Exhibition Review, Reviews


Photography Exhibition Review



The Reflections on Nature artist-in-residence project was launched on social media at the end of April 2020. At that time it was described as “designed to encourage artists to connect with nature over the coming months…… observing and creating in response to observations of colour, regrowth, seasonal change and interesting revelations….. for everyone from beginner artists ….. a guided journey of topics and inspirational thoughts….. a safe space …. to share …. sketches, photos, ideas, prose and observations.…… We may even grow this into an exhibition of observations or a publication eventually!”

Well it certainly grew. And now there is an exhibition of works selected from the huge number of observations by the substantial membership of the project – more than 600 people made thousands of contributions. The creative reflections gathered represent a unique and contemplative perspective on the environment during a time when our world changed. 

Before this project was born, the environment had been dreadfully damaged by fire and drought. Then COVID-19 began. As a result, project participants felt a great need to explore the outdoors. They slowed down and looked for ways to create a sense of possibility, and for the promise of healing.

Photographers, writers, artists, journalers, ecologists and naturalists joined forces exploring the natural environment. Places they often knew well became sources of fresh wonder and delight, as they rediscovered and saw them afresh. Indeed this was a personal experience as I walked around the open areas of my own suburb.

Over a period of twelve months of guided, focussed observations in the Canberra region and beyond, the artists shared purpose around a common interest in nature resulted in a rich record of their experiences.

The exhibition was officially opened on World Wetlands Day (wetlands are being lost three times faster than forests) by Senator David Pocock who described the artworks as incredible and the exhibition as making a massive contribution.

The Senator noted that First Nations people had looked after our environment for thousands of years and that we all need to do so now. He suggested the participants’ engagement with the environment had gathered information that politicians could not ignore, and urged all present to fight for what they love – the bush capital and its landscape – by having hard cultural conversations with other Canberra residents and seeking to engage the next generation.

The many fine artworks on display are diverse – photography, video, drawings, painting, sketched and written journal entries, and more. It is difficult to single out some artworks for individual mention.

However, amongst those to which I was drawn was Bohie Palecek’s delightful and colourful portrait of herself with a bird on her shoulder.

Transformations Theme – Self-portrait by Bohie Palecek

Rainer Rehwinkle’s spectacular Grasslands was one of many standout photographic images.

Sense of Place theme – Rainer Rehwinkel – Grassland image-2

I also very much enjoyed David Flannery’s various quality bird images.

Transformations Theme – Choughs – Photography by David Flannery

Amongst the many collages is an excellent one of eucalypt bark abstracts.

Panel of eucalypt patterns – colours and textures by Terry Rushton (Installation shot)

Chris Lockley is showing a colourful image amongst another of the collages.

Waning Theme – Fungi photography by Chris Lockley

Sue Bond shares a delightful photo of a crane fly at a sundew .

Textures and Revelations Theme – A sundew with a crane fly Photography by Sue Bond

There also are many marvellous journal pages to flick through or explore carefully, depending how much time you are able to spend at the exhibition.

Emergence Theme – Nature journaling of grassland forbes by Julia Landford

Julia Landford 1

Waning Theme – nature journaling response by Fiona Boxall (watercolour sketch)

An engaging Nature Video by David Rees is also well worth viewing in its entirety. Images included in the video can be seen on his Flickr site here.

I could go on sharing details of individual artworks here for ever, but it would be much better to visit the exhibition for yourself if possible. If you can’t make it, take a look at the project’s Facebook page here.

I understand the organisers have been invited to show the work at Canberra Museum and Gallery in 2024, which is further recognition of the importance of our environment and the value of nature. It will provide another opportunity to see the artworks on display.

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

Photo Book Review, Reviews

Death is not here

Photography Book Review

Title: Death is not here

Author: Wouter Van de Voorde

Publisher: Void | Australian Distributor: Perimeter Books

Price: AUD$105

Format: Softcover with dustjacket

ISBN: 978-618-5479-25-1

Students of theology, medical practitioners, poets. All have reflected for centuries on the nature of death. Is it “good” or “bad”? A famous death poem often spoken at funerals, Death is nothing at all (Henry Scott-Holland), includes these words “It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened”.

Death is not here, a new photobook by Canberra’s Wouter Van de Voorde, is a photographic reflection on the topic. Published by Void, an Athens-based independent photobooks publisher, last November, it has been reviewed and commented on by others on websites and in publications from various countries. Australian distribution commenced in January 2023.

It is, as other commentators have suggested, a mysterious book. It contains no words (in the traditional sense) other than a page of credits and minimal background – itself slightly intriguingly referring to the book as “This is not death”.

