Exhibition Review, Reviews

ADORNED

REVIEW OF PHOTOGRAPHY, VIDEO, WEARABLE ART, & SCULPTURE EXHIBITION

ADORNED | ADORNED COLLECTIVE

TUGGERANONG ARTS CENTRE | UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2022

This exhibition is a survey of the Adorned Collective’s creative journey over the past seven years. It features photographic and video work, plus wearable artworks and sculptural installations.

The Collective was formed in 2015 as a participant-driven initiative to support artists, artisans, makers and craftspeople of all ages and abilities from culturally diverse backgrounds and experiences, by providing a friendly, culturally safe and accessible creative space. The community that was established participates fortnightly in supported drop-in skill-sharing workshops and public programs. The Collective meets and works on Dharug Country, Western Sydney, and is based at Parramatta Artist Studios in Rydalmere.

Within the workshops, participants collaborate and share creative processes, stories and skills in order to professionally develop and to build community capacity. The group nurtures friendships and celebrates life, culture, diversity and difference whilst creating inclusive social and professional networks and opportunities for local creatives.

During the seven years since 2015, the Collective has developed and exhibited solo and collaborative works. The Adorned artists have utilized each exhibition and project as a way of engaging community through public programs and creative workshops.

So, what is in this extensive exhibition? There are numerous handmade wearable artworks on display. They include wonderful and intricate masks and hatbands. Then there are woven baskets, and sculptures using various materials such as second-hand paper, wire, twigs and sequins. There are letters from a letter exchange project that connected artists living in regional Queensland. And more.

Farzana Hekmat_Freedom Girl_2020 – wearable art
Ginette Morato_Starry Night_2020 – wearable art

How does photography and video come into this? Well, the artists have been photographed and videoed wearing their own artworks. The photographs in the exhibition are large portraits from 2015. They are all colourful and well-photographed. Each image reveals a considerable amount about its subject. Firstly, we learn about their cultural connections and identities. However, if we take the time to study the works more closely and to think about the details that each reveal, we might begin to understand something of what motivated them when deciding to create the artwork being worn. We might say they embody the souls of each artist.

Hilin Kazemi, 2015. In collaboration with Liam Benson. Photo Jasmine Robertson
Kiri Morcombe, 2015 in collaboration with Liam Benson. Photo Jasmine Robertson

There are two video installations, each quite different from the other. The creative directors of Adorned Wisdom, Memory and Song, 2017, show us the excellent outcomes from a period when guest dance and performance teachers engaged ten of the artists and their drop-in visitors with performance and script development as a means of weaving their stories together and bringing their wearables to life.

The resulting high quality two panel video created from camera footage and sound recordings is most engaging. Diverse music styles, movement, voices, stories and more hold the viewer’s attention as each segment reveals something different and new. The musical score adds the skills of yet another artist to the collaboration. The Do you remember me? Segment tells a wonderful story. Another part, about domestic violence – is simultaneously simple and powerful. And the concluding piece where our eyes watch numerous eyes watching us is delightful.

Susan Ling Young, Wisdom Memory and Song (production still) 2017

In another part of the gallery the second video installation Incognito, Adorned, 2010 is very different. It features footage captured by the artists themselves. They have put on their wearable masks and performed for their cameras, revealing small moments – tender, humorous and, most importantly, empowering of themselves. I particularly enjoyed one artist playfully interacting with a pink blossom tree whilst wearing her “matching” mask and dress.

Lesley-Anne – still from Incognito, Adorned Incognito, 2020
Marina – still from Incognito, Adorned Incognito, 2020
Marina 2 – still from Incognito, Adorned Incognito, 2020

Indeed, empowering is the word for this entire exhibition. Working together in the Collective and with the numerous guest artists brought into the projects undoubtedly has professionally developed each and every participant – and enhanced the creative community of Western Sydney.

This review was published on page 10 of Panorama in The Canberra Times of 13.08.22. It was published on the Canberra Times website here on 14.08.22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize 2022

Photography Exhibition Review

Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize 2022 | Various artists

Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre | 9 July – 27 August 2022

For the third year in succession, a Canberran has won the MCPP. After Judy Parker won in 2020 and Ian Skinner in 2021, this year the first prize of $15,000 went to Sammy Hawker.

In his magazine Inside Imaging here, Will Shipton said “There must be something in the water around Canberra that feeds the conceptual photographic mind, as three of the four winners are from the relatively small capital city” and “The fourth MCPP is organised by the Australian Photographic Society (APS), an umbrella organisation for Australian camera clubs. The grand prize won by Hawker is an impressive $15,000 cash, making the MCPP a major Australian photo contest.”

I’ve previously reviewed two of Hawker’s recent exhibitions here and here. She works predominantly with film, often in close association with traditional custodians, and challenges the notion that a photograph constitutes the moment a camera shutter is released.

Sammy Hawker – Mount Gulaga, 2021

Hawker’s concept statement reads “This work was captured on 4×5 film looking out towards Mount Gulaga from the Wallaga Lake headland. I processed the negative with ocean water collected from site. When processing film with salt water the corrosive properties lifts the silver emulsion and the representational image is rendered vague. However an essence of the site is introduced to the frame as the vibrant matter paints its way onto the negative. A ghost of Gulaga looms behind the abstraction ~ felt rather than seen.”

