Photo: Stephen Little

Photo: Stephen Little

Donna West Brett is a Lecturer in Art History and Curatorial Studies at the University of Sydney. She received her PhD from the University of Sydney in 2013. Areas of expertise include the history and theory of photography, modernism, international contemporary art, curatorial practice & theory. Curated exhibitions include Unconscious Places: Photography and History, GCS Gallery, 2018, Ann Shelton: In a Forest, Australian Centre for Photography, 2012 (co-curator) and Joseph Beuys and the ‘Energy Plan’, University of Sydney, 2012.

Brett is author of Photography and Place: Seeing and Not Seeing Germany After 1945 (Routledge, 2016);  co-editor with Natalya Lusty of Photography and Ontology: Unsettling Images (Routledge 2019); several book chapters in international edited volumes, and published book reviews and articles in leading journals including History of Photography, Photographies and Photography and Culture. Brett is an editorial board member for the Visual Culture and German Contexts Series, Bloomsbury Academic, former editor & reviews editor for the Australian & NZ Journal of Art, Research Leader for the Photographic Cultures Research Group and recipient of the 2017 Australian Academy of the Humanities, Ernst and Rosemarie Keller Award.


  • PhD, University of Sydney, Department of Art History and Film Studies, conferred 2013.

  • MA, Art History and Theory, 2006 with Merit, University of Sydney, Department of Art History and Theory

  • BA, Visual Arts, University of South Australia (SA School of Art)

Publications (selection)

BOOK:  Photography & Place: Seeing and Not Seeing Germany After 1945, (Routledge Advances in Art and Visual Studies 2016).

EDITED BOOK: Co-editor with Natalya Lusty of Photography and Ontology: Unsettling Images (Routledge History of Photography Series 2018)


  • ‘László Moholy-Nagy: Adventures in Light, Space and Time.’ in New Challenges to Conventions: Innovative Visual Work in the Weimar Republic, Deborah Ascher Barnstone (New York: Bloomsbury, 2020) (forthcoming).

  • ‘An Aesthetics of Disruption: The Latent Image and Ways Not to be Seen,’ Artmatter 02, Agency & Aesthetics (Auckland: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki and Massey University, 2018), 28-37.

  • ‘Witnessing the Archive: The Stasi, Photography and Escape from the GDR’, in Photography and Ontology: Unsettling Images, eds. Donna West Brett and Natalya Lusty (Routledge, 2018).

  • Looking and Feeling: Photographing Escape from East Germany', in Burcu Dogramaci and Elizabeth Otto, eds. Passages of Exile (Munich: Edition Text + Kritik, 2017), 268-285.

  • Forgetting Ilse Bing', in Kris Belden-Adams, ed. Photography and Failure: One Medium's Entanglement with Flops, Underdogs and Disappointments (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 45-60.

  • ‘Home and Homelessness: Ann Shelton’s Aesthetics of Displacement’, in Ann Shelton: Dark Matter (Auckland: Auckland Art Gallery, Toi o Tāmaki, NZ, 2016), 58-80.

  • ‘Interventions in Seeing: GDR Surveillance, Camouflage & the Cold War Camera’, in Ann Elias, Ross Harley and Nicholas Tsoutas (Eds), Camouflage Cultures: The Art of Disappearance (Sydney: University of Sydney Press, 2015), 147-157.

  • ‘The Surrealist Aesthetic’, Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection (AGNSW, Sydney 2007).

  • A Postwar Modernist Vision’, Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection (AGNSW, Sydney 2007).

  • ‘Expression and the Figure’, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection (AGNSW, Sydney 2006).


  • ‘Stasi Surveillance Photographs and Extra-archival Legacy,’ in special issue ‘Photography in Transitioning European Communist and Post-Communist Histories,’ Photography and Culture, 12.2 (2019): 227-248.

  • An Aesthetics of Disruption: Unsettling the Diasporic Subject, in special issue ‘New Artistic Vision of the Arab Diasporas’ of Mashriq and Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies 6, no. 1, (2019).

  • ‘Ruin Value: Thomas Demand and Hitler’s photographer’, Photographies 9.3 (2016): 233-249.

  • 'The Event Horizon: Returning After the Fact’, with Ann Shelton', Memory Connection, online journal, 1.1 (2011): 335-337.

  • ‘The Uncanny Return: Documenting Place in Post-war German Photography’, Photographies 3.1 (2010): 7–21.


Andrés Mario Zervigón, Photography and Germany, Reaktion Books, Exposures Series, London, 2017, History of Photography, 2019.


  • Unconscious Places: Photography and History, GCS Gallery, Sydney, 2018.

  • Joseph Beuys and the ‘Energy Plan’, University of Sydney, Sydney 2012

  • The Stranger’s Eye, Peloton, Sydney 2010


  • David Serisier: White Dogs, Hoarfrost, Silver + Gold, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, 2018.

