Picturing the Swan: A photographic ethnography of the Swan River in Western Australia

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Creative Industries Honours


School of Communications and Arts


Education and Arts

First Advisor

Rod Giblett

Second Advisor

Max Pam


This creative Honours project is focused on gaining an understanding of the Swan River in Western Australia from the perspective of its community, and sharing these understandings through an interpretive photographic book enriched by a written text in the form of an exegesis. The creative practice of photography and the discipline of ethnography are used to gain insight into the possibilities available to a photographic ethnographic study of the Swan River. Photographic works on the Swan River and on other rivers around the world are also examined. To date photography has been employed to the study of the Swan River, and natural environments globally, mainly through the use of landscape and wilderness photography. This project applies photography in a much broader manner, focusing on the emotional connections people have with the Swan River, where interviews, portraits, still life and landscape photography combine to give a deeper sense of how people interact with the river. The significance of this study relates to the increasing global concern about climate change and decreasing amounts of fresh water globally that are forcing people to review cultural attitudes towards engagement with water and the natural environment. The Swan River is part of the larger water cycle that supports life on this planet. The meaning it has for people is an indicator of how we treat water in general. This study provides a practical foundation for further research into the meaning of water and the natural environment in people’s lives. It presents an opportunity to increase awareness of the emotional connection people have to water through the use of visual communication, which is the dominant means of communication in most developed societies. This is similar to the stories that Indigenous cultures have told for tens of thousands of years as a practical education in how to live “in tune” with the planet.

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Thesis Location