131 Anonymous Photographs


Add On 2013 Exhibition; Depot II Gallery, Waterloo, Sydney.

Imagine 131 untitled, unnamed, uniformly sized, non-competitive, plainly printed photographs without rank or status or embellishment snaking around the pristine walls of a warehouse style gallery.  What a wonderful concept!

The power of the images is not their size, but the fact that a democracy has been dictated via the almost mundane and banal presentation.  The viewer must approach each piece to discover content, context; and in doing so, is then encouraged to view its neighbour etc etc etc.  AddOn2013

The AddOn Curator, Charles McKean, and Festival Director Moshe Rosenzveig are to be congratulated for staging this great event.

The Head On Photo Festival, Australia’s largest photo festival and the world’s second largest festival is heading into its fourth year; Head On celebrates a wide range of photography across all genres from photojournalism and reportage through commercial to fine-art.  With over 200 events at 100 venues, the 2012 festival was a resounding success.  The 2013 Event has just opened.  The Add On exhibition gives another perspective to the concept of showing photography.

For a small fee, exhibitors get to participate in a well run exhibition, and at the end of the show receive a randomly drawn image from another participant.  In my case I used an image that I have written about before, but has never been publicly shown (if the interweb world of blogging doesn’t count).  Thanks for fellow Foto Frenzy Director Darren Jew for the insitu image.  And I wait with interest to see what image will shortly grace the Poole Collection.


The Nevis Tree; image courtesy of Darren Jew.


The Last Weekend; © Darren Jew, 2012.

Such is the anonymity of this Exhibition, I am unable to acknowledge the authors of the images either side of me.

But I can show an image by Darren – one that is not piscatorial in nature.

The value of Exhibitions such as these is that the photographs are viewed as images – entirely without supporting detail or text.  Whilst I am aware that I am hanging in very good company (the exhibitor list contains some big Australian names), the viewer will enjoy the show the strength of its visual impact, not its crowd drawing personality or publicity campaign.

And such is the confidence of the non-attending exhibitor, I can’t help but think that this group of animated attendees at the Opening last night were busily discussing my image so clearly in the background – or maybe it was the vintage of the champagne………..


Image courtesy of Anni Payne, Sydney.

6 thoughts on “131 Anonymous Photographs

  1. I once asked a very senior text editor at National Geographic magazine (where I worked for 15+ years) if she would be wiling to evaluate stories if they were submitted to her without a byline. Just a title and the manuscript — nothing else.

    Her answer: No.

    The reasons were unstated, but pretty obvious: Yes, she evaluated the work… but she was also factoring in all the institutional politics of who gets hired, and who doesn’t; who was on the A list, and who wasn’t; whose name would add prestige to her stable of writers, and whose wouldn’t. That calculus might make a tiny bit of sense for some magazines, where readers actually recognize the names of the writers. But very few people (if any) subscribe to National Geographic for the writing.

    This is one reason I love this exhibit. It takes all the politics and posturing and status mongering out of the equation, and simply presents viewers with the pictures — nothing else. It provides no cues to help viewers determine if they like the shot, or don’t. It strips away everything but the picture itself.

    Exhibits like this one must make a lot of photo editors & big-name photographers very nervous.


    • Thanks for your comments Alan. Whilst I wasn’t able to attend in person (Brisbane based, and no time); it was the opening shot showing the Gallery layout that really captured my eye. Having curated a couple of shows, the idea of hanging 131 images is a bit daunting – even small ones. Charles has done a great job and the “democracy” of the hang also appealed to me. Even if there were a couple of signed images. So be it!


  2. Is this idea anti photographers? I ask even though I have a work in this show. Anononymous ..yet there is one name that appears twice. is that ok? Questions , questions…….. What do others think?


  3. A row of 131 anonymous pictures is a clever expression of an old and well explored genre.

    Perhaps no one did it better than Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel in their 1977 book “Evidence”. The key trope is to present evocative pictures in sequence but without captions to identify their subject matter or their source. The art in all of this possibly hinges on a sympathetic viewing audience creating mental narratives to go with the pictures. Or maybe it’s an elaborate version of the Rorschach ink blot game.

    Historically, “anonymous” photographs may be a charming subset of “found” photographs, often old and historic ones, where the photographer’s and the subject’s identities are lost in time. It may even the case that anonymous things entered the art world way back in 1910 via the Dada machinations of that grand impostor Marcel Duchamp. The porcelain urinal he titled “Fountain” (and signed as R.Mutt) was indistinguishable from thousands of identical ones.


    • Maris, you always seem to take my initial observations and put a more scholarly layer onto them.

      Thank you; and I wholeheartedly concur.


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