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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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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Community of People

Earlier this year Photo Access in Canberra conducted three workshops, each spread over several weekly sessions, in which participants explored the idea of Canberra as a community of people, a built environment, and a physical landscape. Sixteen artists created new works responding to three of Canberra’s landmark photographers – Marzena Wasikowska, Edward (Ted) Richards and Ian North – each of whom are featured in Canberra Museum and Gallery’s current exhibition, Seeing Canberra. The result was the Canberra Re-Seen exhibition.

I participated in the workshop about Canberra as a community of people. Inspired by Wasikowska’s interest in capturing the human qualities of Canberra, we explored the idea that a city is best understood through its people. We had the added benefit of Wasikowska herself leading our workshop.

My approach was to make portraits in different styles to anything I had previously done. If I were to Re-see the people of Canberra, I thought that using a different approach (for me) was a way to do it. Instead of seeking to make traditional portraits concentrating on faces, I looked for groups of people interacting with each other whilst out and about in a variety of places – private home gardens, indoor venues, public spaces. I sought images that revealed something of those people from their interactions. Rather than simply show what the subjects look like, I was exploring elements that would provide viewers with facts or clues about each person’s characteristics – what are they interested in, how do they live these parts of their lives. Along the way I photographed individuals and some couples as well, because I saw opportunities. I also tried other approaches, including smart phone selfies so beloved of young folk and the creation of composites.

In June 2021 I reviewed Canberra Re-Seen here. I had two prints in the exhibition but did not show or discuss them in the review as it is not appropriate to review one’s own work. Here are my two works and just a few words about each of them.

Braddon Nightlife © Brian Rope

Braddon Nightlife is a composite combining opposite sides of a young woman using a smart phone near a queue to a popular night-time venue. It suggests to me that she is interested in such venues, in dressing up for a night out and in keeping in contact with at least one other person.

Keeping Clear © Brian Rope

Keeping Clear shows two people who walked in front of my camera and settled down before an emergency exit. It suggests to me that, at that point in time at least, they were simply focussed on what they wanted to do – possibly revealing something of their characters.

There is a possibility of a book being published about the works created by all sixteen workshop participants and it may include other works not shown in the exhibition. If that proceeds three more of my images may be included. Here they are with a few words about each of them.

Enlightened Connections © Brian Rope

Enlightened Connections shows people at the Enlighten Festival. There are several stories intertwined here – the fellow in the centre appears to be photographing a young woman under the rainbow in the bottom right corner, whilst three other young women take an interest in what he is doing. To the left of the frame is another couple, who may or may not be connected to the others. Are they waiting their turn to take a photo under the rainbow? Perhaps all that is revealed about them is that they enjoy a night at Enlighten in casual dress?

Look – up in the sky © Brian Rope

Look – up in the sky shows a large group of people gathered in Kings Park (between the Boundless Playground and Kings Avenue) socialising over drinks one late warm afternoon in February. There are many separate stories – the man in the centre with the beer belly, the trio on the right where one man is playing with his phone, the children exploring in the background where rabbits live, the couple on the left where the man is gesticulating with his hand, and (most strongly) the fellow pointing up towards the sky at something we cannot see (which provides the image title). It shows me how Canberra people dress, interact and enjoy themselves outdoors on a summer day in the 2020s.

Asleep, Awaking, Alive © Brian Rope

Asleep, Awaking, Alive is a composite of nine fun self-portraits purporting to show the transition as I wake from sleep, slowly open my eyes, do some facial stretches, then make myself presentable for the day ahead. What does it reveal about me apart from what I look like, both dishevelled and neat?

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My Connections Prints

In June 2021, I reviewed an exhibition Connections here. I had two prints in that exhibition but did not include or mention them, as it is not appropriate to review one’s own work.

The catalogue for the exhibition referred to strange events of recent times having reminded us how important it is to stay connected with each other, family and places. Visitors to the gallery were invited to celebrate the diversity and joy of connections.

Participants were invited to submit as many images as they liked – then a selection panel chose the works to be included in the exhibition. I submitted about 30 possibilities then (just before the panel made its decisions) I was asked to submit another one that a panel member had seen, and thought would be good.

I was somewhat surprised and, yes, disappointed that a number of my submissions did not make the cut as I thought they were good – if not better than the two that were chosen. But so be it.