The book’s 160 pages are primarily filled with photographs, but also some delightful sketches of fossils. All images and drawings are by the author. Readers – yes, we are reading when we look at photos – are challenged to understand the author’s story for themselves. Or, perhaps, create their own stories about life and death from those images. Van de Voorde himself has written “A peculiar convergence of death/life and permanence/impermanence occurred during the period I made these images. ‘Death is not here’ is a personal time capsule capturing and preserving this time in my life.”

The subjects include ravens, dug holes, lumps of clay, rings of fire, curtains, a mother and newborn, sculpted pieces, an egg, plus dead or dying animals and plants.

© Wouter Van de Voorde -32 (raven on pole with fixer stain, 2021)

© Wouter Van de Voorde -30 (Round fire hole, 2021)

© Wouter Van de Voorde -33 (cracked egg on fossils sculpture)

But the subjects, per se, are not the story. Readers need to take up the challenge to explore and interpret what the images reveal.

In some ways, many photographs are so unlike it is difficult to see how they belong together. Every so often there is a blank page. For me, these said stop awhile, think about what you have read, review the material already seen before moving on. Some images may generate feelings of anxiety or be difficult to appreciate in the context of the whole story. Or you may simply not like them.

At the time of taking the photos, the author was about to become a father for the second time. He had been making still lifes with fossils.

© Wouter Van de Voorde -31 (mother and newborn)

When his son wanted to play a real-life version of video game Minecraft, they began digging in their backyard. The hole grew deeper and wider.

© Wouter Van de Voorde -29 (Felix and Leo playing with mud in the garden, 2021)

Van de Voorde began experimenting – drawing the outlines of holes with flames. Unearthing the grave of a chicken, bones visible, they harvested clay and used it to fire small objects, including a skull. Images of empty backyard spaces are interspersed with others of the artist’s son in an eroded gorge. Were the father and son together exploring what lies beneath. Remember the supernatural horror thriller film of that name?

© Wouter Van de Voorde -34

The philosopher Epicurus famously asserted that death should not be feared. His argument has been summarised. When we die, we no longer exist and can feel neither pain nor pleasure. Therefore, there is nothing to fear in death, as death literally is nothing. Or, if you prefer – Don’t worry, as long as we’re alive, Death is not here!

But isn’t death everywhere? In Ukraine and other battlefields, in various Californian shootings recently, on our roads regularly when vehicles crash, sometimes in hospital operating theatres, in the funeral notices pages. The nature of death is highly variable. Despite Epicurus, many do fear it.

How do you perceive life and death?

This review was first published by the Canberra Times – online here and on page 5 of Panorama in the print edition of 4/2/23. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

WE ARE ONE – The First XI

Photography Exhibition Review

WE ARE ONE – The First XI Claire Letitia Reynolds and Sasha Parlett

PhotoAccess | 20 Jan – 10 Feb 2023

Everyone should see this exhibition. All indigenous people, because it is about a significant event in their history. Cricketers and cricket lovers, as it’s a significant cricket story. Historians, since it’s a historical event. Photographers and everyone interested in the medium. And everyone else, as it’s a fascinating and important story.

The portraits in WE ARE ONE – The First XI were produced by artist Claire Letitia Reynolds, the filmed interviews by Sasha Parlett. Reynolds discovered her love of photography at 14. She is known for capturing subjects at their most familiar moments. Parlett is the proud descendant of the first Indigenous woman to break in horses, was born on Darumbal country and educated and raised in Kabi Kabi ways. Together, the two artists are aiming to champion this epic piece of Australian history.

Parlett’s two videos are a series of vignette interviews providing a documentary style look into the verbal history of cricket in Australia. Through discussions with descendants of The First XI, past and current First Nations Cricketers, a

light is shed on the truths and triumphs such cricketers have faced since The First XI. Highlighting a forgotten history of this colonial sport turning stockmen into athletes and becoming an iconic sport within First Nations communities. The exhibition aims to uplift and contribute to reconciliation in Australia.

Still from Part 1 – WE ARE ONE –The First XI – Uncle Adrian, Mununjalli, Goreng Goreng Nations, QLD © Sasha Parlett
Still of title page of Part 2 – WE ARE ONE – First Nations Cricket © Sasha Parlett

Reynolds’ artworks, created utilising analogue and digital processes, comprise twenty-two portraits and three landscapes referencing the unique connection between Australian Indigenous people, culture and Country. The First XI included men from tribes in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. The portraits are of current and past Indigenous Australian cricketers, direct descendants of the First XI, and Elders.

Incredibly, this indigenous team of thirteen athletes undertook Australia’s first ever international tour. It is a story of strength, triumph and, sadly, tragedy. Several players suffered severe illness. Some were sent home early; others lost their lives. Despite the tragic incidents, the ledger was 14 apiece at the end of the England-wide tournament.

This exhibition seeks to square up the Australian identity ledger, with these pioneering men providing impetus for progress. Their story of courage, resilience, and identity is celebrated with pride. The beautifully printed artworks from hand-developed films are mostly on fine art paper using handcrafted dyes from various trees, bark, leaves, and sap.