Other Canberran finalists this year were Lyndall Gerlach, with two of her works, and Susan Henderson. Gerlach says, “For me, a good photographic image must always engage the viewer either emotionally or intellectually.” You can read more about Gerlach in another of my pieces here.

Lyndall Gerlach – Night City-ness #1, 2021
Lyndall Gerlach – Contemporary Lifestyle, 2021

This is Henderson’s first time as a finalist. Henderson believes photography is mostly about capturing the real and the now. She is “fascinated by the conjuncture of the two, the transient opportunity to record the light rather than the subject, to take advantage of nature and the built environment to photograph.”

Susan Henderson – Rain 2, 2021

At the opening, adjudicator Bill Bachman said “we were instinctively looking for images with a strong or original concept and superior execution, that in some way challenged our notions of normal. Happily, there were ideas, techniques and processes galore.”

Julie Williams had two works selected as finalists. Of them, Moth was given one of three Honourable Mentions. My first thought when I saw it was “bushranger”. Then I learned it is a reinterpretation of the life of the Lady Bushranger Jessie Hickman (1890-1936).

Julie Williams – Moth, 2022

The other HMs were works by Claire Conroy and Ben Blick-Hodge.

Claire Conroy – 35mm slide recovered in Lismore floods 2022
Ben Blick-Hodge – Soup’s up! 2022

At the opening I met two first time finalists Sue Gordon and Michael Shirley, both of whom were thrilled to have had their works selected. In his artist statement relating to his work, Rain, Shirley speaks of rain coming to take you, your life, your house, your possessions, your friends. The black and white artwork shows numerous people under umbrellas, almost obliterated by rain which he has deliberately exaggerated.

Michael Shirley – Rain, 2021

Gordon’s work is a self-portrait titled What’s hidden in shadows. It is a powerful bruised depiction of physical abuse once experienced, but no more hidden or excused.

Sue Gordon – What’s Hidden in Shadows, 2022

It was also great to see the work by Vicky Cooper and Doug Spowart – a concertina photo book – displayed on a shelf. This was the first year that anything other than 2 dimensional prints could be entered, so it was excellent that this work was a finalist.

Victoria Cooper & Doug Spowart – Desire Paths, 2022

All the finalists in the 2022 MCPP exhibition can be seen in a virtual gallery here.

This review is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

National Photographic Portrait Prize 2022

Photography Exhibition Review

NPPP 2022 | Various artists

National Portrait Gallery | 25 June – 9 October 2022

As I noted when reviewing the 2021 NPPP here, group exhibitions can be awkward to review because of the diversity of imagery subject matter and quality. In a major show such as this though, there is unlikely to be poor quality work. Furthermore, with a focus on portraiture the diversity is diminished. That’s not to suggest there is a sameness as there are many approaches to portraiture on display here. As in previous years, the diversity of the quality artwork delivers a powerful visual exhibition.

The winning work Silent Strength 2021, by well-known Indigenous photo artist Wayne Quilliam, is a fine portrait, beautifully portraying Culture through the rich colours in the ochres and feathers of his indigenous subject, and also his sense of pride. Quilliam is a lovely modest man and very proud of his prizewinning artist daughter who was with him at the media preview I attended. And he’s giving the $20,000 worth of gear he won to Indigenous communities and organising for them to learn to use it.

Silent Strength – Wayne Quilliam

As always, in such shows, I look for works by locals and other people whom I know personally, as well as images by artists whom I follow. Canberrans in the show include Cat Leedon, with a powerful, perhaps confronting, self-portrait titled Breast Cancer, aged 37. It clearly shows the anguish she was feeling after her second breast surgery.

Breast cancer, age 37 – Cat Leedon

Fiona Bowring has a delightful Family Portrait, incorporating another shot of the same family hanging behind them. This again is a story which, no doubt, includes pain – it relates to palliative care and to love of family.

Family portrait – Fiona Bowring

Greg Stoodley’s contribution is another self-portrait Greg & Orbit that I had seen previously on his website. The image was taken during lockdown and features a cat looking at his apparently bored face and supine body.

Greg & Orbit – Greg Stoodley

And then there is Lauren Sutton’s work Lauren and Poppy. Yes, another self-portrait during lockdown. All work cancelled, the artist took this and other selfies to document the time spent with her four-month-old daughter.

Lauren and Poppy – Lauren Sutton

There are various other images made during restrictions, including Andrew Rovenko’s The Shuttle, a delightful shot of four-year-old astronaut Mia wearing her homemade space suit and helmet.

The Shuttle – Andrew Rovenko

There are also other good portraits of Indigenous people, such as Cordy in the Clouds by Adam Haddrick.

Cordy in the Clouds – Adam Haddrick

There are people from other cultures, an Olympian, well-known people such as Barry Jones, a survivor of a lifetime of abuse and mistreatment, a 6’ 9” tall man, neighbours, lifelong friends, a dancer, music journalist Bob Gordon, and a young woman in transitional housing after a period of homelessness.

