Sunday, 2 December 2012

GUEST POST: Elizabeth Little explores Melbourne’s Parks and Gardens Through the Magic Lantern


The Magic Lantern
City Gallery, Melbourne Town Hall: September 27 – November 17, 2012

This recent exhibition at the Melbourne Town Hall’s City Gallery provided a glimpse into Melbourne’s past. A prosperous city, one made wealthy through the gold rushes of the 1860s, and one that had survived the economic depression of the 1890s, turn of the century Melbourne displayed its civic pride in the many parks and gardens that were established for the pleasure of all its citizenry. Melbourne’s Parks and Gardens Through the Magic Lantern displays a small number of magic lantern slides, some reproduced as large photographs, that recorded these parks and provide a glimpse into the past. Central to the exhibition was the actual wooden magic lantern projector and the fragile glass slides that have managed to survive all these years.

Magic lantern slides were often used to illustrate lectures, and in the catalogue essay Peter Timms suggests that some of the slides on display may have been used by influential horticulturalist Carl Bogue-Luffmann.  Whatever their original use, as educational materials or as personal mementos, they provide a glimpse into our past. Images of trees, winding paths, lakes and buildings display the elements of garden design and plant choices of the time. The use of statues as focal features, particularly those of ancient gods & goddesses, was prevalent. Timms notes this was a way of linking gardens with other areas of the arts, and that for our ancestors garden design was expected to engage the mind on a poetic or philosophical level.  And statues make good photographic subjects in times when technical requirements may have meant long exposure times.

 More personalised images show us the people of Melbourne enjoying their parks and gardens, in a way that they still do today. In one image we see the back view of a lone young woman who walks along a garden path. In her tightly waisted skirt, pale blouse and straw hat she is an elegant figure. We imagine her beau standing behind her taking photograph with his new box brownie camera. In another a large group of people picnic in the Fitzroy Gardens, their clothing indicates that this is early in the 20th C. It is sobering to think that a few years after this photograph was taken many of these people would have been experiencing the horrors of World War 1. 

Elizabeth Little has a B. Art Theory (Hons)and M Art Admin, COFA UNSW. She lives and works in Sydney.

All images supplied by the writer.









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