Reviews

Are We Dead Yet?

Photography Exhibition Review | Stephen Dupont | amBUSH Gallery, Kambri (ANU) | Until 24 October 2021

This exhibition comprises 21 large photographic prints detailing various devastating ecological events around Australia, that have made award-winning Australian photographer Stephen Dupont realise the inevitability of the shift in conversation from ‘Is climate change happening?’ to ‘Is it too late?’

Inspired by his young daughter Ava – a climate activist – Dupont’s discussions about environmental issues ask the big question: is it possible to save the planet, or have we pushed Mother Nature to the brink of extinction? Are We Dead Yet? is part of a long-term artistic documentation of the effects of climate change on our nation.

In a review published 18 months ago, I confessed having struggled somewhat for several months seeing so many images of the bushfire crisis. On social media I had found it very difficult to ‘Like’ excellent images that revealed the anxieties all of us felt. Now here we are still seeing images of the aftermath of drought, bushfires and the pandemic – not only in this exhibition but numerous others.

Given Dupont’s experience and expertise, it was not surprising to see very high-quality images on display. Shot over the course of the past few years, in locations across several States, Dupont’s photographic journey tells striking visual stories, and conveys a sense of urgency. He wants to motivate us, his audience, to question our roles and responsibilities in these real-time catastrophes.

Using a solitary figure swimming in the ocean during a dust storm, a flooded football ground, the remains of a caravan, charred bushland, the parched ground of drought-stricken regions, and the rich colours of smoke and dust-filled skies, Dupont socks it to us. If we were previously immune to its impacts, or unchallenged by climate change, he wants to infect us with concern right now.

Some of the images reveal the impacts of climate change less obviously than do others. The remnants of a tree, used on the exhibition poster and in the catalogue, is probably the most graphic despite its simplicity; but another more effectively reveals the widespread and devastating destruction in the Tarkine region.

Tarkine, 2018 © Stephen Dupont

An image of a dust storm is very dramatic and powerful, showing the dust towering over a lone bather in the sea. Other images of dust storms remind us that they are widespread and commonly occur.

Scarborough Beach Dust Storm, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

Floating burnt embers during a bushfire are the real story element in a quite strangely beautiful story of sunlight streaming through the fire’s smoke. Once again, whether we need it or not, we are reminded by this and half a dozen other images that these types of fires were widespread in 2019 and 2020.

Hillville Fires 02, 2019 © Stephen Dupont

Another bushfire image clearly shows the human impact. The face of the man in it needs no words to tell of his emotions. And another equally, and poignantly, tells of the impact through a rather sad looking Christ figure.

Bodalla Fires, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

And an image of the skeletal remains of a caravan owned by Dupont’s friend, completely destroyed by fire in the devastating 2020 black summer bushfires has just been named as a finalist in the Australian Life competition (albeit with a different title). This powerful photograph clearly conveys just what such a fire can do and will, I suspect, be a strong contender in that competition.

A view from above of whites and blacks of trees impacted by dieback and fire is visually arresting. For me, the patterns make it the strongest artwork in the exhibition.

Snowy Mountains, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

Whilst the exhibition is technically open, the gallery is closed during the ACT COVID lockdown expected to run until 17 October. In the meantime there is a walk through of the exhibition here. All the images may also be seen on the artist’s website here.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 18/9/21 here and is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Personal Story, Photography Story

A Child’s First Photos

I took my first photos on my first camera when I was nine years old. I probably had taken a few on my mum’s camera before then, but I don’t know for certain. I’ve recently realised that my son, Darren, took his first photos when he was eight.

In 1978 my then family embarked on a major holiday lasting six and a half months. My then wife, Denise, kept a detailed diary of our adventures. Recently she started another journey to create an illustrated book of the trip. She contacted me seeking photographs she might use in her book. Searching for possibilities I came across a few rolls of film negatives taken by our son, including some taken in 1977.

