Photo Editing

My conclusions about ZPS X

In my first blog piece about Zoner Photo Studio X (ZPS X) back on 10 October 2021, I suggested it was likely to take a long time for me to explore all of its features. I said that I’d best get started on my explorations and that, from time to time as I learned, I would post another piece about it here.

On 27 October and then 8 November I published two further pieces about some  of the features I had explored. Since then I have been quiet for a whole host of reasons, none of which need to be set out here. I have checked in on ZPS X on various occasions during that absence though. Well, I did suggest a thorough exploration would take considerable time!

So, have I explored every single feature that is available? No, I still haven’t and that is not surprising given the number of features there are. Nor, incidentally, have I explored everything in the other photo editing software that I’ve primarily been using for years.

Numerous features I have explored though have absolutely persuaded me that ZPS X is a great package. Anyone looking for photo editing software would do well to consider it and then be delighted with what they found. The fact that I will stick with my other editing software is not any reflection of ZPS X. It is simply because I am so used to the other one and the workflow arrangements that I have developed using it. Or am I just too old to change my boring ways?

So, what are the things about ZPS X that appeal to me most? Here is a small selection. It has a substantial volume of user-friendly features. It is an excellent RAW converter. It enables you to easily browse your images. There are regular updates. And excellent articles and videos to teach users. It is intuitive to use. I could continue listing other good things for a long time, but you can learn for yourself and compile your own lists.

I encourage you to explore for yourself. Simply log on to https://www.zoner.com/ then click on the free Download button to get a copy of the software to explore freely for 30 days. Just run the installer and then follow the instructions on the screen. The trial period starts when you activate the program. If you decide to purchase ZPS X after your trial, you can choose whether to pay a small annual fee or a very small monthly fee.

And don’t forget to explore the monthly magazine and the YouTube channel videos. The whole package is so much more than photo editing software. You can learn huge amounts about photography generally. Just one recent example is a piece on image stacking of landscape photographs and using layers to tackle a large dynamic range. Another of the large number of available tutorials reveals how to add objects to a photo so that the resultant photo montage looks realistic.

It has been raining quite heavily where I live today and, as my local photography club is starting this year exploring the subject “Wet,” I ducked outside with my camera and grabbed some shots on the street and the driveway and then of my saturated black umbrella. Then I transferred the images to my computer and used ZPS X to process what I had captured. So, let me leave you with my results.

When you have tried ZPS X for yourself, I’d love to see examples of your creations. Feel free to put them in the comments area of this post. But whether you share any or not, have a great time exploring this package for yourself.

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Autobiography

Next Stop – the NSW Southern Tablelands

The Werriwa property is located at 866 Tarago Road, 10 Km north of Bungendore in southern NSW. The drive in from the road takes you through a parklike entry, along an avenue of English oaks and elms.

The entry road at Werriwa (2013) © Brian Rope

Whilst Werriwa has its own tiny railway station, Butmaroo (the Aboriginal word meaning “Deep Creek”, which runs near the siding), the nearest real station is at Bungendore. Further south on the rail line from there are the adjoining communities, Queanbeyan and Canberra. To the north are the townships of Tarago and Lake Bathurst, and then the city of Goulburn. There used to be rail services to Bombala and Cooma as well, but in later years they were closed down.

Entrance to Goulburn Railway Station (2012) © Brian Rope

In 1955, Alan and I would get to know the railway line between Butmaroo and Goulburn very well. We had moved again. Mum and dad now had new jobs working for the owners of Werriwa but, during school terms, Alan and I boarded in Goulburn during the week so we could attend Goulburn High School. We travelled to Goulburn on the XPT train on Sunday afternoon and returned to Butmaroo after school on Friday evenings.

Train at Goulburn Railway Station platform where we caught our train to Butmaroo (2012) © Brian Rope

Butmaroo station was there because the government had created it in return for compulsory acquisition of land for the railway line. It was barely longer than the sign declaring its name. Under the sign was a large timber box with a lid, into which things such as bread, milk, mail and newspapers might be left. Every time we boarded the XPT (after notifying the rail authorities that we would be boarding at Butmaroo) we copped the same jokes about the tiny size of the platform. When we caught the return train on Friday evenings, we had to speak with the guard so he knew which compartment we were in. He would then tell the engine driver and ensure our compartment stopped adjacent to the Butmaroo platform (by waving a red flag or red light to signal to the driver). If either of them forgot, we would have to stay on the train until reaching Bungendore and then return to Werriwa by taxi (at NSW Railways expense) – it did happen!

The journey from Goulburn to Butmaroo on a Friday evening was interrupted when we pulled into a siding at Tarago to wait for the XPT to pass going in the opposite direction. When the XPT was running late, we would sit in that siding until it turned up and then be late ourselves. In Winter months it was freezing on that train. The only heating was a metal container for each passenger filled with hot water when we left Goulburn but stone cold very soon after. We usually had the compartment completely to ourselves, as patronage was not high.

The name Werriwa derives from a local Aboriginal name, Weereewa, for Lake George, which is very close to the property. The name is also used by the Canberra-based Werriwa Regiment,  part of the Citizens Military Force (CMF), which was the forerunner to the Australian Army Reserve.  Weereewa is believed to be an Aboriginal word meaning ‘deep water’ or ‘sick crawfish’. And Lake George (which is actually a shallow body of water) was located in the Division of Werriwa, an Australian electoral division in the state of New South Wales, when it was first established in 1901.

View from Butmaroo – from Google maps
Aerial view of Werriwa – from a leaflet produced for an open day held in 2013

The historic garden at the Werriwa property where mum and dad worked was considered to be one of the best in the area. Dating back to 1882, it is a traditional country garden of mature trees, expanses of lawn and drystone walls. It was established by the Gordon family, members of which were still the owners in 1955. Established boundary tree lines provide shelter from the region’s hot, cold and drying winds and the stone homestead offered a level of frost protection for garden beds. An old fashioned La Reine Victoria double pink climbing rose on the Western side of the house, together with white wisteria, endured tough climatic conditions and provided shade in Spring and Summer. Purple wisteria and white clematis on the Eastern verandah, and Virginia creeper on the Southern wall, provided delightful colour in Spring and Autumn respectively.

