The Photograph and Australia: Paul Foelsche

Paul Foelsche / Adelaide River 1887 / Albumen photograph / Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

Paul Foelsche was a policeman and amateur photographer specialising in landscapes and anthropological images of the Larrakia people. Born near Hamburg, Germany, he immigrated to South Australia in 1856, where he joined the mounted police. In 1870 he was appointed sub-inspector in charge of the newly formed Northern Territory Mounted Police and moved to Palmerston (now Darwin).

Foelsche took up photography in the 1870s, when advances in the medium made it more accessible and affordable. Although he had no scientific training and took photographs part-time his images were informed by theories of social Darwinism and supplied ethnologists and anthropologists with data, as well as promoting the Northern Territory as a place for European settlement. He printed all his photographs himself, but because he was a public servant, it was not appropriate for him to sell his work. He did, however, send his photographs to international exhibitions and presented albums to friends and important visitors.

Adelaide River is on display with over 650 historical and modern works until 11 October in ‘The Photograph and Australia’ exhibition.