Photo Book Review, Photography Story, Reviews

Installation View

Book Review

Daniel Palmer & Martyn Jolly| Installation View: Photography Exhibitions in Australia (1848-2020)

In 2014, Canberra-based Dr Martyn Jolley and Melbourne-based Dr Daniel Palmer received a grant to research the impact of new technology on the curating of Australian art photography.

One outcome – their substantial new book, Installation View – enriches our understanding of the diversity of Australian photography. It is a significant new account, told through the most important exhibitions and modes of collection and display. It presents a chronology of rarely seen installation views from both well-known and forgotten exhibitions, along with a series of essays.

Additionally, the authors hope to identify some of the challenges faced by institutions in effectively engaging with new forms and practices of photography enabled through digital circulation. Establishing a dialogue around old and new curatorial approaches, the research is premised on the idea that in this age of photo sharing, when photographs are proliferating as never before, the curatorial selecting, collecting and contextualising functions have never been more important.

The foreword correctly notes that photos can be ephemeral even though the camera records and remembers. It invites readers to visit exhibitions of the past and actively imagine what it would have been like to be there. Somewhat like imagining what today’s virtual exhibitions might look like physically in an actual gallery.

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Our appetites are whetted by references to viewing images at exhibitions, to the ghostly figures that are audiences, and to the changes in exhibition spaces since the 1870s – to spaces where photographers’ intentions interact with institutional imperatives and exhibition design.

Then the introduction speaks of the exploration of the “constantly mutating forms and conventions through which photographers and curators have selected and presented photographs to the public”.

Despite the book’s 424 pages, the authors have had to be selective as to which exhibitions they have explored. I have also had to be selective as to which content to discuss here.

Seeking to demonstrate shifts in how photography has been conceptualised, who has produced it and the types of spaces where it has been exhibited, the authors note that photographers and curators have always grappled with scale so that images command attention. They discuss how photographs rely on other media, including print and reproduction technologies, and graphic design. They suggest that art museums have frequently turned to the nineteenth century to complicate the contemporary moment.

So, this is not a book for light reading. It is a substantial text to be studied, raising numerous things for us to consider and contemplate. I do not like the design – tiny margins, and a strange style of page and plate numbering – nor the lack of an index and the listing of the plates in the separate appendix. But the content is excellent. All serious creators, photographers and collectors should have a copy on their reference bookshelves.

An important question posed is what constitutes Australian photography? Is it work by Australians, here and on travels? Does it include significant works made by non-Australians whilst visiting these shores for short periods? How important are overseas exhibitions involving Australian-based photographers? Have exhibitions of international works here impacted on local practice? Very early in the book it is asserted that, in the 1980s, photography moved from the periphery to the centre of the art world; and it speaks about the loss of photo medium-specific curators and galleries.

Having personally had 45 years involvement with amateur Australian photography societies, I was enjoyed reading about the involvement of amateur associations and pictorialist photography exhibitions, starting with a description of the first annual exhibition by members of the Amateur Photographic Association of Victoria way back in 1884. Any person interested in photography would be aware of the New Zealand born, Sydney-based Harold Cazneaux. His 1909 solo exhibition in the Sydney rooms of the Photographic Society of NSW was the first such by any Australian.

Another famous Australian, Frank Hurley, had his first solo show in 1911 – again in Sydney, but at the Kodak Salon. Given our recent experiences of exhibitions having to await gallery re-openings after pandemic lockdowns, it is interesting that Hurley had to wait for the influenza epidemic to subside before his venue similarly could re-open.

Reading about the use of photographers’ studios as exhibition spaces in the mid nineteenth century set me thinking about parallels today. Many photographers now would display examples of their works in their workplaces, including their homes, where clients would come to have studio portraits made.

Chapter 11, Exhibiting the Modern World, describes the major 1938 Commemorative Salon of Photography, again in Sydney, as part of the celebrations for Australia’s 150th anniversary. It was a joint effort by amateur and professional associations. Australia’s Bicentennial, 50 years later, is mentioned briefly in chapters about indigenous photographers and digital spaces, but the major 1988 traveling Australian Bicentennial Exhibition with which I was personally very involved is not discussed.

