The Body Electric

Photography Review

Various artists: The Body Electric

National Gallery of Australia | Until 26 January 2021

The Body Electric presents works by 25 woman-identifying artists, pioneers with respect to recent photography and video. It is about sex, pleasure, and desire; celebrates women’s erotic experiences; explores stories of domestic intimacy and love; examines how women’s sexuality has historically been represented; and shows sex, love, and loss as an animating part of human experience.

On the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) website, Curator Anne O’Hehir highlights one of the artists, Nan Goldin. O’Hehir notes that, historically, photography has played a pivotal role in the way sex and sexuality are seen in society; images of women by heterosexual men for heterosexual men dominating. This exhibition reveals a different view to us. O’Hehir’s piece is well worth reading before visiting.

A tender image by Pixy Liao used on the NGA website to represent the exhibition on its listing of current exhibitions clearly illustrates intimacy. Her other works shown are sexy and surreal.


Pixy Liao – Some words are just between us from Experimental relationship 2010
chromogenic photograph, 40.6 cm x 50.8 cm
image courtesy of the artist

Australian Polly Borland is also represented. Others have said her artistic work tends to marry the infantile with a sexual interest in parts of the body other than the sexual organs. The examples here are consistent with that view.


Polly Borland – MORPH 9 2018
pigment inkjet print, 200 cm x 162.5 cm
image courtesy of the artist and Murray White Room, Melbourne
© Polly Borland

A 1976 work by Jo Ann Callis portrays an anonymous woman seated, holding a flashlight in one hand. Decide for yourself what her purpose is but, almost certainly, we are meant to think about masturbation.


Jo Ann Callis – Untitled (woman with flashlight) c 1976
pigment inkjet print, 40.6 cm x 50.8 cm
image courtesy of ROSEGALLERY, © the artist

Christine Godden shows us her own umbilicus in a simple selfie. The title of this work is Self. Sunny day in winter 1974. An alternate title used for this image is Jeans and jumper. Both titles are simple descriptions of things in the image, leaving the interpretation of it open to us as viewers. Many of Godden’s works are intended to show ‘how women see and how women think’.


Christine Godden – Self. Sunny day in winter 1974
gelatin silver photograph, 14.9 cm x 22.6 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
gift of the artist 1987, © the artist

Works by Nan Goldin are much more powerful. Again, titles are simple, but there is strong material in these images.


Nan Goldin – Nan and Brian in bed, NYC 1983
dye destruction photograph, 39 (h) x 59.9 (w) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
purchased 1994, © the artist

Likewise, to the casual observer, a beautiful backlit transparency by Petrina Hicks might be seen simply as a photo of a woman hiding her face behind a rather lovely conch shell. However, the shape of the shell immediately speaks of the pleasure and desire this exhibition is about.


Petrina Hicks – Venus from the series The Shadows 2013
backlit transparent archival film (lightbox), 118.5 cm x 118.5 cm
image courtesy the artist and Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin

Fiona Pardington rephotographed found erotic 1950s images of women. Intended for publication in men’s magazines as pornographic fodder, they fit neatly into her thinking that photography is deeply sexy.

Collier Schorr challenges binary notions of gender and sexuality, reflecting both her queerness and desire. She asserts that her photographs of men and boys are of ‘women’.

Francesca Woodman plays hide and seek with her own body, producing intense yet witty and playful images.

Claire Lambe contributes a provocative red image that allows viewers to muse extensively as to what she is seeking to say to us.


Claire Lambe – Untitled (red Emily) 2017
chromogenic photograph, 94 cm x 140 cm
image courtesy of the artist and Sarah Scout Presents

An exhibition such as this must include work by Cindy Sherman. Here is a disturbingly explicit view of a female doll crouched on knees with a ready plastic orifice.


Cindy Sherman – Untitled #255 2018
chromogenic photograph, 114.9 cm x 173.4 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
purchased 1997, chromogenic print, © the artist

I invited my wife to accompany me to the exhibition so that I might witness her reactions and discuss the works. I also observed other visitors, mostly older women. But none of them, of whatever age or gender, revealed their thoughts to me.

Another of the included photographers, Annie Sprinkle, is quoted as saying “I want to tell women that they are sexually powerful beings, but they often don’t get in touch with it because they are socialised to please men.” Is that still true today? Each of us will have our own thoughts.

This review was originally commissioned by the Canberra Times but not used by them. I have also published it on the Canberra Critics Circle’s blog today here.


