Past & Present Tense : 20 years of the Robinson Collection

Bert Robinson Studio, Circa 1930, Robinson Collection R2735.1
Bert Robinson’s Studio, c.1930, R2735.1

Susan Sontag, in her discussion of the inventory of photography since 1839, noted that seemingly everything has been captured in a photograph. This must certainly have seemed the case when twenty years ago, in 1997, Keri Whiteley set about curating the first exhibition of photographic prints from the Robinson Collection, Robinson & Son: A Photographic Studio, for Devonport Regional Gallery. This inaugural exhibition provided the public with their first glimpse into the tens of thousands of photographs taken by Bert and Albert Robinson in North-West Tasmania, over a 50-year period during the mid-20th century.

Over the past twenty years, Devonport Regional Gallery has held sixteen Robinson Collection exhibitions that have collectively served as a window into life on the North-West Coast of Tasmania during the 20th century. Through these exhibitions, the Robinson Collection continues to be a source of intrigue, nostalgia and reverence for Gallery staff, community members and visitors alike. Past & Present Tense features a selection of photographic prints from each Robinson exhibition to date, accompanied by reflections from artists, curators, researchers, volunteers and others who have come to know the collection over the past two decades. Past & Present Tense also prompts visitors to reflect on the value of this collection, and share their ideas for the next chapter of the Robinson archive.

-Erin Wilson, Curator

Each of the images below has been selected by someone who has come to know the collection; each sharing why this photograph has resonated with them.

 

Bert Robinson, date unknown, Robinson Collection R1360
Bert Robinson, date unknown, R1360

‘This beautifully framed photo of Pop was taken by my father; it captures a relaxed Bluff Beach with his lifesaver mates. I’m unsure if Dad orchestrated his father’s quizzical look or pop heard noises behind him, but I love that in 2017, I am still able to access this intimate moment.’

-Dave Robinson, son of Albert Robinson

 

R1643.1North Fenton Street, Devonport, 1942 cat
North Fenton Street, Devonport 1942, R1643.1

‘Some of the most fascinating images are those cloaked in obscurity – such as this funeral procession along one of Devonport’s suburban streets. We can look at such images as something outside of and beyond our own reality, but equally, they permit a personal, and at times confronting, avenue through which to consider social assumptions and cultural practices. ‘

-Alison Savage, Guest Curator, Tales from Suburbia 2011

 

YORK, 1930, Robinson Collection R82
YORK, 1930, R82

‘The act of art making and what we respond to, that image that makes one stop, fascinates me. This image reminds me of my grandmother, her garden, and the energy she would deliver to this space.  The last time I saw her I was four. She was a kind, generous person.  That is why I remember her so vividly.’

-Lisa Garland, Artist ReViewing 2015

 

Rodneys Bus Line_09-06-17
Motors Pty Ltd, Russell’s Buses, 1948, R3190.6
(Left to right) Taxi Driver; J.E. (Jack) Russell, Bus Drivers; Stan Willie, Raymond Russell, Jim Blanche, Ralph Williams, Billy Marquis, Leo Smith, Gordon Russell.

‘The photo is of my grandfather John Russell with his fleet of buses and hire car. The photo was taken at the Bluff together with two of his sons and other drivers. Typical of the time the drivers are wearing dust coats. Note the stone border in the foreground, long gone.’

Rodney Russell, Robinson Collection volunteer from 1993

 

R4494 Car travelling along road, orchard area, 1936 cat
Car Travelling along road, orchard area, 1936, R4494 

‘Seeing this photograph for me recalled Lloyd Rees’ painting The Road to Berry (1946–47). The elevation, the angle of the road and the framing of Rees’ work stayed with me as an exercise of precision and poetry, and was recalled many times in the North-West Tasmanian landscape. For me, the Robinson image is its precursor.’

-Dunja Rmandic, Curator of Collections 2013-2015

___

Past & Present Tense : 20 years of the Robinson Collection is on display at Devonport Regional Gallery until 27 August 2017.