Amongst those not selected were some making use of words accompanying the images (a connection between the images and the words) – including Spilled Shadow which I’ve previously written about here. There were others where I had sought to show connections between groups of people in them, a connection between an old friend and myself, the connection between a jazz musician and his instrument, connection between my daughter and one of her daughters, and connections between several images put together into composites.

Here are my two selected works and just a few words about each of them.

Burnouts © Brian Rope

Burnouts is the image I was invited to submit at the last moment. It is a composite of 24 images of marks made where rubber had attached itself to the paved surface of a large carpark where one or more vehicles had been doing burnouts, probably at night when there was nobody else around. The marks show something of the physical connections between the vehicles tyres and the carpark paving, and also something of the connections between the driver(s) and their joy of successfully achieving the burnouts “man and machine” if you like.

Using a phone in the NGA © Brian Rope

Using a phone in the NGA is actually quite an old image, made in May 2018. Looking down from an upper level I saw a person seated below making no apparent connection with anyone else or with any of the artworks in the gallery – other than, possibly, on a mobile phone in her hands. There is nobody else on the seating or in the space around her. The original image, made using my phone camera, has some vibrant colour on the seating, but I felt that converting it to monochrome – and cropping it somewhat – made for a much stronger image.

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Dusty and Smoky

In May 2021 I reviewed an exhibition Hot/Cold here. I had two prints in the exhibition but did not show or mention them as it is not appropriate to review one’s own work.

The exhibition sought responses to the idea that we have entered a time of extremes – seasonal, climactic and perhaps emotional. So, I simply looked for images that I had created when our area was affected by major bushfires and droughts – not directly, but we saw the smoke and experienced both smoke and dust drifting across us. Those with asthma or other breathing problems were impacted by the poor air quality.

I live close to a hill that has been retained within our suburb for recreational purposes and to protect an endangered species – the Golden Sun Moth. I have previously written about Reservoir Hill and the moth here. Walkers on the hill can enjoy some great views and sunsets and see different types of weather – on the Brindabellas and moving across our city. The two images I selected for the exhibition were both seen and captured on that hill.

Here are my two works and just a few words about each of them.

Dusty © Brian Rope

Dusty is simply that – a photograph of some of the dust blotting out the normal views and revealing itself a little on the drought-dried grasses on the hill. It is not a spectacular image of the dusty conditions experienced on farmlands much further west of Canberra or, indeed, closer to our city. But it does show something of how drought causes dust to form and then be carried by winds for long distances before landing in other places.

Smoky © Brian Rope

Smoky is an image of the skies viewed from Reservoir Hill. On this occasion, the Brindabellas and other parts of the views can barely be made out. The cloud cover appears darker than usual for the time of day – 7.30 AM. The sun is partially visible through the smoke lighting some areas of the clouds. Again, the experience of smoke from bushfires was muted near my home. The far southern areas of our city were much closer to the fires and threatened by them for a time. Images taken from there were much more dramatic.

In March 2020, I used both these images in an exhibition and critique night at the Canberra Photographic Society which had the topic of Drought/Environmental Stress. All images are assessed by an invited judge who is usually an accomplished photographer or artist from outside the Society. Judges award each image a score out of 5, unless requested not to, and they will also select at least one Image of the Night. I was awarded a 4 for Smoky and a 3.5 for Dusty.

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Not a Travel Shot

Roughly every quarter, I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is my latest piece, published in the July 2021 issue now in newsagencies.

‘Experts’ often advise us to research as much as possible before visiting any new destination, so that we have some idea of the best locations and times to get photos. They say to capture images that tell viewers about the places, rather than just showing what they looked like.

A few days before writing this, I attended a presentation at my local photographic society entitled ‘Travel Photography with a Focus’. The speaker explained how he identifies a number of themes before traveling, with a view to taking images that fit each of those themes. He acknowledged that it doesn’t always work out; but illustrated how successful it is possible to be.

I’ve had the good fortune to visit numerous places in Australia and overseas, usually arranging my own itinerary. Even on two group trips to India I was with mostly enthusiast photographers from the Australian Photographic Society – and I organised the tours myself directly with a company that had considerable experience taking enthusiast photographers around. We made it clear to our guides that, when anyone wanted to stop for a photo opportunity, that is what would happen – even if it meant arriving at our next destination well behind schedule. We were also able to determine the times of day we would visit particular locations and how long we would spend at them.

