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Australian art


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Untitled 1985/86, from the series Untitled 1985/86



Bill Henson


1955 -


‘I think when a picture is really working one forgets about the distinctions between real and not real, and the whole experience becomes much more interesting because you are taken somewhere else, to another place, but (fabulously) a place which is still always inside you.’ Bill Henson 2003 1

Bill Henson’s photography embodies a pervasive sense of stillness, which is laden with suggestion and suspended between recognition and memory. For more than three decades he has sought to give visual form to liminal conditions, charting the exquisite passage of light through skies at dusk and twilight, and imaging the gauche beauty of adolescence. These are moments of uncertainty and becoming. The German Romantics considered the relationship between nature and humankind too, their atmospheric paintings of beauty, yearning and mystery placing great emphasis on the subjectivity of the viewer. Henson’s photographs are charged with related sensibilities; skies, roads and the surface of skin imbued with elusive qualities in which the tension between light and dark, figure and ground and the intense sumptuousness of his printing style generate an aura of calm expectation. He works in series, using content and light to build associations between images, producing an effect that is similar to a fragment of thought or spark of memory. ‘Untitled 1985/86’ (a series of 154) groups together photographs of light shimmering on the rooftops of suburban houses and touching the inscriptions of ancient sites, along with close-ups of people. Although the subject matter is diverse, the tone of the series is unwavering, generating a continuum between past spaces, present domiciles and the people who may dwell within them.

1. Smee S 2003, 'Light versus dark', 'Independent Magazine', 15 Mar p 13

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




Media category


Materials used

type C photograph




106.5 x 86.5 cm image; 131.5 x 104.5 cm sheet; 134.5 x 113.5 x 4.0 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed l.r. sheet, ink "Bill Henson". Dated l.c. sheet, ink "...1985/86".


Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1988


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Bill Henson

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


Art Gallery of New South Wales, Great gifts, great patrons: an exhibition celebrating private patronage of the Gallery, Sydney, 1994. no catalogue numbers

Sandra Byron and Isobel Crombie, Twenty contemporary Australian photographers - from the Hallmark Cards Australian Photographic Collection, Melbourne, 1990, 43 (illus.).

Bill Henson and Judy Annear, Mnemosyne, Sydney, 2005, 315 (colour illus.).