For more information on the Devonport City Council Permanent Collection, visit the Devonport Regional Gallery website.

Highlights from the DCC Permanent Collection – David Stephenson

2002-003
David STEPHENSON, Theatine Church, 1663, Munich, Germany, 1995/2000, colour photograph

David Stephenson was born in Washington DC, USA in 1955, before relocating to Hobart to teach at the School of Art, University of Tasmania. Stephenson is a photographer who throughout his career has explored the idea of the sublime; that which inspires in us a sense of wonder or awe. While many artists have pursued the idea of the sublime through their work, for Stephenson this concept has been the foundation of his practice.

Stephenson’s inquiry into the sublime has seen him explore both natural and architectural sites, taking him from the central Australian outback, to the Arctic and Antarctic, and on travels throughout Europe. The four photographs by Stephenson held in the DCC Permanent Collection were taken by the artist as he travelled across Europe, visiting places of worship and photographing these ornate structures. These photographs are part of a Stephenson’s Dome series, which spans from 1993-2005 and numbers over one hundred images.

2002-004
David STEPHENSON, Capella Condestable Cathedral 1482, Burgos, Spain, 1993/1995, colour photograph

These striking images are recognisable as domes, but are also to a degree abstracted, each visually reminiscent of the image produced by a kaleidoscope. The photographs are both intricately detailed viewpoints of the decorative details of the domes, as well as evidence of the engineering feats of these mammoth structures. They provide a unique opportunity to linger upon details in a way that would be impossible within the space, due to both the dizzying effect of looking above and from attempting to ascertain details from the distance of the ground.

There is much symbolism associated with domes, from circles being read as representative of perfection or eternity, to the association of domes with royalty or the heavens. This symbolism is significant to Stephenson’s work, as while travelling through Europe in search of domes, he also photographed the night skies of the cities he visited, capturing both their beauty and their light pollution. The combination of these photographs seems to bridge the space between the landscape, or cityscape, and the skies or heavens; between the awe of the natural and the man-made sublime.

2002-005
David STEPHENSON, Avila Chapel, Santa Maria in Trastavere, 1680, Rome, Italy, 1993/1995, colour photograph

Both the awe-inspiring natural landscapes and the religious structures photographed by Stephenson may be considered sacred spaces – both can offer quiet places of reflection, contemplation and solace. The juxtaposition of these two manifestations of the sublime is powerful, as nature can provide a similar sense of awe and spiritual experiences for some as religion does for others. Part of this awe stems from the ability of both nature, and expansive and ornate architecture to make us aware of our own scale; of how we are simultaneously insignificant in the grand scheme of things, while also capable of achieving great feats, such as the architectural forms captured in these photographs.

-Erin Wilson, Curator

You can view more of David Stephenson’s work on his website and on The Derwent Project website

View more works from the DCC Permanent Collection here

Young Writers in the City: From Where I Stood #6: Sydney Griffiths and Captain Stalker, by Jane Beeke

Since January 2017 we’ve been featuring the creative essays and stories written by young writers who completed residencies in Devonport as part of the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre‘s  Young Writers in the City program, December 2016 – January 2017.

Writer: Jane Beeke
Residency: Bass Strait Maritime Centre

Jane Beeke spent her residency at the Bass Strait Maritime Centre, writing a continuous story inspired by the history she researched. This is the final entry in the six part series.

Read entry #1. Harry Wood
Read entry #2. Mary Ann Sayers
Read entry #3. William Holyman
Read entry #4. William Chapman
Read entry #5. John Griffiths

From Where I Stood

6. Sydney Griffiths and Captain Stalker

Sydney…

The Griffiths’ shipyard was full of steam and sweat. Sydney stood between the slips, watching over his men as they sawed and steamed and hammered. Two ships were rising, growing like trees from the shore, nearly ready for the final push into the water.
Sydney was good at building ships. He was good at building fast ships, ships that could cut a few hours or a day off the trip to Melbourne. Good and workmanlike ships. It was a damn shame that the J.L. Griffiths had gone down. She had been the fastest. She had been the best.
Sydney smiled wryly and privately. Only his father would have the luck to name a ship after himself and then lose the damn thing.

