Captain Sweet in the Flinders

Did Captain Sweet photograph in the Flinders Ranges?

Alisa Bunbury, in Arid Arcadia: Art in the Flinders (AGSA, 2002) says that there is much research to be done in the history of colonial photography in the nineteenth century in the Flinders Ranges region of South Australia. She then mentions Captain Sweet’s 1882 studio advertisement about his picturesque scenery on the Great Northern Railway line from Port Augusta to Farina.

Captain Sweet, Pichi Richi Pass,1882

Bunbury comments that this advertisement demonstrates images of visual interest at the time — of gainful employment of the land and of national progress. (p. 58). Surprisingly there are no images by Sweet in the text, despite Bunbury saying that Sweet had a reputation for accomplished photographic landscapes and views of country towns and stations. Bunbury moves on to consider H. H.Tilbrook’s 1894 photos of the Flinders Ranges made around Wilpena Pound.

Her thesis is that during the second half of the nineteenth century South Australia lacked a landscape tradition. Presumably, Captain Sweet as a topographical photographer was not considered to be a part of the landscape tradition. There is a widely recognised and long held distinction in the art institution between landscape and topography, or to put it another way, between landscape ‘proper’ – fine art landscape – and ‘mere’ topography or views. Topography is a mark of inferiority–obsolete and second rate. It is descriptive not imaginative and it is a kind of map-work.

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