photographic history: C.P. Mountford

My knowledge of South Australia’s photographic history is minimal, especially what happened in the long culturally conservative period between the 1920’s and 1970s.This was a time when South Australia was part of the old British Empire, photography was deemed to be non-art, and as it was outside of the art institution, it was not collected by the state art gallery. The directors of the state gallery in this period were Leslie Wilkie (1926-35, Louis Frederick McCubbin  (1936-1950), Robert Campbell (1951-1967) and John Baily ( 1977-1976). Since photographers were not considered to be artists South Australia’s photographic history has to be recovered.

The visual arts were about painting–eg., Hans Heysen paintings of the Northern Flinders Ranges —and not the photographs and films that were made by the anthropologists on their various expeditions into northern South Australia and central Australia in the Northern Territory. C.P. Mountford  worked as a stills-photographer and art recorder, under the auspices of the University of Adelaide’s Board for Anthropological Research (J. B. Cleland, T. D. Campbell and N. B. Tindale) and he  joined the board’s expedition to Nepabunna Mission, in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia, in 1937. Though this mentorship he became an authority on Aboriginal culture and society.

C. P. Mountford,  cooked damper, Erldunda Station, 1935

The anthropologists who were also photographers weren’t considered to be artists as they were making documents of how colonialism had affected indigenous people. This was ethnographic photography not art.