Dr Melissa Miles




Monash University, Australia


Dr Melissa Miles is a visual historian and theorist based at the Faculty of Art and Design, Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, with a particular interest in photography. Melissa approaches photography as an art, a science and a philosophy; as a medium for recording, recounting and actively producing our histories.

This interest in the interdisciplinary qualities of photography informs Melissa’s first book, The Burning Mirror: Photography in an Ambivalent Light (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2008), which focuses on the dazzling and unsettling possibilities of light in photographic history, theory and practice. Light continues to pervade Melissa’s research on her current Australian Research Council funded Discovery Project, ‘Light, Place and Presence in the History of Australian Photography’. In this project, she challenges the conventional story of Australian photographic history by examining the interconnections between national myths of a particular Australian light and photography.

Melissa’s research papers on photography, art and design have been published some of the world’s leading journals including the Journal of Visual Culture, Photographies, Word and Image, Southern Review, The International Journal of Art and Design Education and The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, and she is a regular contributor to Eyeline: Contemporary Visual Arts.


Painting with Light: Josef Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski and the Limits of the Photographic Print


The Polish born artist, Josef Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski, was fascinated by the colour and dynamism of light. After migrating to Australia in 1949, Ostoja was drawn to light as 'the most impressive, most flexible and richest tool imaginable for an artist' (quoted in Jones 2009).

Amongst Ostoja's various efforts to harness light in visual art was a fascinating technique that he developed in the late 1950s. Using an old television set with a picture that was specially modified to be out of alignment and out of synchronisation, Ostoja made a series of luminous abstract photographs. Since these photographic prints were first exhibited as 'Electronic Paintings' at Argus Gallery in Melbourne in 1964, they have raised a series of compelling questions about the medium and the limits of artistic agency which continue to resonate with the cross-disciplinary qualities of much contemporary art practice.

Curiously, Ostoja's Electronic Paintings have been consistently excluded from histories of photography. Neither paintings nor conventional prints, these works have slipped between the gaps of media and history. This paper will reassess these patterns of exclusion by examining the tense relationship between light, agency and originality that characterises Ostoja's Electronic Paintings. At the heart of this paper is the extent to which the action of light in photographic image making marginalises the agency of the artist, and whether the apparently extra-discursive qualities of light may also lend a sense of originality to the photographic reproduction. Caught between photography, printmaking and electronic image making, Ostoja's cross-disciplinary works of light are imbued with a tension that can tell us much about the ways in which expectations of the medium promote certain possibilities for meaning while delimiting others.


Wednesday 28 September


1:30pm - 3.00pm






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