Australia 1943 – 2009

Shadow play 2007
Collection Title: the series Last light
Materials & Technique: photographs, inkjet print Pegasus print Edition: edition of 10

Dimensions: printed image 112.0 h x 142.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2010
Accession No: NGA 2010.674
  • Australian photographer Sue Ford’s first well-known body of work was the series Time 1961–74 comprising multiple black-and-white portraits of friends and family taken years apart, examples of which were acquired by the National Gallery of Australia in 1976. The series dates from the years after she enrolled in 1961 (as one of only two women) in a new photography course at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. It marks the beginning of her distinctive relationship with the paradox that, while the camera freezes time, photographic art can effectively show its effects—in this case, on the human body—and open up a mood of reflection and even of spiritual journeying.

    Her sense of the intersection and overlaying of personal time with the larger currents of place, history and political legacies was honed by the programs for the Australian Bicentennial year in 1988, when she became involved in Indigenous issues and culture. Ford photographed the historical meeting between Bob Hawke and Galarrwuy Yunupingu in which the prime minister offered a treaty to the Aboriginal people. She subsequently worked in central and northern Australia with Indigenous artists and communities.

    Ford was also a filmmaker and painter. Her first film was Low deposit, easy terms, a three-minute short made in 1969; her first published book One sixtieth of a second—portraits of women 1961–1981 came a decade later. An early narrative direction is evident in her 1969 series The witches letter, which was intended as a childrens book.

    Ford's work since the 1990s made frequent use of new technologies and sequential formats as well as digital imaging. Typical of her later large-format colour works is the Gallery's recently acquired Shadow play, from her 2007 series Last light of which she said, ‘This work is looking at photography, landscape and illusion’, adding that in the digital world, ‘everyone is now a photographer’. In Shadow play we see a familiar scene of tourists at a beach; their bodies have become the black paper silhouette portraits of a pre-photographic era as they snap the sunset with digital cameras held out like offerings to the dying light. The manipulation of colour, texture, patterns and outlines has transported the figures to a strangely unreal space. As they record the moment in time, they are locked in private reverie but also perhaps melded with the cosmos and continuing Ford’s engagement with place and time and her engagement with Buddhism later in life.

    Sue Ford died from cancer in 2009. A retrospective will be mounted at the Monash City Gallery in Victoria in April 2012.

    Gael Newton, senior curator, Photography
    in artonview, issue 65, autumn 2011

    in artonview, issue 65, autumn 2010