Born in Adelaide in 1963, Nici Cumpston became known in the mid 2000s for her large-scale handcoloured landscapes of the Murray-Darling river system. A Barkindji woman whose Country around the lower Darling had experienced significant decline through the effects of drought, poor water management and overuse, Cumpston’s beautifully rendered landscapes seek to draw attention to the decline of the area’s delicately balanced ecosystems. By focusing on sites and markers of Indigenous significance, Cumpston also brings together Indigenous knowledge and environmental consciousness.
Cumpston pushes the boundaries of documentary photography with her unique approach of shooting on black-and-white film, which she then scans and prints digitally on canvas before they are hand-coloured by the artist. The handcolouring of images has a long history in photography. During the infancy of the medium in the mid nineteenth century, the practice of applying paint, dye or other media to a photograph added both lifelike colour to black-and-white pictures and longevity to images that faded quickly. The 1970s saw a revival of handcolouring among a number of Australian photographers and it remains a significant aspect of contemporary practice. Cumpston handcolours large-scale landscapes of the Murray-Darling river system as a way of documenting traces of Indigenous occupation and use and of bringing to our attention the decline of the area’s delicately balanced ecosystems.
Having studied fine arts, specialising in Photography at the University of South Australia, Nici has worked as a photographic lecturer at Tauondi Aboriginal Community College, Port Adelaide, as well as at the University of South Australia. She currently holds the position of Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Her work is held in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia Canberra, National Gallery of Victoria Melbourne, Parliament House Collection Canberra, Macquarie Group Collection Sydney, Artbank Melbourne, Flinders University Art Collection Adelaide, the Adelaide Festival Centre Foundation Adelaide and the Adelaide Club Adelaide among many others.