Every mugshot tells a story


Two exhibitions have captured the very essence of life at the time of the photographers, writes Karen Kissane.

TODAY’S FAMILY portraits take on a different meaning when they reach newspaper files. The family members who had been so carefully staged by a studio photographer, snuggling up and smiling at the camera as if they are the picture of happiness, have now endured the kind of catastrophe that brings media attention: a death, a disaster, a crime perpetrated from without or from within.
Perhaps the camera had captured a fleeting moment of wholeness and affection; is that not the point of the family portrait, to be a reminder of happy memories? But in some cases – the mother who killed her five children, the father who abducted his four – it is clear that the portrait was about the construction of a polite reality for public consumption. As in the film Ordinary People, the contrived images veiled the anger, sadness and distance of the people behind the smiles.
In previous generations, studio photographers did not strive for good cheer. The boomers’ parents and grandparents stared solemnly at the camera, poses formal and fixed, immaculate in their Sunday best. Even brides and grooms failed to show a glimmer of a smile, perhaps because they had already discovered some grim realities of married life (those pictures were often taken weeks after the actual wedding).
This is why the images in a new exhibition of family portraits by Sydney photographers Harold Cazneaux and Cecil Bostock are so enchanting – in terms of their humbleness, their joy and their spontaneity, they are out of their time.
Cazneaux and Bostock were founding members of the Sydney Camera Circle, a key group in the development of photography as an art form in Australia. Cazneaux died in 1953 and Bostock in 1939. As well as their formal work with landscape and studio images, the two took tender, intimate pictures of their children and their extended families that are as remarkable for their unpretentiousness as they are for their romantic lighting and composition.
In Bathing Baby in 1909, Cazneaux photographed his wife Winfred washing their daughter Rainbow in a small tin laundry tub, gentle light filtering through a nearby window on to the head and shoulders of the pensive babe and her mother’s puffy Edwardian sleeves. The ordinariness of the scene is attested by the household mess of an apple core, and soap that sits in a broken dish.
In The Quest in 1910, Rainbow is a toddler. She holds a cloth toy and a piece of fruit as she leans forward with sweet eagerness to peer at something out of frame. Rainbow is now 98. According to her daughter, Sally Garrett, who has helped with the exhibition, as that picture was shot, Rainbow’s parents were asking her, “Where are the fairies? Look for the fairies in the peach tree.”
Leanne Fitzgibbon, acting-senior curator at Bendigo Art Gallery, says of the exhibition: “We are peeking into the artist’s private life. In the photographs you can feel the parental gaze, the love that comes from behind the camera.”
We think of the “glamour portrait” as a new fad; the catering to narcissism of the woman who has herself – and sometimes her children – made over and photographed and airbrushed to maximise allure.
In fact, even Cazneaux’s pictures have their own “glamour”, in the original sense of the word as a magical enchantment, a spell that makes something appear more attractive than it really is, like a crone in the guise of a damsel. His “glamour” is the idea of childhood as an age of freedom and innocence. The studio portraits of earlier eras are seeking “glamour” too: that formal dressing, those stiff poses, project an image of orderliness and propriety, and reveal little about the inner world of the subjects.
But there are other, grittier portraits from that time that are filled with soul, even though their artistry was accidental.
City of Shadows is a Sydney exhibition of police photographs from early last century. Many of them are noirish shots of city alleyways and dingy lodgings that were the scenes of killings or accidental deaths. But many are mug shots, and they are quite unlike the dispirited flash photos of head and shoulders that are the mug shots of today.
They were taken in natural light, on glass negatives, and many are full-length. The criminals in front of the lens seem utterly relaxed: the jauntier ones flirt with the camera, the belligerent ones glare. Conmen who have dropped their mask of charm have a hostile, snaky gaze; women who have been jailed look back at the photographer with eyes luminous with despair.
“These police photos, for accidental reasons, look more like modern photos,” says Peter Doyle, curator of the exhibition. “They just got people on the hop. They seem to freeze something out of the flow of expressions and human animation. It gets some real essence of character.
