Black and White Perspectives of the Thomas Dick Photographic Collection

Lecture and discussion
8:30 pm
Museum für Sepulkralkultur, Weinbergstraße 25, Kassel

Lecture by John Heath, a member of the Birpai community, and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community and Cultural Development Officer at the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council.
Introduced by documenta 14 curator Pierre Bal-Blanc and followed by Q&A.

To John Heath, the Thomas Dick Photographic Collection was more than just a collection of photographs. In 1974, he discovered that several members of his family were subjects in Dick’s work and set out to reveal the world that revolved around it. A world of real events carried out by real people, a world far bigger and far wider than that seen through and created by the photographic lens. His work places the subjects in their social, historical, and environmental context. They are rightfully and respectfully acknowledged by name. We learn who they were, what they did, their achievements and challenges. Dick’s life-like but otherwise anonymous images are brought to life. We see real people with families who reveal to us an unbroken lineage continuing today. These silent figures from a silent two-dimensional vacuum come to life and their stories are told in Black and White Perspectives of the Thomas Dick Collection.

For reasons such as satisfying an interest in “exotic” cultures or recording the characteristics of a supposedly dying race, ethnographic photographers of the late nineteenth century captured images of indigenous peoples but provided their intended viewers with very little, if any, written context about their subjects. The photograph itself was supposed to tell the story and provide its own limited context. The subjects were \rarely named beyond a very generic description such as “Australian native.” Sometimes a brief note was added about what they were doing, for example: “Natives fishing.”

Following this tradition, Thomas Dick created a remarkable body of work over the approximate period 1910-1920 around Port Macquarie. “Created” as Dick did not record Aboriginal contemporary reality but created a type. He created a world before white men invaded and for which he, and others, had some sense of nostalgia. Dick dressed Goories in pre-contact costumes and posed them in “traditional” settings carrying out activities “witnessed by explorers such as John Oxley.“ In many ways he imitated the nineteenth-century ethnophotographers but was taking photographs of how he envisaged Aborigines previously existed.

Thomas Dick, black-and-white photograph, 1910, Thomas Dick Collection, Australian Museum, Sydney, installation view, Museum für Sepulkralkultur, Kassel, documenta 14, photo: Liz Eve

Posted in Public Exhibition

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