Sydney was interrupted by the ringing of a bicycle bell. The telegram delivery boy darted through the yard, running between the towers of wood and the jets of steam. A red envelope was in his hand.

“Is this it?” asked Sydney.

“It’s from Melbourne, sir.”

“The Captain should see this first.”

Sydney started and looked about. Where was the old boy?

“Harry! Harry Wood!”
The best apprentice looked up from his work with the calking iron. His face was red and his hands were blistered.
“Harry! Have you seen Captain Griffiths?”
“He went for a walk along the shore, sir!”
Sydney swore. He rushed from the yard.
Along the street he almost ran, the town on one side, the endless parade of shipyards on the other.  Sydney sweated as he clambered onto the beach, the wind whipping up stinging blasts of sand.
The old man was there, leaning into the unrelenting wind, a telescope against his eye.
“Captain!”
The old man pretended not to hear. Sydney slowed, as though he was approaching a strange and dangerous dog.
“Captain, I have it.”

Sydney’s father looked at the envelope, and his face fell. He raised the telescope again and continued to gaze, with wide and empty eyes, into the sea.

“I was thinking she might have been blown off course, lost a mast in a storm … If they jury-rigged another it could take three weeks to get back …” muttered the old man.

“Captain, I have the report …”

“…She might come in any day …”

“Will you open it?”

“I had a lot of faith in Captain Brown, you know. He’s a good mariner …”

Sydney let out a long, angry sigh. A dozen men – live men – were waiting on his instructions at the yard.

“Will you open it, Captain?”

The old man looked at Sydney, and the son could feel his father’s silent and empty despair.

Sydney tore open the envelope.

Captain Stalker…

 

BY TELEGRAM FROM LAUNCESTON

MELBOURNE, OCTOBER 11

The report of the search made by the steamer Pharos for the missing vessel J.L.Griffiths is as follows: – The Pharos left for King’s Island on Wednesday morning and reached Cape Wickham at 3pm same day. Lieutenant J. A. Stalker immediately communicated with the superintendent of the lighthouse, who reported that he had seen nothing whatever of the vessel, nor yet any portions  of wreckage afloat or on the beach. The Pharos then made a circuit of the island, and the whole of the coast line and adjacent islands were carefully scanned. Lieutenant Stalker also communicated with the lighthouse superintendent at Currie Harbour, but there was no information to be gleaned. As none of the lighthouse people at either station had seen anything of the missing vessel, or any fragment of wreck, and as Lieutenant Stalker could not discover any himself, he returned, leaving the island on Friday, and reaching the Bay on Saturday morning. The fate of the J.L. Griffiths is thus still an uncertainty.

Young Writers in the City: From Where I Stood #5: John Griffiths, by Jane Beeke

Since January 2017 we’ve been featuring the creative essays and stories written by young writers who completed residencies in Devonport as part of the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre‘s  Young Writers in the City program, December 2016 – January 2017.

Writer: Jane Beeke
Residency: Bass Strait Maritime Centre

Jane Beeke spent her residency at the Bass Strait Maritime Centre, writing a continuous story inspired by the history she researched. This is the fifth entry in this six-part story.

Read entry #1. Harry Wood
Read entry #2. Mary Ann Sayers
Read entry #3. William Holyman
Read entry #4. William Chapman

From Where I Stood

5. John Griffiths

The old man stood, wavering, on the sand. All he held was his old, brass telescope. All he could do was search from the shore, scanning each ship as they came in, counting masts, sizing them up.

But she never came.

For three weeks John had stood on the shore. The beating of the waves, the rise and fall of the tides, gave him his own time, and sometimes the years disappeared into the grey ocean.

What was he even looking for? Was it the J.L. Griffiths? The Resolution … Socrates? His own poor son , who John had watched drown, dumb and useless on the shore? Where had they gone, these men and these ships and these years? As a young man, John had always been able to press on with each mounting tragedy – build another ship, move to another city, start another business, start another family.