They are not superb photos, but neither were my first ones. It was great though to rediscover Darren’s early images; a reminder that we all can start our photography journeys early in life. Of course, not everyone really continues on their journey. For some, such as me, it becomes a passion – and we constantly strive to do better. For others, such as Darren, it does not develop into anything particularly special in their lives. Nevertheless, it is interesting to look at some of his early images.

Darren’s sister, Melinda, with their paternal grandparents, Jim and Eileen, outside our then home, Canberra, Christmastime 1977

Denise and me at her parents’ coast cottage, Malua Bay, NSW, Australia, Christmastime 1977

Jim, Jamie, Meg and Wendy (friends traveling with us) and Denise, Royal Circus, Bath, England, April 1978

The old church, Norton St Phillip, England, April 1978

Jamie (top), Melinda (bottom left) and Wendy, Norton St Phillip, England in April 1978

Melinda, me and Denise, Stonehenge, England, April 1978

Melinda, Denise, my cousin Peter with one of his children, me and Peter’s wife Paula with their other child, at home, Plymouth, England, April 1978

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My Photography, Photography Story

From audio to video

Last year when COVID restrictions prevented choirs from gathering together, one I belong to persevered practising via Zoom. When we “knew” a particular piece, we each individually recorded ourselves singing our parts on one device (as best we could whilst listening to a backing track through headphones attached to a separate device) and sent our recorded contributions to our musical director. Then they were mixed together to create a finished product. One piece that was handled in that way was God the Sculptor of the Mountains.

Now, in COVID lockdown, the choir is back to Zoom practices again which means a forthcoming service celebrating creation during a Sustainability Festival will almost certainly have to be via Zoom. The organisers wanted to have the choir involved singing an appropriate piece. So that resulted in my being asked to convert the God the Sculptor recording into a video using some of my photographs for the visuals.

I chose images to reflect one word from each line of the song – 23 in all. Here are five of the images and the lines from the song that they illustrate.

I used an image taken at Interlaken in 2006 to illustrate a mountain:

God the sculptor of the mountains

Then it was an image of a stepson playing the role of Pharaoh in a stage musical.

God the nuisance to the Pharaoh

An image from the Barossa Valley in 2009 illustrated a vineyard.

God the dresser of the vineyard

Then one from Delhi in 2008.

we are hungry; feed us now

And a touch of fun with an image taken in Boorowa in July this year.

God the table turning prophet

Then I set about making the video using Microsoft’s Video Editor software. I needed to create some title slides for the beginning of the video, identifying the song by title, crediting the author of the words and music, crediting the musical director of the choir and crediting my own photography. I was able to use one of the 23 images as background in some of those title slides and found suitable images of the church, the musical director and myself to use in others.

After sharing my “finished” product with the musical director and the liturgist putting the service together, I took up a couple of suggestions and revised the video (using the somewhat more sophisticated Movie Maker Video Editor, also by Microsoft) adding fades between most slides plus one additional image at the very end as the music ended.

This was an interesting experience. I learned a lot and I expect this will not be the last video I create.

Interested readers can see all the images by watching the final finished video at https://youtu.be/jwLirAOX1uE and at https://vimeo.com/600743991

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Photography Story, Reviews

Negotiating the Family Portrait

Review of Photography

Marzena Wasikowska | Negotiating the Family Portrait

Canberra-based photo artist Marzena Wasikowska has built a name for herself over the years. Since 2000, when she completed her Master of Visual Arts at the ANU, she has had more than a dozen solo exhibitions (as well as being in numerous group exhibitions). Her works are in several public collections, and she also has been publicly commissioned on a number of occasions. Wasikowksa has been successful in various major competitions, including being a finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) five times.

Now, Wasikowska has been selected as one of the winners in the 2021 Lens Culture Street Photography Critics’ Choice Awards. Joanna Milter, Director of Photography at The New Yorker selected the series Negotiating the Family Portrait 2011-2021 for an Award. Experts, such as Milter, explored entries from across the globe to select their top three personal favourites. There’s no jurying as a panel; just choices made individually by each of the expert critics.

