Skip to Content

The Arts

The Arts banner

The Arts: A Life Exposed, Robyn BeecheBookmark

Learning area: The Arts
Year level: Year 9, Year 10
Country: India
General capability: Intercultural understanding

In this learning sequence students will explore the life and new media artworks of Australian photographer Robyn Beeche through the lens of the documentary, A Life Exposed: Robyn Beeche. Students will analyse Robyn's photographs and the artistic impact of her time in India.

Key inquiry questions

  • What are the connections between India's Holi festival and Robyn Beeche's work?
  • How do Robyn Beeche's images of India support her statement 'To document is really to create history'?


A Life Exposed posterRobyn Beeche is a photographer who worked in India

Acknowledgements

Composite image by Damien Dunstan, Background image by Robyn Beeche

Related resources

Activity 1: About Robyn Beeche

Embracing India through innovative photography

Sydney-born Robyn Beeche became renowned in London when she created iconic images of the 1980s. At a time when the fashion and art worlds were rich with experimentation, she collaborated closely with counterculture personalities such as designers Zandra Rhodes and Vivienne Westwood, punk impresario Malcolm McLaren and performance artists Divine and Leigh Bowery.

Using the human body as a blank canvas on which to splash images, Beeche used tricks of make-up, lighting and composition to present trompe l’oeil techniques to great effect, long before Photoshop existed. These trademark shots featured in international publications, setting the style zeitgeist for a generation and inspiring video clips and album covers for pop luminaries David Bowie and Visage.

At the peak of her career in the mid-1980s, Beeche began visiting India, 'drawn like a magnet' to photographing Holi, the dramatic colour-throwing festival. She gave up her high-flying London career to move permanently to the Indian pilgrimage town of Vrindavan. She embraced Hinduism and immersed herself in the area's vibrant traditions, playing a vital role in documenting them before they change beyond recognition due to the country's rapid modernisation. She does this photographic documentation as spiritual seva (service) and donates her images to her ashram's archive so that scholars may access them in perpetuity.

Beeche is one of the few foreigners allowed into temples to take photographs and her images have been published in a number of books. She helps run an NGO (Non–Government Organisation), Friends of Vrindavan, which conserves the local environment and heritage.

Beeche's work is currently experiencing a resurgence of interest in Australia, as a recent number of exhibitions and a hard-cover book on her work demonstrates.

Film information

A Life Exposed: Robyn Beeche (2013) is a documentary produced and directed by Lesley Branagan. She is a social researcher and documentary-maker with a focus on Indian culture.

Weaving between Australia, London and India, A life exposed: Robyn Beeche uses observational footage, interviews, stills and unique archival footage of Beeche's 1980s London studio shoots, as well as her photographs of India.

Exploring themes of transformation, spectacle, ritual and tradition, the film takes viewers into the energetic world behind Beeche's process of constructing images, and examines the new meaning she found for photography in India. We see Beeche at work in India and hear her speaking about why she works as she does. 

A life exposed documentary

ale_poster_main_strip__title_thumbnail

You can download the 30–minute version of the documentary that links to Enhance TV. Viewers will need to have Enhance TV's Premium membership and must be employed by an Australian educational institution. A 52–minute version of the film is also available to order on DVD.

Acknowledgements

Background notes are adapted from the Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) study guide A Life Exposed: Robyn Beeche: A photographer's transformation by Marguerite O'Hara, Screen Education © ATOM, 2013
Images: Robyn Beeche on Yumuna River by Andrew Logan; Aditi (featuring Zandra Rhodes) by Robyn Beeche; Kirshna Leela detail taken from footage by Bonnie Elliott; Yellowman by Robyn Beeche; Nandagaon by Robyn Beeche; Life exposed film crew working at Vrindavan by Robyn Beeche  Composite image by Damien Dunstan using photographs by Robyn Beeche

Activity 2: Explore a life exposed

Through a set of downloadable activities, you will explore the life, the impact of life spent in India and the artworks of Australian photographer Robyn Beeche through the lens of the documentary, A Life Exposed: Robyn Beeche. As you work through the various activities, think about the inquiry questions below.

Key inquiry questions:

  • What are the connections between India's Holi festival and Robyn Beeche's work?
  • How do Robyn Beeche's images of India support her statement 'To document is really to create history'?

About the activities

The complete set of the activities can be viewed in the ATOM study guide, A Life Exposed: Robyn Beeche by Marguerite O'Hara. The outline of the activities is as follows:

  1. Responding to the film
  2. Recreating Robyn Beeche's bodypainted images
  3. Changing places and focus – India
  4. The art of photography
  5. Photographing crowds
  6. Recording and honouring through photography
  7. Documentaries

Extension activity

Discuss as a class your responses to the two inquiry questions. Follow the steps provided in activity two and create and photograph a bodypainted image that reflects the themes of Robyn Beeche's photographs provided in the stimulus resource and documentary. Once completed, you may wish to create an online gallery with supporting notes explaining your making process.

Activities are adapted from the Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) study guide A Life Exposed: Robyn Beeche by Marguerite O'Hara, Screen Education © ATOM, 2013

Acknowledgements

Background notes are adapted from the ATOM study guide, A life exposed – Robyn Beeche: A photographer's transformation by Marguerite O'Hara, Screen Education © ATOM, 2013
Image: Robyn in a Nandagoan Street by Bonnie Elliott

Documentaries

The following documentaries are about Australian photographers and their role as committed documentarians of places, peoples and cultures, some of which are today no longer alive or in many cases are under threat:

  • John Gollings: Eye for Architecture (Sally Ingleton, 2009) – a film about photographer John Gollings, who is also involved in documenting places and cultures that are threatened by development in India and Cambodia.
  • My Asian Heart (David Bradbury, 2010) – a film about Australian photojournalist Philip Blenkinsop.
  • Inland Heart: The Photography of Jeff Carter (Catherine Hunter, 2011) – Carter documented the lives of Australians in the bush and the cities, especially in the 1950s and 1960s.

The website and resource list are adapted from the Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) study guide: A Life Exposed: Robyn Beeche: A photographer's transformation by Marguerite O'Hara, Screen Education ©ATOM, 2013.

Useful websites


It is recommended that teachers preview websites to ensure they are suitable for their students prior to use in class. Content accessed via these links is not owned or controlled by the Asia Education Foundation and is subject to the terms of use of the associated website.

The full resource can not be displayed on a mobile device.

back to top