Considered one of Australia’s foremost feminist photographers, Eden resident Ruth Maddison has a long history of portraiture and social documentary, which began in Melbourne in 1976.
Relationships, professional life, and communities are explored in his extensive body of work, which is represented in major public collections and includes extensive documentation of portraits of the Eden community and commercial industries.
The Center for Contemporary Photography (CCP) is currently showing a selection, alongside the many other subjects and projects Ruth has created over the past 45 years, as well as a major new work in an exhibition titled “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times “.
After moving to Eden in 1996, Ruth completed three key projects locally between 2002 and 2014.
Eden’s woodworkers, fishermen and teens were the subjects of these three lighting projects, later purchased by the State Library of NSW for its collection of images.
The current exhibition is a major investigative exhibition, which brings together key historical works with a major new commission.
Ruth said that the portrayal of Eden in her work is an important part of her work history.
âWhen I moved to Eden, I had never left town before, it became apparent that it was like a parallel universe,â she said.
“I kinda felt that unless you had lived in both, you weren’t aware of each other’s reality.”
The first major project Ruth undertook in the city was commissioned by the Ministry of Planning and Environment and consisted of documenting people and place for an ongoing sustainability study.
She then produced “Now a river has come out of Eden” in 2002, a series of black and white photos with text of teenagers.
âThe teenagers in Eden really interested meâ¦ without higher education available in Eden, the people who continue to do so have to leave town, leave their support groups, their family and their friends.
âI have found that who leaves or does not leave has a relation with the class, because it is expensive. Then there is the lack of employment options in the city, especially for girls and women. pregnancies.
“I was interested to know – what are they going to do, stay or go? Where did they see their future? What happens to a small town if the young people leave?
âOverall I would say the majority of people I spoke with found it great to be a kid growing up in Eden, but once you hit your teenage years it doesn’t. nothing more to do and lots of drugs There has been a mixed response to stay or go.
“Since then, some have completely disappeared, some have left and returned to raise their own families, and some have never left.”
A 2008 project “Surrounded by the sea “ documented Eden’s commercial fishermen past and present.
âHanging around the Australasian pub, the guys were like, ‘Did you see the blah blah pictures on the boat?’ and I found it to be a workforce documenting their own work and workplace, âsaid Ruth.
“Fishermen started bringing me dirty little 6×4 print shoe boxes, dating back to 1930, Norm Joiner, one of Eden’s first white commercial fishermen.”
âI resized, cleaned up and improved the existing images, which was part of the project.
âThen I photographed fishermen and asked them to tell me what they were doing, the best and the worst of their job.
âMal Rankin offered to use his shed at Snug Cove to display the work locally. We hung some fishing nets around the shed and cut the photos up there,â Ruth said.
The series was then exhibited at the Cowra Regional Gallery and the State Library of NSW purchased the complete set. A selection is also in the collection of the National Library of Australia.
In 2014, Ruth turned to the lumber industry and its workers, documenting at the sawmill and sawmill, for the series “I don’t see the forest for the trees’ “.
âI contacted the big boss at both places. Remarkably, they opened their doors and I walked in,â she said.
“These mills are a bit hidden from view, I had no idea what their work was like. I was interested in work and construction sites.
“I have learned and seen so much, these are incredible sites.”
âI always think that a site is a community of workers. Most people take pride in doing their job well.
âEmployment in a city like Eden is a tricky business. Not everyone is pro-industry and there is a wide range of responses, even within and among people in industry.
âIn my experience, people on both sides of the argument often exaggerate, don’t listen to each other and tell lies by omission,â Ruth said.
“I don’t see the forest for the trees” has not been shown publicly as a complete series, but a selection is currently on display at the CCP and also included in the collection of the State Library of NSW and the National Library of Australia.
The Eden series is presented alongside Ruth’s documentation of Melbourne’s cultural background in the 1970s and 1980s, with portraits of prominent writers, artists, directors and musicians, others major documentary projects and a new body of work, “The traveling companion, 2020“.
The exhibit is on display at CCP until April 18, at 404 George Street Fitzroy.
This project was supported by the Australian government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.