There is a reference to photographic constructions in the form of a ceremonial arch over Sydney’s Bridge Street during the 1954 Queen’s visit which I’m sure some will remember. The extraordinary and famous Family of Man international touring exhibition in 1959, including just two Australians out of 273 photographers, gets a short chapter to itself which refers to this country’s White Australia policy being dismantled against the context of the exhibition’s vision of global humanity.

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1971_Frontiers, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 8_RGB

The ongoing significance of some photography is highlighted by reference to the important After the Tent Embassy show – displayed at our own Woden shopping mall in 1983. It included some works that became incredibly important later.

Of considerable personal interest to me as an organiser of a current annual Prize for conceptual photography was the chapter Photoconceptualism, discussing the emergence of that style of exhibition practice. The first Australian exhibition to include conceptual photography was held in 1969 at Pinacotheca Gallery in St Kilda.

Juxtaposition of images and texts remains a device employed by many conceptual artists today. Locally, the Canberra PhotoConnect group aims to promote “the evolving practice of photography and its links to the arts and society”. It encourages using poetry as an integral part of image presentation.

Plates in the book, of which there are 218, include a hand-coloured installation shot of Micky Allan’s exhibition Photography, Drawing, Poetry – A Live-In Show. Another has particular local interest, showing Huw Davies at the door of Photo Access in Acton in 1984. The gallery at that organisation’s current premises carries Davies name.

1978 Micky Allan, Photographs, Drawing, Poetry – A Live-In Show, hand-coloured installation shot, GPG, Melbourne, courtesy Helen Vivian

References regarding Bill Henson, Simryn Gill, and Tracey Moffatt representing Australia at the Venice Biennale identify them as key moments putting Australia at the “centre of the art world”. The book also notes that photography has been “so successful at becoming art that the place of photography departments in Australian art galleries appears to have become unmoored”.

During an online conversation about the book, a question posed was whether institutionalisation has left us with sensory deficit. We heard that curators are now working like artists, and vice versa. Mention was made of William Yang using a gallery as a diary space. The audience, which included Yang, also heard that “each person who walks into a gallery changes everything”. Remember that when next you visit a gallery!

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

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Photography Story

Madeline Bishop wins her second Iris Award

Madeline Bishop is a photo artist now based in Melbourne. However, she grew up in Canberra, began her career here, and regularly visits the capital – and her family – when you know what permits. She completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts (First Class Honours) at the ANU in 2013, before gaining her Master of Fine Arts (First Class Honours), at the University of Melbourne in 2016.

Some, if not all, of Bishop’s family members have been subjects for her evocative people imagery. So too many friends have found themselves called on as subjects. Her 2014 show at Photo Access exploring the complexity of sisterhood and female relationships is a case in point.

This artist has had considerable success, including being a finalist in the Bowness Photography Prize, the Alan Fineman New Photography Award, the National Photographic Portrait Prize, and the Maggie Diaz Photography Prize. She was also Artist in Residence at Canberra’s Photoaccess in 2014, Photographer in Residence at Carriageworks (NSW 2018), and was a Firecracker Photographic Grant Winner (UK 2020).

In addition to participating in numerous group shows, Bishop to date has had at least thirteen solo exhibitions commencing with three in Canberra – Familial/Familiar at the ANU in 2013, then 80 Denier at Photoaccess and Monuments at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, both in 2014. Since then, she has also exhibited in NSW, Victoria, Western Australia, Northern Territory, and Tasmania. Right now, her Without Your Mother series is showing at Sawtooth ARI gallery in Launceston.

In 2016 Bishop won the Iris Award (Perth Centre of Photography, WA). Her winning image, Liz and Talulah, was from The In Between series exhibited here at Photo Access in early 2018. That series explored the construction of women’s identities and the development of relationships within domestic space, using her share house as a site and constructed photographic images as a tool to “consider the social malleability of liminal space and the relationships forged within it”.

