandoned their soldiers to an abject eroticism.

The newsreel’s powerful message is that, in the darkest hour of the War, while their women are still enthralled by false images and trivial concerns, it is up to desperately abjected soldiers, redeemed by the spiritually defined eroticism of mateship, to defend Australia. In contrast to Parer’s psychologically specific homo-eroticism, Cranstone’s internationally symbolic, stylised auto-eroticism attempted, not always successfully, to redeem the home front labours of another potentially unstable category of Australian male — the worker.

Whilst these two types of male body were produced at a particular extraordinary juncture of Australian history and culture I cannot resist the temptation to extrapolate them into later manifestations. The obvious place to look is not the battlefield but the sporting field. In 1963 the Fairfax photographer John O’Gready photographed two captains coming off the field after the Rugby League Grand Final. The coating of mud turned the footballers into bronze statues, while also referring to the battlefield mud of World Wars One and Two, where sublime mateship was forged in abjecting slime. In 1982 the cigarette company Winfield used the photograph for their Grand Final trophy. The enveloping of the Apollonian body within the abject still pervades contemporary sports photography. Many photographs, particularly around the State of Origin games, reprise the abjecting mud and eroticizing intimacy of war, as well as extreme pneumatic auto-phallicization.

If, back in the interwar period, the abject and the rhetorical complicated the simple Apollonian narrative of the supposed Australian race, revealing it as nothing more than a portable nationalistic rhetoric, in the case of Cranstone; or one which could be quickly supplanted by other models of masculinity in extremis — the abject and feminized, in the case of Parer, where there other forces also at work? The Berlei corsetry company had identified five different types of Australian female bodies, were there other types of male body? Two comedians dominated the Australian vaudeville scene in the interwar period. One, Roy Rene, was a slump-shouldered Semitic type in heavy make-up who slyly simpered lewd double-entendres. The other, George Wallace, played a naively optimistic, child-like, working class, everyman character. Wallace had a low-slung body, short legs, and a stomach hanging over his belt, which was a direct contradiction to the upward torso-led thrust of the Apollonian body.

Wallace’s low centre of gravity was perhaps a nascent beer-gut, and the beer grew to become more important in Australian culture as the decades progressed. In the compilation Australian Photography of 1947 virtually all of the bodies are Apollonian, however ten years later, in Australian Photography of 1957, there is a whole double paged spread devoted to humorous or pathetic images of fat people. In another ten years, in the extremely important book Southern Exposure, by David Beal and Donald Horne, the beer gut makes it to the front cover, as a national trope of self indulgence, which is contrasted with an image of interior aridity on the back cover. By then the beer gut had become a perverse image of Australianness, for instance in a 1961 a Tanner cartoon connected it to conservative older generations standing in the way of women’s progress, an opposition homage in 1993 in a Nicholson cartoon where the beer gut was directly contrasted to the proudly black Apollonian body of the indigenous footballer Nicky Winmar. In a further ten years after Southern Exposure the beer gut, which had been used by the young firebrands Horne and Beal to indict Australia, had been adopted by the Australian Government in their national fitness campaign Life Be In It, attached to the archetypally unfit, but loveable Australian — Norm. Lately, however there have been signs of a the beer gut coming in a complete cycle, with men reclaiming their beer guts as an ironic part of a new metropolitan, feminized, masculinity.

In conclusion it is clear that the Apollonian axis, identified by so many historians, is still the dominant one, but it is not the only one, the male body is more complex that that, and has taken up many different morphologies throughout its history from the high points of Modernity, until now.

H.P. Brown,(Commissioner) Inquiry under the National Security Regulations into certain allegations concerning the administration of the Allied Works Council   5 March 1943.

K.K. ‘Australia Portrayed Stripped to the Waist’ Melbourne Herald 3 August 1944, p5.

Massey Stanley ‘Art Critic’ Sunday Telegraph 24 September 1944, p10.

Neil McDonald War Cameraman: The Story of Damien Parer, Lothian 1994, pp157-158.

Leigh Astbury ‘Death and eroticism in the ANZAC Legend’ Art and Australia Spring 1992 Vol 30 No 1, pp68-73.

