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Focus works

Click the links to view each work in the collection, including an image and more information.

Jeff Carter

The sunbather 1966

‘I don’t regard photography as an art form, although I know it can be for others… To me the camera is simply an unrivalled reporter’s tool. It is an aid to getting the story “properly true,”’ Jeff Carter said in 2006. Working mainly as a photojournalist, Carter wanted to make images that depicted social reality. He aimed to show the ‘unknown’, those people who are rarely seen. His approach resulted in frank, arguably even unflattering, images of Australian life, such as this of a beach-goer in the 1960s, heralding the changing social mores of the time.

Issue for consideration

What is your definition of social reality? What role does the photojournalist play? Consider Jeff Carter’s aim to get 'the story “properly true”’. Do you think this is possible?

Gerrit Fokkema

Woman hosing, Canberra 1979
Blacktown man 1983

Gerrit Fokkema’s photographs of everyday Sydney and Canberra in the early 1980s are examples of Australian photography becoming more self-aware. These decisive snapshots of suburban life reveal an irony and conjure Fokkema’s own history growing up in Queanbeyan. Though captured in seemingly banal settings, the images intrigue, pointing to issues beyond what is represented in the frame. The housewife watering the road and a young tattooed man in front of a car are both depicted alone within a sprawling suburban landscape, suggesting the isolation and boredom in the Australian dream of home ownership. The sense of strangeness in these images is consciously sought by Fokkema, aided by his embrace of the glaring and unforgiving ‘natural’ Australian light.

Issue for consideration

What role does nostalgia play in reading photographs? Find an image from your past and discuss how it informs the viewer about who you are today.

Sue Ford

Sue Pike 1963, printed 1988

Sue Ford’s photograph of her friend Sue Pike blow-drying her hair in the kitchen captures the young woman preparing for a night out. Ford often photographed those close to her as well as continually making self-portraits throughout her career. The photograph is domestic and intimate, showing a common aspect of life for young women in the 1960s. It suggests the procedure of preening necessary to go out and find ‘marriage and children’, while the alcohol and cigarette indicates the emerging movement for women’s liberation.

Issue for consideration

Create an image of a friend that is not posed or set up. Like Sue Ford’s work, does your image embody some type of social meaning, as well as capturing a moment?

David Moore

Crowd control, LBJ visit, Brisbane 1966, printed 1997

This image by David Moore of then US president Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) depicts a crowd of excited men and women being held back by policemen. The first American president to visit Australia, Johnson’s three-day, five-city tour in 1966 was made to say thank you for Australia’s support in the Vietnam War (the tour included a state reception at the Art Gallery of NSW). Cause for much anticipation, Johnson’s brief visit also sparked a series of anti-war protests, notably in Sydney where activists lay before the motorcade on Oxford Street. Moore’s photograph shows just some of the almost 200,000 people who came to see LBJ in Brisbane, an important moment in Australia’s coming-of-age as a nation.

Issue for consideration

Why do you think David Moore chose to photograph the waiting crowd and not the US President at Brisbane airport? Describe the emotional tension in this image. Does reading the accompanying description of this event change your initial understanding of the image?

Hal Missingham

Surf carnival, Cronulla 1968, printed 1978

Photographer and former Art Gallery of NSW director, Hal Missingham wrote in the 1947 Australian Photography annual: ‘In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport…? Where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – What do they do – What do they wear, and think?’ This image points to Missingham’s own attempts to answer that question. An interesting counterpoint to the images taken at Cronulla around 40 years later, here Missingham shows a group of young women standing behind a fence watching as young men train to be lifesavers.

Issue for consideration

What does this image suggest about Australian beach culture in 1968? Is it still a true depiction of this culture today? Discuss whether Australia is still stereotyped as beach-loving. Take a photograph that reflects your perception of typical Australian culture and compare it to Missingham’s image.

Roger Scott

Vietnam march, George Street 1971, printed 1987

Roger Scott has been particularly drawn to the social rituals of recreation and public gatherings, situations which may afford him some anonymity to remain the silent observer. Scott is known for capturing the changing social currents in Australia during the 1970s, exemplified by his photographs of Vietnam War moratorium demonstrations. He wrote in 1974: 'My major aim in photography is to try and portray people as they are, devoid of the fancy frill that the advertising photographer may try to impose. People today are constantly bombarded with contrived and false images which reflect the pampered vanity of our consumer society… In my own way I try to show our times by photographing in a straightforward and uncontrived manner. All I ask of people who view my photos is to take time and open their eyes.’

Issue for consideration

Take a series of photographs as a 'silent observer’ then discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this approach. How does it impact the final images?

Glenn Sloggett

Hope Street 2000
Cheaper & deeper 1996
Mum killers 2001
Empty 1996
Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning 1998

all from the series Cheaper & deeper

These five works by Glenn Sloggett serve as forms of photographic black humour. Devoid of people and always in colour, his photographs often take mundane elements from the world and make us notice their tragicomedy. This group is rooted in a play with text, where the tension between what is written and what we see is paramount. Sloggett makes comment on Australian life and culture, showing how the fringes of towns and the paraphernalia of the everyday give insight into the Australian psyche. Sloggett wrote in 2005: ‘No matter where I go, I always find places and environments that are in the process of falling down. These are the images of Australia that resonate most strongly for me as an artist. I want to capture the last signs of optimism before inevitable disrepair.’

Issue for consideration

Why do you think Glenn Sloggett chose to include text and not include people in these images? How does the composition of each image add further meaning to the work?

William Yang

Ruby’s kitchen, Enngonia 2000
from the series miscellaneous obsessions

‘I don’t think I have a great technical attitude but I am interested in people,’ William Yang said in 1998. Yang is known for his candid photographs of friends and situations he encounters. The images are usually accompanied by a story about his life, sometimes handwritten on the print itself, sometimes spoken aloud in performative contexts. He uses narrative as a way of locating his images in a particular moment in his personal history as well as social history at large. Yang explores themes around Australian and gay identity in a way that is frank and sometimes confronting. In this work, from a series about food, a chunk of kangaroo meat sits casually atop a laminate bench; other Australian icons such as Wonder White and Weet-Bix are also visible. The work allows for a multiplicity of signs to coexist: the slaughtered Australian mascot, the drab generic kitchen, the processed ‘white’ bread, with the Chinese-Australian photographer observing it all.

Issue for consideration

Unpack the symbolic references in this photograph. Discuss the messages it conveys and how it contributes to defining Australia as a nation.

Anne Zahalka

The girls #2, Cronulla beach 2007
from the series Scenes from the Shire

Anne Zahalka said in 1995: ‘I am primarily concerned with… representations to do with place, identity and culture. Through the appropriation and reworking of familiar icons and styles I seek to question (and understand) their influence, meaning and value.’ Twelve years later, Zahalka continues this line of inquiry with the series Scenes from the Shire. In this image, three Muslim girls wearing Burqinis (swimwear made for Muslim women conceived by Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti) are standing cross-armed on Cronulla beach, a lifesaving raft is in the background. Zahalka made this work in response to the Cronulla riots of 2005. The image juxtaposes Muslim tradition with the Australian icon of the lifesaver, suggesting cultural overlap and changing national identity.

Issue for consideration

Research the Cronulla riots of 2005. Discuss Anne Zahalka’s photograph in this social context. Create an artwork of your own in response to this event.