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The Photograph as Archive, Reimagining the Archive, the Living Archive of Aboriginal Art

Sabra Thorner and Maree Clarke


In 2008, an Indigenous Australian artist based in Melbourne – Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti/ Wemba Wemba/Boonwurrung) – created a kangaroo-teeth necklace, revivifying an art and cultural practice for the first time in over a century. She was inspired to do so after viewing an 1880 photograph of an ancestor – Yarruun Parpur Tarneen – wearing such adornment, and by visiting with extant examples of such adornment in museums around the world. This photo-essay seeks to both represent Clarke’s collaborative work, and invite others in to learn, share, and co-create. We argue that photographs are archives themselves: sites and sources of creative co-production. Photographs are inextricable from their people and their relations (with Ancestors, Country, kin, and community). The holistic integration of Indigenous knowledge transmission, contemporary art-making, archival photographs, and extant artifacts offers a radical re-imagination of what archives are and can do.

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We acknowledge the traditional owners of the unceded land where we (have) live(d) and where this work is embedded: Boonwurrung and Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations in and around Naarm (Melbourne, Australia). We pay respect to Elders past, present, and emerging.

Sabra Thorner: I thank my co-author, Maree, for her generosity, always. I also thank – in addition to the institutions and individuals named in the text that follows – Gerard Hayes, Melinda Hinkson, Vicki Couzens, Jessa Rogers, Kimberley Moulton, Anna Weinreich, Kristin Dowell, Robin Nagle, and Lynn Morgan for their insights and support of this collaborative work. I also thank Paolo Favero, Janine Prins, and Beate Engelbrecht for their engagement with our thinking and experimentation with this form; and two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtfulness in making our written work stronger.

Maree Clarke: I acknowledge my dear friend and soulmate, the late Len Tregonning, for his kindness and generosity in passing on his deep cultural knowledge – he is truly missed. I also acknowledge the traditional peoples of the land of the Kulin Nations, on which I live and work, along with my Ancestors, whose knowledge of this land continues to inspire me daily in my art practice. I thank Vivien Anderson and Amy Boyd from Vivien Anderson Gallery for their support in representing me and in promoting my artwork to a broader public. I acknowledge the many friends and family (including my co-author Sabra) who continue to support my art practice, especially as we work together to create new art. I also acknowledge my nieces and nephews and all the young people with whom I continue to have the great pleasure to work and whose enthusiasm for embracing the knowledge and practice of our Elders and Ancestors indicates a willingness to learn and to adapt our cultural knowledge in the 21st century. These new and dynamic expressions of culture continue to demonstrate our resilience as First Nations peoples and in keeping culture strong for future generations.


1In 2008, an Aboriginal Australian artist based in Melbourne, Australia – Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti / Wemba Wemba / Boonwurrung) – created a kangaroo-teeth necklace, revivifying an art and cultural practice for the first time in over a century.  She was inspired to do so after viewing an 1880 photograph of an ancestor – Yarruun Parpur Tarneen – wearing such adornment. She studied the two extant examples held in the Melbourne Museum (and later, in major collections around the world). She’d been yearning to make such a necklace for over 15 years, when she got the chance to do so through a commission from that same state museum.

2This photo-essay is premised upon the assertion that photographs are archives themselves; and we suggest that this understanding urges reimagination of what archives are and can do. Archives have become important sites of scholarly inquiry over the last 20+ years (Derrida 1998; Stoler 2010; Christen and Anderson 2019; Thorpe 2019). No longer taken for granted, archives are now actively investigated as cultures, institutions, and/or technologies with their own logics (that can then be resisted, responded to, and reimagined). In our work together, the archive is not a repository where information is retrieved, but rather a site of knowledge production; the archive is a metaphor for the traces, fragments, and materials that can be creatively (re)assembled and (re)invigorated in new contexts of collaborative co-production (Christie et al 2014).

