Review of Adelaide Art Photographers

David Hume‘s review of Gary Sauer-Thompson and Adam Dutkiewicz‘s, Adelaide Art Photographers c.1970-2000, Moon Arrow Press 2019.

A couple of days before I received my review copy of Adelaide Art Photographers c.1970-2000 I came across a copy of Art and Artists of South Australia, written by Nancy Benko and published in 1969. This earlier book is described in its introduction by artist and critic Ivor Francis as “the first to collate available facts about South Australian art and artists.”

Opening this 1969 book in 2020 conjured for me the heady perfume of European Modernism steeped in the hot eucalyptus scent of a South Australian summer. Of a Jacqueline Hick painting jostling with a Lawrence Daws, of a Bernard Hesling enamel next to a charcoal self portrait from a twenty-something Robert Hannaford. I thought of glass tumblers of hock sipped at exhibition openings and cigarettes smoked indoors.

Why mention this book that was published 50 years ago when it’s not the one under review? Well, the parallels between these two are many. Both books are catalogues of South Australian working artists, both are firsts in their field and both rely on information provided by the artists and are thus necessarily subjective. 

The phrase “collate available facts” that Ivor Francis uses is apposite also. Who’s in, who’s out? Why is such-and-such not here?  In their prefaces both Benko and Dutkiewicz describe how the information included in these books was sought and collected, and what editorial decisions were made and their rationales for those decisions. There are many more similarities between these two books than there are differences.

Art and Artists of South Australia

But, as delightful as Art and Artists of South Australia may be, we must move on, as this book mentions no artists working in photography in SA when it was published in 1969. Fortunately, by 1970 when the survey by Sauer-Thompson and Dutkiewicz begins, art photography was ticking over nicely. That must have been a very busy twelve months. Clearly I’m not being serious here, but the acceptance of photography as a legitimate art form for exhibition is central to our narrative.

A bridge – and perhaps an insight – is provided by the inclusion in the earlier book of Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski, a highly prolific artist who worked in many media, most famously perhaps with electronically generated images. His entry in the 1969 book mentions prizes won for his photography but does not refer specifically to his photography as art. In contrast, of the twenty photographers profiled in Adelaide Art Photographers c. 1970-2000, eleven have works in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. So what happened?