Art, critical writing, history

Brisbane photography circa 1993

January 30, 2016

I have never seen any copies of Doug Spowart’s  Photo.Graph that was published in the 1990s or the earlier News Sheet apart from a post  on the Brisbane Photography Scene 1993 written by Ian Poole on  the wotwedid blog that Spowart runs with  Victoria Cooper.  It’s a pity because Photo.Graph  was designed to fill a gap in the discussion, critique and commentary about a segment of the photography discipline within Australia.

Carl Warner, untitled, 1996/1997

Carl Warner, untitled, 1996/1997


Poole is a familiar  figure  in photographic culture because he is a cross over between an advertising /commercial photographer (20 years) and an exhibiting art photographer. Familiar in the sense that  art photography in the 1970s and 1980s was kicked started by advertising /commercial photographer   starting to teach at art schools and private photography schools. Athol Smith and John Cato in Melbourne are good examples of this figure.  Poole is different  to them in that he had a post-graduate degree in visual arts from Griffith University. So he is well placed  to assess Brisbane photography in the early 1990s.

The article is starting point  for a discussion about Queensland contemporary art  photo practice and its a  survey of events by the individual  commercial and art  photographers working in Brisbane and Queensland in 1993 –their exhibitions, travels, plans  and books– just over  a decade  before the formation of the Queensland Centre of Photography.  One of the photographers mentioned by Poole was Marion Drew. Others were Carl Warner and Richard Stringer.  All are currently practising. What the article  indicates is that photography was flourishing in the city of Brisbane in the early 1990s under  the Labor government of Wayne Goss. The corruption that  had  gone on so long under a National Party Government of Bjelke-Petersen  in the Moonlight State was in the past. Brisbane was no longer  a big country town.

The article is basically a snap shot without context  where context is history. Surprisingly,, Robyn Stacey  was not mentioned as there was no looking back in order to relate the 1993 present  to the recent  past, such as Robyn Stacey’s hand colour photos of regional Queensland entitled Queensland—Out West  which blurred the lines between high art and pop culture.

R Stacey, Queensland Out West No.2, (1982)

R Stacey, Queensland Out West No.2, (1982)

Stacey’s body of work was partly nostalgic as it was a road trip  revisiting the hot and quintessentially Queensland lifestyle of timber houses, subtropical plants, and laconic locals in towns such as  Monto, Murgon, Gayndah and Kingaroy on her  first trip back to Queensland  after three years living interstate.   The hand-colouring references the  promotional notion of the postcards  of the  1950s and 1960s that depicted scenes of iconic Queensland tourist spots like the Gold Coast or the Great Barrier Reef.

Nor does the  article  attempt to look at  Brisbane photography as a whole in relation to what  was happening nationally and internationally,     or how this photography related to the then current postmodern art and post-colonial discourse. Nor does  it  assess whether  the body of work of the photographers mentioned  constitutes a regional photography that was ignored by national institutions, such as the Sydney based Photofile  or the Australian Centre of Photography.  Was the Queensland work ignored, for instance? If so, why not assess the industrial archaeology ago Richard Stringer with that of Bernd and Hilla Becher?

Questions abound from this history:  what were the  roles and influence of the Queensland University of Technology and the Queensland College of Art . These are not mentioned or  assessed even though the latter had only separated  from the TAFE  vocational system  and become incorporated into Griffith University two years earlier in 1991. What impact did that incorporation have on a vocational photographic education (commercial, advertising,  photojournalism etc)? What was the relationship  between these two institutions or  to the other art institutions?

Other questions arise. Where did Photo.Graph  or photography fit into the  Brisbane small magazine scene, alternative art spaces or artist run initiatives in the early 1990s?  Where did Brisbane photography fit into the  new wave of Australian photographers that matured in the 1990s?  Was there any relationship between this photography and  the research into photography into Queensland  was beginning to be undertaken by masters and doctoral candidates at Australian universities.

 Although the emphasis of  Photo.Graph was on discussion, critique and commentary  on art photography the editorial is unmarked by  the  absence of critique and commentary (ie., critical writing); an absence that  has been characteristic of photographic culture in Australia; despite Australia in the 1990s beginning to see itself as sophisticated, innovative and creative. Creative Nation was  to appear in 1994.
The early 1990’s was a time when  the  theoretical shifts in thinking about photography began to emerge: art photography was in the process of  losing  its exclusivity due to an acceptance of  a pluralised understanding  of photography, often termed ‘photographies’ and the interest in  vernacular photography, that is  photographs made by non-professional photographers, amateurs and hobbyists, who are often unidentified or unknown, with  snapshot and informal photography included in the category. These trends have thrown into sharp relief the limitations of conventional photographic history.




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