Werriwa homestead building (2013) © Brian Rope
Part of Werriwa homestead (2013) © Brian Rope
Werriwa homestead outbuildings (2013) © Brian Rope
Drystone wall in gardens at Werriwa homestead (2013) © Brian Rope

On weekends and during school holidays I was able to go horse riding again. One ride was almost disastrous when my steed reared in fright as we passed over a tiger snake’s nest occupied by several babies. Thankfully, I managed to stay on the saddle as the horse bolted away.

We boarded in Goulburn, initially with a family in Clinton Street very close to the main shopping street. They were rough and ready and, so, our parents soon found us another place. It was with an elderly lady in a house near to our school. She did not feed us well and only wanted us to have an inch or two of water in the bath, with us taking turns using that water. We found a way to run extra hot water into the bath from the chip heater by attaching a piece of cloth from the outlet so that it could run quietly into the existing water without her hearing what we were up to. We dealt with our hunger by running into town after school to purchase some hot chips in newspaper and eat them whilst we quickly returned to her home. The challenge was to get to town without her seeing us (as her house was on the most direct route) and getting “home” as soon as possible after school finished so that she would not worry about us being late – all whilst obtaining and devouring the chips!

At the start of the 1955 school year at Goulburn High School, we (and all other new students) were auditioned for the choir. The process was that the choir mistress moved around and listened to each voice whilst we all sang a piece all knew the words to, God Save the Queen. She then told the lucky ones of us that they were in the choir. I was amongst the chosen. However, my boy soprano voice broke soon after making it nigh impossible for me to hold a tune.

I also found myself in a French language class taught by a woman, and where every student (other than me) was female. I visited the headmaster trying to escape from this “dreadful” situation, but my bursary rules did not allow it. I returned to the classroom only to be further embarrassed when the French teacher asked if I was leaving them or staying. When I responded that I was staying, she said “oh we are so pleased, aren’t we girls?” Despite that, my exam results for French remained good as they had been during my year at Hamilton High.

Goulburn High School badge (2012) © Brian Rope

Realising that our boarding was not working out, mum and dad resolved to move the whole family into Goulburn. Firstly though, they needed somewhere for us to live. They registered for allocation of an NSW Housing Commission house. In those days the waiting list was extremely lengthy and getting to the front of the list would have taken years. However, that was not the system – instead ballots were conducted every so often and, incredibly, our name was drawn in the very first such ballot after joining the list. We were allocated a brand-new house at 32 Wyatt Street in the new West Goulburn area. When we moved in, we found several teachers from Goulburn High School amongst our neighbours, since teachers were also allocated NSW Housing Commission properties.

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My Photography, Personal Story, Photography Story

The Book Launch

I’d helped him move his stock of books in boxes to Canberra’s The Street Theatre earlier in the week, then we transported a final box of pre-sold copies ready signed for each purchaser arriving at his request around 2.30pm on the day of the book launch. He was already there set up at a small table underneath the permanent installation on the wall commemorating the man who the book is about. Nearby, a theatre staff member was ready to start selling copies for him to sign as purchasers brought them to his table.

Joel Swadling at the book signing table © Brian Rope

The book If This Is The Highway, I’ll Take The Dirt Road – the Formidable Encounters of David Branson Esq. was written by my stepson Joel Swadling, hence my involvement – although I also knew the late David Branson, and all his family are also my friends. I’ve written about Branson and Swadling on this blog previously here. My concluding sentence then was “I’m looking forward to the attending both the 20th Anniversary Concert and the book launch, reading/hearing the interviews, reading the reviews – and completing my own reading of the book.”

By the time the launch date arrived I had attended the Concert and read almost to the end of Act One in the book. Both had added to my “looking forward to” mood. My wife and I had been on tenterhooks after having been deemed casual contacts of a grandson who contracted the Covid virus earlier in the launch week’ forcing us to have tests – thankfully negative. A positive result would have prevented us attending both the concert and the launch.

A publicity shot I prepared was displayed on monitors in the foyer/bar area of The Canberra Theatre before, during and after the 20th Anniversary Concert by Mikelangelo & the Black Sea Gentlemen, plus their guest Fred Smith.

My publicity shot on display © Brian Rope

Also displayed were numerous photos of David Branson taken by ‘pling.

From video of ‘pling’s images of David – as used in my publicity shot and on cover of the book © Brian Rope

But here we were at the appointed time on the appointed day, with many people gradually joining the crowd in the theatre foyer, purchasing drinks from the bar, purchasing books, getting them signed by the author and greeting numerous friends – some from other places than Canberra, and some not seen for years. What to do first was the challenge. For me, it was getting my camera out and starting to document the event – book selling, author signing, friends mingling. One of the first images shows Dominic Mico, whom I got to know personally when heading the (ACT) Arts and Recreation Branch way back in 1987. I went to many of Mico’s events at Canberra’s TAU (acronym for Through Arts Unity) Community Theatre. Later, Mico was founding director of the National Multicultural Festival. And here he was getting his copy signed.

Dominic Mico watches Joel sign his copy of the book © Brian Rope

There’s my wife Robyn Swadling speaking with our friend Pauline Everson, who has come along with her neighbour at Goodwin Ainslie Retirement Village.

The sales table – Pauline Everson in green, Robyn Swadling in multiple colours © Brian Rope

And there’s Paul Branson, who will be speaking during the launch – reading his own words about brother David from the book.

Michael Simic (aka Mikelangelo) is here too – ready to perform. He’s talking with Iain Campbell Smith – Australian diplomat, singer/songwriter and comedian. He performs under the stage name Fred Smith in Australia. Smith has been described as ‘Australia’s secret weapon’ in international diplomacy. As a career diplomat, he served for two years in southern Afghanistan. Working alongside Australian soldiers in Uruzgan Province, Fred’s second career as a musician came to the fore, his guitar serving as a bridge not only to the troops, but also to the people and tribal leaders of that war-torn region. His song, ‘Dust of Uruzgan’, captured the hearts of many serving in Afghanistan. And he authored a book with the same title.

