NMA collection record

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Lantern slide - Pitjantjatjara man, central Australia, photographed by Herbert Basedow, 1920-1924

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Portrait of a man with long hair and painted markings, 1920 or 1923

Description

This is a portrait photograph by Herbert Basedow of a man with long hair, a long beard and white paint on his face and chest.

Educational value

We know that this is a Pitjantjatjara man, but unfortunately we do not know much more than that about him. His painted markings indicate that he may have recently taken part in a ceremony. He is wearing a headband, probably made of a long, single strand of human hair string. In this region men did not usually cut their hair much and would keep it in place with a headband. Today, men in this region do much the same, although their headbands are often of red wool.

Basedow took many excellent portraits of Aboriginal people. On the whole they look relaxed, perhaps indicating Basedow's ability to put them at ease. In most cases Basedow would have had limited contact with his subjects, and under such circumstances it can be difficult to produce a good image.

The digital copy of this photograph was made from a lantern slide. In the early twentieth century, if you wanted to project a photograph onto a large screen, you would use a lantern slide. Creating a lantern slide involved transferring an image onto glass. To protect the emulsion (which contains the image), a second piece of glass was taped to the first.

The reason this image was produced from a lantern slide rather than a negative is because the National Museum of Australia does not hold the original negative. The Museum's Basedow photograph collection comprises negatives and lantern slides, but there is not always a negative for the image.

Herbert Basedow was a doctor, anthropologist and explorer. From 1903 to 1928 he ventured to remote regions of central and northern Australia - places rarely seen by Australians even today. Aboriginal people often feature in his photographs. Basedow wanted to document Aboriginal cultures as they had been before British colonisation, and often went to some lengths to craft his photographs to appear as such.

This photograph was taken either during during Basedow's third medical relief expedition in central Australia or during an expedition with the Governor of South Australia, whose plans for building a north-south railway involved first seeing the region for himself.

© Education Services Australia Limited and the National Museum of Australia 2010

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