Now she has just won the Iris Award again with her image Neil and Vasantha, from another series, Without your mother. Her artist statement for this series reads “We begin our lives looking for our mothers. Do we ever stop looking for them and do they ever stop looking for us? As we grow, we attempt to detach ourselves in order to become independent and live adult lives. What remnants of this relationship that defines our early lives remain in the distance of adulthood? Our memories morph, the details become duller and distorted over time and we’re left with a summarised version of what might have happened, similar to a photograph. Some edges will blur and some will sharpen until those are the only parts we can remember.”

Neil and Vasantha © Madeline Bishop
Julie and Jacqui © Madeline Bishop
Margaret and Liz © Madeline Bishop
Shashi Meera and Simran © Madeline Bishop
Stef and Marina © Madeline Bishop

Those who consider photography prizes awarding single images to be unfortunate would be extremely pleased that Bishop has had opportunities to show the full series from which her Iris Award prize winners have come.

The artist’s website, www.madelinebishop.com, seems to me to present her works very much as she generally presents them in exhibitions. It also includes images showing her installations in galleries, which reveal her choices to sometimes hang works low near the floor – or even on it. At least some photo historians would wish she had also shown images of exhibitions that included people viewing the works, considering such shots can reveal a great deal about the public response to an exhibition.

Canberra can be proud of Bishop – and indeed of many other artist graduates from the ANU. Hopefully, those who are collectors include some of her works in their collections.

This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 16/10/21 here. It is also on the Canberra critics Circle blog here.

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Photo Editing

First look at Zoner Photo Studio X

I’ve very recently installed some new photo editing software on my PC. Zoner Photo Studio X (ZPS X) is available free for your first month of using it, after which you can pay monthly or yearly for a subscription. The software package offers free pre-sets (and, of course, you can create your own), a free 20 GB of Cloud storage and can be used on an unlimited number of your devices. You can work on an unlimited number of computers without having to pay for a separate license for each one. And for a small extra fee, other members of your household can also use ZPS X.

EISA (Expert Imaging and Sound Association) has named ZPS X the Best Photo Software of 2021-22, saying “This innovative photo software offers a wide range of user-friendly features. Along with being a fully featured raw converter, it provides easy photo editing with layers and masks, while the retouching brush and faces tool are perfect for enhancing portraits. Zoner Photo Studio X also manages your photo catalogue, allowing you to browse by date, shot location, keywords, or folders. The continuous updates and use of artificial intelligence are also very advantageous for users. Zoner Photo Studio X combines features that usually require several programs from other vendors at a very competitive price.”

But hey, I’ve been using another very well-known software package for what seems like an eternity, so why would I even bother looking into something else? Well, quite simply because the opportunity to do so presented itself.

It will no doubt take me some time to explore the features, but right now I’ve noticed many with familiar names or purposes to those I am used to – including Layers and Masks. I’ve also noticed that it supports various RAW formats, that it can be used to create videos, that you can use it to create photo books and order them directly, and that you can create calendars, canvas prints, postcards, collages, and more. There are modules for making panoramas, 3D images and PDF slideshows. You can even have fun with photo editing to make your very own caricature – Zoner’s Learn Photography website has an article explaining how.

Actually, I may never explore every available feature; after all I’ve often said I’ll still be learning things about my current software when I depart this world! But ZPS X comes with an online manual, easily accessed by pressing the F1 key on your keyboard, so that should help enormously whenever anything is not intuitive.

So, I’d best get started on my explorations. From time to time as I learn, I’ll post another piece about it here.

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Photography Story

Lyndall Gerlach – Photography & Digital Art

Canberran Lyndall Gerlach studied eight years of Fine Art, Education and Graphic Design. She majored in Ceramics, Printmaking and Design, exhibited her paintings and drawings over many years, and was featured in Artist Palette Magazine in 2003 – described as “deliciously opinionated, clued-in and arty”. She designed the Barrenjoey High School Badge and won an Australian Branding Design Award.

When Gerlach was a graphic design student in the 70s, photography involved chemicals, red lights and black bags, a mysterious and wonderful process. In 2019, after 44 years away from photography, she was lent a camera. She soon decided photography was her media, discovering a love for it and digital art, a niche she is happy with, which fulfils her creative needs. The brushes and pencils were put away.