Joel Swadling signing a book, Michael Simic, Fred Smith & friend in conversation © Brian Rope

A little after the scheduled time we began moving into the theatre for the launch. I headed in early to get a front row seat where photography would be easy. The woman beside me and I thought we knew each other. It was Kate McNamara – poet, playwright and critical theorist. For almost ten years she worked as a dramaturg with David Branson’s Splinters Theatre of Spectacle. But I probably had met her through her involvement with TAU, alongside Mico.

Seated on stage are David Branson’s sister Liz Bishop and brother Paul Branson, together with Louise Morris (Branson’s partner at the time of his death), and our author Joel Swadling. At one end of the front row are Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, including the other Branson, Pip (aka Rufino), waiting to perform.

Liz Bishop, Paul Branson, Louise Morris & Joel Swadling © Brian Rope

Elsewhere in the theatre are other members of the Swadling and Branson families. Joel’s father Paul and wife Janet Scott, brother Anthony and partner Sarah Powell, and brother Justin with partner Rache(l) Pettit and their children Jasmine and Riley. That damned pandemic has prevented brother Adam from being present. Margaret Hunt (previously Branson) and her husband David, Paul’s wife Jeanette Watts, Pip’s wife Megan and their children Denholm and Holiday. They are all here.

The doors close. Louise approaches the lectern. She speaks lovingly of David and praises Joel for his dedication and persistence in bringing the book to fruition. Joel replaces her at the lectern, welcomes us all, thanks key people and delivers a short speech, starting:

I’m not going to give a long speech, because the readings I’d like to give are self-explanatory. But I really must thank the management of the Street Theatre, particularly Dean and Carolyn, who’ve so graciously organized this event; as well as Cathy Winters, in helping me to plan the running order. I’d also like to thank my friends, Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, for agreeing to play for us. I’ve had several compliments on my book’s title. But I can’t take full credit, as they’re cribbed from Michael’s song, “In Carnival Time”: “If this is the high life, I’ll take the dirt path”.

And concluding:

For this book couldn’t have been produced without the direct involvement and support of our entire community. Of course, I want to thank you all for being here today. But I know equally that there are many who wish they could be but aren’t able. I think in particular of Patrick Troy and Peter Wilkins. Also, some who have passed from our number in the time it’s taken me to finish the book: Phillip Crotty, David Unwin, Renald Navilli, and ’pling (whose photographs so graciously accompany my pages). This, of course, is a celebration of the magnetic force of David Branson. But it’s equally a celebration of the upward spiral of the community which he so richly engendered. As David would have said, “Love you, love your work!”. So please, raise your glasses and toast: “Creative Community!”

Louise Morris speaks © Brian Rope

Those in the audience who happened to have a glass of something in their hands raised them as directed. Joel then invited Mikelangelo and friends to sing us a song. They take the stage and perform below a projected poster for the book featuring the image of David Branson. In their inimitable style they entertain us and speak of David. They then take seats at the rear of the stage.

Mikelangelo introduces the Gentlemen © Brian Rope

Next Joel invites Liz, Paul and Louise, each in turn, to join him. He reads his own words from the book, whilst they read words spoken by them years ago when interviewed for the book. Words that Paul later tells me he didn’t remember saying. All of this is well received by the large audience.

Liz Bishop reads, Joel listens © Brian Rope
Paul Branson reads, Joel listens © Brian Rope
Louise Morris reads, Joel listens © Brian Rope

After that it is Fred Smith’s turn, accompanied by Pip. Fred sings his new song about David whilst a video of ‘pling’s images of David plays on the screen above him. Pip plays his violin beautifully to accompany Fred. This is a truly emotional moment for all who were closest to David, indeed for everyone. Then Pip speaks about David and what he meant to him. More emotion!

Pip Branson plays violin whilst Fred Smith sings © Brian Rope
Pip Branson speaks about David © Brian Rope

To bring the actual launch to a close we are treated to more Black Gentlemen, ending with Mikelangelo being unable to resist removing his jacket and throwing it (landing at my feet), waving his arse at us all, then climbing into, over and onto the audience.

Black Sea Gentlemen finale © Brian Rope
Applause as the Gentlemen depart the stage © Brian Rope

Joel thanked everyone and invited all to return to the foyer for refreshments. Later in the foyer a friend confided to me that he thought Mikelangelo took the focus off Joel. I replied – but it is exactly what David would have done when he had such an opportunity.

Thanks, from Joel © Brian Rope

Back in the foyer Joel signed more books, we ate provided food, drank more, laughed, cried and talked until the staff packed up around us and, eventually, closed the doors. All a bit of a blur really!

More book signings by Joel © Brian Rope

Gemma Clare, who plays cello with The Gadflys amongst other groups, is speaking with Louise Morris – and I do believe that is Marc Mowbray, the Piano Guy, with them. Nearby, there’s a smiling Helen Musa, OAM – art journalist and critic, Canberra City News Arts Editor, founder and Convenor of the Canberra Critics Circle, consultant at the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre.

Louise Morris speaks with Marc Mowbray and Gemma Clare with cello – Helen Musa smiling on right edge of frame © Brian Rope

Rev. Dr. Bruce Stevens – founder of Canberra Clinical and Forensic Psychology, currently providing pastoral care to folk from St Margaret’s Uniting Church in Hackett which the Swadlings, Bransons, and Bishops all have connections with – says he enjoyed it immensely. Sue Wilson – who recognised Bruce Stevens and says he saved her life at a difficult time – also had a great time.

Megan – wife of Pip Branson – and their children are having fun. Simon Clarke – lay preacher at St Margaret’s – is in animated conversation with Margaret Hunt.

All a blur – Margaret Hunt speaks with Simon Clarke © Brian Rope

John Goss – chair of the church council at St Margaret’s and Mark Bishop – husband of Liz – are catching up with her and with Rev Paul Swadling who used to be the Minister at St Margaret’s.

