Photographer’s rise in focus
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.