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.

1866_Intercolonial Exhibition_nla.obj-260430885-m

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.

1967_Expo ’67 Montreal 2
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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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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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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Photography Story

World Photo Day Goes Global

I recently posted another blog piece about World Photo Day here. This is a longer piece featuring images by friends at the Canberra Photography Society which was published in today’s Canberra Times newspaper (with fewer photos) here.

In 1822, Frenchmen Louis Daguerre and Charles Marie Bouton invented giant, translucent paintings illuminated to simulate movement and other effects – dioramas. Crowds would gather to watch their displays of landscapes and colours – a theatrical experience viewed in a highly specialised theatre.

Another Frenchman, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, produced the world’s first permanent photograph in 1825 to incorporate into his dioramas. After Niépce died in 1833, Daguerre continued experimenting with photography and dioramas. After combining chemicals and silver plates, he came up with the daguerreotype process and patented it in 1839 as a “gift to the world”. It was the first publicly available and commercially successful photographic process.

The French government purchased the patent for the daguerreotype process that creates highly detailed images on a sheet of copper plate with a thin coat of silver. Two centuries later, World Photography Day (WPD) is held on 19 August each year in celebration of the day when that purchase was made.

A professional photographer from Canberra, Korske Ara, founded WPD in 2009 to inspire people to take photos that mean something to them. I was one of those who specifically made images that first WPD. Nowadays, Ara runs Canberra-based Lucent Imaging – fine art printing and digital imaging studio.

WPD went global in 2010. From humble beginnings, with just 250 people signing up to participate that year, it now reaches a global audience of 500 million. Participants have the opportunity to share their photographs and raise awareness of the issues that are important to them and their communities.

In previous years, WPD has supported the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and other important causes. Other activities in Canberra have included photo walks, competitions and exhibitions.

19 August has just passed. Social media relating to the day reminds us that, whilst we might take our photographs for granted, there was once a time when photography didn’t exist. A time when precious moments couldn’t be captured, uploaded and shared.

Nowadays, WPD sees big brands, professionals and photography enthusiasts all joining the celebration. Competitions are being conducted by various groups or organisations, including Flickr here. So, in a sense, the day is not yet over. At the time of writing this 15,135 images had been uploaded to four categories on that competition site, and it had 7,402 members. Those numbers grow every minute – a huge response especially as the prize pool is quite modest. Submissions will continue to be accepted until 7 September. The photos entered do not have to have been taken on this year’s 19 August; they can be old or new; it doesn’t matter as long as they fit the category being entered.

Photography today is an important medium of storytelling, and photos add character to almost any piece of text, social media post, and even indoor spaces. Whilst WPD is a day for photographers to celebrate their artform, so too is every other day. The vast majority of us carry smartphones with us all the time, with excellent cameras in them. They provide ease of access and use, allowing us to capture images we previously would have seen but not been able to photograph.

Lockdown may have reduced the amount of new photography being created at this time, but enthusiasts will always find subjects for their cameras in their homes, gardens or whilst exercising outdoors. A message to a few members of the Canberra Photographic Society quickly delivered me a number of images taken on 19 August 2021 for potential use with this article. Some of them are shown below. How many did you take this WPD?

Smokey sunset behind Black Mountain 1 © Ben Hogan
Smokey sunset behind Black Mountain 2 © Ben Hogan
World Photography Day 2 © Luminita Quraisha
World Photography Day 3 © Luminita Quraisha
It was a Winters day © Susan Henderson
A bright spot – waiting for a vaccination © Susan Henderson
We Skyped family – Julian and Barney © Susan Henderson
The only creative thing I did © Ian Skinner
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My Photography, Photography Story

World Photo Day 2021

World Photo Day as it is celebrated on 19 August each year was originally started and promoted by an Australian photographer, Korske Ara, in 2009. Korske is these days the proprietor of Lucent Imaging in Canberra which many people use to have high quality fine art prints made; myself included when I need a print larger than I can make at home. There is a World Photo day presence on Facebook here, Instagram here and on Twitter here.

