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Anne O’Hehir

National Gallery of Australia, Australia

Who and What We Saw: Two Photocollaged Victorian Albums in the Collection of the National Gallery of Australia

AOH_Who and What NGA
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The National Gallery of Australia holds two exceptional albums compiled independently in the 1860s by the English women, Viscountess Frances Jocelyn and Helen Elizabeth Lambert. Both albums, while created separately, came into the collection at the same time during the early 1980s.

Viscountess Frances Jocelyn and Helen Elizabeth Lambert were members of the English aristocracy with close connections to royalty and the military. The albums are made up of purchased photographs pertaining to the women themselves – mixed in with some taken by the women themselves. There is a section in the album by the viscountess called ‘Bygone Hours’ that consists of family portraits of herself and her children. The album compiled by Lambert is titled ‘Who and what we saw at the Antipodes’ and documents the time spent by Lambert and her husband, Rowley Lambert, commodore of the Royal Navy's Australia Station, in Australia. Many of the sheets comprise photographic collages embellished with elaborate hand-painted ornamentation.

The albums, compiled by each woman over a number of years, provide fascinating insights into the private lives of these women and demonstrate how photography was employed to define one’s place in Victorian society. The photographs and photographic assemblages self-consciously reveal the social place of each woman in Victorian life and reflect what was important to them – family, property, military structures and lines of communication, the Empire. At the same time, these albums are also fantastically anarchic, bringing together humour, creative practice and photography’s evidentiary attributes to tell stories about the Victorian experience, and so doing drew on photography’s malleability as a narrative device. The albums reveal much about the society which produced them, women’s relationship to photography in Victorian England, and the place of the photographic image in the representation of Empire.

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