A Century in Focus: South Australian Photography 1840s-1940s.

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A Century in Focus: South Australian Photography 1840s-1940s.


Art Gallery Of South Australia. (9 November 2007 – 28 January 2008)


(2007 – 2008)


Multi-artist exhibition. Located: Australia (SA). Photographs


Robinson, Julie



Country of context



The earliest known photographs taken in South Australia are among 400 rare and distinctive works on display in a landmark photographic exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Featuring portraits, landscapes, city views, documentary and artistic images, A Century in Focus: South Australian Photography 1840s-1940s is the first exhibition to chart in photographs the first century of South Australian settlement; an era which coincided with the development of photography itself.

“It is extraordinary serendipity that the invention of photography occurred at almost exactly the same time as the establishment of South Australia” says the exhibition’s curator, Julie Robinson, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Photography was introduced into South Australia in 1845, only nine years after European settlement and just six years after the first daguerreotypes were produced in France.

The earliest datable photograph ever taken in the state – a portrait of Henry Ayers circa 1847 – is a highlight of the exhibition, as are the earliest known views, taken of Port Adelaide, Hindley Street and Burra in 1850. These views have been loaned by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery for the exhibition, and it is the first time they have been on display in Australia.

Maria Zagala, the Gallery’s Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs and a major contributor to the project explains, “The exhibition highlights the quality and ingenuity of South Australian photographers who often worked in difficult conditions”. While works in the exhibition have an intrinsic historical value, all have been chosen on aesthetic merit.

Robinson, Zagala and their team have worked for more than two years to research and identify the artists, subjects and locations of hundreds of rare photographs. “Curating A Century in Focus has been a colossal project” says Robinson. “The result is an exhibition that not only provides a fascinating account of the state’s beginnings, but also reveals how photography evolved as an art form through technological and artistic advances over a century” she adds.

Some of the most important artists of the period worked in photography in 19th century South Australia and are represented in the exhibition, among them Townsend Duryea, Samuel Sweet, George Freeman, H.H. Tilbrook, Paul Foelsche and Harold Cazneaux. Their landscapes, street scenes and portraits (many in the popular, miniature carte de visite format), provide a unique view of life during the state’s first decades.

Bridging the 19th and 20th centuries are photographs from the stylised Pictorial movement. During this period, artists including Frederick Joyner and John Kauffman experimented with interesting compositions and ethereal effects, to create romantic images which were dismissed by some contemporaries as “fuzzy photography”.

Also featured in the exhibition are rare 19th century stereograph images which must be viewed with 3D glasses, and an early experimental film by Krischock, Earthquake in Adelaide, of 1911.

A Century in Focus shows the first half of the twentieth century through photographs by the legendary Max Dupain, as well as Keith Phillips, and photojournalists D. Darian Smith and the Krischock Family. Photographs taken on the frontline by South Australian First World War photographer Hubert Wilkins are on display, as are images from the famous expeditions of Charles Mountford and Douglas Mawson.

Pictures of everyday life, the war effort, news-making bushfires, dinner dances in the Town Hall, and Donald Bradman striding out at Adelaide Oval all show modern South Australians at work and play.

In 1922, the Art Gallery of South Australia became one of the first art museums in the world to acknowledge photography as a creative medium, and A Century in Focus includes some of the first photographs acquired in the 1920s and 1930s.

At the core of A Century in Focus are works from the R.J. Noye Collection, purchased for the Gallery in 2004 by Barbara Mullins and the late Douglas Mullins. This extraordinary collection of around 5,000 photographs was amassed by local photohistorian, Robert ‘ Bob’ Noye (1932-2002), and has radically transformed the Gallery’s photographic holdings. His pioneering research has been built on by the Gallery’s curators, whose work is brought together in the comprehensive, fully-illustrated exhibition book.

Art Gallery Director, Christopher Menz says “It is a privilege to be custodian of the R.J. Noye Collection of Photography, which has lead to such an extraordinary exhibition. I encourage all South Australians to visit A Century in Focus, and to enhance their understanding of our state, through the lens of the camera”.

A Century in Focus: South Australian Photography 1840s-1940s at the Art Gallery of South Australia is open to the public from Friday 9 November 2007 to Monday 28 January 2008. [Gallery media, 2008]

Last Updated

04 Jul 2012