Max Dupain

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Sarah Gory Calibre Photo

Episode #113

‘Ghosts, Ghosts Everywhere’

Sarah Gory reads her Calibre Essay

The runner-up in this year’s Calibre Essay Prize, Sarah Gory’s essay ‘Ghosts, Ghosts Everywhere’ confronts spectres of the past in order to pose questions about how to live ethically in the present and about what responsibilities we bear towards the future. Drawing on a wide range of writers and thinkers as well as her grandfather’s experience of the Holocaust, Gory plots the process by which one generation’s traumatic suffering becomes another’s imaginative investment. As Gory observes, rituals of memorialisation, public and private, are beset on all sides by the snares of forgetfulness, by the temptation to ‘relegat[e] to the past what is ongoing’. Shifting between recollection and rumination, the essay refuses to yield to this temptation, proceeding through a series of fragments, ghostly demarcations of historical patterns that continue to repeat.


Sarah Gory is a writer and editor based in Naarm/Melbourne.




Recent episodes:

The Australian modernist photographer Max Dupain is commonly known for his sweltering photograph Sunbaker, which offered the nation one of its most iconic beach images. In today’s episode, Helen Ennis reads her essay ‘Max Dupain’s dilemmas’, which was commended in the 2021 Calibre Essay Prize. It explores the breadth of Dupain’s work beyond Sunbaker, as well as his own grapplings with self-doubt and his complicated perspectives on life and travel.

Helen Ennis is Emeritus Professor at the 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. She is currently writing a biography of Max Dupain.

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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 eighty-one).

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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’ – was previously a construction workers’ barracks. Boardman was one of the occupants, along with Ken Livio and Chris Parris, whose names appear on the doors to adjacent rooms. Olive and Ross, who lived in the ‘new house’ for nearly thirty years, never removed the labels or modified their bedrooms, bathroom, or living areas. This fascinates and perplexes me. Why wouldn’t you erase the signs of those who lived there before you? Why keep them in your most personal, intimate space, your home? What does it mean to live like this? These questions are part of a much larger set arising from my desire to better understand Olive’s life and work, especially during the years when she and Ross lived in country New South Wales, mostly on the property they named ‘Spring Forest’. For much of this time, Olive was invisible to the photography world.

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Max Dupain’s Australia by Max Dupain & Max Dupain’s Australian Landscapes by Max Dupain

November 1988, no. 106

One of the characters in Stephen Spender’s novel The Temple, written in the early 1930s, is a young German photographer. They met in Hamburg in 1929. Spender, a university student just discovering the autobiographical bent of his own inspiration, observed that his friend’s attitude was very different. Instead of wanting to preserve the sensuality of the moment in monumental form, the German photographer set out to report the opposite – the death of every moment – which, at the time of being lived, is also passing. His photographs, he told Spender, were not intended to live, they were not communicative. Records of moments already gone at the click of a shutter, they annihilated even memory. Or were intended to do so.

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