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Lily Aethiopica arum #2 The Tango Kiss © Lyndall Gerlach

Gerlach says “I like to make the ordinary, extraordinary. Photography for me is capturing what I am thinking or feeling, exploring something interesting, or creating something different that ‘talks’ to someone, and provokes thought or appreciation of the subject …contemporary artists have never been so free to explore the boundaries of fine art, or photography. Photography is at last free to be a creative medium, not just a medium that records a moment in time”. “For me, a good photographic image must always engage the viewer either emotionally or intellectually.”

Desaturating Rhinoceros 2019-2020, from the “Endangered and Desaturating” series © Lyndall Gerlach

Just one year into her new medium, and using the borrowed camera, she was a finalist in the 2020 Mullins Australian Conceptual Photography Prize. This year, she has again been a finalist in the Mullins, been commended for several works in the Australia’s Top Emerging Photographers competition and the Mono Awards, and been featured on the LensCulture website and in FRAMES Magazine’s Digital Companion.

Earlier this year Gerlach revisited previous old park haunts in Sydney that gave her solace amongst environmental chaos. She found herself wrapped in memories, jangled by the pace and close quarter living, but exhilarated by the geometry and design. The city pulled at her sense of design and curiosity. She explored movement in deep, water views – often reflecting splashes of light and drifts of fast-moving patterns on the buildings.

A resultant series of 12 exquisite composite images, City-ness, are all about structure, in architecture, town planning, and society. They can be seen here. Gerlach says “In every image of this body of work there is the same visual element representative that is representative of the city’s underlying and inescapable structure. Composed of two strong vertical lines and several rectangular shapes that represent the city’s windows and building structure, the element binds photographic images across layers of meaning.”

Night City-ness #1, from the City-ness series © Lyndall Gerlach
City Park 1, from the City-ness series © Lyndall Gerlach

FRAMES is an international community created in 2020 by an independent publisher in Switzerland. The publisher’s team produces a quarterly, 112 pages, printed photography magazine; “because excellent photography belongs on paper”. It features work of both established and emerging photographers of different genres and mediums.

They also publish a weekly newsletter. Then they have an App that delivers two carefully selected images every day to smart phone users, with the stories behind the shots and photographers’ advice. And the monthly Digital Companion Gerlach was featured in, plus a Podcast on which they talk to photographers about their images, experiences and personal stories. Now Gerlach has been featured on the Podcast, in a 43-minutes piece, a significant achievement for this reborn photographer.

Kingston Foreshore – Waters Edge, from the “Kingston Foreshore” series © Lyndall Gerlach
Ribbons 10 – Milky © Lyndall Gerlach

Gerlach is adamant “it is not ever the accolade, but the journey that is the reward. What happens along the way is sharing life and growth”. Nevertheless, she deserves these accolades.

This article was first published in The Canberra Times here on 09/10/21.

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Autobiography, Personal Story

Early years in Victoria

Our new Australian home on Bundoran was a brand-new cottage, bearing absolutely no resemblance to the house we had left behind on the other side of the world. The Bundoran property was located about ten miles south of the main highway from Melbourne to Hamilton. The turn off was between Glenthompson and Dunkeld. Glenthompson was the closer town to us and was where we went for minor supplies, to the Presbyterian Church and Sunday School, and to scouts. For school, however, Alan and I had to travel to Dunkeld on the school bus. Sometimes we joined the Browns at the Methodist church in Dunkeld.

Another English family named Cox, with two sons David and Peter, also lived on Bundoran and, later, the Browns moved there into an old cottage only a couple of hundred yards across the paddock from us.

At the gate entrance to Bundoran (Left is cousin Margaret, at right brother Alan & me; the others are probably Peter & David Cox)

Before they moved to Bundoran we would visit the Browns in Victoria Valley, traveling in a borrowed ute with Alan and myself riding in the back of it. I recall some trips in darkness with just our heads above the zipped-up canopy covering – no such thing as seatbelts or safety laws then! David and Peter Cox, David Brown and I became the four members of one pack in the Glenthompson scout troop, which had Tony Wilson as its scoutmaster.

