Otherwise Arbitrary Moments, Passing Time 2020, & Works from the Gallery’s Permanent Collection

Photography & Photomedia Exhibition Review

David Ryrie | Otherwise Arbitrary Moments

Tamara Dean | Passing Time, 2020

Katthy Cavaliere, Henri Mallard, Jackie Ranken, Cathy Laudenbach, Jon Lewis | Works from the Gallery’s Permanent Collection

Goulburn Regional Art Gallery | Until 3 April 2021

David Ryrie’s Otherwise Arbitrary Moments is the ‘main feature’. This new work is his first major solo at the Gallery. In it, he pairs seemingly ordinary encounters with the question of human scale.

Ryrie considers a photograph to be ‘a document which, like any other, can be objective, flawed, loved, hated – a translation of sorts by the photographer, open to interpretation by the viewer, evidence of a moment in time, real or imagined.’

The titles are sometimes obvious and other times enigmatic. An image which includes a sign saying ‘Town Water’ was clearly simple to title. Another showing inflatables at a swimming pool has the title ‘Empathy, No.1’ The look on the face of one inflatable in the pool seems to be conveying empathy for another inflatable stranded upside down and out of the water. An illuminated globe-shaped lightshade is more mysteriously titled ‘Cacophony’.

David Ryrie, Ball Games 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Drowning No.4, 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Empathy No.1 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Interruption 2018 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Perfect 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery

In the catalogue we read ‘these works offer new details and revelations at each viewing’. They certainly have something to say. It was great to explore and personally interpret them. Thinking about the titles added to my enjoyment.

A much smaller Gallery 2 is where you stand and, for just over 12 minutes, immerse yourself in Tamara Dean’s single channel video work entitled ‘Passing Time, 2020’. Dean’s practice explores our connection to nature and rites of passage in contemporary life. Her unique understanding of light and landscape reveals sensual pieces that invite contemplation.

This video work references Dean’s experience of self-isolation on her property during the pandemic last year. It starts with an image of the sun seen through leaves suspended from trees. And, because it repeats itself backwards on a loop, it concludes with the same sun.

Between the start and finish of the video, we see many aspects of nature. I noticed reflections of the sky on the surface of water, with occasional birds flying or circling in that sky, whilst unknown things landed on the water’s surface creating circular ripples. I saw fast flowing water, blurred and also clearly focussed. I saw a spider, a lily, wind blown trees and grasses, and either mist or smoke floating by. Part of me longed to hear the sounds accompanying this mesmerising imagery.

Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.

Last, but not least, there is The Window – literally “a window” into the Gallery’s permanent collection, showcasing works selected by a Guest Curator – this time Stephen Hartup, a photographer based in Tarago, working across large format film and producing silver gelatin prints. He considers photography to be ‘at its best when it is an intense visual language which does not require a dense, complex shield of written language to explain or justify it.’ He has some of his own works in the Gallery’s permanent collection but here presents material by other photographers.

The Window, curated by Stephen Hartup

Hartup has selected five interesting works. The first (top left) is Katthy Cavaliere’s Gaze of the Masked Philosopher, 2004 – showing the view out across the wool stores and sale yards through the eyes of Goulburn’s Big Merino when it was in its original location.

Then (top centre) there is an untitled print (2011) from original stereo half negative made by Henri Mallard. It depicts a worker during construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Jackie Ranken (top right) is represented with her intriguing Aerial Abstract #4 – of the Millennium drought-damaged landscape.

Cathy Laudenbach’s Girl Running (bottom left), a pigment print on archival bamboo paper, successfully causes us to think about the potential scariness of a forest, particularly the Belanglo State Forest.

Finally (bottom right), The Window contains Jon Lewis’s Aussie Soldier in Ainaro Hospital Ruins, 2012, which shows a locally painted Jesus Christ, surprisingly not destroyed by the rampage of the militias.

A version of this review was published in the Canberra Times of 6/3/21 here. The review is also published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Self Reflection

Roughly every quarter, I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is a modified version of my latest piece, published in the March 2021 issue now in newsagencies. A few words in the final two paragraphs have been varied following rule changes relating to the MCPP.

As published:

I first joined a photographic club in 1977 and the APS in 1986 and have learned an enormous amount about photography during the years since. Most importantly, I am still learning – as I believe we all should. In recent years I have been closely involved with two areas within APS – the Contemporary Group (CG) and the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP).