 

 

 

Will the Angels Let Me Play — complete magic lantern perfomance video

On July 24, 2014, I was able to project a show of five magic lantern song-slide sets and one recitation set from my ‘Iron Duke’ lantern of 1905, with some additional effects added from a smaller 1890s lantern. Professor Peter Tregear and Dr Kate Bowan from the ANU School of Music sang and played the original words and music, and they were fabulous. Trevor Anderson from the National Film and Sound Archive also operated the ‘effects’ lantern for the angel effect in Jane Conquest. The event was part of the History, Cinema Digital Archives organised by Jill Matthews from the Humanities Research Centre and held in the theatrette of the NFSA. Here is our original abstract:

Martyn Jolly, Kate Bowan and Peter Tregear: ‘Will the Angels Let Me Play’, and other songs and recitations: a performance of magic lantern slides with song and piano

Collections such as the National Film and Sound Archive or Museum Victoria hold hundreds of magic lantern ‘song slides’. These sets of hand-coloured glass transparencies were produced in the early twentieth century to promote the sale of the sheet music for popular songs. They were projected by a magic lantern and accompanied by musicians and singers. Their popularity peaked with the First World War. The slides that remain, with their sentimental and melodramatic storylines, surreal photographic montages, and lurid hand-colouring, are still fascinating when we see them on the museum light box, or see the digitized copy in a museum database. But they were made to be performed, and were part of a technical ensemble which included the magic lantern, a musician’s performance and, most importantly, a singer’s voice. For this presentation this complete ensemble will be brought together once more, the slides will be projected by vintage magic lanterns and accompanied by live music and singing from the original sheet music. Will this be a reenactment, like we might see at an historical theme park? Or will it be authentic interpretation, such as an early music ensemble might perform on their antique instruments in a concert hall? Why bother with an original magic lantern when the optics and resolution of a contemporary scanner and data projector can reveal more detail more conveniently? And, no matter how brilliant the performers are, is it even possible to re-enter the affective power of a long ago performance when so much has changed in the meantime? Through this practice-led research experiment, and through subsequent discussion with the audience, these questions and other will be explored.

Bronwyn Coupe has now edited a video of the complete performance, cunningly disguising my mistakes with edited-in digital copies of a few of the slides, but retaining the flavour of my projections, and the brilliance of Kate and Peter. Here it is:

Will the Angels Let Me Play and other songs and recitations, a performance re-enactment for magic lantern, voice and piano

I learnt a lot from the experience. Fortunately I had Ian Christie turning the pages of my cue sheets for me, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the changes for any of the songs! As it was I muddled two. Despite my rehearsals I need to have a better system for quickly accessing the slides in the dark, I was scrabbling around. I also think I should have realised that there was a certain amount of redundancy built into the slide sets by the manufacturers, and I could have left some out which would have given me more time to load the slide changer. The authority and smoothness (or lack of it) with which I changed and focussed the slides also became very important for the audience’s experience. The light levels in the auditorium— to satisfy both projection from the lanterns with their relatively low-lumen output from the LED floodlights I had in them, as well as the necessity for Kate and Peter to be able to read the music — was also crucial. I have been reading nineteenth and early twentieth century newspaper review of lantern shows in Australia and exactly these same issues are frequently reported on — both negatively and positively — by the writers. The audience discussion afterwards didn’t decisively answer any of the questions raised in the abstract. However it covered the historical accuracy, or inaccuracy, of our ‘re-enactment’ — a big issue with some of the experts in the audience — and the general visual culture of the period — in both America and the UK where the slides were made, and in Australia where they were shown. Also discussed were small but crucial details such as the lack of gain in the painted wall on which I was projecting, compared to the modern cinema screen on which the digital versions were projected. But there was enough there to go on with.

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.

Notes

  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
    1994.

Composite Propaganda Photographs during the First World War 2013

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:
WAR PICTURES WITHOUT EQUAL,
CANADIAN BATTLE SNAPS, SHOTS THAT
WILL THRILL
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.
Notes
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.
24. ‘WAR PICTURES WITHOUT EQUAL, CANADIAN BATTLE SNAPS, SHOTS THAT WILL THRILL’, The Daily Mirror, London (16 July 1917) .
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),
130.
29. ‘Catalogue of the British Official War Photographs in Colour London:
1918.
36.
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.
37.
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.
43.
44.
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.
165

The World War Two Experience. Multimedia in the new Australian War Memorial Galleries

‘Past Projections: multimedia in the new Australian War Memorial galleries’ Real Time 33, October/November, 1999.