Brian the Boy Scout

Mum worked for the Wilson family as their homestead cook and housekeeper, whilst dad was their jackaroo. When the Browns moved to Bundoran, Uncle Tom became the Wilson’s gardener. Part of his role included regularly raking the large circular gravel driveway at the front of the homestead so that it showed no evidence of having been driven on.

There were, of course, animals on the farm and I recall being bailed up by an aggressive ram one afternoon as I was walking back from the Dunkeld school bus. I climbed into a tree stump and called to mum to come and help.

The nearest other property to Bundoran was Bri-Bri. We sometimes mixed socially with the families who lived there, and mum and dad remained in touch with the Kellett family for the rest of their lives.

On my ninth birthday – 3 March 1951 – mum and dad gave me my first camera – a Baby Brownie. Soon afterwards they purchased the necessary items and, together, we taught ourselves how to develop black and white films and make contact prints from the negatives, using the sun as our light source. Some of my earliest photos were taken at a school excursion to Nhill for a sports carnival. Not long after they purchased a home processing kit and, together, we learned to develop film and make contact prints. It was, for me the beginning of a lifelong passion for photography. I did not become a professional photographer, but an enthusiast amateur.

Late in 1951, on 2 December to be precise, our family grew by one with the birth of my sister, Gillian Eileen Rope. Her arrival was somewhat exciting. Mum left it rather late to say she needed to go to the hospital. Dad drove her to Hamilton Base Hospital in a utility with her seated between him and Aunt Mary. The driver’s door would not stay closed, so he held it shut with his elbow whilst steering with his other hand. Traveling above the speed limit, he attracted the attention of a policeman and had to tell him the situation. That resulted in a motorcycle cop escort. As they pulled up the matron appeared to take mum quickly inside. Dad collapsed on the hospital steps and lit a cigarette. He had not finished it when matron reappeared to tell him he had a daughter and to abuse him for bringing mum in so late.

Jill (as she has always been known) as a new baby with Alan (holding her) and me.

At some point, Dad acquired a 1933 Hillman Wizard car. It had a glass windscreen, but soft plastic side windows that could be easily removed then put back on. It also had a large timber box attached to the outside back, in which all manner of things could be transported. As many as nine of us from the Rope, Brown and Kellett families sometimes piled into it to go for picnics.

Uncle Tom also had a car for a time, famously getting his licence by driving into Dunkeld, finding the local policeman at the pub and then driving him to the police station straight along the dirt side of the road just a short distance, where the necessary paperwork was completed. He was not the best driver and had the good sense to give up driving after a relatively short period.

Dad’s car also took us on trips to places such as Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Lake Bolac, and to various local towns when dad and Alan participated in “penny vote” concerts. I recall times when the locusts were so bad that they almost completely covered the windscreen in their smashed remains, whilst some managed to get inside the car causing screams as they flew into various occupants.

David, Margaret, myself & Alan enjoying the beach at Warrnambool
Alan, Margaret, David and myself having some fun at Lake Bolac.

Dunkeld State School Number 183 began as a National School on 22 October 1855 and gained the 183 number in 1863. Alan and I started there in 1951, joining our cousin Margaret and also Valerie Kellett there as students. Initially I was placed in 3rd class, but within a few days had been moved up into 5th class. This reflected differences between English and Australian schooling in the early years at that time.

The other students quickly asked me which VFL team I supported, so I had to choose one and plumped for Collingwood for some reason. The students also gave me the nickname “Binder Twine” (the type of rope used to bind bales of hay harvested in the district) showing the classic Australian humour. A friend I made years later during my working life suffered a much worse nickname at his Victorian school. Also a migrant, and having the surname Van Dijk, he became known as The Moving Shithouse (derived from moving van and the colloquial name for outdoor toilets – the dyke).

At school, I was a target for bullying because I was so short and a fair-skinned pommy who spoke differently to the locals. But a tall boy decided he would appoint himself as my personal protector threatening to physically deal with any student who picked on me. I’m pretty sure he did it to boost his own status, rather than for my sake, but it certainly helped me.

In 1952, at the age of ten I completed my primary education – as Dux of Dunkeld State School No. 183.