“They got around the affectations and mannerisms and respectable expectations of the day because they were rascals. No one expected them to be bunging on any side.”
Several times, visitors to the exhibition have introduced themselves as relatives of people in the photographs. Two elderly men pointed to one thief and said, “Yes, that was our uncle.” A Melbourne family has identified one of Doyle’s most successful conwomen as someone from their family tree.
Among the rogues’ gallery are some members of the same families who were “in business” together. The McFarlane brothers, photographed with a third man in 1921, were semi-hobos with serious criminal records who went around like rag-and-bone men, in a horse and cart, stealing.
Robert seems the extroverted one, almost smiling at the camera. He stands with feet planted firmly apart, defiantly cocky despite the worn patches on his trouser knees, and the way his toes can be seen through the holes in his shoes.
The McGuinesses were also related. Hazel, 21, was arrested three times in 1929 on cocaine peddling charges, along with her mother Ada, who ran a brothel. On the last bust, Ada threw the dope packets to her daughter and shouted, “Run, Hazel, run!”
In their photographs, Hazel’s eyes are demurely downcast, as if she is almost ashamed to find herself arrested. Her hard-faced mother, on the other hand, stares back at the camera with thin-lipped indifference. In court, a drugs bureau detective called Ada “the vilest creature it has ever been my misfortune to encounter”, but the whole bureau felt sorry for Hazel, who had been “reared in an environment of immorality and dope”.
In this case, it seems the camera did not lie.
Family Portraits: Harold Cazneaux and Cecil Bostock, is at the Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View Street, until August 6.
City of Shadows is at the Justice & Police Museum, corner Phillip and Albert streets, Circular Quay, Sydney, until February 11, 2007. The hardcover book City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948 is published by the Historic Houses Trust (NSW) and distributed by Thames & Hudson, $65.

First published in The Age.

How the other half relax



InterContinental, Sydney
The basics
The eye-candy was pretty, if a little surreal, in the lift lobby on my floor. The young men were handsome, square-jawed, solidly built. They greeted each other with masculine grunts or silent salutes of the water bottles they always carried.
But they were curiously attired. Waiting for a lift, I studied their running shoes, their shorts and the muscles bulging under incongruously bright, shiny Lycra leggings, and said demurely, “Theme party, is it?”
They looked back at me blankly. Banter was not their game; some kind of footy was. I was later told that I had probably been speaking to Wallabies, who were also staying at the InterContinental Hotel in Sydney that week. The hotel’s demographic catchment, then, is wide, because it was also hosting international authors such as Naomi Wolf for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, plus many local literati.
The bar and restaurant seemed mainly patronised by wealthy Americans dressed in mid-western low fashion, but it is not always so. High-profile guests in the past have included Cate Blanchett, Cher, Rod Stewart, kd lang, Powderfinger, Luciano Pavarotti and Condi Rice. I was about to discover how the other .00001 per cent live – and it’s very comfortably indeed.
For us, the best thing about the hotel was the Cortile, a cafe and bar in a large, atrium-like space on the ground floor, surrounded on two sides by three storeys of historic brick and sandstone balconies (the hotel is built around the old Treasury building) and flooded with light. It is a stylish but comfortable space, where you are free to browse through the Saturday papers for as long as you like. Its crowning glory is a centrepiece of a gilded urn filled with a metres-high display of Australian dried flowers (with apologies to Carmen Miranda).
The service
This is one lovely pub. The service during my four-day stay was perfect: cheerful and attentive, with not a flutter of an eyelid to suggest the staff were disappointed by my determined non-tipping. Every little request was dealt with swiftly: when I realised I had left my mobile phone charger at home, housekeeping dispatched a young man with a box of chargers that had been left behind by other guests. He found one that fitted but it had an American plug. Undeterred, he took off and then reappeared wheeling a trolley with something the size of a small toaster that weighed a helluva lot more. He had found me a transformer. In the courtyard bar and cafe, the waiter did not miss a beat when I told him one night that I was too tired for food or drink but wanted to stay and people-watch. “Can I bring you an iced water?” he suggested courteously. The housemaids found my note requesting peppermint tea bags and silently left them for me; the young men looking after cars and luggage were quick and pleasant but never ingratiating. The only glitch was that after check-in my luggage did not make it to my room as promised, but it arrived five minutes after my follow-up phone call.