I chair the CG, edit its monthly online magazine and administer its Friends group on Facebook. I learn from each and every image I see, and from the discussions that take place about them on social media. Recently we have conducted some Zoom sessions for interested CG members and, just last night, we shared a few images in such a session and had interesting conversations about them. The newest CG members learned from that – so too did those who have been involved for many years.

The MCPP is now in its third year. Again, I have learned a lot from seeing which entries were selected as finalists in 2019 and 2020, and which were not. Of course, different judges might select different finalists and winners. Anyone who has ever attended a club judging or entered an international competition knows that. More importantly, if they listen to judges’ comments, or read adjudicators remarks, or carefully read available artist statements and study individual works, they will have learned.

A requirement to submit a concept statement with each entry in the MCPP challenges some photographers, but we should all see it as another way of learning. If we cannot describe what we were seeking to reveal through our image, then how did we manage to create an image relating to our concept?

So, are you entering in 2021? I hope you are and that you have some great images and words illustrating some excellent concepts to submit. I also hope you will be amongst the finalists and, maybe, even take home the $10,000 prizemoney. Most importantly, I hope you learn something from developing concepts, creating images to illustrate them and writing your associated concept statements.

I managed to have one of my entries selected as a finalist in 2020. As I prepare my entries for other such competitions (not the MCPP as management of it have been ruled ineligible now) I will look again at works previously entered and others of mine that haven’t made the cut. I will also look more at other past entries, such as the one by Roger Skinner below. I will be seeking to learn again.

20190918 Roos Songlines © Roger Skinner

Those of who become finalists in the 2021 MCPP will have their prints displayed for seven weeks during July and August at the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre (MRAC). This is a significant move to an art gallery within the Museums and Galleries of NSW network, allowing scope for interaction with other galleries in that network. The acquired annual MCPP winners will go into this regional gallery’s permanent collection, adding a great deal of prestige for the winning artists.

Entries close on Friday 23 April at 11PM AEST via https://www.a-p-s.org.au/ or https://myphotoclub.com.au/.

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Bracha – Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls

 Photography Review

Agnieszka Traczewska | Bracha – Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls

ACT Jewish Community Centre Gallery | Closing date uncertain, but expected to continue throughout 2021 | Viewing hours are 10am-3pm, Monday to Thursday, except on Jewish holy days.

A fine photographic insight into pilgrimages by ultra-Orthodox Jews is on display at the ACT Jewish Community Centre gallery. Outstanding artistic black and white prints provided by the Polish Embassy provide this excellent exhibition of Chasidim (a sect of Orthodox Jews) returning to destroyed shtetls (small Jewish towns or villages) in Poland. Unsurprisingly given its origins, the exhibition prints are of a very high quality. What’s more the quality of the photojournalism is great.

Bracha – Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls was first shown publicly at the United Nations headquarters in New York in January 2019. Writing in The New York Jewish Week at the time, Jonathon Mark quoted the then Polish Consul-General as saying “this is how my town must have looked [around] 1932, my grandmother’s reality.” Poland’s then UN ambassador told the guests at the opening that there is no Polish culture without Jewish culture. She suggested the photos showed that the traces of the Old World had not completely disappeared, and that Jewish heritage was well and alive in Poland. She did not mention that a community of millions was down to 10,000.

Although other Holocaust-related exhibits (such as one honouring diplomats recognized as “Righteous Gentiles”) were on display in the same UN lobby for longer, the Polish photographs were removed after only a week. Asked why at the time, a representative of the consulate was quoted as saying, “The status of this exhibition was a bit different.” 

Since then, the exhibition has only been displayed in Dusseldorf and Tel Aviv. Now we are privileged to have it in Canberra for an extended period.

Nearly completely wiped out in the Holocaust, there are no actual permanent Chasidim communities still living in Poland. Pilgrims travel there from all around the world to visit the ancient graveyards of deceased rabbis lucky enough to have graves, tombs and synagogues.

The photographs were taken by a non-Jewish Polish woman, Agnieszka Traczewska, who gained the confidence of some of the pilgrims, enabling her to capture the piety of their activities whilst visiting their ancestral religious sites. As the Chasidic women in particular don’t like being exposed, the fact that there are some portraits of women in the exhibition is unusual.

On her website, Traczewska reveals that on her very first journey to Leżajsk, Poland for Rabbi Elimelech’s anniversary of death, she had no idea that photography of Chasidim would become her lifelong passion. All she knew was that there were men there that are part of her country’s story, part of her history, and so she had to see, learn, capture and connect.

