The policeman's eye: the photography of Paul Foelsche
AffiliationFaculty of Arts
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsSmith, T. (2011). The policeman's eye: the photography of Paul Foelsche. PhD thesis, Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOnly available to University of Melbourne staff and students, login required
© 2011 Dr. Timothy Smith
Inspector Paul Hinrich Matthias Foelsche was an enthusiastic amateur, who began to work in the field of photography shortly after his appointment as founding Inspector of Police for the Northern Territory in 1870. Foelsche's photographic practice spanned the last three decades of the nineteenth century, the period of focus of this thesis. His first tentative views of the temporary buildings of the Port Darwin settlement were made with a simple quarter-plate camera that used the latest reproducible method known as collodion or wet-plate photography, which instantly revolutionised the way exploration and surveying were visually recorded. Foelsche began using a whole-plate camera in 1873, and assumed the role of the colony's official photographer when asked to supply views of the newly established settlement for display at Melbourne's 1875 Intercolonial Exhibition. A subsequent government request for Aboriginal portraits for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878 introduced him to ethnographic photography, a purpose that became aligned with his wider interest in the prevailing scientific propositions surrounding the origins of humankind. Foelsche was occasionally invited to publish his findings on the North Australian Aborigines and, although he was not a scientist, he is more fittingly portrayed as a field collector, and an informant on the Northern Territory and its first inhabitants. By the early 1880s, Foelsche had separated his negatives into two distinct photographic purposes that were the raisons d' etre behind his photography - one that encompasses views of the developing urban landscape and scenery for international exhibitions, and a second undertaking that has become an important collection of ethnographic portraits of North Australian Aborigines. The combined significance of these intersecting projects constitutes his contribution to Australia's photography. One of the historiographic problems of the thesis has been to arrive at a just and fair assessment of Paul Foelsche, not only as a photographer, but also as a public servant. There is no doubt that Foelsche worked under equivocal and onerous circumstances, and within a very rudimentary legal system. The fact that over various parts of his career he was both the Inspector of Police and a magistrate certainly compromised his independence. His primary relationship with Aboriginal people was as a policeman, and his handling of frontier conflict remains a controversial aspect of the Northern Territory's early history. His role as a senior policeman presented opportunities for his photography, which would not have existed had he not occupied that position. Although there is no record of Foelsche directly participating in the violence, Foelsche's photographs of peaceful Aborigines sit uncomfortably with the sanctioned reprisals that took place against some of the Aboriginal peoples he was photographing. Foelsche, who was among the original Northern Territory pioneers, was first remembered as an intelligent and effective police official, however with the developing interest in frontier history in recent years he has been increasingly associated with the region's record of frontier conflict. His contributions with a camera and as a collector by comparison, have been largely overlooked. While his scientific collecting is deserving of attention, this thesis focuses on the figure of Foelsche as a photographer. Beyond its inherent geographic and ethnographic value, I will argue that his entire photographic opus presents a unique record of British colonisation of Australia's Northern Territory. The technical and creative quality of Foelsche's work has been underestimated and this thesis argues a place for him amongst the foremost Australian colonial photographers.
Keywordsphotography; Australia; 19th century; Aboriginal Australians; portraits; Paul Foelsche
- Click on "Export Reference in RIS Format" and choose "open with... Endnote".
- Click on "Export Reference in RIS Format". Login to Refworks, go to References => Import References