2004 lecture series

public image

Presented by Centre for Contemporary Photography
and The Australian Centre, University of Melbourne

In 2004, CCP presented a bumper six sessions in its highly respected and annual series of lectures. In partnership with The Australian Centre, four keynote lectures and two panel sessions were held at the University of Melbourne while CCP’s new Fitzroy galleries were under construction.

Public Image explored photo-based media as a rhetorical public interface. Keynote lectures were presented with themes ranging from surveillance to personal histories as public history to the role of celebrityhood in fashion photography. A forum on ‘relational aesthetics’ examined the active role of the public in certain forms of experimental contemporary art, while another on war and photography explored the line between official and unofficial reportage, inspired by recent image-wars over the conflict in Iraq. Drawing from the nineteenth century to the present, Public Image asks how do photographs negotiate between private and public domains of experience? How does the internet change the public role of ‘witnessing’? How are ideas about the public and publicity collapsed in the photo-based media world we live in? And what is art’s potential role in all of this?

Kitty Hauser

Relational Aesthetics Forum

William Yang

Abigail Solomon-Godeau

War and Photography Forum

Sylvia Harrison

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July 21 2004
Kitty Hauser
Garment in the Dock: Photography, the FBI and a Pair of Denim Jeans

In the wake of a spate of white supremacist bombings and bank robberies in 1996, the Special Photographic Unit of the FBI carried out some research into the identification of denim trousers from bank surveillance film, suggesting that each pair of jeans has unique identifying characteristics caused by manufacturing and by wear. Bearing the traces of both maker and wearer, each pair of jeans can be seen, then–according to this research–as an index, almost like a fingerprint. The connection between worn clothing and an absent body is both intimate and poignant, as poetry and everyday experience shows. Denim, in particular, renders the body’s imprint and habits in graphic form, as was recognised by James Agee and Walker Evans in their documentary work Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The findings of the FBI went further than to assist in identifying a suspect; what was also revealed, inadvertently, was a new insight into the visibility of the history of a garment–and a heady intimation that identity and appearance might concur in the most unlikely of places.

Kitty Hauser is a writer and teacher who is Research Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge University, and an Honorary Associate of Sydney University. Her research interests revolve around the relationship between photography and the activities of forensic scientists, historians, detectives and archaeologists. She has written about contemporary culture for publications including the New Left Review, The Burlington Magazine and the London Review of Books and is currently writing a book about the archaeologist and photographer O.G.S. Crawford, to be published by Granta.

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August 11 2004
Relational Aesthetics Forum
A Constructed World, Laëtitia Bourget and Stuart Koop.
Chaired by Daniel Palmer

‘Relational aesthetics’ is a term coined by the French curator and writer Nicolas Bourriaud to describe a broad strand of contemporary art in which the sphere of human relations constitutes the site of the artwork’s meaning. It names, for example, forms of art practice where the artist models ‘situations’ or generates micro-utopias. Three invited artists and a curator examined the theme of relational aesthetics in relation to their own thoughts on art practice; what it is, what it might mean, who might be doing it in Australia, its connections to photo-documentation and new media art practice, and what it might mean for artists, audiences, curators and art institutions? Is relational aesthetics an entirely new vocation for art or just the latest buzzword?

Jacqui Riva & Geoff Lowe work collaboratively under the name A Constructed World (ACW), and divide their time between Milan and Melbourne. Their project consists in the making of exhibitions, collaborative workshops, events, and publishing projects which explore interfaces with art audiences and also with those not usually involved in contemporary art. Laëtitia Bourget is a French artist whose work awakens more the concept of activity rather than the utilisation of a particular medium. Developed around problematics of the body, both physical and existential, her work also begins from particular social contexts. Stuart Koop is an independent writer, curator and arts administrator. He was previously Curator at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and Director of the Centre for Contemporary Photography, and is currently completing a book on contemporary Australian artists.

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1 September 2004
William Yang
On Photography

William Yang occupies a unique place in Australian photography. His internationally acclaimed and loved work, a kind of photojournalism of his own life, forms a crucial social history of the world around him, its people, places and events. Yang is perhaps best know for his extensive personal archive of the Sydney gay community in the 1970s and 1980s, and Sadness, which wove together the discovery of his Chinese heritage and the rituals of dying and death in Sydney.
He has investigated the Chinese diaspora in Blood Links and in his latest work Shadows he has incorporated an Aboriginal story into his repertoire. A deft storyteller, his work often involves words, either written on the image or as part of a spoken-word slideshow performance. This was a rare opportunity for Melbourne audiences to hear Yang speak in depth about his photographic practice.