One of the represented photographers whose work I always appreciate is Michael Bowers. His work Stella is of a grandmother whose grandson was last seen where she is seated on the banks of the Gwydir River.

Stella – Michael Bowers

As in previous years, there are numerous works in this diverse exhibition that we all need to study and explore, such as Matthew Newton’s Indigo, featuring an activist, dressed as an endangered wedge-tailed eagle, heading into the Tarkine forests in Tasmania, where they spent a bitter winter to halt development of roading to access a planned tailings dam – yet to be built.

Indigo – Matthew Newton

This is far more than pretty pictures, far more than high quality portraits. There are so many stories, so many varied aspects of our Australia and its peoples, so many identified issues for us to think about – all revealed through the talented story-telling photographers using their insights and artistic skills to depict their subjects.

We who view the works are privileged to gain access into the personal lives and emotions of the people portrayed.

This review was first published on page 23 of The Canberra Times of 11 July 2022 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews, Exhibition Review

EVIDENCE AND THE VISIBLE

Photography Exhibition Review

EVIDENCE AND THE VISIBLE | CATHERINE ROGERS

Drill Hall Gallery | 24 June – 14 August 2022

Evidence and The Visible is a large exhibition, deserving multiple visits. Extraordinary is not too strong a word for this retrospective of works by Catherine Rogers. Not only are there many images, using every available space in the gallery, but there also are five short essays about them. I recommend collecting a copy at the entrance and reading each essay before viewing the relevant works.

Rogers’ photographic practice began in the 1970s and her copious, yet relatively little-known, body of work is surveyed here for the first time. None of the visitors I spoke with at the opening had been aware of Rogers previously.

We see a set of images from 2018 investigating diverse techniques established by pioneering photographers in the 19th century, resulting in an array of extremely plausible fakes. An essay about these works invites us to enter the game. Most students and practitioners of photography know of the pioneer Fox Talbot and his Latticed Window, generally regarded as the first negative photograph. It is delightful to see this set alluding to that beginning.

There is a group of A1-sized prints titled Between Heaven and Earth, Lost in Space. These too reference Talbot, who was a skilled user of telescopes. There is a set labelled Found Negatives, another Found Glass Plate Negatives. Each set is different, each interesting and worthy of close examination.

Catherine Rogers, Blue moon as an orange from the series Lost in Space 1990-2020
Catherine Rogers, Shadows in deep space from the series Lost in Space 1990-2020

Much of Rogers’ photography relates to landscape, using conventional and unconventional methods of recording and evoking the physical terrain. There are seascapes glorying in the splendour of the silver halide medium, accentuating the dividing horizon line between ocean and sky. Another visitor expressed to me his view that works showing an area of sky immediately above an area of sea, with nothing more than the cloven horizon between was not novel. Whilst others have also created such works, those displayed here are fine examples.

Catherine Rogers – Southern Ocean

Perhaps the most intriguing works and, certainly, drawing numerous visitors in for a close look are those labelled Nature of Evidence. Dating from 1986, these are about the Azaria Chamberlain case. Rogers notes that photography played a very important part in the case, particularly the trial of Lindy Chamberlain, from the outset. All kinds of photographic material were used as evidence. At the 1987 Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Chamberlain Convictions, Rogers observed how sharp, detailed and colour accurate photographs used as evidence had to be explained and given words by forensic experts. She asked herself why and that led to development of this body of work.

Catherine Rogers, The Nature of Evidence (Looking and not looking for her), 1986

There is a group of visually stunning and large colour prints of ancient forests in the Upper Florentine area of Tasmania. These works date from 2007, when trees in the area were marked to be cut down so a logging road could be made. From 2003 Rogers recorded aspects of this valley and the Styx before they were destroyed. An essay about these works is a sad reminder, if needed, of the destruction.

Catherine Rogers, Red Road Upper Florentine #4, Tasmania, logging coup F044A, 2007

And I was most delighted to see the set of images labelled Waiting Rooms. I enjoyed considering which of these most Contemporary works would suit what types of waiting rooms.

Catherine Rogers, from Pictures for Waiting Rooms 2015-2022
Catherine Rogers, from Pictures for Waiting Rooms 2015-2022

My word limit does not allow me to address everything in the exhibition, but I must mention the fact this artist has embraced tintype, film negatives and positives, colour and black and white, digital, cameras with lenses and some without (pinholes). She has also made images without using a camera. Rogers describes her image archives as extensive, and notes that her images have been made over a period of forty years. Long may she continue creating new work.

This review was first published on page 23 of The Canberra Times of 11/7/22 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

Sky Eternal by Cat Wilson, Up in the Air by Claire Grant, Wild Blue Yonder by Photo Access members

Review of Photography Exhibitions

Sky Eternal | Cat Wilson

Up in the Air | Claire Grant

Photo Access | 30 June – 30 July

The artists in these two exhibitions have used sky space to explore our human condition. They invite us to reflect on the importance of the surface of our planet and the sky space above – and the care needed to keep everything in good condition.

