Australian Photographic Histories After Colonialism

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The legacies of colonialism continue to shape debates and culture around the world, with especial power in former settler colonies such as Australia. This chapter explores Australian photographic histories in the context of global questions about photography and the sociopolitical tensions that linger in the wake of imperialism. Photography arrived in Australia following British invasion and unfurled across the vast continent, mapping the uneven development of photographic technology and cross-cultural exchange. As occurred in other settler colonies such as New Zealand and Canada, the camera recorded new peoples and places in order to satisfy curiosity at home; as evolutionism became scientific orthodoxy from the 1860s onwards, ideas of essential biological difference were supported through visual ‘data’ such as the explosion of 1860s carte de visites that were collected from around the country and circulated globally. Nonetheless humanitarian uses of the medium asserted a common humanity and argued for the equality of Indigenous peoples. The gradual take-up of the medium by Aboriginal people over the twentieth century became a means to assert political claims and record family. In Australia, the tumultuous final decades of the twentieth century witnessed a radical transformation of settler-Aboriginal relations as mainstream society began to acknowledge Indigenous experience and revise ideas of national identity: landmarks such as the 1988 Bicentenary, and the 1997 inquiry into the official assimilation policies now known as the Stolen Generations may be seen as the result of the long Aboriginal struggle for rights, in which photography played a vital role. Today Aboriginal people give photography a range of crucial meanings in documenting family, re-connecting broken links of kinship and history, making art, and telling the truth of an Indigenous history excised from the national story. The chapter concludes by considering further research directions in this field, and the growing voice of Aboriginal scholars, artists and curators.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Handbook of Photography Studies
EditorsGil Pasternak
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Visual Arts
Chapter17 Part 4
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781474242226, 9781474242219
ISBN (Print)9781474242202
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2020


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