However, when I travelled to China it was as part of a group tour organised by a company I’d not previously dealt with – and probably won’t again. So, I had no control over where and when I would visit places, nor over how long I would be at any one place. I had to wing it and really not think about it as a travel photography opportunity, but just as a glimpse of parts of China during which I would be able to get some images to remind me of where I had been. With around forty participants, I couldn’t always get a window seat on the coach and the windows didn’t open so were quite unsuitable for shooting through anyway.

When we visited the inevitable ‘factories’ to be exhorted to spend money on pearls, jade, silk and even Chinese medicines there were some photo opportunities, but I was always itching to get outside and find other subjects. When we went to the 88th floor of a tower in Shanghai, I was more interested in finding interesting shapes to photograph than in the views.

When we went to some superb indoor performances – Chinese musical theatre, Kung Fu and acrobatics – I was delighted that photography was always permitted. It was especially great when I was seated in one theatre’s second row and had terrific opportunities to shoot the action.

Red Performers

Inevitably, I captured plenty of typical tourist shots and some of cute kids in the streets. I was also a subject myself several times when Chinese men wanted their wives to photograph me posing with them! However, I was determined to get some images that would not be taken by any of the non-enthusiast photographers in the tour group. Looking again through all the images I brought home, I’m quite pleased with a number of them.

As published in Australian Photography magazine
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Reviews

Canberra Re-Seen

Photography Exhibition Review

Canberra Re-Seen | Various Artists: Peter Bailey, Andrea Bryant, Abby Ching, Annette Fisher, Susan Henderson, Tessa Ivison, Peter Lamour, Caroline Lemerle, Louise Maurer, Greg McAnulty, Aditi Sargeant, Eva Schroeder, Sari Sutton, Beata Tworek, Brian Rope and Grant Winkler

Photo Access | 10 June – 10 July

Disclaimer: the author of this review has two works in the exhibition but received no payment for the review.

Earlier this year Photo Access conducted three workshops, each spread over several weekly sessions, in which participants explored the idea of Canberra as a community of people, a built environment, and a physical landscape. Sixteen artists created new works responding to three of Canberra’s landmark photographers – Marzena Wasikowska, Edward (Ted) Richards and Ian North – each featured in Canberra Museum And Gallery’s current exhibition, Seeing Canberra.

The result is this exhibition, Canberra Re-Seen. There is also an online gallery showing the same works plus others by the participating artists. And there are two solo exhibitions showing simultaneously, both of which explore aspects of portraiture: A Surrounded Beauty by Sarah Rhodes, and Portrait by Melita Dahl

Inspired by Wasikowska’s interest in capturing the human qualities of Canberra, one group explored the idea that a city is best understood through its people. They had the added benefit of Wasikowska herself leading their workshop.

A second collective, led by Wouter Van de Voorde and with Richards’ involvement too, 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.

Working with documentary photographer David Hempenstall, a third group explored the ideas of Ian North’s early 1980s images of Canberra suburbs – vistas both bleak and beautiful.

It is difficult to individually comment on all the works in Canberra Re-Seen, so I will just look at particular works that attracted my attention for various reasons.

The highlight for me is Eva Schroeder’s Metamorphis. Born and bred in Canberra, Schroeder has, like me, seen enormous changes in our city over the years. Researching, she learned that 2-4% of Canberra’s community identify as Trans and decided to portray a Canberran transitioning from one gender to another. Her triptych shows Norgaria, who has chosen to use prosthetics, wigs, makeup, and costumes to reveal her real self by entering the world of Cosplay.

Metamorphosis © Eva Schroeder

Then there is Louise Maurer’s beautifully constructed Weetangera II, 2021. That suburb is, like most, in a state of rapid change due to infill. Maurer’s constructed composite image speaks to the importance of the green spaces and native ecosystems, and also speaks for those who tirelessly seek to maintain them as our garden city becomes a thing of the past.

Weetangera II © Louise Maurer

Andrea Bryant’s Maria is another fine standout. It is a portrait of a long-term neighbour, “a strong and feisty woman”. An internationally recognised scientist, she is portrayed heartily laughing. Several other gallery visitors pointed to this work as one they loved.

Maria © Andrea Bryant

Another very strong contribution is Beata Tworek’s series of collages, which respond to North’s innovative and optimistic colour treatment of deserted streetscapes with austere monochromes reflecting disdain for their lack of individuality.

