Gorge photograph, 2017–19

Charcoal drawings, off-set printed artist’s books for visitors to take away, published by Surpllus, Melbourne, design: Brad Haylock.

Exh.: Tom Nicholson: Drawings and correspondence, curated by Aileen Burns ad Johan Lundh, 24 March–2 June 2018, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; Tom Nicholson: Public Meeting, curated by Max Delany, 6 April–16 June 2019, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.

Gorge photograph begins with the Victorian watercolorist Rex Battarbee, his relationship with the Western Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira, and the critical and largely overlooked importance of photography in their exchanges. The work is conceived in triptych relationship with Drawings and correspondence, and Cartoons for Joseph Selleny.

The project developed in dialogue with the little-known body of negatives and transparencies in the Battarbee Collection, South Australian Museum (SAM). This photographic material originates in the early years of Battarbee and Namatjira's shared en-plein-air painting expeditions through Tjoritja/the West MacDonnell Ranges during the 1930s, when they would paint and photograph during the day, then develop their photographs in dry river beds at night. Some of these photographs closely resemble the compositions of the watercolours, others are more wide-ranging in address, and some are experimental, such as photographs of mirages, and night photographs.


The set of drawings unfold from an affecting moment in Battarbee's journal: when he records belatedly receiving news about the outbreak of WWII while he and Namatjira are camped at Kwartatuma/Ormiston Gorge in September 1939. The news momentarily disables Battarbee's picture-making. The drawings in Gorge photograph attempt to picture the negative of Battarbee's imagined photography at this moment. In these imagined negatives, the lens is pointed directly at the sun (an object neither Battarbee nor Namatjira ever pictures directly in their watercolours). The dramatic lens flare produces a type of mirage. The blacks also saturate Kwartatuma/Ormiston Gorge's vertical rock-faces, vast surfaces that enfold the act of image-making, deep within the landscape's matter.



A second branch of this project involved facilitating an engagement with photographs from the Battarbee Collection by Western Arrernte artists working at Iltja Ntjarra Many Hands Art Centre in Alice Springs. This project became ‘What if this photograph is by Albert Namatjira?’, part of ‘Tarnanthi 2017’, at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, including the work of Myra Ah Chee, Benita Clements, Tiara Doolan, Kathleen France, Noreen Hudson, Clara Inkamala, Dellina Inkamala, Kathy Inkamala, Reinhold Inkamala, Vanessa Inkamala, Ricky Connick Jakamara, Lenie Namatjira, Gloria Pannka, Hubert Pareroultja, Ivy Pareroultja, Mervyn Rubuntja, Betty Wheeler, Marcus Wheeler.

Related work

Towards a monument to Batman's Treaty


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