Images were submitted by photographers from over 150 countries and twenty-one critics chose individual photos and series that captured their hearts. Explaining her choice of Wasikowska’s series, Milter described the images as lively and noted that the artist “purposely captures those instances before everyone is in place. Yet she understands that the presence of a photographer changes everything; even in seemingly offhand moments, her subjects are performing for her camera.”

The ten images in the series have been captured over a decade – indeed it is five of them that have been finalists in the NPPP. Wasikowska says the series title summarises how she thinks about the act and procedure of making family portraits for public viewing. As we all should be, she is keenly aware of the discussions and negotiations of private and public – what to exhibit and what to keep private. She suggests, and I agree with her, that image makers tread a fine line when contributing to the dialogue of family portraiture while revealing something candid but not uncensored.

We have all experienced difficulties taking photos of getting people to smile, not hold fingers above heads, and not hide behind taller folk. Wasikowska has solved those problems. Whilst saying she longs for them to be the actors in her images, she also expresses her hope that each photograph holds the essence of a genuine, personal event, for herself and each of them. These annual portraits of her immediate family are a highlight of her portrait photography, summarising the previous twelve months.

In one image, every family member has brought their year’s story to the table.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2015-16 – A study of history, myth and identity family © Marzena Wasikowska

In another, one of two young children appears to be struggling in the arms of the adult holding them, most probably longing to be put down and set free to again explore the camera equipment now being used to capture them.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2018 – Chaos © Marzena Wasikowska

And then another image is filled with visual symbols for the conflicting extremes associated with this dreadful pandemic affecting each and every one of us in various ways; some the same for us all, others different for particular individuals.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2020-21-A COVID Kind of Day © Marzena Wasikowska

It is a delight to see these ten images together. They start with a relatively simple, yet exquisite, image of just two of the family.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2010 – Long Distance Conversation 1 © Marzena Wasikowska

Along the journey we see far more complex groupings of much larger gatherings of family members, in which the theatricality and performance style truly shines through.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2012 © Marzena Wasikowska

We are members of an audience. Some may wish they were videos rather than just one still image of a moment frozen in time. But these are the precise moments that the artist selected and wants us to see.

This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 4/9/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Autobiography, Personal Story

My Family’s Migrant Experience

I have previously blogged about my entering this world here and about migrating to Australia here.

This piece is about an interview I recently did for a project called New Humans of Australia. That project seeks to reduce discrimination towards migrants, especially refugees, through the powerful medium of storytelling. Inspired by the iconic Humans of New York, New Humans of Australia was started by Nicola Gray, an Australian writer, who wanted to share the many fascinating stories she heard while working with refugees and migrants. The people behind the project believe it is becoming more and more important to tell the true stories of migrants – the difficulties they overcome and what they contribute – in order to celebrate multiculturalism, and to make new arrivals feel welcome on our shores. Any person who migrated to Australia is welcome to contact the project and offer to tell their story.

Nicola Gray spoke with me on 21 July this year via Zoom from her current home in Portugal. It wasn’t so much an interview as an opportunity to tell my story, with Gray asking a few questions along the way. I enjoyed the experience very much. The process took almost one hour and was video recorded. After the audio is transcribed, Gray produced a short version of what I said and emailed it to me to check for accuracy and to suggest any changes. It is meant to be as short as possible, and to sound like the person telling their story is speaking not reading.

The next step usually is to have one of their photographers take a photo of you. Looking at their list of photographers I saw a Canberran whom I know and thought it would be likely she would get the assignment. However, because of another story falling through at the last moment, Gray needed my photo quickly and asked if I could have a family member take one and send it to her the next day. Regarding the photo, the requirements were “landscape, not portrait (meaning you have to turn the phone to the horizontal position), outdoors, preferably with a tree or a bush behind you but not essential, no sunglasses, not too dressed up smiling, or thoughtful.”