Dunkeld School No. 183

A Group School was formed in 1952 and this changed to a Consolidated School at the beginning of 1956. Buildings first used were on the old site (3 rooms), the Methodist Sunday School Hall and from 1953 some buildings at the present site on Victoria Valley Road. Although the school is still a Consolidated School it is now only Prep to Year 6. When I visited Dunkeld Consolidated School many years later, the principal could not find the old school’s honour boards, so I was unable to see my name on them.

Dunkeld Consolidated School

In February 1953, I became a 1st year student at Hamilton High School, after mum and dad fought a successful battle. Apparently, there was great resistance to enrolling any student younger than 12 (and I wasn’t quite 11), but the school principal was persuaded that there was no value in my repeating the final year of primary school after having completed it as Dux.

Hamilton High conducted weekly spelling bees for students in each year and I soon found that I could spell well enough to win the 1st year contest each week. I think it was around this time that I also got involved in concerts, usually playing the role of a girl in pantomime productions because of my beautiful boy soprano voice – so I’m told – sadly there are no recordings for me to hear.

Me as Little Bo Peep

My results in that first year at Hamilton High justified my enrolment having been allowed.

1953 Hamilton High School Report

The move to high school resulted in a new home for me too, since travelling from Bundoran to Hamilton and back each day proved too much – for both dad and Uncle Tom, who had to drive me, David and the Cox brothers to and from the highway to the high school bus route each day, and also for me (as I faced two long and tiring trips and very lengthy days). Whilst waiting for the high school bus with three or four other children, we formed a large “circle” and threw a ball around it to each other. Initially, I had no idea how to catch a ball and one of the older girls had to explain to me the need to draw my hand backwards as the ball reached it so that it would not bounce off my rigid hand.

After a time, to avoid the daily travel to and from the bus stop, I went to board with some friends, the Kearns family, on a small land holding adjacent to the highway and a little closer to Hamilton. I stayed there on weeknights and returned to Bundoran each weekend.

My memories of living with Mr and Mrs Kearns and their children – who were younger than me, include learning to chop firewood and to eat “strange” foods that I had never had previously. The latter included bowls of beetroot covered by what seemed to be pounds of sugar, as part of the salads served with an evening meal.

The years in Victoria were a great adventure for me, learning many new things and seeing so much that was different from my previous life in London. I moved around the paddocks standing on the running board of the utility, jumping off to run after and catch rabbits moving slowly as they succumbed to myxomatosis so that we could end their lives more quickly. (Myxomatosis was introduced to Australia in 1950 to reduce pest rabbit numbers. The virus initially reduced the wild rabbit population by 95% but since then resistance to the virus has increased and less deadly strains of the virus have emerged. The initial release of the myxoma virus led to a dramatic reduction of Australia’s rabbit population. Within two years of the virus’s release in 1950, Australia’s wool and meat production recovered from the rabbit onslaught to the tune of $68 million.)

I also travelled in the back of the same ute when we went with our scout master camping in the Grampians or with dad when visiting the Browns before they moved to Bundoran. On at least one occasion Alan and I huddled under the utility’s tonneau cover whilst an electrical storm flashed lightning all around us as we journeyed through the Grampians.

Mum and I learned to milk a cow by hand.

Mum milking our cow at Bundoran.

I learned about playing cricket.

Our Bundoran cricket team

I participated in Australian rules school football – well sort of, as a timid and short of stature youngster I tried my best to stay away from the action and the much taller kids who were good at it.

The Browns moved on to ‘Pollockdale’, just 3 miles north of Glenthompson in late 1953. David thinks it was in November. We too left Bundoran late in ’53. David recalls his mother being upset at losing her brother and sister-in-law.

Dad’s Hillman Wizard transported our family of five from Victoria to a property near Willow Tree in northern NSW where he had taken a new job. Dad worked out the shortest route (in miles) to drive to the new place and we set off on another adventure. We have often remembered how Jill’s teddy bear went out the car window and Alan had to run back down the road to retrieve it, and also how we had to push to help dad turn the car around on a narrow road when we took a wrong turn, and the reverse gear was not operational.

In 1955 the Browns moved again – to Ballarat. We visited them there a number of times whilst we still were children so had more youthful adventures with our cousins then.