The Australian War Memorial’s new WW11 galleries were opened in March this year, after a two and a half year development period at a cost of five million dollars. They replaced a venerable display which had been there since 1971, and have already been credited with increasing attendance by 35%.

The Memorial’s original function was to show grieving relatives the experiences their lost loved one’s had had overseas; to allow mates to remember mates; and to tell the story of a nation and its historical destiny. However its recent audience research indicated that it’s audience, and therefore its function, has now changed. Visitors now come to the Memorial from radically dispersed trajectories. Only 10% of visitors are old enough to have lived through WW11, and the ethnic composition of Australia has radically globalised in the fifty years since it was at war.

The purpose of the new display is no longer to reconnect relatives and friends, revive memories, and explain national destiny; it must now create experiences, generate memories and tell subjective stories. The Memorial is no longer the geologically hulking edifice at the bedrock of our common national identity, it is now one institutional attraction competing with others for audience share. The display therefore incorporates a much broader selection of artefacts and information, foregrounding a wider range of personal experiences from the War. And it also relies on multimedia and immersive technologies as never before—deploying over 100 audio, video and sensory devices. The objective of these technologies is to, in John Howard’s opening words, create “a very moving experience … to reach out to younger generations”.

Approaching the WW11 galleries you hear a cacophonous roar, a bit like a shopping mall on a Saturday morning. Entering the galleries there’s a sense of bombardment: sound leaks out from a multitude of hidden speakers and bounces from the many hard surfaces. (This problem is now being addressed) Ambient lighting is low and the objects on display are individually picked out by spotlights giving a visually fragmented, subjectively dislocated, feel to the display. Although there is an attempt to create quieter contemplative ‘pavilions’ and chapel-like spaces within the display, generally these cannot withstand the barrage.

The core of the display is the artefacts collected by the Memorial during the War and donated to it since. As always these provide the indexical charge to the display; but they are surrounded and harassed by technology. The display cases are crowded with flat screen TVs showing newsreel footage. Data projectors are extensively used to animate maps and models. Few objects are left to their own devices, to mutely exist in their own time. Even the dark wooden top of the table on which the surrender of Singapore was signed is used as an inappropriate screen for a newsreel projection.

The War Memorial produced it’s own content using audience focus groups, but outsourced the design and installation of the displays to Cunningham Martyn Design, Australian Business Theatre and multimedia consultant Gary Warner. Previously the memorial was a special experience for visitors, its unique model dioramas and uncanny, sepulchral atmosphere permanently marked many a childhood psyche. This new display is brighter and livelier certainly, but it also conforms to a standard corporate display style — the plate glass, steel rod look — that exists in any number of shops and museums. There is now a bigger phenomenological gap for visitors to cross between these didactic history displays and the sacred mnemonic heart of the Memorial — the cloisters and the Hall of Memory (into which Paul Keating conveniently inserted a pacemaker when he buried an Unknown Soldier  there in 1993). The Memorial’s original didacticism, the attempt to convey an historical understanding of war — however ideologically compromised — and to encourage a transference of empathy back across the generations, is being replaced by an attempt to technologically create a sense of immediate, individuated sensory experience.

Sometimes this works, if a sense of temporal distance is maintained, as in the disembodied voices of Australian POWs telling their stories in a reconstruction of an empty sleeping hut. But sometimes it doesn’t. The most problematic part of the display is a simulation of a bombing run over Germany in which the floor shakes as though by the airplane’s engines and we look down through the bomb bay doors at WW11 Europe sliding below. This recreates the fear felt by young Australian air force servicemen at being shot down. Reportedly, Returned WW11 air crew visiting a preview of the installation found it so affecting they had leave during the experience. Certainly the kids love it. But they love their experience of it is in the present. I didn’t see any emotional transference to, or identification with, the servicemen’s fear which this ‘ride’ was meant to commemorate. It was ironic, too, that the aspect of War chosen for the most ‘realistic’ simulation was the one where the original experience was already most virtual, remote, and technologically mediated.

For me a more successful use of technology was in the new Orientation Gallery where a large, looped, digital video of spectral diggers coming ashore at Gallipoli and fading into History to the thud of sniper bullets, which was projected behind an actual Gallipoli landing boat, created a suggestive atmosphere rather than a descriptive experience. It let the landing boat exist in its own historical time, rather than be dragged into a perpetual present of technological performance. The use of Digger ghosts (played by keen Memorial staff in costume shot against blue screen, then digitally montaged over video of the actual Gallipoli landing place by the Sydney firm Audience Motivation) grows from an evolving, long standing, visual tradition of ANZAC memory — for instance the freeze frame in Weir’s film Gallipoli and William Longstaff’s creepy Menin Gates painting.