3In Australia, photographs have been widely and successfully mobilized as historical artifacts, reproduced in various media and taken up in multiple trajectories of knowledge production about Aboriginal people (Lydon 2005; Lydon 2015). Photographs index social relations of the past that are themselves indicative of complex contact histories (Thorner 2019). Yet photographs also hold cultural knowledge which inspires art- and culture-making in the present. Their replicability is an important site of experimentation and innovation – photographs can be reprinted, diversely circulated, and infinitely recoded (Edwards 2001); and encounters/moments in time can be re-embodied and re-enacted (Thorner 2019).


The Photograph as Archive

The Photograph as Archive, Reimagining the Archive, the Living Archive of Aboriginal Art

Credits : Sabra Thorner and Maree Clarke

Video link:​750396342

Making the Photo-Essay

5The photo-essay as a form in fact facilitates co-production and recursive knowledge sharing. By doing it together, we are implicitly asking questions about the relationships between peoples, our “cultures”, our images and texts, and how and why all of these are made. We were experimenting, wanting to tell a story that was more reliant on images than on text, hoping to inspire close-looking without audio and with very few narrative cues. We sought to avoid flattening photographs into evidence of something that happened in the past (Peterson 2005), and instead animate the photographs in a way that invited further learning and understanding.

6Maree and I are part of a team of collaborators on a project called “The Living Archive of Aboriginal Art” based in Melbourne (see Edmonds et al 2020). This project seeks to radically reimagine archives from an Indigenous perspective – including the holistic integration of personhood, Ancestors, Country, kin, and cultural production; incorporating archival objects and contemporary artworks; foregrounding Indigenous expressions yet reflexively considering how these are often intercultural collaborations; capitalizing on new/digital technologies while also (re)activating traditional (and pre-colonial) forms; and emphasizing that archives are always dynamic, emergent, and in-the-making.1

7In many ways, this photo-essay is part of the same work, one venue in which we are engaging still photographs in ways that seek to honor collaborative co-production. Photographs are material objects (even as they have shifted, in many cases, from print to pixel), and they are things bearing affective storytelling potential, waiting to be activated, taken up, re-imagined, re-enacted. How could we mobilize photographs for the stories they hold? What are the ethical responsibilities and/or imperatives of showing, looking, storytelling (and what comes after)? Via the photographs here, we are telling stories (see more in the next section, below) and pointing towards the possibilities for more/different stories to be told; we are also asserting that the storytelling emerging from photographs is a valid and significant form of Indigenous knowledge transmission (Archibald et al 2019).

  • 2 Anthropologist Christopher Pinney is particularly interested in the difference between still and mo (...)
  • 3 Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg 2009 cite “collaborative photo ethnography” as crucial to thei (...)
  • 4 For more on anthropological efforts to account for sensory experiences and the production of knowle (...)

8All photographs here, together with the fragments of speech and text, the layering and pacing of different 2-D rectangles in each frame, are employed with Maree’s participation, consent, and enthusiasm. This is a form that lends itself to methodological innovation in anthropology, a decolonizing practice that is both collaborative and reflexive in its attempt to produce and disseminate knowledge. Can the photo-essay do something different (than either a film or a text)?2 How might it be a research methodology as well as a research-product?3 We think it offers a greater sense of being-there than conventional academic texts, an opportunity to explore, see, visit-with the processes of knowledge-making.4

  • 5 For rigorous theorizing of co-creation, see the Manifesto and works of the Co-Creation Studio at th (...)

9Assembling these images is part of our ongoing work together, as research (Sabra) and art-making (Maree) interanimate each other (Geertz 1996). The photo-essay both represents our work and invites others in, to contemplate, imagine, re-assemble, and create.5 Inviting others in is a key methodology of Maree’s practice (as we’ve written elsewhere; see Thorner et al 2018, Thorner et al 2019); her creative work is collaborative, relational, dynamic, and enables new modes of research to emerge.

