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image icon 'Untitled', from the series 'Something more', 1989

'Untitled', from the series 'Something more', 1989
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is a colour photograph by Tracey Moffatt (1960-), taken in 1989. Measuring 101.5 cm x 127.5 cm, the image (one in a group of nine) depicts a roadside scene set against the backdrop of a field somewhere in the country. The foreground of the image is dominated by a close-up of a motorbike and a pair of legs in shiny knee-high black riding boots. A hand with an extended index finger, featuring a long red lacquered fingernail and holding a coiled stockwhip, can be seen to the right of the work. Part of the bike's motor and exhaust section (inscribed with the logo 'AJS') can be seen at the left of the work. Visible through the bike frame is a woman in a red dress, kneeling forward in the direction of the viewer with her head bowed.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a work by Tracey Moffatt, who is one of Australia's most successful and internationally acclaimed artists - Moffatt studied visual communications at the Queensland College of Art, graduating in 1982; since her first solo exhibition in Sydney in 1989, she has exhibited extensively around the world; in the 1980s and early 1990s she worked as a director on documentaries and music videos for television; she gained early critical acclaim for her film work when the short film 'Night cries' was selected for official competition at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival; a major exhibition in New York in 1997 consolidated her international reputation; Moffatt has been described as a director of photo-narratives, who incorporates photography and filmmaking into her work; her highly stylised photographs, which often reference art and photographic history and popular culture, usually appear in series and resemble film-stills in the way they work as an open-ended narrative rather than as a single image; the subject matter in her work addresses issues of Indigenous heritage, as well as exploring race, gender, sexuality, and identity
  • is one of nine same-sized photographs that form the series 'Something more', in which the artist appears as the central character in a sequence of visual scenarios - these portray a slide from a state of hopeful innocence in a small country town to physical oppression and despair and then violent death on the highway; this type of story-telling is usually called a photo-narrative; 'Something more' was the first significant photo-narrative series made by the artist
  • plays an important role in building the 'Something more' photo-narrative - each of the nine images, which are rather like stills from a silent melodrama, deals with some aspect of the overall themes of racism and physical and sexual abuse; another image in the series depicts a woman packing travelling clothes; the (logically) final image shows the body of a young woman sprawled (apparently dead) in the middle of a highway; what takes place between packing up and leaving and being found dead on the road is alluded to in each photo of the drama as it is acted out in a roadside setting
  • is a powerful and disturbing image - in the context of the sequence of nine images, the inclusion of the stockwhip and the exposed back of the woman on all fours by the roadside in this photograph take the implication of extreme physical cruelty to another level; the highly polished riding boots and glimpse of fawn riding jodhpurs, which denote the wearer as (possibly) a police officer, take the image to an even darker edge; the fact that the hand holding the whip has one varnished red index finger nail adds further complexity to the reading
  • contains layered meanings - the actual meaning of each image is implied through gestures and facial expressions, the kinds of clothes people are wearing, objects and stage-like settings, and the viewer constructs meanings based on what these items or situations collectively suggest; the extreme emphasis in this photograph on the stockwhip may suggest that the kneeling woman is about to be whipped, but the red finger nail and the carefully polished boots (remarkably free of red sand) provide an unexpected twist to the story; art historian Gael Newton has suggested that the combination of the ultra-gleaming surfaces of the British-made vintage AJS motorbike, the boots and whip (along with the 'S' and 'M' being printed in bold type in the original catalogue for 'Something more') are all references to 'the notion of a complicit victim and the pleasure of pain'; one art critic has suggested that the letters AJS are not only the make of the bike, but are also sly references to the Australian judicial system
  • has a strong cinematic quality - for Moffatt growing up in a working-class Brisbane suburb, television and the cinema were her 'art'; her formal training introduced her to ways of using still and moving images to tell stories, including how to exploit a wide range of styles drawn as much from 'old' movies and B-grade television serials as arthouse cinema and art photography; this photograph has a number of visual features characteristic of mid-20th-century dramatic films, notably the storyline and mood being set up by exaggerated gestures, 'frozen' moments, obvious clothing and props, over-rich colour and fake backdrops for outdoor scenes; the particular cinematic features in this photograph include the use of extreme changes in focus, for example, the sharply focused foreground bike and figure and the blurry kneeling figure and field in the background
  • is a staged studio photograph - as part of her film-making and photographic practice, Moffat produces her images in the studio or in artificial settings; this process involves preparatory drawing, the creation of a storyboard and casting.