John Austin: Black and White Photography, Rae Starr: Pinhole, Cyanotype and Textiles


Woman with Clay 1996, Picture Story

Sep 9th, 2020 • Stories

This is an intentionally confrontational image.  I believe pictures of naked women should be strong, confrontational and political.

A friend from Quinninup and I had been working in a Melaleuca swamp near the Donnelly River with clay as part of the evolving Mergence Portfolio.  In this, and other work with women in the forest, I prefer subjects who are proud of their female maturity.  I am open to the signs of wear and aging.  As with the forest around me, I prefer women to be natural.

Clay was used as a body covering in reference to Ankoku Buhto.  The clay was not used for any kind of Aboriginal reference, Aboriginal culture is far too complex a subject for me to play with, but clay covering is used in many other cultures.

The bulk of the images show the subject at some distance and with a wide angle lens, so she became an almost lost image in the swamp-scape.  We later made some closer images, portraits with clay-plastered hair and ending up with other close images.  The rhombus form, made by tilting the camera at 45°, was to align the frame with her squatting position., giving her greater prominence than the normal orientation.

There is a strand of hair, a Barthesian punctum, at the very bottom of this picture.  I could have removed this in the printing, but chose not to.  The punctum strand had freed itself from the clay-held mass and it stayed.

I will end this with a response from another friend who visited the John Austin Survey II 24 year survey exhibition, and who commented on this image.

". . .  And "Woman and Clay" made me so uncomfortable I had to look away several times before I could take in the fluid and starkly sensual depiction of a woman embodying nature. To see the goddess innate in every woman hanging in front of me was astonishing and empowering."

RD, personal communication 2017


Hasselblad 500CM camera with 120mm S-Planar lens, Ilford FP4 film, developed in replenished D76d.  Printed first on Agfa MCC, later on Fomabrom Variant to life size.

John Austin, Quinninup
March 2021


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