Saturday, July 15, 2023

Capturing Canberra

Brian Rope | Photography

Capturing Canberra | Various Photojournalists

CMAG | 8 JUL 2023 - 28 JAN 2024

Capturing Canberra showcases the recently acquired Press Photography Collection of the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG). On display for the first time - part of it that is - this remarkable collection of 3,560 press photographs captures the essence of Canberra, its people, and events that shaped both the city and the nation. As one would expect, the 150 images on display overall reflect the skills of trained photojournalists, so this review focuses on content rather than quality.

There are historic, thought-provoking, artistic and amusing images that have graced the front pages of Australian newspapers, including The Canberra Times and The Sydney Morning Herald. CMAG has added material from the photojournalists' personal collections and some of their recollections to bring their experiences to life. Visitors can immerse themselves in the visual storytelling and reflect about the people and events they are looking at. They can truly engage with particular stories and images; and be inspired by them.

Images that will captivate the audience in 'Capturing Canberra' at CMAG. Image supplied by CMAG

The exhibition is made even better by displays about wet darkroom magic and the secrets of the development process. Visitors are invited to use a vintage typewriter to write their own breaking news stories. They can watch and listen to first-hand video accounts from photojournalists talking about their careers and experiences working for Fairfax-associated newspapers.

Some of the photojournalists represented in the Press Photography Collection have contributed considerably to make this a great exhibition, especially for those of us who have lived in Canberra during some of the years covered by the displayed imagery (1913 – 1994). Many Canberrans will be familiar with the names Graham Tidy, Rob Little, Mike Bowers, Lorrie Graham and Rick Stevens. Passionate Canberra photographers will remember Rob Little judging their entries in Canberra Photographic Society competitions (as some current day photojournalists also do) or have attended presentations in their city by Mike Bowers.

Biographies of photojournalists within the collection. Image supplied by CMAG.

Having lived in Canberra since early 1959 and photographed many things here myself during the period covered by this collection, I was delighted to see people, places and events that I knew and remembered – and photographed.

People such as the first Chief Minister of the A.C.T., Rosemary Follett, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and members of his Cabinet, including Tom Uren who I answered to as ACT Commissioner for Housing in the early 1980s when he directed that there were to be no evictions whatever if tenants decided not to pay their rent. Word got around and, as a result, rental arrears skyrocketed.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam addresses joint sitting of Parliament, 6 August 1974.
Image by unattributed photographer. CMAG's Canberra Press Photography Collection, 2018.

Buildings such as the Academy of Science in 1969 and the Black Mountain Communications Tower in 1973. Events - including moratorium marchers in 1970-71 photographed passing by the Rogers department store that older Canberrans all remember, and floodwaters passing over Googong Dam in 1976.

Moratorium marchers in Canberra, c.1970-71.
Image by unattributed photographer at The Canberra Times.
CMAG's Canberra Press Photography Collection, 2018

There are historic photos from the beginnings of Canberra and copies of front pages of The Canberra Times. There are displays about the “Great Outdoors” – youngsters playing when snow fell, yachts at the lake, and people enjoying places along the Cotter River. There is a photo that includes the first Duntroon Cadets of “Aboriginal descent” on graduation day in 1987.

Bathing in the Molonglo River, c. 1937. Image by William G Buckle.
CMAG's Canberra Press Photography Collection, 2018.

Who amongst Canberra’s long-time residents could forget the Minister for the Capital Territory, Michael Hodgman? There is an image of him in a suit, trousers rolled up and standing in a paddling pool alongside Flipper, a plastic duck, after he had turned the first sod at the site of the $7.8 million indoor swimming and training hall at the National Sports Centre in Bruce. I have other memories of him – one about a “notorious” swastika on a garage door in Charnwood, another about him “requiring” some of his departmental branch heads to drink Tasmanian beer in his old Parliament House office after midnight whilst he changed into suitable clobber for a late appearance at a dressy event.

Many of the photographers have not been identified, as their published images were not attributed. There are photos of unknown people, including one of five young women in Canberra Times uniforms outside that newspaper’s offices. CMAG invites visitors to provide any information they have to assist identify people and places and the unattributed photographers.

My wife, who has lived here only since 1988, accompanied me to the exhibition and was just as interested in all the material. Indeed I would be surprised if any visitor did not find the exhibition fascinating. I look forward to a future opportunity to see many other works from the collection.

This review is also available on the author's blog here.