War by photography: Shooting Japanese in Australia's Pacific War

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Characterised by their determination to get close to the action, the Australian
combat cameramen of the Second World War made a significant contribution to
the evolution of the war photographer into the dynamic figure familiar today. This is especially true of their intimate documentation of the vicious encounter with the Japanese in New Guinea and other islands of the Southwest Pacific, which went beyond professional bravery. A large corps of official photographers shooting for both government and military agencies expressed the racial ideology of a war fought against an opponent who was increasingly loathed as the war progressed. Their pictures of Australian triumphs over the Japanese, including graphic and often deliberately demeaning pictures of dead and captured enemy, reflected the exigencies of wartime propaganda. But they also expanded on a frame of cultural reference derived from decades of anxiety about the threat of invasion by Japan, and reveal an abiding national view of the battlefield as the definitive arena for a contest of rival masculinities. Australia’s war in the Pacific has attracted increasing scholarly and popular attention in recent years. However, the enormous archive of official photographs has been largely ignored, except as a source of illustrative material. This article argues that the archive needs to be read as a collective text in its own right, for the significant insight it provides into Australian cultural as well as military and geopolitical insecurities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)432-452
Number of pages21
JournalHistory of Photography
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • war photography
  • the war in the Pacific
  • Australia and Japan
  • Clifford Bottomley (1905–81)
  • Damien Parer (1912–44)
  • Norman Stuckey (1914–83)
  • George Silk (1916–2004)
  • Noel Ronald Keam (1918–93)
  • Allan Cuthbert (1922–)

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