Ambivalent collage 2 © Beata Tworek

Grant Winkler’s Denman Prospect is very much about the bush landscape disappearing as new suburbs creep over it, replaced by homes and other buildings with what remains of nature being “moulded and manicured”.

Grant Winkler © Untitled (Denman Prospect DSCF6388)

Peter Larmour took 3D images of landscapes. His Southern Anaglyph (dye sublimation on aluminium) is worthy of close examination.

Southern Anaglyph © Peter Lamour

Sari Sutton’s Fyshwick is also interesting. She ventured to Fyshwick and photographed “the abstract, asymmetrical sculptural qualities” that she found,  “unjudged and un-romanticised”.

Untitled (Fyshwick) © Sari Sutton

And, inspired by the playful use of lines and geometry in Richards’s Dancing in the Mall, 1964, Sutton also sought images incorporating strong stripes – exploring the same general area near where the Monaro Mall once stood.

Untitled (Civic Stripes 2) © Sari Sutton

Other standouts for me were Annette Fisher’s Abstracts, and Tessa Ivison’s interestingly titled Pastorals.

4 Abstracts, 2021 © Annette Fisher
Pastoral #1 © Tessa Ivison

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

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Reviews

A Surrounded Beauty, and Portrait

Photography Exhibition Review

A Surrounded Beauty | Sarah Rhodes

Portrait | Melita Dahl

Photo Access | Until 10 July 2021

These two exhibitions explore portraiture. ACT-based artist Melita Dahl investigates connections between the traditions of fine-art portraiture, photography and facial emotion recognition (FER) software.

We all try to understand the meaning of facial expressions. Some believe we recognize anger most easily, others that we recognize happiness most easily. Facial cues may be insincere or misinterpreted. Experts are split even on whether the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile is sincere or forced. The ability to decipher the true intent and emotional response from facial expressions is of great interest to a range of sectors.

Dahl muses on how FER builds on the idea of using the subject’s eyes in photographic portraits as a ‘window to the soul’ – because looking into a person’s eyes supposedly can tell us what that person thinks and feels. Dahl draws our attention to the threat of technology that seeks to determine our psychic state.

Perspective Machine 01, 2020 © Melita Dahl

Each of Dahl’s prints is stunning. The print quality is excellent, with each black clearly distinguishable from a subtly different adjacent black. Excellent portrait lighting is a strong feature of each image. The facial expressions of the subjects are wonderfully controlled.

happy (0.96), 2019 © Melita Dahl

Through a series of posed and, sometimes, overwritten images, Dahl explores the idea of adopting neutral expressions as a strategy for disrupting recognition algorithms. By keeping our faces expressionless, would we be able to protect ourselves from digital surveillance?

Deadpan 9.980549278246, 2021 © Melita Dahl

To quote from a catalogue essay by Gael Newton, ‘Paradoxically, the resulting deadpan neutrality Dahl sought in these portraits is countered by the very ability of naturalistic and digital photomedia to create characters that we as viewers, respond to.’

Discussing these works with other gallery visitors, I heard words such as intriguing, mysterious and sinister used. One person enjoyed the ever so slight smile on the face of just one person in two groups of four young men – the same person in each group.

In A Surrounded Beauty, award-winning photographer Sarah Rhodes investigates the capacity of photographic portraiture to explore concepts of place. She has sought to capture each subject’s aura by using the lens as a link between the person’s inner being and that of the place occupied.

These images challenge traditional concepts of portraiture. Rhodes sees the resulting collaborations with her sitters as stories that meditate on the relationship between self, vulnerability, and landscape. For her, these stories ‘heighten our awareness of place and how the atmosphere of place shapes who we are’. One striking example is a work containing no part of any person’s face or body; rather it shows a group of apples fallen from their tree and lying scattered on the ground below, some partially obscured by shadows. Viewers are left to imagine something of the person who planted the trees, grew them, tends the soil, sweeps the path in that place and, perhaps, consumes the fruit.

Fallen Apples, 2021 © Sarah Rhodes

In another image we see a girl, but the emphasis is on the stormy sky behind; her face is looking down at the landscape beneath her feet. This too is not a traditional portrait, but it is good to see an artist taking an approach that seeks to reveal more about a subject than just their appearance.

