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Photography exhibition reveals the real Nauru

17 November 20151 comment

A new exhibition of compelling images from the island nation of Nauru offers an alternative perspective on a place that has become synonymous with the offshore detention of asylum seekers.

Photographer Sally McInerney has produced a series of candid portraits and exterior shots that pierce the political fog over Nauru to reveal an honest look at the day to day experiences of those living on the island.

This Pakistani restaurant was the first refugee business opened on Nauru

This Pakistani restaurant was the first refugee business opened on Nauru

Nauru is rarely discussed throughout the world without reference to the detention centre, creating a very incomplete image of the tropical island, Sally says.

Nauru Diary: Impressions of an Island wasn’t created with a political agenda, but simply conveys the landscape and weather of the island and the work and hobbies of Nauruans and refugees.

After visiting Nauru in November of last year, Sally realised her images had the potential to teach Australians about our neighbours of whom we know very little.

Upon returning home, Sally spent months searching through the archives of the State Library of NSW and the State Library of Queensland to more deeply understand the history of the ‘headline town’.

As a result around a quarter of the images featured in Nauru Diary are from those archives, providing the viewer with a visual history of Nauru in the 20th century.

The black and white photographs complement the modern images through comparing the changes and consistencies of the island.

Buada Lagoon as it was in 1920

Buada Lagoon as it was in 1920

Sally returned to Nauru in June of this year to visit the places pictured in the archived images and take more photographs with a better understanding of the island.

The end result of her fascination with Nauru is an exhibition of images that look deeper than the typical themes associated with one of the smallest nation islands in the world.

Throughout Sally’s long photographic career she has sought to refrain from capturing the absolute but rather what is in between.

“I’ve always been interested in the many different shades of meaning in between the black and white,” Sally said.

Being the daughter of Olive Cotton, one of the most celebrated early women photographers in Australia, Sally has been carrying a camera with her everywhere she goes since she was eight years old.

“It has always been my normal practice to photograph life, whatever that may be at the time,” she said.

Sally didn’t originally go to Nauru to document the lives of those there, but to visit a friend who was teaching on the island.

She casually snapped images of life around her, as she has always done; only deciding to turn her photos into an exhibition after returning home.

“I thought it would be good to let some light and colour on the general thinking of Nauru,” she told AMES Australia.

“There’s so much sad and negative reporting, understandably, but I wanted to balance the average perception of Nauru to give some air to the wider community, which includes Nauruans and refugees.”

“Being an arts photographer rather than a reporter, I wanted to create a balance. I didn’t want to be seen as taking sides, rather just recording and sharing what I saw,” Sally said.

The exhibition shows how an artist and a community’s willingness to share with someone that is genuinely interested can change perceptions and open minds.

“Those from the Nauruan community that know about my project are happy to see their homeland with colour and light,” Sally said.

“The blanket demonization of Nauru wasn’t helping the community. There are roughly 12,000 human beings living on the island, trying to live their lives as well as possible,” she said.

At Buada Lagoon with a fighting cockerel

At Buada Lagoon with a fighting cockerel

Nauru Diary was exhibited at the Janet Clayton Gallery in Sydney during early October.

To view the images online visit:


Ruby Brown
AMES Australia Staff Writer