This exhibition is a testimony to the author’s passion and long-term commitment to documenting the descendants of Chasidim visiting the remains of their enduring heritage.

Unlike Traczewska, most of us, even many Jewish people, will never meet any Chasidim and are unlikely to know much about them. That makes this exhibition all the more interesting. The top-class social documentary imagery is very moving and provides us with a little knowledge.

In one particularly powerful image, we see Chasidim withstand a downpour during a visit to a Jewish cemetery.

The Jewish Cemetery, Krynica (Yid. Krenitz), 2018, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

Another looks down on Chasidim davening (reciting the prescribed ritual prayer). 

The anniversary of the death of Tsadik David in Lelow (Yid. Lelov), 2008, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

Others depict ceremonies – such as welcoming a spectacular new Torah and acknowledging anniversaries of deaths. 

Ceremony welcoming a new Torah, Lezajsk (Yid. Lizhensk), 2016, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

The Jewish Cemetery, Sieniawa (Yid. Shinev), 2015, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

There are numerous scenes of people in synagogues and graveyards, and some very fine portraits of individuals.

Lelow (Yid. Lelov), 2009, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

It is the first exhibition held at the ACT Jewish Community since it opened its new multimillion-dollar wing and will be on show for the remainder of the year. This review was published in The Canberra Times on 27/2/21 here. It was also published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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VIEW2021

Photography & Photomedia Review

Eleven artists | VIEW2021

Huw Davies Gallery, Photo Access | Until 27 February

View2021 shows works from eleven early career photographers and photomedia artists – Kayla Adams, Bridget Baskerville, April Davis, Sofia Dimarhos, Alex Flannery, Claire Fletcher, Tessa Ivison, David Lindesay, Adanna Obinna, Janhavi Salvi and Jordan Stokes.

The curators have arranged the exhibits so that viewers should progressively find themselves exploring works that are, in some ways, more challenging.

We commence with Janhavi Salvi’s Mary had a little lamb – not about the nursery rhyme per se, but about the processes through which humans have turned sheep into domesticated animals. This is done via a marvellous interactive, three-dimensional digital interface coded by Salvi.

Then we see several images Tessa Iverson captured using a digital camera fitted with a body cap with three pinholes. Each incorporates three perspectives of the same rural landscape. This experimental work was, for me, evidence that this contemporary artist is growing in her practice.

Next, Kayla Adams shows her interest in the urban form, with images of the one building taken from different places where she could emphasisie sightlines and symmetry.

Kayla Adams, Woden Pitch & Putt, 2020, inkjet print

Jordan Stokes exhibits three giclee prints of Burrinjuck Dam, each taken whilst it was shrouded by smoke and severely impacted by drought. These reminded me again that the land has been impacted by climate change.

Jordan Stokes, Burrinjuck II, 2019, giclée Print

Bridget Baskerville contributes four large prints plus a hand-crafted photobook of images, all captured in her home town of Kandos. They range from almost formal studies inside her grandmother’s home to quite raw images. One is titled Tennis Court – we would have no idea of that location without the title. The same is true of another – Brogan’s Creek Road. That does not matter – both images successfully tell us things about this small town in the Central Tablelands. A video on the Photo Access online gallery has a soundtrack of Baskerville’s reminiscences as she turns the pages of the book.

Bridget Baskerville, Nan’s House 2, 2020 inkjet print

Further along are three richly colourful portraits by Adanna Obinna of her friend Julia. They beautifully document this woman of colour, an ex-refugee now settled in Australia.

Adanna Obinna, Melanacious Golden, 2020, inkjet print

Three images by April Davis explore the attachments we have to our bodies, land and objects. With her grandmother during the pandemic, she photographed the two of them indoors, herself wearing a formal gown intended to draw our attention to the constraints experienced. My small gripe is that the gown did not leap off the prints to capture my attention.

After that come works by Alex Flannery – two of places and two of people from the Cowra area where he grew up. For me, the people images are the strongest, essentially because they portray interesting characters.

Alex Flannery, Dylon and Chad, Harden, 2020, silver gelatin print

Claire Fletcher shows just one print – I am my Mother’s Daughter. It cleverly superimposes portraits of both herself and her mother so as to explore their relationship. After seeing it on opening night, Photo Access member Ian Skinner used social media to identify it as his pick of the show – A very delicate interpretation with a sound underlying concept that supports the visual beauty of the image rather than vice versa.”

