Sunday, November 29, 2009

tayenebe and meditation on a photograph

I am coming across a range of links to the Oyster Cove photographs by Nixon and representation; yet both unsatisfying - neither of them approaching nearby the heart of the matter. At least the The Representation Of Trucanini essay acknowledges the subjectivity of the photographer or the observor: "It is clear that no archival photograph of the Tasmanian Aborigine can be viewed as a document of truth, as the decisions of the photographer inadvertently affects the way in which the subjects were represented" . But how in 2009 can this writer place his whole study within the 'doomed race' theory of Tasmanian history! It's incredible. Just visit tayenebefor the living dynamic presence of the culture of Tasmanian Aboriginal people today.

Bishop Nixon's photograph of the Elders at Oyster Cove (1858) haunts me. It always has – from the moment I first saw it in 1982 in the State Library of Tasmania collection. The photograph is a ‘trace’ of the real. But, I am white and I have obtained a copy of it, and now I carry it around – slowly becoming aware of the ethics involved in having it in my possession; There is no return back to some fantasy of Tasmania as a ‘good’ white place. Sitting with this photograph, with the survivors of invasion, I look at the hands of the women, the comfort of their physical closeness to each other and their dogs. As the camera apparatus captures their image on silver nitrate for me to gaze at them – they look back at me – and for this moment, as observer, I stand in photographer Nixon’s place . I am his camera. I look at the women – Emma, Trucanini, Flora, Wapperty. They look back at me. I know it is their country. They belong to this island. Dispossessed by the British, yet the photograph speaks their possession.

This is a photo of their sovereignty of their own country. I allow this photo to possess me back. The women, their dogs – their gaze at me – is grounded, strong: ‘this is our country, back off, you stranger – white ghost’. They speak to me, not in words, but they affect me. I dream of them, at night. I see them as I walk the streets of Hobart. Their spirit is there, whispering to me to reckon with their presence. They are not gone, as the British hoped, as most of the whites in Tasmania hoped, that they would be gone forever. No, I ‘let them come visit. I allow myself to be haunted and, as I do, I sense myself as the stranger: ‘making whiteness strange’ and the risks involved. I am the interloper. Once, this island felt like home, but now I am in another country – strangeness, dislocation. I do not belong to this nation called Australia. This nation is a Thing, a fantasy space. The Oyster Cove photograph disturbs; it is a kernel of The Real.

tayenebe is now; tayenebe makers discuss their work today.

Monday, July 13, 2009

documentary modes

It is documentary film theorist Bill Nichols who writes about the chief characteristics and deficiencies of each documentary mode (Introduction to Documentary (2001:139). It was interesting, then, this morning to read Cynthia Lucia's interview with the filmmaker of Dogora, Patrice Leconte in Cineaste: "Personal Politics and Vision in Dogora: An Interview with Patrice Leconte". Now, Leconte is not really a documentary filmmaker, nor has he read any documentary film studies (most documentary filmmakers haven't). In the interview I can sense how he is struggling over the shortcomings of the mode(s) he chose for this film:

Lucia writes: Yet, as is true of certain moments in Wiseman’s work, at points in Dogora the absence of information not only impedes viewer comprehension, but it also potentially inhibits active or, at best, activist viewer response. The footage centered on the Steung Mean Chey garbage dump—the largest open landfill in Asia, located a half hour outside Phnom Penh City—is a case in point. We see impoverished adults and children collecting waste (and sometimes consuming something edible they may find) through day and night. We also see images of children studying and sleeping in a schoolroom. It’s difficult to make sense of these images—what they mean or how they are connected. In the French DVD release of the film, Leconte, on the commentary track, explains that the school is run by PSE (Pour un Sourire d’Enfant [For a Child’s Smile]), a French organization devoted to helping the children, many of whom are orphans, obtain an education and the basic necessities of life. At the time of filming, Christian des Pallieres oversaw the school and the charitable work involving landfill residents. While the images evoke a powerful emotional response, one wonders if a bit more information might elicit something more substantial—whether through further research, donations, or other support of landfill workers. At the same time, of course, that could easily tip the film’s balance away from the lyrical to a more didactic, public-service mode—and that, too, would present a problem.. Lucia writes of a 'fissure—between the personal, lyrical project of the film and those disquieting images that seem to press for something more'.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Oyster Cove, Tasmania, photography and Bishop Nixon 1858

"The fact that Nixon saw art as a means of recording may explain why he was one of the first people in Tasmania to experiment with the newly invented camera.... About 1858 he visited Oyster Cove and made several photographs - the earliest known - of the Aboriginal community" (SLTAS website). In Island Home Country (2008) , my recent documentary film, there is a discussion around the ethics concerning the use of these photographs.

Nixon's work as a photographer is little researched. I am gathering material on his work. Please post any links you may find. Here is one I have recently located: Thomas J. Nevin, Tasmanian photographer 1842- 1923.

