With guest curator Anne O’Hehir


In recent years, much of the photographic practice of Anne Zahalka has focused on how Australians choose to spend their leisure time—not in private activities of their own making but in pre-packaged group events staged in worlds constructed for entertainment. Places where the artificial is often substituted for the real in a way that is not altogether clear. Oceanworld instead of the ocean. How does the individual exist in such manufactured visions? And how are individuals to fit themselves within a somewhat bizarre model of what it is to be Australian? These are the kinds of questions Zahalka’s critical gaze.

Playing the game! is specifically an investigation of sport, in which Zahalka references the paintings for beer advertisements found in Australian pubs from the 1930s to 1960s. Such paintings unashamedly depicted the sporting hero as an idealised Anglo-Saxon figure – a bronzed Aussie bloke playing football or cricket. Yet, as in earlier series such as Bondi: Playground of the Pacific (1989), Zahalka re-peoples this imagery and our imaginations with a broader cross-section of society. She shows sportspeople not as heroes but as ordinary people with other lives. As the titles of the images suggest, they are environmental health managers and flight attendants involved in a diverse array of pursuits like boxing, martial arts, lawn bowls and basketball. Zahalka’s images are highly artificial, the subjects clearly pose for the camera and the finished image is also an obvious fabrication: over-saturated, glamourised, theatrical. Portraiture has interested Zahalka throughout her career, and here, she asks again, how much of a person can a photograph convey: more than a surface? As ever, Zahalka urges her viewer to pause and to reflect on how our thinking is occupied with unquestioned assumptions and insidious stereotypes and how imagery is similarly complex and multi-layered.










Based in Sydney, Anne Zahalka is one of Australia’s most highly-regarded photographic artists. She has exhibited extensively in Australia and overseas for more than twenty years. In 2007, the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne, mounted a major retrospective of her work, Hall of Mirrors: Anne Zahalka Portraits 1987 – 2007, which toured to regional galleries in Australia as well as the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra (2008). Anne has been the recipient of numerous awards and commissions, winning the Macarthur Cook Art Prize (2008), the National Photographic Prize (2007), the Leopold Godowsky Photography Award, Boston (2005) and the Sydney Airport commission, Welcome to Sydney (2003). Her works are held in most major public collections in Australia as well as numerous private and corporate collections in Australia and overseas.

Anne O’Hehir is Assistant Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia which holds a large collection of Anne Zahalka’s work. She studied art history, specialising in 12th century Italian architecture, travelled in Europe, hosted a radio program on the arts and has had her own photographs included in a number of exhibitions. She writes on photography and has curated a number of exhibitions at the NGA, including a survey show inspired by W.H Fox Talbot’s Pencil of Nature, an exhibition on jumping in photography and one on highlights from the photographic holdings. Interests in photography are wide-ranging but include women photographers of the 1920s–30s and contemporary Indian photography.

Image titles (from top to bottom):

John, Photographer

Karen, Educational Designer

Karen, Make-up Artist

Jeff, Environmental Manager

Wesley, Entrepreneur

Karo, Performer

Harley, Gallery Registrar

Elton, Environmental Engineer

Don, Flight Attendant