David Lindesay also displays just one print – an intimate, softly lit “accompanied self-portrait” intended to turn the artist’s queer gaze on moments of emotional and physical connection.

Finally, we spend time looking at a video by Sofia Dimarhos, and closely studying three inkjet prints that she has turned into wonderfully intriguing sculptural forms. All these works use the human body as raw material. They both explore and celebrate its form.

Sofia Dimarhos, Physique (three), 2020, inkjet print sculpture

Photo Access has included an excellent commissioned exhibition essay in a limited-edition high-quality book of the show that can be purchased from its shop.

A slightly edited version of this reiew was published by the Canberra Times on 15/2/21 here. It has also been published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Beforehand – the private life of a portrait

Photography Review

Various Artists | Beforehand – the private life of a portrait

National Portrait Gallery | Until 14 February 2021

Beforehand – the private life of a portrait is about the backstories behind iconic works from the NPG collection and the creative and social process of making a portrait. It features excellent works in a variety of media, including thirteen photographic prints.

Entering the exhibition, the first things visitors can read is about storytelling. We are told a portrait captures a person’s presence in time as well as space; tells a story about lived experience – at times conveying a sense of the subject’s past and future. I suspect the vast majority of portraits, including selfies captured by smart phones today, tell very little about lived experience. However, those who are serious about creating good portraits would do well to think about telling their subject’s stories.

The exhibition takes us to the creative journeys behind the portraits, showing us working drawings, studies, scrapbooks, sketches and footage taken in studios or on location. Interviews with artists and sitters tell us much more; revealing relationships and connections between the two parties that generated the story being told.

An interview with champion woodchopper David Foster provides an excellent example of storytelling. Foster is pictured before a tree that he says has witnessed all the years of his family and the legacy of their championships. Photographer Jacqui Stockdale responds “Wow, what the tree saw” and uses that as the title for her image. The collaborative nature of their relationship produced a portrait capturing the essence of Foster’s story.

What the tree saw: David Foster 2018 © Jacqui Stockdale. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Commissioned with funds provided by the Sid and Fiona Myer Family Foundation 2018.

Greg Weight’s portrait of contemporary artist Lindy Lee shows her standing within one of her own installations. Weight is present with Lee and has captured her much as he might capture a landscape, connecting us with her creativity.

Lindy Lee 1995 © Greg Weight. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Gift of Patrick Corrigan AM 2004. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

Ian Lloyd has also photographed leading artists throughout Australia. His portrait of the acclaimed indigenous artist Gloria Petyarre was taken as she applied layer on layer of dots on a canvas. The resultant image is remarkable, revealing clearly who she is: “an Anmatyerre woman from the Atnangkere country, near Alice Springs”. It is her country, her family’s country, the country she loves. Lloyd shows how his subject has touched and shaped many others.

Gloria Petyarre 2005 © R. Ian Lloyd. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Gift of the artist 2010. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

When cyclist Anna Meares and photographer Narelle Autio met ahead of their shoot, both were delighted to learn that neither wanted Meares wearing lycra or riding her bicycle. Both wanted an image of who she was, rather than what she did. The image taken amongst the trees and rocks in the Adelaide Hills clearly shows something of her toughness; the dress she wears shows her femininity.

Anna Meares 2018 © Narelle Autio. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Commissioned with funds provided by King & Wood Mallesons 2018

Peter Brew-Bevan’s image of the Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister, is stunning. It most successfully portrays the elegant motion of ballet, whilst delighting McAllister by showing what he describes as a “pensive moment”. The image reveals much about Brew-Bevan as well. His own energy is a major part of the shot’s energy, so it becomes a self-portrait of him as well as a portrait of McAllister.

The Dance David McAllister 2016 © Peter Brew Bevan. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Commissioned with funds provided by The Stuart Leslie Foundation 2016

In a similar way, Hari Ho’s portrait of Dadang Christanto is a document of a powerful moment of performance in both of their practices. All who have seen Christanto’s Heads from the North in the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden, will immediately see and relate to Ho’s intentions here.

Most of us have followed Jessica Mauboy’s career, either closely or at least with some interest. David Rosetzky’s portrait splendidly conveys her energy. Every portrait in this exhibition reveals something of the stories of the subjects and it is well worth spending time with each work, thinking about what is revealed about lived experiences.