John Goss, Mark & Liz Bishop, Paul Swadling © Brian Rope

There’s Fiona Edge – graphic designer (whom I first met when she did design work for the Deafness Forum of Australia when I was its CEO for 10 years) and with personal links to ‘pling (Kevin Prideaux, 1955-2018) who was deeply respected within the arts community for his continued passion, love and support. His photographic legacy is an immense record of the Canberra theatre/music scene from 1970s – 2010s. It is his photographs that feature in Joel’s book and on Fred Smith’s video of his song about David.

Ben Drysdale – actor, director, drama tutor, musician, events coordinator and Creative Producer at Canberra’s Rebus award-winning, mixed-ability Theatre Company in Canberra, which seeks to stimulate social change and healing and with which Joel performs – is enjoying a beer whilst chatting with Fiona Edge and Fred Smith.

Fiona Edge, Fred Smith and Ben Drysdale © Brian Rope

The book launch was over. Joel had much to be pleased about – not the least the large volume of book sales! His family and friends were proud of him. And the launch was a fine celebration of David in a place where he is permanently remembered.

David Branson memorial plaque © Brian Rope
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Photography Story

2021 Year Ender

Photography, Photo Media, Mixed Media

2021. What a year! Despite everything, local photo artists have continued to make their marks.

There have been many exhibitions. Some openings were conducted outdoors; galleries having to let small numbers inside at a time. Even during lockdown, photo galleries and artists were active, using social media, livestreaming and virtual exhibitions most creatively.

I remain disappointed about poor supporting material available for visitors in some galleries. I urge those that fall short to improve the exhibition experience – catalogues that tell us more than titles and prices, artist/concept statements about artworks, catalogue essays, recordings about the artists and works to hear, and opportunities to look at and, perhaps, purchase books and other material as well as the actual works exhibited.

There have also been interesting new photobooks and books about photography this year, including Capital Country – an ‘exhibition in a book’ by Kate Matthews, and the substantial Installation View by Daniel Palmer & Martyn Jolly which has enriched our understanding of the diversity of Australian photography.

There have been marvellous awards for individual artists. For the third year in succession, Canberra photo artists were finalists in the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP). Indeed, once again a Canberran earned the $10,000 Prize. This year it was Ian Skinner for his poetic work, Ashscapes 01-04, about how the ocean delivered ash to the sandy edge of the land when the catastrophic fires in south-eastern Australia in 2019-2020 were shortly followed by torrential rain.

Skinner also took out 3rd prize in the storytelling section of the Australian Photographic Society (APS)’s annual photobook awards for his Aftermath: Cadgee 2020 – an intimate story of heartbreak and loss in the devastating bushfires which swept through the NSW South Coast hinterland in the summer of 2019-2020.

Lyndall Gerlach was again a finalist in the MCPP, was commended for several works in the Australia’s Top Emerging Photographers competition and the Mono Awards; and was featured in FRAMES Magazine’s Digital Companion.

Ribbons 10 – Milky © Lyndall Gerlach

Judy Parker, winner of the 2020 MCPP, won the portfolio section of the APS’s photobook awards, with her book Afterthoughts, described by the judges as “a stunning body of work with consistent post-production”.

The Canberra Times own Dion Georgopoulos, and Marzena Wasikowska, were both finalists in the prestigious National Photographic Portrait Prize. Georgopoulos has also done some wonderful Darling River photography, whilst Wasikowska was also selected as one of the winners in the 2021 Lens Culture Street Photography Critics’ Choice Awards.

Aaron Salway, with his nephew Harley Salway 2. Just behind them is the ridge where Aaron’s father Robert, and brother Patrick Salway died protecting their property in Wandella. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Two photographers received 2021 Canberra Critics Circle Awards. Sammy Hawker – for her exhibition Acts of Co-Creation at the Mixing Room Gallery, comprising unsettling and thrilling prints processed with water, soil, bark and flowers collected from the locations of the images. And Melita Dahl for her intriguing exhibition Portrait at Photo Access exploring connections between the traditions of fine-art portraiture, photography and facial emotion recognition software.

Murramarang NP #1 © Sammy Hawker
Melita Dahl, happy (0.96), 2019

Many professional photographers were hard hit by the pandemic, with sparse numbers of events to photograph, and physical outlets for their works closed. The recent collapse of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography after 75 years of serving photographers is, no doubt, an added blow. So, it was great to see on social media, just before writing this, photos from local professional Ben Kopilow’s coverage of a wedding in a hot air balloon.

I’ve recently reviewed some fine nature prints at the Australian National Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre – Recovery was the eighth annual photographic exhibition by the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens Photographic Group. And also recently I reviewed the final show for the year at Photo Access by 11 photo artists – outcome of a Concept to Exhibition project. And there is one other show to see before the year is done – at Canberra Contemporary Art Space.

This city can, rightfully, be proud of all of the artists I have named here – and of many more making excellent photo artworks. No doubt 2022 will deliver great photomedia exhibitions, events and achievements, including the successful emergence of new local talents. Hopefully, it also will see significant progress on the Kingston Arts Precinct project!

This article was published in the Canberra Times of 23/12/21 here.

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Reviews

‘hand/made/held/ground’ & Made in Australia Series II

Photography & Mixed Media Review | Brian Rope

‘hand/made/held/ground’ & Made in Australia Series II | Brenda L. Croft

Canberra Museum & Gallery | Until 22 January 2022

‘hand/made/held/ground’ is a major body of work by a leading contemporary artist, Brenda L. Croft, a proud Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra woman whose background also includes Australian, Chinese, English, German and Irish heritage.

This mixed media installation explores Croft’s intimate patrilineal relationship, and her return to her father’s, and her own, Country; sharing something of that lineage connection and her journey. It reimagines and honours customary objects – jimpila (spearhead) and kurrwa (stone axe) – created on their Gurindji homelands in the Northern Territory. Contemporary representations on display reflect ancestral journeys – undertaken on traditional homelands, and returning home.

When, and who by, the stone axe was created is unknown. However, it is known that the axe survived over 130 years of pastoral impact prior to being found by Croft when she visited the remote site where it was.

The spear tip was given to Croft under temporary care by a supporter (Lyn Riddett) of the Wave Hill walk-off led by Vincent Lingiari. Riddett received the spear as a gift from an Elder at Daguragu in 1971. In the following years, the tip of the spear was accidentally broken before it was able to be repatriated to the Gurindji community, via Croft.

