The Power Institute for Art and Visual Culture and the Art Gallery of NSW co-present the Gallery’s major academic event for 2015.
The Trafficking images photography symposium features Australian and international scholars at the vanguard of photographic history and theory, as well as contemporary artists. Speakers consider the medium of photography and its apparent ability to move effortlessly and pervasively through physical and virtual worlds.
Introduction to 'The Photograph and Australia' exhibition
Judy Annear, senior curator, photographs, Art Gallery of NSW
'In struggle united’: Heartfield, Zhitomirsky and socialist satirical photomontage after the 1930s
Erika Wolf, associate professor, Department of History and Art History, University of Otago, Dunedin
A pioneer of modernist photomontage, Heartfield is best known for the satirical anti-Nazi photomontages he executed in the 1930s. While extensive attention has been given to Heartfield’s early work and its reception in Soviet culture during the 1930s, the further trajectory of his work in socialist culture after the war has been ignored, largely due to the dismissal of the art and visual culture of the socialist states as kitsch during the Cold War. This presentation addresses this blind spot by examining the creative interactions and friendship of Heartfield and the Soviet artist Aleksandr Zhitomirsky, who was arguably his most talented follower.
Circulating new knowledge: photography and the reframing of imperial science
Kathleen Davidson, independent scholar, The University of Sydney
In nineteenth-century science, the production and circulation of images was a complex process. The advancement and increasing popularity of natural history, in particular, owed less to individual genius than to the collective enterprise of an immense network of practitioners, enthusiasts, expositors and consumers. Furthermore, the dissemination of new knowledge through different types of visual media was crucial to how this information was interpreted and by whom. Photographs, even more so than other media, were accessible to a wide range of viewers. Yet, they could be construed quite differently or assume a new status as they moved between the centre and periphery, separate interest groups or social strata. Due to its accessibility to a variety of audiences, photography also had the potential to draw together popular or commercial realms with the pursuit of natural history, the principal science of the empire. To explore this nexus between photography, scientific practice and empire, this paper considers the diverse ways in which photography and natural history intersected during the second half of the nineteenth century, analysing photography’s role in cultivating knowledge networks and reframing imperial science.
Patrick Pound, Melbourne-based artist whose collaborative work (with Rowan McNaught) 'The compound lens project' (2014–15) is on display in 'The photograph and Australia'
The camera reduces the world to a list of things to photograph. That’s its default setting. Like a frottage of light the photograph lifts everything in its sights. To photograph is to collect images. Photography seems to quietly mutter: if only we could find all the pieces we might solve the puzzle. We are left to dwell in the bliss of the poetry of our continuous failure and the marvel of the photograph’s ability to casually copy the world in microcosm whilst making trouble for it in spades. The roll of film and the sim card are archives in waiting. Putting photos together offers the hope of coherence and the compensations of meaningful endeavour. To collect is to sort out your thoughts through things. This paper looks closely at collecting and sorting and making sense of snaps as if on a dare.
What’s been stopping the traffic?
Helen Ennis, director, Centre for Art History and Art Theory, Australian National University School of Art
At first glance it might seem that art museums and galleries in Australia have opened themselves up to different kinds of photographies in recent decades. There have been important exhibitions involving anthropological, fashion, forensic and vernacular photographs to name some of the most obvious. But how free is the flow of historical and contemporary photographs into art museums and galleries? What kinds of photographs are being collected and exhibited? Why, for example, are anthropological photographs from the nineteenth century widely collected but those from the present are not? This paper argues that there are some significant blockages affecting the traffic of photographs into institutions that predate the arrival of digital photography and the internet. These blockages have their origins in the 1970s and 1980s when photography was being legitimised and institutionalised in many parts of the world. Ennis draws on her curatorial practice at the National Gallery of Australia and her own role in what Vince Aletti has described as the institutionalised and categorical delimiting of photography. While such efforts were undertaken in good faith by historians and curators of photography they belonged to a particular historical moment whose distortions are still with us, arresting the flow of vibrant, compelling photographs and blocking the view of photography’s extraordinary polymorphousness.
Modern and contemporary Korean photography: North and south
Keum Hyun Han, independent curator and chief researcher, Asian Culture Information Agency, Asian Cultural Complex, Gwangju
From the 1950s to the present, Korean photography has provided an essential and critical platform in terms of modern Korean history, politics, economics and culture. Drawing on research into modern and contemporary Korean photography, this paper considers the making and dissemination of images in and between South and North Korea, and how contemporary Korean photographers deal with obstacles and barriers inhibiting image transmission. This paper considers Keum Hyun’s current work at the ACC (Asian Culture Complex) which will open in September 2015 in Gwangju, Korea. The Asian Culture Information Agency (ACIA), one of five institutions under the ACC, is responsible for the researching and archiving of Asian culture including an Asian photography archive. Rather than exhibiting, the ACIA is designed exclusively for archiving and researching - a unique undertaking for an institution of its kind in Asia. The aforementioned photographic archive will be transmitted to researchers, curators, publishers and the public via both online and offline means. Some of this archival material and its importance to modern Korean history and visual culture as well as to the broader history of photography and its development in Asia after the 1950s is addressed.