This review was first published in the Canberra Times of 30/1/21 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Australian Dreams: Picturing our Built World

Visual Arts Review

Various Artists | Australian Dreams: Picturing our Built World

Exhibition Gallery, National Library of Australia | Until 31 January 2021

Australian Dreams: Picturing our Built World shows how visual artists have documented and interpreted Australia’s buildings for over 200 years. The works are exclusively from the National Library’s extensive collections and include many of our best artists; those whose names and images are known by all art lovers, some less familiar.

Entering the gallery, I was immediately immersed in a stunning photo wall of 48 images, selected from the vast 25,292 collected for the Regional cities and major towns project, which documents the architecture of hundreds of Australian towns. There is a dark moody image of the closed railway station on the Kulwin line in Wycheproof. And there’s an image of Toowoomba’s closed Camera Obscura – how many remember sitting inside as the cylinder wall rotated noisily and you saw significant buildings below in the ancient crater where the city is situated?

Inside the gallery, there are many more wonderful photos, prints, drawings and paintings. Captions are not needed for famous buildings, such as Canberra’s Shine Dome and Parliament House but, for most of us, are necessary for a Surry Hills street, a deserted farmhouse on the outskirts of Maitland during the major flood of 1955, a home by Lynchford railway tracks, a scarred tree in the front yard of a suburban Canberra house, and a miner’s hut in Lithgow Valley.

A miner’s hut, Lithgow Valley, New South Wales, ca. 1885 © Charles Kerry

There are other delights in display cabinets – contemporary photo books documenting Oxford Street, Masters stores, and ordinary homes. How I longed to pick them up and turn their pages! There is a slide show from Wes Stacey’s archive – homesteads, timber buildings, and the architecture of historic towns and settlements.

Visitors to the exhibition explore the colonial era, when European artists produced paintings, prints and photographs of streetscapes and major public buildings in the new cities and towns, and on frontier properties. Conrad Martens’ striking watercolour of Craigend in Sydney is a feature.

Then we see the first decades of the twentieth century, when artists such as photographer Harold Cazneaux and wood engraver Lionel Lindsay created romantic images of old Sydney, the bush and grand colonial buildings. These images were influenced by the revival of etching in printmaking and a more impressionistic approach to photography.

Going home, Doohat Lane, North Sydney, New South Wales, 1910 © Harold Cazneaux

Later, modernism began to dominate – whether the subjects were post-war architecture or familiar old streets. We see compositions utilising strong contrasts, sharp forms and lines. Olive Cotton’s Fire Escape clearly displays her techniques as expressed in a 1938 magazine interview: “The lighting, the relation of the various objects to the shape of the picture, and many other factors can be changed by the individual, and this is where discernment and personality come into the picture.”

Fire Escape c.1935 © Olive Cotton (1911–2003)

The final images in the exhibition demonstrate how many of these artists found something compelling in buildings where ordinary lives played out, in various states of use, disuse, demolition and destruction. They also created images communicating why buildings are worth seeing and saving.

William Yang, a third generation Australian Chinese, has developed an international reputation as a photographer and performer. His art is about the telling of stories, often writing words on the surfaces of his prints, as in his image of Canberra’s School of Art after a hailstorm in 2007.

Hail #5, School of Art, 2007. From the series – Breathing the Rarefied Air of Canberra © William Yang

Other great images that appealed to me were Maggie Diaz’s Higgins Boys, Charles Bayliss’s Sydney Technical College Building Exterior, Wolfgang Sievers’ Olympic Swimming Pool, and John Bertram Eaton’s Steps in a Courtyard. Go see for yourself and think about what other buildings are worth going to see again or should be saved for future generations.

Sydney Technical College Building Exterior, 1889, 2 in Photographs of Premises Occupied by the Board of Technical Education of New South Wales, 1889 © Charles Bayliss (1850-1897)

This review was first published by the Canberra Times of 23/1/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Migration

This is a description of the journey when I migrated from England to Australia in 1950

Our human family had not increased when mum and dad took what I consider to have been a most courageous decision to emigrate to Australia, where they hoped their sons would have better future life opportunities.

A Document of Identity in lieu of a passport was issued to dad for travel to Australia as an approved migrant accompanied by mum and their two children, myself included.

So, late in 1950, we sailed from Liverpool on the MV Cheshire, a ship which had seen service as a troop transport in World War II and, later, was to be used in a similar role during the Korean War.

MV Cheshire

So, for around five weeks, my home was on the seas. We travelled south past France and Spain, with a majority of the passengers including me being horribly seasick for the first several days. The ship had no stabilisers, so it rolled horribly in the waves. Then we went past Gibraltar and through the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Suez, and the Red Sea to Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka), and across the Indian Ocean to Australia.