10Making the photo-essay felt more akin to filmmaking than to writing: we found ourselves thinking about sequencing, pacing, composition (also: color, framing, cropping), how it looked. We were striving for multivocality – not wanting to be too directive about the meaning of particular images – and paying careful attention to who had (or should have) the power to say what, and with what emphasis. We sought to produce movement (a story unfolding), ease transitions, and yet tell a story visually. Indeed, as we discuss in the next section, we wanted to tell a story with many stories embedded within it. We relied on collage, assemblage, and layering; we imagined our work in terms of foreshadow and flashback; we used repetition (and/or timing) for emphasis. We tried to stay away from linearity and tried to communicate, visually, in a way that might feel more circular, cyclical, or spiral-like.

  • 6 Together with other members of our team, we’ve written elsewhere about Indigenous sovereignty (see (...)

11What are image ethics (Peterson 2003) here? Copyright is a legal framework that has proven inadequate in protecting Indigenous interests (Anderson 2018). In Australia, each institution has developed its own protocols and processes for researchers (and others) seeking culturally-correct image permissions. Is the permission of an owning/collecting institution sufficient? What right do institutions (such as museums) have to gatekeep, and/or to profit from images including Indigenous peoples and their objects? If negotiation is a condition of access, then how/with whom to negotiate? Kim Christen and Jane Anderson (2019) have developed “traditional knowledge licenses and labels” as part of their “Local Contexts” project: these are (legal, extra-legal, and educational) tools designed to help Indigenous peoples manage their own intellectual property and cultural heritage, specifically within digital ecosystems. Their idea is to forge a new paradigm of rights and responsibilities that recognizes the inherent sovereignty that Indigenous peoples/communities have over their images, objects, and heritage.6

12There is a tension between the ease with which digital and digitized photographs can be shared and circulated (on one hand), and (on the other hand) the recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights to their images, their photographic objects, and the knowledge embedded within them. “Open-access” may be a completely incompatible approach, and one that ignores the dispossessing histories Indigenous Australians have endured and the ongoing struggles for legitimacy and visibility. Following Christen and Anderson’s work, we ask: are there ways to facilitate ethical access? Might alternative pathways of access allow people to acknowledge the weight of the histories of image-making and knowledge-circulating of Indigenous peoples, and to understand that they must have a say in how their cultural heritage circulates (even if/as the cultures of the worldwide web impose opposite pressures)?

  • 7 We are drawing from Kim TallBear (2016), and her invocation to making-kin as a powerful alternative (...)

13We don’t offer up definitive answers, but rather pose these questions for further critical reflection. We have striven to honor the histories and legacies of image-making and image-circulating of Indigenous peoples in seeking correct cultural permissions from all who might hold responsibility for an image and the Ancestor(s) and/or Country it pictures. All photographs included here are done so with the enthusiasm, consent, and generosity of Maree Clarke, and many of them come from her private collections. We acknowledge Fran Edmonds as the senior researcher and coordinator of the Living Archive project. We thank the Koorie Heritage Trust (Gail Harradine, Rebecca Mirams, and formerly, Nerissa Broben and Miriam Troon) and photographer Graham Baring; Museum Victoria (Melanie Raberts and formerly, Lindy Allen) and photographers Jon Augier and Benjamin Healley; the Camperdown and District Historical Society (Bob Lambell) and Sue Cole; Ros Britton (Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative) and Jan Critchett; and the State Library of Victoria (Maxine Briggs and Titta Secombe). Each photograph required a unique trajectory for seeking and obtaining permission(s); overall, the process demanded trust, humility, patience, persistence, creativity, and reflexivity. The labor and the time are important to acknowledge, but more important is relating to each other in a good, right way. In other words, engaging with photographs can never be simply about using, contextualizing, or circulating the photographic object, but rather, must always recognize that photographs are inextricable from their peoples and their relations, our relationality.7

Three Intersecting Stories

  • 8 Here we are thinking of the work of Azoulay 2008 and Linfield 2010, in which to look at photographs (...)

14There are at least three intersecting stories we wish to tell, via this photo essay. This is our invitation to look, to contemplate, to witness,8 to work towards understanding.

