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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Reviews

Congruent – Incongruent

Photography and Art Exhibition Review

Eva van Gorsel and Manuel Pfeiffer | Congruent – Incongruent

M16 Artspace | Until 21 November 2021

Eva van Gorsel is a photographer who uses numerous diverse techniques and approaches to create varied, interesting imagery – her background in environmental sciences and scientific photography always there. Her imagery here does not disappoint. As usual they are excellent artworks, pleasing to look at, contemplate and think about.

Manuel Pfeiffer is a painter who uses an extensive range of materials, including acrylics, pencils, charcoals and much more. His works here are of mixed media, including acrylics, pencils, even plaster of Paris. They are equally pleasing to explore.

The gallery sheet informs visitors that these artists feel our lives have changed, that harmony has been disrupted by climate change and pandemics globally. Few would disagree. The artists suggest many of us have been striving for balance more consciously – in our friendships and workplaces, and in how we interact with our environment.

Here was their starting point to create an exhibition addressing congruence (in agreement or harmony) and incongruence. The artists have creatively investigated their concept, exploring balance, harmony and disharmony, symmetry and asymmetry.

They have also used the mathematical concept of congruence – figures, identical in form, coinciding exactly when superimposed. In geometry, two figures or objects are congruent if they have the same shape and size, or if one is a mirror image of the other.

So, in these works, we see reflected, rotated and translated shapes and lines overlaid on a variety of landscapes. Whilst art lovers generally enjoy the aesthetics of congruent images, they also do not mind some tension – it keeps us looking and exploring the artwork.

The depicted landscapes are from diverse Australian places, including New England, Lake Burley Griffin, Kosciusko, Cocoparra National Park, the Flinders Ranges, and the Devils Marbles. They include mountains and seas, sunrises and night times. Some include circular shapes that may be either the sun or the moon – or something else?

Van Gorsel has an interest in how colour and geometry shape landscapes. She examines moods created by warm and cold colours, the direction of light and how it changes, transitioning colours painted on skies or reflected in water. Here, her diptychs are congruent – despite focussing on contrasting concepts. They are displayed as pairs of works side by side. All the images are based on photography. Each panel is the same size, each is a pigment ink print on archival paper.

Her Mountain Ranges diptych shows the same scene overlaid with the same triangles and lines – each a reflection of the other, one warm toned, the other cool.

Left: Mountain Ranges i & Right: Mountain Ranges ii © Eva van Gorsel

And the two images in her Lake Lights diptych are again reflections of each other, except that the circle in each varies in density or hue.

Left: Lake Lights i & Right: Lake Lights ii © Eva van Gorsel

Pfeiffer’s works are, on the one hand, based on incongruence: every diptych, in itself partly congruent, is different in technique and the materials used reflect the wide variety of possibilities available to artists. On the other hand, all works are of the same size (some in portrait, others in landscape format) and mounted the same way, in the mathematical sense of the word congruent.

The left-hand side of his Lake Burley Griffin diptych is a monochromatic version of the coloured and inverted right hand side.

Lake Burley Griffin © Manuel Pfeiffer

View From Cocoparra is presented in an analagous way but is much more graphic with delightful contour lines and a simple and subtle tree.

View From Cocoparra © Manuel Pfeiffer

Two sets of works play off each other perfectly. These artists have again produced a fine exhibition as they did with their previous joint show Facets in 2020.

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

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Reviews

Experiments in Living [Melt], Surface Appearances, Light Materials, & 398

Photography Exhibition Review

PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery | Until 27 November 2021

Each year, PhotoAccess awards local and interstate artists, both emerging and established, assisting them to expand and develop their photo-media practices. They are provided with mentorship to produce solo exhibitions in the Huw Davies Gallery. The four ACT exhibitors this year were recipients of the Dark Matter, Emerging Artists Support Scheme, and Wide Angle residencies.

The works in Sammy Hawker’s Experiments in Living [Melt] encompass text, documentary video and negative prints produced in collaboration with the chemical activity of rain, hailstones, seawater and open flame. This is now familiar territory for Hawker, who challenges us to reconsider the illusion of control we hold over the natural world. These images do not disappoint.

Because we are limited, finite, beings subject to dying, vulnerability to trauma is a necessary and universal feature of our human condition. Hawker’s images speak to this, identifying the importance of nurturing our relationship to the world, and reminding us that our everyday experience is illusory, never the reality itself, of non-human forces shaping our lives.

Tom & Pyrocumulus © Sammy Hawker

Eunie Kim says she is grateful to have found her life’s calling in photography and is excited to see what comes next, embracing every opportunity. In Surface Appearances, Kim has used ‘Liquid Light’ photographic emulsion painted onto varied papers and brought her current Australian life into conversation with the traditional aesthetics of her Korean heritage. This is most evident in three beautiful “paintings” on sugarcane paper, looking at flowers, birds and insects.

Using materials and subjects from a contemporary Australian setting whilst simultaneously conjuring the aesthetic of traditional Korean painting, Kim explores her immigrant experience. Applying the emulsion via brushstroke, on differing thickness and texture of paper, has produced varying works. They reflect Kim’s process of learning, regretting and then correcting mistakes, and taking chances.

Cells, captured in 2015, recreated in 2021 © Eunie Kim

Light Materials is a series of video works deconstructing and recombining film materials through a process of digital or analogue weaving, Caroline Huf explores the exhaustion and re-invention of settler Australian myths about the mystery and threat of the bush.