My memories of life on board are again fragile. I know that dad, Alan and myself were in a cabin with five other men, whilst mum was elsewhere with a group of women. I also know that the children were given bread and jam as a treat each day. We rushed to line up for ours then took them to mum and dad so they could have them, before returning to the queue for a second time.

On board the MC Cheshire

We stopped at Port Said (Egypt), where locals in small boats rowed out to our ship and plied their wares of fresh fruit. Purchases were hauled up in baskets that were then lowered back down empty. As we passed through the Suez Canal, we passed a ship going the other way, and some of its passengers were disgruntled British people who had tried Australia and called out to us that we were making a mistake.

We stopped again in Aden (Yemen).

At Aden
Dad, mum, Alan and me at Aden

We also stopped at Colombo (Ceylon) and took a short land trip south of there to Mount Lavinia.

Ead, mum, Alan and me at Mount Lavinia
Mum (back, far right). Me and Alan (front, far right) at Mt Lavinia

When we crossed the equator there was a fun ceremony to mark that. On other occasions we wore fancy dress for events that brightened the journey.

Alan in “fancy dress”

After completing our crossing of the Indian Ocean, our first Australian port was Fremantle. Some people, including friends mum and dad had made on board, disembarked at Fremantle to begin their new lives in Western Australia.

Our destination was Melbourne, which we reached on the fourteenth of December. We were greeted by a wild storm which almost prevented the tugs from getting us to the wharf. As a result, we – and the rest of the Melbourne-bound British migrants still on board – did not disembark until the morning of the fifteenth. Some continued on to Sydney.

Melbourne’s Sun newspaper told the story on page 2 of the tugs’ difficult task:

The passenger lists held by the National Archives of Australia show the four of us. They also show the four members of the Pfur family, with whom we remained in contact for many years:

After disembarking, we were met by my aunt Mary & uncle Tom and cousins David & Margaret, and by Tony Wilson – a member of the family that was to be mum and dad’s employers and who had sponsored us as assisted passage migrants.

Met at Port Melbourne. Back- Uncle Tom, Mum Eileen, Aunt Mary, Dad Jim. Front- cousins David and Margaret, Alan and me.

We were driven by Tony what seemed an incredible distance in the Wilson’s Armstrong-Siddeley utility to our new home on their property of Bundoran, near Glenthompson and Dunkeld in the Western Districts of Victoria.

Before settling into this new home and jobs we were to spend a short period, including Christmas of 1950, with dad’s sister, Mary Brown, and her family on another property in nearby Victoria Valley, in the Grampian Mountains. Aunty Mary and Uncle Tom, plus cousins David and Margaret, had themselves migrated in 1949, having in turn been enticed to join Tom’s brother Charles, who had come to work with the Methodist Church and had become its Minister at Dunkeld.

One of the things I brought with me from England was a copy of “Bobby Bear’s Annual” – a book given to me by the Browns inscribed “With love and best wishes to dear Brian from Uncle Tom, Auntie Mary, David and Margaret. Dec. 1949. Just as we were leaving on ‘SS Raneli’ for Australia”. Minus its front hard cover, that book remains in my possession.

Not too many years later, although I don’t remember the date, I received another bible. It was a gift from a grandmother, but the inscription is in my mother’s handwriting – not doubt because she would have purchased it in Australia on behalf of grandma nanny still living in England.

And, so, my new life in Australia began.

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Early Life In London

This is an account of my early childhood

The home address mum gave when registering my birth on 12 March 1942 was 39 Fairview Road, Tottenham, London, N15. I don’t know whether we ever lived there. I do know that during World War II mum and I spent a lot of time living with mum’s sister Nell Ridley and her eldest children, who were also very young, but I’m not sure at whose house that was. Mum was evacuated a second time to Bragborough Hall, Northamptonshire for the birth of my younger brother Alan James Rope (on 9 June 1943) when I was just 15 months old. I presume I went with her. Dad got army leave again at that time.

When clearing out mum’s last independent living residence at the time she moved into residential care in 2016 we came across my baptism certificate and a letter written at the time. It revealed I was baptised in our local Congregational church on 22 March 1942 (just 19 days after birth), whereas I had previously heard a story about being baptised in a Presbyterian church close to where my dad’s sister Mary lived one day when we went to visit her.