Martha of the North

I haven't seen Martha’s film yet, only the trailer. I have ordered the film for UTS library. But have a look at this clip here: Mary May Simon, a dynamic activist for her people, former Canadian diplomat, Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America, introduces Martha Flaherty's film Martha of the North at its launch in this year in Ottawa. In this intro I think she acknowledges that Martha’s father Josephie Flaherty, (Flaherty’s Inuit son), is in the audience. I am not sure: watch this clip! Also today I learned of a 1990 documentary, Nanook Revisted which revisits the site of Flaherty’s filming. Here too is a wiki on Nanook Revisted that furthers discussions around these complex issues in documentary

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Robert Flaherty's Secret

It seemed ironic that the global popularity of “Nanook”, had served to freeze the Arctic and the people who live in it, including Robert’s (Flaherty) own son and granddaughter, in a version of a past that never was, in a land that could never be.’ (The Long Exile by Melanie McGrath, 2006).
After reading The Long Exile - a tale of the betrayal of the Inuit people – in their 1950s relocation to barren islands far away from their homelands, I found Martha Flaherty's email address and wrote to her. In my mind the relocations and subsequent struggles for justice by the Inuit people cry out for a broad contextualising of Flaherty's 1922 documentary Nanook of the North, from its time of production right up to the present. Martha Flaherty wrote back and told me about a new film about her life, Martha of the North and how she is planning a book about the true story of what happened during the relocations. I have been very touched by this correspondence and how it contributes depth of understanding around the complex site of documentary film-making process and ethics.
One of the exiles was Robert Flaherty's son- Josephie Flaherty - a child he had (and abandoned?) with Inuit woman, Maggie Nujarlutuk (who plays Nyla in Nanook of the North). The story of Flaherty's relationship with Maggie (and his son) is never told in the documentary film scholarship (or rhetoric) of Flaherty's film-making - so obsessed is it with textual analysis and 'the past' and whether the dramatizations are ‘documentary’ or 'ethnographic'. Such debates may be functioning as smoke screen to developing a contextual analysis that really changes the way we think about Flaherty and his film. Martha Flaherty's documentary (and for me also McGrath's book) opens up present day realities of the Inuit people and the role Nanook of the North played in forming a certain idealized and heroic narrative of the Inuit people that fed into racist stereotypes - which contributed to the disastrous relocations of the Inuit people in the 1950s.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

the disobedient reader...viewer

Why an image from Sunless? Well, a blog on Sebald, Vertigo: Collecting& Reading W.G. Sebald, compares Marker and Sebald.
This site also reviews Australian author Deane Blackler's book, “Reading W.G. Sebald: Adventure and Disobedience”. I have found her analysis of Sebald's narrator persona insightful. She looks at how we read Sebald and argues that his books call forth a proactive reader: one who is challenged to question the text by his use of seemingly documentary photographs, the pseudo-autobiographical narrators.

In Island Home Country I peer into my own ‘white’ mind, and create a narrator – a staged performance – of white instability, uncertainty, fissure. As Blackler reflects in her study of W.G. Sebald ‘how can the reader trust this mad writer narrator as a guide'… as in this film, I create a narrator who is ‘trying’ to make a film, a filmmaker who ‘forgets to turn on the microphone’, a narrator who says, ‘this film is dissolving’; a narrator who loses her way. ‘Where is the reader to go? If we follow a ‘mad’ narrator, won’t we be implicated in (her) pathology?….This self-conscious writer, this constructed ‘I’ is not a stable authorial figure. Blackler argues that this unstable, figure gives birth to a ‘disobedient reader’, one who has to break ranks, cross an unstable line, in order to stay empathic.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Island Home Country- Current news 2009

Distribution of Island Home Country: where to purchase DVD's, & the recently published ATOM Study Guide. Island Home Country is a poetic cine-essay (52 mins) about Australia’s colonised history and how it impacts into the present. It offers insights into how various individuals reckon with the traumatic legacies of British colonialism and its race based policies.

Island Home Country was recently offered a broadcast contract with National ABC Television: Sunday Arts Program July 2009.
TAC International Film and Video Festival, Oregon USA May 2009.
Premiered at Brisbane International Film Festival August 2008.
Screened in the Film Program, 'Re-Orienting Whiteness' Conference (Monash University) December, 2008.
Nominated: Best Achievement in Sound for a Documentary, Australian Screen Sound Awards 2008. (Sound Designer Sharon Jakovsky; Sound Consultant Danielle Weissner).
High Commendation - UTS Reconciliation Award, UTS Human Rights Awards, October 2008.

The Island Home Country ATOM Study Guide is now available a free PDF from Metro ATOM (Australian Teachers of Media)

Purchase DVD's direct from Anandi Films or
The Education Shop