The rooms
This was the largest and most comfortable room I have ever had in an Australian five-star hotel. It gave me glimpses of Sydney Harbour and was stylish and simply furnished but full of small comforts. The bed, decorated like the rest of the room in stone and aubergine, was as big as some high-density backyards. There was a generous table set up as a desk, with a proper reading lamp, and four desk-height electrical outlets for executives trying to set up laptops and modems – no undignified crawling around the floor looking for outlets here. At the foot of the bed was a chaise longue, and the room also had a window seat on which one could sit with a glass of champers and watch the sparkly lights at night. No sad nylon curtains – there was a shade-blind and a nifty electric night blind that zipped up and down via a button beside the bed. The room had a well-stocked mini-bar and coffee and tea-making facilities.
The bathrooms
Check out the Harry Potter mirror. Run a hot steamy shower; the mirror will mist up except for a portrait-sized square in the centre, which stays immaculately clear and ready for make-up or shaving (or both, I suppose, for those of us with more complex grooming needs). The water was hot and there was lots of it; the granite surrounds of the basin had been cleverly designed with a ledge all round that will cater for even the most compulsive collector of paintpots and perfume bottles. The towels and bathrobes were thick and fluffy and the toiletries, by Audleys of London, elegantly packaged.
The food
Much of the fare here was out of my range, so this is a very limited comment. Favouring breakfasts around the $10 mark, I had a pleasant time with my “medley of muffins” (two) and hot chocolate in the Cortile cafe. The steak sandwich one lunch-time was a bit of disappointment – the meat was tender but lukewarm and gristly, and the chips weren’t hot either. It might have been because the chefs were preparing for high tea, a silver-service affair with little cakes and savoury tarts, clotted cream and freshly made crepes. A late-night room-service pizza was soggy – too generous a hand with the cheese.
The location
For anyone holidaying in the city of Sydney, the hotel is brilliantly placed, only a block from the water. Out the front door and round to the right is Circular Quay, with its ferries (both tourist and commuter types) and its views. On one side is the matronly glory of the Opera House, on the other the industrial grandeur of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The pretty walk from one to the other is along the water’s edge, passing a historic three-masted schooner (available for sailing) and the stylish Doyle’s seafood restaurant. The historic Rocks area is only a 20-minute stride away.
The hotel has 509 rooms and suites, high-speed internet access, voicemail, several dining rooms, 14 function rooms, a business centre, gym and pool, as well as a day spa that offers hair, beauty and massage treatments.
The place
InterContinental Sydney, corner of Bridge and Phillip streets, Sydney. Telephone (02) 9253 9000; www.intercontinental.com; sydney@interconti.com.
The lowest internet rate is $251 (advance purchase 14 days/no cancellation). A standard city-view room starts from $295 (including buffet breakfast for two in Cafe Opera). A Club InterContinental package of $365 a day includes deluxe breakfast, high tea, and evening drinks with canapes, as well as spectacular views of the harbour from the rooftop lounge. All packages include complimentary use of the gymnasium and indoor heated pool. Check-in is 3pm and check-out is 11am. — KAREN KISSANE
All short breaks and city breaks are conducted anonymously and paid for.
A luxurious, pampering cocoon. Perhaps the hotel is best described in the words of a young man walking around the lobby with his over-awed sweetheart. Responding to her murmured praise of the place, he preened. Like a sentimental bloke with his Doreen, he then said, in a fine piece of Australian understatement: “Bit’uv orright, inn’t?”First published in The Age.

Health experts weigh in on … OBESITY



As we get fatter, the push is on to define obesity as a disease rather than a lifestyle choice.
THE patient was very fat, of the kind that doctors call “morbidly obese”; so heavy that her weight was likely to shorten her life. When she came to Dr George Blair-West for treatment, he did not weigh her or put her on a diet. He talked to her about her feelings.