The Minister, Rev Henry Donald, wrote out some words by the abolitionist, author, and Congregationalist clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher and provided them to mum and dad at the baptism.

I believe this to be an architectural drawing of the Stamford Hill Congregational Church:

Below is the earliest photograph I have of myself and I wonder whether it was taken on the day I was baptised.

Here are some other early photos of me (at least I’m pretty sure they are of me and not my brother):

My first memory of a home where all four of us lived as a family relates to 60 Ravensdale Road, Stamford Hill, London, N16. The house at that address has long since been demolished and replaced by housing commission bungalows. When we lived there it was a large, somewhat ugly, building with three families occupying different floors, despite an internal staircase via which each family could freely move into their neighbours’ apartments. We had the basement and ground floor. The view from the basement’s rear windows was straight into a wall, into which was set a flight of steps leading up to the back garden area. This image taken from Google maps shows 63 Ravensdale Road at the left. It and the adjacent houses look very much what I imagine our house was like.

Although we lived at this address until I was eight years old, I have only a few memories of it and suspect they only relate to things I was subsequently reminded of by mum and dad. There is a story of a big Guy Fawkes Night bonfire in the back garden area when someone’s nylon stockings were set on fire by a lit jumping jack. And I know we had pets, including a golden retriever dog that got distemper, and a couple of goldfish named after two of my uncles. There also were pet mice in a “house” with installations for them to exercise and play on.

Whilst living here I attended the Craven Park School. I started there on my fifth birthday, which apparently was the practice in England at that time. I’m told that Mum walked me to school that morning through a couple of feet of snow. My reports show that I was a good student, placing 1st in my class in both December 1949 and July 1950.

This latter report also records that my Religious Knowledge was “V. Good.”

The Bible

I do not consider myself to be a bible scholar, although it has been a part of my entire life. Here is a montage of inscriptions in my various bibles overlaid on a photo I took of another youngster reading a bible and an illustration from one of mine:

I do not know when I would have been given my first bible but, no doubt, it would have been an illustrated version considered most suitable for a young child at the time.

I certainly received an illustrated bible when I was just 7 years old. The Ravensdale Road Methodist Sunday School that my brother, Alan, and I attended presented me with one in 1949. As we lived in Ravensdale Road we didn’t have to go far to Sunday School. The sticker inside the front cover records that I got 43 marks, presumably in some sort of bible test. I don’t know how many that was out of – if it was 100 my knowledge wasn’t so good, but if it was out of 50 then I wasn’t doing too badly.

I received another bible just one year after the Sunday School prize. In 1950 our family left London and sailed from England to Australia as migrants. The 177th London Life Boy Team, of which I had been a member gave me a bible as a farewell gift.

So, that is when I left England heading towards a new life in the Great Southern Land known as Australia.

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Best of 2020 – Photography

This aticle was published on page 20 of The Canberra Times of 5 January 2021 and on their website here.

When I wrote a similar piece to this a year ago, I expressed a hope that we could look forward to a lot of great photography to enjoy with our 20/20 vision.

Despite everything, there has been a significant number of good public photography exhibitions throughout our city. I have reviewed 24 of them for this newspaper, plus one that was held in Goulburn. There are a number of others that I have seen but not reviewed here, as well as a few more that I missed.

How were so many exhibitions possible with the restrictions imposed on galleries? Seven of the reviewed exhibitions commenced before any restrictions. Only one was totally online. Others took place during periods of restrictions, but galleries were innovative in their approaches. And now the remaining restrictions create no real barriers for galleries.

Having commenced an excellent online gallery, Photo Access continued to use it in conjunction with physical exhibitions whilst visitor numbers were greatly restricted. The use of recorded conversations with exhibitors, audio and video pieces contributed by other exhibitors, and posting links to ArtSound FM interviews was an innovative and clever response. Some other galleries also went online with virtual exhibitions.

Their substantial outdoor space also allowed Photo Access to conduct openings outside letting small numbers go int the gallery at a time during those openings. One exhibition was actually “hung” in the outside space for its duration.

Another outdoors gallery came into being during the year, with the establishment of Exhibition Avenue on the ANU campus. The first, and still continuing, exhibition there is photography that can be viewed 24 hours per day. The passing foot traffic is substantial so I expect many people have looked at the works on display, whereas they may not have visited an indoors gallery space.

I continue to be disappointed when some galleries provide inadequate background material regarding exhibitions. I appreciate that there is a cost involved in commissioning an essay about an exhibition – but it is a modest price to pay for something that can make a significant difference to visitors (even if only published online rather than in a printed catalogue).

