Warwick Reeder’s thesis The Democratic Image (ANU 1995) strongly promotes the non-photographer A.H. Boyd as THE photographer of Tasmanian prisoners’ photographs held in public institutions.
Above: recto and verso of vignette by Nevin of prisoner Thomas Fleming, taken in January 1874 at the Hobart Gaol on his discharge. This vignette and the print are held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston Tasmania. Click on the print below in gallery.
FICTIONS not FACTS
Reeder’s use of these Tasmanian prisoner mugshots is through the gaze of the fine art dealer. Inevitably, he sees the extant examples as an “artist’s” personalised portfolio, even using the literary term “author” to mask the subjective preoccupation with “artist”. Had he started with the vocational term “police photographer” his focus would not have veered from Nevin.
ERRORS of FACT
- wrong biographical data on Nevin’s family and career;
- citations and quotations from unread sources, such as Margaret Glover’s article (1979) which does NOT mention the unpublished children’s fiction by E.M. Hall (1930/;1942)
- Hall’s fiction in turn does NOT mention, A.H. Boyd, nor prisoner photography, nor a “darkroom” although Chris Long does, turning “room” from E.M. Hall’s story into a “darkroom” , Reeder’s source for this fantasy, (TMAG 1995:82)
- unseen description and reference to the so-called ONE photograph at the Mitchell, SLNSW, supposedly by Boyd which is unattributed, dated 1894, and not a photograph of a prisoner; this photograph of a building – not a man in prisoner clothing – is supposed to represent evidence of A.H. Boyd’s relationship to photography.
- the assumption that a cargo of negative plates supposedly arriving at Port Arthur in 1873 were for the personal use of its Commandant A.H. Boyd, and that the same plates were used for the same prisoners whose mugshots survive, when in fact the extant examples are random estrays from a corpus of 3500 taken by the Nevin brothers.
- repeated reference to the Assistant Colonial Secretary’s Travers Solly’s requests for prisoner photographers. If the document ever existed, the request was for Nevin’s photographs taken at the Hobart Gaol AFTER the date of prisoners’ transfer from Port Arthur, NOT BEFORE transfer, eg the cited examples of the Gregson brothers, who absconded from Hobart and not Port Arthur, were photographed at Hobart after arrival from Launceston when arrested.
- no understanding of police practices or prisoner documentation and relevant legislation by 1873, and no reference to the police records of the “convicts” who were just ordinary criminals, habitual re-offenders when photographed – not at the Port Arthur prison – but by Nevin at the Hobart Gaol, in the city’s courts, and at the central Town Hall police office.
- etc etc
His statement that Chris Long was the originator of the “belief” about A.H. Boyd, however, is correct and the most important statement made by Reeder in these few pages.
Although Reeder’s thesis is now 15 years old, these errors are still being circulated as currency in publications written by his supporters (e.g. Clark, JACHS 2010), so in a sense, Reeder has found the sort of “author” he was hoping would arise from the oblivion of his thesis. It’s unfortunate for his own reputation that he has to encourage acolytes to maintain the non-photographer A.H. Boyd as central to the “mystery” of the “author” of these prisoner photographs when the facts about Nevin’s work are now so readily available.
For further discussion, see this article:
Click on images in gallery, with comments below each.