The Spurling legacy and the emergence of wilderness photography in Tasmania
thesisposted on 2023-05-26, 07:07 authored by Burgess, CH
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Spurling photographic firm made a significant contribution to photography in Tasmania. However, over the years, fact and fiction about the Spurlings became confused. Their photographs became dispersed and inaccessible. Then, in the late 1970s a series of co-incidences led to the re-discovery of a large number of photographic glass plates. Some Spurling-related research commenced and then lapsed. Since then, with the exception of a few dedicated investigators, the Spurlings' contribution to Australian photography has remained largely untold. The task of this research was to redress this situation by locating, worldwide, as many Spurling images as possible, to catalogue and date them, and then to investigate relevant contextual information. This data was then placed into an historical and social framework. The thesis examines the careers of the three generations of Spurling photographers -- Stephen 1st, his two photographer sons Stephen 2nd and Frederick, and his grandson Stephen 3rd. It describes and analyses their cumulative photographic achievements from the early 1840s through to 1941, and traces their move from portraiture through to scenic, and ultimately wilderness photography. It also examines Stephen 3rd's significant wilderness treks and looks at the artistic and photographic conventions that influenced the ways in which the Spurlings depicted the landscape. Other subjects considered include issues surrounding the production of these images, and how wilderness photography can play an important role in alerting the public to environmental conservation. By examining these issues, this thesis adds significantly to the current literature on Australian photographic history. Although many photo-historians refer to the Spurlings, most have either overlooked or dismissed the significance of the Spurlings' photographic legacy, or provided only brief overviews. This thesis argues that while some of the factors that led to the Spurlings' virtual disappearance from the historical record were due to external influences and prejudices, the Spurlings themselves did little to record their history for posterity. This was due in part to modesty, but also a desire to keep family secrets hidden. This thesis concludes with a call for more accurate, unbiased and data-driven accounts of early Tasmanian photography, and a re-assessment of the Spurlings' place in Australian photographic history.
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