Today, World Photo Day reaches millions of people around the world with big brands, professionals and photography enthusiasts all joining the celebration. Competitions are being conducted by various groups or organisations, including Flickr here.

August 19 celebrates the day when the French government purchased the patent for the daguerreotype process that creates highly detailed images on a sheet of copper plate with a thin coat of silver. According to National Today, the day requires participants to share a photo of their world, which can be anything the photographer chooses.

So, here are some photos of my Canberra world that I am choosing to share to celebrate World Photo Day 2021. They were all taken on previous World Photo Days.


Amaroo Graffiti


Chimneys and roof frame behind tree


Fluoroscent Graffiti


In Henry Rolland Park

Wet day at our place
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Photography Story

Another Canberran wins $10,000 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize

An edited version of this was published in The Canberra Times here. I heard from a friend that it was read out on 1RPH (a Canberra radio station that reads published print material for print-handicapped listeners). This piece provides more detail about the winner than was in my previous review of the Prize here.

The Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP) awards $10,000 cash. In 2020, Canberran Judy Parker was the winner and another Canberra artist, Ian Skinner, was a finalist. In 2021 they were both again finalists, and Skinner was awarded the Prize.

Given his first camera for his tenth birthday, Skinner quickly sensed that photographic image making had a purpose beyond its important documentary tool use.

In the early 1980s his work on the conservation of its south-west wilderness took him to Tasmania, where the influence of the pictorial Truchanas/Dombrovskis school shaped his early approaches to landscape photography.

Skinner has been described as an observational photographer who moves through various landscapes and situations forever seeking visual opportunities to fix with the framed eye. His earlier working life in architecture continues to drive an interest in the built environment, often exploring its interface with the natural world.

He is a member of the Australian Photographic Society’s Contemporary Group, PhotoAccess, the National Association of Visual Artists, Canberra Photographic Society (CPS), and is active in various genre-focused social media photographic groups.

Ian Skinner © Ian Skinner

I have appreciated Skinner’s work since I first saw it in a 2011 CPS exhibition. Subsequently, there have been numerous other CPS and Photo Access exhibitions, a joint 2019 exhibition with his brother at The Queanbeyan Hive (that I had the honour of officially opening), and others in 2020 at the Gallery of Small Things in Watson and Magnet Galleries in Melbourne. With this MCPP win, it is clear Skinner is an artist to watch and collect.

As with previous MCPP winning images, the framed print of Skinner’s winning work, Ashscapes 01-04, has been acquired by Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre for its excellent permanent collection of post-war contemporary paintings, ceramics and photography.

Ashscapes 01-04 © Ian Skinner

The concept statement for Skinner’s winning image read: The catastrophic fires in south-eastern Australia in 2019-2020 were shortly followed by torrential rain. The rivers and creeks disgorged vast quantities of debris from the conflagration into the ocean so that the waves turned grey with ash, and convulsed with charred remnants. Where the gentler waves reached their zenith on the beaches, small flecks of carbonised vegetation rested in ephemeral patterns suggesting the hills, ridges and valleys of their living selves.

Ashscapes 01-04 Detail © Ian Skinner

Learning of his win, Skinner took to social media saying “Wow! Totally bowled over, amazed, delighted and above all confirmed to have been awarded the Australian Photographic Society’s Mullins Conceptual Photographic Prize for 2021. In many ways this work came out of a desire to work “in residence” on the south coast of NSW – and I have to thank my sisters-in-law for helping make that happen. On several occasions. The arrival and impact of fire was an unexpected contributor to my deliberations here – and I recall at the time pondering about how to respond to the disaster without being cliched or exploitative. The ocean delivered ash to the sandy edge of the land and all I had to do was See.”

Skinner also expressed delight that his good friend Ian Terry of Hobart was awarded a runner up prize for his “sublime work”, part of a project exploring the impact of the travels of George Augustus Robinson in Van Diemen’s Land.

All the works in the 2021 MCPP exhibition can be seen in a virtual gallery here.

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Photography Story

Best of 2020 – Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hairy Panic, Untitled #15 © Sophie Dumaresq

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

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

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