Pho­tog­ra­pher’s rise in fo­cus

Pilbara News - - News - Tom Zaun­mayr

The work of a good pho­tog­ra­pher can reach far and wide, but rarely do we know about the per­son behind the lens.

When it comes to pho­to­graphic men of mys­tery, few stand out more than early 20th cen­tury pho­tog­ra­pher Ernest Lund Mitchell.

Born an English­man, E.L. Mitchell spent years in the early 1900s pho­tograph­ing the rugged North West.

His photos have be­come the go-to pictures for his­tor­i­cal sto­ry­telling in the North West, but lit­tle is known about the man him­self.

It was this mys­tery that spurred for­mer State Li­brary of WA pic­to­rial cu­ra­tor Joanna Sas­soon to re­search and record the life of Mitchell. “When I was work­ing as a cu­ra­tor, I no­ticed peo­ple were al­ways us­ing his pho­to­graphs, drawn to his, above all oth­ers on sim­i­lar sub­ject matters,” she said.

“What struck me though was that no­body knew any­thing about him as a per­son. I started to try find in­for­ma­tion about him, but there wasn’t an aw­ful lot out there.”

It was not un­til Ms Sas­soon re­ceived her late grand­fa­ther’s En­cy­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­nica that the wheels for her newly re­leased book on the dec­o­rated pho­tog­ra­pher were put in mo­tion.

“I was just hooked by the idea that his photos had got into such an in­ter­na­tional pub­li­ca­tion,” she said. “I found his photos trav­elled to key col­lec­tions in Lon­don and New York, and they must have got to other places around the world be­cause I found his photos used in an Ital­ian book about Aus­tralia, a Rus­sian travel man­ual and lots of English lan­guage books.

Ms Sas­soon has spent more than 25 years track­ing down his sur­viv­ing fam­ily, read his let­ters home and dis­cov­er­ing pre­vi­ously un­known caches of pho­to­graphs and glass neg­a­tives in pri­vate and pub­lic col­lec­tions across the world.

Ms Sas­soon has been able to chart Mitchell’s rise from his strug­gles as a mi­grant in New South Wales and Queens­land to be­com­ing the gov­er­nors’ pho­tog­ra­pher in WA. Ms Sas­son’s book con­tains a large se­lec­tion of Mitchell’s work, as well as an in­sight into the man behind the lens so few have ever heard about.

The book re­veals who Mitchell was and why he suc­ceeded above his com­peti­tors.

It show­cases more than 200 of Mitchell’s pho­to­graphs from across WA along­side pre­vi­ously un­known work in NSW and Queens­land and In­done­sia.

Agents of Empire: How E.L. Mitchell’s pho­to­graphs shaped Aus­tralia is avail­able for pur­chase through Aus­tralian Schol­arly Pub­lish­ing or can be or­dered through book­shops.

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