Rosie, Gubbi Gubbi Nation, QLD, 2022 photographic print on fine art paper with narrow-leaved Red Gum bark hand crafted dye © Claire Letitia Reynolds
Aunty Betty, Bundjalung Nation, NSW, 2022 photographic print on fine art paper with Brown Bloodwood bark hand crafted dye © Claire Letitia Reynolds
Uncle Mickey AM, Yawuru Nation, WA, 2022 photographic print on fine art paper with Brown Bloodwood bark hand crafted dye © Claire Letitia Reynolds

One large portrait, of Aunty Fiona Clarke, is printed on 100% pure mulberry silk and displayed hung on a found Eucalyptus branch.

Aunty Fiona Clarke, Gudintjimara, Kirre Whurrong Nations, VIC photographic print on 100% pure mulberry silk © Claire Letitia Reynolds (Installation view)

Three landscapes showing black swans are hung close together in a row alongside each other on an end wall of the gallery.

Black Swans of Gunaduyen, Home of The First XI, Parts 1,2,3 photographic prints on fine art paper with Grey Ironbark hand crafted dye © Claire Letitia Reynolds (Installation View)

Below each portrait are quotes from  ‘Cricket walkabout : the Australian Aboriginal cricketers on tour, 1867-8 / D.J. Mulvaney’. Part of one reads “Yanggendyinadyuk/Dick-a-Dick challenged all comers to stand 15 or 20 yards distant and pelting with cricket balls….protected his body with a [narrow wooden parrying shield]….during his displays he often called out to the throwers ‘Can’t you do better than that?’….His wooden club is now in Lord’s Cricket Museum.”

There is one other rather special exhibit – The First XI Didge-Bat, with the names of The First XI inscribed.

The project was previously exhibited briefly on the Sunshine Coast (where Reynolds is based). It opened here as a big bash cricket fixture next door attracted a huge crowd by comparison. Its run includes the contentious 26 January date. It will be going to the home of The First XI – Harrow, Victoria and elsewhere. It is hoped to show it at Lord’s. And, more importantly, I was pleased to learn there are folk seeking to have items such as the previously mentioned club returned to Country.

This review was first published by The Canberra Times here and in its print edition of 28/1/23. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Photo Book Review, Reviews

Joyce Evans (Photographer)

Book Review

Title: Joyce Evans

Author: Sasha Grishin

Publisher: National Library of Australia Publishing

It seems a little odd to review a book by a fellow reviewer, but this book is about the photographer, Joyce Evans, and her imagery – not its author, Sasha Grishin.

Reading the book I was quickly struck by Grishin’s observation “her work is neither widely known nor fully appreciated”. Why? Because I had no knowledge of Evans’ work. Curiously though, my wife knew Evans and typed a lot of her university essays when she worked for Evan’s husband.

I decided to contact a dozen folk who I expected would know of Evans because of their past art/photography studies, curatorial backgrounds, or key roles with important art museums. I asked whether they were aware of Evans’ work and whether or not they appreciated it. To my surprise, only one had any knowledge of Evans whatsoever. She had exhibited with Evans several times and been impressed with her photography.

A blogger I follow recently wrote a short personal appreciation of another photographer’s life and work. In it, he spoke of photographers who have made their major contributions early in their careers and over a relatively short period of time. He expressed enthusiasm for those who continue producing quality work throughout their lives. Evans owned and used a camera from the age of 16, albeit initially as an avid amateur. In her mid-40s she visited an international art fair in Basel and was excited by the photography scene. That led her to open a photography gallery in Melbourne, then to study photography. Evans was 50 when she began using photography as a serious art form. She had her first solo exhibition in 1986 which launched her career as a professional photographer. She remained active in photography for the remainder of her life.

The National Library of Australia holds an archive of Evans’ life work, containing around 30,000 analogue and 80,000 digital works, plus considerable associated documentation. It’s one of the largest archives of any contemporary Australian photographer in any public institution. In 2016, Evans herself invited Grishin to write this book and worked closely with him to achieve it, despite declining health. She approved the final text of all chapters but, sadly, died before publication.

So what do I think of Evans’ imagery? It is diverse. Some, not all, early amateur shots are, perhaps unsurprisingly, amateurish. One about a 1996 rally against racism is certainly about an important Australian story.

Joyce Evans, Rally against Racism, Treasury Gardens, Melbourne, 1996, nla.obj-143145840

Evans’ somewhat privileged life and good contacts (often portrait subjects) definitely assisted to get her professional career going. Federal Minister Clyde Holding’s invitation to join Aboriginal Affairs as an honorary documentary photographer was instrumental and resulted in her recognising the need to see photographs that should be taken. One book chapter is devoted to “finding the image”. Another to documentary shots of Australia, including roadkill on Australia’s “endless roads”. The latter caused me to think about Judith Nangala Crispin’s very different poetic artworks of such subject matter. Evans’ images such as Uluru, Northern Territory (featured on the book cover) are delightful renditions of our outback.

