Book Review | Brian Rope
National Library of Australia Publishing
It seems a little odd to review a book by a fellow reviewer, but this book is about the photographer, Joyce Evans, and her imagery - not its author, Sasha Grishin.
Reading the book I was quickly struck by Grishin’s observation “her work is neither widely known nor fully appreciated”. Why? Because I had no knowledge of Evans’ work. Curiously though, my wife knew Evans and typed a lot of her university essays when she worked for Evan’s husband.
I decided to contact a dozen folk who I expected would know of Evans because of their past art/photography studies, curatorial backgrounds, or key roles with important art museums. I asked whether they were aware of Evans’ work and whether or not they appreciated it. To my surprise, only one had any knowledge of Evans whatsoever. She had exhibited with Evans several times and been impressed with her photography.
A blogger I follow recently wrote a short personal appreciation of another photographer’s life and work. In it, he spoke of photographers who have made their major contributions early in their careers and over a relatively short period of time. He expressed enthusiasm for those who continue producing quality work throughout their lives. Evans owned and used a camera from the age of 16, albeit initially as an avid amateur. In her mid-40s she visited an international art fair in Basel and was excited by the photography scene. That led her to open a photography gallery in Melbourne, then to study photography. Evans was 50 when she began using photography as a serious art form. She had her first solo exhibition in 1986 which launched her career as a professional photographer. She remained active in photography for the remainder of her life.
The National Library of Australia holds an archive of Evans’ life work, containing around 30,000 analogue and 80,000 digital works, plus considerable associated documentation. It’s one of the largest archives of any contemporary Australian photographer in any public institution. In 2016, Evans herself invited Grishin to write this book and worked closely with him to achieve it, despite declining health. She approved the final text of all chapters but, sadly, died before publication.
So what do I think of Evans’ imagery? It is diverse. Some, not all, early amateur shots are, perhaps unsurprisingly, amateurish. One about a 1996 rally against racism is certainly about an important Australian story.
|Joyce Evans, Rally against Racism, Treasury Gardens, Melbourne, 1996, nla.obj-143145840
Evans’ somewhat privileged life and good contacts (often portrait subjects) definitely assisted to get her professional career going. Federal Minister Clyde Holding’s invitation to join Aboriginal Affairs as an honorary documentary photographer was instrumental and resulted in her recognising the need to see photographs that should be taken. One book chapter is devoted to “finding the image”. Another to documentary shots of Australia, including roadkill on Australia’s “endless roads”. The latter caused me to think about Judith Nangala Crispin’s very different poetic artworks of such subject matter. Evans’ images such as Uluru, Northern Territory (featured on the book cover) are delightful renditions of our outback.
|Joyce Evans, Portrait of Barbara Blackman, 1989, nla.obj-135941390
|Joyce Evans, Uluru, Northern Territory, 1987, courtesy National Library of Australia
|Joyce Evans, Desert Car on Gunbarrel Highway, Northern Territory, 1991, nla.obj-153485555
The book includes some photos of places Canberrans know well – a windmill at lake George, the Niagara Café at Gundagai. Images taken a little further away include one of the start of Benalla’s Anzac Day march in 1994.
|Joyce Evans, Windmill on Lake George, New South Wales, 1983, nla.obj-153304178
There are some excellent art landscape images, including Eelgrass with Blades Coated in Algae, Mungo Tree, Dimboola Dreaming and two of Cotswold Farm.
Joyce Evans, Eelgrass with Blades Coated in Algae, 2000–2001, courtesy National Library of Australia
Joyce Evans, Mungo Tree, 1990, courtesy National Library of Australia
I know of many folk who have substantial photography collections telling Australian stories which would be worthy additions to the NLA collections. You might even have a great collection. If so, check out https://www.nla.gov.au/support-us/giving-your-national-library/offer-us-collection-material.
This review is also available on the author's blog here.