Frank Hurley: Journeys into Papua is a touring exhibition developed by the Australian Museum (featured in PNG Attitude in 2008) and hosted by the Whitlam Institute within the University of Western Sydney depicts an artistic legacy from a career spanning nearly 60 years.
On display are 82 framed photographs taken on two journeys to Papua in the early 1920s. The photos reflect both an Australian-controlled Papua – a place where government and missionaries exerted a strong influence in the areas they occupied – and a more traditional Papua. The culture clash between the colonial settlers and the Papuan people is clearly captured in the mesmerising images.
Like everything Hurley touched, the Papua photographs were cloaked in controversy. Moral questions were raised about the circumstances in which Hurley took the photographs.
He was accused of theft, bullying, duplicity and unethical behaviour. Although Hurley was largely innocent, he did not mind the accusations. There was always a Barnum and Bailey side to Hurley. And if a bad headline swelled the number of people paying to see his slide shows, Hurley would milk it for all it was worth
The photographs are extraordinary and include scenes of mission life, landscapes and the first aerial photographs taken of Papua. There is a magnificent a four-frame panorama of a Papuan village which has never been seen before. But mostly there are portraits - dozens of haunting photographs of people who had never seen a camera but were persuaded to pose despite their obvious apprehension.
The photographs that caused much controversy were those which Hurley took of his party carrying guns in the remote Lake Murray district. They had been told to carry guns by the Lieutenant-Governor because Lake Murray wasn't under government control. But a missionary saw a photo and drew the conclusion there had been violence.
Hurley’s subsequent slide shows were a huge success, with tours of the US and Britain. His book Pearls And Savages became an international bestseller, encouraging him to return to the region to make two feature films.
By 1927 Hurley was going through difficult times, forced to take a desk job. He decided to sell much of his Papua collection of glass-plate negatives and lantern slides to the Australian Museum.
WHAT: Frank Hurley: Journeys into Papua Photographic Exhibition
WHEN: Until 26 October 2012, 10:00am – 4:00pm Monday to Friday (after hours by appointment)
WHERE: Margaret Whitlam Galleries, Female Orphan School, Parramatta South Campus Corner of James Ruse Drive and Victoria Road, Rydalmere
COST: $5 per person