Book Review: Restricted Images
When we think of restricted images, we don’t usually think of the Warlpiri people of Australia, but Patrick Waterhouse changes that. His photographs are marked with delicately painted dots over the native people he photographs. In his new book, Restricted Images, Waterhouse is able to photograph the Aboriginal culture without infringing on the culture of the native people.
In 1899 Aboriginals were photographed by two European men, Francis J. Gillen and W. Baldwin Spencer, attempting to show the rituals and ceremonies of the tribes. Their book The Native Tribes of Central Australia was a leader in the developing field of anthropological photography but it overlooked the private protocol of the Aboriginal’s customs. Unaware of the native customs, Gillen and Spencer photographed sacred sites and the dead. Unbeknownst to the Aboriginals, Gillen and Spencer photographed them and invaded upon the intimate parts of the native culture.
Since 1899, strides have been made to protect the traditions of the indigenous people by limiting photography within the communities. Wanting to show the world the native culture, Waterhouse ensures that the cultural sensitivity of the Aboriginals is respected by allowing his photographs to be “restricted”.
Waterhouse works with artists and members of the Warlpiri community to revise the photographs through painting. Entirely painting over the people in the image with a dark brown or black, the person appears as a silhouette. Bright dots are painted over the silhouetted people leaving it as the only color in the black and white photo. Despite the restrictions, the design of the dot work keeps the attention on the person in the image.
Waterhouse understands the importance of the Warlpiri people's culture, in turn, he captures their lives without encroaching on their customs. We can still witness the Aboriginal culture without disrespecting their traditions. Well aware that she is being photographed, the silhouette of a woman dances across the Australian Central Desert. The bright blue and orange dots that cover her ensure her privacy but still allow the world to see her life.