Being home alone at the time, I opted to take a selfie. I headed outside into the common area of our townhouse complex where I could stand before some bushes high enough to be behind my head. Battling blustery winds, I quickly took a few shots. Back indoors I realised that my glasses had darkened automatically in the bright sunlight so had effectively become sunglasses. So, after they had lightened up, I put them in my pocket and went back outside intending to put them on at the last moment and repeat the exercise. Some more quick selfies and back inside – only to realise I had forgotten to put the glasses on before taking the shots! Back out for a third time, then I called it quits and sent Gray three shots with and without glasses for her to select from.

She chose to use the image without glasses – almost didn’t recognise myself having worn specs for so many years!

The next step was for me to provide some old family photos to Gray. I sent these nine images from my family archives:          

For her finished story, Gray chose these three images:

Mum wearing her London bus conductress (clippie) outfit in 1941
Dad, mum, me (left middle), brother Alan, sister Jill (born in Australia in December 1951)
Children playing cricket at our first Australian home, Bundoran, Western districts, Victoria in 1951

The finished story can be read on https://newhumansofaustralia.org/stories/ or on https://www.facebook.com/NewHumansOfAustralia/. There have been 126 comments about it on the Facebook page and 37 people (myself included) have shared it on their own Facebook pages.

Gray also produced a short video clip of me speaking from the interview. I posted a link to it on my Facebook page here.

Eventually my story will be published in one of a series of books that New Humans of Australia is publishing. I have acquired Volumes 1 and 2 which are available now at https://newhumansofaustralia.org/shop/. Volume 3 is nearing completion. Volume 4 (which is where my story is likely to be) is probably a couple of years away yet.

You can read all about the project at https://newhumansofaustralia.org/ and can even become a patron or express interest in telling your own migration story. All patrons receive a free copy of one book and get all new stories emailed direct to their inbox.

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Photography Story

World Photo Day Goes Global

I recently posted another blog piece about World Photo Day here. This is a longer piece featuring images by friends at the Canberra Photography Society which was published in today’s Canberra Times newspaper (with fewer photos) here.

In 1822, Frenchmen Louis Daguerre and Charles Marie Bouton invented giant, translucent paintings illuminated to simulate movement and other effects – dioramas. Crowds would gather to watch their displays of landscapes and colours – a theatrical experience viewed in a highly specialised theatre.

Another Frenchman, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, produced the world’s first permanent photograph in 1825 to incorporate into his dioramas. After Niépce died in 1833, Daguerre continued experimenting with photography and dioramas. After combining chemicals and silver plates, he came up with the daguerreotype process and patented it in 1839 as a “gift to the world”. It was the first publicly available and commercially successful photographic process.

The French government purchased the patent for the daguerreotype process that creates highly detailed images on a sheet of copper plate with a thin coat of silver. Two centuries later, World Photography Day (WPD) is held on 19 August each year in celebration of the day when that purchase was made.

A professional photographer from Canberra, Korske Ara, founded WPD in 2009 to inspire people to take photos that mean something to them. I was one of those who specifically made images that first WPD. Nowadays, Ara runs Canberra-based Lucent Imaging – fine art printing and digital imaging studio.

WPD went global in 2010. From humble beginnings, with just 250 people signing up to participate that year, it now reaches a global audience of 500 million. Participants have the opportunity to share their photographs and raise awareness of the issues that are important to them and their communities.

In previous years, WPD has supported the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and other important causes. Other activities in Canberra have included photo walks, competitions and exhibitions.

19 August has just passed. Social media relating to the day reminds us that, whilst we might take our photographs for granted, there was once a time when photography didn’t exist. A time when precious moments couldn’t be captured, uploaded and shared.