Girl Under a Stormy Sky, 2020 © Sarah Rhodes

The catalogue essay by Jessie Boylan observes ‘A Surrounded Beauty, conjures a dream-like world, where people and place are disparate yet connected at the same time. Although they all appear to be weaving different threads, their stories are woven into one.’ I found an image of identical twins on the spectrum fascinating and of particular interest, as it very much weaves the two of them into one.

Mirror Identical Twins on the Spectrum, 2018 © Sarah Rhodes

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 21/6/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Acts of Co-Creation

Photography, Photoart Exhibition Review

Acts of Co-Creation | Sammy Hawker

Mixing Room Gallery | Until 2 July 2021

Sammy Hawker is a visual artist who was noticed early when one of her works was selected for the 2010 ‘Capture the Fade’ exhibition. Since then, Hawker has achieved a Bachelor of Visual Arts (First Class Honours), Sydney College of the Arts (2015), had a solo exhibition ‘Dieback’ (2019), participated in the ANU School of Art & Design Bundian Way Arts Exchange (2020), and received an artsACT Homefront grant to complete a body of work (2020). She is a current recipient of the PhotoAccess Dark Matter darkroom residency program, with an exhibition in the Huw Davies Gallery scheduled for late 2021.

The works in this exhibition have been created in Yuin Country, Ngarigo Country, and Ngunawal Country. Whilst visiting each site, Hawker took a few rolls of film and collected small samples of water, soil, eucalyptus bark and flowers. The show features a stunning collection of works employing pigment inks, emulsions and silver nitrate.

In her process statement for the exhibition, Hawker speaks of time defined by silences – whilst standing in a once-familiar landscape while the ash of a torched ecosystem floated through the air; looking in awe at critically endangered snow-gums; living alone in a city under global lockdown. She reveals that silences led her to practise more active listening; that the exhibition results “from recognising and celebrating the quieter but no less potent agency of the more-than human”.

Broulee Sunset © Sammy Hawker

Hawker also speaks of a newly formed relationship with Ngunawal custodian Tyronne Bell. As a non-Indigenous Australian, she reached out to Bell to learn more about the sites she was working with. Walking with him on Country helped her see more.

Dark Crystals © Sammy Hawker

For each print, we are told what indigenous land it was created on. There are a few traditional landscapes, some composites, and many that reveal their negatives having been processed in solutions that include a variety of waters containing diverse elements.

Murramarang NP #1 © Sammy Hawker

When processing films Hawker uses waters collected from the sites where the films were exposed. So, salt fractals form across works created with ocean water, whilst ripples appear on photographs developed with muddy lake water. Storm clouds photographed from Mount Ainslie were developed with rainwater that fell later that day.

Near Rosedale © Sammy Hawker

Experiments with the technique of chromatography add another aspect to the exhibition. Hawker mixed samples of matter with sodium hydroxide looking for the substance “to visually express itself over filter paper soaked with silver nitrate”. She says “Acts of Co-Creation are never predictable, and the resulting images can be both unsettling and thrilling. To me the image becomes alive; humming with the presence of the site itself.”

Scribbly Gum Bark Chromatogram © Sammy Hawker

Much background information is provided – about snow gums being affected by dieback; about how and why a water bowl tree was created to store water.

A centrepiece of the exhibition, Ngungara (Lake George) #1, was taken after rains had temporarily filled the lake. Ngungara means ‘flat water’ and the lake is a significant site for the Ngunawal. From a roll of medium format film, it was processed with a jar of muddy water collected from the edge of the lake.

Ngungara (Lake George) #1 © Sammy Hawker

Also displayed is a collection of the bottled waters, plus seaweed film developer and such things as casuarina pods, ground up bark and lichen. It is an excellent exhibition where I spent a lot of time taking it in. I was delighted to see that many works had been sold, some of the proceeds benefitting Aboriginal corporations in the Yuin, Ngarigo, and Ngunawal Countries. I congratulate the purchasers and Hawker, and strongly recommend readers to visit this exhibition.

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

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Uncategorized

Connections

Photographic Art Exhibition Review

Connections | Various Artists: Alan Charlton, Alan Pomeroy, Andrea Bryant, Andree Lawrey, Ann Gibbs-Jordan, Anne Eldridge, Barb Smith, Brenda Runnegar, Brian Rope, Caroline Lemerle, Chris Holly, Dorothy Zenz, Eva van Gorsel, Geoff Meers, Helen McFadden, John Forsey, Judy Parker, Julie Garran, Louise Bagger, Margaret Stapper, Marion Milliken, Matt James, Michael N King, Nicky Bazley-Smith, Pam Rooney, Paul Carpenter, Phil McFadden, Sheila Lunter, Steven Shaw, Susan Henderson, and Tongbo Sun.