William Yang, third generation Chinese-Australian, was born William Young in North Queensland. He started his career as a playwright in 1969, before turning to freelance photography in 1974. He held his first solo exhibition in 1977, Sydneyphiles, a frank depiction of the Sydney party scene. Over the past fifteen years Yang has been performing his monologues with slide projection in the theatre; Sadness, Blood Links, Friends of Dorothy and The North have toured extensively in Australia and internationally. As well as publishing several books, Sadness was also adapted into an award-winning film by Tony Ayres in 1999. A retrospective at the State Library of NSW in 1998 based on his Sydney Diary highlighted Yang as a teller of alternative social histories. Yang continues to live and work in Sydney.

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29 September 29 2004
Abigail Solomon-Godeau
Out of the Archives and into the Street: The Fae Richards Archive

This paper examined an artists’ book by Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye, The Fae Richards Archive, which emerged from Dunye's independent film, The Watermelon Woman (1997). It dealt with the artists' book as a particularly significant form of artmaking, one especially well adapted for critical practice of various types. Moreover it considered the enterprise of representing the unrepresented through the form of fictional biography and through Deleuze and Guattari's suggestive concept of ‘minor’ literature.

Abigail Solomon-Godeau teaches and publishes in the fields of photography, contemporary art, 19th-century French art, and feminist and critical theory. Her contribution to photographic discourse is enormous. Rejecting a formalist approach to the image, Linda Nochlin once wrote that her work “adds to our sense of the difficulty and ambiguity of questions directed at the photographic enterprise itself”, by insisting on the historical, class-located, institutionalised, and above all, gendered positions from which mainstream photo-history is generated. She is the author of Photography at the Dock: Essays on Photographic History, Institutions and Practices (1991) and Male Trouble: A Crisis in Representation (1996) and is currently awaiting the publication of two books, The Face of Difference: Gender, Race and the Politics of Self-Representation and Gender, Genre and the Nude in French Art. Her essays, which have been widely anthologised, have appeared in journals such as Afterimage, Art in America, Camera Obscura, October, Screen, and in many exhibition catalogues. She holds a professorship in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Abigail Solomon-Godeau was a keynote speaker at the symposium, Masculinities: gender, art and popular culture (1–2 October 2004) organised by the Ian Potter Museum of Art, and was brought to Australia by the Ian Potter Foundation. This free lecture was held at the Prince Philip Theatre, Architecture and Planning Building at the University of Melbourne and was co-presented with the School of Art History, Cinema, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Melbourne.

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27 October 2004
War and Photography Forum
Peter Davis, Matthew Sleeth and Jason South.
Chaired by Daniel Palmer

Photographs have been used to tell graphic stories about war since the middle of the nineteenth century. And war photography has long been subject to military censors, of which ‘embedded reporters’ are the latest version. However, aside from all else, recent image-wars in Iraq–the photographs of abused Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and internet footage of the beheading of Nick Berg–reveal a new importance for unofficial images of war. What does it mean when the most memorable images of the Iraq war may well be photographs of the torture of Iraqi prisoners by Americans wielding digital snapshot cameras? This forum explored the line between official and unofficial reportage in the public image of war. It asked how certain images of war, rather than others, become publicly available; the available scope for photographers in contemporary warfare; and how the internet is dramatically intensifying the public role of ‘witnessing’.

Peter Davis is a writer/photographer and a senior lecturer in professional writing at Deakin University where he also coordinates N:ITT Network, Image, Text & Technology, a research area dedicated to the examination of images, texts and their combinations. He is the co-author of Aliya: Stories of the Elephants of Sri Lanka (1996) and a media consultant to AusAID development projects in the Asia/Pacific. Matthew Sleeth is a Melbourne-based photographer, widely exhibited and collected, whose books include Roaring Days (1998), The Bank Book (2001), Tour Of Duty (2002), home+away (2003) and Opfikon (2004). Tour of Duty involved a critique of Australia’s self-congratulatory representation of its recent role in East Timor. Jason South is an award-winning New Zealand born photographer for The Age newspaper. In 2003, he won the Nikon-Walkley award for Press Photographer of the Year for his pictures of the Iraq conflict. He has also covered conflict zones in Rwanda, Zaire, East Timor and Aceh.

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17 November 2004
Sylvia Harrison
The Role of Celebrityhood in Early Fashion Photography

The French-born, vaudeville performer Gaby Deslys carved out a glittering career on the international circuit while working as a photographic model in advertising campaigns for couturières of the stature of Paquin and Lucile. With reference to Deslys’ tandem careers on the stage and in front of the camera, this lecture explored the role of celebrityhood (specifically, the prestige of ‘talent’) in fashion innovation, fashion diffusion and opinion leadership in fashion photography during the early years of the twentieth century. It also demonstrated that the guiding principle of fashion photography at its inception–prestigious persons are powerful agents of consumer change–has continued to exert a profound influence on the genre until the present time.

Dr Sylvia Harrison is a senior lecturer in the Art History Program at La Trobe University where she teaches courses on fashion and photography. She has published on issues in contemporary art in Australia and America. Her major publication to date is Pop Art and the Origins of Post-Modernism (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001). At present she is working on a book-length project on theoretical issues in fashion photography.

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