Blue moon. Blue Monday. Blue blood. Is blue hardwired into our psyche? Did it contribute to our evolutionary development – as hunter-gatherers who learnt to survive among blue skies and oceans? It is the major colour of the works in these shows. Most appropriately, an accompanying Photo Access members’ exhibition has the theme “Wild Blue Yonder.”

Trevor Lund, Exploring Scoresby Sound, 2022. From the “Wild Blue Yonder” members’ exhibition.

Across the ages, blue has been used when visualising something from our imagination, out of reach or the divine. As a pigment, blue is extremely rare in nature, despite being found in the environment around us – from the tranquil light blue of a sky to the melancholy deep blue of an ocean. Unlike particular reds, browns and yellows, blue pigment cannot be created from materials within our easy grasp. Arguably, blue represents an entirely new world beyond our own.

Sky Eternal by Cat Wilson is an immersive video installation, which mirrors moving cloudscapes. The immediate reaction on entering the room regardless of the point the video has reached is that one is looking at a Rorschach inkblot. I wonder what Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli would make of this slowly changing inkblot. Accompanied by an ambient soundscape, composed by Jamie Saxe, this is a captivating work. The catalogue suggests it “mediates on the ways in which the universal and timeless sky unites us all, a metaphor for innovation, positivity, hope and heaven.” When I joined them, I wanted to ask others viewing it what they saw in the inkblot. As they were transfixed, I couldn’t interrupt.

Cat Wilson – Eternal Sky, 2021 – video still

Up in the Air by Claire Grant includes three things. Firstly, there is a 90 x 400 cm composite of 57 A4-sized cyanotypes each printed on fragile paper ephemera that the artist collected during employment as a flight attendant. The papers originally were crew briefings providing details of routes she would be flying, so amongst the imagery she has created there is text and lines and also creases and marks – as she folded the paper to fit in her pocket during each trip.

The images are aerial vignettes framed by Grant’s ‘office’ windows, the plane’s portholes. They are, truly, landscapes. As the aircraft flew over an outback mine, we can see that open cut mine’s landscape in regional Queensland laid out below us. Some of the cyanotypes are essentially white images of the clouds below the plane. Others reveal different aspects of the atmosphere. We are looking at skies filled with navigational charts to and from different destinations around Australia.

It is also worth noting that the artist captured the initial works with a phone camera, making use of its technical limitations to obtain the pixelated and repetitive images that she wanted for her pe-visualised end product. It is quite wonderful.

Claire Grant – Nothing’s as precious as a hole in the Ground, 2021-22
Claire Grant – Nothing’s as precious as a hole in the ground, 2021-22 (Detail)

On the opposite wall of the gallery is a series of individual artworks, each being cyanotypes and encaustic on washi paper – renowned for strength not fragility. Each image is framed by a porthole. Reflecting the recent period of air travel disruptions, many show terminal boards indicating numerous cancelled flights.

Claire Grant – CANCELLED(CBROvernight), 2022
Claire Grant – Up In The Air (Installation Photo 9)

On the end wall of the “aircraft’s corridor” is one further work – a large cyanotype portrayal of Employee 152578’s pre-employment dental record adding a final piece to this clever interpretation of Grant’s previous career. The whole exhibition opens up a shutdown world.

Claire Grant, Dental Record (Employee 152578), 2022 (Installation Photo)

This review was first published on page 10 of the Panorama supplement in The Canberra Times of 9 July 2022 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

CITY COMMISSIONS – PORTRAITS

Photography Exhibition Review

CITY COMMISSIONS – PORTRAITS | SAMMY HAWKER

Tuggeranong Town Centre (on windows of Lakeview House & under the Soward Way Bridge) | Until 4 July 2022

Installation shot – Under Soward Way bridge (supplied)

Sammy Hawker is a visual artist working predominantly on Ngunawal Country. She works predominantly with analogue photography techniques and often works closely with Traditional Custodians, scientists and ecologists.

In 2021 Hawker had two highly successful solo shows as part of a PhotoAccess darkroom residency. She is currently an artist-in-residence with the CORRIDOR project and is also preparing for another solo show before year end.

Over the last six months Hawker worked closely with nine young people from Headspace Tuggeranong exploring ways they could co-create photographic portraits. This was part of a City Commissions project delivered by Contour 556, one of seven artsACT initiatives in the Creative Recovery and Resilience Program.

Headspace is a safe space that welcomes and supports young people aged 12–25, their families, friends and carers, helping them to find the right services. Learning the Headspace motto “clear is kind”, Hawker realised her project was also about finding clarity as a form of self-compassion – shining light on what for many was a particularly dark and confusing time.


Hawker challenges the notion that a photograph constitutes the moment that a shutter is released. She explores ways of making, rather than taking, images. She wanted the project to be empowering – with no right or wrong and where the final photographs celebrated identity and experience beyond just the way her subjects looked in the frame. It was an opportunity to realise we always have some choice whether we repress difficult experiences.

