By Belinda Hungerford
In 1975 a two-year international exhibition tour began, organised by ACP for the Department of Foreign Affairs. It was called Recent Australian Photography and featured work by fourteen photographers – Ian Dodd, Grant Mudford, Richard Harris, Roger Scott, John Walsh, Rennie Ellis, David Moore, Jon Rhodes, John Cato, Richard Woldendorp, Max Dupain, Godwin Bradbeer, Warren Breninger and Wesley Stacey.
It was not an exhibition of ‘tourist snaps’ but individual interpretations of Australia. It featured 106 colour and black & white photographs of landscapes and people.
A brochure was produced and the introduction was written by ACP founding committee member and author Craig McGregor in which he beautifully encapsulated the shift that was happening in photography at the time. What is also interesting is how the work of this ‘younger’ generation of photographers has developed and evolved since this exhibition. The introduction is reproduced here.
Australian photography is today at an extraordinarily interesting stage in its development. For most of its history it has been content to document and record the reality of Australian life and landscape. There was, and is, so much that is unique that it hardly seemed necessary to comment upon it: the task of reproducing that reality in truthful, artistic images was difficult enough. The three older photographers in this exhibition – Max Dupain, David Moore and Richard Woldendorp – demonstrate just how successfully they accomplished that task.
Since then, however, a younger generation of photographers has arrived which is not concerned simply to record reality; many of them wish to remake it. They wish to distort it, make comments about it, use it for their own purposes – in other words, to regard reality as merely the raw material for something else.
In a sense, most of these concerns had been inherent in the work of the earlier photographers. The photojournalistic tradition which Moore grew up within is carried on very clearly in the work of Rennie Ellis, Jon Rhodes and Roger Scott – though Scott is more of a humanist, more obviously involved with people in all their complex vulnerability. John Walsh shares this tradition but he is subtly different: he is fiercer, more didactic, involved in the message behind the image.
Woldendorp and Moore are interested in abstraction, but this has been taken much further by John Cato, whose poetic essay on a tree finally abstracts itself from its source. Dupain was supremely interested in composition; this has been developed and refined by Richard Harris to the point where what matters in many of his photographs is not the figures or objects one can see, but the space between them which one can only feel.
Finally, there are those photographers who seem less interested in the subject matter than in the point of view from which they photograph it. Grant Mudford balances between the real, the surreal, and the ambiguities in between. Ian Dodd shoots central Australia from a plane; Wes Stacey snaps suburbia through a car window; both give reality a particular frame, and thereby distort it. And Godwin Bradbeer and Warren Breninger use photographs, scribbles, mistakes, manipulated effects, in fact almost any technique which is available, to construct personal images of mortality and hurt.
What this means is that the younger photographers have begun to carve out from the older artists the particular areas they want to focus on. They are specialists, deriving from the general; and in this way they are, themselves, very much part of the established photographic tradition in Australia.
The exhibition appeared at Australian Embassies and High Commissions in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Burma, India, Sri Lanka and Africa. In the archives we found some great images of the exhibition when it toured to Bangkok.
All images © Australian Centre for Photography Archives:
Image 1: Cover of Singaporean brochure
Image 2: Bangkok Exhibition poster
Image 3: Setting up the exhibition in Bangkok
Image 4: Official opening in Bangkok and visitors at the exhibition
Image 5: Students visit the exhibition in Bangkok
Image 6: The exhibition in Bangkok
Images 7 and 8: Visitors at the exhibition in Bangkok