Still : a cultural history of press photography in Australia

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2001
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ----- This thesis traces a cultural history of press photography in Australia from the 1890s to the 1950s, from its inception through to its highpoint as the most influential visual form in the country, and before its eclipse by television. Photography is one of the defining visual forms of the twentieth-century, significant for its everyday interpretive role and for its wider role in defining and shaping cultural memory. Press photography was ubiquitous and popular in the period covered by this study, and with that came many presumptions about its meaning and role: a close history of this period serves to revise assumptions, and to place photography firmly in history. This thesis argues that the development of press photography, and the eventual crystallisation of its many varieties, was not inevitable or teleological. There was considerable experimentation and uncertainty in the incipient form, as photographers, journalists, reading publics, editors, proprietors and other elements of the newspaper press grappled with what photography could do. A specific history of this development allows for a better understanding of the way press photography developed as a cultural as well as a visual practice. Any deep understanding of press photography and its role in Australian culture must view the photograph as a site of cultural production, located in specific historical circumstances – and therefore the role of the press photographer is crucial. The photograph and photographer are entwined. In order to understand this connection, this study deliberately focuses on the 'ordinary' on-staff press photographer and the regular photographs produced. This is not a history of well-known or iconic images and name photographers: the 'banal' photograph, it is argued, is as culturally significant as the recognised one, and also contributes to visual understanding. The banal photograph allows access to the complex ways in which abstractions are visualised and the ways in which Australia has been presented back to itself. By viewing such a photograph via the work practices and world view of the photographer who made it, the significance of the visual is both grounded in its history and contributes to a more complex history. This then is also a contributory history of work and of 'invisible' photographers. It allows the photographers' presence to appear both in and out of the frame. By linking these 'other' types of photography to their photographer, 'the photograph' can be understood in a different way. Production transforms the photograph, allowing the mugshot and the iconic news photo to be significant in the creation of a national visual culture.
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