The photographs of Carol Jerrems embody the seventies in Australia, a decade defined by its challenges to convention, morality and social order. At a precociously young age Carol fixed upon her calling as photographic artist, and with an extraordinary discipline and determination, set out to document the world around her with a relentless and uncompromising honesty. She mixed with the film-makers, photographers and musicians of the urban counter-cultures in Sydney and Melbourne and they, along with the dispossessed - women, children, Aboriginal people and youth gangs - are the subjects of her work.
Jerrems has become the James Dean of Australian photography. The haunting quality of her work is heightened by the tragedy of her early death, at the age of 30, in 1980. With the passing years, recognition and appreciation of the unique power and beauty of her images continues to grow and Vale St has become the iconic image of Australia in the seventies.
Carol's friends, colleagues and photographic subjects remember her vividly as a challenging and passionate personality. Adventurous and forthright in her sexuality, she had affairs with many of her friends, both men and women. This is reflected in her imagery - at times seductive, at others, frankly post-coital.
Carol struggled with a darkness that could drive her into retreat for days, even weeks at a time. Her intimate photographic style demanded a closeness with her subjects and she took risks in getting photographs that at times bordered on the self-destructive. Her relationship with a sharpie gang caused concern to her friends. The sense of sexual menace in these photographs is palpable and riveting, and they are some of the most engaging images in her archive.
The love of her life was filmmaker, Esben Storm. Their affair began in 1972, and in 1976 Carol moved to Sydney to live with him. Their relationship was the passionate and difficult union of two youthful, creative and independent spirits. Carol produced many portraits of him. It foundered in 1977 when Carol worked as stills photographer on Esben's film In Search of Anna and they separated soon after.
In 1979 Carol Jerrems took up a teaching position in Hobart. Shortly after arriving, she came down with a mysterious illness. She endured months of invasive and painful medical procedures to no avail. Carol confronted death with her camera, photographing her changing body and hospital environment until too weak to continue. The journals she kept throughout this period are a moving and insightful testament to her strength, sensitivity, humour and artistry. Her decline was slow and relentless and a year later, on February 21st, 1980, she died in the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.