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Major Australian landscape retrospective: ‘Return to Nature’

The photograph-rich Monash Gallery of Art (MGA) has just opened Return To Nature, a major retrospective of Australian landscape photography which illustrates changing perspectives and attitudes over the past two centuries (July 9 – September 18).

Nici Cumpston, ‘Barka messenger’: 2021 pigment ink‐jet print, crayon, pencil 64.0 x 170.8 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection courtesy of the artist and Michael Reid (Sydney)




Seen through the lenses of over 40 photographers, including colonial photographers from the 1870s such as Harold Caneaux through to contemporary artists working today, Return to Nature considers the Australian landscape in its many forms. From nature as something to conquer, to something to protect, this exhibition encompasses the evolution of approaches to landscape.

John Cato: Tree – a journey #9 1971–73 from the series Essay I: landscapes in a figure 1971–79. Gelatin silver print 45.3 x 35.1 cm. Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection. Donated by the Cato Estate 2021 MGA 2021.36 courtesy of the Cato Estate

The Monash Gallery of Art began to develop its photographic collection in the early 1980s, seizing on the opportunity to collect both historic and contemporary examples of Australian photography. The first collection consultant for the gallery was iconic photographer and historian John Cato, who advised on the acquisitions of works by photographers represented in this exhibition, including Norman Deck, Max Dupain and David Moore.

The exhibition takes key works from MGA’s significant collection of Australian photographs. It will see the first showing of some important new MGA acquisitions such as Narelle Autio’s sumptuous underwater images of Australian waterholes, an extensive set of John Cato’s abstracted photographs of Australian trees and Nici Cumpston’s superbly handcoloured photographs of ancestor trees along the Barka (Murray
Darling River).

Narelle Autio: Untitled #17 2012 from the series Water hole . Chromogenic print 82.0 x 119.9 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection. Acquired 2021.Courtesy of the artist, Hugo Michell Gallery (Adelaide) and Michael Reid (Sydney).

These works are accompanied by a new iteration of ‘Interference pattern’ (2018– ) by Rebecca Nadjowski and Vivian Cooper Smith, ‘a vast and vibrant exploration of what it means to make photographs with the landscape rather than of it’, according to the Return to Nature press release.

Return to Nature is accompanied by digital texts about the artists and the works included.

Peter Dombrovskis: Morning mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River, Tasmania c. 1980. Pigment ink-jet print 74.1 x 94.2 cm. Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection. Acquired 2015. Courtesy of the Estate of Peter Dombrovskis.

Return to Nature takes us on a journey through the Australian landscape as envisaged by over 40 photographers from the 1870s through to today,’ said Stella Loftus‐Hills, MGA curator. ‘Capturing a variety of historical moments, as well as varying approaches to the land and photography, this exhibition brings out some rarely seen MGA Collection gems, as well as some new acquisitions and alltime favourites.’

‘It is always a pleasure to curate MGA’s collection into new contexts and this exhibition is an opportunity to explore the gallery’s holdings of landscape photographs and to view them in a new light. It is also an opportunity to reflect on our changing relationship to nature, our impact on the environment and the important role photography has played in both conquering and protecting Australia’s natural places.’

John Gollings. Untitled 1983. From the series Bushfire aerials, gelatin silver print 45.0 x 55.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection. Acquired 1990. Courtesy of the artist.

‘Australia’s landscapes are full of diversity and history, and as soon as photography was introduced to the great southern land, it became a medium with which to frame and understand the landscape,’ added Pippa Milne, MGA senior curator. ‘This exhibition has presented an opportunity to mine the MGA Collection for representations of the Australian landscape that articulate how those living in Australia have viewed, treated and occupied its landscape.

MONASH GALLERY OF ART 860 Ferntree Gully Road Wheelers Hill VIC 3150
T: 03 8544 0500 | |

Edward Burtynsky: Silver Lake operations #1 2007. From the series Lake Lefroy, Western Australia
Chromogenic print 122.0 x 152.5 cm. Collection of Milton and Penny Harris. © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto.



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