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Australian art


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Billabong and fence



John A. Williams


1958 -


John A. Williams was born in Moree in 1958. He attended Sydney College of the Arts in the late 1970s. After graduating from art school in 1980 Williams returned to Moree to run the family farm. He has exhibited his work mainly in Sydney and northern New South Wales.

This work is from a series entitled ‘Rubbished’ which deals with the changing nature of the Australian landscape. Williams' perspective is a complex one in that his understanding of the environment comes from his knowledge as a farmer as much as it does from his training as an artist. Williams is capable of viewing his local area as 'man made nature' and, through his photographs, presenting these environments not necessarily as damaged but changed and ever changing. Formally, Williams' photograph is a structured image of an overgrown billabong - to an eye which knows nothing of farming and the land the works appear to be elegant, almost romantic documentation. However, there is a detailed subtext: ‘Billabong and fence’ contains information on the arbitrary carving up of the land regardless of natural features. In addition, botanists and farmers would recognise African Boxthorn in the undergrowth - an introduced 'weed'.

Williams is an unusual Australian artist in that he maintains an informed practice dealing with issues to do with 'landscape' away from the main centres. His previous photographic series have dealt primarily with the lives of the local people and the complexities of their interactions with each other. There is always an acute and ironical understanding of human foibles in Williams' works, often underscored by his addition of text. ‘Rubbished’ is somewhat different in that he has left the image to speak for itself. Using a large format, old-fashioned camera (a 1920 Kodak View Camera which was developed specifically for landscape photography) Williams plays on the nostalgia often induced by early topographic photography where 'man made' was often the equivalent of 'civilising force'. In the late twentieth century such notions are complicated by knowledge of the effects of change.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007




Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned




64.0 x 99.5 cm image/sheet (irreg.)

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r.-u.r., blue pen "... John Williams '99".


Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors' Program 1999


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

John A. Williams

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


Bronwyn Clark-Coolee, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Not 'simply' anything', pg.266-287, Sydney, 2007, 286 (illus.).