Picture Paradise

The first century of Asia-Pacific photography 1840s -1940s

Picture Paradise is the first ever comparative survey exhibition of the history of photography in the Asia–Pacific region, from the formative decades of the 1840s to 1860s to the early 1940s and the advent of the Second World War.

Art Exhibition previously on at National Gallery of Australia in Acton precinct, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.
From Thursday 10 July 2008 to Sunday 09 November 2008

Published by anonymous on Friday 13 June 2008.
Contact the publisher.

The exhibition chronicles the developments in photography throughout South and Southeast Asia, Australia and the Pacific to the west coast of North America. Early photography in the Asia–Pacific region reveals the beauty and cultural diversity of the region.

Picture Paradise is presented in conjunction with Vivid, Australia’s inaugural National Photography Festival, celebrating photography’s vital role in Australian life and history.

In mid 2006 Director Ron Radford announced that over the next decade the National Gallery of Australia’s collecting and exhibition programs would more strongly demonstrate Australia’s geographic, political and cultural position within the Asia and Pacific region and play an active role in the appreciation, nationally and internationally, of the art of our region.1 This goal led to a commitment by the Gallery’s Council to build the first museum collection dedicated to representing the history of photography across Asia and the Pacific.

An extraordinary effort has been made to expand the Gallery’s existing Australasian, Asian and Pacific collections. In 2005, the Gallery held over 8000 Australasian works and some 1000 nineteenth- and twentieth-century works from western Canada, California and Mexico, but only a tiny holding of under 200 works from elsewhere in the Asia and Pacific region. Two years on, nearly 10 000 photographs have been acquired – the majority from the purchase of a large collection of colonial-era photography of Indonesia (1860s–1940s) from Leo Haks in Amsterdam, and almost 1000 nineteenth-century South and Southeast Asian and Australasian works from Howard and Jane Ricketts in London. The focus of the expanding collection of photographic art from Asia and the Pacific is not limited to nineteenth-century documentary works; a good representation of twentieth-century art photographers is also being sought, and a number of prints by Pictorialist and Modernist photographers have been acquired.

The Gallery’s new Asia and Pacific collection will be showcased for the first time from 11 July to 9 November 2008 with The first century of Asia–Pacific photography. This exhibition will be the first survey of the history of photography from India and Sri Lanka through Southeast Asia, Australia and the Pacific to the west coast of North America, from the formative decades of the 1840s to 1860s to the early 1940s and advent of the Second World War.

The exhibition will cover the adoption of successive photographic processes across Asia and the Pacific region – from the unique daguerreotype portraits on metal plates in the 1840s–1860s to the mass production of views on paper made possible from the 1860s on to the turn of the century by the wet-plate and then dry-plate glass negative process and finally, the modern era of small 35 mm film cameras introduced in 1925 with the release of the Leica. A special feature of the exhibition will be a presentation of the first colour photographs taken in the Asia and Pacific region from the 1920s to the 1940s.

The exhibition will include pioneer nineteenth-century local photographers as well as European photographers working in the region such as Scot John Thomson, who published the first travel photography books on Asia. Work by first generation indigenous photographers – Lala Deen Dayal from India, Francis Chit from Thailand, Cassian Cephas from Indonesia, Afong from Hong Kong and Carleton Watkins in California and Alfred Bock in Australia will complement views and ethnographic photographs by immigrants such as Armenian Onnes Kurkdjian in Indonesia, JW Lindt, who migrated from Germany to work in Australia and Alfred Burton, an Englishman who worked in New Zealand. Surrealist work by Australian Modernist Max Dupain will be placed in context with the work of Lionel Wendt from Sri Lanka and Osamu Shiihara from Japan. An important feature of the exhibition will be the first account of women photographers in the region including Hedda Morrison in China, Imogen Cunningham in California and Olive Cotton in Australia.

Picture Paradise: the first century of Asia–Pacific photography 1840s–1940sis the National Gallery of Australia’s contribution to Vivid, the National Photography Festival on view in venues around Canberra from 11 July to 12 October 2008. With over 36 exhibitions hosted across 28 participating institutions in Canberra, ranging from national collecting institutions to many smaller community organisations and galleries, Vivid will highlight the city’s rich photographic collections through exhibitions and a wide range of events. For more information, visit nla.gov.au/pict/photofestival.html

Gael Newton
Senior Curator of Photography

This exhibition is part of Vivid Australia’s first ever National Photography Festival. Find out more about at nla.gov.au/vivid