“Her images are embedded in our psyche”: Remembering Rosemary Laing

The Australian art world is in mourning, having lost two icons of Australian art in one week. Following the recent passing of Destiny Deacon is the loss of contemporary photographer Rosemary Laing after a short illness.

Laing was one of Australia’s most revered photographic artists. Her work has been shown at the Biennale of Sydney, Venice Biennale, Busan Biennale and Istanbul Biennale, and she is represented in all major public collections in Australia, as well as numerous significant international collections.

“We are immensely saddened by the passing of Rosemary Laing,” said Tolarno Galleries in a statement, who represented Laing for 18 years. “One of Australia’s most revered artists, her images are embedded in our psyche. We will forever remember her ‘iconic’ brides soaring through the sky and her brilliantly Unquiet Landscapes. And we will always hold close to us, how inspiring it was to work with such a hugely creative, wonderfully tough, artist.”

Rosemary Laing , bulletproofglass #3, 2002, C Type photograph , 120 x 193 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries.

Born in Brisbane in 1959, Rosemary Laing lived and worked in Sydney creating project-based photographic work with a cinematic quality—often using the performance of her subjects and the installation of scenes to capture distinctive moments in real time. She placed an emphasis on location, often using sites with cultural and/or historical resonance—the Blue Mountains, eucalyptus forests in South Australia, and the Central Desert among them.

flight research, a series of works from 2000, is often considered Laing’s ‘breakthrough’ series. It is the first appearance of her iconic floating bride—a stunt woman in a wedding dress suspended and captured mid-air. She reappeared in bulletproofglass in 2002, this time with gunshot wounds staining her white dress. Laing’s influence for this violent scene was the failure of the Republic referendum as well as the resistance to an apology to the Stolen Generations.

In March 2024, Tolarno Galleries held an exhibition of Laing’s latest works, titled swansongs. The show featured photographs taken in 2019 of charred bushland off the coast of New South Wales, near Laing’s family home. Laing said the body of work was about “a love of, an attachment to, homeland or places of belonging…all the memories and histories that have stemmed from that place, and the making of a kind of ‘song’ that combines the enigma of this attachment with a sadness for what has happened in this place.”

Rosemary Laing, 1959—2024.

Feature Words by Sally Gearon