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Carol Jerrems - Photographic Artist

This catalogue presents vintage and non-vintage prints and letters by Carol Jerrems, Australia's outstanding photographic artist of the counter-culture era of the 1960s-1970s. All the work carries the special provenance of coming from her close friends and associates.
In particular, the catalogue includes a substantial archive of vintage prints from the estate of the filmmaker Esben Storm (1950-2011), Jerrems' former boyfriend. This archive originates from the collaboration between Storm and Jerrems, who was the stills photographer on Storm's innovative 1978 feature In Search of Anna, which has a respected place in the development of Australia's distinctive contemporary style of cinema.

Growing up in the sixties, it was impossible not to be visually drenched in the surreal pop photography featured in British and American rock magazines, album covers, music clips on TV and, for the more adventurous, the offbeat 'new wave' European films and edgy American personal-documentary style photography shows by the likes of Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander. So it is not surprising that Carol Jerrems, a suburban Melbourne high school graduate with an interest in art and music, chose to enrol in the new photographic art and experimental film courses at Prahran Technical School from 1967 to 1970.

Jerrems put her camera where the counter culture focussed: women's liberation, and social inclusiveness for the disadvantaged street youths and urban Aboriginal communities, who were campaigning for justice and land rights. Her final year assignment was a booklet on the 'tribal rock musical' Hair, first performed in Australia at the Metro, Kings Cross, which she travelled to Sydney to photograph in January 1970.

At Prahran, Jerrems' teachers included soulful European filmmaker Paul Cox, who wanted psychological depth not commercial, slick, studio photography, and who was the first to recognise her talent. While still a student, Jerrems generated a remarkable body of work and designed her own photographic stamp: 'Carol Jerrems, Photographic Artist.' Jerrems began exhibiting in 1970 and by 1976 had had several group and solo shows, awards, a newspaper profile, and works acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria and National Gallery of Australia.

Jerrems was not a roving street photographer capturing a passing parade. She mostly photographed people in their environment, often close up and in spontaneous-looking situations but with subjects clearly performing for her camera. Many of her subjects were known to her, or she entered their worlds by crossing social barriers that would have intimidated most middleclass girls of her day.

She also orchestrated scenarios, as in her now iconic Vale Street (1975), for which she directed the three models-an acquaintance who was an aspiring actress and two male teenage Sharpie gang lads whom she taught at Heidelberg Tech.

In 1972 leading American curator John Szarkowski said of Diane Arbus: "She stuck with her subjects, exploring their secrets (and thus her own) more and more deeply. She was surely aware of the danger of this path, but she believed that her bravery would be equal to the demands she made of it." The words apply equally to her Antipodean fan. Arbus made old-fashioned medium format pictures of often-remarkable looking people. Jerrems had a televisual and cinematic dynamic to her work.

Carol Jerrems died from a rare liver disease in 1980, just weeks short of her 31st birthday. Her archive of some 400 signed, editioned or completed prints, spanning back to her student years, and unfinished proofs and negatives was donated posthumously to the National Gallery of Australia in 1981. From 1971 Jerrems limited her finished prints; usually in an edition of nine and occasionally three, though few were printed beyond the initial numbers, with the exception of Vale Street, which possibly went into the early numbers of a second edition. Perhaps only about a hundred prints were sold in her lifetime or in secondary sales in the last decade. Most of these are held in public collections.

The rare private collection of photographs in the current offering are distinguished by their provenance, and locus in the orbit of Jerrems' writings. Most have come from close associates and include letters in Jerrems' characteristically strong graphic handwriting and some embellished with her own surrealist assemblages.

Jerrems wrote poetry and stories from around the age of eight. She continued to create poetic visual and written narratives as well as scripts throughout her career, including during the several months of hospitalisation prior to her death. Jerrems' personal correspondence is tactile, vividly descriptive, detailed and revealing. Perhaps she had an eye to its role as a record of her thoughts, ambitions and spiritual goals.

It is rare in Australia to have the kind of window into the inner life of the photographer as an artist that Jerrems offered in her letters, which were preserved by her close friends. She was fearless in taking self-portraits of her ravaged body in her last months, entrusting negatives to photographer friend Roger Scott for printing.

Esben Storm and Carol Jerrems had been lovers since 1972. The film is a road movie in which the male protagonist Tony (played by Richard Moir), recently released from gaol, searches for a past love until realising that his travel companion Sam (played by Judy Morris) is his true love. The experimental filming and poetic romance of the film might seem to have been a perfect collaboration for the young and talented photographer and filmmaker, but the relationship ended with the film.

The film archive of large coloured and small black-and-white prints by Jerrems is like her other works, sombre and intense in the capturing of visual and emotional tension between the players, and also possibly between producer and photographer as a couple. Jerrems also made an extensive portfolio of actor Judy Morris, unrelated t the film. Film stills are currently finding a new critical appreciation as a genre, as evidenced in the exhibition Film Stills: Photography between Advertising, Art and the Cinema currently on view at the Albertina in Vienna.

The archive of In Search of Anna has never been presented in its own right. It can now be reviewed as part of a unique relationship between photographer and film maker, amplified by the glimpse into Carol Jerrems' passion for her medium.

Foreword by Gael Newton, 2016.
Gael Newton was formerly the Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia, and has been working as a consultant and researcher since 2014.

CL 186 - Carol Jerrems (1949-1980) Photographic Artist < Main | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 >