Whilst caretaker of the spear, Croft repaired it with wax and had a wax mould made of it, along with a mould of the stone axe. With permission from family and community members, she used those moulds to create multiple copies of these significant cultural objects – black and red lead crystal, clear and uranium glass cast stone axes and spear tips.

It is these copies, displayed on a combination of new and aged steel bases echoing steel bore water tanks, that we see in this exhibition. Each is lit individually from within revealing various colours, their configuration representing constellations in a night sky.

Jimpila (spearheads) (detail) from hand-made/held-ground installation at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 19 November – 14 December 2019.
Photographer © James Henry. Image courtesy Brenda L Croft and Niagara Galleries.
Jimpila (spearhead – uranium glass) 2017 – 21. Glass components: kiln cast uranium glass. Display case: stainless steel, Sikaflex, electrical wire, 12 volt globe. Dimensions: variable. Photographer © James Henry. Image courtesy Brenda L Croft and Niagara Galleries.

As well as the kurrwa and jimpila pieces, large satellite images displayed on the gallery walls map journeys embarked on by Croft, sometimes alone and other times accompanied by family and Gurindji community members. These maps, together with the axe and spear tip copies, reveal a connection between land and sky. As the lights in the moulds pulse on and off, their beating synchronises with ancient footsteps on the earth and symbolises the beating hearts of the objects’ owners.

Yijarni (Gurindji History Book Project) (detail) and Jimpila (spearheads) (detail) from hand-made/held-ground installation at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 19 November – 14 December 2019. Photographer © James Henry. Image courtesy Brenda L Croft and Niagara Galleries.

In an adjacent space to that displaying ‘hand/made/held/ground’, Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) is showing eight works from Croft’s earlier ‘Made in Australia II’ series, held in its own collection. This is an interesting and clever juxtapositioning of two sets of artworks.

Made in Australia II was produced by Croft to honour her mother, who advocated for social equity at a local level, while also ensuring her children were proud of their heritage. A non-Indigenous woman, Dorothy Jean Croft broke from tradition in Sydney – she found love with a Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra man, Joseph Croft. They married and raised a family together, living in numerous regions of Australia, including Canberra.

The artist Croft has celebrated her mother’s story by scaling up her (mother’s) original 1950s-60s vividly coloured 35mm Cibachrome slides to giant size photographic prints that speak to the strength and potency of her parent’s relationship – played out quietly in this heart of the nation.

CROFT 21. Civic Centre Canberra 1959 – Made in Australia II Series
CROFT 24. Joe – Car, Canberra – Made in Australia II Series
CROFT 44. Joe & Snow 3 Mile Lake – first snowfall ANZAC – 1960 – Made in Australia II Series

Together, these two bodies of Croft’s work celebrate both the male and female lines of her kinship stories, whilst also shedding light on some of our nation’s tensions: a story of lives impacted by stolen generations, returning to traditional homelands, the assertion of women’s independence and the breaking of class and racial barriers.

Both series wonderfully pay tribute to her mother’s memory.

This review was published in The Canberra Times of 20/12/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

The Pandy Shuffle

Photography Exhibition

The Pandy Shuffle | Eleven Artists

Huw Davies Gallery, Photo Access | Until 22 December 2021

Curated by Wouter Van de Voorde, The Pandy Shuffle shows works from eleven photo artists. The name? Well, it’s not the Melbourne shuffle – a rave dance from the ‘80s. And the artists didn’t learn how to shuffle and cut shapes in the usual dance sense. But they certainly had to shuffle their arrangements and plans, creating a Pandora’s Box of ideas as they coped with the pandemonium of pandemic times.

Van de Voorde mentored them through a Concept to Exhibition project at Photo Access in 2021. He wanted to connect people, have discussions about how images work and how they communicate when juxtaposed with each other. It became a shared endeavour, no-one expecting to be working together online through lockdowns.

As curator, Van de Voorde wanted there to be an overarching narrative binding the works together. He and his participants have executed a varying quality, but successful, coherent and collaborative show – celebrating their doggedness and creativity.

Each artist brought their distinctive style; an admirable consonance between them. All created work revealing their individual thought processes and confirming their endurance through this year.

Claire Manning’s excellent artworks feature diverse and interesting subjects, and include a magnificent large self-adhesive vinyl print A Place to Hide, 2021.

Claire Manning, A Place to Hide, 2021

Sara Edson’s wonderful contemporary work explores notions of home and connections between family, friends and strangers, recording “experiences and feelings in a strange year, that sometimes seemed a blur.” An image of a panda mask wearer along the Queanbeyan River path reveals a delightful encounter.

Sara Edson, Untitled, 2021

Tom Varendorff planned to document the ever-increasing number of dog toys that lie around his house and yard. In the end his – also contemporary – photos weren’t as focused on the toys as he’d first thought.

Tom Varendorff, Untitled, 2021

Andrea Bryant’s works are all seductively lit and worthy of close examination. Still Life 2 is not a traditional still life. It has much to consider in a different composition.

Andrea Bryant, Still Life 2, 2021

Grant Winkler’s four exhibits of abandoned spaces adorned with the nowadays inevitable “street art” additions are replete with detail. His use of sunlight in two Walking on Sunshine works is wonderful.

Grant Winkler, Walking on Sunshine Obverse, 2021

Thomas Edmondson’s artist statement reveals that he is colour blind (mild deuteranopia) and that his work attempts to visualise “happenings left in places”. One impressive piece, Kambah Drains, reveals an amazing collection of graffiti on various surfaces – the words cave, temple, grim and aspire invite interpretation. 

Thomas, Edmondson, Kambah Drains, 2021

Erin Burrows says, “works were created from a period of chaos to calm in an ever-changing world, how busy and messy life can be, then clarity and balance can be found.” Each work is full of stuff for our eyes to tour.

Erin Burrows, Chaos 1, 2021

Phil Carter found quiet suburban roads to show us, seemingly devoid of people, built probably at great cost and barely used.