But now, as an old man, he was left alone with the dead men.

John clutched his cold telescope and he was cold, too. The sea was growing dark in the afternoon, and it felt he spent now as much time looking below the water as above it; water and sky and sand pouring into one great, empty blur.

Where have you gone?

John looked along the beach and saw his son, hurrying through the biting, wind-whipped sand, a red-enveloped telegram in his hand.

 

Read entry: 1. Harry Wood|
Read entry #2. Mary Ann Sayers
Read entry #3. William Holyman
Read entry #4. William Chapman

Read entry #6. Sydney Griffiths and Captain Stalker

International Museums Day at DRG – 18 May 2017

This year Devonport Regional Gallery marked International Museums Day by inviting members of the Gallery’s Friends Committee, Special Interest Group, and the Droogs young members, to trawl through the DCC Permanent Collection. Each selected a work that spoke to them, and then presented their thoughts, findings and insights about the works at our International Museums Day event.

_DSC0118
Viv Breheney presenting Patsy Adam Smith, by Edith Holmes

Several participants were drawn to portraits, with Special Interest Group member Viv Breheney selecting a painting of Patsy Adam Smith by Edith Holmes, as she also knew both women personally, and had colourful anecdotes to share. Barbie Kjar’s work Falling Cups was selected by Friends Committee President Karen Mathew. This work was highlighted on our blog recently, so Karen’s selection presented a great opportunity to bring the work out in the flesh for discussion.

Friends Committee Member Robert Apse selected a raku bowl by Harold Ramsden, who he has known personally. As Ramsden taught ceramics at Devonport TAFE in the 1980s, several audience members were familiar with his work, and following Robert’s discussion of the raku bowl other members of the audience with an interest and expertise in ceramics, shared their own knowledge about Ramsden and his work.

_DSC0134
Robert Apse presenting Harold Ramsden’s Raku bowl

Another Droog, Eleanor McCormack trawled through some of the collection’s works on paper, before being drawn to a print by Jim Logan titled Lamina Mneumonic. Eleanor delved into the meaning behind the work, discussing ideas of the physical body vs. the mental, and the problematic nature of our bodies being the way people see us, rather than considering our ideas.

Two photographs from the Robinson Collection were selected for quite different, but both personal reasons. One was selected by Brian Sollors, who devotes his time every week to scanning negatives from the Robinson Collection. Brian presented both the original negative, which shows the façade of the Robinson & Son Photographic Studio in Devonport, alongside a print of the image, which he had recently scanned and worked on for our upcoming exhibition Past & Present Tense: 20 years of the Robinson Collection, opening in July.

_DSC0119
Ellie Ray with a Robinson Collection negative, for Brian Sollors’ presentation

Another Robinson Collection print was selected by one of the gallery casual staff members and Droog, Sarah Beckett. Sarah was immediately taken by the image, which shows two young girls in a manicured backyard, as it sparked early memories from the house she grew up in in New South Wales, long after this photograph was taken in Tasmania. Sarah shared some of her formative memories from this house, as well as reflecting on how she could relate so strongly to an image of a house she had never set foot in. The audience members were able again to shed more light on the work, identifying the location where this house still stands in Devonport.

_DSC0131
Sarah Beckett presenting a Robinson Collection print

This year’s International Museums Day event provided a unique opportunity for those who dedicate their time and energy to supporting the gallery, to get a behind the scenes look at the DCC Permanent Collection. The event also proved a valuable opportunity for members of the community to see works otherwise kept in storage, to hear the insights of other community members, and to share in the discussion of the works in the DCC Permanent Collection.

Young Writers in the City: From Where I Stood #4: William Chapman, by Jane Beeke

Since January 2017 we’ve been featuring the creative essays and stories written by young writers who completed residencies in Devonport as part of the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre‘s  Young Writers in the City program, December 2016 – January 2017.

Writer: Jane Beeke
Residency: Bass Strait Maritime Centre

Jane Beeke spent her residency at the Bass Strait Maritime Centre, writing a continuous story inspired by the history she researched. This is the fourth entry in this six-part story.

