Iconic Australian Photography

Iconic Australian Photography


I’m Alan Davies,
curator of photographs at the State Library
of New South Wales. I’ve been in this job 25 years and I’m still very passionate
about photography. Australia’s very lucky – we’ve had the camera around from about 50 years after
the beginning of the colony. We show much of our history
through photographs. They’re not just pretty pictures. Photographs are great documents. There’s about 1.2 million images
in the collection. Half of those are held as negatives. They’re not artistic images. We acquire photographs for
their informational content through bequests and donation
and even purchase. They just keep coming in. George Goodman was Australia’s
first professional photographer. And we’re very fortunate
to have six of his photographs. These images are
of the Lawson family. Early photographic technology meant
that exposures were quite long and people had to be
clamped in place. It’s very difficult to maintain
a 30-second smile. They were split up
as the family’s sort of moved on and 100 years later, we’ve managed
to put them all back together. If there was a fire,
I’d grab the first photograph taken in Australia
by George Goodman and as many of the Holtermann
images that I could. The Holtermann collection of 1872
is, without doubt, the most important photographic
collection in Australia. There’s 3,500 of them. Recently, we’ve been able to scan
them at extremely high resolution. Hi, Hamilton. We’re able to look inside
the windows of the shops. We can see incredible detail that
was not visible to the eye before. That looks great.
Oh, look at the definition. Oh, this is interesting. There’s an ad for a doctor
underneath there too. Every shop, every building,
every house in the town, all recorded by this camera. You know, you could probably rebuild
these towns from these photographs. George Caddy was a very interesting
photographer in the 1930s who photographed beach acrobats
on Bondi Beach. Some years ago, George Caddy’s son
came to me. He had a box full of negatives. And as we went through them,
to my amazement, I found a picture of George Caddy
with his camera. That very camera had been in my
lounge room for over 25 years. I never knew who it belonged to. So it was one
incredible coincidence. It’s quite astonishing when
something like that happens. Of course we’ve got all
the famous photographers here, whether it’s Harold Cazneaux
or Max Dupain or David Moore. We actually have one
really interesting album of Max Dupain photographs that he’d sent to his best friend,
Damien Parer, during the war. Damien Parer used to work
in Max Dupain’s studio. When war came, he went overseas,
filming. He became Australia’s best-known
war cinematographer. Incredibly, that album survived,
though Damien didn’t. And years later, Max Dupain
came into the library and I showed him the album. To my astonishment,
he started to cry. It was a tangible memento
of his best friend. Just tells you something about
the power of a photograph. Photography’s undergone
many technological changes, and digital’s just another one. It’s difficult to know
how many photographs are made in Australia each year, but we think it’s somewhere
over two billion annually. The last time we counted,
when we could count rolls of film, it was 1.5 billion and it was going up
about 10% a year. But, of course, now people with
the digital cameras just go crazy. If we’re scanning at many megabytes
per single image, when you’re storing
a million images, suddenly you realise
you’re way over terabytes. Photographs are very important.
They enable us to see the past. They will remain an incredible means
of communication – transcends all sorts of cultures
and all nationalities. It’s like a time capsule,
if you like. Photographs speak to everyone. VOICEOVER:
Iconic Australian Photography, part of the State Library
of New South Wales’ vast collection of
Australian national treasures.

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