15First is the kangaroo-teeth necklace as a contemporary form of art-making, culture-making, world-making that brings together – activating knowledge embedded within – extant artifacts, archival photographs, text-based fragments of histories, oral storytelling among kin and community, and experimentation and innovation in the making of artworks that honor old practices yet also create something new. Maree’s practice is always collaborative (Thorner et al 2018) and necklaces are replicable. These characteristics of her work emphasize the priority of transmitting knowledge via making. This is an Indigenous knowledge paradigm, that making-together is a way of teaching others, inspiring greater understanding and empathy across difference (we’ve written together about this in Thorner et al 2018, Thorner et al 2019, and Edmonds et al 2020). This is also a practice rooted in Country (Indigenous Australian ways of understanding custodianship, care, and responsibility for land) and its life forms, including animals, plants, pigments; and that challenges clear distinctions of past, present, and future.

16The second story is: the histories of the c1880 photograph of Yarruun Parpur Tarneen, and how these exemplify knowledge-making about Aboriginal peoples. This – and other photographs included here – index the lives of people in the 19th century who exchanged, interacted, cared for each other, and struggled for understanding: James Dawson and his daughter Isabella (see Dawson 1981, Dawson 1870), Yarruun (Louisa) and her husband Wombeet (Johnny). They were living in a time of great change in the nascent colony of the Port Phillip district (what would eventually become the Australian state of Victoria). Their descendants are also in relation with each other today (see, for example, Alberts et al forthcoming).

17Since the arrival of photography in Australia in the mid-19th century, photographs have been made and circulated to produce Aboriginal people in specific ways: noble savages, racialized types, objects of scientific curiosity, passive victims of invasion upon their lands (Thorner 2019). Yet photographs wield multiple simultaneous overlapping potentialities: they reflect something that happened in the world; they index the social relations of a photographic encounter; they can be, and often are, taken up in contexts that depart from their makers’ intent(s). Further, because they are often of people, they tend to blur “the distinction between person and thing, subject and object, photograph and referent” (Edwards 2012: 222). What is known and what is not known, via photographs, via text, in historical and archival records, about these Ancestors? How might our photo-essay honor many different (sometimes overlapping or conflicting) claims to and relationships with those who came before us?

  • 9 For more on the work of decolonizing museums, see Lonetree 2012, Smith 1999.

18Thirdly, there are stories embedded in the extant objects taken away from southeastern Australia and preserved in museums around the world (including in Melbourne as well as in London, Berlin, Ulster, Edinburgh, Geneva, Rome, and Washington, DC). It is a great irony of colonial dispossession that the endurance of these treasures (Henare 2007) in the world’s “universal survey museums” (Duncan and Wallach 1980) in fact allows for arts to be revitalized in the present-day. Maree and others have visited these and there are many efflorescent efforts to connect far-away collections with their cultural custodians in Australia (for example, see Moulton 2018).9

19Maree’s collaborative and iterative kangaroo-teeth necklace-making in fact exemplifies a remarkable trend: it was preceded by the revitalization of possum-skin cloaks (Reynolds 2005), and also led to other projects, such as the eel traps in two contexts we discuss in Edmonds et al 2020. Visiting with museum artifacts is one component of the research, learning, and sharing involved in these arts/culture revitalization projects. Artists also draw on the oral histories of people who practiced these forms;10 text-based primary sources (such as Dawson 1981, Smyth 1878, Clark 2000) and secondary sources (Critchett 1998); and trial-and-error experimentation in making these important works in the present-day (all of these are in evidence in the photo-essay above).

  • 11 Short films, too, have increasingly become part of Maree’s art and archiving practices; see, for ex (...)

20Making new objects, for Maree, goes hand-in-hand with documenting these processes; integral to her process is a profound commitment to making archives in the present to purposefully counteract the fragility of Indigenous knowledge and the errors persistent in historical records. Documenting, here, really means making photographs,11 knowing that these could be integral to future knowledge-transmission projects.

