Australia 1949 – 1980
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photograph Edition: 7/9
Since her student days in the late 1960s at Prahran Technical College, Melbourne, Carol Jerrems’ photographs have been singled out for attention. She was part of a new wave of young photographers who were influenced by counter-culture values of authenticity and engagement, and who used art to comment on social issues but from a distinctly personal perspective.
Vale Street was taken at the end of the day in St Kilda, Melbourne, where Jerrems was living, after a photographic session lasting many hours. On first glance, it has the appearance of being a straightforward documentary shot. And yet we know that it was carefully composed and orchestrated by Jerrems, who knew the subjects well: Catriona Brown, an aspiring actress friend, and Mark Lean and Jon Bourke, two of her students at Heidelberg Technical School. Not surprisingly, Jerrems had studied film as well as photography at Prahran, hung out with filmmakers and completed one short film herself.
The subjects appear bold and yet vulnerable—the boys especially guarded and watchful, Brown more confident and open. Friends remember Jerrems as having a quiet presence, something that made her a perceptive and accurate observer of others. In 1977 Jerrems reflected that she wished to ‘reveal something about people, because they are so separate, so isolated’. This desire to bring people together, even heal them, through her photography was a deeply felt aspiration for Jerrems whose yoga practice was a central part of her life. It gives her work an intensity of purpose and points to the reason why this mysterious and enigmatic image continues to resonate powerfully with contemporary audiences.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014
‘I try to reveal something about people, because they are so separate, so isolated, maybe it’s a way of bringing people together I don’t want to exploit people. I care about them.’
Carol Jerrems, 1977
Carol Jerrems became prominent in the 1970s as part of a new wave of young photographers. Influenced by the counter-culture values of the 1960s, they used art to comment on social issues and engender social change. Jerrems photographed associates, actors and musicians, always collaborating with her subjects, thereby declaring her presence as the photographer. Vale Street raises interesting questions about what is artifice and what is real in photography. She deliberately set up this image, employing her aspiring actress friend and two young men from her art classes at Heidelberg Technical School. Vale Street has achieved an iconic status in Australian photography; the depiction of a confident young woman taking on the world is an unforgettable one. It is an intimate group portrait that is at once bold and vulnerable. In 1975 it was thought to be an affirmation of free love and sexual licence. The image also appears to be about liberation from society’s norms and taboos — ‘we are all three bare-chested, we have tattoos and so what?’
The implication that this scene is perfectly natural is reinforced by locating the figures in a landscape. The young woman is strong and unafraid of the judgement of the viewer. The necklace around her neck is an ankh — a symbol of the new spiritualty of the Age of Aquarius and a re-affirmation of the ancient powers of women.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002
An icon of 1970s’ Australian photography, Vale Street commands attention through its forceful composition. Jerrems’s photograph shows aspiring actor and friend, Catriona Brown and two of her students from Heidelberg Technical School, Mark Lean and Jon Bourke in the late afternoon in St Kilda, Melbourne. Through her paleness and pose, the young woman emanates a balance of strength and fragility: she is right at the front of the picture plane, set against the young men who recede into the shadows.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra