Facing the Camera: Australia

The series I call Facing the Camera is the start of a large document of Aboriginal artists. I am all too aware of Aboriginal peoples’ very problematic relationship with photography and how much they have quite rightly viewed the medium with suspicion. The legacy is one of subjugation where the “camera was another weapon in the wars of domination.” Nonetheless, I have received enormous support from my fellow Aboriginal artists.

The impetus for the series derived from my realisation that a document had not been made of individuals who make up the Aboriginal arts community. In 2008, I was in a residency at the Banff Centre and saw for the first time a number of prominent indigenous artists together as a group—artists who I had previously only known by name alone. That coupled with my interest in portrait photography made me want to embark upon this documentary project.

Because of its success and the meaning it generated for both myself and others, I have continued to photograph artists in different cities in an attempt to give as much representation to the indigenous community as possible. In 2012 I realized the Santa Fe Suite of this project during a residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute; I photographed the arts community that surrounded both the Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Native Art during the Indian Market festival (one of the most prestigious intertribal fine art markets in the world). And now, in 2016, I am able to continue this body of work in Australia, through an exchange facilitated by RMIT iAIR and the University of Lethbridge. I am thrilled to be in residence here and to meet and photograph some of Australia’s indigenous arts community—specifically those in Melbourne, Victoria; Churchill, Victoria; and Brisbane, Queensland.

In these images—and in all my work—I see the photograph as a performance space, where identity is constantly worked and reworked, represented and perhaps even hidden. I use the portrait convention to acknowledge the agency of the individual in bringing together and expressing, in a conscious and unconscious way, the numerous cultural and personal factors that compose one’s sense of self. This applies equally to my sense of self—as I am the one taking the picture—as it does to those who stand before my camera.

Gail Tremblay, “Constructing Images, Constructing Reality: American Indian Photography and Representation,” Views: The Journal of Photography of New England (Winter 1993), 8-13.