He discovered that her mother had died when she was five, and her father had been a distant man. She felt food gave her the comfort and nurturing she did not have as a child: “Food came to have a very special meaning in her young life.”
Buried even deeper in her mind was another fantasy: that the sooner she died, the sooner she would see her mother again. For this woman, merely being told that obesity was damaging her health had no effect, because part of her did not want to live.
Blair-West, a psychiatrist and author of the book Weight Loss for Food Lovers: Understanding the Psychology and Sabotage of Weight Loss, says: “People have to stop thinking of obesity as a self-discipline problem. It’s a complex psycho-physiological problem more akin to an addiction.”
For Dr Joe Proietto, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at Melbourne University, it is biology that has determined the fat person’s destiny. Psychological problems are a result of his or her obesity, not the cause of it.
“Severe obesity always has a physical cause,” he says firmly. “Moderate obesity is likely to be epigenetic (involving a change in which certain genes are switched on or off). And being mildly overweight is purely environmental.”
It’s a debate that has big implications for the mind, the body and the national health budget. Should obesity be regarded not just as a product of poor lifestyle, but as a disease in its own right?
This week the Federal Government announced a $3 million national nutrition survey in which thousands of Australian schoolchildren will be weighed and measured. Tasmanian Liberal Senator Terry Barnett has also suggested extending Medicare rebates to cover treatment of obesity as a chronic disease.
Traditionally, obesity has been regarded as an unhealthy condition and as a risk factor for other illnesses, but has not been seen as a disease in itself. The push to relabel it has gained great momentum in the world’s fattest country, America, where 65 per cent of adults are now overweight or obese.
In 2002, the US Internal Revenue Service ruled obesity a disease, allowing Americans for the first time to claim obesity-related health expenses such as surgery and weight-loss programs. In 2004, the US Medicare system also accepted that obesity is a disease.
In Australia, there is a push to follow suit. Here, adults got fat first (50-60 per cent are overweight or obese) but children are now following (25 per cent). In the last 10 years, the proportion of overweight children has doubled and the proportion of obese children (6 per cent) has tripled.
Most alarmingly, one in five preschool children – aged only three or four – is now overweight. Some experts have warned that the resulting diabetes, cancer and heart disease could bankrupt the health system.
Many people view an individual’s obesity as the result of a lack of willpower: too much time vegging out on the couch, and too many Bridget Jones moments with a box of Milk Tray.
Health Minister Tony Abbott has previously resisted calls for the Government to introduce bans on junk food advertising, arguing people are fat not because of advertising but because of poor diet and lack of exercise, and that the responsibility for children’s eating behaviour rests with parents.
But the more we find out about fat, the more simplistic that approach seems to be. Studies of identical twins suggest that up to 60 per cent of the predisposition towards obesity is inherited. Other studies have found that Darwin had it wrong; it does not take generations to produce genetic changes.
The way genes are “expressed” – rendered active or inactive – can be permanently affected by environmental factors within a single generation. This process is known as epigenetics. Proietto tells of a Dutch study which found that women starved in the first trimester of pregnancy (due to famine conditions during World War II) were more likely to produce children who would become obese. Another study found that women who ate too much during the first trimester also had fatter children; so did fathers who had started smoking in childhood.
Infection might even play a role: an experiment with chickens found that those infected with a common human virus, AD 36, became fatter even though they were fed exactly the same amount of grain as uninfected chickens who remained lean.
Children are more likely to be obese if they get less than six hours sleep a night, or if they were bottle-fed rather than breast-fed (one theory is that obesity among adults is partly due to the popularity of formula-feeding 50 years ago).
Proietto says rats that are starved in experiments and then given a normal diet become fat because their bodies’ long-term response to deprivation is to overeat.
“That diet early in life triggered something that not just made them obese at the time but then led their bodies to defend that obesity.” This would help explain why people who lose weight usually put it back on again.