  • Lynne Roberts-Goodwin: closeupatadistance, Kronenberg Wright Artist Projects, Sydney, September 2016

  • Dani Marti: IceBlue, Dominik Mersch Gallery, Sydney, September 2016

  • Greyscale, National Art School PG Centre, September 2015

  • Mnemonic objects: Anne Graham’, Craft Art International, March 2015

  • Coen Young: All your influences, William Wright Artist Projects, December 2014

  • Breathing Room, on Mike Hewson, NZ (curator: Jamie Tsai) MOP, August 2013

  • Regis Lansac: Vita Breva, Wollongong City Art Gallery, Sep 2008

  • ‘Yvonne Boag: Unravelling conversations and spaces’, Yvonne Boag: Unravelling: a survey exhibition, Stonington Stables Museum of Art, Deakin University, Melbourne Oct 2006

  • ‘Sol y sombre: optical poetry’, Marion Borgelt: Sol y sombre, Sherman Galleries, Sydney Aug 2004

  • Anne Graham: The Alchemy of Becoming’, Anne Graham, Sherman Galleries, Sydney Feb 2004


  • ‘Roland Barthes and Lost Images’, Light Matters Symposium, UTS, Sydney, Aug 2019.

  • ‘Moholy-Nagy’, Modernism Roundtable, UTS, Sydney July 2019.‘

  • The Business of Photography and the Ministry for State Security in the GDR,’ Photographic History Research Centre conference, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK, June 2019.

  • Moholy-Nagy’s Utopian Photographic Vision,’ session Art and Revolution in Europe between 1918 and 1925, AAANZ, RMIT Melbourne, 5-8 December 2018. 

  • ‘Inadequate Images: Destruction, Redaction and Evidence in the Stasi Archive,’ What is a Document? A workshop on Documentation, Records and Evidence, UTS, 8-9 Nov 2018.

  • ‘The Stasi Archive as Visual and Material History,’ Material Practices of Visual History, Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University, Leicester, 18-19 June 2018.

  • ‘Unsettling the Archive: Stasi Photographs and Extra-Archival Existence,’ Art Association of Australia and NZ conference, Perth, Dec 2017.‘After 1989: Photography and the German Landscape’, New Territories: Landscape Representation in Contemporary Photographic Practices, Humboldt University, Berlin, June 2017.

  • An Aesthetics of Disruption: The Latent Image and Ways Not to be Seen, Agency and Aesthetics: A Symposium on the Expanded Field of Photography. Auckland Art Gallery 31 March-1 April 2017.

  • Ways of Looking: Photography and the Wretched Screen, Reframing Seeing and Knowing in the 21st Century, MAAS, Sydney, Feb 2016.

  • Photography, Flight and Exile in Cold War Germany', Passages of Exile conference, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, 9-10 December 2016.

  • Witnessing the Archive: The Stasi, Photography and Escape from the GDR, Photography.Ontology.Symposium, University of Sydney, 2-3 June, 2016.

  • ‘Exile and Erasure: Forgetting Ilse Bing’, College Art Association, New York February 2015.

  • ‘Ilse Bing’s Surrealist Turn’, Geocritical, AAANZ conference, Launceston, December, 2014.

  • Invited speaker: ‘Interventions in Seeing: the Cold War camera in the GDR’, Camouflage Cultures: Surveillance, Communities, Aesthetics, Animals, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, 8-11 August, 2013.

  • Aftermath, Photography, History, Memory’, session co-convenor with Ann Shelton (NZ), Together<>Apart, AAANZ annual conference, University of Sydney, Jul 2012.

  • ‘Seeing and Not Seeing: Photographing History in Germany After 1945’, Art Association of Australia and New Zealand conference, Wellington New Zealand Dec 2011.

  • ‘The View from the Edge: Photographing History After the Fact’, Art Association of Australia and New Zealand conference, Adelaide 1-4 Dec 2010.

  • ‘The Event Horizon’, with Ann Shelton, Contained Memory conference, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, NZ 9-11 Dec 2010.

  • ‘The Liminal View: Memory and History in Contemporary German Landscape Photography’, AAANZ conference, Canberra, Dec 2009.

  • ‘The Uncanny Return: Documenting Place in Postwar German Photography’, Framing Time and Place: Repeats and Returns in Photography, University of Plymouth, Plymouth UK, 15-17 Apr 2009.

Curated Exhibitions

  • Ann Shelton: in a Forest, Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney Dec 2012– Feb 2013. Co-curator.

  • Joseph Beuys and the ‘Energy Plan’, University of Sydney Art Museum, Sydney Apr– Jun 2012.

  • The Stranger’s Eye, (artists: Yvonne Boag, Richard Glover, Tom Loveday, Anne Zahalka), Peloton Gallery, Sydney 1-24 Jul 2010.