Concluding Thoughts

  • 12 Sabra thanks anthropologist Jennifer Deger for her engagement with images and thoughtful comments a (...)

21At the conclusion of the photo-essay is a vibrant photograph of Maree Clarke. In this photograph, Maree forges an embodied relationship with Yarruun via a reproduction of the c1880 photographic encounter in 2013. In re-enacting the image, Maree is establishing herself as responsible for bearing, demonstrating, and extending southeastern Australian ways of knowing, being, and doing things (Martin and Mirraboopa 2003) in the present; she’s also insisting on the living legacies of her ancestor. This dynamic photograph infuses the possibility of joy, openness, and sharing, into the photographic encounter.12 Said another way: the materials and technologies of photography that have been mobilized to produce Aboriginality in the past can certainly be taken up, generations later, to produce Aboriginality in the present (and under different auspices). The photograph is collaborative, performative, archiving the present for the benefit of the future.

22Finally: how might we mobilize photographs for the stories they hold? What are the ethical imperatives of looking? How might the photo-essay advance our thinking in anthropology, and more broadly in approaching cross-cultural encounters with thoughtfulness and understanding? How does it offer new possibilities of intercultural co-production? Thinking about photographs as archives – they can be evidence of the past; they can also be made anew with an eye towards the future – is a way to understand them as impetus for further collaborative and decolonizing action.

23Books and articles

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Alberts, Eileen, Vicki Couzens, Titta Secombe, and Anna Weinreich. (forthcoming). Artists, Archives, and Ancestral Connections: an Aboriginal Collection between Australia and Berlin. In Southeast Australian Aboriginal Art: Culture-Making and Curating for Country. Fran Edmonds, Sabra Thorner, and Maree Clarke, eds. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Anderson, Jane. 2018. Negotiating Who “Owns” Penobscot Culture. Anthropological Quarterly 91(1): 267-305.

Archibald, Jo-Ann, Jenny Lee-Morgan and Jason De Santolo. 2019. Decolonizing Research: Indigenous Storywork as Methodology. London: Zed Books.

Azoulay, Ariella. 2008. The Civil Contract of Photography. Princeton: Zone Books.

Balla, Paola. 2016. Sovereignty: Inalienable and Intimate. In Sovereignty. Paola Balla and Max Delany, eds. Pp. 11–16. Melbourne: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

Bell, Joshua. 2010. Out of the Mouth of Crocodiles: Eliciting Histories in Photographs and String Figures. History and Anthropology 21(4): 351-373.

Bourgois, Philippe, and Jeff Schonberg. 2009. Righteous Dopefiend. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Christen, Kimberly, and Jane Anderson. 2019. Toward Slow Archives. Archival Science 19(2): 87-116.

Christie, Michael, Brian Devlin, and Catherine Bow. 2014. The Birth of the Living Archive: An Emerging Archive of Australian Aboriginal Languages and Literature. Archifacts pp. 48-63.

Clark, Ian D., ed. 2000. The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate. Volume Two: Aboriginal Vocabularies: South East Australia, 1839 – 1852. Clarendon: Heritage Matters.

Cox, Rupert, Andrew Irving, and Christopher Wright, eds. 2016. Beyond Text? Critical Practices and Sensory Anthropology. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Critchett, Jan. 1998. Untold Stories: Memories and Lives of Victorian Kooris. Carlton South: Melbourne University Press.

Dawson, Isabella. 1870. Letter to the Editor: The Language of the Aborigines. The Australasian, 19 March.

Dawson, James. 1981[1881]. Australian Aborigines: The Languages and Customs of Several Tribes of Aborigines in the Western District of Victoria, Australia. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Derrida, Jacques. 1998. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Eric Prenowitz, trans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Duncan, Carol, and Alan Wallach. 1980. The Universal Survey Museum. Art History 3(4): 448-469.

Edmonds, Fran, Rimi Khan, Sabra Thorner, and Maree Clarke. 2020. The Living Archive of Aboriginal Art: Expressions of Indigenous Knowledge Systems Through Collaborative Art-Making. REG/AC: Revista de Estudios Globales & Arte Contemporáneo, Journal of Global Studies and Contemporary Art 7(1): 267-311.

