Arts and Design

Challenging the record of white Australian achievement in photography

The recent discovery of a Japanese photographer’s century-old personal photo album has highlighted gaps in Australia’s photographic history, according to art historian Professor Melissa Miles.

Professor Miles will deliver the 2016 Mayne Centre Lecture next week at The University of Queensland Art Museum: “Beyond a white Australia: A new history of modern Australian photography”.

The lecture will centre on the important contributions Sydney-based Japanese photographer Ichiro Kagiyama made to Australian visual culture and Australia-Japan relations in the early 1900s.

Professor Miles, an Australian Research Council Future Fellow with Monash University’s Art History and Theory Program, says the history of Australian photography has largely been written as a record of white Australian achievement.

“As a British colony, Australia’s art history has been dominated by the movements and styles that emerged in the UK, Europe and North America,” Professor Miles said.

“This is especially evident in photography history, where there’s been a lot of emphasis on how Australian modernists were inspired by the developments of the European avant-garde.

“However, photographers like Ichiro Kagiyama reveal a different story. He was an active and influential member of Sydney’s photographic scene working alongside some of Australia’s best-known photographers during an exciting time of modernisation and experimentation.”

Professor Miles will share photographs from Kagiyama’s rare personal album that capture the racial and cultural diversity of Sydney during the years when the so-called White Australia Policy was in place, after the Immigration Restriction Act was introduced in 1901.

“The discovery of Kagiyama’s personal album was exciting as it included some of his earliest artistic work and revealed how he used photography to negotiate his place in the community and bridge the geographical and cultural distance between Australia and Japan.”

UQ Art Museum Director Dr Campbell Gray said the topic of this year’s Mayne Centre Lecture provided an opportunity to challenge and question historical records.

“Professor Miles will provide a new perspective on an exciting period in Australian photographic history, seen through a little-known but undeniably important artistic, social and Japanese lens,” Dr Gray said.

The Mayne Centre Lecture is a free public event. It will be held at 6pm on Wednesday 19 October in the UQ Art Museum, James and Mary Emelia Mayne Centre (Building 11), St Lucia campus.

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