Nowadays, WPD sees big brands, professionals and photography enthusiasts all joining the celebration. Competitions are being conducted by various groups or organisations, including Flickr here. So, in a sense, the day is not yet over. At the time of writing this 15,135 images had been uploaded to four categories on that competition site, and it had 7,402 members. Those numbers grow every minute – a huge response especially as the prize pool is quite modest. Submissions will continue to be accepted until 7 September. The photos entered do not have to have been taken on this year’s 19 August; they can be old or new; it doesn’t matter as long as they fit the category being entered.

Photography today is an important medium of storytelling, and photos add character to almost any piece of text, social media post, and even indoor spaces. Whilst WPD is a day for photographers to celebrate their artform, so too is every other day. The vast majority of us carry smartphones with us all the time, with excellent cameras in them. They provide ease of access and use, allowing us to capture images we previously would have seen but not been able to photograph.

Lockdown may have reduced the amount of new photography being created at this time, but enthusiasts will always find subjects for their cameras in their homes, gardens or whilst exercising outdoors. A message to a few members of the Canberra Photographic Society quickly delivered me a number of images taken on 19 August 2021 for potential use with this article. Some of them are shown below. How many did you take this WPD?

Smokey sunset behind Black Mountain 1 © Ben Hogan
Smokey sunset behind Black Mountain 2 © Ben Hogan
World Photography Day 2 © Luminita Quraisha
World Photography Day 3 © Luminita Quraisha
It was a Winters day © Susan Henderson
A bright spot – waiting for a vaccination © Susan Henderson
We Skyped family – Julian and Barney © Susan Henderson
The only creative thing I did © Ian Skinner
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My Photography, Photography Story

World Photo Day 2021

World Photo Day as it is celebrated on 19 August each year was originally started and promoted by an Australian photographer, Korske Ara, in 2009. Korske is these days the proprietor of Lucent Imaging in Canberra which many people use to have high quality fine art prints made; myself included when I need a print larger than I can make at home. There is a World Photo day presence on Facebook here, Instagram here and on Twitter here.

Today, World Photo Day reaches millions of people around the world with big brands, professionals and photography enthusiasts all joining the celebration. Competitions are being conducted by various groups or organisations, including Flickr here.

August 19 celebrates the day when the French government purchased the patent for the daguerreotype process that creates highly detailed images on a sheet of copper plate with a thin coat of silver. According to National Today, the day requires participants to share a photo of their world, which can be anything the photographer chooses.

So, here are some photos of my Canberra world that I am choosing to share to celebrate World Photo Day 2021. They were all taken on previous World Photo Days.


Amaroo Graffiti


Chimneys and roof frame behind tree


Fluoroscent Graffiti


In Henry Rolland Park

Wet day at our place
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Photography Story

Another Canberran wins $10,000 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize

An edited version of this was published in The Canberra Times here. I heard from a friend that it was read out on 1RPH (a Canberra radio station that reads published print material for print-handicapped listeners). This piece provides more detail about the winner than was in my previous review of the Prize here.

The Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP) awards $10,000 cash. In 2020, Canberran Judy Parker was the winner and another Canberra artist, Ian Skinner, was a finalist. In 2021 they were both again finalists, and Skinner was awarded the Prize.

Given his first camera for his tenth birthday, Skinner quickly sensed that photographic image making had a purpose beyond its important documentary tool use.

In the early 1980s his work on the conservation of its south-west wilderness took him to Tasmania, where the influence of the pictorial Truchanas/Dombrovskis school shaped his early approaches to landscape photography.

Skinner has been described as an observational photographer who moves through various landscapes and situations forever seeking visual opportunities to fix with the framed eye. His earlier working life in architecture continues to drive an interest in the built environment, often exploring its interface with the natural world.

He is a member of the Australian Photographic Society’s Contemporary Group, PhotoAccess, the National Association of Visual Artists, Canberra Photographic Society (CPS), and is active in various genre-focused social media photographic groups.