Phil Carter, 2021, Somewhwere Near Here 5

Briony Donald’s images of pigeons – and their titles – made me smile. One of two others featuring rhino birds stands out because of the bird’s juxtaposition with a young person.

Briony Donald, Untitled, 2021

Caroline Lemerle is interested in capturing the ‘layers’ of inner city living, suggesting her images “illustrate the silent fraught conversation between middle-class affluence and the inner-city poverty of marginalised people”. They do, although two prints titled Newtown Disconnect 1 and 2 have a clear connection – dominant colours in each tying them together.

Caroline Lemerle, Newtown Disconnect 1, 2021

Kathy Leo took her photos while exploring the beauty around Canberra on a personal recovery journey. She has compiled images and poetry into an artist book, some copies for sale along with prints of Birds in the Pond. The works share her discoveries and their healing wonder with us, her audience.

Kathy Leo, Birds in the Pond, 2021

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 18/12/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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My Photography, Personal Story, Photography Story

David Branson (aka Señor Handsome)

David Branson was born in Melbourne in 1963 and moved with his parents to Canberra in 1965. He was a regular churchgoer and a church youth group member at St Margaret’s Uniting Church in Hackett, an inner north suburb of Canberra. From 1970 onwards, I knew him (and his family) through the church. He was a good friend to me and my now wife when our previous marriages to others from the church ended.

David has been described as a dynamic thespian and theatre-worker. He worked with community groups, youth theatres, repertory theatre, and groups of his own devising to create innumerable productions. He played the violin in the Canberra Youth Orchestra and in various local bands.

In 1985 David, together with Ross Cameron, John Utans and Patrick Troy, founded Splinters Theatre of Spectacle. The company staged several large productions, sometimes involving hundreds of people, fire sculptures, giant puppets and large moving metal sculptures. Early performances were at a now-demolished weatherboard cottage in the Canberra suburb of Downer, the Causeway Hall at the suburb of Kingston, and backyards in the inner north. They made good use of crowd manipulation. During his time with Splinters, David was involved in more than twenty productions including Cathedral of Flesh (1992) – winner of Best Promenade Theatre Performance Award in the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

After theatre studies in Melbourne, David worked as an actor with many different companies including La Mama, one of Melbourne‘s oldest and most fondly regarded theatres. As a director he staged The Threepenny Opera and Handel’s Ariodante. His Ribbons of Steel used a mix of archival material, interpretive art, sculpture and photographic exhibits, to mark the closure of Newcastle’s BHP steel works. He remained with Splinters until 1996 when he became the Artistic Director of Culturally Innovative Arts, which he founded with Louise Morris.

David remained a Canberra identity, dividing his time largely between Canberra and Melbourne. In Canberra he hosted the Terrace Sessions at the Terrace Bar and the Salons at the Street at the Street Theatre, where many avant-garde performances were staged. He thumbed his nose at the establishment but won a Canberra Critics’ Circle award in 1998. More than once, he was described as the “Mayor of Canberra’s underbelly”.

On 3 March 2001 (coincidentally, my birthday), David performed at the launch of Canberra’s Multicultural Festival in the city’s Civic Square. I was there and managed to squeeze into the large crowd close enough to take some photos of him from the rear.

An upright David Branson performing at the launch of the 2001 Multicultural Festival © Brian Rope
An inverted David Branson performing at the launch of the 2001 Multicultural Festival © Brian Rope

Tragically, later that year on 11 December, David died in a car accident whilst on his way to a last-minute Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen concert rehearsal. Under the pseudonym Señor Handsome, David was a founding member, and violinist, of the cabaret group.

A few days later I was part of an over-capacity crowd of over 200 people attending his funeral at St Margaret’s, spilling outside. And a large crowd performed and attended memorials at the Street Theatre in Canberra (which I also went to) and the Trades Hall in Melbourne. Branson Street in the Canberra suburb of Dunlop in the Belconnen region of Canberra is named after David. A plaque was placed on the ACT Honour Walk to commemorate David as part of the first group of honourees in 2005. And there is also a plaque in the foyer of the Street Theatre.

The Black Sea Gentlemen comprises five stellar performers whose roots run deep in the Canberra music scene – Michael Simic on guitar, Pip Branson (one of David’s younger brothers – who took his place amongst the Gentlemen) on violin, Phil Moriarty on clarinet, Guy Freer on accordion and Sam Martin on double bass. The group has packed houses from the Sydney Opera House to London’s West End, releasing four albums and building a dedicated following in Canberra and around the world. During the Easter 2015 National Folk Festival in Canberra, I photographed them performing to an enthusiastic full house.

Michael Simic (Mikelangelo) performing at the 2015 NFF © Brian Rope
Some of The Black Sea Gentlemen performing at the 2015 NFF,
Left to right: Guido Libido, Rufino (Pip Branson), Mikelangelo © Brian Rope

On 11 December 2011, the 10th anniversary of David’s death, the Black Sea Gentlemen joined with The Street Theatre to hold a tribute afternoon of performances, stories, music and a barbecue in the forecourt. Now, 20 years after David’s death, the band will again pay tribute to their friend, brother and founding member with a very special one-off David Branson 20th Anniversary Concert at the Canberra Theatre Playhouse on Friday 10 December 2021.

The following day (the exact 20th anniversary of David’s death) the Black Sea Gentlemen will perform again in the foyer of the Street Theatre during the launch of a biographical book about David.

The author, Joel Swadling, holds a Graduate Diploma in Writing from the University of Technology Sydney. He is also one of my stepsons. And he was a close personal friend of David Branson, and part of St Margaret’s church. Joel lived for a time in a flat at the home of David’s mother, a place where David himself had previously lived. Whilst there, Joel sorted through boxes of material about David’s involvements in the arts scene, particularly relating to Splinters Theatre of Spectacle. Joel was the archivist on the arrangement and description of those David Branson Papers at the ACT Heritage Library.

Joel’s book about David is titled If This Is The Highway, I’ll Take The Dirt Road – the Formidable Encounters of David Branson Esq. Soft and hard cover versions of the book will, of course, be available for purchase at the launch; also from “all good bookshops” in Canberra and online. There is also an e-Book option online.

