Jeff Carter: State Library of New South Wales

February 10, 2011

The exhibition Beach, case Bush + Battlers at the State Library of New South Wales is a tribute to Australian photographer Jeff Carter. He worked as a photojournalist from the mid-1950s and his work was published in national and international magazines. However, it hasn’t been until relatively recently that his work has been shown in gallery spaces.

Young shepherd Ernie “Bright Boy” Cox poses with daughter of boss drover “Snowy” Gash. Both still live in the Hay/Hillston district of western NSW.

Jeff Carter’s photographs exude an empathy with his subjects – some of whom became life-long friends. As I progressed through the exhibition, and read the detailed notes accompanying each photo, other reasons for his easy, intimate style emerged – on some occasions he was actually doing the job he was photographing!

The Drover's Wife, Urisino Bore, 1958
Portrait of drover Ronald Kerr, wife Mavis and baby Johnny. Mavis married a shepherd and became a mother at seventeen. While on the road with a mob of 3,700 Merino ewes between Tibooburra and Coonamble, she helped cook for the family droving team.

Some of the images are beautiful, candid portraits. Others record a time and way of life that has already departed. Within this collection also reside images that are strikingly iconic like the surfers on Bondi beach. Sadly, Jeff Carter died last year so didn’t get to see this exhibit, but I hope galleries in other countries decide to bring this work to audiences outside Australia.

The Hop Picker, Ovens Valley, 1957.
The young girl was among the scores of seasonal farm workers who came each year for the harvest at the Rostrevor hop garden, the biggest on mainland Australia.

Something I’m personally interested in is photographers that are able to create great images while working in their own backyard – which is something Jeff Carter quite clearly achieved during his many years of dedicated work, telling the story of his homeland.

Until I arrived in Australia for the first time, all the images that came to mind of this hard and sun-bleached country were in colour. Now, after seeing Jeff Carter’s work many of the images I carry with me will be in black-and-white.