Week 11 Journal submission – Program Review "The Photograph and Australia" @ QAG

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    • #2385
      Luke Mysliwy

      I recently attended an exhibition called ‘The Photograph and Australia’ at the Queensland Art Gallery. The pieces were on loan from the Art Gallery of New South Wales. As part of this programming a gallery tour was offered free of charge. Entry to the exhibition was $12 full price, $10 for concession.

      The purpose of the exhibition was to show how Australia and Australian’s have been captured by the photographers lens over the past 160 years, and showed the great variety of styles, techniques, materials and technology which has been used over that time, from daguerreotypes to digital.

      The exhibition itself was impressive in its scope, featuring many iconic images such as Max Dupain’s famous ‘The Sunbaker’ along with lesser known ones, and included the oldest surviving Daguerreotypes in Australia. The subjects of the exhibit varied, but there was a large representation of indigenous subjects and of colonial era photographs. The exhibition on the whole seemed to have a very regional and natural focus, with very few urban pictures shown. It also appeared to be arranged slightly haphazardly, with photographs from different era’s inhabiting the same space. Rather than being arranged chronologically, it was arranged in themes – Self & Image, Imagining Place, Picturing the Colony, People & Place, Colonies & Communities, Becoming Modern, Communities & Critique, and Critique. At first it did not seem immediately apparent why some pictures had been hung alongside others, except perhaps as a juxtaposition of techniques and era’s. This was not explained in the tour.

      The tour, like any guided tour, could only offer insights into a relatively small number of exhibits, whilst passing over entire walls of other photographs. However, it did give us far more insight and background into the photographs that were included than could be gleaned from the descriptions on the walls. A particular favourite story was about Frank Hurley, who had taken photos of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. Apparently as Shackleton’s ship, the ‘Endurance’ sank, Hurley stripped off and dove into the icy waters to rescue the glass plates (negatives) of the pictures he had taken. The tour guide was able to furnish us with many other facts and background information about the photographers in the exhibit which we would not have known without her (unless we had prior knowledge). This kind of tour can give an added level of value to a program of exhibits such as this and I think this was definitely the case in this instance. If the aim of such a cultural program as this is to help educate the public, then an informative tour such as this is an important additional part of these types of programs. I thought it was positive that as a travelling exhibition it would give people from outside of Sydney the opportunity to view some of these amazing images.

      • This topic was modified 8 years, 6 months ago by Luke Mysliwy.
    • #2387
      Luke Mysliwy

      As a follow up to this review I thought I’d pose some questions to you all.

      This was a fine exhibition, which cost $12 entry. I guess Art Gallery’s and Museums have a bit of a different strategy and mission when it comes to their exhibits (one might also call them attractions) than do Libraries. For one thing you generally can’t take something home from an art gallery or museum (unless you purchased it at the gift shop) At a public library it can usually be assumed that most of the programming and services are free, but certain libraries are off limits to general members of the public. For instance I can’t just waltz into the Milton State School library and borrow a book. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Here are some questions to ponder.

      WHY should things be free?

      WHEN should things be free?

      Is a greater value assigned to things that are NOT free? (or, are things that are not free perceived to have a greater value?)

      WHEN do you decide to start charging? why are SOME exhibits free and others not? And if most museums are funded by government organisations and sponsorship, then is the nominal fee for entry just a token one?

      Is it ever appropriate for a Library to charge admission for a certain service or program?

      Should libraries even charge administrative fees?


    • #2413
      Shannon Franzway

      To charge or not to charge?  Fantastic question!  In simple terms, I think the fee charging decision can be considered against the mission and/or vision of the GLAM – i.e. what is it they need to deliver for their patrons – but this cannot be done in isolation.  Budget is going to have significant influence – i.e. how much does it cost to deliver what it is that patrons would like to see?  How much of the cost can be covered by the GLAM? If a fee needs to be charged, should it be charged at cost recovery or higher to raise a profit, which can then be reinvested for future exhibitions?  I think if the GLAM asks these cost/budget questions against the mission/vision, it provides some clarity around decision making.  It does require the GLAM being very clear and sure of their target audience’s needs and wants though – surveys and feedback need to be part of the daily culture to remain relevant.

    • #2433
      Caitlin .

      Hi Luke,

      I enjoyed your post and even more your questions. I think in a Library there a huge equity issues if they begin to charge. I found a really interesting story about how Mackay regional Library put an amnesty on fines in return for donation to St Vincent De Paul of non perishable food items for Christmas.

      The Australian Museum in Sydney has also stopped charging general entry fees for children and has been working on innovative and interactive permanent displays. Including play zones, playgroup and live insects.

