Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times is a significant survey exhibition focusing on Maddison’s social documentary practice from 1976 to the current day. Bringing together key historical works with a major new commission, this exhibition is a timely and focused look at one of Australia’s leading feminist photographers.
The exhibition features several key series, from Maddison’s earliest hand-coloured works Miss Universe (1979); her iconic Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1979); a selection of series focusing on women in the workforce (from 1979); The Beginning of Absence (1996) documenting her father’s mortality; photojournalistic works documenting political rallies and activism in Australia (1975–2015); to Maddison’s more recent projects documenting the people and industries of Eden, NSW (2002–2014).
These works are presented alongside Maddison’s documentation of the cultural milieu of Melbourne with a focus on the late 1970s and 1980s. Her portraits of Melbourne’s leading writers, artists, theatre makers and musicians include Helen Garner, Tracey Moffatt, Steven Cummings, Jenny Watson, Mickey Allen, Ponch Hawkes and the founders of Melbourne’s Circus Oz amongst others.
Maddison’s more recent projects documenting Eden’s people and industries illustrate the changing face of regional Australia and the societal pressures that have come to bear. The Eden teens captured in Maddison’s 2002 series have now splintered, with half leaving town for new opportunities and the other remaining. The two industries — fishing and timber — that have underpinned Eden’s economy for decades have been dramatically reduced. While the 2019 bushfires, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic have further economically ravaged a community trying to rebuild itself.
The newly commissioned work The Fellow Traveller (2020) is an immersive photographic installation exploring Maddison’s father’s radical political activities in Australia and overseas from the 1950s–1980s, which were under ASIO scrutiny. Combining archival material, footage and hand-coloured photographs among a sea of revealing and curious images, The Fellow Traveller presents the shifting nature of long held personal and historical truths at a time of increasing social and political urgency.
Delivered through the collaboration of Adam Harding CCP Director, Jack Willet CCP Curator, Ruth Maddison and independent Curator Olivia Poloni, with inceptive curatorial work from Linsey Gosper and Madé Spencer-Castle.
Ruth Maddison (b. Melbourne, 1945, lives and works in Eden) is one of Australia’s foremost senior feminist photographers. Best known for her hand-coloured series, Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1977–78), for over 40 years Maddison has been exploring ideas surrounding relationships, working lives, and communities through portraiture and social documentary photography.
An entirely self-taught practitioner, Maddison shot her first roll of film in 1976 under the encouragement of longtime friend Ponch Hawkes, and has hardly put down a camera since. Maddison’s work is represented in major public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Library and the State Libraries of Victoria and New South Wales.
Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
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