University of Melbourne Archives

On Una Porter’s Photograph Album

Oscar T. Serquiña, Jr.

"Wesley college students", 1926
“Wesley college students”, India photograph album, 1926. University of Melbourne Archives, Una Porter album, 1997.0002.00003

A personal photograph collection may reveal the roots and routes of its collector’s life. While its primary function is to collate representations of objects, persons, and events, a collection may also lay bare more than what is visible to the eye. Such is the uncontainable paradox of archival materials, especially photos, after all: on one hand, their enduring presence contracts, as well as suspends in motion, the humanity and entity they capture, but it also allows them to allude to the outside world to which they once belonged or continue to belong, on the other. Such is the case of Una Porter’s photo album in the University of Melbourne archives, which largely contains photographic souvenirs—ranging from portraits of individuals and groups to shots of sprawling landscapes and still lives, to documentations of ordinary objects and lush flora and fauna—from trips to countries such as China, Hong Kong, Japan, Egypt, and India. While some photos seem to have emerged from Porter’s missionary and philanthropic work, others look rather touristy, curious, and quotidian. Continue reading “On Una Porter’s Photograph Album”

“The Thoughtful East” / “Masters. Jaupur”

Nathan McCall

India photograph album, 1926
India photograph album, 1926. University of Melbourne Archives, Una Porter album, 1997.0002.00003

Accompanying the photographs are captions written by Ms Porter. These captions present an insight into Ms Porter’s reactions to some of the people and places that she saw. Of particular interest are three photographs captioned. The first is an image of a bearded man with a Tilaka painted on his forehead, indicating that he is probably of Indian heritage. This image is captioned The Thoughtful East. The second is an image of two western women, clearly distinguished by their clothing and complexions. One of these women is possibly Una Porter herself. This image is captioned The Thoughtless West. The final image is a group photo of twenty Indian men and one white male. The group are wearing of mixture of western attire and Indian garments. This photo is captioned Masters. Jaupur. Individually, these photographs do not provide any context for their creation and rely entirely on the larger photograph album to provide that context and the story of Ms Porter’s journey throughout South Asia. As the entire photograph album has been digitised along with these photographs, the viewer has access to all of Ms Porter’s time in the sub-continent however and makes these three photographs more poignant as a result. Continue reading ““The Thoughtful East” / “Masters. Jaupur””

Narrating Photography

Alice Helme

A picture says a thousand words. We all know that ubiquitous and often overused phrase. It is the cornerstone of art analysis and an art historical approach to dissecting pictorial representations. An image presents a visual narrative, conveying a story or meaning through the silent channels of sight. These narratives are fabled to tell a truth, an unaltered vision of the artists’ projected thoughts, or convey a reality of time and place. Photographs have always been revered as a mode of truth telling, as opposed to paintings and other figurative art forms that are imagined from the mind of the artist. Their image captures a moment, and in that scene of suspended time the photographer presents exactly what they saw. We are presented with the perspective of the photographer, or their directed framing of a scene. The image speaks for itself, to use another popular idiom. But what happens when alongside the photograph or series of photographs there are captions and a specific order, all of which were placed and curated by the photographer themselves? Does the meaning alter? And if so, does it reveal a kind of commentary by the photographer? Is this added information then lost in the processes of digitisation and online viewing?

"Outcastes", India photograph album, 1926
“Outcastes”, India photograph album, 1926. University of Melbourne Archives, Una Porter album, 1997.0002.00003

Continue reading “Narrating Photography”

“Dom Types”

Charmaine Toh

"Dom types", photograph album, 1926
“Dom types”, photograph album, 1926. Una Porter collection, 1997.0002.00003, University of Melbourne Archives

Martyn Jolly has noted that photographic albums were both oral and visual records – their owners would show them to friends and family accompanied by an oral narrative.1 This oral element is of course now lost, but I raise it that we might recognize the importance of situating the individual elements of such archival material within a broader context. In the case of this album, it seems to have been put together to narrate Porter’s philanthropic efforts in India. It is certainly more “formal” in tone than the other Porter album in the archive, which includes photos of family and friends and even her pet dog. One can speculate that Porter would have shown the India album to raise awareness of the situation in India and perhaps to even persuade her audience to support more of such efforts.2 Martyn Jolly, “An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album,” in Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920, ed. Anne Maxwell and Josephine Croci (North Melbourne, Vic: Australian Scholarly Publishing Pty Ltd, 2015), 71–72. Continue reading ““Dom Types””

Una Porter Photo Album

Una Porter, c1990
Una Porter, c1990. University of Melbourne Archives, Una Porter collection 1997.0002.00001

Una Porter’s photographic albums, held in the University of Melbourne’s archives, present labelled photographs narrating her journey through China, Hong Kong, Japan, and India during the 1920s. Porter undertook her tour on a philanthropic mission, documenting her travels and compiling two albums of the photos she took. The albums are particularly important in revealing information about Una Porter’s missionary work abroad and the route she took, presenting a visual account of the Western experience in Asia. Continue reading “Una Porter Photo Album”