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Reviews

A Young Black Kangaroo

Photography Exhibition Review

A Young Black Kangaroo | Dean Qiulin Li 

PhotoAccessonline| https://www.gallery.photoaccess.org.au/young-black-start

A Young Black Kangaroo by Dean Qiulin Li is an ongoing photographic project documenting people and stories from the public housing community in Woolloomooloo. Li is an early career artist deeply committed to a humanitarian photographic practice.

Let me deal with the title first. Woolloomooloo is thought to have been derived from a local Aboriginal, possibly Gadigal, word meaning a young black kangaroo. The artist uses this translation to reference the area’s colonial history.

I lived in Potts Point for a short period in the late 60s and walked through Woolloomooloo each day going to and from work. I loved exploring and getting to know it – in a general sense only.

In February 1973, the Builders Labourers Federation placed a two-year long green ban on the area to stop the destruction of low-income housing and trees. It succeeded and 65% of the houses were placed under rent control. Most Australians living at that time would know of the ‘Loo because of the associated media coverage.

Children were often encouraged to commit the difficult to spell name to memory through spelling rhymes, one of which includes:

It’s easy to say, I know very well,

But Woolloomooloo is not easy to spell.

Double U double O double L double O M double O L double O

A catalogue essay accompanying the exhibition suggests that browsing through the entire image series is like visiting your neighbours. The artist “tells stories as if reading a book to you, carrying you along with memories and emotions”. Li himself says his project is “about flipping common perspectives of public housing residents on their head, showing the true side to life. It is an exploration of the underlying stories within the four walls of what one calls home.” Both are excellent descriptions of this exhibition.

In another catalogue essay, Rozee Cutrone shares her personal story of becoming a resident, revealing that she has “been vilified, ridiculed, judged, physically attacked, had my home set on fire, undermined and underestimated.” That one story alone is a great reason for Li’s exploration.

Amongst the sometimes charming, other times confronting, images we see Rayson, with his striped shirt styled with those glasses, revealing something of his teenage years. There are many simple moments on display, giving viewers a sense of déjà vu.

Faith was photographed in her living room. A well-known indigenous activist who fights for the rights of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders, as well as the minorities in Australia, she and Li had a few cigarettes together in her backyard whilst she shared some of her bitter past.

Then there is Daniel and some of the pigeons he feeds, Ike and his guitar, as well as Ronny and his collections room. There is Con with his dog, and a view through his window. Tyriesha and Oscar show us how they cuddle. Sabrina poses in front of her boyfriend’s painting of their favourite characters Joker and Harley Quinn. Rayson shows us a photo of himself with Elvis.

Richie, a retired drag queen sitting in his designer couch, says the movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” was based on his life.

Richie, 2019 © Dean Qiulin Li

There is a flamingo is inside Richie’s kitchen.

Flamingo, 2019 © Dean Qiulin Li

And Ayesha, a famous transgender dancer in Kings Cross from the 70s to 90s, says there is a documentary online about her life.

Ayesha, 2020  © Dean Qiulin Li

There are so many stories here. They have been woven together wonderfully. There would be many more, but the selection shown certainly successfully portrays these public housing residents of the ‘Loo.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 25/9/21 here and on the Canberra Critics Circle’s blog here.

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Reviews

Are We Dead Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarkine, 2018 © Stephen Dupont

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

Scarborough Beach Dust Storm, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

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

Hillville Fires 02, 2019 © Stephen Dupont

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

Bodalla Fires, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

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

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

Snowy Mountains, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

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

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

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Personal Story, Photography Story

A Child’s First Photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Photography, Photography Story

From audio to video

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

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

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

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

God the sculptor of the mountains

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

God the nuisance to the Pharaoh

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

God the dresser of the vineyard

Then one from Delhi in 2008.

we are hungry; feed us now

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

God the table turning prophet

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

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

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

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

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Photography Story, Reviews

Negotiating the Family Portrait

Review of Photography

Marzena Wasikowska | Negotiating the Family Portrait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2018 – Chaos © Marzena Wasikowska

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

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

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

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

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

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2012 © Marzena Wasikowska

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

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

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