Picture Paradise?

Some years ago when I wrote a feature for a web site on the early years of photography in  Australia (Australian Photography 1840-60)  and another on a fine twentieth-century Australian photographer, Frank Hurley, unfortunately neither currently available on line.

After publishing my piece on the early years, I received an e-mail from an Australian that berated me for not having written a full history of photography in that country. My reply basically but politely told him that I was a pom living in England, and if he wanted a history of photography in his country he should get off his backside, do some research and write it. A few years ago there was relatively little material available on line to enable me to do so if I had wanted to, and so far as I was concerned Australia was just one of around 195 countries I wanted to write about.  (Unfortunately this was 194 more than my then employers appreciated, and I only managed to mention something about photography in around 50 of these before they dispensed with my services.)

I don’t know how many of the pioneers I mentioned – Captain Lucas, George Barron Goodman, Douglas Thomas Kilburn, William Little, Norman and Heseltine, Schohl, Thomas Gill, ‘ProfessorÂ’ Robert Hall, J W Newland, William Freeman, John Hunter Kerr, Robert Hunt and others – are included in what looks like a fine exhibition by the National Gallery of Australia, ‘Picture ParadiseAsia-Pacific Photography 1840s-1940s, but only Kilburn from that list appears in the 5 images on line covering the same period.

The show perhaps spreads it’s net too wide by including the Indian subcontinent – I wrote at around a dozen full-length features on India while only scratching the subject, as so many fine photographers from Britain in particular worked there in Victorian times.

It certainly is surprising not to see a single picture by the great early Indian photographer Lala Deen Dayal although he does get a mention in the accompanying essay. Several other photographers I’ve also previously written about, including Felix Beato and Samuel Bourne are represented by photographs, as too –  rather surprisingly, is Julia Margaret Cameron. Although a great photographer, the picture included serves to confirm the popular view that she did nothing of great photographic interest in her return to India, with all of her best work being made on the Isle of Wight, well outside the area of this show.

Lala Deen Dayal (1844-1905) is one of relatively few photographers to have been honoured by a postage stamp issue, and I was very pleased to receive a commemorative album from his great granddaughter who runs the web site about his work containing examples of the 500 Rupee stamp issued in November 2006. Few photographers can claim an edition of 0.4 million!

So although this is an interesting site and well worth a look, and does bring to our notice several photographers whose work until now has been (perhaps deservedly) fairly obscure, it isn’t really a balanced overall survey of photography in the region, and certainly fails to do Australia itself justice.  There is still time for that gentleman I corresponded briefly with to get his act together.

2 Responses to “Picture Paradise?”

  1. Gaeln says:

    Dear Peter Marshall

    I dont know which ungracious Australian failed to appreciate the excellent account on early Australian photography you provided on the ‘about photography ‘ site.

    By contrast I was very impressed with your coverage especially as it was presumably done at a distance without local knoweldge?

    As the only foreigner to take any such interest in the antipodes it was unprecedented gesture of high quality. The easy access to your hisotrical essays material is sorely missed.

    The website for Picture Paradise has been enlarged since opening in July and there is an easier link than the direct National Gallery website as well with a simpler index listing http://www.asia-pacific-photography.com/pp/

    Australian photography was well accommodated in the showand catalogue but it was not a show about Australian photography in the context of the Asia-Pacific region per se but an attempt to see what the pattern of ‘doemstication and innovation in the medium was in the first century across our aprt of the world.

    Deen Dayal was in the show although many attempts to secure high quality absolutely confirmed Dayal prints was not easy. A number had to be dropped that turned out to have hopeful but unsupportable attributions. I regret the economic imperative which saw us drop an image from the catalogue as part of the purpose of the show was to elevate the Asian-Pacific born photographers.

    ‘Picture Paradise’ was the first program in the National Gallery of Australia’s new Asia-Pacific focus collection which has also seen the acquisition of the the Leo Haks collection of Indonesian photography 1860s-1940s, and was our contribution to the Vivid National Photography Festival http://www.nla.gov.au/vivid

    We were very pleased with our 65000 visitors and the response from the region. Further information on Australian photography is on the NGA website under ‘photography’ but also worth viewing is the Australian Centre for Photorgaphy http://www.acp.org.au for contemporary. Marcel Safier’s site http://members.ozemail.com.au/~msafier/ausnzphoto.html is also very useful for historical material.

    Picture Paradise was a massive nearly 500 work show and while the book version is some years off there is an attractive small catalogue with cd checklist which I would like to send you if you would provide a postal address.

    Yours sincerely

    Gael Newton

    Ms Gael Newton
    Senior Curator of Photography
    National Gallery of Australia
    GPO Box 1150 Canberra ACT 2602

  2. Dear Gael Newton

    Thanks for your very generous comments on my features.

    About Photography provided me an opportunity to write about photography more or less as I wished for almost eight years (in my spare time from photography and part-time teaching) until after the site was taken over by the New York Times and I’m still grateful for that. But unfortunately they no longer make the material available and that the licensing terms means I cannot publish it myself.

    You are right that I wrote almost all of the pieces – including those on Australia, India etc – without having visited the countries. About.com didn’t provide that kind of budget and I didn’t have the time and like to keep a low carbon footprint.

    Thanks too for the links. I’m pleased to hear that the exhibition was such a success; of course I was only able to see the web site and not the whole show, so my view was very limited. The new site looks interesting – and deserves its own mention here which I hope to make shortly.

    Thanks for your offer of the catalogue – I’ll e-mail you with my mail address,



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