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Powerhouse acquires the Australian Centre for Photography

The NSW Government’s Powerhouse has acquired the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP) archive, valued at $1.6 million, and will continue the Centre’s legacy through a new initiative, Powerhouse Photography.

From the series, Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge, by Henri Mallard (print by David Moore), 1924 –1932, from the Australian Centre for Photography archive.

While the arrangement is described as an acquisition – an arrangement often involving a payment – the press release describes the archive as a ‘transformational gift’ that will ‘elevate Powerhouse’s photography collection and image-making practices’.

The first job for Powerhouse Photography is digitising the ACP archive and making this accessible to the public for the first time. The archive provides Powerhouse with the ‘impetus’ to expand upon its existing collection and develop an Australian Photography Archive.

ACP falls moments before the Golden Jubilee

The ACP, established by the legendary David Moore in 1974, closed down in late 2020 after losing support of both the state and federal government arts grants administrators. It was the final nail in the coffin of a struggling Centre, which operated with punishing losses due to declining revenue for several years, despite enjoying government funding.

For some perspective, in 2011 the ACP generated $995,000 from its courses, and in its final year the figure was just $110,000. It seems the Centre slowly lost its vision and failed to deliver a relevant program, and competition fired up as established professional photographers launched their own education and workshop programs.

While Covid-19 is attributed to hurting the already-wounded ACP, it’s astonishing the Centre lost public funding as the government’s response to the pandemic was to open the cheque book rather than tighten spending. It seems there was a grant available for anyone who asked nicely.

At the time of closure, former program manager and acting director, Blair French, told The Sydney Morning Herald the ‘ambition and visibility of its exhibiting programs have waned over recent years. We can only hope that a new organisation or a significantly rethought ACP will emerge from this situation.’

And so the ACP went into hibernation, with a sub-committee appointed to determine the Centre’s future options, which has now resulted in Powerhouse Photography.

Centre for Photography no longer centered

A phoenix from the ashes?

‘Having completed an extensive community consultation over the last 18 months, the Board of the ACP is delighted to have partnered with the Powerhouse to secure the long-term future of the organisation’s mission and archive,’ said ACP chairman, Michael Blomfield. ‘This innovative agreement ensures the founding goals of the ACP can be carried into the long-term future with an institution, and with an Advisory Group, that is deeply committed to securing and continuing our legacy.’

The initiative will ‘amplify the profile of Australian photography and lens-based media supporting photographers across their careers through commissions, acquisitions and national and international engagement opportunities.

‘Powerhouse Photography will continue the mission of ACP through an ongoing series of programs, publications, learning and research activities dedicated to the promotion and development of photography in Australia. The Powerhouse Photography annual program will include a photography research fellowship, tertiary internship program, contemporary photography acquisition program, and industry day.’

Powerhouse Photography Advisory Group. Top row (L-R): Lisa Moore, Tom Blachford, Cherine Fahd, Jacqui Strecker, Hugh Stewart. Bottom row (L-R): Emily McDaniel, Merilyn Fairskyke, Zan Wimberley, Meng-Yu Yan, Garry Trinh, Sarah Rees. Photograph by Hugh Stewart.

Fortunately, some respected photographers are on the Powerhouse Photography Advisory Group – co-chaired by UTS associate professor, Cherine Fahd and Powerhouse senior curator Sarah Rees. The group’s role is to ‘connect the organisation to industry and embed knowledge, insights and advice to inform curatorial strategies’. There is always a threat that the supremely academic-oriented public arts sector could lose the vision of ACP’s legacy, and the Advisory group will hopefully advocate for the best interests of Australian photography.

The panel includes:
– Photographer and ACP board member Merilyn Fairskye;
– Friends of ACP member Lisa Moore;
– Photographer Garry Trinh;
– Photographer Hugh Stewart;
– Photographer Meng-Yu Yan;
– Photographer Tom Blachford;
– Powerhouse Director First Nations Emily McDaniel;
– Powerhouse Head of Curatorial Jacqui Strecker;
– Powerhouse Artistic Associate Zan Wimberley.

Despite the ACP just falling short of its golden jubilee, Powerhouse Photography will still celebrate the defunct ACP’s 50th anniversary in 2024 with a curated digital program and major publication on Australian photography.

‘Today everyone’s a photographer. Making, sharing and looking at photographic images is something we all do. Photography’s pervasiveness across all aspects of human experience means we can take this powerful technology for granted; it is everywhere and nowhere, so ubiquitous as to be invisible,’ said Powerhouse Photography Advisory Group co-chair, Cherine Fahd. ‘The Powerhouse Photography initiative declares photography’s cultural value at the precise moment we may have forgotten its significance in art and design, through to science, medicine, law, communication and commerce. This critical and timely initiative offers a renewed focus on photography as a social and creative practice with a significant history and an even more vital future.’

We shall watch on with eager interest!

Here are some photos from the ACP archive:

Photographby Grant Mudford, 1995, courtesy of the Australian Centre for Photography.
From the series, Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge, by Henri Mallard(print by David Moore), 1924 –1932, courtesy of the Australian Centre for Photography..
Photograph by Carol Jerrems, 1995, courtesy of the Australian Centre for Photography
Dead sunflowers by Olive Cotton, 1984, courtesy of the Australian Centre for Photography
NY 1975 by David Moore, 1975, courtesy of the Australian Centre for Photography

One Comment

  1. Ken Werner Ken Werner October 30, 2022

    As someone closely involved with the ACP during its “glory years” in Paddington under the inspired leadership of Alasdair Foster, I’m hopeful that the Powerhouse acquisition is the best outcome we could have hoped for, under the circumstances. May the Phoenix arise from the ashes!

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