The portraits of the young people were captured on a large format film camera. Commonly, in photographic practice, touch and marks on negatives are to be avoided. But Hawker invited her subjects to handle, manipulate, scratch or even bury negatives in order to introduce something of themselves. The young folk wrangled puppies, dived into rivers, got dressed up, sprinkled bushfire ash on negatives and processed film in the Headspace carpark.

Each participant was invited to use the project to reflect on their experiences of difficult times. Their statements relating to the images reveal resilience and hope.

Chanelle reflected about living in the moment. The negative of her portrait, showing her immersed in the Murrumbidgee River, was processed with water from that river, ocean water and permanent marker.

Chanelle ©Sammy Hawker

Sophie spoke of learning to embrace everything in life. Her portrait’s negative was processed with bushfire ash and the word Embrace scratched into it. The ash creates a frame that embraces her.

Sanjeta really likes her photo with jellyfish manipulations as metaphors for how she now goes with the flow of her life journey. Her expression conveys a “so be it” attitude. The negative was processed with Murrumbidgee water, rainwater, seaweed and chemical stains.

Sanjeta © Sammy Hawker

Ray wanted to keep connected and bring some joy into the lives of others. The portrait’s beaming smile conveys joy. The idea of processing the negative with Whiz Pop Bang bubble mixture and wattle pollen adds to the joy.

Ray’s Statement

Jazzy is photographed with her much loved dog Milo. So, of course, the processing of the negative utilised Milo’s pawprints.

Jazzy Jazzy © Sammy Hawker
Devante © Sammy Hawker
Installation shot – Under Soward Way bridge (supplied)

When I reviewed her Acts of Co-Creation show (for which she received a Canberra Critics Circle Award) in this publication, I wrote of Hawker’s then newly formed relationship with Ngunawal custodian Tyronne Bell who helped her to learn about sites she was working with. For this project, Hawker arranged for Bell to escort her subjects walking Ngunawal Country, providing a healing experience for them.

I strongly recommended readers to visit City Commissions – Portraits – and reflect on your own difficult times.

An edited version of this review was published in The Canberra Times of 28/6/22 on the Capital Life page, and the full version online here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Autobiography, Personal Story, Photography Story

Transitioning to adult life

The 3rd National Christian Youth Convention (NCYC) was held in Brisbane in January 1960. A large contingent of Methodist youth from Canberra, including me and some other members of the Reid Methodist Youth Fellowship, went to the convention. Others were from Wattle Park, National Memorial and Queanbeyan Methodist youth groups. The very large majority of the contingent were girls. That was also true of the study group that some of our contingent, including me, were allocated to at the convention. I recognise some of the folk in these photos.

Canberra contingent at 3rd NCYC in Brisbane. Me at far left.
The study group I was in at 3rd NCYC in Brisbane. Me with a hat.

We travelled by train, commencing our journey in Queanbeyan with just a few carriages behind one engine. As we travelled north, additional carriages were added and somewhere an additional engine until the train was very long. Each time we stopped to pick up more delegates, regardless of whether it was a large number in large cities or just one person at a small country town – and regardless of the time of day or night – we opened the windows and welcomed the additional passengers by singing the official Convention hymn.

On arrival at Brisbane South Railway Stations around 26 hours later our carriage being at the rear of the train was a long distance from the platform and we were told to be patient whilst they unloaded the front carriages, then backed the train out to remove the empty cars then return to the station to unload the next lot and so on. We soon decided that would take forever so we clambered down with our luggage and walked alongside the train until we reached the platform!

Arrangements had been made for each of us to be billeted in the homes of local delegates. My host family, including one son John and two daughters were very nice people and looked after me extremely well. I had a great time and discovered the city of Brisbane. Virtually every day whilst in Brisbane brief storms would pour rain on me for as I made my way back to their suburban Norman Park home late in the afternoons and the summer heat always soon dried me out.

Every time another table filled in the dining area for lunch, those sitting at it would sing the grace – trying to use a tune that no other group had used for it. The one that sticks in my mind is “Hernando’s Hideaway”.

My host family’s daughters at 3rd NCYC, Brisbane

During the convention I became friends with a girl called Ethel, who was from Winton. After returning home, I sent her two photos I had taken of her, but she didn’t like them and sent me two others that she thought I might prefer to have. Our plans to stay in touch didn’t come to fruition. I wonder what happened to her.

One of my photos of Ethel
One of the photos Ethel sent me

I also had an opportunity to visit Lone Pine Reserve, with its collection of animals, including a carpet snake that I had my photo taken with.

Me with live carpet snake at Lone Pine Reserve
Animals at Lone Pine Reserve

The return journey was also by train, and I recall us filling the floor space between the two bench seats in our compartment with luggage and covering it with blankets, effectively making one large bedspace where a group of us lay close together trying to sleep.

Mum and dad, Alan and Jill all moved to Canberra in early 1960, as dad’s employer relocated operations from Goulburn to the growing city of Canberra. They purchased a home in Duffy Street, Ainslie at the foot of Mount Ainslie and I moved back home with them. It was the first, and only, home they actually owned.