Edwards, Elizabeth. 2001. Raw Histories: Photographs, Anthropology and Museums. Oxford: Berg.

Edwards, Elizabeth. 2012. Objects of Affect: Photography Beyond the Image. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 221–234.

Geertz, Clifford. 1996. Afterword. In Senses of Place. Steven Feld and Keith H. Basso, eds. Pp. 259-262. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

Griffiths, Alison. 2002. Wondrous Difference: Cinema, Anthropology, and Turn-of-the-Century Visual Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.

Henare, Amiria. 2007. Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically. London: Routledge.

Linfield, Susie. 2010. The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lonetree, Amy. 2012. Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lydon, Jane. 2005. Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians. Durham: Duke University Press.

Lydon, Jane. ed. 2015. Calling the Shots: Aboriginal Photographies. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Martin, Karen, and Booran Mirraboopa. 2003. Ways of Knowing, Being and Doing: A Theoretical Framework and Methods for Indigenous and Indigenist Research. Journal of Australian Studies 27(76): 203–214.

Moreton-Robinson, Aileen, ed. 2015. The White Possessive: Property, Power and Indigenous Sovereignty. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Moulton, Kimberley. 2018. I Can Still Hear Them Calling: Echoes of My Ancestors. Sovereign Words: Indigenous Art, Curation and Criticism. Katya García-Antón, ed. Pp. 197–214. Oslo: Office for Contemporary Art Norway and Amsterdam: Valiz.

Peterson, Nicolas. 2003. The Changing Photographic Contract: Aborigines and Image Ethics. In Photography’s Other Histories. Christopher Pinney and Nicolas Peterson, eds. Pp. 119-145. Durham: Duke University Press.

Peterson, Nicolas. 2005. Early 20th Century Photography of Australian Aboriginal Families; Illustration or Evidence? Visual Anthropology Review 21(1&2): 11-26.

Pinney, Christopher. 1992. The Lexical Spaces of Eye-Spy. In Film as Ethnography. Peter Ian Crawford and David Turton, eds. Pp. 26-49. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Pinney, Christopher. 1997. Camera Indica: The Social Life of Indian Photographs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Reynolds, Amanda, Debra Couzens, Vicki Couzens, Lee Darroch, and Treahna Hamm. 2005. Wrapped in a Possum Skin Cloak: The Tooloyn Koortakay Collection in the National Museum of Australia. Canberra: National Museum of Australia Press.

Rickard, Jolene. 2017. Diversifying Sovereignty and the Reception of Indigenous Art. Art Journal 7(2): 81–84.

Rogers, Jessa. 2018. Photostory and Relatedness Methodology: The Beginning of an Aboriginal–Kanaka Maoli Research Journey (part one). Australian Aboriginal Studies 2: 3-16.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 1999. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books.

Smyth, Robert Brough. 1878. The Aborigines of Victoria: With Notes Relating to the Habits of the Natives of other Parts of Australia and Tasmania, Vol. 1. Melbourne: John Ferres (Government Printer) and George Robertson.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 2010. Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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TallBear, Kim. 2016. The US-Dakota War and Failed Settler Kinship. Anthropology News 57(9): e92-e95.

Thorner, Sabra, Fran Edmonds, Maree Clarke, and Paola Balla. 2018. Maree’s Backyard: Intercultural Collaborations for Indigenous Sovereignty in Melbourne. Oceania 88(3): 269-291.

Thorner, Sabra, Fran Edmonds, Maree Clarke, Kirsten Thorpe, and Sharon Huebner. 2019. The Living Archive of Aboriginal Art: Maree Clarke and the Circulation of Photographs as Culture-Making. In Mapping Meaning (Edition 3): Archives and Photography. Nat Castañeda, Karina Aguilera Skvirsky, and Trudi Lynn Smith, eds. Available:

Thorner, Sabra G. 2019. The Photograph as Archive: Crafting Contemporary Koorie Culture. Journal of Material Culture 24(1): 22-47.

