A carte de visite portrait photograph of an Indigenous man and woman in a classic studio setting of the day. Indigenous Australian Portraiture.
A carte de visite portrait photograph of an Indigenous man and woman in a classic studio setting of the day

A carte de visite portrait photograph of an Indigenous man and woman in a classic studio setting of the day

An albumen paper photograph (image size 96 × 55 mm), mounted on plain card (107 × 62 mm, with rounded corners, as issued).

The mount is a little foxed and marked, with the corners a little rubbed; the photograph is very lightly foxed and marked, with a tiny surface chip to the bottom edge; overall, in very good condition with an inscription dated 1889 on the verso (with '1889' repeated nearby in much later blue ballpoint pen).

The caption written in ink on the well-thumbed plain verso of the mount states in full: 'Bob Black | Doley [or Poley] White | in rememberence [sic] | of his Brother | jack White | jiney my | wife give | my love | to all my | Brother, Sister'. Written in the same hand at right angles across this message is the date, July 30th 1889, followed by three short lines that have proved to be even more difficult to decipher ('Sister | .... the | time [?])'. What appears to be the letter B is then written eight or nine times on three lines: perhaps Bob Black's initials? The caption may well have been written in 1889, but the photograph appears to us to be somewhat earlier, say mid-1870s at a pinch. The photographer is not identified, suggesting this is not the product of an established studio in a town or city, but more likely the work of a travelling photographer. The ubiquitous studio props (plinth, curtain, carpet, chair) are nothing if not portable, and the 'wall' in the background is clearly a canvas blind ... In any event, the image is a strong example of colonial portraiture, let alone one of very much rarer Indigenous portraiture for its own sake, and not just another instance of outsider or exotic imagery. The intriguing (and mystifying!) message on the verso, written - if not by one of the subjects, then by a close relative - adds immensely to its significance. The item surfaced in South Australia; we presume this to be its place of origin.

Item #119366

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