The Establishment of a Department of Photography
at The Victorian Arts Centre (National Gallery of Victoria)
This text is based on a document supplied by Albert Brown in 2017. The text below refers to a 1966/1967 submission included in the minutes of a meeting of the Victorian Arts Centre outlining the arguments for the establishment of a Department of Photography.
Although institutions have been established overseas to encourage the development of the aesthetics of photography, now generally regarded of one of the major visual arts, Australia has nothing comparable.
The foundation of Department of Photography within the Victorian Arts Centre would fulfil this long neglected need and could provide services unique to Australia. The aims of a Department of Photography would be
- to demonstrate the photographic tradition by collecting of the work of early photographers,
- to create an awareness of contemporary life by collecting and producing documentary photographs, and
- to stimulate a wider interest in the potentialities of photography by exhibiting and publishing the material it collects and produces and to provide information on material available from other sources.
The Mitchell Library, the National Library of Australia and other State libraries have collected photographs, particularly those considered to be historical. None of those institutions seems anxious to extend its photographic activities and yet informal talks with photographers, artists and historians indicate that there is an urgent need to preserve collections of photographs still in private hands and to know what has been preserved by Australian institutions.
Furthermore, some teachers, particularly at University level, have indicated their wish to use photographs in their work, though at present they are hindered by the lack of comprehensive indexes of appropriate material and of facilities for readily securing copies of such material.
As a long-term aim, a photographic department of the Arts Centre might well consider compiling a catalogue of photographs held in Australia's major repositories: this could provide a community service of national importance, since no such consolidated catalogue at present exists.
Like the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Department of Photography could demonstrate that photography can be used to increase our perceptions of our situation and environment.
It could demonstrate that the sensationalism and sentimentality of many press photographs and that the sincere efforts of the photo-hobbyists are but minor aspects of photography.
In short, the Department of Photography could provide a balance to rather extreme views of photography.
Because photographs can possess both an aesthetic and historical value, it is often difficult to decide whether a particular photograph should be gallery or library material.
Therefore, the functions of a Department of Photography may at times appear to overlap the functions of the LaTrobe Library.
As the Victorian Arts Centre will have adequate studio and laboratory facilities which need not be duplicated, there is a sound reason for photographic activities being established at the Arts Centre, but in co-operation with the LaTrobe Library.
Interest in the potential Department of Photography has been shown by a number of person overseas. Professor Meaney of the University of Texas has offered at cost copies of works from the celebrated Gernsheim Collection. The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey have offered a selection of photographic prints.
Mr. Robert Kerns of Syracuse University has offered an exhibition of the work of Margaret Bourke-White, one of Life's first photographers.
Helmut and Allison Gernsheim, leading world authorities on photographic aesthetics and photographs as historical documents, could be readily induced to assist in the establishing of a Department of Photography.
It is obvious that, should Gernsheim be able to help Melbourne to open a Department of Photography and to advise on the early stages of its planning, such a Department would be likely to attract wide attention and begin with considerable prestige.
The Victorian Arts Centre has the opportunity of providing photographic facilities unique to Australia, which will receive support both from within Australia and from overseas.
Honorary Photographic Consultant.
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