Reviews

Olive COTTON Max DUPAIN

Photography Exhibition Review

Olive COTTON Max DUPAIN

FYREGALLERY, Braidwood | Until 30 April 2021

All serious Australian photographers, and lovers of photography, know about Olive Cotton and Max Dupain. They know about their relationship. They are familiar with much of their work, particularly the famous images. They have probably read some books about one or other or both of them. If not, I heartily recommend the 2019 biography Olive Cotton, A Life In Photography by Helen Ennis. It tells much about Dupain as well as Cotton.

For everyone who appreciates the works of these two pioneering Australian photographers, this exhibition provides a great and joyful opportunity to see 39 of their images displayed in the one place. In addition, the quality of the silver gelatin photographs on display is excellent.

The exhibition catalogue, reproduces FYREGALLERY’s Manifesto for the Arts, quoting Rosamund Stone Sander & Benjamin Sander, ‘Art is ….. about rearranging us, creating surprising juxtapositions, emotional openings….’. That may be somewhat too esoteric with respect to this exhibition. These works mostly do not create surprising juxtapositions. They do not rearrange us. In my view they are, for the most part, straight forward images.

Cotton’s half of the exhibition includes some excellent nature imagery, such as her exquisite Seed Head, 1990. Also on show is the beautifully detailed photograph – Skeleton Leaf, 1964. The former is in the collection of the National Library of Australia, the latter in the National Gallery of Australia.

Olive Cotton – Seed Head, 1990, Silver gelatin photograph © Josef Lebovic Gallery
Olive Cotton – Skeleton Leaf, 1964, Silver gelatin photograph © Josef Lebovic Gallery

There are various delightful portraits, including the wonderful Only To Taste The Warmth, The Light, The Wind, in which the model’s face says it all – we know immediately what she is experiencing. The title is a line from a poem ‘O summer sun’ by English poet Robert Laurence Binyon.

Olive Cotton – Only To Taste The warmth, The Light, The Wind, 1939, Silver gelatin photograph © Josef Lebovic Gallery

Bright Cloud, 1939 is another highlight, portraying exactly that beyond the crest of the road ahead.

Olive Cotton – Bright Cloud. 1939, Silver gelatin photograph © Josef Lebovic Gallery

There is also the superb abstract Moths On The Windowpane taken in 1985 when Cotton was 84 years old. The Ennis biography mentioned earlier suggests Cotton ‘would have thought about it for a long while, watching and waiting’. Most of us would not do so – we would either just grab a shot or, at most, take a little time to frame our composition.

Dupain’s half of the show includes several from his Shell Series, printed very small and displayed in much larger mattes. It is a matter of individual preference as to whether one likes small artworks framed this way. Those who want something larger can find these images on websites by searching for Dupain’s name and their titles.

There are also various images of Sydney landmarks, one of performers with the Ballets Russes, and one of his fashion shoots – titled Beach Fashion Shoot, 1938.

Max Dupain – Beach Fashion Shoot, Cronulla, 1938, Silver gelatin photograph © Josef Lebovic Gallery

And there is Two Girls At Bowral [Olive Cotton and Jean Lorraine], 1939. It is a nice touch to have a Dupain image of Cotton included in the show.

Max Dupain – Two Girls At Bowral [Olive Cotton and Jean Lorraine], 1939, Silver gelatin photograph © Josef Lebovic Gallery

It is interesting to read when the images were taken and when they were printed. In many cases we are told who signed the prints – mostly by Dupain’s son Rex, or Cotton’s daughter Sally. And we read where copies are held and used as illustrations in Ennis’ two books about Cotton. Having received a copy of the 2019 biography as a gift last Christmas and read it earlier this year, this exhibition provided me with a most timely opportunity to further enjoy the works of these two iconic photographers.

It is well worth the drive to Braidwood for Canberrans to see these works in a modest gallery in that historic country town. A day out to see the exhibition and enjoy some of the other delights nearby is a day well spent. FYREGALLERY is to be congratulated on arranging to show these works in association with Sydney’s Josef Lebovic Gallery.

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

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