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ROAD WORK AHEAD: A study of road photography in Australia, Belinda Hungerford 2010

This 2017 online version of Belinda Hungerford's thesis has been adapted from a copy of Belinda's 2010 thesis as submitted for the degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Art History and Curatorship in the School of Cultural Inquiry, Australian National University; it is not the thesis as submitted and may include amendments and updated information.


This thesis has investigated whether there is an established genre of road photography in Australia. Two substantial and significant photographic road trips, Wesley Stacey's The Road and Trent Parke's Minutes to Midnight, were examined as examples of Australian road photography. The tradition and development of road photography in America was discussed as a counterpoint in analysing the genre in Australia.

The work of the FSA commissioned photographers Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans used the photographic road trip to depict a society in photographs. This continued with Robert Frank who also incorporated aspects of popular culture consolidating a new iconography that began with Frank - the 'everyday' in the American social and cultural landscape. In the work of Lee Friedlander the continuing concern with the vernacular in road photography was proven and the transition into using the road to express a personal aesthetic.

Ed Ruscha's photographic exercises in typology were an example of contemporary art movements reflected in road photography and in Stephen Shore's series the development of road photography from being a tool to depict a society to becoming a site for personal artistic expression was encompassed.

The scarcity of the road in the Australian cultural landscape was noted as being repeated in Australian photography. Alternative favoured subject matter and the obstacles photography and photographers faced in the Australian art world were suggested as to reasons why road photography has not had as significant a presence in this country.

Stacey's The Road was put forward as the first real example of road photography, occurring decades after the genre was established in America. Aspects of traditional American road photography were found in The Road but there were overwhelming differences. The repeated use of the road as a motif and the desire to express the driving experience distinguished the series from its American predecessors.

Minutes to Midnight by Trent Parke was shown to be more in the vein of the American tradition with obvious links to Robert Frank as well as traces of other American phenomena such as The Family of Man. 

This thesis argued that these two series demonstrated that there is an established tradition of road photography in Australia however it has lain dormant for periods of time. The Road and Minutes to Midnight represented opposing spectrums of the genre within Australia each with distinct identities.

This thesis has only been a cursory study of road photography in Australia. It aimed to begin a discussion about the road in Australian photography which has the potential to be explored more thoroughly. The uneasy relationship non-Indigenous Australians have with the land could be investigated further in
association with road photography.

The concept of the beach in Australian photography as the equivalent to the road in American photography is deserving of additional research. There was also not enough scope to examine the road as part of a narrative rather than within the documentary tradition such as Tracey Moffat's Something More #9 (1989) (Fig. 66 - top). In the words of another in relation to The Road, "there are more stories to be told here." 247

  1. Errol Ellis, email interview with Errol Ellis, publisher, October 4, 2010 (Human Ethics Protocol no. 2010/389).

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