Charles Bayliss (1850-1897) is a leading figure in Australia’s photographic heritage. His photographs provide a unique insight into late nineteenth century Australia, both its landscape and its inhabitants.
The Art Gallery of New South Wales is fortunate to hold two substantial albums of Bayliss’ later work, Collection of a country property, New South Wales (1886-1891) and New South Wales Royal Commission: conservation of water. Views of scenery on the Darling and Lower Murray during the flood of 1886.
Images from both albums, including several photographs not previously exhibited, are on display in the Gallery’s Focus Room until 25 May 2008.
These photographs demonstrate Bayliss’ considerable technical proficiency with the cumbersome photographic equipment of the period, showing how his careful orchestration and sophisticated use of figures within the landscape produced deceptively natural scenes. Bayliss’ sensitive portrayal of the local Indigenous peoples he met whilst travelling the Darling and Lower Murray rivers resonate in a contemporary setting. Equally interesting, given current debates over water management are his images of inland waterways. They provide rare glimpses of now threatened rivers in flood.
Collectively, the images on display document the extensive expansion into Australia’s eastern interior during the nineteenth century, following the developments brought about by rich returns from mining and wool. These early photographic documents reflect nineteenth century Australia’s interest in ‘the great pastoral life’ whilst also marking its increasing fascination with the photographic image.
Charles Bayliss’ photographic legacy is threefold and includes: his contribution to the vast body of work produced by the American and Australasian Photographic Company working with Beaufoy Merlin from 1866-1873; the Holtermann Exposition images in which he produced the world’s largest wet glass-plate panorama (1873-1877); and lastly, his subsequent work undertaken as ‘Charles Bayliss, Landscape Photographer’ from 1878 onwards.