John Crook’s dissertation in the Photovision 64 Catalogue on the then
state of Australian photography was, in his inimitable style, both an elegy for
missed opportunities in the past, and a call to arms to continue the struggle
to promote ‘straight’ photography in the future. Echoing the sentiments of the
group’s motto “The Dark is Light Enough” he finished by quoting Albert Camus:
“It is not necessary to succeed to persevere”.
Perseverance then was a key word for Group M during their heyday, but it has
characterised their activities since then too. Despite the loss of enthusiasm
by the end of the 1960s, and the destruction of all the mounted exhibitions
they ever produced, the flame has continued to burn, albeit dimly, to this day.
The existence of this thesis is a testament to that energy.
In any era it is the task of
artists to reflect a spirit of their time. Whether they seek to achieve this in
concert with the dominant culture, or in opposition to it, is theirs to choose.
Whilst the avant-garde is important for producing shifts in perception, not all
works created in the middle-of-the-road need be bland. Group M, like many
creators, were located somewhere between the two camps. Initially they sought
change in the localised area of amateur photographic organisations, but as they
developed they looked further out to the medium as a whole and society in
general. Whilst working from outside of the dominant amateur photographic
discourse, their wider aims were set within the dominant culture of the day.
One can criticise them for holding too rigidly onto their modernist documentary
agenda, but to flail them for not being as radical as others is disingenuous.
Their legacy may not be monumental, but within their limitations they achieved
As the Moggs Creek Clickers they provided 1950s Melbourne with a unique
social clique which combined entertainment with self-development. It is a
testimony to those involved that their activities are still spoken of by others
today, and the energy still has the ability to inspire. As the Still Clickers
and Group M they provided a much needed alternative to salons and camera clubs
and pushed the notion that photography could both instigate social change and
relay emotion. They mounted their own exhibitions, acting in the vanguard to
take photography into galleries. These links with the art world were important
in the creation of the Photographic Department at the National Gallery of
A full assessment of Group M’s work
is not easy to achieve due to the difficulties in viewing it in its entirety.
However it seems fair to say that their importance is predicated on what they
said verbally as visually. For this reason I have not sought a detailed
analysis of their photography. There is certainly the scope for someone with
specialist knowledge in photographic aesthetics to undertake this in the
future, at a time when the technology exists to easily transfer images from
negative to positive without needing to develop them.
It is ironic that whilst Group M
sought to leave an eloquent visual legacy of their times, it is the activities
of the Moggs Creek Clickers which are the more emblematic. Their impassioned
pursuit of a distinctive brand of fun is a vivid evocation of an aspect of the
era, as is their equally committed search for some deeper meaning to existence.
This is not to dismiss the achievements of Group M. Whilst it has been
suggested that significant parts of their agenda are enmeshed in concerns of
high modernism of the post-war period, qualities they promoted such as
compassion, boldness and imagination never go out of style. If the group did
not achieve all that members would have liked they should take heart from those
real achievements which they did make, and for being a tangible force for human
endeavour; for seeking a deeper feeling and a wider vision.