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	Image: Allan Sekula Mother and premature baby, Kassel 2006–07. Gift of Geoff and Vicki Ainsworth 2008 © Allan Sekula

Borderlands: photography and cultural contest

Photography symposium

This is the second of a new series of annual symposia exploring current approaches to photographic history and theory. It explores the role of photography in constructing and transgressing social, cultural and temporal boundaries.

From photography’s early ties to the politics of travel, imperialism and cultural tourism, photographic representation has possessed an ability to expand, unveil and subvert boundaries.

In the 21st century photography retains an ability to preserve and memorialise cultural contact long after these moments may have been smoothed over in the historical narrative. It also facilitates the exchange of social and political messages in a visual language that transcends national and cultural borders.

Recent shifts in vernacular photography towards digital distribution have pushed photography beyond traditional conceptions of the image as a physical, framed object. The reach and speed at which images can be exchanged not only provide increased points of cultural contact, but also blur the boundaries between individual and collective identities.


11am: Symposium welcome and introduction

Judy Annear, senior curator, photographs

11.20am: Uncertain regard

Merilyn Fairskye, Associate Professor, Photomedia, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney

Ukraine has been the site of volatile political, social and cultural change over hundreds of years. The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident is of a different order of magnitude to everything that has gone before. This paper draws on two field trips to Ukraine and the new work Fairskye created to consider what it is an artist can excavate in the aftermath of such a catastrophe. It also considers the differences between artistic and documentary forms of expression.

A/Prof Merilyn Fairskye makes videos and photography. Her videos have been screened in film and video festivals around the world including the International Film Festival Rotterdam; Videobrasil; Sydney Film Festival and in art museums including Tate Modern London; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, and the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

11.50am: The Myalls’ Ultimatum: photography, conflict and negotiation in eastern Arnhem Land, 1917

Jane Lydon, ARC Future Fellow, Monash Indigenous Centre, Monash University; Laurie Baymarrwangga, nonogenarian Yan-nhangu speaker and Aboriginal Traditional Owner of Murrungga, Galiwin’ku, Brul-Brul Islands, and the seas of Ganatjirri Maramaba, senior custodian of Rapuma Island and the Gorryindi estate; Bentley James, Anthropologist and researcher Crocodile Islands Rangers, Senior Linguist Yan-nhangu Dictionary Project, Murrungga Island

In 1917 the travelling photographer Ryko (Edward Reichenbach) photographed a reenactment, by Yan-nhangu language speakers of the Crocodile Islands, of the murder of two visiting trepangers at Rapuma Island, in eastern Arnhem Land. This image was one of a series he produced along the Territory’s northern coast in these years in collaboration with his Indigenous subjects, often commemorating conflict with outsiders.

This event took place between the official end of the trepang trade in 1907 and the establishment of nearby Milingimbi Mission in 1922, and followed a long and frequently violent history of trade, treaty-making and visual communication with Macassans. Ros Poignant’s masterly analysis of Ryko’s work focused on what these images tell us of the ‘mechanism of transmission’ of Indigenous experience and memory; almost as an aside, she suggested that the Yabooma image might be understood as a kind of ‘petition’ to the colonial authorities. However if we look more closely at the Gorryindi context for this event, made possible by the recent translation of Laurie Baymarrwangga’s account of this history, a new Yan-nhangu perspective has emerged that shows the ‘ultimatum’ to be less a petition than a complex assertion of Indigenous ownership, law and autonomy.

12.20pm Lunch

1.20pm: Rosângela Rennó: witnessing and photography

Susan Best, Senior Lecturer College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales

This paper considers the strategies used by Brazilian photographer Rosângela Rennó to generate interest in what she calls ‘the little stories of the downtrodden and the vanquished’ (Rennó, 2004). These stories include the ‘inglorious’ episodes of history, the shameful events of the past that successive Brazilian political regimes would like to gloss over, which she says can be found or uncovered in the ‘lowest categories of the image’: vernacular photography, identification shots, portraits.

Rennó does not take photographs herself instead she recycles existing photographs of this kind. Her practice involves both ‘found’ and ‘sourced’ photographs, to use Mark Godfrey’s distinction between images collected by chance and more purposeful or motivated assemblies. This paper will focus on three series that use sourced images: Imemorial [Immemorial] (1994), Atentado ao Poder (Via Crucis) [Attack on Power (Stations of the Cross)] 1992 and Cicatriz [Scar] (1998-99). Rennó’s view is that she has a ‘duty to help these images to be seen’.

Dr Susan Best teaches Art History at the University of New South Wales. She is the author of Visualizing Feeling: Affect and the Feminine Avant-garde (London: I B Tauris 2011).

1.50pm: Photography online and in social media: political and social effects

John Potts, Associate Professor of Media, Macquarie University

This paper examines the political and social consequences of the networked distribution of digital photographs. Beginning with a consideration of the ways in which the experience of space and time has been redefined by networked digital media, consideration is then given to the power of social media to affect political discourse through the distribution of photographs. The role of photographs on Facebook is also discussed, as part of the construction of the ‘relational self’.

John Potts is Associate Professor of Media at Macquarie University. He has published five books, including A History of Charisma (2009) and After the Event: New Perspectives on Art History (with Charles Merewether, 2010).

2.20pm Panel discussion

Merilyn Fairskye, Jane Lydon, Susan Best, John Potts

3.20pm: Close

Image: Allan Sekula Mother and premature baby, Kassel 2006–07. Gift of Geoff and Vicki Ainsworth 2008 © Allan Sekula

Saturday 31 March 2012, 10.30am–4.30pm

Non-members $55
Members $40
Students $25


Become a member

Note: Online bookings close Friday 30 March, 4.30pm.
Tickets will be available for sale at the door.

Cost includes lunch and afternoon drinks.
Further enquiries:

Duration 6 hours
Location: Domain Theatre

Related exhibition: Making sense