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Photography, Early Cinema and Colonial Modernity

Frank Hurley's Synchronized Lecture Entertainments

Robert Dixon

Photography, Early Cinema and Colonial Modernity

An account of Australian photographer and film maker Frank Hurley’s stage and screen practice in the context of early twentieth-century mass media.

Imprint: Anthem Press
ISBN 9780857287953
January 2012 | 288 Pages | 229 x 152mm / 9 x 6 | 30+ images
PRICE:  £70.00  /  $115.00  Buy from Amazon.co.uk  Buy from Amazon.com

About This Book

‘[O]ffers a new way of looking at aspects of Australia’s national culture history and its place in a broader Empire history [and] offers enormous insights into the work of one of the world’s most idiosyncratic figures in what was already a constantly evolving international entertainment industry. […] Dixon’s book is rich in detail and is beautifully assembled, with many telling images.’ —Andrew Pike, ‘Visual Anthropology’

‘This book offers much more than a compelling study of the genius of Frank Hurley. Importantly, it presents a fascinating examination of the inter-relationship of colonial modernity, the cinema and new forms of mass entertainment. A must for anyone interested in the history of the early twentieth century’s mass media and its relationship to everyday life then and now.’ —Professor Barbara Creed, University of Melbourne

‘One comes away from this extremely well-researched book with a very clear sense of the significance of Hurley as a major cultural figure who in the early twentieth century helped to shape middle-class taste throughout the English-speaking world. But, just as importantly, one recognises the extent to which his special type of entrepreneurialism was the product of a particular time and place – namely that of colonial modernity.’ — Anne Maxwell, ‘History of Photography’

Australian photographer and film maker Frank Hurley became an international celebrity through his reporting of the Mawson and Shackleton Antarctic Expeditions, the First and Second World Wars, the England-Australia air race of 1919, and his own expeditions to Papua in the 1920s. This book is an account of his stage and screen practice in the context of early twentieth-century mass media.

‘Photography, Early Cinema and Colonial Modernity’ is not a biography of Frank Hurley the man; it is instead an examination of the social life of the many marvellous and meaningful things he made as a professional photographer and film maker in the early twentieth century: the negatives, photographic prints, lantern slides, stereographs, films, diaries and newspaper articles. His stage and screen practices offer an insight into Australia’s engagement with the romance and wonder of international modernity in the early years of the twentieth century. The level of description at which this volume works is not that of personality or the originary events of Hurley’s life – the Mawson and Shackleton Antarctic Expeditions, and the First and Second World Wars – but the media events he worked so hard and so professionally to create. He called them his ‘synchronized lecture entertainments’.

These media events were at once national and international; they involved Hurley in an entire culture industry comprising many kinds of personnel, practices and texts that were constantly in movement along global lines of travel and communication, and in a variety of institutional locations around the world. This raises complex questions both about the authorship of Hurley’s photographic and filmic texts – which were often produced and presented by other people – and about their ontology, since they were in a more or less constant state of re-assemblage in response to changing market opportunities. This unique study re-imagines, from inside the quiet and stillness of the archive, the prior social life of Hurley’s creations as they were once accelerated through the complicated topography of the early twentieth century’s rapidly internationalizing mass media landscape. As a way to conceive of that space and the social life of the people and things within it, this study uses the concept of ‘colonial modernity’.

Readership: The book will be of interest to the general reader, and to academic readerships with interests in the history of photography, early cinema, exploration and travel, military history, polar exploration, the print media and transnationalism.

Author Information

Robert Dixon is Professor of Australian Literature at the University of Sydney. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and a past-President of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, and has published widely on Australian literature, postcolonialism, Australian cultural studies, and aspects of Australian art history, photography and early cinema.

Table of Contents

Illustrations; Abbreviations; Acknowledgements; Introduction: Australia’s Embrace of Colonial Modernity; 1. ‘The Home of the Blizzard’: Douglas Mawson’s Synchronized Lecture Entertainment; 2. Guided Spectatorship: Exhibiting the Great War; 3. Touring the Nation: Shackleton’s ‘Marvellous Moving Pictures’ and the Australian Season of ‘In the Grip of the Polar Pack-Ice’; 4. Entr’acte: ‘Sir Ross Smith’s Flight’, Aerial Vision and Colonial Modernity; 5. Colonial Modernity and Its Others: ‘Pearls and Savages’ as a Multi-media Project; Conclusion; Notes; Bibliography; Index