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The early 1970s saw a revitalisation of art photography in Australia, mirroring similar developments around the world. This phenomenon, which we now refer to as the ‘photo boom’, found expression in a number of ways: the establishment of a number of specialist galleries dedicated to photography; the establishment of the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney; and the development of photography courses in Australian art schools. Interactions between Australia and other countries—especially the United States—were numerous, and a number of photographers including Fiona Hall, Graham Howe, Christine Godden, Ian Lobb and Les Walkling studied there. The photo boom also saw the foundation and expansion of photography collections in Australia’s state and national galleries. Australia’s first dedicated photography curator, Jenny Boddington, was appointed at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1972, while the Art Gallery of New South Wales appointed Gael Newton as its photography curator in 1974.

The National Gallery of Australia acquired its first photograph in 1973. From the start, the aim was to ‘develop a [collection that] will include both Australian and overseas works. The Australian collection will be historically comprehensive, while the collection of overseas photographers will aim to represent the work of the major artists in the history of photography’. The ambitions for the national photography collection were substantial. By the early 1980s, the collection was already understood as the ‘richest holdings in Australia of photography as a creative medium’.[1]

Since the mid 2000s, the collection has begun to focus on photography from our immediate region, with particular attention to nineteenth and early twentieth century photography from South East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. As a collection intended to include all of the masterpieces of international photography and present an encyclopaedic account of Australian practice, it has now grown to become one of the world’s great photography collections, with over 30,000 items.


[1] Ian North, ‘Photography’, in James Mollison and Laura Murray (eds), Australian National Gallery: An introduction, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1982, pp 121-146, 123 quoted.

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