Good Looking: Narrative Photographs Past and Present, an exhibition that examines a range of ‘picture-telling’ styles across 125 years of Australian photography, goes on display at the National Library in Canberra on 3 September.

The exhibition brings together works from the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection that highlight particular moments where narrative has played an important structural or conceptual role in photography from the 1870s to the 1990s. It includes some of the earliest images in Australian photography as well as contemporary work.

Good Looking contains works by 11 Australian photographers whose images construct or enact stories. They are John William Lindt, Martyn Jolly, Fred Kruger, Edwin George Adamson, Frank Hurley, Robert Rooney, Virginia Coventry, Ian North, Tracey Moffatt, Jane Burton and Kenneth Pleban.

What distinguishes the photographs in this exhibition is the way each artist has either directly inserted, or left room for, the discovery of a story that is realised in the imagination.

National Library Director-General of the NLA Jan Fullerton AO said, ”This exhibition is an excellent opportunity for the National Library to reflect on its own extensive collection of narrative photography and to work with one of Australia’s major galleries to show such a diverse and interesting range of photographs which demonstrate the connection between social history and visual art.”

Kate Rhodes, exhibition curator and Assistant Curator of Photography at the NGV said, “All photographs tell us things. But if we are living in ‘fictitious times’, as American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore has said, then our ability to read and understand the layers of information in photographs becomes all the more important.

“The idea of ‘good looking’ encapsulates the fact that photographs are not simply a mirror to the world but one of the most complex and, at times, problematic forms of visual representation.”

The photographs vary widely and are a window into the development of photography:

  • JW Lindt’s portraits in the late 19 th used props to provide information about the sitter
  • Edwin Adamson and Frank Hurley worked in a documentary mode saturated with emotion and the extremes of human activity
  • The development of smaller, portable cameras and faster film in the 1920s paved the way for the instantaneous sports photography of Edwin Adamson
  • Ian North’s images explore Canberra’s sense of order, prosperity and confidence. His work forms a series of “postcards” from the capital, strangely empty of inhabitants.
  • Robert Rooney, Virginia Coventry and Ian North use the assembly and arrangement of images as key factors in the communication of their ideas
  • Tracey Moffatt, Jane Burton and Kenneth Pleban engage us through our identification with film and television stories by evoking our private and collective memories. In particular Moffatt’s photographs utilise the role movies play in the creation of popular memory to explore contemporary social issues of racial, sexual and class dominance.

Good Looking: Narrative Photographs Past and Present is a National Gallery of Victoria Touring Exhibition

Exhibition Gallery, National Library of Australia
3 September – 30 October 2005
Open daily 9am-5pm, Free admission

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