Thorpe, Kirsten. 2019. Speaking Back to Colonial Collections: Building Living into Aboriginal Archives. Artlink – Indigenous: Storytelling in a Digital World, 39(2). Available:


Church, Tim, dir. 2008. Thung-ung Coorang. Available at: (accessed June 27, 2022).

Mahoney, Mitch. 2021. “Black Wattle Resin and Ochre Paint.” Short film available at: 7:51 mins.

Rose, Simon, dir. 2018. Cultural Activist – Maree Clarke. Producer: Richard Jameson. 13 mins.


Koorie Art and Artefacts

Living Archive of Aboriginal Art Living Archive of Aboriginal Art online exhibition ( (accessed June 27, 2022).

MIT Open Documentary Lab (

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1 Early outcomes of the Living Archive project have included this website: and this Facebook page:, both inviting community contributions of storytelling to animate photographs from Maree Clarke’s extensive visual archive.

2 Anthropologist Christopher Pinney is particularly interested in the difference between still and moving images, contrasting the individual consumption, temporal flexibility, and surplus of meaning inspired by photographs; and group consumption, temporal fixedness, and constraint of meaning of cinema (see Pinney 1992 and Pinney 1997). Communications scholar Alison Griffiths (2002) cautions against this dichotomy, suggesting that both of these media contain emphatic narrative cues.

3 Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg 2009 cite “collaborative photo ethnography” as crucial to their methodology (pp 11-12); see also Sutherland 2016: 116-117. We are also thinking, here, of anthropologist Joshua Bell’s (2010) important work on “photo-elicitation” as a research method; and Jessa Rogers (Wiradjuri/Ngati Kauwhata, Ngati Raukawa, and Ngati Haua in Aotearoa/New Zealand)’s development of “photoyarning” as a collaborative research method foregrounding Indigenous storytelling with photographs (2018).

4 For more on anthropological efforts to account for sensory experiences and the production of knowledge, see Cox, Irving, and Wright 2016.

5 For rigorous theorizing of co-creation, see the Manifesto and works of the Co-Creation Studio at the MIT Open Documentary Lab (, a center that researches, incubates, and offers alternatives to a singular authorial vision, emphasizing collaborative and immersive storytelling.

6 Together with other members of our team, we’ve written elsewhere about Indigenous sovereignty (see Thorner et al 2018 for example); our own thinking draws from the trailblazing work of Paola Balla (2016), Aileen Moreton-Robinson (2015), and Jolene Rickard (2017).

7 We are drawing from Kim TallBear (2016), and her invocation to making-kin as a powerful alternative to settler-colonial relations of exploitation, violence, and dispossession. Her framework offers an understanding of relations that produce mutual obligation; in other words, responsibility to one another across different ontological perspectives.

8 Here we are thinking of the work of Azoulay 2008 and Linfield 2010, in which to look at photographs is to bear witness, a process that comes with ethical imperatives to act, especially against visible cruelty and injustice.

9 For more on the work of decolonizing museums, see Lonetree 2012, Smith 1999.

10 For example, see Aunty Connie Hart (Gunditjmara, 1917-1993)’s story at

11 Short films, too, have increasingly become part of Maree’s art and archiving practices; see, for example, Church 2008; Rose 2018; Mahoney 2021.

12 Sabra thanks anthropologist Jennifer Deger for her engagement with images and thoughtful comments at a workshop on “Critical Indigeneities” hosted by Deakin University (Melbourne) in April 2017.

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Electronic reference

Sabra Thorner and Maree Clarke, The Photograph as Archive, Reimagining the Archive, the Living Archive of Aboriginal Art Anthrovision [Online], Vol. 8.2 | 2020, Online since 31 August 2022, connection on 06 December 2022. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Sabra Thorner

Mount Holyoke College

Maree Clarke

Artist/Curator/Art Consultant, Represented by Vivien Anderson Gallery

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