2020 Mullins Australian Conceptual Photography Prize

Photography Review

Various artists | 2020 Mullins Australian Conceptual Photography Prize

Magnet Galleries, Docklands, Melbourne | Until 1 August 2020

The annual Mullins Australian Conceptual Photography Prize (MACPP) is conducted by the Australian Photographic Society. The 2020 winners were announced on 9 July during an onsite exhibition opening in the Magnet Galleries, simultaneously livestreamed to a broader audience nationwide via Zoom. Sadly, the physical exhibition is closed to visitors because of the Melbourne lockdown. However, the gallery has created a wonderful virtual gallery which allows us to explore all the images. There is a link on their Website

Of 34 finalist images selected by the judges, an extraordinary 9 of them are by Canberra artists – Sophie Dumaresq, Ian Skinner, Lyndall Gerlach, Mark Van Veen, Judy Parker, Jim McKenna, and me. So, it was not altogether surprising when one of them, Judy Parker, was announced as the winner of the major prize of $10,000 cash for one of her two finalist images.

Dumpster Sketchbook- Waterside - by Judy Parker

Dumpster Sketchbook: Waterside © Judy Parker

Parker’s concept statement for the image read: Recently I took a series of photographs of the side panels of a large open container at a local recycling centre. The markings had a wonderfully strong graphic quality, red rust-lines on a silver-painted surface: a calligraphy of wear and tear. When I processed my images, I was intrigued by the way sections of the random patterns suggested a series of semi-abstract coastal landscapes, each quite different. I modified three of these to reinforce the reference and combined them as a triptych. Our minds are not limited to the literal. They can equally re-identify and re-imagine.

Parker’s second finalist image quickly brought a smile to my face for its creation of a human emotion in an inanimate object.

Delighted Vertebra - by Judy Parker

Delighted Vertebrae © Judy Parker

Other prize winners were Louise Alexander from Western Australia and Anne O’Connor from Launceston, both of whom entered excellent works. Alexander’s image about wanting to hide and not be seen was a standout for me. O’Connor’s work features red hand stitching representing the blood of humanity and the land in their struggle for survival.

014 Beige Chair

Beige Chair © Louise Alexander

055 The Price of Water

The Price of Water © Anne O’Connor

Amongst the other Canberran finalists, one of the works that I most enjoyed was The Hairy Panic, Untitled 15 by another Canberran, Sophie Dumaresq.

The Hairy Panic, Unitled #15 - by Sophie Dumaresq

The Hairy Panic, Untitled 15 © Sophie Dumaresq

It is part of Dumaresq’s series of photographs of a Land Art Installation that took place out in the windswept grasslands surrounding Lake George. That full series was exhibited in Canberra’s Nishi Gallery in March/April 2020. Another image from the series was a finalist in the 2020 Goulburn Art Prize.

Ian Skinner’s two finalist images wonderfully tell their sad stories of loss by his friends because of the New Year’s Eve bushfires at Cadgee.

Aftermath Cadgee 2020 No.1 - by Ian Skinner

Aftermath Cadgee 2020 No.1 © Ian Skinner

Aftermath Cadgee 2020 No.3 - by Ian Skinner

Aftermath Cadgee 2020 No.3 © Ian Skinner

Lyndall Gerlach features with an evocative creation titled Skinbark, from her “Textures of Life” series exploring age and ageing both emotionally and visually.

Skinbark (Textures of Life Series) - by Lyndall Gerlach

Skinbark ©Lyndall Gerlach

Mark Van Veen also brought us an image from an ongoing series, “Point of Return”, exploring reflections in our urban environment and how they alter our view of the world.

Blue Kimono Takamatsu 2019 7626 - by Mark Van Veen

Blue Kimono Takamatsu 2019 7626 © Mark Van Veen

Jim McKenna (technically no longer a Canberran as he has moved to the Bega Valley, but still a participating member of the Canberra Photographic Society) tells a powerful story about life’s journey.

Lifes Journey

Life’s Journey © James McKenna

And the final featured Canberran is me with an image seeking to show that there is nothing to fear.

The Black Crow - by Brian Rope

The Black Crow © Brian Rope

I could discuss every other image in this fine exhibition, but I’ll leave that to you to explore them for yourself via the virtual gallery mentioned in the opening paragraph of this. After exploring them you can vote for the People’s Choice Award. I haven’t decided yet but am leaning towards giving my personal vote to an image about the need for good to triumph over despair.

185 Helena and Florek

Helena and Florek © Sue Joy


Shadows and Consequences

Photography Review

Vic McEwan | Shadows and Consequences

PhotoAccess | Until 25 July 2020
This exhibition focuses on the impact of human activity, and the role of the arts and photographic media, exploring the period during which scientists say we have significantly altered the Earth. The changes include global warming, habitat loss, altered chemical composition of the atmosphere, oceans and soil, and animal extinctions. Addressing all of that is a huge challenge, but one that the artist has tackled imaginatively.

What do embryos, intestines, bogongs and a koala paw have in common? They’re all animal specimens, mostly from the National Museum of Australia’s collection that some of us will remember seeing in jars at the old Institute of Anatomy. Vic McEwan has photographed the specimens and then projected his images onto diverse surfaces to create new still and video images.

