Oceanian imaginings in French photographic archives

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Although France was unsuccessful in establishing a colonial foothold in Australia the Société de géographic de Paris, and other learned establishments in the late-nineteenth century, acquired photographic images of the distant land. These photographs form a rich visual archive, revealing how the French imagined nineteenth-century Australia and its people. These same images, frequently made by Australian photographers seeking an international market, similarly reveal the assumed European taste for the Antipodes. This paper is based upon research in two well-catalogued archives, the Cartes et Plans department of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the phototheque of the Musee de l'Homme. With some exceptions, the considered photographs in both institutions were taken by French visitors to Australia or by Australian photographers (most of whom ran successful commercial businesses). Using representative ethnographic and landscape images from these French archives, this author shows how theories from ethnography, geography and geology can enhance an art-historical reading of the photo-archive and suggests an interdisciplinary approach to interpreting the photographs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-148
Number of pages12
JournalHistory of Photography
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004
Externally publishedYes

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