Aboriginal women dancing
Laurence Le Guay
25 Dec 1916 - 02 Feb 1990
Laurence Le Guay was one of the leading fashion and advertising photographers in Sydney from 1946. A war photographer with the Royal Australian Air Force during the Second World War, Le Guay developed a passion for travel and accompanied expeditions to northern and central Australia, New Guinea and Antarctica in the postwar years. On assignment for ‘National Geographic’ Le Guay photographed Indigenous Australians, but rather than documenting political, economic or social injustice, his interest lay in challenging the aesthetics of photo-pictorialism. His editorial for ‘Contemporary photography’ in 1949 stated the need to ‘translate the fear, love, hatred and humour of life into an art form which can be readily understood.’1 ’Aboriginal women dancing’, also titled ‘Women & children dancing Northern Territory’, gives no further information as to community, place or cultural significance.2
Le Guay’s composition suggests a ‘primitivist’ western idea of women in nature. The image can be read as exotic, voyeuristic, as the group in failing light emerges from the dark surrounding bushes, singing and dancing, scuffing the sand on a dry riverbed. They avoid or are unaware of the camera’s gaze as the central woman whose upper naked body is painted with ceremonial design leads the dancers, passing her knowledge to the three young girls on the right whose grouping could suggest classical Roman or Grecian ‘three graces’. In the ambiguous landscape it is the strange light which illuminates the cultural strength and close connection of the women, a bond that is readily understood by the viewer who is then repositioned as the outsider. Le Guay reduces the significance of their ceremony to atmospheric theatre.
1. Willis A-M 1988, 'Picturing Australia: a history of photography', Angus & Robertson Publishers, Sydney p 193
2. Falkiner S & Le Guay L 1980, 'Australian Aborigines: shadows in a landscape', Globe Publishing, Australia
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
Women and children dancing Northern Territory
1940s-1960s, printed later
gelatin silver photograph
29.1 x 36.8 cm image; 29.8 x 37.4 cm sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Not on display
Shown in 3 exhibitions
Referenced in 3 publications
Robert McFarlane, Critic's Choice, Sydney, 1994.
Gael Newtown, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'Photography - Australian, European and American', pg. 67-84, Sydney, 1981, 78 (illus.). cat.no. 26
Rose Peel, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Australian postwar photo-documentary', pg.189-207, Sydney, 2007, 194, 196 (illus.).