My wife Robyn, Joel’s mother, assisted greatly with the book, transcribing all the author’s interviews. I had a modest involvement – assisting Joel to place wonderful photos by the late Canberra performance photographer, Kevin Prideaux; helping to create the cover design; and taking the image of Joel that he used as his author’s photo.

Author Portrait © Brian Rope

Joel dedicated the book to his “two loving mums”, Robyn and Margaret Hunt. He also both of them and myself in his acknowledgments. And it was very special to read mention of Robyn and myself in Joel’s personal reflections on his friend at the front of the book.

“Around the same time, my parents divorced, and my mother formed a relationship with a man from the church community. Confused and angry, I turned to David for advice. ‘He’s a good man. You’ve got nothing to worry about.’

In the early years of their relationship, they were pretty much ostracised from their friends and former church community, but David always greeted them in public with jubilant affection, and this remains my mother’s overriding memory of him.

I have enjoyed a full and rich relationship with my stepfather for close to twenty-five years. I can’t help feeling that David started us on this path to familial fulfilment.”

With the book complete and an initial stock of copies delivered to him, the next task for Joel (and others) has been to organise the launch and promote both it and the book. Posters and postcards have found their way to bookstores, assorted businesses frequented by folk who would have known David, St Margaret’s church, The Street Theatre, notice boards and more.

Joel Swadling pointing to his book poster that he put up on a Dickson wall © Brian Rope

Interviews with Joel have been, or are being, conducted – including by Barbie Robinson for her Living Arts Canberra podcast, and Arne Sjostedt (aka Fealing) for The Canberra Times. Copies of the book are being reviewed by some Canberra arts scene critics who knew, and greatly admired, David.

I’m looking forward to the attending both the 20th Anniversary Concert and the book launch, reading/hearing the interviews, reading the reviews – and completing my own reading of the book.

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Reviews

RECOVERY

Photography Exhibition Review

RECOVERY | Various Artists

ANBG Visitors Centre Gallery | 25 November – 12 December

Recovery is the eighth annual photographic exhibition by the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens Photographic Group.

This year there are four categories of images. Firstly, there are plant portraits of a single plant, or group of primarily the same species. Then there are wildlife images (in the Gardens, but also outside due to access restrictions this year). Next there are creative compositions of banksia plants in recognition of Joseph Banks’ visit to Australia and the new banksia garden. And, to complete the show, images of rare, threatened or endangered plants. In total there are forty-eight prints by twenty artists, all framed in a light-coloured timber and, so, the overall exhibition looks cohesive.

The exhibition successfully displays in print aspects of our beautiful natural environment through the camera lens – and on screen with revolving images of plants, birds and animals in the ANBG.

There are just three monochrome prints on display, all by the same author – Ulli Brunnschweiler. They stand out amongst the colour works, not just because they are black and white but also because they are quite lovely works each showing plants (plural). In particular, Acacia pravissima, hung at the top of the three works here is just delightful. Commonly known as the Ovens or Tumut wattle, this is an acacia with which we are all familiar. But generally, we see it in yellow and green.

Ulli Brunnschweiler – Acacia pravissima

Amongst the colour works the standouts for me include David Bassett’s Feeding Gang-Gang and Imperial Jezabel. This Queanbeyan author’s nature imagery – indeed all his varied artworks – are consistently excellent and these are no exception.

David Bassett – Imperial Jezabel

Local professional and photography teacher Irene Lorbergs has contributed several fine prints – Honeyeater and Macrocarpa, Bee and Flower, and Banksia. The latter is suggestive of a delicious tasting cupcake.

Irene Lorbergs – Banskia

Pam Rooney’s winning Woolly Banksia image superbly displays what can only be described as delicate tracery.

Pam Rooney – Woolly Banksia

Bill Hall’s vulnerable Thick-lip Spider Orchid shows great detail and makes excellent use of complementary colours. Steve Playford’s Bejeweled Qualup Bell does the same with virtually identical colours.

Bill Hall – Thick-lip Spider Orchid
Steve Playford – Bejeweled Qualap Bell

Graham Gall’s Juvenile Male Satin Bowerbird shows the bird’s soft, mostly green and brown, colours amongst similar greens and browns of the foliage. The rich blue of the bird’s eye is striking and commands attention.

Graham Gall – Juvenile Male Satin Bowerbird

Jim Gould’s Baby Blue Flowers is a visually pleasing selection of a small piece of a silver-leaved mountain gum, clearly showing viewers how its flowers bud in groups of three; white flowers and cup-shaped to cylindrical fruit.

Jim Gould – Baby Blue Flowers

All the prints are worthy of close examination, and I encourage readers who can do so to visit and see for themselves.

Both framed works and unframed prints are for sale. Unique gifts of cards, calendars, photo bags and more are also on display and available for purchase. A percentage of sales go to the Friends for projects in the Gardens.

Visitors can also check out the 2022 Calendar that is available in the bookshop; all images produced by the Photographic Group members.

The exhibition supports and raises awareness of the aims and values of the ANBG and highlights the Gardens’ wide-ranging diversity of flora and fauna through the medium of photography. The participating members of the Photographic Group should be pleased and proud of their contributions.

Any reader who would like more information on the Photographic Group should email photo@friends.org.au. The Group encourages potential speakers and new members.

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

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Reviews

Uncalibrated Space

Photomedia Exhibition Review

Rory Gillen | Uncalibrated Space

Tuggeranong Arts Centre | Until 16 December 2021

Rory Gillen is a Canberra-based audio-visual and new media artist and educator. He has worked extensively in documentary and event photography, as well as maintaining an arts practice exploring the cutting edge of post-digital and networked photographic art. Working across photography, audio, video, and electronics, Gillen creates multisensory installations that critically engage.

Graduating from the ANU School of Art and Design in 2019 with first class honours, Gillen has exhibited in various galleries, including Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Brunswick Street Gallery (Victoria), and the Perth Institute for Contemporary Art.

Gillen is sometimes referred to as the resident tech nerd at Photoaccess where he currently works developing post digital programming and workspaces as well as tutoring and facilitating visiting artists in their practice and technical skills.