The Duffy Street home

Everything was different in 1960. Whilst I was, technically, repeating the three failed subjects from the previous year, in reality the content was very different. Canberra University College was no longer associated with the University of Melbourne but, instead, was now the undergraduate school of the Australian National University. What I had studied in first year Economics was now the second-year syllabus, and vice-versa. The same was true of Statistics. So, rather than repeating the material studied in 1959 I had to study new material altogether. I failed all three “repeated” subjects, and my Cadetship was cancelled completely.

A girl whom I had met came to Canberra one weekend to go with me to the University Ball in the Childers Street Hall. She stayed with her brother in a flat behind one of the car yards in Braddon. After the ball ended around 2AM, we walked back to the flat and she changed out of her ball gown. We then walked to mum and dad’s house in Ainslie arriving around 4AM and settled down in the living room. Mum came out of her bedroom and admonished me for keeping the girl up all night and for disturbing the household at that time.

Yvonne Mills from the Reid MYF was my girlfriend for some months, until she dumped me. I was most upset and poured my hurt feelings out to mum, who simply said “there are many more fish in the sea”.

After losing my Cadetship, I remained employed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as a Base Grade Clerk working in the Mechanical Tabulation Division. We used machines to process statistical information. Punched paper tape was processed through a so-called computer – a Hollerith 1201 – and punched cards were put through various machines. I learned to sort the cards into order by gently inserting a small metal strip into holes until it was blocked by a card without a hole – push too hard and you made a hole where there wasn’t meant to be one!

I well recall Fridays when, at knock-off time of 4.51PM, we would all rush from work in West Block to the back bar at the nearby historic Hotel Canberra to have a drink before 6 o’clock closing. The idea was to consume as many beers as possible in the available time. As a youngster (turning 18 in early March), I wasn’t up for the challenge. After one beer, I would quietly slip away and ride my bike home.

I also recall one very wet day being lent an MGA sports car by a work colleague to drive to university lectures not all that long after gaining my driver’s licence and before buying my own car. I was both terrified and exhilarated at once. I felt like I was practically lying down in the car and, so, not really in control of it, but also felt very special being at the wheel of such a vehicle. Sadly, the owner of that MGA was killed in it later when he ran into the back of a lorry with pipes overhanging its rear end which penetrated the MGA’s windscreen and its driver.

Once I turned 18 in March 1960, Dad taught me to drive in his car but, after failing the test twice, I had a few lessons with a driving school. That was seemingly enough to satisfy the police as I was successful in gaining my licence at my third attempt. The test included reverse parallel parking in between two movable signs near a short piece of gutter that had been constructed in a parking area outside the then police station.

At first, I could only drive dad’s car when he let me borrow it. Alan was usually beside me in the front and, so, experienced my “accidents”. On one occasion I did not notice a cyclist on my right until very late, slamming on the brakes in the nick of time and coming to a stop with the car’s front bumper immediately behind the cyclist’s left foot on his pedal. When we told dad, his response was “you won’t be a good driver until you’ve had a couple of accidents”.

It wasn’t long before I had more passengers – girls from the MYF group were keen to travel with us. One night when three of them were in the back seat going with us to a church dance, I spun the car 360 degrees as I turned left too fast at a corner where there was loose gravel on the bitumen surface. Fortunately, we missed hitting anything else. Further on we broke down because of a blocked fuel line. We were rescued by friends, including Kevin and Noel Wise – brothers who had some mechanical knowledge. Returning the girls to their homes later I managed to “paint” a pinstripe of paint along one side of the car by backing into a driveway too close to a large painted timber mail/bread box whilst showing off to the girls. I had to confess to dad again when we got home. Waking briefly to receive the news, dad gave the same response.

The first car I owned myself was a second-hand white Ford Consul, baby brother to dad’s white Ford Zephyr.

Around this time I had a penfriend, Elaine, who lived in South Africa. She sent me photos of the area around where she lived as well as one of herself. I don’t recall how the penfriend-ship came about and it didn’t last for very long. The photos remain in one of my photo albums. I wonder what ever happened to Elaine.

The photo sent to me by Elaine from South Africa
and her message on the back of the photo

On 20 October 1960, 16-year-old Denise Hawes, arrived in Canberra from Melbourne with her parents. Denise has told me I was the first boy she saw on the church steps when her parents brought her to Reid Methodist church. Her younger sister Rosemary was still in Melbourne staying with Nanna to finish her school year and their even younger sister Lynne was staying with Gran in Tasmania. The family were reunited in Canberra just before Christmas. Denise, and her whole family, was destined to become a large part of my future.

Despite failing my studies and losing my Cadetship, I was enjoying my life. The MYF group was strong and provided many great friends. We went to district gatherings, attended Crusader camps in various places, took day trips to the snow, went regularly to the movies on Saturday evenings, and attended dances/socials at other churches. We played snooker, tennis, table tennis, badminton and other games at the church. We went to church twice on Sundays – to the traditional service with the whole congregation in the mornings and the more informal evening worship preceded by the singing of our favourite hymns. MYF meetings themselves were a great time of socialising. Another group, Christian Endeavour was more focussed on spiritual things than we in the MYF. Its members were generally a little older than us, but I still know people who were involved with one or the other group.

