Matthew Sleeth: Tour of duty. Winning hearts and minds in east timor. 2002.
What we mostly saw in our press and on TV was either the genuinely abject plight of the East Timorese on the one hand and on the other, the heroic InterFET peacekeepers coming in to save the day. Media presentation and publicity of the Australian presence was carefully orchestrated and milked for every patriotic possibility.
Sleeth uses the visual vocabulary of traditional documentary photography and disturbs and undermines it with techniques and angles borrowed from cinema. His vivid colours and jaunty angles humorously yet incisively track the Australian army and the accompanying media and entertainment caravan in Timor to form an impression quite unlike the one we have received from our mainstream press.
A far more complex view emerges, formed of multiple layers of meaning. The East Timorese people are not featured as victims as they often are in traditional photojournalism, nor are they bit players in their own redemptive drama. Instead we are given a challenging body of work, which focuses rather on the construction and staging of history.
The photographs are accompanied by a five-part essay by Paul James, which discusses Australia’s national identity through the prism of past and present military engagements.
Published by Hardie Grant Books in association with M.33, Melbourne 2002
280mm x 240mm
Edited by Helen Frajman
by Alistair McGhie, 1 March 2011
Untitled #88 from Tour of Duty series (Captain Brad Kilpatrick and Kylie Minogue , Balibo, East Timor, 20 December 1999), 1999 by Matthew Sleeth
Watching an American starlet leaving the stage after performing in front of an audience of G.I.s, Bob Hope said ‘I just want you boys to see what you’re fighting for’. Since the 1940s the United Service Organizations has staged morale boosting camp shows and pictures of actors, comedians and musicians entertaining soldiers have become part the spectrum of images of war.
is as necessary, popular and potent as ever before.