British photographic history

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Exhibition: The photograph and Australia, March-June 2015

The photograph and Australia is the story of the interactions between people and country, and their representations in photography. The exhibition explores how photography operates aesthetically, technically, politically, and in terms of distribution and proliferation, in the Australian context. The arrival of photography in the 1840s parallels the development of the colonies and relationships with Indigenous Australians. Importantly, the photographs sent to World expositions in the 19th century present an evolving image of the nation. Indeed, in this exhibition, 19th century photography is seen as the foundational wellspring of this country.

Taking a thematic rather than chronological approach, The photograph and Australia looks at how the photograph images people and place in wonderful and marvellous ways. Clusters of photographs highlight the dialogue between photographer and subject, the construction of place, exploration, depictions of family and personal relationships, the interactions between settler and Indigene, as well as the distribution, collecting and classifying of images.

The dialogue between art, photography and scientific endeavours is crucial, as is the relationship, played out in photographs, between self and nation. The dynamic exchanges between the professional studio or amateur photographer and their subjects, and distributor and collector, are explored. These are, in part, built on the technological evolution of the medium, which has enabled such exceptional reach and constant adaptation that within the space of 175 years the image has become as pervasive and powerful as the written word.

The exhibition consists of work by photographers such as George Goodman, Thomas Bock, Richard Daintree, William Hetzer, Thomas Glaister, Louisa How, Frederick Kruger, CA Woolley, Charles Bayliss, JW Lindt, Paul Foeslche, Baldwin Spencer, Frank Hurley, Melvin Vaniman, Harold Cazneaux, RC Strangman, Frances Perrin, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Sue Ford, Mervyn Bishop, Carol Jerrems, Ricky Maynard, Anne Ferran, Robyn Stacey, Patrick Pound and Rosemary Laing. Their photographs are shown alongside the work of unknown photographers and vernacular material such as cartes de visite, mug shots and domestic albums. The selection of works and structure of The photograph and Australia will enable a reassessment of the construction of people and place, identity and culture through the tantalising medium of photography. More than 35 lenders, 400 photographs and more than 120 artists from 1845 until now

The exhibition will be accompanied by a substantial publication. The book will reflect the themes and much of the content of the exhibition but is intended as a stand-alone title which has a life beyond the exhibition. The book will be authored by Judy Annear, senior curator photographs at AGNSW, with a concluding essay by Geoffrey Batchen and focus essays by specialist writers, Michael Aird, Martyn Jolly, Jane Lydon, Daniel Palmer, Kathleen Davidson.

The book will examine the sense of wonder which the photograph can still induce for its ability to capture both things of the world and those of the imagination, and how Australia itself has been shaped by photography.

The exhibition will run from 21 March to 7 June 2015 at the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, Australia. See: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/

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