Many scholars consider us to be in the era of ‘Post Digital’. What does this mean for photography; its analogue form in some ways already consigned to the dustbin of history by theorists who insist that we live in a post-media era?

In a recently streamed conversation with another multidisciplinary artist Gillen dived deep into the changing face of photographic practice. He suggested, correctly, that whilst digital photography is essentially about capturing data, post digital is about investigating it and exploring concepts that silently exist in the data set. As someone who was amongst the first computer programmers in Australia and who watched the ones and zeros coming together as light dots on a bulky “pre-computer” whilst debugging my programs, I am fascinated now when people speak about manipulating ones and zeros – akin to manipulating negatives in darkrooms.

In his artistic practice, Gillen is fascinated by “the digital paradigm shift toward the fundamental machine readability of objects, exemplified by the digital image”. Here he explores the facets that deep learning carves into images and investigates “the underlying machinations of the algorithms themselves” posing the question “what is real, and how do we know”?

This exhibition comprises twelve inkjet prints plus a mixed media installation showing faces, illustrations, landscapes and objects – and much more. Aluminium, plywood, a desktop computer, wires and miscellaneous electronics are all part of the installation, without them there would be no screen images to see.

3500 Steps From Illustrations, 2021 © Rory Gillen
3500 Steps From Objects, 2021 © Rory Gillen

The prints relationships to faces, illustrations, landscapes and objects is not immediately obvious. At first glance I asked myself why one smaller print was of parked cars with a music stand amongst them. Closer inspection revealed that the stand was in fact supporting a copy of one of the larger prints. The same is true for other smaller prints of a landscape, Gillen’s own face, and an illustrative poster – stands in each of them support copies of larger prints in the exhibition. Four large prints titled 3500 Steps from Faces, etc. are curated grids of images resulting from heavy manipulation of ones and zeros.

Untitled Source Image IV, 2021 © Rory Gillen
Untitled Source Image II, 2021 © Rory Gillen

There is so much to look at, so much to wonder about. Images on the computer screen are mesmerising, flashing on and off at a rapid rate. Individual images on a larger LCD screen have a dreamlike quality. I saw cartoon-like faces, old hand made nails, overhead views of building site plans, hieroglyphics and lenses. Whatever you see you will enjoy.

Uncalibrated Space IV, 2021 © Rory Gillen
Uncalibrated Space III, 2021 © Rory Gillen

Grant Scott, the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, has written “The role of the 21st century photographer has changed and is constantly evolving. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the engaged photographer to understand that reality and to respond to those changes.” Gillen is so engaged. We can expect the future to bring us many more manipulated and appropriated artworks from him and others.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 27/11/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Plein Air, High Plain

Photography Exhibition Review

Mark Mohell, Macdonald Nichols & Peter Ranyard | Plein Air, High Plain

M16 Artspace | Until 21 November 2021

Monaro is a Ngarigo word meaning “high plain”. And it is the Monaro that centres Mark Mohell, Macdonald Nichols and Peter Ranyard’s durational photographic exhibition, Plein Air, High Plain.

The gallery’s room sheet for this exhibition tells visitors “Their photographs investigate the dynamic forces that shape the endless, reciprocal drama that is Landscape….The exhibition is a result of numerous transversals of the Monaro that sought to consider the distinctive character of Plein Air as a productive practice. The works are conceived completely in the Monaro environment affirming its presence and the individuals within it: a physical and affective immersion.”

So, does the exhibition focus on what we would think of as the high plains of the Monaro? In my view, it focusses on the Monaro region as a whole – not just the high plains landscapes, but also places built on those plains by humans, some on the open plains, others in towns. Some of the imagery is of small details, such as a door, a card holder with a cribbage board, a jumble of cutlery, and a film processing clock. That gives this interesting exhibition a substantially broader focus than I expected.

The term Plein Air is generally used in that other artform, painting, referring to the act of painting outdoors – in contrast to studio painting or academic rules. ‘En plein air’ painting emerged from the concept by which the artist paints directly onto canvas in situ within the landscape, enabling better capture of changing weather and light. Nevertheless, it can be applied to photography as well. When photographers work outdoors using natural light and without staging anything, their captured images reflect real events and subjects in real time. I expect that is why the term is in the exhibition title. It is arguable that, when prints of images have words added to them, they cease to be strictly real. But, perhaps, that is pedantry on my part.

The works are of good quality. They vary in size and price, some framed and others not. Raynard’s works are small squares on Hahnemühle Museum Etching art paper, Mohell’s are large “archival pigment prints”. And the inkjet prints by Macdonald Nicholls range from very small to very large.

Those I found most interesting were Nichols’ prints with handwritten words. In particular I loved Dentist – although the image itself doesn’t identify the dentist’s practice, added words tell us it is upstairs above the colourful Massie Street (Cooma) seafood takeaway shop in the photo and that it has a window looking out to trees. Even better the wonderfully descriptive words tell us that the colour of pain is green, and the smell is hot chips – adding considerably to the visual image. On the other hand, his large-scale landscapes in Ngarigo Country – including one of Jounama Creek and another near Shanahans Mountain – are traditional works.

Jounama Creek, Bogong Mountains, Ngarigo Country. 2019 © Macdonald Nichols
Near Shanahans Mountain, Namadgi, Ngarigo Country, 2021 © Macdonald Nichols

Mohell features powerlines, tanks, tracks and other mundane outdoor objects in his quality works. Two landscapes, Sign and Paint, show additions made by human hands – one a road speed limit sign and posts marking the road’s edge, the other paintwork on a rock outcrop behind a fence along the road’s edge. So, they are more than straightforward landscapes.

Sign © Mark Mohell
Paint © Mark Mohell

Ranyard shows us objects, including a kettle and a flattening iron, plus chimneys, mountain huts, bridges, and much more. I recall reading some years ago that he has always been fascinated by objects, particularly those changed by weather, time, and neglect. Clearly, he is still fascinated and enjoying opportunities to interpret objects and more. Mountain Hut and Kettle are excellent black and white images.

Mountain Hut © Peter Ranyard
Pop’s Kettle, 2021 © Peter Ranyard

This review was published in the Canberra Times of 20/11/21 here and also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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