Clearly the displays of national museums do need to changes as audiences change.  And clearly technologies of video, projection and simulation must inevitably play a major part in these changes. Particularly as so much of our past is know to us through film and video anyway, and technologies have always been excellent at producing phantasmagoric spectacles and virtual spectres. Yet technology must still be made to do what it has only partially done at the War Memorial: create historical knowledge not just immediate experience; and leave a space for viewers to make an imaginative leap and project themselves into time, rather than be the passive screens for a dislocated series of projections from the past.

Martyn Jolly

Martyn Jolly is Head of Photomedia at the ANU Canberra School of Art

‘Sorely tried men’ : the male body in World War Two Australia

as published with illustrations in Artlink, Vol 16, No 1, Autumn, 1996.

During World War Two  the Australian Government’s Department of Information represented the male body in at least two distinct ways. The photographer Edward Cranstone photographed a heroically active, phallicised body; and the cameraman Damien Parer filmed a heroically suffering, abject body.

Edward Cranstone’s main assignment for the DOI was to photograph the Civil Construction Corps of the Allied Works Council. (1) Established in 1942 the AWC conscripted men between the ages of 35 and 55, who were otherwise ineligible for military service, to work on large building projects in northern and interior Australia. However the CCC quickly began to attract adverse publicity. There was industrial unrest on many projects with workers accusing the management of inefficiency and rorting, and management accusing the workers of unpatriotic union activity. (2) Against this background the DOI sent Cranstone, accompanied by a journalist who wrote captions, on an extended assignment to all the AWC projects. His photographs were extensively published in the press, in everything from the Tribune to the Women’s Weekly, and were eventually formed into a large exhibition, which also included paintings of CCC workers by Dobell and other artists, that toured capital cities in 1944.

As a member of the Communist Party of Australia Cranstone was exposed to a rich source of propagandistic imagery. Soviet socialist photographs were regularly published in the Tribune, and the Soviet Australia Friendship League held frequent screenings of classics of revolutionary cinema. Their influence can be clearly seen in Cranstone’s Modernist visual rhetoric — his use of upward looking camera angles, strong diagonal compositions, bright sunlit forms and heroic poses. Although the Soviet photography published in the Tribune can be identified as a specific source for Cranstone, his was a global style shared by other American, British and German propaganda photographers of the period.

Cranstone’s photographs appear to have been effective in persuading the public of the value of the CCC’s contribution to the War effort. As one article reviewing the exhibition stated:

The Australian worker—bareheaded, steady-eyed, stripped to the waist—is the dusty, sweating keynote to a display of about 450 photographs [….] 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.(3)

Cranstone’s men are heroic soldier/worker/pioneer hybrids. The battle which they fight is in the familiar industrial workplace and on the equally familiar colonial frontier. There is a strong erotics to many of Cranstone’s photographs: skin is pneumatically pumped out by muscle, sheened by sweat, and ribboned by shadow; the men vigorously swing crowbars and work machinery.  His photographs turn their bodies, which were by definition not Australia’s finest, into splendid specimens indeed.

Although Cranstone’s photographs were widely exhibited and published and generally well received, some commentators reacted against their overt visual rhetoric and mechano-eroticism. In Canberra the exhibition was displayed hidden away in the basement of Parliament House rather than in the usual exhibition space of Kings Hall. The Speaker of the House, complaining about the Modernist paintings of William Dobell with their thick fleshy strings of paint, claimed that the show “was a grave reflection on the manhood of Australia generally, and particularly the fine types who have discharged essential duties during a critical period in Australia’s history.” He added, in reference to Cranstone’s brand of photographic Modernism, that a “photograph allegedly taken in a quarry made me feel that I was in Dartmoor [Gaol].”(4)

Damien Parer was also employed by the DOI, but as a war cameraman. The footage he shot in New Guinea was supplied to newsreel companies to be cut into their weekly newsreels. Parer’s two most famous newsreels, Cinesound’s Kokoda Frontline and Assault on Salamau, were essentially collaborations between himself and the head of Cinesound Ken Hall. In both cases Damien Parer appeared as the ‘star’ to introduce the newsreels. After some titles telling us that Parer has already been responsible for some of the ‘classic footage’ of the War and that he is a reliable witness, Kokoda Frontline opens on Parer, in his uniform, in an empty domestic room, leaning casually against a table. The camera slowly moves in on his handsome face as he speaks directly to the camera.