Joyce Evans, Portrait of Barbara Blackman, 1989, nla.obj-135941390
Joyce Evans, Uluru, Northern Territory, 1987, courtesy National Library of Australia
Joyce Evans, Desert Car on Gunbarrel Highway, Northern territory, 1991, nla.obj-153485555

The book includes some  photos of places Canberrans know well – a windmill at lake George, the Niagara Café at Gundagai. Images taken a little further away include one of the start of Benalla’s Anzac Day march in 1994.

Joyce Evans, Windmill on Lake George, New South Wales, 1983, nla.obj-153304178

There are some excellent art landscape images, including Eelgrass with Blades Coated in Algae, Mungo Tree, Dimboola Dreaming and two of Cotswold Farm.

Joyce Evans, Eelgrass with Blades Coated in Algae, 2000–2001, courtesy National Library of Australia
Joyce Evans, Mungo Tree, 1990, courtesy National Library of Australia

I know of many folk who have substantial photography collections telling Australian stories which would be worthy additions to the NLA collections. You might even have a great collection. If so, check out https://www.nla.gov.au/support-us/giving-your-national-library/offer-us-collection-material.

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

Photography Story

2022 in Review

Photography | Brian Rope

2022 in Review

This time last year I wrote of local photo artists continuing to make their marks. 2022 has surpassed it. I have seen and reviewed 37 exhibitions of photography-related artworks, including videography, post-digital and networked photographic art.

It began with Judith Nangala Crispin’s sell out show at Grainger Gallery, which resulted in a Canberra Critics Circle Award.

On the curve of a desert track, a motorcycle hums in sand, wheels spinning, stars lifting from yinirnti and bloodwood trees

Then the first Photo Access show of the year, featuring diverse photomedia works by ten emerging, or re-emerging, contemporary photographers – including an 80 years old.

A Critics Circle Award also went to Michael Armstrong, for his stunning portraits of Veterans with PTSD. It was just one of the exhibitions this year focussing on important issues and groups in the community.

Mike Armstrong #5, 2022

There was Tim Bauer’s portraits of people and an accompanying documentary by Liz Deep-Jones, about confronting racism and bigotry. Flavia Abdurahman and Gabor Dunajszky revealed the resilience of Afghan Muslim women in war zones. And at year’s end (continuing into February), there is Hilary Wardhaugh’s work portraying people with lived experience of being disabled or of being mental health consumers. These are all worthwhile uses of photographic art.

There was more than one exhibition looking at issues relating to climate and ecology, educating artists and art lovers about biodiversity, heritage research and more. Most recently, ecologist and photographer David Wong explored different aspects of eucalypt ecosystems within local nature reserves. A group of 17 photographers led by Wong also produced a delightful separate exhibition about Bluett’s Block which is under threat from encroaching suburbia.

David Wong – Bruce Ridge, 2021

A photobook of the Bluett’s Block show is just one of the books released this year from Photo Access projects. There were three more in May, and another three in July. And Margaret Kalms launched her own excellent book in February to raise awareness about the illness endometriosis.

Lots of Blood – Margaret Kalms

The exhibitions seen include some shown in NSW. There was Ali Nasseri’s exploration of his local patch, the ocean at Bondi, shown in Bungendore. And there was a celebration of the cyanotype print displayed at Sutton Village.

Hydrangea © Ellie Young

It has also been a year of modest (or small) shows, including an exhibition of photos by someone who is not a photographer at CCAS Manuka. Jane Duong had just a few images displayed at ACT Hub, in The Causeway Hall – which is the oldest hall in Canberra and a listed item on the ACT Heritage Register. They were also cyanotypes. And even more cyanotypes featured in Claire Grant’s wonderful “Up in the Air” and a simultaneous members’ exhibition at Photo Access.

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

There also have been outdoor exhibitions – the Bluett’s Block one opened in a pop-up at the Block before moving into the Manuka Arts Centre Gardens. Sammy Hawker had a show in Tuggeranong, on the windows of Lakeview House & under the Soward Way Bridge. And Hilary Wardhaugh has had works on display in Queanbeyan’s No Name Lane.

Hawker was also a most deserving winner of the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize this year with her work Mount Gulaga, 2021, making her the third Canberran in succession to take out that annual Prize and, thus, confirming the high calibre of local photo artists.

SAMMY HAWKER Mount Gulaga, 2021

Two other female Canberra photographers, Lyndall Gerlach and Susan Henderson were amongst the finalists. Gerlach and Henderson were also amongst the exhibitors in an excellent all women show at M16 Art Gallery.

There have been great shows at major institutions, including the National Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery, and Viewfinder: Photography from the 1970s to Now at the National Library of Australia.

My advice? See every local photo art exhibition in 2023.

This article was first published in The Canberra Times online here and at page 31 of the print edition on 2/1/23.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

Pictures of You

Photography Exhibition Review

Pictures of You | Hilary Wardhaugh

Belconnen Arts Centre | 2–17 December 2022, & 17 January – 5 February 2023

In 2017, Canberran John Brookes was given three months to live. He reached out to an artist to paint a memorial portrait. He is still going five years later and intends to continue for the foreseeable future!

Along the way, Brookes established Canberry Communications – a non-profit that supports communities including those with mental and/or physical disability. It develops arts projects in a range of media for small charities who may not otherwise have the resources to implement them. It believes strongly in giving a voice, enabling people to tell their own stories in unique and thought-provoking ways – looking beyond their ‘issues’ to the whole person.

This exhibition is the first outcome of one such arts project. Undertaken in collaboration with photographer Hilary Wardhaugh and the Belconnen Arts Centre, it was launched along with a number of other art exhibitions, each celebrating ageing or disability, on the eve of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, held worldwide annually to observe and highlight issues that affect people with disabilities.

More than a photographer, Wardhaugh is an artist, activist/provocateur, volunteer and creator of community. Her creative endeavours bring people together in the pursuit of a better world. Her interests involve the human condition: frailty, irony, contradiction. And she pursues topical and creative projects to highlight themes and issues reflecting those conditions.

Pictures of You takes a unique approach to portraying people with lived experience of being disabled or of being mental health consumers. Each person collaborated as equals with Wardhaugh to produce their portraits honestly reflecting them as whole persons and not just ‘consumers’ – a process that had surprising and inspirational results, both for the subjects and the artist.

The collaborations asked a question – have you ever tried to explain how it is to be YOU? To a friend, a partner, your family, a professional – even to yourself? Now it asks us to imagine having a disability or being a mental health consumer, to think about the prejudices that come with that, and the challenges of engaging people to look beyond our imagined disability to the whole of our personalities.

It is suggested, correctly, that an image: a single depiction of mood, hopes, fears, strengths and personality, can say so much more than words. Imagine having an image that is YOU, that sums up who and what you are, a source of pride that you can keep, display and say…“this is me.”

This is the focus of the Pictures of You exhibition, a modest yet important show highlighting that people with disabilities and mental health consumers are equal to everyone else, have as much to offer and give as the rest of us, are people to be admired and loved just as much as every other person. They have feelings, they have skills and talents, they can do all sorts of things. There are images of individuals and one group shot of some talented, determined, enthusiastic, and absolutely impressive people with disability in the Rebus Theatre family.

Most, perhaps all, of the people portrayed in Wardhaugh’s artworks were present at the opening and gladly lined up for group shots with the artist and others. It was wonderful to see the people alongside their portraits. Bruno would probably have loved to play his guitar for everyone in the large crowd.

Bruno Cirillo © Hilary Wardhaugh

The Rebus folk no doubt would also have loved to perform show their talents.

Rebus © Hilary Wardhaugh

Go take a look and ask yourself who these portrayed people are.

Arto © Hilary Wardhaugh

Eleanor Waight © Hilary Wardhaugh

Glen © Hilary Wardhaugh

Melissa Hammond © Hilary Wardhaugh

Some other photographic artworks amongst the companion exhibitions are also well worth seeing. Indeed, I encourage you to see all the exhibitions.

This review was first published online by The Canberra Times here and then printed on 10/12/22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Photo Book Review, Reviews

On the Western Edge: Witnessing Bluett’s 

Photography Exhibition (& Book) Review

On the Western Edge: Witnessing Bluett’s | Various artists

Manuka Arts Centre Gardens | 1 – 17 Dec 2022

The exhibition On the Western Edge: Witnessing Bluetts opened as a pop-up at Bluett’s Block on the evening of 1 December and I’m delighted that I managed to get there as it was well worth seeing. It is a group show (with an accompanying book) revolving around the eucalypt ecosystem of Bluett’s Block. A substantial number of other people also enjoyed walking around the exhibition looking at the prints mounted atop metal stakes pushed into the ground amongst the native grasses and colourful yellow flowers.

All Canberrans know that the Western side of the city has seen much, almost relentless, urban development over the past decade. As a result, habitats and ecosystems have been replaced by numerous newly developed roads, houses and other buildings. Bluetts Block is a natural area on the edge of this rapidly growing urban footprint. The site has been subject to various land uses over the years. Potential threats to it have prompted many Canberrans’ to push for the site’s protection.

Over ten months, seventeen photographers led by 2022 Dahl Fellow Dr David Wong, regularly visited the site to photograph the resident animals, plants, non-living things, and the ecological processes that shape the place. Each time they undertook their photo walks, another specialist also joined them to highlight their personal practice or background relating to the site. The purpose of the project was, and is, to raise awareness about the importance of Bluetts as a thriving eco-system worthy of protection, rather than urban development.

Folk at the opening, heard about the importance of Bluetts to local Indigenous people and of plans to seek the granting of Native Title over the A.C.T. to them. They heard impassioned words spoken by Jean Casburn, the originator of the Friends of Bluett’s Block. They heard about the importance of reconciliation.

Following the opening, the exhibition was moved to the gardens at the Manuka Arts Centre. Whilst that is different from viewing it at the location where the photographs were all taken, it is nevertheless an exhibition to be seen. The book, available for sale inside from Photo Access, includes numerous photos – some accompanied by text such as this haiku: “Capture and burn, Stop waging war on the forests, making the oxygen we breathe.”

There are photos of landscapes, kookaburra, orchids, sunsets, termite mounds, scribbly moth tracings, birds, fungi, grasses, canopies, native flowers, clouds, a red-headed mouse spider, and more. Jean Savigny has written about the perspectives of the project participants. About first impressions being visceral. About seasons and revelations. About personal learning and discovery. About field studies for a doctorate. About the 2,618 species that, so far, have been identified at Bluetts.

The Edge (Savigny), The Scars (Yasmin Idriss) and The Future (Scott Ferguson) include land clearing, roadworks and houses not far away – clearly revealing the sad future that could befall this piece of eucalyptus ecosystem.

Scott Ferguson – The future

Other images in both the exhibition and the book reveal the natural beauty and precious things that inhabit the area.

I particularly enjoyed Moving (Allen Bills), Exploring (Kristiane Herrmann) showing project participants doing just that, Scribbly Moth Tracing (Fiona Hooton), At Night (Mandi Bennett), Native Yellow Flower (Miriam Blackburn), and Lichens like rocks (Sarah Ryan).

Exploring by Kristiane Herrmann – installation shot at Bluett’s Block – Brian Rope

Allen Bills – Moving

Mandi Bennett – At Night

But every image makes a valuable contribution to the documenting of the many, and different, facets of this eco-system. Every participant and every other person involved in this project is to be congratulated.

If you wish to visit this beautiful place, the entrance to Bluett’s Block is just past Denman Prospect, off Uriarra Rd and right next to the Stromlo Forest West Carpark. The co-ordinates are: 35º17’57.3”S 149º00’35.2”E.

This review was first published online on 4/12/22 by The Canberra Times here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

Viewfinder: Photography from the 1970s to Now

Photography Exhibition Review

Viewfinder: Photography from the 1970s to Now | Various artists

National Library of Australia Exhibition Gallery | 16 Sep 2022-13 Mar 2023

Viewfinder: Photography from the 1970s to Now explores fifty years in the life of Australia. 125 images from the National Library of Australia’s collections reveal a changing Australia and the evolving nature of photography. It looks at powerful Australian documentary photography, from 1970s black and white images to recent vibrant high-definition images.

Quintessential Aussies feature, including shearers, dancers, infantry diggers, knitters, sporting heroes and bronzed bodies on the beach. However, there is a much bigger, far more inclusive story, including William Yang’s winged angels at Mardi Gras in 2003, migrant lives, Australian First Nations people, and the joys of family life.

William Yang, Rainbow Angel Wings, New Mardi Gras, 2003, nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136950531, courtesy William Yang

A 1973 Jon Rhodes image of a ticket booth employee at a railway station would have meaning and memories for his family and all who remember those booths. Others, too young to remember, should also be interested in this snippet of history.

Jon Rhodes, Paul Jackson, Dubbo, News South Wales, 1973, nla.gov.au/nla.obj-2147881601, courtesy Jon Rhodes

There’s a cyclist towing an older woman in a wheeled cart, itself towing a caged dog. Bruce Howard’s delightful 1985 image shows that such modes of transport are not new.

Bruce Howard and Herald and Weekly Times, On a bicycle built for ?, 1981, nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148147368, courtesy Bruce Howard

Bill Bachman’s image of three Aussie blokes having a beer in 1995 is simply classic.

Bill Bachman, Council mechanics, Jack Western, Bob Mackenzie and Bryan Steele having a drink of beer, Gascoyne Junction, Western Australia, ca. 1995, nla.gov.au/nla.obj-138088597, courtesy Bill Bachman

Anne Zahalka’s colourful 1998 image of Star City Casino is of particular interest right now because it, and other casinos, have been in the news.

Anne Zahalka, Star City Casino (after Breughel), 1998, nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150880157, courtesy Anne Zahalka

Matthew Sleeth shows us senior citizens on the footpath to see their much-loved Queen pass by in 2000.