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My Photography, Personal Story, Photography Story

2022 APS PhotoWalk Day: Repair – Recover – Renew

In September 2021 the Australian Photographic Society held its first APS PhotoWalk Day with the theme Environmental Impact – What does it mean to you? I walked as an individual (not a photo club group), entered two images from the Walk and was placed 3rd. I wrote about it here.

On 14 May 2022, the Society held another PhotoWalk Day with the theme Repair – Recover – Renew. I suggested the club I belong to, the Canberra Photographic Society (CPS), participate and enter as a club and it did. But, unfortunately, at the last moment it pulled out because of illness affecting a number of Committee members. So, I quickly registered as an individual again and, on the scheduled day, set off with my camera to walk and find images.

The promotional material for the event said “In a world impacted by significant events through the impact Climate Change, COVID and Natural Disasters, nature and people show an incredible capacity to repair, recover or renew. Wherever you participate in the 2022 APS Photo Walk Day we want you to focus on the positive and capture the optimism of the future: show us how nature and/or people are moving forward so this a wonderful opportunity to capture and showcase the emotions that come with repair, recovery or renewal. Your images may reflect an emergence from the impact of COVID lockdowns and the joy of people rediscovering their lives and livelihoods. You may capture the beauty and strength of nature as it recovers from the ravages of fire or floods or other natural disasters or the efforts of communities to renew what once was. You are not limited by these examples; you are only limited by your imagination. The emotional impact of your image/s are the key to success.”

There were three judges and each of them were to score all entries, with their points being added together. And, again, the individual scoring most points was to receive a $150 MOMENTO Pro Photobook voucher and certificate.

As in 2021, an introductory session was held via Zoom the evening before the event. The surprise speaker was Len Metcalf, an artist, educator, environmentalist, writer and photographer based in Sydney. I very much enjoyed his presentation and he inspired me to create and submit Contemporary images.

Mostly in the Yarramundi Reach area of Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin, but also in the urban area of Braddon, I took a total of 118 photographs – most with a DSLR camera but some with a phone camera using software that enables it to be used in “professional” mode. My challenge then became to create four images from those 118 shots that were suitable to submit to the competition. And, to give them titles that provided clues as to how they fitted my concepts of the theme.

Firstly, I created a montage of six images showing people renewing and repairing themselves by exercising.

Exercising renews the body © Brian Rope

Then I used a completely different image to portray renewal in another way altogether.

New artworks renew rundown streetscape © Brian Rope

My third entry used a Hipstamatic App to create a pinhole style image of a couple of seats and a makeshift table that I came across by the lake. My guess is that a fisherman created this. I sat there resting and enjoying the view for a short time. This one is about recovery.

Pause here to recover © Brian Rope

And my final image was created by overlaying two shots taken from the same position but with the camera pointing in a slightly different direction. The technique I used involved using Photoshop’s feature that merges two or more images to create a High Dynamic Range result. This one is again about renewal – but of the mind rather than the body.

Visualising anew renews the mind © Brian Rope

On 24 June, a Zoom session was held to announce the results of the competition. It was convened by the APS President, Margaret O’Grady and attended by numerous entrants, two of the judges and Libby Jeffery, Marketing Manager of MomentoPro which was again the sponsor of the Photo Walk Day. Libby announced the results of the photo clubs’ section of the competition and then the results of the individual’s section.

To my great surprise and delight I was announced as the winner of the individual contestants’ section. During the opportunity for anyone who wished to speak to do so, I noted that I had only participated as an individual at the last moment and suggested I needed to thank CPS for its unfortunate late withdrawal from the Walk Day. If that had not happened, I would not have competed as an individual and, so, not won the $150 voucher from MomentoPro – received by email from Margaret O’Grady moments after the Zoom session wrapped up!

Hopefully, I’ll be able to participate as part of the CPS in the next PhotoWalk.

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AP Focus, My Photography, Photography Story

My Thematic Photobook

Roughly every four months, I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is my latest piece, published in the July 2022 issue now in newsagencies.

At the time of writing, I’m participating in a free workshop spread over 6 two and a half hour long sessions. It’s a program designed to assist folk who are sixty-five or older to do something with their boxes of slides of past travels, their prints falling out of family albums, or even their smartphone snaps. Small groups of participants are learning how to creatively review their photo collections, how to scan slides and prints, and how to manage and process digital files.

With the assistance of experienced tutors, participants are curating selections of mages from their own archives and will use them to tell stories through printed 50-page photobooks. The project is being run by Photo Access in Canberra, the ACT and region’s centre for contemporary photography, film and video and media arts. Like the APS, it is an established non-profit body, and is a friendly creative community making, sharing and investigating photographic culture in the interests of artistic expression, cultural participation and positive social change. This particular project was made possible through private donors plus a Creative Partnerships Australia Plus One matched funding grant.

If you know that I’ve previously made quite a few photobooks and have been on my photographic journey for many years, you might wonder why I am participating in this workshop. Well, I am seeking to improve my curatorial skills, to develop my ability to combine words with images to tell a story, to motivate myself to find special images in my huge collection, to create a new photobook that is more than simply a collection of some of my photos, and to learn new things – because I firmly believe we can always learn more.