Selection of projection sites was important in telling the story. Sections of old walls along the River Thames during periods of low tides. Plymouth walls dating from the time of Cook’s voyages of discovery. An ancient fort in Portsmouth, from where the First Fleet departed.

Vic McEwan, Koala Paw - River Thames, 2020

Vic McEwan, Koala Paw – River Thames, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 84.1cm x 59.4cm

Vic McEwan, Specimen Foliage - Plymouth, 2020

Vic McEwan, Specimen Foliage – Plymouth, 2020 – photographic archival pigment print, 84.1cm x 59.4cm

Vic McEwan, Embryo - Portsmouth, 2020

Vic McEwan, Embryo – Portsmouth, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 59.4cm x 42cm

The Arthur Phillip monument in the centre of London displays a wonderful image of lizard intestines. McEwan rightly suggests they look like a big bunch of balloons. This is intimate, being only a 40 or 50 cm wide projection, quite different from the other images.

One specimen is a monkey’s head – a curious collection item as monkeys are not native to Australia. Foliage in the form of ivy appears on one projection wall. Two animals in one jar – a love story? Each element of every image contributes to the complex story that is shared with us.

The projections in England were done using a small handheld projector with its batteries charged in Australia using solar power. More connections! Back in Australia at Narrandera, on the Murrumbidgee, and close to McEwan’s own house, he used a much more powerful projector – takes 4 people to carry it – because of the projection distance.

In the second gallery, images show the same body of specimens projected onto smoke during the recent Summer of bushfires. Again, this is about the consequences of the way European colonisation has impacted on Australia – millions of animals have died because of fires and smoke. The specimens are not recognisable in these – to viewers who do not have the artist’s knowledge of them. He accurately describes the result as “paintings” in projected light. They would stand alone as images if we knew nothing of their purpose here. A much bigger catastrophe is represented in these strong works.

Then there are three images of bogongs from a CSIRO collection – taken at Mt McKay in Falls Creek. Scientists are trying to find out why bogongs have disappeared from there in recent years. So, the artist used projections to return moths into that landscape.

In the third gallery space I thoroughly enjoyed a three-act video work made from materials gathered during the project. Almost hosted by lizard and kangaroo specimens, it steps through the chronology from departure of the First Fleet through to the current day’s consequences. The video soundtrack also was made on the sites of the projections. We hear the artist playing the Arthur Phillip monument with a bow and extracting bell sounds from the bars in windows of the old Plymouth fort. Sonically mined from the time when they were built.

McEwan speaks about his work in a 37 minutes recording. This “photo-story” is available on the Photo Access online gallery and is an excellent audio guide if used when walking through the exhibition.



Epherema Created, Artworks Evolve

Encouraged by the responses to my initial foray into writing poetry to accompany an image – see my blog piece of 4 July 2020 titled Spilled Shadow – I have tried again.

This time I’ve overlaid short pieces on six images from my looking down to the pavements beneath my feet series – see my 12 May 2020 blog piece titled Pavement Pounding. Here they are.

Ephemera 1

Ephemera 2

Ephemera 3

Ephemera 4

Ephemera 5

Ephemera 6


Spilled Shadow

The Friends of APS Contemporary Group on Facebook challenges members to post images in response to a particular them each month. The theme this month is RGB colours – i.e. the Reds, Greens and Blues we see around us. I stumbled across an example of Red and took this image, which I titled Spilled Shadow.


After seeing it, two other members of the group thought I should write a poem to accompany it. One even suggested that Spilled Shadow would make an excellent title.

Now writing poetry is not something I’ve ever done. Nor had I ever seen myself as a poet. However, I recently participated in a Zoom presentation organised by the Canberra PhotoConnect group. The  poet, photographer and author, Giles Watson, from Albany in Western Australia shared some of his images and recited his poetry, and shared about his collaborations with other creative artists and his experiences with book publishing. I loved his work and his presentation. That had already made me think about trying to write some words – poetry or otherwise – to go with some of my images.

So, I decided to take up the challenge to write a poem to accompany my Spilled Shadow image. Today I showed what I had written to participants in another Canberra PhotoConnect Zoom gathering, seeking feedback from others. A number of them were most generous in their comments. A couple of suggestions were made for my consideration, and I made a modest adjustment to the words in response to one of the suggestions.

I have just shared it on the Facebook group mentioned earlier and asked those who challenged me what they think of it. Their responses may lead to further changes. But for now, here it is.

Spilled Shadow

I’m already working on words to accompany a set of images telling the story of the challenge of walking 9 km from an altitude of 1840 metres to the highest point in our land, altitude 2228 metres. And return! It was on 26 April 1999. I’ll post that story here when I complete it.