Through Her Lens—
Women in the Horsham Regional Art Gallery Collection

Michelle Mountain
HRAG Curator

The Horsham Regional Art Gallery Collection was founded in 1967 with the acquisition of its first work, a portrait by Margaret Gill. The gallery was subsequently established
in 1973 and two years later, on the advice of the Regional Galleries Association, Director Jean Davidson elected to specialise the collection in Australian photography. While this was not entirely a popular decision with the trustees or public, it established the collection at a time when photography was starting to gain recognition in Australia’s public galleries. By 1976, Max Dupain’s Meat Queue 1946 and Carol Jerrems’ Vale Street 1975 were acquired into the collection. Horsham Regional Art Gallery’s photographic collection has since grown to be one of considerable significance, in part due to the many notable female photographers in its ranks.

An apt genesis for the collection, Carol Jerrems’ Vale Street cemented an appreciation in the collection for women telling their own story. Vale Street’s bold female subject has a confidence that is set against the intimacy of her nudity and the diffidence of her male companions. Her expression is unapologetic yet enchanting, revealing depth to both women behind and in front of the camera.

Over the next few years Jean Davidson continued to build the Horsham Regional Art Gallery Collection through close consultation with two prominent women in the field of photography – Jennie Boddington, curator of photography at the National Gallery of Victoria, and Joyce Evans founder of the Church Street Photography Centre, Melbourne. Evans’ own work was later acquired to the collection, with the first acquisition, The Ascent 1993, exhibiting the same defiant female gaze as Jerrems’ work.

During the 1990’s, key feminist photographers were collected; including Janina Green, whose Vacuum series 1992 explored oppressive domesticity through the strange constructed interiors in ‘Home Beautiful’ magazines; and Sandy Edwards who photographed Marina, the young daughter of friends, through the change of adolescence.
A notable acquisition in 1992 was of a work by Leah King-Smith from her series Patterns of Connection 1991, which explored the return of 19th Century photographs of Indigenous Australians to the land by superimposing the images over her own photographs of the Victorian landscape. King-Smith was the first of many Indigenous photographers acquired, including Tracey Moffatt and Fiona Foley, as the photography of Australia’s First Nations people has become a significant component of the Gallery’s Collection. Tracey Moffatt’s Self Portrait 1999, epitomises the act of redefining one’s identity in one’s own terms, her weapon of choice, the camera, clasped in her elegantly manicured hands.

While the Horsham Regional Art Gallery Collection holds
a number of important historic female photographers, the acquisition of work by contemporary female artists was somewhat sparse until 2007. Subsequently, there was a noticeable increase in female photographers entering the Collection, often out-numbering the acquisition of male photographers year to year. From earlier works by Polixeni Papapetrou, Pat Brassington, Ponch Hawkes and Deborah Paauwe, to key works by Polly Borland and Jill Orr, and more recent works by Eliza Hutchison, Zoë Croggon and Simone Slee; the increased focus on female lens-based practice over the past twelve years has established a significant collection of feminist work. Generous gifts such as the Nance Kroker bequest have also allowed the gallery to focus further on feminist photography by investing in influential work by Anne Ferran and supporting emerging artists, such as recently acquired Honey Long and Prue Stent.

Since first realising its conception as a collection of Australian photography through the work of Carol Jerrems, the Horsham Regional Art Gallery Collection has come to represent an eminent register of women artists in Australia, who work to bend the lens of the camera to their own gaze. Through the guidance of early curators and gallerists and more emphatically in recent times, women in the collection have found their voice substantially over the past twelve years. Be it Anne Ferran’s reimagining of classical conventions; Orr, Slee and Croggon’s performative bodies; Moffatt and Foley’s assertions of Indigenous self-representation; all of these works speak of women taking back their voice behind and in front of the camera.