Eight days ago I was with our advanced troops in the jungle facing the Japs at Kokoda. Its an uncanny sort of warfare, you never see a Jap, even though he is only twenty yards away. They are complete masters of camouflage and deception, […] Don’t underestimate the Jap, he’s a highly trained soldier, well disciplined and brave, and although he’s had some success up until the present, he’s now got against him some of the finest and toughest troops in the world, troops with a spirit amongst them that makes you intensely proud to be an Australian. […] When I returned to Moresby I was full of beans, it was the spirit of the troops and the knowledge that General Rowell was on the job, and now that we had a really fine command. But when I came back to the mainland, what a difference, I heard girls talking about dances, and men complaining about the tobacco they didn’t get; at the front, they were smoking tea some of the time. There seems to be an air of unreality, as though the war were a million miles away. Its not, its just outside our door now. I’ve seen the war, and I know what your husbands, your sweethearts and brothers are going through. If only everybody in Australia could realise that this country is in peril, that the Japanese are a well equipped and dangerous enemy, they might forget about the trivial things and go ahead with the job of licking them.

After this introduction the film cuts to some spectacular combat footage, but most important to the film are the intimate close-ups of the soldiers in retreat down the Kokoda Trail with which the film ends. The soldiers either pass in slow procession past the camera, or compose themselves into tableaus as they have their bandages tenderly applied by their mates, or their cigarettes lit. Cut into these sequences are extended close-up shots of the faces of native bearers and Australian soldiers which act as still portraits of various emotions. The hortatory voice over commentary during these scenes contrasts with Parer’s tender pain, but it re-emphasises the theme he established:

[…] [Here are the] first vivid, starkly dramatic glimpses of the eerie jungle conflict. [Showing] almost incredible hardship. […] Where the patrols go the bearded Parer goes too, so that this strange uncanny warfare can be vividly brought to the outside world. […] This is war, the real thing. The utter weariness of sorely tried men is evident in their faces. […] These are grim pictures, brutally, terribly real, they smash a complacency as nothing written or spoken ever possibly could. […] Half the distance from Sydney to Melbourne men are sweating, suffering, dying in that jungle so that it cannot happen here. Are they getting all the support the deserve, from the mines, from the factories, from the ordinary civilian? […]

In the final seconds Parer’s soft face of concern returns, angelically superimposed over shots of the feet of the soldiers pushing down through mud. He repeats, but now in ghostly tones:

I’ve seen the war, and I know what your husbands, your sweethearts and brothers are going through. If only everybody in Australia could realise that this country is in peril, that the Japanese are a well equipped and dangerous enemy, they might forget about the trivial things and go ahead with the job of licking them.

The newsreel was immediately successful, with a queue snaking out from Sydney’s State Theatre newsreel theatrette and around into George Street. The soldiers in Parer’s films are very different to Cranstone’s workers. The frontline on which they fight is not the domesticated colonial frontier of the purifying, astringent desert, but the dark uncannily wet tunnels of a jungle beyond the borders of Australia. The men are not assertively doing, but passively suffering. Parer’s soldiers are sick, bleeding and blinded. They rely on the tenderness of comrades or natives to survive. Their feet slip through mud as they lean on sticks or each other. They are not symbolic nationalist cyphers like Cranstone’s men, they are individuals, suffering psychological, as well as physical privations on our personal behalf.

Parer was a devout Catholic and many have seen spiritual and religious connotations in his work.

Ron Williams [another DOI filmmaker] believes that Parer was portraying redemption emerging out of suffering in these sequences. While Damien’s notes give no indication of any such intention, one particular shot does have a religious undertone. It shows Salvation Army Major Albert Moore on the far right of the frame lighting a cigarette for a wounded soldier. This is carefully balanced by a group of soldiers on the other side. Parer’s composition is similar to a medieval or Renaissance painting showing as its centrepiece Christ being taken down from the cross. The religious analogy is strengthened by the fact that the soldier is naked, covered from the waist down by an army blanket.(5)

Through their suffering these men will lead us to redemption. We, the audience of Parer’s newsreels, are feminised: we are wives, mothers or sisters who weakly complain at home and don’t acknowledge the danger from overseas. Like Orpheus, Parer has been both there and here. He has suffered too, and has returned, but our indifference is making him suffer again. Unabashed emotion and direct physical contact is both the conduit and evidence of this transaction—it becomes the subject of the newsreel itself. We see with our own eyes that our delusion and triviality has personally dispirited Parer, when he arrived back he was ‘full of beans’ with ‘the spirit of the troops’ but now he has experienced our complacency, he is worried and upset. His voice drops, and his face tightens.

