An impressive large-format photograph of a 'Wangkangurru [Wonkonguru] man spinning string with a wooden cross-piece spindle'. Indigenous Australian Portrait, George AISTON.
An impressive large-format photograph of a 'Wangkangurru [Wonkonguru] man spinning string with a wooden cross-piece spindle'
An impressive large-format photograph of a 'Wangkangurru [Wonkonguru] man spinning string with a wooden cross-piece spindle'
An impressive large-format photograph of a 'Wangkangurru [Wonkonguru] man spinning string with a wooden cross-piece spindle'

An impressive large-format photograph of a 'Wangkangurru [Wonkonguru] man spinning string with a wooden cross-piece spindle'

A vintage [1920s] gelatin silver photograph (visible image size 245 × 378 mm), behind a window mat, gilt filet and glass, in a contemporary (read 1920s) moulded wooden frame; in excellent condition.

A similar (but far less appealing) image, previously unpublished, appears in the 2009 augmented second edition of 'Savage Life in Central Australia' by George Aiston and George Horne, first published in 1924. From 1912 to 1923, George (Poddy) Aiston (1879-1943), policeman and ethnographer, 'was based at the Birdsville Track outpost of Mungeranie and was also a sub-protector of Aborigines. He distributed rations, levied bore fees, inspected stock, collected dingo scalps, registered births, deaths and marriages, processed mail and issued licences. In addition, he studied the customs, beliefs and technology of the local people, and was assigned the Red Ochre mura (Dreaming). An authority on Central Australian Aborigines, particularly the Wangkangurru of eastern Lake Eyre, he photographed secular and ceremonial activities, as well as Birdsville Track life and landscapes' (Dr Philip Jones in the 'Australian Dictionary of Biography'). Perhaps of greater significance is the introductory essay by Philip Jones on George Aiston in 'Images of the Interior. Seven Central Australian Photographers' (Wakefield Press, 2011). He quotes from a letter written by Aiston in July 1921 to a Melbourne correspondent, Walter Gill: 'I am very keen on photography and have about a thousand negatives from which I could easily pick about 100 perfect specimens of bush life, sunsets, blacks, flowers, camels, horses and cattle. I would like to get a book of them printed, and wrote to Adelaide for a price ... I would not like to sacrifice quality for cheapness though. There should be a good sale for them in other cities - but I cannot get anyone to take them up - I can sell more prints in Adelaide than I can print - if you think you can do anything for me I will send you along 50 or 100 prints ... and let you judge for yourself'. Although Jones notes that Aiston 'had some success in entering photographic compositions [sic]' and had a good sense of the worth of his photographs, there 'is no indication that Gill advanced this idea on Aiston's behalf'. After he retired from the police force in 1923, Aiston did very little photography, a fact made abundantly (and painfully) clear in Jones's essay. David Welch, the editor of the second edition of 'Savage Life in Central Australia', details the numerous important additions to the work in his introduction, noting that 'Twenty-nine previously unpublished photographs by George Aiston have been added to the 90 photographs in the original 1924 edition'. One of these new images appears on page 81, with the anodyne caption 'Both men and women made string with a wooden cross-piece spindle'; the image is credited to 'George Aiston, AA3-2-15, South Australian Museum Archives'. That image is also reproduced online on a website devoted to Aboriginal culture, conducted by David Welch. There, it carries a much fuller caption: 'A Wangkangurru man spinning string with a wooden cross-piece spindle. The fibres were obtained by smashing up dry grass stalks. 1920s'. In that image, the old man's left arm is outstretched, obscuring the little boy's face. One of the most striking features of the image we have on offer is the intensity with which the little boy studies the elder, even mirroring his pose. To the best of our knowledge, this image is unpublished. The photograph is offered with a copy of the 2009 edition of the book.

Item #114605

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