It was disappointing that restrictions prevented the Canberra Photographic Society from properly celebrating its 75th anniversary during 2020. We were denied the opportunity of seeing something special.

A year ago, I mentioned that two locals had been finalists in the 2019 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP). I expressed my hope that we might go one better in 2020 and see a local winning that or another of the major photography Prizes. Well, it happened. Canberra photographer Judy Parker took out the $10,000 Prize. And several other locals were also finalists. Two other Canberra photographers took out prizes in a national 2020 Photobook of the Year competition.

And, even better, two photographers received 2020 ACT Arts Awards. Sophie Dumaresq received an award for her exhibition ‘The Hairy Panic’ at Nishi Gallery during Art, Not Apart, comprising photographs of a land art installation on grasslands surrounding Lake George, plus tumbleweed sculptures. Two images from that exhibition were finalists in the 2020 MCPP, and one a finalist in the Goulburn Art Prize.

Hairy Panic, Untitled #15 © Sophie Dumaresq

Grace Costa received an award for being the driving force behind the exhibition ‘The Journey Through’ by eleven Canberra region artists at Photo Access, showing the results of exploring, confronting and sharing their personal stories during an eight months’ long workshop.

Now let’s hope that 2021 brings us more great photography exhibitions, events and achievements, including the successful emergence of new local talents.

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The Space Between

Photography Review

Jakub Beseda | The Space Between

Cox Gallery, 1/19 Eastlake Pde, Kingston | Until 29 January 2021

Jakub Beseda discovered photography during high school years. Like so many others, he experienced that magical moment in a wet darkroom –  developing and printing his first photograph.

Studying photomedia at university, focussing on capturing the built environment, led to architecture and exploring how people interact with those environments. Beseda uses photography to document how we perceive and interact with the designed spaces around us.

I have previously enjoyed some of Beseda’s imagery on Instagram. It was great to see his prints. Images printed start speaking to us, invite us to be a part of them and, at times, let us hold or touch them.

Providing background to his exhibition, Beseda quotes the famous American freelance photojournalist Steve McCurry: “Some of the great pictures happen along the journey and not necessarily at your destination”.

When people travel, or when they are journeying near home, using photography to explore particular places is a worthy approach. It allows the artist to provide viewers, themselves included, with a sense of what those places mean. A place can be a physical one, or an imaginary one evoked by experience and emotion. It can be the detail of a single location, or an extensive exploration of an entire street, city or rural property. Our images of one place might stir another’s memories of a different place – or invite others into our own memories.

In Between 02 © Jakub Beseda

Good contemporary images, such as those in this exhibition, suggest rather than describe. They allow us to use our imagination. Returning to the place where he was born, after an absence of thirty years, Beseda wanted to reconnect and explore his roots. The places have changed, the people have grown. His images invite us into his memories.

In Between 06 © Jakub Beseda

Using his camera as a tool to arrest the fractures of time and explore the intersections of natural and built environments, Beseda discovered things. He has interpreted places seen again many years after leaving Europe; places he would have been unable to visit in earlier years.

In Between 07 © Jakub Beseda

He wanted to join the dots of his past to his place now; and discover the dots of his future. That is, to connect moments and events that have shaped his past life and will shape his future – not necessarily static, some significant and others mundane. He doesn’t think he has been successful discovering the dots of his future – not surprising as most of us cannot prophesy. However, he has been successful in his explorations with his camera, having discovered and learned – both personally and artistically.

In Between 08 © Jakub Beseda

All eleven excellent prints on display are worthy of individual contemplation. They were taken from moving cars, buses or trains; so many include the familiar blur often seen. I saw these blurs as metaphors – for the spaces between his previous and now lives. As for many of us, his memories may have become a mix of reality and fantasy – a blurred space between the past and now.

In Between 10 © Jakub Beseda

The prints in the exhibition have a strong horizontal linearity about them, seemingly drawing lines between the dots of his childhood and now. There are spaces between the artist’s camera and the captured scenes. Some images might remind us of places we have passed through; near where he was or somewhere else altogether.

The images aren’t, intrinsically, architectural, landscape, documentary or travel photos – although different viewers may see them as such. For me they fall neatly into the Contemporary photography genre, lending themselves more to intentional creative expression.

The Space Between is presented in association with Design Canberra, and all profits from sales will be donated to the Black Dog Institute.

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 27 December 2020 here, and on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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