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Aboriginal women dancing

1940s-1960s, printed later


Laurence Le Guay


25 Dec 1916 – 02 Feb 1990

No image
  • Details

    Other Title
    Women and children dancing Northern Territory
    1940s-1960s, printed later
    Media category
    Materials used
    gelatin silver photograph
    29.1 x 36.8 cm image; 29.8 x 37.4 cm sheet
    Signature & date

    Not signed. Not dated.

    Purchased 1978
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Estate of Laurence Le Guay
    Artist information
    Laurence Le Guay

    Works in the collection


  • About

    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

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 3 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 3 publications

Other works by Laurence Le Guay

See all 23 works