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.