Skip to main content

To help keep our visitors and staff safe, please book your spot before visiting.

Menu

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Encounter at Kintore

by Hari Ho, 1 June 2004

Photographer Hari Ho describes the creation of his portrait of Papunya Tula artist Makinti Napanangka.

Makinti Napanangka, Kintore
Makinti Napanangka, Kintore, 2001 Hari Ho. © Hari Ho/Copyright Agency, 2021

In the winter of 2001, I was on an art project with ten artists travelling in the Central Australian desert. Starting from William Creek (from whence the book William Creek and Beyond takes its name) we travelled and camped at several locations including the outskirts of Kintore, where the Papunya Tula artists live and work.

When we first visited the Papunya artists I was slightly uncomfortable; it felt voyeuristic and a bit touristy. Some from our group tried to be helpful, priming canvases and starting a fire on that cold morning. I first noticed Makinti Napanangka when she commented that we had started a "white fella's fire". We used too much wood. This admonishment was well deserved as the desert ecology does not support any extravagant use of wood. Makinti sat on a blanket on the ground and painted, occasionally chasing away an errant dog. I had seen and admired Makinti's paintings before and felt honoured to meet her - even more so to see her paint. However, she was quite the opposite of loquacious. Conversation with her was difficult and sparse and through an interpreter. But I very much wanted to do a photographic portrait of her.

The kind of portraiture I like involves a quality of transparency: transparency between the subject and the artist or the photographer. A moving and convincing portrait for me is one where the subject is simply allowed to reveal him or her self. Where the artist is able to elicit the subject's sense of self-awareness and individual living consciousness. Where the subject is allowed to project this without the imposition of any superfluous 'creativity' (or, more often, cleverness) by the artist.

Walking around in Kintore, I found a wall with a boarded­-up window on a building nearby that was painted in the palette that Makinti uses. I thought that the square window with the angular concrete building blocks and the red earth would form an excellent foil for a portrait of Makinti. I asked if she would allow me to photograph her. She did not reply immediately. In fact, she ignored my request altogether, but gave me a few inquiring looks while she painted, presumably to check me out. After a few hours - and after I thought she had dismissed my request - she indicated to me that I could take her photograph. I walked with her to the wall I had found earlier and photographed her there. She had a sure sense of the occasion of her portrait being photographed and held a very knowing and quiet gaze. The communication between Makinti and me was almost entirely non-verbal. I think it helped achieve the transparency that I look for in a portrait.

Related people

Makinti Napanangka

Related information

Portrait 12, June - August 2004

Magazine

This issue of Portrait Magazine features Peter Brew-Bevan, daguerreotypes, the exhibition Depth of Field, Ern McQuillan's photographs of sportspeople and more.

Colin Madigan and Robert Hughes, Canberra
Colin Madigan and Robert Hughes, Canberra
Colin Madigan and Robert Hughes, Canberra
Colin Madigan and Robert Hughes, Canberra

Three Dimensional

Magazine article by Kate Gollings

Kate Gollings describes an encounter between three generations of Australian photographers; David Moore, Max Dupain and John Gollings.

Cathy Freeman, 1994
Cathy Freeman, 1994
Cathy Freeman, 1994
Cathy Freeman, 1994

Depth of Field

Magazine article by Lauren Dalla

The exhibition Depth of Field displays a selection of portrait photographs that reflect the strength and diversity of Australian achievement.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency