My Photography, Photography Story

A DAY ON THE FARM

Once upon a time  – in April 1979 actually – there was a farmer with the unlikely name of Shepherd. Mike Shepherd that is. A part-time weekend farmer when I met him. A public servant concerned with matters agricultural during the week. And also a man with a precious knack for entertaining young people. A man who took chances.

Have you ever taken a chance? I don’t mean buying a lottery ticket or betting on the horses. Although that is really how I first met Mike. He had brought a tiny piece of his farm to Canberra one fine and sunny afternoon, as part of a ‘City meets Country’ happening. And I was there with my young children. My nine-year-old son Darren entered a “Guess the Weight of the Black Sheep” contest and, you guessed it – he won! The prize? A visit to Mike Shepherd’s farm.

And so it was that we came to spend two days on Mike’s farm. Not a new experience for me I thought, having lived on farms for some years as a child. Even when Mike warned that the farm always hosted an assortment of people at weekends, I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. But even Mike didn’t always know who would turn up on any particular weekend. Always adventurous, we just set off into the unknown to take a chance on this Mike, his farm and his other unknown guests. As always, of course, my camera was on board!

Arriving early Saturday morning we found all the other guests had turned up the night before. One group was in the process of slaughtering a sheep in readiness for the evening meal. As promised – or, perhaps, threatened – the other guests were indeed a whole variety of people. Various ages. Various backgrounds.

A public servant about to opt out of his personal rat race and work the farm. A woman, her four daughters – aged from about six to thirteen – and her unemployed brother. And a caftan-wearing American, resident at the farm. Mike himself. Des, with his great hat. And a couple of teachers from Sydney. Oh, and their class of thirteen teenage children from their special school for people with a level of intellectual disability!

The teachers and children were, in fact, stopping over for a few days experiencing country life. With little previous experience of such children, and certainly not any previous opportunity to get to know a group of such children at first hand, the weekend was to prove an exciting opportunity for me. And for my camera!

Ask any farmer and you will be told there is always plenty of work to be done. This one was no exception. All the guests were welcome to get involved with whatever was in progress. My then wife settled down with her sketchbook. My children went exploring and found a pony to ride. One of the other children, Susie, looked longingly but could not be persuaded to join them.

I found myself helping Mike to bring in some sheep. One of the school children used his imaginary walkie-talkie to pass innumerable instructions to imaginary security guards, and to the rest of us as we gathered the sheep! As the rest of the children ran towards us when we brought the sheep in, I ran to get my cameras.

I was not disappointed. Teacher Sylvia, and Des in his hat, tried their hands at cutting toenails and treating footrot on the rams. An upside-down ram and an inquisitive bunch of children soon found Mike giving an impromptu biology and sex lesson. The farm visitors watched on whilst one held a sheep steady, and the nearby building silently observed.

Once the work was over, there was time for fun. The children were enticed to leave their safe viewing positions beyond the yard fence and join the sheep. Not an easy thing for some of them. They dug deep for courage to really get among the unfamiliar.

Darren seems interested in joining the sheep
Mike offers encouragement to the reticent ones
Will I, won’t I?
Maybe I’ll just stay here?
This is a good view from here
I’ll try this nail cutting lark
Some decide to get in there

Eventually, my camera followed Hatice, a mildly retarded girl, as she tentatively moved – in a few feet, back several, in again, back again!

Hatice
Hatice cautiously moves towards the sheep, following her teacher’s lead as two classmates look on
Hatice thinks better of it and heads for the protection of the railings
Hatice finds the courage to overcome her fear and grasp a sheep by its horns

Until eventually she took a firm hold on a sheep and grinned up at me in triumph!

Hatice smiles triumphantly for the camera as she realises she has achieved her goal of touching that sheep

(Those five images about Hatice were published under the heading “I was there” in the February 1980 issue of an Australian Photographic Society magazine, Image.)

Dean, an only child, adopted almost everyone as his temporary family. He really took a fancy to Sandy. She became his sister. Her mother became his mother. Others became his father, uncles and aunts! Around the evening campfire later this young boy delighted us all with his skills playing a guitar.

John also thrilled us with his musical ability. He lacked the co-ordination to peg clothes on a line, but he was able to produce tune after tune on a piano accordion keyboard – as Mike did the squeezing for him!

I will always remember the weekend for so many things. The way small hands slipped quietly into my arm. The way small arms slipped around my shoulder. The shy smiles. Susie – who eventually found the courage to ride the pony. The music and singing after we ravenously tore at the barbecued sheep. And, particularly, the hauntingly beautiful unaccompanied singing of the Lord’s Prayer by one of the young girls from the special school before we turned in for the night.

I became so engrossed in learning from, and getting to know, these special children that I forgot to keep taking photographs. I don’t make that mistake any more. But the images I did get have always served as a reminder of the day my son took a chance.

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Photo Book Review, Reviews

Canberra Re-Seen Photobook

Photography Book Review

Canberra Re-Seen | Various Artists

Three new independently published photo-books were recently launched in Canberra at Photo Access, all examining the city of Canberra as a place of social, cultural and political significance. Each photographer, in all the books, explores their personal relationship to the city, as well as considering its wider, public meaning as a national capital city.

Canberra Re-Seen, by multiple artists, curated by Wouter Van de Voorde (currently acting Director of Photo Access), was an exhibition in 2021 that explored the idea of the city as a community of people, a built environment, and a physical landscape and the book selects and interweaves works from the project. I reviewed the exhibition at the time on this blog here.

Developed in collaboration with Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG), the project brought together sixteen artists to create new work responding to three of Canberra’s landmark photographers – Marzena Wasikowska, Edward (Ted) Richards and Ian North – all part of the CMAG collection. Just one image by each of those photographers are also included in this book.

The words accompanying the images throughout this book provide much information – historical background about the city, the project and the three landmark photographers; and the sixteen artists wrote their own words about their individual approaches and images.

Inspired by Wasikowska’s interest in capturing the human qualities of Canberra, one of the project groups explored the idea that a city is best understood through its people. They had the added benefit of Wasikowska herself leading their workshop. The book’s images from this group include Andrea Bryant’s marvellous portrait of her neighbour Maria, Eva Schroeder’s superb Metamorphosis  – a triptych portrayal of a Canberran transitioning from one gender to another, and Louise Maurer’s extraordinary Weetangera II – a composite speaking to the importance of diminishing green spaces and native ecosystems across Canberra. Each of those named images can be seen in my previous review of the exhibition, so here is just one of them.

Maria Straykova

A second collective, led by Van de Voorde, investigated Richards’ interest in documenting the character of Canberra’s little-known places. They shot on 35mm film and created darkroom prints in response to Richards’ dramatic black and white style. Amongst their creations are Annette Fisher’s delightful Abstracts, and Tessa Ivison’s strong cityscapes – interestingly titled Pastoral. Sari Sutton, inspired by the playful use of lines and geometry in Richard’s Dancing in the Mall, 1964 found her own and used them effectively in her Civic Stripes series. Again, each of those images was included in my review of the previous exhibition, and so, here is just one of them.

Annette Fisher, 4 Abstracts, 2021

Working with documentary photographer David Hempenstall, the third group explored the ideas of North’s early 1980s images of Canberra suburbs – vistas both bleak and beautiful. Peter Larmour took 3D images of landscapes. His Southern Anaglyph (dye sublimation on aluminium) was worthy of close examination when exhibited. Unfortunately, it can only be represented in two dimensions in this book. A very strong contribution is Beata Tworek’s series of excellent collages, which respond to North’s innovative and optimistic colour treatment of deserted streetscapes with austere monochromes reflecting disdain for their lack of individuality. Grant Winkler’s That Sinking Feeling is very much about the bush landscape disappearing as new suburbs creep over it, replaced by homes and other buildings sitting heavily on the scraped earth with what remains of nature being “moulded and manicured” and no longer particularly natural.

Once again, the mentioned images made by this group are in my review of the exhibition, but here is one of them.

Ambivalent collage 6 – Beata Tworek

Translated into this book, Canberra Re-Seen selects and interweaves work from across that broader project, drawing together digital and darkroom works to generate a simultaneously affectionate and challenging look at the city of Canberra and what it means to live in it today. Photo Access staff member Caitlin Seymour-King has done a fine job of designing the book. It is much more than a catalogue of the 2021 exhibition. It is a book to study and return to regularly as the city of Canberra continues to develop and change.

The book can be purchased at Photo Access.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. Another version was published in the Canberra Times on 7/5/22 here as part of a combined review of this and the other two books launched at the same time.

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Photo Book Review, Reviews

EDGE

Photography Book Review

EDGE | Kayla Adams

EDGE, by Kayla Adams, is one of three independently published photo-books about Canberra recently launched. As do the other two, this book explores the author’s personal relationship to the city.

The book looks at the urban and built environment of the Woden town centre through the idea of Edge City. I was not previously familiar with the term but learned that it originated in the United States for a concentration of business, shopping, and entertainment outside a traditional downtown or central business district, in what had previously been a suburban residential or rural area.

The term was popularised by the 1991 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier by Joel Garreau. He argued that the edge city has become the standard form of urban growth worldwide, representing a 20th-century urban form unlike that of the 19th-century central downtown.

So, it is an urban planning phenomenon where new, separate cities spring up around older, established ones. Is that what Woden town centre is – or is becoming? Adams says, rather than it “springing up”, Canberra chose the edge city form consciously. Whether that is so or not, certainly the city has been changing in recent years and continues to do so.

Adams has approached her exploration by focussing on the Lovett Tower, that 93-metre-tall building in Woden’s town centre which once was the city’s tallest building. Current redevelopment plans would see it grow from 24 to 28 storeys and again become the tallest building. Another developer’s plans could see a similar height building nearby. Whatever changes are made to existing buildings and regardless of new additions in the area, this photobook is timely. The views featured in it inevitably will change or be completely lost. The iconic tower may no longer be easily noticed from surrounding suburbs.

Lyons house study & Lovett Tower 2, 2018 – Kayla Adam

All the images in EDGE were shot between 2018 and 2021. They are a mixture of black and white and colour photographs. Around half show the Lovett Tower. There it is – glimpsed through  trees, through the mesh of a structure in a decaying parcel of land, and above the rooftops of suburbia during both day and night.

Lovett Tower and trees at Lyons apartments, 2020 – Kayla Adams

Other images include views from Mount Taylor, the demolition of the Lyons apartments directly across from the Town Centre, and an assortment of pieces of the surrounding suburbia. The Pitch’n’Putt, which also has closed, is another featured subject.

Woden Pitch’n’Putt & Lovett Tower 2, 2018 – Kayla Adams

People themselves are not seen in the works, but the artist’s presence as author is nevertheless evident.  It is not a book simply to be flicked through. Time should be taken to examine and consider each image, looking at their compositions and thinking about why Adams chose their locations and contents. Doing so, viewers will notice details that reveal changes during the short period of years in which they were taken. Through her distinctive use of viewpoints, Adams draws the viewer irresistibly into the process of seeing, creating an intimate complicity between artist, image and audience.

As the years pass by, this book will become akin to a time capsule. Be they planned extensions to existing places or organically born structures in and around the Town Centre, changes will bring with them new identities and notions of place. Who knows what buildings will be demolished or remade? What new features will appear where – and will they replace or add to those currently part of this town centre? Today’s youngsters starting out on their life journey’s and regularly vising the town centre may even be intrigued by this book when it becomes a historical document showing what their part of the city once looked like.

The book can be purchased at Photo Access.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. Another version was published in the Canberra Times on 7.5.22 here as part of a combined review of this and the other two books launched at the same time.

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Photo Book Review, Reviews

Lifetime Book 1. Coming of age

Photography Book Review

Lifetime Book 1. Coming of age | Greg Dickins

There have been various photo-books published about Canberra. Heide Smith published five of them about the city and its people between 1983 and 2012. Col Ellis published one in 2014 – providing tips and tricks for aspiring photographers, as well as creating a memento for expatriates and visitors. And I provided all the images for a 1990 book introducing Canberra to thousands of visitors shown around by local tourism company Hire-A-Guide.

However, I doubt that three independent photo-books about the city have previously been launched simultaneously. But now we have three which all examine Canberra as a place of social, cultural and political significance. Each explores the personal relationships of their photographers to the city. Each also looks at the national capital’s wider, public meaning.

One of them, Life-Time Book 1. Coming of age, is the first in a planned series of five photo-books by Greg Dickins. It catalogues his life in Canberra between 1967 and 1973, focussing on his experiences of childhood, school, university student revelry and family intimacy –  against the backdrop of anti-Vietnam War protests and rallies to establish an Aboriginal embassy. His planned later books will cover the years to 1987, after he left Canberra.

Dickins has spent his working life as a journalist and media consultant but has always had a passion for photography. He picked up a 35mm SLR camera as a teenager in the late 1960s – that time of great social, political and cultural change. Since then he has maintained a permanent darkroom, working mostly in black & white.

As a record of Canberra the way it looked and felt fifty years ago, this volume reveals something of the extent to which the city has evolved and changed through time. In his introduction, Dickins identifies his first dilemma as author of a book of photographs – “What do I have to say?” His response was that he needed to narrate a story linking the pictures and explaining their inclusion. So, he shows us what he saw and hopes we will see his take on what his images mean – or meant at the time.

So, how well has the author achieved his purpose? The childhood section includes some delightful images of youngsters doing the types of things all children do – playing with balloons – and something home-made, rolling about together on the ground, and painting at kindergarten.

Jane, Tricia & friend, June 1973 – Greg Dickins

They are also shown gesturing, laughing, and even looking like Winston Churchill. Some adults also make appearances with the children. These photos clearly represent what childhood meant for the majority of kids in Canberra at that period.

Dickins then moves on to school years. He shows us school-age children playing in the Cotter River, waiting for the school bus, in marching girl outfits, together on a sandy beach, and enjoying Canberra Day.

Di, Paul, Kyle & Judy, Casuarina Sands, November 1967 – Greg Dickins

Perhaps of greatest interest are the strong images of schoolchildren participating in an anti-Vietnam War march and rally in September 1970. Are their counterparts protesting today aware their counterparts did the same?

Next the book explores university student years – speakers’ corner (who remembers that?), rugby, drama (including a nude poetess and a production of Marat Sade), the first on-campus condom vending machine, Bush Week activities and conscription notice burning. Plus a 1972 march to establish the Aboriginal Embassy and, again, an anti-Vietnam War march and rally. A number of well-known people appear, including two political leaders. There are some great historical shots here.

March to establish the Aboriginal Embassy, July 1972 – Greg Dickins

The final three images about family neatly close off what Dickins wanted to say. He has successfully narrated his story.

The book can be purchased at Photo Access or online at https://au.blurb.com/b/11093552-life-time-book-1-coming-of-age-large-12×12.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. Another version was published in the Canberra Times on 7/5/22 here as part of a combined review of this and the other two books launched at the same time.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

Between Hope and Despair – Natasha Fijn, Eating Wild Weeds – Alex Flannery, Archive Apparitions – Elisa deCourcy

Photography Exhibition Review

At Photo Access | 21 April – 21 May 2022

In this suite of exhibitions, three artists explore the possibilities of cross-cultural and/or intergenerational communication through the photographic medium.

Dr Natasha Fijn is an ethnographic researcher and observational filmmaker. In combination with text, observational films and photo essays form an integral part of her creative research output.

In the aftermath of the 2020 Plumwood Mountain bushfires, Fijn shows her observations of temperate Australian forest recovering alongside her grandfather Jan Reinder Fijn’s record of the liberation of Nazi-occupied Maastricht in 1945. Each set of images in Between Hope and Despair documents a place immediately following a time of crisis. So, we see burnt trees and a destroyed shed at Plumwood, and a destroyed bridge at Maastricht.

Natasha Fijn, Burnt trees with water meadow beyond, Plumwood Mountain, 2020
Natasha Fijn, Destroyed Shed, Plumwood Mountain, 2020
Jan Reinder Fijn, A sad picture the destroyed St Servatias Bridge, 1944

Both Fijns have employed the art of critical, participant observation in the documentation of their respective landscapes. The two documented times are separated by seventy-five years, but are connected by an intergenerational sense of urgency, through attention to their environments. The juxtapositions effectively reveal that both the old and recent events were indeed crises.

An Australian of Irish descent, Alex Flannery’s aim is to create photos that are both documents of the moment and also of things meaningful to him. Ouyang Yu is a contemporary Chinese-Australian poet and prose-writer. Operating in two languages and closely, caustically interrogating Australia’s cultural identity and diversity, Yu’s work is seen as matching a strident political voice with a tightly tuned lyrical self.

Eating Wild Weeds is a collaboration between Flannery and Yu. Together, they consider the complexities of cross-cultural understanding. Flannery’s images paired with Yu’s poetry investigate seeing, knowing and experiencing life in another country, engaging questions of visitation, migration, communication and being part of a multi-national family.

Flannery shows us interesting everyday scenes that he saw in the Chinese cities of Xiangyang and Wuhan during 2019.

Alex Flannery, Laddermen and Mao, 2019
Alex Flannery, sun and man in the street, 2019
Alex Flannery, river and jumping board, 2019

Yu’s displayed poetry needs to be read and considered. To illustrate, I share the concluding words of his I Love Sleep – “I love sleep … correct me if I am wrong … for in sleep I am equal to anyone … Without a fight.”

Dr Elisa deCourcy is currently an Australian Research Council fellow, working on a project about the first fifteen years of photographic practice in the Australian colonies. For Archive Apparitions, she collaborated with historic processes photographer, Craig Tuffin, who is among one of a dozen artists working with the historic daguerreotype process internationally, and with James Tylor.

In this work, deCourcy reactivates the daguerreotype process, as practised in the 1840s, to tell new stories of migration, environmentalism, family, and photography’s role as a container of memory. The work continues conversations around colonisation, race, femininity, work and mobility, and photographic custodianship that began in the mid-nineteenth-century photography studio.

Cased daguerreotypes are among the oldest extant photographic images in (Australian) gallery, library and museum collections. These tiny, pocket-sized photographs in cases look quite foreign to us today. Their mirror-like surfaces make their subjects appear ethereal and otherworldly, but they are often sharp images often rich in detail.

Elisa deCourcy and Craig Tuffin, Konrad, 2021 – detail

In the mid-nineteenth century, both settler-colonists and First Nations people brought objects to the photography studio: books, letters from loved ones, cloaks, shields, heirlooms and even other photographs to narrate their personal biographies and relationships to family, kin and Country outside the frame.

The visual narratives constructed in this contemporary series gesture to engagements with the past. However, instead of objects, here are portraits of currently living people, who have various personal and professional relationships with historic colonial Australian photography, narrated through historic portrait devices. How appropriate that one of the subjects is Helen Ennis, who specialises in Australian photographic history.

Elisa deCourcy and Craig Tuffin, Helen, 2021, sixth-plate, cased, daguerreotype

This review was published (albeit without the final sentence) in print version of The Canberra Times of 2/5/22 and online (also without the final sentence) here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

SELECTED SUBURBAN WORKS – WILLIAM BROADHURST – FANTASY COLLISION – GABRIELLE HALL-LOMAX, REVERBERATION TIME – JAMIE HLADKY

Review of Photography, Mixed Media Exhibition

At Photo Access, 10 March – 9 April 2022

These three solo shows have been described as each sharing a fascination with the strange. They are said to probe notions that have long intrigued photographers in numerous ways, demonstrating the diversity of contemporary photo-media.

One show, William Broadhurst’s Selected Suburban Works, imbues everyday scenes with a sense of mystery through abstraction. He presents a series of fleeting encounters shot in south-west Sydney.

The majority of Broadhurst’s works convey a powerful sense of movement and, if you like, blur – causing the detail of the content to be strangely abstracted whilst, sometimes, revealing almost ghost-like shapes and figures.

William Broadhurst, Untitled#6, 2021

There are other works where particular content is more obvious – the moon is a clear presence in two works, in one seemingly hovering over a field of suburban lights.

Another work includes a person pushing a shopping trolley near the top of a hill. Others reveal a young person near a post and two youngsters alongside a soccer goal – doing precisely what is unclear in both images.

William Broadhurst, Untitled#5, 2021

Yet another work features a shirtless man (the artist?) working with a whipper snipper, although what it is cutting is out of the frame leaving us to imagine it. Perhaps the image I enjoyed most includes, it seems, a blurred reclining kangaroo surveying suburbia from a nearby hill.

William Broadhurst, Untitled#1, 2021

A second show, Gabrielle Hall-Lomax’s Fantasy Collision, integrates paint and digital manipulation techniques into layered photographic images. The works draw some attention to how human activity has transformed our Australian eco-systems. Expanding on environmental photography traditions – often used as a tool to raise awareness and educate us humans about the impact we cause on the environment – Hall-Lomax integrates paint and digital manipulation techniques into her works to reflect on the interconnectedness of nature – the body and the psyche are unified.

One work is titled Slip – whereas I saw a leap.

Gabrielle Hall-Lomax, Slip

Another titled Bushfires did not speak to me of that phenomenon – but is a lovely image, nonetheless. These are reminders, perhaps, that titles are unimportant to many artists and exhibition visitors. Whatever our views about that, these are fine images.

Gabrielle Hall-Lomax, Bushfires, 2021

Yet another is titled Rituals – it shows four modest-sized, standing stones amongst the mist – an acknowledgement of Stonehenge perhaps?

Gabrielle Hall-Lomax, Rituals

And Touching the sun is a sublime work that deserves lengthy contemplation – for me, the most interesting piece in the suite of three exhibitions.

The exhibition catalogue says the third show, Jamie Hladky’s Reverberation Time, “uses flash to explore places that have been reclaimed by nature after human occupation, illuminating the power of natural forces and our futile attempts to corral them.” Hladky himself has told me that the work is not so much about decay, or nature reclaiming, as he’s seen written. For him, his imagery is about “the irrelevant brevity of our short endeavours and our moments of self-absorbed pride.”

The titles of Hladky’s works reveal only where the images were taken. Around half are of decaying building interiors and half of cave and mining tunnel interiors.

Jamie Hladky, Gilgandra NSW, 2021
Jamie Hladky, Yarrangobilly NSW (1), 2021

One shot of the exterior of a neat and clean motel located in a desert area initially seemed out of place. Asked about it, Hladky told me he sees it as the first image in the series to pull the rest of them indoors – demonstrating that it is always good to have opportunities to discuss works with their authors!

In addition to viewing the three exhibitions, reading the delightful “essays” in their catalogues is a definite must, especially The House by Paddy Julian and A Cloak Stands in a Bore Hole, Arms Extended by Simon Eales.

This review was published in The Canberra Times of 4/4/22 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Times gone, days lost and you

Photography Exhibition Review | Times gone, days lost and you

Ali Nasseri | Suki & Hugh Gallery, Bungendore | Until 20 March 2022

Times gone, days lost and you is an exhibition of large format photographic images by Sydney-based photographer Ali Nasseri. In this show he has taken inspiration from his own patch – the ocean at Bondi. The images are large and vivid in colour. Each image is complemented with Nasseri’s poetry.

Whilst Nasseri uses digital cameras for commercial jobs, he much prefers film for his art and his experience working with analogue photographic techniques is extensive. Here, he has shot on Kodak Gold 400 film using lead weighted underwater cameras in housings, set up so they float on the surface – held in his hands whilst he paddles around breathing through a snorkel.

Speaking with Nasseri, I learned he had experienced difficulty finding underwater cameras that could be serviced when something went wrong – such as being jammed, saltwater leaking into housings, or light leaking into the camera body. But nothing deterred him. Indeed, accepting what happens and even making the “faults” be important features of his imagery clearly reveals his way of working.

Some works are from double exposed negatives while others are made from two negatives being “sandwiched” together highlighting the unexpected and unique results that working with film can offer.

The large prints on exhibition have been created by rephotographing the film negatives with a 1:1 macro digital lens. That has brought out detail of the 35mm film’s grain – like enlarging it under a microscope. And detail is what the works are all about – we are invited to look right into each image to see what is in it. Yes, grain! But also overlays, light leaks, softness – and more grain!

Each print is accompanied by a small, suspended sheet of paper on which Nasseri has typed poetry. Yes, typed – on a manual typewriter. Imperfections have been corrected on the fly. When he has made typographical errors, he has simply gone back and overtyped them with horizontal lines. Sometimes he has omitted to leave a space between each line, but that does not concern him. And it should not concern us either. These are simply similar “faults” to those in the images. No whiteout liquid has covered them up. You will need to visit the gallery to enjoy those typos, but here is one sample to whet your appetite.

Poetry accompanying image “Take me with you”

The artist says tapping away on a typewriter creating his poetry is like shooting on 35mm film to create his images. His “arranged” words accompany his images in a random emotive way. Just another way of adding to the message.

So, why poetry? Nasseri has found that people look at an image then read the accompanying poetry. The words trap into their conscious minds. Gallery visitors look at images for longer, then the art forms within their brains. There are words about love, romance, seduction and flirting. Along with words about the moon, sea, orbits and tides.

Between the moon and the sea, 2021 © Ali Nasseri

In the poetry accompanying Drift and wonder I particularly appreciated “The furthest thing from the truth is tomorrow.”

Drift and wonder, 2022 © Ali Nasseri

And accompanying Everything is unique, who could argue with “everything can be identified by how it’s different.”

Everything is unique, 2022 © Ali Nasseri

Both musicians and visual artists would surely relate to some words in Space between breaths – “the notes that weren’t played, the black between, where mystery lies, look between the dots.”

Space between breaths, 2022 © Ali Nasseri

Brett Whitely once said “Art should astonish, transmute, transfix. One must work at the tissue between truth and paranoia.” Those words are often quoted by other artists who create mysterious abstracts. Nasseri’s works here are in many respects mysterious, but they are not unfathomable. In a sense they explore the divide between truth and falsity. Certainly they provide much food for thought.

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

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Reviews

Where Lakes Once Had Water

Review of exhibition of Audio-Visual Art

Where Lakes Once Had Water | Sonia Leber and David Chesworth

Drill Hall Gallery | Until 10 April 2022

Where Lakes once Had Water (2020) is a video that runs for 28:14 minutes. Whether gallery visitors see it from start to finish depends on whether they manage to arrive as it commences to play. I arrived around 7 minutes into it, so stayed to see the missed opening scenes after viewing all the rest of the video.

In 2018 and 2019, Melbourne/Naarm-based artists Sonia Leber and David Chesworth travelled with a team of Earth and environmental scientists investigating changes in climate, landscape and ecology in the Northern Territory over millennia. Their resultant video channels this experience, in which Indigenous rangers, Elders and community members collaborate with scientists in spectacular yet challenging environments.

Leber and Chesworth are known for their distinctive video, sound and architecture-based installations that are audible as much as visible. Their works are speculative and archaeological, often involving communities and elaborated from research in places undergoing social, technological or local geological transformation. The works emerge from reality but exist significantly in the realm of the imaginary, hinting at unseen forces and non-human perspectives.

Presented across two screens, this immersive long-form video is a journey encompassing audio-visual realms, scientific endeavour and traditional Indigenous knowledge, stories and custodianship – an amalgamation of efforts to understand this ancient land.

Where Lakes Once Had Water was filmed on the lands and waters of the Mudburra, Marlinja, Jingili, Elliot, Jawoyn and Larrakia communities, with additional filming and editing on Barkindji, Dharawal, Djabugay, Yidinji and Wurundjeri Country. In partnership with Bundanon, it is the first of four art commissions by The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH), which works across disciplinary boundaries, and seeks to garner broad perspectives of the past in order to engage new audiences with the story of ‘epic Australia.’ The aim is to engage artists with aspects of research – to make new work that responds to, questions, and interprets the research for broader audiences.

From fieldwork in deserts to microscopic work in laboratories, scientists sought evidence of Earth’s forces over long-term cycles of wet and dry. Many of those forces – wind, temperature, long-term aridification and tectonic movement – were invisible to the human eye or lay beyond human timescales.

Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 01b

Leber and Chesworth say their project “tests the hypothesis that the Earth is experienced and understood through different but interconnected ontologies. These ways of being, seeing, sensing, listening and thinking can align with art, Indigenous thought, science, ancient and modern cultures, the non-human, and somewhere in between.”

The video introduces Ray Dimakarri Dixon calling to ancestral spirits to watch over Country as scientists excavate the red earth of once-submerged lake beds. The fieldwork is observed by non-human cohabitants, as ecologies of birds, termites, flies and vegetation continue their own struggles of survival. Across the ancient shorelines, everyone is receptive to the signs, signals and rhythms of the land and water.

Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 07, with Ray Dimakarri Dixon

There are few spoken words – essentially only Auntie Susan Kingston, appropriately using Indigenous language. There are, however, numerous other sounds employed. Was that a created xylophone I saw and heard? Were sounds recorded by microphones and other recording devices scanning termite hills part of the soundtrack I listened to?

Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 08, with Auntie Susan Kingston and Aara Welz

There is so much to see in this video. Dry landscapes, grains, gorges and ants. Core samples, bottled water, laboratories, measurements, analysis. Geological explorations, erosion, dirt roads, fishing. Cattle, a road freight train. I could go on and on.

Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 02
Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 03b
Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_Where_Lakes_Once_Had_Water_video still 04b, detail

It is wonderful to see art used to educate artists and art lovers about biodiversity and heritage research and, hopefully, gain at least a little more understanding of these places where lakes once had water.

This review was published on page 37 of The Canberra Times of 7/3/22 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Mixed Signals

Review of Visual Art Exhibition | Mixed Signals | Jess Cochrane | aMBUSH Gallery | Until 20 March 2022

Jess Cochrane is an Australian contemporary visual artist. Canberra is her hometown. She has been based in London for a few years now but has recently returned to Canberra for a brief time. She created new large-scale multidisciplinary pieces specifically for this solo exhibition, Mixed Signals. A well-known Canberra dairy product even features in one of the pieces.

Canberra Milk © Jess Cochrane (2022)

Cochrane’s work questions the relationship between society, consumerism and pop culture. Her focus is on feminine beauty, illustrated through the application of paint over photographic images. She paints highly gestural and expressive marks over the surface of glossy photographic portraits. This approach seeks to reflect our relationship to imagery and, particularly, to our own self-image.

The artist reflects upon insecurity and perfectionism in the modern age. Connecting the history of art, design and advertising, she plays on the idea of pop culture and its roots that are planted in both displaying and disguising parts of ourselves.

It is a body of work that explores themes around desire and semiotics through digital photography, which Cochrane styles in an editorial manner then embellishes with rough, gestural mark-making using acrylic paint to provide the element of subversion she has become known for. These are portraits featuring her friends, acquaintances and people she admires. By including recognisable elements and iconography that reference popular culture and identity, Cochrane reveals the reflective creative spirit that pervades her work.

Two artworks titled Carbs, and Guilt and Pleasure, feature the model cradling and holding substantial quantities of sweet pastries. Another with the title Gluten Free had me thinking “something for everyone” until I realised it includes even more of the same baker’s confectionery. Whether the goodies were gluten free or not, I’d be sure they were not sugar free.

Guilt And Pleasure © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)
Gluten Free © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)

Another work has cherries on a model’s ear, in her hands, against a breast obscuring the nipple, in the crotch area and on the fabric where she is seated. The boots she is wearing are painted over in red. The model has a dreamy, wistful look. What was she thinking whilst her photographic portrait was being taken?

Boots feature in various images. Indeed one work is titled Gucci Boots. They appear to be from that company’s latest collection, designed by Alessandro Michele, the Italian fashion designer who is its creative director.

Fresh figs feature in more than one work, opened to reveal the pink/red flesh inside – some held by the model, others scattered around her feet. And there are shucked oysters. Again, some being held by – and others scattered around – the model.

In one work, I’m the Pearl, a dark-skinned beauty wearing a beautiful necklace holds an opened oyster “containing” a pearl. A heart shape has been painted around the oyster. The model’s eyes, her full lips – indeed everything about her – shout to us that she is a pearl.

This use of cherries, figs and oysters is all very sensual. And the seductiveness is added to by Cochrane’s use of her paints – for example, by drawing attention to a breast and nipple by painting an enlarged outline of the same around them.

Of course, sensuality is also the condition of being pleasing or fulfilling to the senses. And that is very much what the artist is seeking to do – and achieving – with all her works. They dazzle with their sensuality, their colours.

Open © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)

This exhibition is a powerful interrogation of our aspirational and perfection-seeking modern-day culture. It’s a collection of artworks unafraid to probe the historical conditioning of society, especially in the context of femininity, and ask the question ‘What do we perceive as beautiful and what is grotesque?’

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 5/3/22 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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AP Focus, My Photography, Photography Story

Keeping it Personal

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

As published:

One of the things we all should do is set ourselves personal projects to work on. In recent years, I have identified various projects I thought might lead to the production of photobooks or even exhibitions.

Creating photobooks is quite straight forward really. The cost of a particular size book is known ahead of time, so you can decide what to make and be aware of exactly how much money you need before proceeding. And if you do make a good one, you could always enter it in the annual APS Photobook competition – either in the portfolio category or the storytelling category. And there are also other photobook competitions you might decide to enter.

The projects I have embarked on in recent times have been diverse, despite the pandemic restrictions. Walking, cycling or driving around your close neighbourhood is all you need to do when searching for shots. I found the roadside littered with many more than usual corflute signs when it was election time here. See. Stop. Photograph. Repeat. The end result was 54 images – plenty for a photobook.

Then I found Love. Well sort of. Someone was, and still is, painting graffiti all over the place and, most particularly, around the suburbs closest to where I live. Every artwork primarily consists of images of a dinosaur/worm/alien, often accompanied by a heart and messages. I’ve completed a book Expressing Love in Canberra featuring many of those artworks that I photographed. If nothing else, I have a documentary record of those since removed or painted over! And, I’m adding to my collection every time I see a new work. I’d actually like to acquire one work that is painted on an electrical box door so I could display it along with my photos and the photobook at an exhibition.

Love 041 – © Brian Rope

When I first saw some Say Less graffiti on buildings in two suburbs on opposite sides of a major entrance road to our city, I had no idea what it was about. However, I quickly thought about the old saying that one picture is worth a thousand words, and the concept for a book about saying less with words and more with images started to take shape in my mind. Again, I’ve made a photobook.

Cover of Say Less photobook © Brian Rope

Say Less is also about graffiti (or street art if you prefer) and explores various meanings of the term.

Lyneham Flats 004 © Brian Rope

My possible exhibition could explore Love, Say Less, Corflutes and, maybe, also E-Scooters – the method of transport that has made a relatively recent appearance here, welcomed by many but irritating others because of perceived misuse as the scooters litter our streets.

Having an exhibition is more difficult to achieve. Firstly, there is the difficulty of getting a timeslot in a gallery. Getting into most of our local galleries is a real challenge. You have to compete with many graduating students keen to emerge and establish their names, as well as numerous already established photo artists from other parts of the country and even overseas.

I ask myself if older folk like me who have been in numerous group exhibitions over the years but never had their own solo show, can now emerge and be lauded as photo artists? I don’t know, but I’ll keep pursuing a solo exhibition and, in the meantime, will make more photobooks. What was the closing date for that competition I read about?

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