Yahna Ganga

Yahna Ganga is Bundjalung Language and translates as:
Yahna - to sit or sit down
Ganga - to hear; to think; to understand

Taking photographs of First Australians is not something new. Since the invention of photography in the early part of the 19th century and its subsequent proliferation, people have captured images of Australia’s Indigenous People. The stories associated with those photographs have been as diverse as the photographers themselves. From the challenging anthropological and ethnographic portraits of Norman Tindale, the powerful ‘Australian Aboriginals’ (1873-74) by J.W.Lindt to the wonderful photo-documentary work of Ricky Maynard ‘Portrait of a Distant Land’ (2005), people have had the opportunity to see the aboriginal people of Australia through many different sets of eyes.

The eyes that conceived and composed those images belonged to men and women with their own agenda. The photographer’s inspiration gives impetus to and empowers the work in its early days, but can sometimes be diluted and even dissolved over time. There have been many discussions about what Lindt’s subjects might have felt as he photographed them in Grafton. Some look displeased and even fierce in their pose. Certainly the very long exposures and head braces used to eliminate movement, may have contributed to that gaze. What becomes common with old photographs is, that as years pass, the clothing and architecture become curious and surreal. It’s romantic to think that even within this unfamiliar setting and, with generations of lives separating us from that one moment in time, we might still distinguish scenes from our very own lives.

The photographic technique used to create this work is intimately linked to the past. It is the very same as that employed in studios during the earliest years of photography. Because of that, this work continues a conversation started long ago.

For over two hundred years, Aboriginal Australians have faced incredibly challenging circumstances in the struggle to maintain their culture, within the ever-changing face of a multicultural nation. With that in mind, the photographs in ‘Yahna Ganga’ have their own implications. Although predominantly portraits, it isn’t about any singular individual or event...rather it represents the varied faces of a proud and honorable people and the intimate relationship they share with land they occupy.

Tintypes and ambrotypes are peculiar images viewed by light reflected off their metallic surface. Clusters of silver particles gather on sheets of glass and aluminium, their size determined by the intensity of the light used to expose the delicate emulsion. Unlike photographs created by more modern methods, they are not duplicates but curious, singular ‘image objects’ on a solid substrate that often take on three-dimensions rather than two. Every artifact is a side effect of the materials and time needed to create the photographic event, and as such, is embraced as an intimate part of the work. As a result, the image is then afforded a unique characteristic…that of being unaltered. It becomes a truthful and enduring entity analogous to the veracious and collaborative spirit of the Aboriginal People.

Time progresses and things often move in the moments taken to expose each plate. It’s here, however, that a physical paradigm marries itself with a cultural allegory. The face of Aboriginal Australia isn’t static; rather it is a dynamic entity. It’s one that not only acknowledges a treasured past, but also works toward a flourishing future. Like that future, the work in Yahna Ganga was borne through a combination of meticulous arrangement and serendipitous events.