Una Porter Photo Album
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.
Porter enjoyed a prolific and mobile career as a psychiatrist, philanthropist, author, and an international leader of an earlier women’s movement. Her upbringing was both privileged and pious: Porter’s father was one of the two founders of Moran and Cato, Australia’s first chain store. Dr Porter was close to her father, and the archive she left to the University of Melbourne is rich in his effects as well as her own.1 Both Porter and her father were deeply religious, and active in fundraising for missionary activities across South and South-East Asia.2 Most of the photographs in her archive appear to have been taken during her travels with her father during the 1920s.
As a result, despite her privileged background Porter saw the tensions between luxury and poverty, modernity and tradition, the West and the East. Although there is no way to determine whether Porter herself or someone else did the camerawork, this particular collection remains instructive in exemplifying the entanglements between an Australian woman of considerable capital and the other people in cultures and societies , oftentimes mired in poverty, exoticism, and decay, with which she interacted. Porter’s photo collection introduces its viewers to the entwinements of history, class, travel, and education. It also brings to view the politics and ethics of witnessing, documenting, and disseminating the lived everyday lives of others. Furthermore, it brings up questions related to the privilege of proprietorship, the limits of representation, and the remainders of recordation.
Below, five University of Melbourne graduate students have chosen a number of images from the Una Porter to discuss in more depth. The range of images discussed gives an idea of the breath of this rich archive.
However, photographs are more than just images and it is particularly important to remember that when we draw them out of archives. They are also objects that exist within a network of relationships and respond accordingly to the shifts in time and place. In looking at these particular photographs, we must not forget that they are situated within a larger album, which is typically seen in a domestic space in the presence of its owner.