Exhibitors have often created or commissioned photographs to record their triumphs at particular agricultural shows. These images of winning exhibits are usually specially mounted, inscribed and framed, suggesting that they commemorate significant occasions in a breeder’s or grower’s work and life. These pictures vary in style and materials, reflecting changing photographic fashions and techniques, but also perhaps revealing in their choice of subject matter, composition and treatment, particular ideas about the nature of agriculture.
Image Gallery Page Navigation
Page 1 of 1
Framed, hand-tinted photograph, mounted on an inscribed cream board, of 'Woodleigh Joyous Duchess', bred and exhibited by W.J.A. Davis & Sons of Woodleigh, Corowa, NSW, and winner of Junior Champion Beef shorthorn heifer at the Melbourne Royal Show, 1968. Donated by Kirsty Hollow, Fiona McKellar, Neil Davis and Janet Davis.
For W.J.A. Davis & Sons of Woodleigh, Corowa, NSW, their win with 'Woodleigh Joyous Duchess' at the Royal Melbourne Show in 1968 must have been a moment of great pride and sense of achievement, an event well worth commemorating through this framed and inscribed photograph. Australia's 'royal' shows, held in the nation's capital cities and in a few regional centres, are so named because they enjoy the patronage of a member of the British royal family. On the agricultural show circuit, royals represent pinnacles of competition, and the Davis's win at the 1968 Royal Melbourne would have secured their reputation as pre-eminent cattle breeders in southeastern Australia. It is probable that this photograph hung on display in their home or office for many years.
The centre of this object is a large photograph of Duchess, banded by her Champion ribbon. The caption at the bottom right-hand corner of the shot reveals that the image was originally created by a photographer from the magazine, Pastoral Review. The Review probably established a stand at the show, offering to photograph successful exhibits for their owners in return for a fee. It appears that the image was originally black and white, and was later coloured through hand tinting, presumably to make it more dramatic and beautiful. The photograph was mounted and the heifer's name added as a title in an elaborate calligraphic script using several coloured inks, including gold decorative elements. Details of the Melbourne show win, Duchess' lineage and the fact that she was bred and exhibited by W.J.A. Davis & Sons of Woodleigh were added in below. These inscriptions create the sense that Woodleigh Joyous Duchess is no ordinary cow, but, reflecting her name, an aristocrat of some standing.
Interestingly, Duchess stands in the photograph knee-deep in straw but behind her is a green paddock stretching to a horizon of trees and topped by a blue sky softly streaked with clouds. It appears that the heifer was led into a 'studio' at the show, with straw on the floor, and positioned in front of a painted backdrop. Both the Review photographer and the Davis family evidently considered the busy Melbourne showgrounds an inappropriate setting in which to commemorate Duchess' win, and she is instead relocated to a rural landscape. Duchess becomes part of a pastoral scene, standing in a place unidentifiable as any particular location due to the lack of clear details, but creating the impression of a verdant swathe of countryside.
Duchess is located in 'the country', but not in any particular place; and this sense of her abstraction from a specific terrain is heightened by her grooming (both at the show and perhaps as the photograph was 'touched up' after it was taken). Duchess is clean and well brushed, without any traces of dust, dung or flies - physical elements that bind her ecologically to Woodleigh. This denial of ecological connectivity constructs the heifer not as a unique individual with a life that emerges through her interactions with other elements of a particular place, but rather as a commodity valued for her role in a chain of industrial food production. Industrial systems rely on universalising processes, on using and generating commodities, that is, things that are the same irrespective of where they are produced. Indeed, Duchess appears to collaborate in this commodification, standing placidly, haltered but untethered, apparently accepting her fate. Is she, true to her name, 'joyous' about her situation?
In several ways, this framed photograph reinforces an understanding of agriculture as a rural-industrial system of food production. However, there are tensions in this representation. For as much as the object constructs Duchess as an industrial commodity, the prominent display of her name asserts her individuality. Indeed, the heifer's name, in a larger script, is considerably more prominent than the names of her breeders and, with its aristocratic references, arguably more imposing. It is debatable whether the photograph's design asserts that a 'duchess', a very important personage, participates in and endorses an industrial agricultural system, or whether, through asserting the individuality of the heifer, it undermines, at least to some extent, those understandings of food production.
Framed black and white photograph, mounted on cream board, showing gardeners
Mr Griffiths and Mr Blake posing with a large display of their prize-winning vegetables at the Goulburn show, 1919. Donated by Jim Maple-Brown.
This photograph shows Percy Griffiths and Mr Blake standing with their exhibited produce at the Goulburn show. The number of prize certificates attached to the vegetables suggests that they have had a very successful outing. Griffiths and Blake worked as gardeners for the Faithfull family of Springfield, a renowned merino sheep station south of Goulburn in southern New South Wales.
The display includes some extraordinarily large vegetables, including in the centre three very big pumpkins. It is probable that Griffiths and Blake won at least some of their prizes because of the proportions of their produce. This photograph creates an impression of plenty and abundance, celebrating the gardeners' capacity to maximise the fruits of the land. It celebrates production and the productivity of the land, but it is productivity understood in a very particular way - as the generation now of as much produce as possible. As farmer and critic Wendell Berry argues in What Are People For?, an over-emphasis on production, in terms of quantity, can obscure the natural and cultural foundations of long-term agricultural productivity. What costs did these large vegetables impose on the natural and cultural character of the Mulwaree River floodplains where they were grown? A focus on production tends to distract our attention from the ecological wellbeing of places where our food is grown.
This photograph, as a record of what was undoubtedly a proud moment for Griffiths and Blake, encourages us to think about the ways in which agricultural shows place value on abstract ideals of agricultural produce - such as the largest pumpkin - rather than developing understanding and attachment to the flawed, difficult realities of particular places. At the show, produce is divorced from its place of growth. Competition guidelines set out how exhibitors should present their produce, ensuring that judges evaluate it on its physical characteristics rather than in response to the style and content of its display, and the identity of the grower is usually erased. Indeed, this photograph arguably represents an, at least partial, response to this practice of abstraction and dislocation, an attempt by Griffiths and Blake to re-connect their produce with their own individual identities.
Images, symbols and designs can be interpreted in many different ways. What do you think this object says about agriculture? Send us a comment