Ian Skinner © Ian Skinner

I have appreciated Skinner’s work since I first saw it in a 2011 CPS exhibition. Subsequently, there have been numerous other CPS and Photo Access exhibitions, a joint 2019 exhibition with his brother at The Queanbeyan Hive (that I had the honour of officially opening), and others in 2020 at the Gallery of Small Things in Watson and Magnet Galleries in Melbourne. With this MCPP win, it is clear Skinner is an artist to watch and collect.

As with previous MCPP winning images, the framed print of Skinner’s winning work, Ashscapes 01-04, has been acquired by Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre for its excellent permanent collection of post-war contemporary paintings, ceramics and photography.

Ashscapes 01-04 © Ian Skinner

The concept statement for Skinner’s winning image read: The catastrophic fires in south-eastern Australia in 2019-2020 were shortly followed by torrential rain. The rivers and creeks disgorged vast quantities of debris from the conflagration into the ocean so that the waves turned grey with ash, and convulsed with charred remnants. Where the gentler waves reached their zenith on the beaches, small flecks of carbonised vegetation rested in ephemeral patterns suggesting the hills, ridges and valleys of their living selves.

Ashscapes 01-04 Detail © Ian Skinner

Learning of his win, Skinner took to social media saying “Wow! Totally bowled over, amazed, delighted and above all confirmed to have been awarded the Australian Photographic Society’s Mullins Conceptual Photographic Prize for 2021. In many ways this work came out of a desire to work “in residence” on the south coast of NSW – and I have to thank my sisters-in-law for helping make that happen. On several occasions. The arrival and impact of fire was an unexpected contributor to my deliberations here – and I recall at the time pondering about how to respond to the disaster without being cliched or exploitative. The ocean delivered ash to the sandy edge of the land and all I had to do was See.”

Skinner also expressed delight that his good friend Ian Terry of Hobart was awarded a runner up prize for his “sublime work”, part of a project exploring the impact of the travels of George Augustus Robinson in Van Diemen’s Land.

All the works in the 2021 MCPP exhibition can be seen in a virtual gallery here.

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Reviews

Don’t be fooled by the faces I wear, Split, Exploded View

Photography Exhibition Review

Split | Chris Bowes

Don’t Be Fooled By The Faces I Wear | Ben Rak

Exploded View | Catherine Evans

Photo Access | Until 14 August 2021

Each of these exhibitions expands on what would, by many, be deemed photography. Distortion, caricature, masking, disruption – these are the key elements across the three shows.

Artist Chris Bowes is showing Split. It brought to mind those fun and interesting images in distorting convex and concave mirrors giving repetitive reflections, optical illusions in sideshow funhouses. This installation is a sort of high-tech version of them. Screens and webcams watch and distort viewers, taunting them into questioning data capture and use. These mirrored surfaces create caricatures that can be equal parts captivating and disturbing. This installation originally was scheduled to exhibit in the Huw Davies Gallery in mid-2020. Sadly, it was locked down in Melbourne. Furthermore, the same issue prevented the artist from traveling to Canberra to instal it himself this year. His other intended exhibit is, unfortunately missing from the show.

Chris Bowes, Monitor (detail), 2020, webcams, screens, computers, code and cables

Bowes says, “It is unsettling to think that while we watch screens, they quietly watch back at us. Our interactions feed data to hungry tech giants, whose targeted advertising and helpful suggestions seem harmless enough.….We are often passive to these exchanges, ignoring the consequences that come with sacrificing privacy….”

In Don’t Be Fooled By The Faces I Wear, artist Ben Rak examines the phenomenon of “passing” as a condition in both social life and art practice. It also employs methods of screens, this time for masking hidden identities. He attempts to shed light on how we conceal or reveal ourselves in order to gain visibility, avoid marginalisation, and enjoy the privileges afforded to dominant groups.

