Journeys North: Max Pam inspired by his memories of childhood

 
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Max Pam, Australia b.1949 / Man cooling off, Lawn Hill National Park (from ‘Journeys north’ portfolio) 1986 / Gelatin silver photograph on paper / Purchased 1987 with the financial assistance of the Australian Bicentennial Authority to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
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Max Pam, Australia b.1949 / Backyard on Sunday, Mooloolabah (from ‘Journeys north’ portfolio) 1986 / Gelatin silver photograph on paper / Purchased 1987 with the financial assistance of the Australian Bicentennial Authority to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

‘Journeys North’ was ‘one of the most adventurous commissions undertaken by the Queensland Art Gallery’, and that ‘although the commission was conceived as a Bicentennial project, its importance will extend long after 1988’.1

In the mid 1980s, with the financial assistance of the Australian Bicentennial Authority, the Queensland Art Gallery commissioned six photographers, Graham Burstow, Lin Martin, Robert Mercer, Glen O’Malley, Charles Page and Max Pam to produce a portfolio of black and white works on the theme of community life in Queensland. First exhibited in 1988, the Gallery now presents a comprehensive selection from this portfolio, allowing us to see how Queensland has, and hasn’t, changed in the intervening 28 years.

Max Pam, inspired by his memories of childhood family holidays to the Gold Coast, chose to record his experiences through the eyes of a holidaying family. He captured the great physical variety of the landscape and presented an often humorous view of the family holiday experience.

In his artist’s statement from the original ‘Journeys North’ exhibition, Pam stated:

When I was young, Queensland was the promised land. I would be taken on a long journey north every year in the family Holden, along with Dad, Mum, and my sister. This was our annual escape from cold-hearted and dull Melbourne. When I say Queensland was the promised land, I really mean Surfers Paradise, for that is where we would go, to stay at the El-Dorado motel. The El Dorado was the last word in early sixties plastique; it was expensive and popular enough for Dad to secure a place by booking one year in advance.

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El-Dorado motel, Surface Paradise, early 1960s

Everything in Surfers Paradise looked suitably American: imported cars with fins; and – that sure barometer of imported fashion – the hairstyle: flat-tops, jellyrolls, and ducktails, the Ronald Regan pompadour and the Brenda Lee bullet-proof. Brylcream was still advertised on TV and hairspray had poked a hole in the ozone layer above the Gold Coast.

It was at the El-Dorado that I took (aged ten) my first photo: a shaky portrait of Marcia and Dad in the games room.

Times have changed: now I am Dad, the family car is a Datsun, the El-Dorado is a Youth–hostel, Surfers Paradise is not Queensland, and other promised lands have long since captured me; yet, Queensland retains a big presence.

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Max Pam, Australia b.1949 / Magnetic Island at Townsville (from ‘Journeys north’ portfolio) 1986 / Gelatin silver photograph on paper / Purchased 1987 with the financial assistance of the Australian Bicentennial Authority to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
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Max Pam, Australia b.1949 / Balancing rocks with seascape off Bowen (from ‘Journeys north’ portfolio) 1986 / Gelatin silver photograph on paper / Purchased 1987 with the financial assistance of the Australian Bicentennial Authority to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Only in the state of Queensland do you have tropical, desert, sea reef islands, rainforest land: a land that shimmers with sensual geophysical displays. This quality is unique within the context of the Australian continent, for our country has, more often than not, a virtually unknowable, austere and arid beauty.

In 1986, I spent the best part of six months driving all over the state, following a path from National Park to State Forest. I broke tent pegs, hammering them into the concrete soil of Julia Creek, and I pushed them in with my foot on the beach at Hinchinbrook Island. All this I did together with my family, our tent, the billy, the esky, and a sailboard. My pictures do not describe a family on the move. What they describe is the Australian tent house hold in Queensland and just what happens when you unzip your front door and walk into the landscape: breakfast with a kangaroo, the local newspaper, and my brother-in-law’s mirror-backed wrap-arounds.

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Max Pam, Australia b.1949 / The Big Pineapple, near Nambour (from ‘Journeys north’ portfolio) 1986 / Gelatin silver photograph on paper / Purchased 1987 with the financial assistance of the Australian Bicentennial Authority to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

When we crossed the border into Queensland, I knew for sure that I had to photograph the Big Pineapple. This was the only pre-meditated photo that I had. I felt good the whole time I was in Queensland: this place really cooks and I hope above all else that this quality shows through the photographs. When I look at the images that I collected in ‘86, they fit closely a style that I have always used: a style that owes much to my great friend and mentor, French photographer, Bernard Plossu, What is different in this body of work is that after seventeen years as a photographer, spent mostly travelling Asia, this is the first photographic statement of mine that deals directly with Australia.

Endnotes
1  Doug Hall, ‘Foreword’, Journeys North, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1988, p.3.