It is now being speculated that genes affect not just metabolism but eating behaviour, such as cravings and sensations of fullness. Obese people have a resistance to the chemical leptin, Proietto says, which is created by fat cells, and sends signals to the brain about when to stop eating.
But the medicalisation of obesity has its opponents. Naomi Crafti, a lecturer in psychology at Swinburne University, says we are unnecessarily pathologising fatness.
“We are focusing on obesity rather than on health. Obesity is a risk factor for a number of illnesses, but it doesn’t mean that everyone who is obese will get those illnesses, and many people who are below the obesity level still do poorly because of poor diet with high sugar and fats. Obesity is just a descriptive term; it’s not an illness.”
Crafti says about 25 per cent of people with obesity do have a psychological problem known as binge-eating disorder, which is like bulimia without the purging. They gorge to cope with feelings such as sadness or anxiety. But many obese people have relatively normal diets and stay heavy because their metabolism has changed after years of fad dieting.
Dr Rick Kausman is the AMA’s spokesman on eating and runs the Weight Management and Eating Behaviour Clinic in Melbourne. He also condemns dieting. “I have spent 18 years listening to tens of thousands of people talk about their relationship with food,” he says.
” Almost every single person has said that 50 per cent, sometimes 80 per cent, of their eating is not related to hunger. They eat because they’re happy, sad, tired, bored, just in case they get hungry later, because their parents told them to finish their plate, because they are confusing hunger and thirst.”
Diets have told them to follow rules rather than attend to signals from their bodies, he says: “That paradigm doesn’t work and makes things worse.”
So, obesity is complex, it’s damaging and it causes great unhappiness. But does that make it a disease?
Dr Rob Moodie, the CEO of VicHealth, says: “If you rip apart the word – ‘dis-ease’ – then it probably is. Some do call it a disease. The World Health Organisation says obesity is a complex and incompletely understood condition.”
Obesity’s definitions are a bit shaky, he says: one researcher studied the All Blacks after rugby union’s World Cup and discovered that none of these powerfully built men had a body mass index in the normal range. There is also a question about whether obesity’s health problems are a result of weight or lack of exercise, fruit and vegetables.
There is no doubt that much obesity is lifestyle-related, the response of the human mind and body to what is, historically speaking, unaccustomed ease and plenty. This can be helped or hurt by the man-made environment. Urban design that makes it hard to walk, play or ride bicycles is known as “obesogenic”.
Blair-West points to one study of two towns in which differences in facilities and livability were associated with inhabitants of one place being an average of 30 per cent fatter than those of the other.
One Melbourne University study found that people living in disadvantaged areas weighed, on average, three kilos more than those in rich neighbourhoods. Even those with high incomes weighed more if they lived in disadvantaged areas, and the poor weighed less if they lived in affluent areas. Researchers said this pointed to the importance of neighbourhood characteristics, such as the number of parks and residents’ perceptions of safety.
While this suggests that public policy could help prevent obesity, it does not suggest it should be regarded as an illness. But proponents of the disease theory point to the way other lifestyle-related health problems, such as smoking and alcoholism, were much more effectively treated once approached as addictions rather than weak moral choices.
Boyd Swinburn, professor of population health and researcher into obesity prevention at Deakin University, says the major driver for relabelling obesity a disease is to make consultations claimable under insurance.
“In many ways, the ‘disease’ push is a political response. I think it’s a legitimate one if the end goal is to get improved care and management for people who have obesity.”
Melissa Wake, associate professor of pediatrics at the Royal Children’s Hospital and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, worked on the study that found that one in five preschoolers was overweight. She says the disease debate is not the central question.
“The distinction between disease and condition is an arbitrary one. It doesn’t get to the point, which is that we need to deal with this.”
– www.vichealth.vic.gov.au
– www.weightlossforfoodlovers.com
About one-quarter of obese people have binge-eating disorder, which is characterised by:
· Recurrent episodes, at least two days a week, of eating significantly more than normal in a two-hour period
· Eating rapidly
· Eating when not hungry
· Eating alone because embarrassed at how much one eats
· Self-disgust, depression or guilt after eating