      I think some of the travelling exhibitions do attract a fee for them though hence the admission fee. Although your exhibition seemed very affordable. Do you know what the price was for a family?


      • This reply was modified 8 years, 6 months ago by Caitlin ..
    • #2454
      Ruth McConchie

      I think these are really important questions to consider Luke, so thank you for this post. Travelling exhibitions cost the Gallery a lot of money, there’s insurance, shipping, negotiating to borrow work from commercial galleries/ trustees etc and of course the time it takes for the gallery staff to do it. Many of the costs around GLAMs are hidden from the public in Australia, so I think the Australian public expects things to be free. Internationally this is not the case at all. It is interesting to think about how programs that are “free admission” are valued by Australian society, in comparison to international programs  and GLAMs that charge an entry fee and how they are valued in their societies.

    • #2474
      Katherine Lee

      Great post Luke! You raised a lot of interesting questions. I have wondered about the disparity of cost between libraries and galleries and museums. I think it comes down to the kinds of programs and services that are run by the institution. As Ruth mentioned there are much more hidden costs related to exhibitions in art galleries and museums, particularly travelling exhibitions. Galleries and museums also have to constantly reorganise their space according to the exhibition and create didactic and marketing material to promote their exhibition so their costs are much greater.

      I have to say I was very interested in your response to the exhibition itself. I went to see it a couple of months ago and was frankly insulted by the seeming lack of thought that had gone into the exhibition. I didn’t think the exhibition was worth $12. It was badly curated, badly hung (you could barely see some photos), the themes were incoherent and they failed to communicate anything meaningful about the development of photography in Australia. While they did provide didactic material but this was so full of art historical jargon I struggled to understand what they were trying to say and I have a degree in art history.

      I considered pursuing a career in galleries but it was this kind of lack of consideration for viewers that made me switch to libraries instead. Libraries develop programs based on what their clients actually need. They consider accessibility of services and gaps in community knowledge and try to fill these, through programming. Galleries seem more concerned with promoting particular art historical narratives than educating their viewers. Their foremost concern is promoting culture rather than promoting education and I feel that less consideration is given to clients’ needs and wants than in libraries.

      Sorry for the rant, it’s something that I feel quite strongly about.

    • #2475
      Luke Mysliwy

      I agree Katherine! I didn’t exactly know what they were trying to say either! And if you had more of a background in Photography/Art then I can see how it might have been frustrating how it was arranged. I really liked some of the photos that were there and it really was great to see such iconic ones (like The Sunbaker, Gough Whitlam pouring sand into Vincent Lingiaris fingers etc.), but yes, very haphazardly organised. A point about the lighting, during the tour the guide mentioned that the lighting was so dim because any brighter and it could damage the photographs (you may have noticed that some were hung behind curtains). This seemed to be a satisfactory explanation (to me anyhow).

    • #2563
      Stacey Larner

      Admission fees can really be off-putting if you have kids. It’s lovely to expose kids to art and culture occasionally but if you have 2 kids at admission age then it can end up costing over $30 to see an exhibition. And it’s dubious what a kid will get out of one specific exhibition (I take them more so they feel confident to go to them when they are older, and hoping that maybe something will spark some interest in something). Often kids don’t want to read the information provided, and rush you through, so you don’t really get the full benefit yourself either. So it would be good if kids’ fees were substantially discounted (rather than only a couple of dollars cheaper as is usually the case).

      I will happily pay for things I am really interested in though. I remember when the Surrealist exhibition was on at QAG when I was a teenager (so back in the 90s, people). We went as part of a school excursion and that exhibition changed me and influenced the development of my art. I appreciate how expensive exhibitions like that are to arrange and display. My answer to that these days would be to go without the kids (or go again, without them, after first taking them perhaps!) If an exhibition of female Surrealist art was to be offered any time in the future I’d pay to see that!

      I think libraries do occasionally charge for programs though (the Edge is a case in point). It’s a complicated thing and I think where possible programs should be fully funded, but I realise it’s not always possible.


      • This reply was modified 8 years, 6 months ago by Stacey Larner.
    • #2675
      Paola Beretta

      Great post Luke! I really enjoyed your perspective and the great discussion it promoted. I hadn’t read your post until after I published mine on the same exhibition. I think that was good, as we both approached the exhibition from different angles. Yes, the cost of exhibitions and how that is passed onto visitors would probably provide enough material for a whole unit. As Ruth commented, the hidden costs can be very high and insurance in particular.

      Ah, Katherine, you touched on a topic that really interests me. I think that a lot of curators, unfortunately, have a very elitist stance when it comes to developing exhibitions. A lot of assumed knowledge and a kind of ‘disregard’ for the viewer as a learner/discoverer can be read ‘in between the lines’ in many exhibitions.


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