Photography, Early Cinema and Colonial Modernity

Photography, Early Cinema and Colonial Modernity

Frank Hurley's Synchronized Lecture Entertainments

By Robert Dixon

This volume is an account of the stage and screen practice of Australian photographer and film maker Frank Hurley, in the context of early twentieth-century mass media.

PDF, 288 Pages

ISBN:9781783080939

November 2013

£20.00, $32.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
  • Series
  • Table of Contents
  • Links

About This Book

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’.

Reviews

‘[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

‘In clear and erudite prose, Dixon skilfully demonstrates how Hurley’s “synchronized lecture entertainments” operated within the complex web of colonial modernity in the twentieth century. His approach reenergises Frank Hurley’s history and brings significant new performance-based methodologies to the study of colonial Australian photography and early cinema. “Photography, Early Cinema and Colonial Modernity” is a consummate demonstration of the complex web of modernity, traced through exhaustive empirical research, and makes a valuable contribution to the fields of cultural studies, early cinema, and photographic history.’ —Prue Ahrens, ‘Journal of Australian Studies’

‘This volume opens up a rich and original area of scholarship, demonstrating the diverse ways in which new technologies were exploited, but also showing how these new technologies were formed and adapted by their users. Robert Dixon challenges the orthodoxy of the last 30 years of colonial and postcolonial studies by placing Australian multimedia work at the centre of international movements of modernity.’ —Professor Katherine Newey, University of Birmingham

‘In this important and entertaining book Robert Dixon reconstructs the visual culture of the early decades of the twentieth century, when the multi-media travelogue constituted one of the main forms of middle-class international amusement. Dixon explores Hurley’s work not in conventional biographical terms but rather through the social life of “the many and marvellous things he made: negatives, photographic prints, lantern slides, stereographs, films, diaries and newspaper articles that once enjoyed a very active life of their own” (xxi), and the insight they provide into Australia's engagement with the romance and wonder of international modernity. By reviving Hurley’s own term, “synchronized lecture entertainments”, Dixon emphasises the performance-centred, fluid dimensions of the multi-media shows orchestrated by the celebrity lecturer, and the promiscuous intertextuality of the new popular culture forms. […] Dixon successfully evokes the exciting, cosmopolitan visual culture of this turbulent period, producing a nuanced, perceptive account that will remain an essential reference for students and researchers in this field.’ —Jane Lydon, ‘Australian Historical Studies’

‘[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’

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.

Series

No series for this title.

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

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