Rak uses the print process as a metaphor for otherness, drawing parallels between art practice and social interaction. His prints seek to examine changeable identities, investigating how the technical and material language of the print can be combined to mask or reveal its artistic identity.

The exhibited works are diverse; they include large acrylics and silkscreen works on un-stretched canvas, laser-cut dye-sublimation prints on aluminium and papier-mâché masks, inkjet prints on fibre-based paper, and a single channel video. If only we could purchase masks like these each time our current fetish for wearing them is made mandatory. They and the prints are wonderful. Looking at my own reflection in two of the prints, I saw my identity masked.

Ben Rak, The Masks I Wear to Pass, 2020, acrylic and silkscreen on un-stretched canvas
Ben Rak, Unhinged, 2020, acrylic and silkscreen on un-stretched canvas

Exploded View is new work that takes artist Catherine Evan’s recollections of the 1997 Royal Canberra Hospital implosion as a starting point to examine how digital media distorts our perception of time, relation to place, and memory. It takes memory and screen culture head on in a distorted representation of the artist’s personal memories.

When her son was born, Evans looked online for images of the hospital she had been born in, the hospital she watched blasted into the ground some nineteen years earlier. She discovered a home video someone had uploaded to YouTube – two minutes and thirty-one seconds of VHS footage. She took screenshots of the video then, using a flatbed scanner to distort them, introduced a disruption of memory. The result is fascinating images of a scene etched in so many Canberrans minds – shown here as silver gelatin prints made from her digital negatives by putting them directly into contact photosensitive paper.

Catherine Evans, Exploded View, 121ii, 2021
Catherine Evans, Exploded View, 121i, 2021

Also displayed and available for purchase, in the gallery shop, is an intimate companion to Evans’ prints. Her fictiōnella Copper (2020), commissioned for the slow-publishing artwork, Lost Rocks (2017–21) investigates the linked events emanating from the Acton Peninsula, currently the site of the National Museum of Australia and previously the Royal Canberra Hospital and over 20,000 years of Aboriginal history.

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

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Reviews

2021 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize

Photography Exhibition Review

Various artists: 2021 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize

Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre | Until 20 August 2021

The annual Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP) is conducted by the Australian Photographic Society. The 2021 winners were announced on 17 July at the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre (MRAC). Attendance was restricted to just seven people, but the short event was simultaneously livestreamed to a broader audience nationwide via both Facebook and Zoom. As many people cannot visit the physical exhibition the MCPP Management Team has had a wonderful virtual gallery created, which allows anyone to explore all the images.

Of 43 finalists selected by the judges, three are Canberra artists – Ian Skinner, Lyndall Gerlach, and Judy Parker. All three of them were amongst an astounding nine Canberra finalists in 2020, with Parker winning the Prize on that occasion.

This year it was Skinner’s turn – he was announced as the winner of the $10,000 Prize for his finalist entry – Ashscapes 01-04. In his concept statement accompanying the image, Skinner speaks of the catastrophic fires in southeastern Australia in 2019-2020 which were followed by torrential rain. He explains that the rivers and creeks disgorged debris into the ocean causing the waves to turn grey with ash and convulse with charred remnants. The image shows where gentler waves deposited small flecks of carbonised vegetation on the beaches in “ephemeral patterns suggesting the hills, ridges and valleys of their living selves”. It is a beautiful artwork, most deserving of the Prize.

Ashscapes 01-04 – Ian Skinner

Skinner’s winning artwork has been acquired by the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre for its permanent collection of post-war contemporary paintings, ceramic and photography. It joins the previous MCPP winners in that important collection.

Other prize winners were Ian Terry from Hobart and Anne Pappalardo from Brisbane, both of whom also entered excellent works. Terry received a $500 gift voucher for his work Night on the Tier – part of his ongoing project responding to the journeys of George Augustus Robinson who, assisted by palawa (Indigenous Tasmanian) guides, walked through Van Diemen’s Land in the 1830s to persuade palawa still on Country to give up their resistance to the European invasion of their island. In following Robinson, with his journal in hand, Terry is seeking to connect the historical with the contemporary, to make sense of his own existence “in this island of dreams which was stolen violently from its first people”. The fractured landscape shown wonderfully in the image is where Robinson spent his first night on one conciliation expedition.

Night on the Tier – Ian Terry

Terry – also a 2019 finalist – had a second finalist entry this year – about the time he spent in COVID quarantine and reveals his view during those days of the outside world through his hotel bedroom window – whilst outside “the world changed and convulsed in ways few of us had previously imagined”.

This is three years in succession Pappalardo has been a finalist, also taking out an award in 2019. She received a $250 voucher for her work A New Place to Stay. For 50 years, her parents had Christmas holidays at the Tallebudgera Caravan Park on the Gold Coast, where their most cherished family memories were made. Age led them to sell their vintage caravan and book a high-rise beachfront apartment nearby the Park, “with high hopes for this journey toward a new tradition”. It rained torrentially and constantly for their stay, and this artwork reflects their gloom at the disappointing beginning to their new holiday ritual.

A New Place to Stay – Anne Pappalardo

Parker’s finalist artwork Australia-2020-2021? is of collected small objects that have caught her attention as interesting forms, including rusted bottle tops, carelessly discarded in public carparks and distorted by passing traffic. She began to think of these as symbols rather than curiosities: 2020, a horror year, represented in her image by these objects of zero value, in the colours of bushfires and plague: “photographs of 20 bottle tops, arranged in vaguely robotic form, varied to symbolise localised improvements or problems”. At the beginning of 2021, Parker incorporated another found object, a brutalised ten cent piece, (worthless currency) hovering, above the “20” as a symbol of hope but uncertainty.

Australia-2020-2021? – Judy Parker

Gerlach’s finalist image is another of her evocative creations titled Stream of Consciousness. She has always been interested in exploring the intriguing relationships between conscious awareness, the sub-conscious, ‘dream states’, and ‘stream of consciousness’. Addressing the question “What if the conceptual work was about suspending the certainty of conscious control?”, in post-production her images “became independent, remaking themselves, revealing different subjects, emotions and words. Colour, dark, deep, breathless. Embraces completely, cold slow flowing deep ice-water. Faint light shafts catch drifting lines”.

Stream of Consciousness – Lyndall Gerlach

There were series entries as well as single image entries this year, with four series making the exhibition. Of those, Anne O’Connor’s four colourful composites of fallen leaves  – titled Fallen Memories 01 to 04 – look beautiful together on the gallery wall.

Fallen Memories 01 – Anne O’Connor

Amongst the other artworks some that I particularly enjoyed were another two by O’Connor – East Coast Dreaming and I walk the land, Clare Weeks’ Collection Red, David Cossini’s Grande Bruto El Gato Loco,  Greg Tate’s Man Truck Woman Dog Bone, Todd Kennedy’s The East Australian Monolith and Tracy Lees’ A Surreal Life.

East Coast Dreaming – Anne O’Connor
I walk the land – Anne O’Connor
Collection Red – Clare Weeks
Grande Bruto El Gato Loco – David Cossini
Man Truck Woman Dog Bone – Greg Tate
The East Australian Monolith – Todd Kennedy
A Surreal Life – Tracy Lees

I could discuss these and every other exhibit, but I’ll leave it for readers to explore themselves. The best way to appreciate each image is to read the artists’ Concept Statements whilst looking at them – either on the walls of the MRAC, on the virtual gallery mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review, or under the Finalists tab here.

One question for consideration is whether every image is truly conceptual (or whether a statement adequately explains the artist’s concept). One of the judges has shared her view that the majority of the works are not conceptual, despite having been selected as finalists. If she is right, then future entrants may need to work harder on their statements as well as creating great imagery.

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

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