So, for the project, I have decided to create a book providing a glimpse of my life as an adult, all of which has seen me living in Canberra. It will look at who I am – my component parts if you like.

Our group’s tutor suggested that I select the images I will use, then place them in the book under various themes rather than in chronological order. She has also suggested I include scans of relevant objects acquired along the way and of newspaper and magazine articles that add to the overall story.

My chosen themes are my family and friends, my employment and volunteering, Canberra events (that I have organised, participated in or photographed), Canberra places (that I have photographed), well-known people (that I have met and/or photographed), and my extensive involvement with photography.

1988.08.12 – Prime Minister Bob Hawke launching Australopedia © Brian Rope

I currently have identified around one hundred images and scans for potential inclusion in the book. That’s probably too many for fifty pages, so I still need to be a little more ruthless in whittling the numbers down.

I very much hope my finished book will be good enough to enter in this year’s APS Photobook Awards? You should be reading this in July – by which time entries for that event will have opened. Entry is free and open to all APS members and camera club members. There is no limit to the size, format, or number of pages. And entries have to be submitted by 7 October 2022. Full details are on the APS website at www.a-p-s.org.au. So, why not participate?

As published in Australian Photography magazine

Footnote: All the photobooks created by participants in the project are to be launched at an event at PhotoAccess scheduled for 6 PM on 21 July 2022.

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Exhibition Review

SPIRITS, PERMEATING ECOLOGY, POISONOUS

Review of Photography, Mixed Media Exhibition

SPIRITS | B-Dam Pictures (NSW)

PERMEATING ECOLOGY | REMI SICILIANO

POISONOUS | ELLIS HUTCH

Photo Access | 26 May – 25 Jun

Over five years, B-Dam Pictures (artists Anthony Sillavan and Stephanie Sheppard) used a motion-sensor camera to obtain a series of what effectively are self-portraits of Australian wildlife. They suggest Spirits is the native animals themselves revealing their habits, pleasures and dangers – about their tenuous life existence and, by extension, our own fragility.

B-Dam Pictures – Self Portrait 6

The sense of motion is more obvious in some images than others. Which is best – a greater or lesser sense of motion? Contemplating that, I realised it was not always obvious what had triggered the camera.

Is that a shadow of a bird in flight that triggered the camera? Another shot has the feeling of being a pinhole camera image, even though I know it was not. And in a third shot, at first glance I thought the featured animal was a log.

One shot of a dam has an animal’s tail disappearing out of the frame. Another shows the same dam with no clear evidence of an animal at all. There is much to see and contemplate in this fine set of images.

Remi Siciliano practices “Ecological Image-Making”, her methodology for embracing and celebrating all the different organisms, materials and forces at play within her work. Collaborative interactions entangle divisions between artist, organism, material, subject, object and landscape. She dissolves these categories as we know them.

In Permeating Ecology, Siciliano has intentionally relinquished technical control in her image making; instead playfully collaborating with other organisms and natural processes to produce her photographs.

Fungal networks have grown through 35mm negatives documenting landscapes, while moisture softened and encouraged the film emulsion to peel. The images reveal meeting points of growth and decomposition.

Remi Siciliano – Plexus, 2021

Although very different to B-Dam Pictures works – large rather than small, and abstract rather than documentary – these artworks also are great.

Remi Siciliano – Image 2

I recently read of the “strange allure” of fungi and how it has always captured the imagination. An ecologist has described fungi as the “third forgotten kingdom” behind flora and fauna and said there is much to be discovered about their vital role in our ecosystems.

By using the playful techniques described above, Siciliano has created “strangely alluring” images. Fungi growing through negatives is the starting point for artworks revealing things we would otherwise have never seen – except, possibly, in our imaginations.

Ellis Hutch combines photography, drawing, animation, sound and projection. This resultant exhibition, Poisonous, investigates the microscopic world of our waterways. Hutch navigates the complexities of the ‘health’ of those waterways.

She questions how people establish social relationships and transform their environments to create inhabitable spaces. Recently, she has been paying close attention to the place she lives and works, unceded Ngunnawal (also spelt Ngunawal) and Ngambri country, investigating the effects of ‘invasive’ humans and other species on the Molonglo River. Here, she has done that by combining large-scale drawing and video projection.

The charcoal drawings by Hutch are, indeed, large and quite arresting – not simply because of their scale. Some might even say “awe and wonder” to describe their reactions when first entering the gallery space through a dark curtain. With a video projecting moving digital images on to the drawings, the works become an installation.

We see glimpses of the molecular structure of minerals and microbes that are both toxic poisons and useful contributors to the ecosystem. This is art, successfully revealing a realm invisible to our eyes – a place critical to our survival.

Ellis Hutch – Blackmtnpeninsulaboatramp

Each artist is curious about the processes that drive the varied eco-systems of our planet. Each has employed a distinctive method to investigate the natural world’s intricacies.

This review was published on page 10 of Panorama in the Canberra Times of 16/6/22 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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