The photography of empty lands: Tasmanian history in the art of Ricky Maynard and Anne Ferran
thesisposted on 23.02.2017, 03:24 authored by Neath, Jessica Christiana
"The Photography of Empty Lands" examines the trend in contemporary art to represent traumatic histories by photographing an absence of remains. The thesis focuses on two Australian artists, Ricky Maynard and Anne Ferran, who have made photographs in Australia’s most southern state, Tasmania. Both artists document the forgotten sites where aspects of the state’s colonial history took place – Maynard’s focus is the Black War fought between the Tasmanian Aboriginal people and the European colonists; Ferran is concerned with the operation of female factories, in which convict women were incarcerated. The artists return to these places to produce evocative landscape photographs that do not declare their historical content in a straightforward manner, and where the absence recorded often points to a continual presence of history. The photographs suggest that history is not confined to the past, and that the role of photography should not be limited to capturing proof on film. The thesis considers how the artists photograph this emptiness to create critical and affective dialogues about complex histories and visual traditions. Limiting the study to one region and two artworks enables a more specific analysis of the histories and places photographed. There is an assessment of concerns beyond art history and theory, entering into wider debates in memorial culture, and heritage discourses and practices. While advancing the discussion about photography and its role in art, memory, and history, this approach also draws specific conclusions about the legacy of Australia’s colonial past: for example, the entwinement of convict and Aboriginal histories, and the potential meanings of historical sites. Such observations arise from considering how the photographs perform in different disciplinary contexts, the material processes behind their making, and the historical moments they describe. Together these observations and the issues that arise provide a new perspective on Australia’s troubled relationship with its past, and suggest alternative ways of addressing colonial history and its aftermath.