Australian Vernacular photography offers a glimpse at our reality

The Art Gallery NSW is presenting its latest exhibition, Australian vernacular photography. It explores the Australian photograph landscape from the late 20th Century.

Hal Missingham was the director and photographer of the gallery between 1945 and 1971. Hal said:

Where are the photos of the 4 million people who work and live in our cities in a country that is supposedly full of people living an active outdoor lifestyle? What do they look like, what do the do, what do they think and wear?

This exhibition has helped to create a photographic landscape of Australia – a vernacular that viewers can define.

Eleanor Weber said that the collection did not try to define exactly what “vernacular”, might mean.

“I suppose we’re trying to think of the specific way Australian photographers treated Australian landscapes and scenes in the second half of the 20th century, in order to actually put forward an Australian photographic idea.”

Twenty-seven photographs by sixteen Australian photographers, including David Moore and Robert McFarlane as well as Sue Ford, were taken between the 1960s and the 2000s.

The Family of Man

Trent Parke Backyard Swing Set, QLD 2003, type C photograph from the Minutes to Midnight series, 109.9x164cm. Albie Thoms donated this photograph in memory of Linda Slutzkin who was the former Head of Public Programmes at Art Gallery of New South Wales.

In 1959, Edward Steichen’s photographic exhibit Family of Man traveled to Australia from New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Weber said: “It was the introduction in material form of international photography that featured a particular nation’s vernacular.”

In the 1970s, there were more courses and institutions for collecting photographs. The 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s brought a critical attitude to the art.

Weber said that he didn’t try to imagine what an “Australian photo” might look like, but instead began to capture what was there, the reality.

Fiona Hall Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975 gelatin silver photograph, 28.2×27.9cm. Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund (c) Fiona Hall

The truth is not always flattering

The images are frank and often unflattering. They provide a realistic and stark view of Australia in a changing world.

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