What Moves Me

Carol Jerrems

Lynn Gailey - 1976


This is an iPhone image I took recently whilst at the National Gallery of Australia of one of my favourite photos. I was in Canberra for a conference and was ecstatic to happen across a retrospective of Carol Jerrems as I have only recently discovered her this year. Jerrems was an Australian photographer who sadly died from Budd-Chiari syndrome in 1980. She was only thirty yet had managed to create iconic images of Australian art such as the 'Vale Street' photograph.

To me, her work was a representation of her era, not just because of the subject matter but also because of the way she approached it. Jerrems focussed her camera on what could be considered the unimportant members of society, amongst the backdrop of political change and emergence of women's rights.

Looking at her photos it's as if she has moved through an era of change snatching pieces of history along the way. Subjects immortalised, enabling us to reflect on the Australia of the 1970's, a time that helped to define our identity. If you are interested in portraiture and social documentary, I encourage you to take a closer look at her work.

Of course this version doesn't do the original image justice. It's a little bit pixilated, blurring the edges of the portrait's subject. But, I still had to share it because I find it such a powerful image. An image made up of a combination of elements which in turn make it great.

Photographed on film(what else?), it appears as if the subject, Lynn Gailey, has been caught, arrested even, on her way to somewhere or to doing something else. Her front on stance, the cigarette, the way she lightly touches the table to remind us her thoughts are partly elsewhere, and of course that gaze, as if to say 'yes?',  'hurry up, please', all make me feel that Jerrems and thus we, the viewer, are as much 'caught' as the subject is. Gailey is both passive and confrontational as her eyes stare from behind the window's shadow. And then, to contrast with this tension, there is a softness all over the image from the gentle light, the aged dress and the fact we are being shown someone in the context of their personal space, at least that's what I assume it is.

I love the use of light and shadows. I love the textures. I love the story. And I love the way that gaze makes me feel. Makes me stop to look closer. The more I look at it the more I feel her looking back at me, making me question myself, question if I even have the right to look at her to begin with. But, there she is, immortalised to do just that.

This portrait makes stop, makes me think and makes me feel.

In my opinion, for a photo to be truly great it must both arrest the viewer and make them feel. So to see this image up close, made my week.

"The world is a mess. You either drop out or help to change it. I want to focus on the under-dogs, the underprivileged of the Australian society and all the things that people don't want to talk about or know about.

"A face tells the story of what a person is thinking. The eyes reveal the suffering."

Carol Jerrems, 1974


'Carol Jerrems | Photographic Artist' is on at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

25 August 2012 – 28 January 2013