Read entry #1. Harry Wood
Read entry #2. Mary Ann Sayers
Read entry #3. William Holyman

From Where I Stood

4. William Chapman

William waded into the sea.
The sky and the sea were one rip of darkness, and from his residence in the town of Formby he had no chance of sighting ships as they came into the port. Instead William splashed and clambered to the middle of the river, stood ankle-deep on the sandbar, and lifted his telescope to watch the horizon.

His own boat was anchored close by, ready to sail to any ship that signalled a need for his help. William knew this river better than any man alive.
William could feel the tide flowing around his ankles, and brown kelp tied itself around his legs, as though he were a rock or a buoy. He had worked this river for twenty-five years. He had seen towns appear, wharves and storehouses sprout along the water, and the shipbuilding yards in their slow creep along every patch of riverbank. He had seen it all.

And so William stood in the river, now as the harbourmaster and pilot, and was in control.
Already a dozen sails rose and fell in the Strait. Fishing ketches ran out and in. There was his brother-in-law’s smart ketch, Colleen Bawn, making her twice-weekly rush into the Strait. The big trading cutters lifted their sails into the cold wind – three masts, four – in their endless race to Melbourne and back. There were whaling boats and sealers, too, though not as many as in those early days.

William was cold to his core. He looked down into the brown water.
Where have you gone?
Where have you all gone?
Every year, a dozen men were pulled, grey and frozen, from the dark tide.
And every year, dozens more sank into the waves – like old ballast stones – far from William’s searching telescope, and far from the safety of his old hands at the wheel.

 

Read entry: 1. Harry Wood|
Read entry #2. Mary Ann Sayers
Read entry #3. William Holyman

Read entry #5. John Griffiths
Read entry #6. Sydney Griffiths and Captain Stalker

Young Writers in the City: From Where I Stood #3: William Holyman, by Jane Beeke

Since January 2017 we’ve been featuring the creative essays and stories written by young writers who completed residencies in Devonport as part of the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre‘s  Young Writers in the City program, December 2016 – January 2017.

Writer: Jane Beeke
Residency: Bass Strait Maritime Centre

Jane Beeke spent her residency at the Bass Strait Maritime Centre, writing a continuous story inspired by the history she researched. This is the third entry in this six-part story.

Read entry #1. Harry Wood
Read entry #2. Mary Ann Sayers

From Where I Stood

3. William Holyman

William heaved on the rope, leaning as a weight against it, until the mainsail rose and caught the wind. At once William was on the other side of the deck, pulling the rope tight into a stanchion. For twenty or more years he had sailed the Strait, and he still had the energy for it.
There were four more crew on deck, and Young William took the wheel. The Colleen Bawn flew into the Strait, bound due North for Melbourne. Both mainsails were up, pushed taught in the ferocious wind.
“How does she feel, William?” roared the old man.
His son didn’t hear, but smiled at the helm.
Old William walked down the deck, ignoring the wash that covered the deck, ignoring the endless pitch and the roll as they headed the waves. William stood behind his son.
“So how does she feel?” he shouted again.
“She’s keeping well in this breeze, Dad.”
“Good. You’ll be running her from now on.”
“Good.”

They nodded at one another, and that was all that needed to be said.
The boat climbed a perilously high wave, her bow piercing up into the sky, a silhouette against grey cloud. They hung a moment; then the crash of water and the sting of salt spray overtook them all. Young William had already lashed himself to the helm; the other men all scrambled for a place to cling – to masts, to ropes, to hatches – as the sea rolled in and over the deck.
Father and son both laughed with the exhilaration of familiar danger.
“We’ll make good time to Melbourne in this.”
William held firm as the boat heaved under another wave. There would be no stillness, no calm sailing. For now, they were in a world of endless movement, of rise and fall without end.

 

Read entry: 1. Harry Wood|
Read entry #2. Mary Ann Sayers

Read entry #4. William Chapman
Read entry #5. John Griffiths
Read entry #6. Sydney Griffiths and Captain Stalker