| The historian Rey Chow has noted the cancelling effect of recent frontier historiography in which the clash of anti-imperialist rhetoric with its nemesis has tended to obliterate actual knowledge about historical subjects. In relation to ethnographic photography, for example, the attack on cultural and sexist stereotypes permits
'a perfect symmetry between the imperialist and anti-imperialist gazes, which cross over the images of the native woman as silent objects' [Chow quoted in Hayes: 31].
The ambiguity in Cruickshank's work means that while his computer manipulations may be intended primarily as an anti-colonialist corrective, they operate also to disturb that rhetoric, blurring its certain message. The addition of European faces to Lindt's tableaux of Aboriginal studio portraits remind us, for example, of his other studio portraits of European itinerant workers. These were photographed at the same time in the same Grafton studio, with the same backdrop, and with similar props and postures. We look twice at the metal tomahawk and pannican in one image, a reminder that just a generation after contact the fortunes of Europeans and Aborigines were already entwined.
This is not to suggest that Lindt's Album of Australian Aboriginals was not prepared as an exercise in exoticism. It was his ability to capture, frame and throw light upon his ethnographic subjects which won him a gold medal in that ideal forum of the exotic, the Philadelphia International Exhibition of 1876, in which 'savage arts and manufactures' were judged alongside colonial produce. Lindt's achievements in this new field, after moderate progress as a country photographer, was based upon his mastery of existing carte-de-visite photography, which had already successfully incorporated the Aboriginal subject. Contemporary reviews complimented Lindt's studio photographs as 'most characteristic and truthful... [the] first successful attempt at representing the native blacks truthfully as well as artistically' [Shar Jones:5]. While this praise may have reflected the fresh, realist impact of Lindt's carefully constructed tableaux upon critics who may never have encountered Aborigines in the bush, it is more likely to be founded in their respect for Lindt's mastery of compositional artifice. That artifice was, after all, equally applied to European subjects such as a gold prospector or a shearer, in which the substitution of European for Aboriginal artefacts marked the only difference in the scene.
Cruickshank's transposed heads provoke a re-examination of the original Lindt images which goes beyond their recent incorporation within resistance historiography, for his manipulations suggest that, in Hayes' words, ethnographic 'portraiture is not simply the conquering of Indigenous subjectivity by the militaristic camera but a contested representational object' [Hayes: 34]. The notion that European sitters may have been subjected to the same intense ethnographic gaze is a subversive one, but Cruickshank reminds us that nineteenth-century portraiture promoted just that kind of mimesis, in which studio backgrounds and props constructed a faux equivalence between each side of the frontier. Aboriginal subjects occupied the same space, adopted the same postures and often confronted the camera in the same manner as European subjects. Both were mediated to consumers through objects and props which suggested an unchanging reality in which respective roles were fixed: the bourgeois, the worker, the native. The deconstruction of these tableaux, as provoked by Cruickshank, may encourage an awareness that the Australian frontier was not a stark line in the sand between two cultures, but a complex, more interesting zone of interaction.
Croft, Brenda 1997
Laying ghosts to rest. Pp.8-14 in Portraits of Oceania.
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
Hayes, Michael 1997
Capture: the politics of Alfred Burton's photography. Pp.29-36 in Portraits of Oceania.
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
Jones, Shar 1985
J.W. Lindt. Master Photographer. Currey OšNeil Ross, South Yarra.
Mydin, Iskander 1992.
Historical Images - Changing Audiences. Pp.249-252 in E. Edwards [ed.]
Anthropology and Photography 1860-1920. Yale University Press, New Haven & London.
Stanhope, Zara 1996
Recovering lost ground - Sue Ford's Shadow Portraits. Pp.36-37 in Colonial Post Colonial.
Museum of Modern Art at Heide, Bulleen.