The Postcolonial Eye
White Australian Desire and the Visual Field of Race
The first chapter of Alison Ravenscroft’s The Postcolonial Eye: White Australian Desire and the Visual Field of Race begins with a description of a photograph, property of the South Australian Museum, series AA346. This photograph is one of thousands taken during the Board for Anthropological Research’s Harvard and Adelaide Universities’ 1938 expedition. In it, two Murri girls stare at us, one with a shaved head, the other wearing a card marked ‘N1474’. What we see in this photograph, the violence of colonial history, is striking, but equally (perhaps more) striking, Ravenscroft suggests, is what we fail to see. “Who were these girls and what happened to them after the camera closed its eye and the photographer turned away?” she asks (7). Although we can see signs of colonial subject formation—exemplified by the name ‘N1474’—no matter how closely we look, we cannot see the girls’ fate, nor the fate of the researcher behind the camera, the one “who looked upon an image from which he excluded himself but in which he was implicated nevertheless” (7). Furthermore, “How [are we] to bring such a scene into writing?” Ravenscroft asks, implicating herself (as well as us, as readers of cultural studies and co-viewers of this photograph) in the categorical violence perpetrated by the invisible photographer (7).