M16 Artspace | 21 May – 6 June

Disclaimer: the author of this review has two works in the exhibition but received no payment for the review.

This is the first exhibition presented by Canberra PhotoConnect, a relatvely new group. The catalogue tells us The strange events of recent times have reminded us how important it is to stay connected with each other, family and places. Visitors to the gallery are invited to celebrate the diversity and joy of connections.

It is difficult to individually comment on all 66 works in the exhibition, so I will not try to; rather, I will look at particular works that attracted my attention for various reasons.

Louise Bagger’s Portrait of Joshua is a very fine portrait. It is intense, dark and moody all at once. There is an obvious connection between subject and artist.

Louise Bagger – Portrait of Joshua

Helen McFadden’s artworks combining photgraphs with scans of sketches are beautifully created and enhanced by being their printing.

Helen McFadden – Gloriosa study

Nicky Bazley-Smith’s Rhythm of the Trees is delightful with four well-placed humans in a beautiful landscape photographed when the lighting effectively brought out the textures and forms before a brooding sky.

Nicky Bazley-Smith – Rhythm of the Trees

Judy Parker’s Burning is richly coloured leaving us in no doubt that we are viewing, and connecting with, a representation of fire even if we are unsure of what she actually has photographed.


Judy Parker – Burning

Julie Garran’s black and white Children Play images are powerful. The boy child at play shots are quite disturbing as he holds and “uses” a powerful-looking toy (hopefully) weapon. The connections between play and real world are clear.

Julie Garran – Children Play II

Eva van Gorsel’s De-Constructed series are further fine examples of this talented artist’s works.

Eva van Gorsel – DeConstructed IV

Caroline Lemerle’s Monaro in drought 2019 is displayed in between two of Margaret Stapper’s images. The three work well together and portray aspects of connections to the rural landscape.

Caroline Lemerle – Monaro in drought
Margaret Stapper – ‘Disconnected’, Coleambally, NSW

Marion Milliken shows just one work, Jeffrey Smart Space. She has not copied, or even imitated, Smart, but has perhaps paid some small personal homage to him by creating a work that “connects” to his.

Marion Milliken – JeffreySmart Space

Steven Shaw’s images from Kolmanskop, a tourist destination ghost town in the Namib in southern Namibia, are worthy contributions. The broken foot in particular is worth contemplating with respect to the connection between the bathtub and the painting on the wall above it.

Steven Shaw – Kolmanskop – The broken foot

Susan Henderson’s Autumn leaves, 2020 is a clever work, showing the fallen evidence of the season on a patchwork of pavers enhanced by colourful art. There is an interesting connection between the colours of the various elements in the artwork.

Susan Henderson – Autumn Leaves

Barb Smith’s somewhat mysterious red, blue and green Mythologies series provides a connection with past technologies, as they are Inkjet prints made from scans of C41 photographs.

Barb Smith – Mythologies II Life

Phil McFadden’s Stone Pull, Hornbill Festival, Nagaland India, 2017 is a successful image – colourful and eye catching (and used for the exhibition’s publicity). But I felt that most of the people in it showed only minimal connection with the photographer.

Phil McFadden – Stone Pull, Hornbill Festival, Nagaland, India

Dorothy Zenz’s Classic is an interesting composite of several images, at least some of which relate to love. It is worth contemplating to see what connections you as the viewer can make to its elements.

Dorothy Zenz – Classic

Alan Pomeroy’s Skyscape Sculpture shows a very colourful sculpture overlaid on a colourless cloudscape. The connection is not clear to me, but the resultant artwork is good.

Alan Pomeroy – Skyscape Sculpture

Ann Gibbs-Jordan has explored the sense of place in two fine monochrome works, each comprising two juxtaposed scenes.

Ann Gibbs-Jordan – Sense of Space II, Mound Spring, SA and near Bedourie, Qld

Brenda Runnegar’s two works are clever composites of photographic images with scanned artworks.

Brenda Runnegar – Fleur

Visit the exhibition to see all the works and make your own connections.

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

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