There is an eroticism here too. Not the auto-phallicisation of man and machine as in the CCC, but a polymorphous blending of mate into mate and man into mud. Australians would have easily recognised this eroticism as already part of the ANZAC myth, Australian men similarly suffered together on the beaches of Gallipoli or in the trenches of France. Citing Julia Kristeva and Klaus Theweleit, Leigh Astbury has explained how this eroticism was understood into gender terms.

Again and again accounts of war emphasise the stinking ooze, mud, slush, stench, slime, rotting corpses, gore, human excreta—hybrid substances and odours that could be associated in the male mind with the body, especially with its orifices and, negatively, with the erotogenic zones of the female. Given the soldier’s morbid fear of anxiety-producing, hybrid substances connected with the body, abjection could only be held in abeyance through controlling the body’s purity and integrity and expelling from it the improper and unclean. (6)

However rather than conventionally describing it as that against which the phallic ANZAC heroically struggles to define itself, to Parer the abjection of New Guinea is something to which this generation of ANZAC, mired in the grimmest days of the War, must heroically succumb.

Parer’s trinity of ‘mother, wives and sisters’ had been evoked once before in relation to Australian warrior masculinity. The sculptural centrepiece for the memorial which Sydney had built for its WW1 ANZACs was Rayner Hoff’s Sacrifice 1934. In this sculpture a symbolic Australian mother, wife and sister hold aloft a lithe, cleansed and perfect male body crucified on a sword, they successfully bear him up out of the miasma of battle and into a transcendent erotic masculinity. However in Kokoda Frontline Parer is sadly compelled to inform the women of WW11 Australia that, unlike these women, they have abandoned their soldiers to an abject eroticism.

The newsreel’s powerful message is that, in the darkest hour of the War, while their women are still enthralled by false images and trivial concerns, it is up to desperately abjected soldiers, redeemed by a spiritually defined homo eroticism, to defend Australia. In contrast to Parer’s psychologically specific homo-eroticism, Cranstone’s internationally symbolic, stylised auto-eroticism redeemed the home front labours of another potentially unstable category of Australian male—the worker.

Whilst these two types of male body were produced at a particular extraordinary juncture of Australian history and culture I cannot resist the temptation to extrapolate them into later manifestations. Cranstone’s phallic cyphers of labour have certainly found their way into corporate annual report photography. Large corporations such as BHP still, from time to time, use these ‘masculinist automatons’ as nostalgic labourist archetypes, particularly in areas which are undergoing extreme technological transformation. (7)  However this type of pneumatic body, flexing itself against machinery in self-absorbed labour, is perhaps more commonly seen today in the productivist potlaches of the gym.

The Winfield Cup statuette, The Gladiators, sculpted from a photograph of two David and Goliath sized Grand Final team captains helping each other off a muddy football field in 1963, has strong references back to WW11 imagery of the abjected soldier. Does the eroticism of male sport still rely on a mute accusation against sisters, mothers and wives?

Martyn Jolly

1 Martyn Jolly ‘Edward Cranstone: Photographer’ Photofile Vol 1 No 1 1984, pp1-3.

2 H.P. Brown,(Commissioner) Inquiry under the National Security Regulations into certain allegations concerning the administration of the Allied Works Council    5 March 1943.

3 K.K. ‘Australia Portrayed Stripped to the Waist’ Melbourne Herald 3 August 1944, p5.

4 Massey Stanley ‘Art Critic’ Sunday Telegraph 24 September 1944, p10.

5 Neil McDonald War Cameraman: The Story of Damien Parer, Lothian 1994, pp157-158.

6 Leigh Astbury ‘Death and eroticism in the ANZAC Legend’ Art and Australia  Spring 1992 Vol 30 No 1, pp68-73.

7 Charles Pickett ‘BHP & the Village People’ The Lie of the Land, Powerhouse and National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University, pp27-28.

Captions will be supplied with illustrations