Matthew Sleeth, Residents of a Retirement Home are Wheeled onto the Footpath to Watch the Queen, Western Freeway, Friday 24 March 2000, nla.gov.au/nla.obj-145875044, copyright courtesy Matthew Sleeth and Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

And, from 2007, Martin Mischkulnig shows us a very dusty Pilbara Aussie rules venue.

Martin Mischkulnig, Warralong, Western Australia, 2007, nla.gov.au/nla.obj-691608047, courtesy Martin Mischkulnig

These are just examples of works from this wonderful collection which is never fully on view at any one time.

The exhibition also focusses on the evolving nature of photography as a way of recording our lives and highlights the significant technological advances and increasing diversity of styles, approaches and techniques utilised by photographers over the past five decades.

Walking through and taking time to look, study and absorb each work and the accompanying information, I was struck by a message for children under a self-portrait of Tracey Moffatt. It included this definition “A portrait is a painting, drawing or a photograph of a person”. Just 700m away at the National Portrait Gallery, another current exhibition is boldly proclaiming about the show being designed to make visitors think about “the ever-evolving and ever-expanding idea of portraiture”.

Does that mean the NLA is out of touch? No, because the images it is showing from its collection are primarily from the past, whereas the diverse artworks on display at the other institution are from collections that have a different focus. Any and all collections in national institutions have an important place and opportunities to view pieces from those collections are most welcome and, indeed, important. Being able to view both exhibitions at the same time is an especially valuable opportunity for us all.

So, back to the NLA exhibition. What does it tell us about Australia? The diverse works include well-known pieces that anyone with a modest knowledge of Australian photography will recognise. There are images most of us will not be familiar with, by photographers whose names we may not recollect having heard. Pleasingly, the indigenous country location is identified for each image.

The NLA describes its image collections as the photo albums of Australia. They certainly are an invaluable archive that can assist us to understand the story of this country. They reveal the communities we live in, the landscapes we inhabit, our history and moments both significant and ephemeral.

Documentary photographers – including you – capture images that assist us understand both place and people, and to plot our way forward in this uncertain world.

This review was first published online by The Canberra Times here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

Picture Yourself, and Woodlands, Forests, Life

Review of Photography Exhibition

Picture Yourself | Gerry Orkin

Woodlands, Forests, Life by David Wong

Photo Access | 18 Nov 2022 – 17 Dec 2022

Gerry Orkin and David Wong are Canberra locals, and each of their exhibitions  here celebrates and explores aspects of life in the nation’s capital.

Orkin was a founding member of Photo Access. He helped develop and deliver documentary and participatory photography projects so communities could tell their own stories.

With Picture Yourself, Orkin moved away from the traditional documentary approach, handing image making and storytelling to the subjects themselves.

Comprising images captured during Summer 1985, the exhibition is seventy-four unconventional, yet uncomplicated, artworks showing Canberra’s community.

Orkin set up a tripod-mounted camera in temporary structures at public events and invited passers-by to take “selfies” by squeezing a hand-held bulb to trigger the shutter.

The photographs include individuals, plus small and large groups. Orkin was investigating the idea that something interesting might happen when he asked people “who are you?” – to make it possible to show (not just tell) stories about themselves, in one photograph, at that moment.

The results are delightful and quirky. If you went to Sunday in the Park events or Canberra Day parades in that 1985 Summer, you may well have gone into the booth with some family or friends and posed for the camera. Whether you did or not, this is an exhibition every then resident of Canberra should visit to explore this wonderful collection and see if you recognise anyone. Indeed, even if you didn’t live in Canberra at that time, you will love looking at these people shots. So, do yourself a favour and visit this exhibition.

Prints of images are available for purchase in various sizes and can be viewed at https://pictureyourself.picflow.com/catalogue. Orkin also seeks our assistance to identify the people pictured and you can do that on the catalogue website. There is also a book containing all 74 images which can be purchased from Photo Access.

Gerry Orkin – Picture Yourself, 1985

And whilst visiting, you will also very much enjoy the companion exhibition. From an early age, Wong has loved nature and explored the bushland areas close to his home. The high-quality prints of his imagery on show are a beautiful collection of photos of those places – and what he has found and seen in them.

These Woodlands, Forests, Life artworks span around a decade and explore the different aspects of eucalypt ecosystems within local nature reserves – their variety and quality, their safeguarding. And also explores people seeking to understand, restore and protect them. Woodlands, Forests, Life is also part of a broader 2022 Eucalypt Australia Dahl Fellowship project.

The strength of this exhibition lies in its broad coverage. There are wonderful woodland landscapes, but also much more.

David Wong – Bruce Ridge, 2021

There are the elements of those woodlands, including a beetle, a gum hopper, a bull ant, moss capsules, a gecko, and fungi.

