‘Real Photos’: Transforming Tindale and the Postcolonial Archive


When the Transforming Tindale exhibition opened at the State Library of Queensland in September 2012, there was much excitement and goodwill. This landmark exhibition was curated by Michael Aird and featured Ah Kee’s drawings and enlarged prints of anthropologist Norman Tindale’s photographs of 1938-1940, as well as extensive archival information and stories from the subjects themselves and their relatives. The transformations of the exhibition’s title refer to the way Tindale’s ‘data’ was given both new physical form, as well as engendering and renewing social meanings. Scholars such as Elizabeth Edwards have argued that we should explore the materiality of images and the diverse forms they assume, attending to the ways their form and vitality shape us as much as we imbue them with meaning. Digitisation constitutes a major transformation of photographs’ historical accumulation of materiality. It also enables the return of historical archives from European museums to Indigenous relatives in Australia. In this article I explore the relations and narratives that emerge from this process, focusing on their Indigenous significance, and using the example of an enigmatic cardboard panel held by the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford on which are mounted thirteen photographs from South Australia. For Indigenous descendants of the people recorded in these photographs, their physical form is less important than the way they embody missing relatives, lost through invasion and assimilation. This process is slow and often awkward, but the rewards are great, in challenging foundational national histories, re-connecting family networks, and telling the truth of Indigenous experience.


Photographs; Aboriginal history; Aboriginal heritage; post colonialism; photographic archives; decolonizing archives; 'Transforming Tindale'; Norman Tindale.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/phrj.v23i0.5329