You are invited to the following Exhibition showcasing historic images from the Josiah Cocking Photographic Archive.
DANDELION: The words and images of Josiah Cocking
WHEN – The exhibition will run from February 6 until March 3, 2019
WHERE – Watt Space Gallery, cnr Auckland & King Streets, Newcastle
OPENING NIGHT LAUNCH – Thursday 7 February 6 pm
The exhibition Dandelion: The words and images of Josiah Cocking, draws on a photographic and written archive donated by the Cocking family to the University of Newcastle in 1999. The archive includes photographic portraits of Josiah’s own and others’ families, but beyond that it provides indelible images of life around the closing of the nineteenth century in outer-lying Newcastle towns. Josiah may have been behind the camera when many of the images were captured, but his archive provides a clear image of the man he was – his passion for poetry, his socialist heart, his joy and grief and his love of family. He often submitted poetry for publication under the pseudonym “Dan D. Lion”, and this exhibition reflects the nature of the dandelion to bloom briefly with great intention, to embrace the seasons of its life and to scatter the seeds of its memory far beyond the ground in which it once grew.
Opening Night Speech by Jodi Vial
Hello everyone and thankyou so much for coming tonight. I am so thrilled to see these images from the Josiah Cocking archive transformed from digital files into larger-than-life portraits, mainly because when I first came across them online about a year ago that’s exactly what I envisaged.
I love the Josiah Cocking archive. I was drawn to it because of the photographic images but I have since immersed myself in the written archive and found Josiah to be a funny, hard-working, passionate man and a deep thinker. He was a photographer, an alchemist, a poet, a voracious reader and prolific writer, a political agitator and perhaps an idealist. We need more of them. He was also a tireless documentarian and we should all be grateful for the incredible record he has left us of life in Wallsend, a coal mining town on the outskirts of Newcastle, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and beyond. I think my favourite thing about these images are the backdrops, these beautifully elaborate textiles obviously brought outside from somewhere inside the house, maybe folded neatly in a wooden chest, and tacked in rudimentary fashion to a wall or a paling fence. The intention may have been to create a studio-like setting for his portraits, but in his enthusiasm to capture the image he forgets (or maybe it’s intentional) to frame the backdrop and instead we see the world beyond it – the falling-down fence, the dirtbowl garden, the sky. And they are such treasures. They give us a glimpse into Josiah’s world that would never have existed in a photographic studio. With all the riches these portraits give us, perhaps the greatest treasure is in the space nearest the borders.
Josiah was a lover of nature and his photographs demonstrate this, without exception. Women are photographed holding posies of flowers, men are framed beneath passionfruit vines or other backyard greenery (and Josiah’s diary usually documents exactly the species of plant featured in each photograph). Children are not in the kind of poses we are so used to seeing in 19th century studio portraits, propped up and staring, unblinking, in the direction of the camera. In Josiah’s images, they are still dressed in their fine, completely impractical clothes, all velvet and lace with leather boots and stockings, even fancy headwear. But this is where the formality seems to end, the subjects seemingly caught mid-stride in their adventures, clutching posies of flowers as they ramble along bush tracks or sit for a while at a picnic.
I have lived in Wallsend for more than 20 years, in a house built in 1924 by my husband’s maternal grandfather. Josiah’s journals and photographs have given me a picture of Wallsend that connects me with the ground beneath my feet and enriches my experience of living there. I have walked down Nelson Street thousands of times, past the rotunda and across the dormant tram line, but until I read Josiah’s account of walking down the very same street, handing out leaflets from the Labour League or meeting friends, it was just a street and just a suburb. The Devon Street house in one of the images in this exhibition, where Josiah lived with his mother, was at the end of my street. In researching this exhibition, I read some of Josiah’s incredibly detailed daily diaries. I was surprised to see my own surname in one of the entries, a minuted account of those present at a Labour League meeting at Henry Tyldesley’s house. These were weekly outings for Josiah, and in the next he was more specific – Charlie Vial. I checked my husband’s family tree and found that Charlie was his paternal great-grandfather, at which point I had to stop for a while and just marvel at the many patterns of the universe. I hope this exhibition allows everyone the chance to experience this kind of connection, whether you live in Wallsend or Hamilton or Newcastle. The past is an anchor, our roots help us hold our ground and help us grow.
The fact that my imagination has been rewarded in this way is down to the unfailing support of some key people. I would like to thank university archivist Gionni di Gravio for sharing his knowledge of the archive. This exhibition was made possible because of the generous support of university librarian Mark Sutherland and the GLAMx Lab and I’m so very grateful for that. I am grateful too for the support of Josiah Cocking’s family, some of whom are here tonight, and more specifically for their incredible gift of Josiah’s archive which is housed in the University’s Cultural Collections and online through the Living Histories platform. In the process of developing and curating this show I have been guided and supported by four amazing people who demonstrate on a daily basis that the passion and dedication of women is the heartbeat of the arts community in Newcastle as it is in cities just like it around the world. Three of these women are the lifeblood of this amazing gallery and we should all be very grateful for that. Thankyou Emma Heath for your dedication to your work, to my friend Melissa Bull for your patience and endless encouragement and Gillean Shaw for your kindness, support and unwavering confidence in me and in the show. Thankyou to Dr Ann Hardy from the GLAMx Lab for your support not only of this project and me personally but all the students who benefit from your guidance as part of the GLAMx enterprise. Please enjoy the exhibition, GLAMx and Watt Space have produced postcards of some of the key images and they are available by donation tonight with all proceeds to the Vera Deacon Regional History Fund, which is named after a living treasure and aims to support the work of Cultural Collections is preserving the vast treasures of this region.
The photographs included in this exhibition were chosen from the 221 images digitised in 2018 by the University’ of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections and available at livinghistories.newcastle.edu.au.
We are very grateful to the family of Josiah Cocking for sharing his wonderful photographic archive. Exhibition is supported by the GLAMx Living Histories Digitisation Lab.
Exhibition curated by Jodi Vial
Related post also see Josiah Cocking Photographic Archive CLICK HERE