David Wong – Eastern Stone Gecko

There are images relating to the threats to woodlands and about the good folk who are involved in various ways seeking to protect them – a fence, a sculpture, a sign.

David Wong – Little Eagle, Ginninderry, 2022

There are even polaroid prints of the woodlands cascading from a wall onto the floor with an invitation for visitors to take a piece of the landscape.

All this is accompanied by an excellent catalogue essay by Canberra photographer Chris Holly and two great pieces of Wong’s own writing on top of two pedestals in the gallery. Here’s just a snippet from The Helpers:

When the morning news

tells of apocalypse

They get to work

Writing letters

Chipping weeds

Teaching kids

Testing hypotheses

All the images and accompanying words in this quality exhibition should result in visitors getting out into the woodlands to, as Holly says, stand among eucalypts and recognize who you are.

This review was first published online by The Canberra Times on 28/11/22 here then on page 10 of Panorama on 3/12/22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews


Review of post-digital and networked photographic art exhibition

ANOTHER/S/KIN | Maddie Hepner and Rory Gillen

Tributary Projects, Gorman Arts Centre | 20 October – 11 November 2022

Ever wondered what it would be like to inhabit another person’s life or skin? Or a step further, that person lives your life at the same time? It may not quite be that, but within ANOTHER/S/KIN Maddie Hepner and Rory Gillen undertook resided in each other’s internet lives. They exchanged their social media accounts and user data to explore how each other’s curated feeds influenced their online experiences, and how those feeds reacted to being hijacked.

In 2018, Rory Gillen completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts Photomedia Major at the ANU School of Art and Design, then in 2019, added Honours, Photomedia (First Class). In 2021, Maddie Hepner completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts (First Class Honours) Photography and Media Arts at the same ANU School. In 2021, both artists were recipients of PhotoAccess ANU EASS Residency Awards.

Gillen enjoys creativity and learning and figuring out how things work and then how to tinker with them. Hepner loved the overlapping of their collaboration but is not a technology nerd.

The artists describe their process as undertaking “a subjective analysis of a subjective network.” You may or may not know, leave alone understand, how the internet increasingly divides us algorithmically and ideologically. Having both worked within this area previously, these artists so certainly did know. Here, they aimed “to perform a radical act of transparency” – not being afraid to let each other see what they said or viewed on their social media accounts. They sought answers to the question “how does my feed inform what I know?”

This necessarily empathetic project also explored the nature of data collection and the voyeuristic exercise of witnessing. The coincidental recent hackings and releasing of personal data on the internet means many affected people are dealing with the question of how it feels to have strangers able to look directly at data about them. Does it feel any different having another artist directly looking at your data to having a corporation analysing or revealing your data? Does it make the collection more invasive? Does it make it more real? This show shares the results of the artists’ observations and collaboration.

The highly experimental artform they are practising is “post-digital and networked photographic art.” There are few practitioners of this artform in Canberra, some here and there elsewhere in Australia, but many in Europe and America. It is an extension of photography, videography and digital art. The artists consider the show to have become immediately dated since everything constantly changes on the Internet.

So, what is in the show? There is a joint audio work Persuasive Bargaining, inkjet prints, and “structures.”

Persuasive Bargaining – installation photo by Rory Gillen
Persuasive Bargaining ANOTHER/S/KIN – installation photo by Rory Gillen
GET-I (an experiment in withdrawal) detail – installation photo by Rory Gillen

There are also face casts of the artists, made together (with some friends assisting) in a very intimate experience, plus a broken merged piece. Uncannily alike, the face casts are positioned as silent viewers of Hepner’s video artworks.

ANOTHER/S/KIN 01 – photo by Rory Gillen
Epidermal Impact (imploded)(1) – installation photo by Rory Gillen

Those three video artworks are about topics that popped up repeatedly on Gillen’s social media account. Satisfying Scrapes (dirty carpet) is all about carpet cleaning –  and somewhat hypnotic.

Satisfying scrapes (dirty carpet) – installation photo by Rory Gillen

Divulge and Devour is about the art of cake decorating on Reddit (a  network of communities where people can dive into their interests, hobbies and passions) – with the video accompanied by audio of creepy stories.

Divulge and devour – installation photo by Rory Gillen

All Hustlers go to Hell is about the deeply misogynistic cigar smoking internet persona, Andrew Tate, who has been banned from several social media platforms.

All Hustlers go to Hell – installation photo by Rory Gillen

Weird right? But then what strange video material do you see on your own social media accounts? And do you understand why it is shown to you?

Gillen pulled out images from different things he saw on Hepner’s account and created abstractions from very small selections of pixels. What we see exhibited is Content – a multi-dimensional, ever-changing abstract on a screen re-purposed from his 2021 exhibition Uncalibrated Space.

Content – installation photo by Rory Gillen

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