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Helen Ennis

Helen Ennis is Emeritus Professor, ANU Centre for Art History and Art Theory and a past ABR Fellow. She is an independent photography curator and writer specialising in the area of Australian photographic practice. Her publications include Reveries: Photography and Mortality (2007) and Photography and Australia (2007). Her biography Margaret Michaelis: Love, Loss and Photography (2006) was awarded the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, and the prize for Best Book from the Power Institute of Fine Arts and the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand. Her most recent book, Olive Cotton: A life in photography (2019), won the Magarey Medal for Biography and the Non-fiction prize in the Queensland Literary Awards in 2020. She is currently writing a biography of Max Dupain.

Helen Ennis reviews ‘Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians’ by Jane Lydon

August 2006, no. 283 01 August 2006
There is a recuperative basis to Jane Lydon’s project that the measured tones of academic writing cannot disguise and that gives this book its energy. Lydon’s subject is the Coranderrk Aboriginal Station near Healesville, which was established in the 1860s in what Lydon describes as ‘consensual circumstances’. In the first decade of operation, the Aboriginal residents at Coranderrk achieve ... (read more)

Commentary | National News by Helen Ennis

November 2003, no. 256 01 November 2003
The other day, in a stairwell within the National Library of Australia, I opened a door, expecting it to lead to a corridor and a suite of offices. Instead, I found myself inside a dimly lit room filled with rows of book-laden shelves. As I looked for the exit, I saw a man removing a book from the bottom shelf. Another man walked past me carrying books and said hello. It was like a scene from Bein ... (read more)

'Max Dupain’s dilemmas' by Helen Ennis

November 2021, no. 437 25 October 2021
Max Dupain, one of Australia’s most accomplished photographers, was filled with self-doubt. He told us so – repeatedly – in public commentary, especially during the 1980s, in the last years of his life. It is striking how candid he was, how personal, verging on the confessional, and how little attention we paid to what he said, either during his lifetime or since (he died in 1992, aged eight ... (read more)

Helen Ennis reviews 'Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife' by Pamela Bannos

March 2018, no. 399 22 February 2018
Vivian Maier has received the kind of attention most photographers and artists can only dream of – multiple monographs, documentary films, commercial gallery representation, extraordinary public interest, and now a biography. However, all this activity and acclaim has occurred posthumously. In her lifetime Maier’s mammoth output, estimated at 150,000 photographic exposures and hundreds of reel ... (read more)

Robert Mapplethorpe: the perfect medium (Art Gallery of New South Wales)

ABR Arts 22 November 2017
This exhibition has a clear aim – to prove that Robert Mapplethorpe ‘is among the most significant artists of his time’. The evidence marshalled by the curators at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum is substantial. They have conducted extensive research, sourced outstanding vintage prints, and provided an illuminating chronological and thematic structure for th ... (read more)

Helen Ennis reviews 'Lives of the Great Photographers' by Juliet Hacking

March 2016, no. 379 24 February 2016
One of the big attractions of this book is the portraits and self-portraits of the photographers who are its subject. Diane Arbus, in the early stages of pregnancy, looks whimsically at her reflection in a full-length mirror; Robert Mapplethorpe's face leaps out of the darkness, paired with his skull-topped walking stick; Margaret Bourke-White perches with her camera on a gargoyle on the sixty-fir ... (read more)

ABR George Hicks Foundation Fellowship: 'Olive Cotton at Spring Forest' by Helen Ennis

July–August 2013, no. 353 24 June 2013
I was very happy, I loved the space and freedom … no, I never regretted coming here.   – Olive Cotton, 1998 On the door to Olive Cotton’s room there is a Dymo-tape label with the name ‘N. Boardman’. Boardman has no relevance whatsoever to Olive’s life story. His name is there because Olive and her husband Ross McInerney’s home – what they always called the ‘new house’ ... (read more)

Helen Ennis reviews 'Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century' by Peter Galassi

November 2010, no. 326 16 November 2011
Everyone, I suspect, has a favourite photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Mine shows two couples picnicking beside what I have always thought was the Marne River but turns out to be somewhere else altogether. Juvisy (1938), as it is now titled, depicts urban workers relaxing near a man-made pond in the suburbs of Paris. This is indicative of the exhaustive research of Peter Galassi and his colleag ... (read more)

Helen Ennis reviews 'Images of the Interior: Seven Central Australian Photographers' by Philip Jones

November 2011, no. 336 24 October 2011
One section on Australian photography slowly growing on my bookshelves is devoted to anthropological and ethnographic photography. Philip Jones’s latest book, Images of the Interior: Seven Central Australian Photographers, belongs there because of the amount of anthropological material it contains. But it could also take its place among books devoted to vernacular photography, because none of th ... (read more)

Helen Ennis reviews 'Look: Contemporary Photography Since 1980' by Anne Marsh

June 2011, no. 332 24 May 2011
This is a wonderfully ambitious book. There has been no other publication on Australian art photography that so richly illustrates a period: 400 illustrations from 1980 to the present, by 190 individual photographers. And their work looks impressive – diverse, energetic, sophisticated. The selection is satisfyingly broad, covering an eclectic range of approaches, styles, and concerns. ... (read more)