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image icon 'Portrait of Aboriginal women and baby', c1874

Curriculum Corporation seeks to treat Indigenous cultures and beliefs with respect. For many Indigenous communities, hearing the names and/or seeing the image of a deceased person may cause sadness or distress. People using this digital resource should be aware that the material may include references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have passed away.

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Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is a black and white albumen-silver photograph measuring 19.1 cm x 14.3 cm by John Lindt (1845-1926). Taken in about 1874, the carefully composed photograph shows three Indigenous Australian women and a baby grouped near a bush shelter reconstructed in the studio from tree branches and slabs of wood. The woman in the centre holds a trimmed tree branch in her left hand while her right arm rests around the shoulders of an older woman who is lying down and resting her head on the seated woman's right leg. A third woman is sitting cross-legged on the ground nursing a sleeping baby. All three women wear items of European clothing. They are framed on either side by some plants and reeds on the left, and the bush shelter on the right. Some traditional carrying bags - one on the ground at the front of the group and two hanging on the shelter - can also be seen.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a photograph by one of 19th-century Australia's most successful and enterprising photographers, John Lindt - Lindt emigrated from Germany in 1845 and in 1863 began working as a professional photographer in Grafton, northern New South Wales; from 1876 he established a very successful photographic business in Melbourne; Lindt also travelled and photographed extensively in Fiji and New Guinea and exhibited at international exhibitions
  • is an anthropological photograph - anthropology is a branch of science that deals with the origins and cultural development of human societies; photography played an increasingly key role in the later 19th century in Australia and elsewhere as a means of recording Indigenous peoples and their material cultures and traditions
  • is one of a set of photographs produced by Lindt that depict Indigenous Australians - between 1872 and 1874 Lindt produced about 60 photographs of local Clarence River area Indigenous people; many of these images were exported as postcards and in album format to Europe, the UK, and the USA, as well as being sold in Australia; the best-known examples of these photographs were incorporated into a photographic album comprising 33 portraits and 20 medium and small plate images; this album is now known as 'The Australian Aboriginal Collection'
  • references British attitudes towards Indigenous Australians in the later 19th century - by that time many British settlers in Australia and elsewhere were convinced, albeit falsely, that Indigenous Australians were a 'dying race'; photographers such as Lindt catered for both public and scientific demands for records of the appearance and customs of Indigenous Australians before they disappeared; Lindt was very aware of the demand for 'exotic' compositions in the Western world in the late 19th century, which was why 'The Australian Aboriginal Collection' was such a successful business venture; the NSW government of the time purchased multiple copies of this collection to present to scientific institutions in Britain
  • is an excellent example of the way in which studio photographers such as Lindt interpreted Indigenous Australians and their culture - newspapers of the time, including the 1874 issue of the 'Australian Town and Country Journal', praised Lindt's photographs for representing Aborigines 'truthfully and artistically'; contemporary viewers see such studio depictions as artificial, unconvincing and degrading; some have argued that the device of photographing Indigenous Australians in a studio with assorted utensils, chopped off branches and bunches of grass to represent nature served only to emphasise their complete dispossession
  • depicts living Indigenous Australians from the mid-19th century - Lindt's subjects were drawn from the local Clarence River Bundjalung and Gumbainggir peoples
  • references an ongoing debate in the Australian community about the cultural value and ownership of such images - in advance of an overseas auction of one of Lindt's 'The Australian Aboriginal Collection' albums in 2004, Australian Senator Aden Ridgeway, a descendant of those depicted in the album, called for its return to Australia, saying, 'We cannot afford to lose any more elements of our Indigenous culture'; the collection was purchased at auction by an unnamed philanthropic Australian family who are considering placing it in a major public institution, such as the Powerhouse Museum or the Mitchell Library.