14 May – 8 June 2013

Emma Thomson

Take Your Best Shot


I think photography, just the way it captures someone so particularly, it suggests that they’re important in some way, they’re in the picture.’  Collier Schorr

Schorr’s words describe something of the prescience of photographic portraiture – the here and now depicted in the photograph, the subject at a particular time and place, outside of history, but making claims on behalf of culture itself. A subject can be made to represent all people, the landscape to represent all countries, because being a photograph it (seemingly) reflects the world and human nature so flawlessly. Yet the politics of representation ensures the image will be seen as both a document reflecting reality and a clarion call for those who object to its depiction. The power of the image is in its ability to be used as a tool for suggestion, representation and criticism of the very thing that is being depicted. 

Emma Thomson has been artist-in-residence at Western Plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo, since January 2013. The residency, enabled via funds provided by Copyright Agency Limited, has provided the artist with the opportunity to create a series of photographs that reflects aspects of life in regional NSW. Thomson’s specific focus is on women who participate in hunting in Central Western NSW. Her interest lies in their involvement within a predominantly male culture. For Thomson this is subject matter that has previously been relegated to social networks and shooter’s forums, yet it reveals something more about unseen shifts in gender roles in contemporary Australia. Magazines devoted to hunting feature the decorative use of women to promote the sport, ensuring the brutality and bravado is salved via the softness and purity of the female form. Thomson has allowed her subjects to present themselves as they wish to be seen within the context of hunting culture, and how they wished to be seen as women. The result is an essay on female representation and one that contributes to greater discussions surrounding feminism, rural life and the environment. The photographs reveal women who are engaged with the landscape in which they live, and whose presence highlights the multi-faceted reality of ‘life on the land’.   

Hunting is an aspect of Australian rural culture that has historical precedence in our colonial history whilst being a realistic and pragmatic necessity. Women have long performed invisible roles in its history and are now taking their place as active protagonists. Thomson’s subjects are part and apart from mainstream culture. These are no longer sub-cultures – groups that occur beneath the rest of culture – they are a unit of culture. These units make up the long list that is human endeavour. Thomson’s photographs reveal those in our midst.

The internet has ensured our access to human experience has increased and diversified. Connections between people and their interests are enabled regardless of time and distance. Thomson embraces these connections as forums in which to express the self. Facebook, Tumblr, blogs, instagram, twitter, email, et al, have become formats for documenting our realities and aspirations – our first fifteen minutes. Each post reveals something of the totality of human experience through the ubiquity of the specific. A sense of community and legitimacy can be cultivated even if we don’t speak to or acknowledge our immediate neighbours.

Using social and print media, Thomson advertises for models willing to pose for portraits that engage with hunting culture. Thus begins the collaborative process to realise the artwork. Thomson’s project is dependent upon the individuals who reply to the advertisements. This element of chance contributes to the heightened state of observation that permeates her photographs. The subject is being watched by the artist, the camera, us. They have negotiated this moment, decided in which light they look best. It is an orchestrated standoff between viewer and subject. They stare resolutely back – the point at which our eyes meet is the crosshair – friend or foe? 

The portraits are aspirational; the artist intentionally avoids catching the subject ‘off guard’. Thomson’s practice harks back to the early days of photography – a formal means of documenting time and place. The tableaux in which her subjects are presented are the very landscapes they inhabit. No studio artifice or digital manipulation has been used to enhance or improve this reality. Her subjects have been chosen for their anonymity, their as-yet-unknowable state. They are given the stage. This is their opportunity to represent.

We will each scrutinise these photographs in the search for meaning, symbolism and beauty. Are these ordinary people doing ordinary things? Or are they like all of us, merely yearning for their best shot?

Kent Buchanan

April 2013