Girl Guides “boozing”
[Between 1930 and 1940]. Kodak gelatin silver print, 67 x 110 mm; unmounted; flawless.
Sourced from a broken-up 1930s family album of corner-mounted snapshots that belonged to an unidentified Western Australian family.
There are two schools of thought on the question of whether or not a great photograph can be created by just anyone. While most would probably hold to the democratic and commonsense point of view that it can, there are others who would respond (if you’ll excuse the pun) in the negative: their dogmatic reply would be that photography should be viewed as high art; and, what’s more, that only a truly great photographer can take an iconic image.
This elitist position ignores the role that serendipity – the element of chance – has to play in photography. It also blithely dismisses altogether vernacular photography – that limitless ocean of images to which we all relate and can appreciate, yet which is sadly under-represented in Australasian institutional collections (despite the massive popularity of Patrick Pound’s survey exhibition at the NGV in 2017, which attracted 200,000 visitors).
Transcendency is not confined to the realm of art: our quotidian existence is punctuated with transcendent moments; and those can include the coming-into-existence of a little photographic miracle when, on pointing a camera or iPhone, a happy alignment of a multitude of factors occurs. Such was the case when Anonymous pointed their Kodak and took this snap of six irreverent Girl Guides “swigging” from empty beer and wine bottles, mimicking a bunch of old boozers.
The Antipodean booze culture has been constantly prevalent in our societies since colonization: from the Rum Rebellion, all the way through to the insidious corporate branding and sponsorship of modern sport by alcohol companies; from the alcohol abuse rampant on the goldfields – and the concomitant growth of the temperance movement – to the self-destruction of returned soldiers drinking themselves into oblivion to obliterate the memories of war; from the beer drinking feats of a prime minister and our sporting heroes, to the six o’clock swill.
So where, exactly, is the murky boundary that separates simple hedonism and epicurean delight from the nightmare worlds of self-harm and cruel addiction; the destruction of Indigenous communities; the overcrowding of hospital emergency wards on Friday nights after binge drinking; and the domestic violence in both our nations? Wake In Fright. Once Were Warriors. Samson and Delilah. Essential viewing.
It is probably fair to say that in their act of innocent mimicry, these girls – mucking about somewhere in Western Australia in the 1930s – were reflecting something far darker and more malignant than they could realise.