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The Photographer and the Painter

Video clip synopsis – Artists working in different media have created a visual time capsule showing Melbourne in the late 1800s.
Year of production - 2008
Duration - 5min 30sec
Tags - art, artists, Australian cities, Betty Churcher, photography, technological change, see all tags


The Photographer and the Painter

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About the Video Clip


From the series Hidden Treasures – Inside the National Library of Australia
The National Library of Australia is the country’s largest reference library with over nine million items in its collection, including a surprising number of art works. In a new series of Hidden Treasures, Betty Churcher presents an insider’s guide to some of the little known and rarely displayed art treasures held by the National Library. From her unique vantage point, Churcher makes intriguing historical connections between paintings and engravings, photography, manuscripts and artefacts, illustrated journals and diaries. These are fascinating tales about the creative process and the works themselves that offer a tantalising insight into Australia’s culture and heritage.

A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Early Works. Produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. With special thanks to the National Library of Australia.

Curriculum Focus


Students are required to reflect critically on meanings and values associated with particular visual artworks. They use the language and terminology to analyse the style, technique, subject matter and design of artworks.

This is a guide only. Teachers and students should consult their state’s curriculum and learning programs.

Background Information


Artists working in different media have created a visual time capsule showing Melbourne in the late 1800s. The first, an album of photographs by the city’s official photographer Charles Nettleton, features Bourke Street, Melbourne, Looking East, an 1878 photograph showing men chatting in the middle of sleepy Bourke Street, while the second, a painting by Tom Roberts circa 1886, shows the same street bustling with pre-Christmas trade. The painting, originally named Allegro con brio, was altered in 1890 when the artist added three figures to the foreground. Aerial maps of the city in the National Library collection show the massive transformation that took place in Melbourne over the fifty years from 1838. The photograph, the painting and the aerial map provide snapshots of early Melbourne, each one supplying information particular to the medium.

Classroom Activities

  1. This episode of Hidden Treasures presents a variety of photographs and paintings as evidence of change over time. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of both photographs and paintings as evidence of a place or event in history.
  2. One of the important elements in evidence is the influence of the creator of the evidence. A painter chooses what to include in his or her painting. Does a photographer also influence or choose what is in a photograph and therefore what meanings or messages it conveys? Discuss this idea.
  3. How has changing technology influenced the nature of photographs?
  4. Summarise in just one or two sentences why these paintings and photographs are ‘treasures’ in our knowledge and understanding of aspects of Australian art history.

Further Resources


Go to Screen Australia Digital Learning’s Arts Portal