‘Winja Ulupna’: Public Health Posters as Visual Culture

Ainslee Meredith

Winja Ulupna is an Aboriginal women’s residential drug and alcohol recovery house based in St Kilda. Established in 1976 through Australian Government investment in residential rehabilitation programs controlled by Aboriginal communities, as distinct from State rehabilitation units (Brady 2002), Winja Ulupna, or ‘women’s haven’, was also the first rehabilitation house in Australia specifically for Aboriginal women. As an early example of an Aboriginal women’s run program providing culturally sensitive alcohol and drug services, the poster highlights the importance of community-controlled residential programs in the broader context of a continued denial of the right of self-determination for Indigenous Australians by governments at that time. Designed by Health Productions in 1991 (the art department of the Health Promotion Unit, for the Government of Victoria), the poster is also significant in terms of the history of government-sponsored poster design to disseminate public health messagesContinue reading “‘Winja Ulupna’: Public Health Posters as Visual Culture”

‘Picturing Black Australia’

Jimmy Yan 

The 1988 Australian bicentenary was marked by its contradictory history and dual claims for national attention. There was the assertion of settler-colonial nationalism and, in response, a vigorous revival of the movement for Aboriginal land rights and self-determination. In the wake of the indigenous boycott of the celebrations, the Australian Film Institute (AFI) compiled a package of 23 independently-produced films examining various aspects of Aboriginal history, culture and memory. The collection, entitled Picturing Black Australia, the program predominantly comprised Aboriginal-produced films and spanned a breadth of genres ranging from animated short films to feature-length documentaries. Eschewing kitsch derivations of Aboriginality, the films also centred upon realistic portrayals of Aboriginal survival and resistance.[1] Continue reading “‘Picturing Black Australia’”

‘I saw it on the television’: An early call for diversity in the media

Victoria Perin

‘Capital A Art as it is conventionally understood is at best only a minor contributor to the development of cultural values, about as important as fashion and interior design, in other words not very important at all. The real generator of cultural values in Australia has been the trade union movement and, since the Second World War, increasingly the media…

‘I have always felt that if you were going to get into a dogfight it may as well be with the pit bulls of the union movement rather than the poodles and chihuahuas of the art world.’ Ian Millis, co-founder of the Art and Working Life Program [1]

Looking at a pile of Australian political posters from this Victorian Trades Hall collection, one poster stands out for its freshness, its immediacy, and its obvious sophistication. Tugging it out of the heap, I look at the corner to see the text I am already half-expecting: ‘…ART AND WORKING LIFE PROGRAM’. Continue reading “‘I saw it on the television’: An early call for diversity in the media”

‘White Australia has a Black History’ NAIDOC week poster, 1987

Eliza O’Donnell

‘White Australia has a Black History, 1987;, National NAIDOC Poster, 2006-0038-00031
‘White Australia has a Black History, 1987;, National NAIDOC Poster, Trades Hall Council Collection, 2006-0038-00031. Published under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Available online:

Mandandanji descendant and Queensland based multidisciplinary artist, Laurie Nilsen (1953) designed the poster ‘White Australia has a Black History’ for the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week poster competition in 1987. The coloured ink and paper based two-dimensional object (44.5 cm x 63cm) functions as the primary tool for promoting NAIDOC Week activities around Australia in 1987. The design features a rolled paper scroll against a black background, with a large snake forming a silhouette of Australia and an assemblage of indigenous people and motifs spread throughout the composition, with red and blue printed text below. Nilsen has used a palette of warm and natural earthy tones of ochre, red and black to represent Indigenous figures and iconography including a stockman riding a horse in front of Uluru; a man wearing a dhari (traditional dancer’s headdress); rock paintings; a mother and son watching a tall ship; a soldier in a trench and a portrait of rugby player Mark Ella, recipient of Young Australian of the Year in 1982. The text ‘White Australia has a Black History’ is a slogan that alludes to Australia’s long-standing reluctance to meaningfully acknowledge Aboriginal people and perspective in the telling of a national history and was the theme when Perth hosted NAIDOC week in 1987 (Pearson 2016). Continue reading “‘White Australia has a Black History’ NAIDOC week poster, 1987”

‘Koorie Boogaja’ 1971

Beth Marsden

‘This is our land and we are proud of it. After all, you white fellows weren’t the first to discover Australia—we were here first.’ Charlie Carter[1]

This poster shows a map of Australia produced by the Aborigines Advancement League in 1971. Entitled ‘Koorie Boogaja’, this eloquent graphic illustration shows Aboriginal tribal boundaries traced across the Australian continent, with a key provided to locate each tribe. Measuring 60 x 70 cm, the sub-heading ‘School Project’ shows the aim of this poster was to encourage students to develop and build an awareness of the history and complexity of Aboriginal Australia and the creator of the map—the Aborigines Advancement League— is written at the base. Continue reading “‘Koorie Boogaja’ 1971”

Number of posts found: 112