Part 3: Anne Ferran – On traces and recalling the invisible and forgotten

Photo-media artist Anne Ferran investigates the margins, gaps and silences of colonial history.   As an artist historian she often gives a tender, lifelike form to women, prisoners, and those marginalized by mental illness, poverty or disease. As part of my research into contemporary artists who seek to represent what is invisible I find Ferran a compelling artist whose work for me is both intellectually and emotionally engaging.

In Rydalmere Vertical, 1995, an arrangement of six white bonnets is staged and lit in a dilapidated colonial hall. This work is a good example of one of the methodologies Ferran employs in order to conjure past presences, in this instance of nuns or nurses who patrolled the halls of Sydney’s Rydalmere Female Orphan School.



Rydalmere Vertical 1 (facing front)


These two paragraphs are from a paper by Dr Jane Lydon that she delivered at the symposium SHADOW LAND: MEMORY AND COLONIALISM, at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, UWA (17 March, 2014). This text provides (for me) a survey and distillaton of key aspects of both the constantive and performative levels in the work of Ferran.

  • “Ferran’s work serves as a series of memorials to the forgotten dead, in part by turning images into objects. Where scholars such as anthropologist Bruno Latour, for example argue that objects may acquire agency within performative social relations, assuming fresh meanings as they circulate through ever-changing contexts, we can see photographs act in the same way. Rather than ‘reading’ them for their discursive meaning, we can examine their social uses. As historian Elizabeth Edwards has argued, this sense of the images as objects too is enhanced by the indexicality of photographs — their physical relationship as a trace of the real. Ferran’s symbolic objects stand in for artefacts, actively creating and expressing human relations and emotions.
  • So drawing on the power of photo to make real, she successfully calls forth these ghosts of the past through their material remains. Through what I would call an ‘archaeological aesthetic’, she works with fragments and overlooked details, transforming them from rubbish or wasteland into solid, important, memorials. This aspect of the medium of photography – its reification of the material, its status not just as sign or representation but as object with social uses and agency- brings the marginal lives of women and children into the present.”

Ferran uses photograms to record impressions of christening and wedding attire, menstrual belts and post-natal strappings.   Women’s garments feature throughout her retrospective ShadowLands. It is clear that within the artist’s vision these garments are not innocent items of clothing rather they are restraints, concealers , enhancers and bandages: compensatory to the supposedly inadequate positon of being a woman (Coleman, Feb 2014 retrieved from


FERRAN Main Image_Blue wedding gown 3

Blue Wedding Gown 3



Untitled Christening gown, 2001, gelatin silver photogram, 125 x 89.5cm



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