This is the third in a series of annual symposia exploring current approaches to photographic history and theory.
Modernist bodies will consider the ways in which photographic practice informed and reflected modernity in Australia. In particular, it will address the role of the medium in shaping ideas of Australian nationalism in the interwar years, during which major interdisciplinary exchanges informed experimental photographic depictions of the body that articulated ideas of race, gender and identity.
11am Symposium welcome and introduction
Judy Annear, senior curator, photographs, Art Gallery of NSW
11.25am Picture me now: in the shadow of Truganini’s gaze
Brenda L Croft, Senior Research Fellow, National Institute for Experimental Arts, College of Fine Arts, The University of New South Wales
The (in)famous CA Woolley image of Truganini (full face) (1866), taken ten years prior to her death at the approximate age of 64, has seared itself onto Australia’s national psyche as the collective sign of the trauma inflicted upon Indigenous people since first contact with non-Indigenous colonisers. Truganini, also known as Lallah Rookh, a woman from the Nuenonne people of the southeast of Tasmania was forced into the unwarranted role as signifier of the 'last of the Tasmanian Aborigines’. In life Truganini’s body was a living museum specimen, in death she was defiled with her skeleton being placed on public display until the middle of the 20th century. Her spirit was finally set free a century after her death with her cremated remains scattered in the D’Entrecasteaux River as she had wished. Truganini’s immense distress was evident in those last images of her stricken face and it is within the long shadow cast by her gaze that the representation of Aboriginal people taken during the modernist era will be discussed, including representations by relatively unknown Aboriginal photographers.
12pm Obliteration: the camouflaged body and photography in modern war
Ann Elias, Associate Professor, Theoretical Enquiry, Sydney College of the Arts, The University of Sydney
Abstraction’s dissolution of form, surrealism’s estrangements of vision and collage’s disorientation of perspective were trends in modernist photography that were also vital in Australia for the development of wartime camouflage. With war culture creating a new consciousness of the body in relation to surveillance technologies, Australian photographers including Max Dupain were deployed to enable and empower the camouflaged body. Where in everyday social life it was the body’s distinction that mattered, in wartime it was its disappearance. This paper discusses war culture and the central role of photography for achieving the body’s protective obliteration.
1.35pm 'Sorely tried men’: the male body under morphological stress in Australian photography
Martyn Jolly, Head of Photography and Media Arts, School of Art, Australian National University
This paper will map some of the different morphological stresses the male body has undergone throughout the history of Australian photography. The Apollonian bodies of Max Dupain exemplified by his Sunbaker (1937) are well known, but what of the photographic representation of men’s bodies abjected by the trenches of France or the mud of New Guinea during the two world wars which bookended this period of modernity? Did they have a similar cultural significance? Can we draw a trajectory to the visual culture of sport during the last few decades where the pneumatic footballer’s body is often photographed smeared with the lubricous sweat and blood of the field?
These tensions that ripple over the surfaces of men’s bodies seem to be accompanied by changes in their internal centre of gravity. In the 1930s while the phallicised body of modernity was being celebrated by photographers on our beaches, the low-slung comedian George Wallace was performing pratfalls on stage and in film. By the 1960s his body shape had become a full-blown beer gut, featuring in many photographs and cartoons. In time it would become a symbol of national degeneration. Photographs of men’s bodies have been used as sites of debate around the national body politic as a whole.
2.15pm Panel discussion
Brenda L Croft, Ann Elias and Martyn Jolly, chaired by Judy Annear
Image: Max Dupain Untitled (chisel and spiral shell) from the album Volume of 20 photographs by Max Dupain, not dated, gelatin silver photograph, 30 × 23.8 cm image/sheet, gift of Diana Dupain 2003