Anne Ferran is one of Australia’s leading photographic artists. She lives and works in Sydney and has a diverse career as a highly regarded artist, academic and writer. She is the recipient of many prestigious awards and grants and has a distinguished national and international profile (Snell, 2014).
Born in 1949, Ferran studied humanities and teaching before embarking on arts training in 1982 at age 31. She completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts Degree in 1985 at the Sydney College of the Arts at the University of Sydney and a Master of Fine Arts from the College of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales in 1994. At the time of writing, Ferran was the Associate Professor of Photomedia at the Sydney College of the Arts, within the visual arts faculty at the University of Sydney (The University of Sydney, 2014).
Ferran’s oeuvre of work gives form to representations of femininity, highlights the significance of marginalised colonial histories and captures environments of urban expansion (Armstrong, 2002). Her skills as an artist are not limited to photography. She uses a variety of media in her practice such as video, textiles and installation that are important layers through which she reveals the gaps she finds in her studies. Her artwork is not documentation but rather a capturing of an absent presence where she uses her gentle aesthetic to explore an idea rather than an objective reality.
It was Ferran’s photographic series, Carnal Knowledge (1984) and Scenes on the Death of Nature (1986), that established her career in Australian contemporary photographic art. It was a period of her work that reflected the French idea of écriture feminine that embodied an alternative knowledge and representation of feminine discourse (Best, 2014).
Ferran’s developing artistic career was recently celebrated by the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery in Western Australia that presented a major survey show of her thirty years of work which is on tour to the Australian Centre for Photography, New South Wales (Snell, 2014). This retrospective is an acknowledgement of the importance of her work within Australian art.
Anne Ferran’s artistic career spans more than thirty years. Her practice can be divided into three parts, which highlight her transitional focus of feminism and reputation, to view colonial history and then environmental wastelands.
Ferran’s formative period as an artist was in the 1980s in Sydney. Her work focused on photography about feminism and representation in accordance with the intense interest of the New French Feminism and the disruption of the truth value of photography (Best, 2014). Most notably in 1988 the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra hosted the exhibition Australian Photography: The 1980s - where a photograph from Ferran’s series Scenes on the Death of Nature (1986) was selected as the cover for the NGA exhibition catalogue. This was early recognition of Ferran’s artistry and confirmation of her place in the history of Australian photography.
This success so early in her career gave Ferran the confidence to continue her career as an artist (NGA, 2011). From 1995 until 2003 Ferran’s subject matter shifted focus to a consideration of Australian and New Zealand colonial histories, specifically women and children. Following her residency at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks in 1995 Ferran utilized museum collections, archives and archaeological sites nationally and internationally as reference for her investigation (Armstrong, 2002). This period within her career is best depicted in the series Lost to Worlds (2001).
The environment and wastelands are another prominent theme in Ferran’s work. Her residency in London in 2005 was the inspiration for this theme that gave rise to video media works Backwater (2005), CANAL (2009), Body of Water (2011) and Swansong (Tchaikovsky remix) (2013).
Whilst Ferran’s work deals with theoretical, philosophical and historical concerns, it is not constrained by them. Her artwork is a vessel of endless contemplation and reflection of the mythical and indeterminate spaces she creates.
“One of the things I resist all the time in talking about my work is the kind of demand to tell a story…I think it’s the most obvious response from a lot of people is that my work is trying to tell stories…I’m always trying to resist that because I think it is more important to establish there was a gap rather to fill it in with a narrative.”
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