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Tasmanian gothic, faces from childhoods past

Photographic portraits of children from the Robinson Collection 1920-1940

Feature

Sweetness + Light was an exhibition of early Tasmanian photographs at 146 ArtSpace in 2016.

The children in the photographs look out from the past and daze the viewer with their timeless innocence and unguarded gaze. They have been carefully selected by curator Dr Ellie Ray to tell a story about the similarities and differences of children across the generations. The images are uncluttered with studio furniture allowing the viewer to focus clearly on the subjects and reflect on their lives.

They are also an important record of life in North West Tasmania in the 1920s and 30s. Taken by Bert Robinson who had a family photographic studio in Devonport for nearly 50 years. Bert was joined later by his son Albert, a portrait photographer, and daughter Joyce, an accomplished artist who colour tinted some of the photographs. Together the family recorded daily life, special events and the people of the north west coast through single and family portraits, wedding photographs and sports groups and choirs.

The studio’s collection of photographic negatives were purchased by the Devonport City Council in 1993 and in that same year the meticulous process of preserving and cataloguing the negatives commenced. The collection is now part of the Devonport Regional Gallery’s permanent collection and consists of over 40 000 black and white negatives. The varied subject matter provides a valuable resource for interpreting past social and political events in North West Tasmania.

The expression of infant charm and emotions, the child in the family and even the child at heart, have in various ways been illuminated within that curious space – the photograph. Sweetness + Light focuses on the combined elements that create the enduring power and presence of the photograph: the child as subject, the photographer, the camera and studio set-up – and importantly, the viewer.