RECOVERED MEMORIES IT IS NOT SIMPLY AN ARCHITECTURAL BUT A SOCIOLOGICAL SURVEY
had ‘‘ already taken photographs of almost every building in Melbourne, as well as in every town of any importance in Victoria’’. The negatives were held in the Melbourne office, and reproductions could be ordered by mail.
What made this unique project doubly interesting was that Merlin would have the people who lived or worked in each building come outside and pose for the camera in front of their house or workshop. The result is not simply an architectural but a sociological survey, complemented by the studio portraits of those who wanted a more formal picture of themselves — though perhaps not surprisingly the studio pictures are often stilted and uncomfortable, especially in contrast with the spontaneity of the street scenes.
The quality of the wet-plate or collodion process of photography allows the images to be enlarged almost indefinitely. Digital images, as we know, are converted into data and depending on the degree of resolution — basically how big we are willing to make the data file — we find the image eventually will decompose into pixels as we zoom in. An analog photograph, though, is not made up of a finite number of data but is a continuous fabric, an imprint of reflected light that can be opened up to reveal details invisible at first; this was the premise of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up (1966).
The images in the exhibition (now also online on the State Library of NSW website) are displayed in enlarged form or, even more suggestively, on digital screens, demonstrating the process of enlargement before our eyes: the revelation of detail, as faces appear in the crowd, and expressions on faces, as signs and
Top, John Davey, baker, at Canadian Lead township near Gulgong in 1872; above, Bernhardt Holtermann at Hill End with the Holtermann nugget he unearthed in 1872