Home' LOTL : December 2005 Contents A NEW DVD CELEBRATES THE
WORK OF A FORGOTTEN FEMALE
PHOTOGRAPHER. BY MERRYN JOHNS.
One of the tenets of 1970s feminism was
“the personal is the political.” This catch
cry is particularly relevant to the life and
work of one of Australia’s most talented
yet overlooked female visual artists, Carol
Jerrems. At a young age the headstrong
and talented Jerrems decided she was a
photographer, and she set about creating
a body of work that is much like a visual
diary. Consequently, the photographs
of Jerrems embody the seventies in
Australia, a decade defined by its wave of
unconventionality and experimentation.
Part of Melbourne and Sydney’s
counterculture mixing with filmmakers,
photographers and musicians, Jerrems
candidly captured their lives and her
own. She was particularly drawn
to documenting the lives of urban
Aboriginals and youth gangs at a time
when stereotypical perceptions of the
groups persisted. Her images are startling,
Few people have heard of Jerrems, but
some recognise her iconic black and
white photograph Vale Street. The image
is resonant with feminist subtext. A young
woman confronts the camera lens, bare-
breasted, while two youths cower in the
background. She steps into the light,
beyond society’s stereotype of ‘woman’.
Her necklace is an ankh – popular during
of the Age of Aquarius, but also an
ancient symbol of female power.
The actual story behind this image, told
in a new documentary, Girl in a Mirror, is
fascinating, as is Jerrems’ turbulent and
passionate life. Tragically, Jerrems died in
1980 of a rare blood disease at age 30.
“If she’d lived I have no doubt she
would’ve become an internationally
renowned photographer like Nan Goldin.
A lot of her techniques came out of the
politics of the time, like putting yourself
in the frame, declaring your presence,”
says the film’s producer, Helen Bowden
The film offers a rare insight into the era
of ‘free love’ and sexual emancipation
as women experienced it. While Jerrems
initiated relationships outside of societal
norms, there is a sense that she could
not shake the darkness from her life.
Jerrems, who claimed to be a victim of
sexual assault, and to the contemporary
viewer would seem to have suffered
from depression, was clearly driven,
pursuing her art and sexuality with a
reckless multi-focus. As her friend and
teacher, the filmmaker Paul Cox put it:
“With a gift like that, it’s ridiculous to
“There was such a struggle at that
time for female artists. It was an era
where there seemed to be few support
networks. It was a very male dominated
period. It’s still a struggle for women
artists to find their place in the world,”
Part of the joy of Girl in a Mirror is that
it celebrates a forgotten feminist artist.
In 2001, when director Kathy Drayton
saw a Carol Jerrems photo, she asked
herself ‘Who is this amazing woman?’
She decided to start digging. The more
she found out about Jerrems, the more
fascinated she became.
Drayton sent Bowden an outline for the
film, who agreed that it was a great story.
“With Girl in a Mirror we knew we had
both a good story and a good team.” And
it shows. The direction by Drayton, who
has 13 years editing experience, unfolds
with a slow magic. The cinematography
by Anna Howard does justice to Jerrems’
The film had its World Premiere at
the Sydney International Film Festival
in June before enormously popular
screenings at the Melbourne, Brisbane,
Auckland and Wellington film festivals.
“1500 people came to the State Theatre
in Sydney to see it,” notes Bowden.
Last month Girl in a Mirror won Best
Documentary at the 2005 Australian Film
Critics’ Circle Awards. It would seem
Jerrems has finally been recognised.
Girl in a Mirror: A Portrait of Carol
Jerrems is currently available on DVD
at ABC shops, JB-HiFi, Borders and
selected DVD stores.
'Vale Street' by
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