It’s Brisbane, but not as we know it. The photographs of Alfred Elliot, an amateur snapper, chronicled the Queensland capital in the late 19th and early 20th century and they capture a city in the making.

When the treasure trove of his photos was unearthed and donated to Brisbane City Council it was a boon and a gift that keeps on giving.

In launching season 2024 at the Museum of Brisbane (MoB) this week, CEO and director Zoe Graham announced that a key exhibition in August would mine the archive of Elliot’s photos for a show that also features well-known local photographers’ responses to them.

“The exhibition isn’t just about Elliot,” Graham explains. “We have done that already. But what we have are others coming in and using Elliot’s work as a starting point. We have seven contemporary artist photographers doing seven commissions including First Nations perspectives.”

Marian Drew, Carl Warner and First Nations artist Joanne Driessen will be among the artists involved in New Light: Photography Now + Then, which will open at MoB’s Brisbane City Hall spaces in August.

Graham, who has been in charge for 10 months now and seems to have settled in quite nicely, and confidently, shakes her head in wonder at the riches that lie within the Alfred Elliot photo collection, which is now part of the City of Brisbane Collection.

“There were hundreds of these photos, plates and negatives found under a house in Red Hill,” she says. “There were 300 at first and then they uncovered hundreds more. They are all in the collection now and stored at an undisclosed location. Alfred Elliot’s subject was the emerging city of Brisbane.

“This photographic exhibition will perfectly demonstrate what MoB is all about, the old and the new, history and art. And as usual there will be a public component with a call out for photos from locals to be juxtaposed against the work of Elliot and the contemporary artists.

“We will curate and select around 50 to 100, which will form a major body of work,” Graham adds.

The second major exhibition at MoB this year (I should mention these exhibitions are free, which we appreciate) is Precious, which opens in November celebrating the complex and rich narratives of some of the most inspired public and private collections across the city.

Hundreds of highly coveted objects from more than 20 diverse and distinct collections will be on view, ranging from textiles, ceramics and artisan-made dolls to vintage marine items and pharmaceutical paraphernalia. Precious will also offer audiences the opportunity to get up close with artefacts from the City of Brisbane Collection alongside accessories and design objects from the Museum’s Easton Pearson Archive.

There will be some quirky objects on display. The quirkiest?

“Probably the dental paraphenalia,” Graham says. “The Australian Dental Association’s Queensland branch has a small collection and they will be sharing some items with us.”

But wait, there’s more.

One of the innovative new experiences will break down the museum’s walls and transport the public to the heart of the creative process on Artists Studio Bus Tours. Kicking off in July, these offsite tours will visit a number of Rearranged: Art of the Flower exhibition artists in their studios and offer a peek behind the scenes of renowned gallerist Jan Murphy. (Rearranged is on until September, which is good news.)

There will be new collaborations including with Brisbane queer arts and culture festival MELT Open, presented by Brisbane Powerhouse later in the year, and Troy Innocent, an AI experiment and display with the International Symposium on Electronic Art, is also in the works.

The popular MoB artists-in-residence program returns in 2024 with a fresh crop of established and emerging local creatives, thanks to the ongoing generous support of Tim Fairfax.

Design-led theatre company Dead Puppet Society will resume its residency in May, gathering crowd-sourced recollections for an intricate and interactive “emotional map” as part of the Making Place: 100 Views of Brisbane exhibition.

In partnership with Brisbane Festival and inspired by bestselling local author and journalist Trent Dalton’s Love Stories, audiences can share tales of love and loss in MoB’s pop-up Write Your Heart Out experience in September, festival time.

“This year promises a renewed commitment to welcoming visitors of all ages and interests to the mseum, particularly our local audiences who we hope will be inspired and moved by the stories and perspectives of Brisbane presented through our 2024 program,” Graham says.

MoB is a treasure in itself, now attracting more than 1200 visitors each day.

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