Stories told in monochrome at NSW photography exhibition

The very first photographs of aboriginal Aussies were formal, posed portraits, clicked in blazing sunlight. Often, the sitters are pictured leaning against each other with eyes turned to the camera as well as bodies wrapped in kangaroo skins or blankets. Some wore necklaces or headdresses that might or might not have belonged to them.

Judy Kinnear, the curator of The photograph and Australia, a brand new photography exhibit at Art Gallery of New South Wales, said that Indigenous Australians accorded to be photographed out of curiosity, or probably for food.

He added that earlier, it was considered that these kinds of early snaps were indicative of the colonial gaze. But now there is a whole lot of research going on into how these early snaps were made. The local people, often, would have been asked to come into a studio and they were paid. They would have been dressed up and told what to do.

The assemblage of nineteenth century snaps brought together in The photograph and Australia exhibit indigenous people in formal group photographs or as exotic subjects. They are clicked alongside all the early settlers, working as holding tools or stockmen.

Amateur gentleman photographers like Scottish farmer John Hunter Kerr clicked such images on his own place, i.e. Fernyhurst Station, in Victoria. Paul Foelsche, another amateur photographer, the first policeman in Northern Territory, took photos of Larrakia people that have since become a real priceless archive for their descendants.

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