Lindt's pictures of Bundjalung from the Clarence River

From Reference 15

Between 1870 and 1873, Lindt took photographs of the Aborigines of the Clarence River district of northern New South Wales. He carefully posed them in his Grafton studio, portraying them with their weapons and artefacts in artificially.created bush settings, against a painted scenic backdrop. The conspicuous presence of weapons and artefacts may ultimately stem from the theories of ethnographers such as John Lubbock which suggested that such items could be used to determine the position of a race on the evolutionary scale. While the photographs may reflect popular ethnographic and anthropological ideas and attitudes, in the first instance they were aimed at a general, commercial market. They belonged to what Lindt termed the genre style for depicting scenes of 'up country life'.

He employed the same photographic methods for related images of gold diggers, shearers and bushworters 'on the tramp'. His Caucasian bush characters are just as much stereotypes as his Aborigines. As Homi Bhabha has observed, for its successful signification the racial stereotype of the Other requires a continual chain of other stereotypes. Lindt 'possessed a keen eye for the market potential of his work. He brought together his photographs of Aborigines in an Album of Australian Aboriginals and presented copies to museum collections throughout Australia. This venture soon bore fruit and by 1875 the colonial government of New South Wales had purchased copies for presentation to 'various scientific institutions in the old country'. The following year his Album and Clarence River landscapes were selected as part of the official New South Wales entry in the Philadelphia International Exhibition, where he was awarded a gold medal. Such were the beginnings of Lindt's fame as an ethnographic photographer.

Yet Undt's very success at the 1876 Philadelphia Exhibition points to the fact that the relationship between official, scientific and popular representations of Aborigines in late 19th-century culture was closer and more fluid than is usually acknowledged. The tableau format utilised by Lindt in his Aboriginal group photographs, for example, found a contemporary parallel in waxwork tableaux .of Aboriginal groups which were displayed successfully at various intercolonial and large international exhibitions, here and overseas, in the 1870s and 1880s. Both official and more popular representations of Aboriginal society during the period relied on their methods of construction and presentation as much as they did on their object of study, the Aborigines themselves.

Photographic representations of race, though some times interpreted as isolated 'facts' of archival evidence by 19th-century anthropologists, were not simply autonomous images. Rather, they were part of and informed by a network of related codes of representation, whether these were waxwork tableaux, earlier traditions of anatomical portraiture, or the contemporary vogue for phrenology. While the archive became the historical repository for many of these photographs, the circulation of photographic images in various forms outside the archive was probably more influential in shaping contemporary perceptions of race. Lindt's photographs of Clarence River Aborigines were reproduced as engravings in the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, a lavish production published in 1886-9 to coincide with the celebration of the first centenary of white settlement. The skill of the engraver's hand corrected the visual incongruities of Undt's studio portraits, further 'naturalising' the Aborigines' relationship to the landscape.

One of Charles Woolley's 1866 photographic bust portraits of Trucanini was also reproduced as an engraving in the Atlas, its vignette form providing a visual metaphor for the euphemistic 'fading out' of the Tasmanian Aborigines. As Allan Sekula reminds us, photography is 'not an ..... independent or autonomous language system, but depends on larger discursive conditions, invariably including those established by the system of verbal-written language'. The metonymy relationship of a photographic image to its original context can be soon lost in the process of reproduction; the ease with which a photographic image can circulate in time and space can produce the effect of atemporality.

Lindt's image of 'An Aboriginal Woman', whose conception has affinities with the ideal of the noble savage, appeared on the same page of the Atlas as an account of a Queensland settler's vendetta against local Aborigines: The old man had shot a black, skinned him, stuffed the hide with dry grass, and swung the horrid object to a sort of gallows by the hut door. Thenceforth no blackfellow would approach within miles of the place. The writer's complacent acceptance of this brutal and inhumane act can be found in his subsequent statement that 'the treachery and hostility of the natives continues at the present day on frontier settlements'. The text which accompanied Woolley's picture of Trucanini, by contrast, was forthrigbt in condemning those who were 'deaf to the voice of humanity' and 'shrank from no crime and recoiled from no cruelty' as they participated in the destruction of the Tasmanian Aborigines.

These examples point to the ambivalence and multiple beliefs that characterised colonial discourses of the Other. At one extreme, the fear of the Aboriginal presence on the frontier created a strongly negative racial stereotype. On the other hand, there was a desire to salvage a record of an authentic traditional culture from the ravages of destructive historical change, a paradigm which informed much anthropological photography. It is difficult to recover the various historical voices, some humanitarian and others not, that may have originally surrounded the production of photographs of Aborigines. But once produced, the photographic image can enter circulation and feed back into the consciousness of its audience, influencing ways of perceiving and thinking about representation.

The Heidelberg School artist, Tom Roberts, have absorbed with varying degrees of self-awareness popular anthropological attitudes towards Aborigines. The title of his portrait, Gubbie Wellington-one of the last Blacks of Corona (c. 1889), shares the Social Darwinian view of the inevitable extinction of the race, as did the titles of numerous other Aboriginal portraits, following Trucanini's death, which carried the phrase 'the last of'. The imminent passing of 'the race' is also implicit in the Vignette format and melancholy expression of the sitter in Roberts' Aboriginal Head-Gharlie Turner (1892), which adopts a common pictorial convention used earlier by Woolley in his portraits of Trucanini. When in 1892 Roberts made a trip to the Torres Strait Islands via Cooktown, where he made 'studies of blacks' and other racial types, he took the interest to read an anthropological text on the region, Professor A.C. Haddon's Legends from Torres Straits. A further trip in 1894-5 saw him make portraits of Aborigines in the Clarence River district of New South Wales. Some of these portraits echo the practice of anthropometric photography in posing a single, naked half figure against a light, neutral background so that the racial type can be clearly revealed. Meanwhile, in the manner of an anthropologist, Roberts are fully inscribed some portraits with detailed information as to the history and tribal locality of his Aboriginal subjects. What is important here is not whether photography actually influenced Roberts's treatment, but evidence of a shared visual language and cast of mind.