'The Complete Craze': Women's Photography and Colonial Modernity in the Asia-Pacific, 1860-1930

Associate Professor Anne Maxwell

Maxwell Moore sisters photograph
Maxwell Moore
sisters photograph

This research project on the history of early women photographers of the Asia-Pacific was funded by a Australia Research Council Discovery Project (2014-2016) grant and was titled “The Complete Craze: Women’s Photography and Colonial Modernity in the Asia-Pacific, 1860-1930”.

Before the conclusion of this project, there had been no sustained research into the photography produced by women in the Asia-Pacific region in the late colonial era even though much of it was aesthetically sophisticated and innovative. Combining historical research with postcolonial and gender theory, the project critically examined a large body of images by women photographers working across the region. It identified the factors enabling these women to be examined as a group, investigated their subject matter, techniques and styles, and established what was exciting and new, as well as conventional, about their methods. It also showed how their artworks both reflected and contributed to the region’s burgeoning modernity.

The project outcomes include:

1. A digital archive containing a wide selection of images and supplying details of all the women photographers known to have been working in Australia up to and including the 1950s.

The archive provides detailed biographical, historical, critical and reference information on Australia’s early women photographers for use by researchers. Altogether there are approximately 68 entries gleaned from various sources, with the photographers covering the time span 1850-1950. Taken together the entries give a powerful sense of the enormous variety of styles and approaches used by Australia’s earliest women photographers but also the wide range of genres in which they worked. It covers portrait, landscape and cityscape, medical, natural history, ethnographic, travel, tourist, advertising, fashion, photojournalism and documentary photographers and bridges the commercial and high art worlds in addition to amateur and professional photography.

View the Australian Women’s Register archive

2. An illustrated scholarly monograph that analyses the works of the more prolific and innovative women photographers of the Asia-Pacific who were working in the period 1860-1930.

  • Maxwell, Anne. Women Photographers of the Pacific World, 1857–1930. Routledge, 2020.

3. Two scholarly articles outlining the aesthetically compelling and novel features of Asia-Pacific women’s photography.

  • Maxwell, Anne. “Picturing collaboration: European women photographers and indigenous peoples in the contestation of British and American imperialism in the Pacific, 1890-1910,” in Darian Smith, Kate and Edmond, Penelope (eds.,). Conciliation on Colonial Frontiers: Conflict, Performance and Commemoration in Australia and the Pacific Rim. Routledge, 2015
  • Maxwell, Anne. “Celebrities of Theatre and Bohemia: The Stylish Portraits of May and Mina Moore,” in Shifting Focus, Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920. Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2015

About Assoc. Professor Anne Maxwell

Anne Maxwell's  most recent monograph is Women Photographers of the Pacific World, 1857–1930 (2020). She has published many journal articles and essays on British, and Australian and NZ Colonial literature, and on race theory and American Visual Cultures. She teaches Postcolonial and Global literature contemporary American literature and American literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Anne Maxwell academic profile