Huf’s work, It’s No Picnic, disrupts Peter Weir’s iconic movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, a key cultural expression of early colonial anxieties in the unfamiliar Australian landscape. Each scene is pulled apart, altered in speed, scale, and moved out of time to appear as woven patterns and twills. The film’s pan pipes become an industrial sound and the threads slowly disappear, suggesting a worn-out myth.

It’s no picnic- 2021, video still © Caroline Huf

And Let’s Get Lost presents Huf’s personal engagements with local landscapes, wearing dresses she created from strips of 16mm film to remind us of the, often, fleeting nature of our experiences with landscapes. The film dress unravels as she moves through the landscape before being fed through the projector and into the gallery. Both the dress and its experience become an ephemeral memory. Watching these works, particularly the digital video projected onto sandstone, is a somewhat mesmerising experience.

Aloisia Cudmore’s works span multiple mediums including photography, video, sound and installation. She investigates the notions of intimacy at the threshold between physical and virtual space.

398 comprises personal black and white digital images in which Cudmore captures intimate moments of physical proximity with her friends, family and community, during a time when travel restrictions, prohibitions on gathering and ultimately lockdowns separated us emotionally from those most important to us. These quite simple images of moments are a testament to the people that keep us connected.

4, 2021 © Aloisia Cudmore

We are fortunate to have these four photomedia workers amongst our quality emerging and established artists in the A.C.T. It is no surprise they were chosen to receive the awards that led to these works.

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

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Reviews

Living Memory – NPPP 2021

Photography Review

Living Memory – NPPP 2021 | Various artists

National Portrait Gallery | Until 16 January 2022

Group exhibitions can be awkward to review because of the diversity of imagery subject matter and quality. This exhibition has a specified theme but, like all themes, it was open to wide interpretation and, unsurprisingly, the images in it approach portraiture in differing ways. Overall, the quality of the prints is high as we would hope in such a show, although I was disappointed with a small number.

So, what is on display in this, the 15th annual National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP)? With its Living Memory theme having been set to acknowledge the seismic events of 2020, it was hoped entries would offer a powerful and historic visual record of the year that was and would capture the unique ways in which we as individuals, and as a nation, responded to it. Many of the images on display certainly show both the photographers and their subjects responding to the dramas of 2020. Others, though, do not – in my view. Nevertheless, the diversity and quality of the artwork combines in a powerful visual exhibition.

In shows such as this I always look for works by locals and other people whom I know personally, and images by artists whose work I have long admired. This year I found a familiar work by local Marzena Wasikowska – A Covid kind of day, from her series Negotiating the Family Portrait 2011-2021. I wrote about that series here earlier this year, noting that this is the fifth time an image from the series has been a NPPP finalist.

I also found two images by Canberra Times photographer Dion Georgopoulos, both taken after the firestorms and previously seen published in this newspaper. I consider Wandella Firestorm, 2020 to be the more powerful of the two but The Salway Family is also a fine portrait with a father and nephew placed before a devastating background.

Wandella Firestorm © Dion Georgopoulos
The Salway Family © Dion Georgopoulos

One of the represented photographers whose work I always appreciate is Tamara Dean. The Goodall Boys, 2021 came from Dean finding beauty in her immediate environment and being inspired to create photographs of the people and places she was surrounded by when unable to venture further afield. That is an experience most artists shared in 2020.

The Goodall Boys © Tamara Dean

Two of the most powerful images displayed are side by side and both feature emotionally charged situations. When Rachel Mounsey photographed Max, 2020 her subject said ‘All has been erased. Nature has to come back through a black, blank canvas. It’s a lamentable game of survival, but beautiful to watch.’ The resultant image successfully conveys that. Alongside it is Matthew Newton’s Anna, 2020 showing peaceful activist Anna Brozek standing determined, tall and proud on the remains of a logged tree in Tasmania’s precious old growth forests. Her message could not be clearer.

Max © Rachel Mounsey
Anna © Matthew Newton

But what of the winner and other awarded images? I have read considerable commentary elsewhere about the winner – a familiar scene (of a farmer walking towards a dust storm), hard to understand why certain photos win these types of Prizes, what does it reveal about the person? Whether or not those are valid comments, there is no denying the emotion the winning work and other awarded images convey.

There are numerous works in this diverse exhibition that we all need to study and explore, especially the few type C prints such as Kalyanii Holden’s beautiful The Cat’s Out Of The Bag.

The Cats Out Of The Bag © Kalyanii Holden

I could not look at one work as it had been covered. The person depicted has recently passed away. I applaud the Gallery for respecting Indigenous cultural protocols while the person’s family and community are consulted regarding their wishes.

This review was published on 6/11/21 by the Canberra Times here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Into The Blue – a celebration of the Cyanotype print

Photography & Photomedia Exhibition Review

Fourteen artists | Into The Blue – a celebration of the Cyanotype print

Sutton Village Gallery | Until 7 November

Into the Blue shows works from fourteen artists – Susan Baran, Wendy Currie, Kaye Dixon, Dianne Longley, Silvi Glattauer, Kiera Hudson, Peter McDonald, Senga Peckham, Maxine Salvatore, Eva Schroeder, Ian Skinner, Kim Sinclair, Virginia Walsh, Carolyn Young.

It celebrates the Cyanotype process discovered in 1842, involving two chemicals – ammonium iron (III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide – and UV light. Over time, variations to the original chemical formula have provided more creative possibilities, and the cyanotype print process is used by photographers, artists and creative enthusiasts globally. Works are made by treating a print surface – paper, cloth or leather – with the chemicals which then react to UV light creating a distinctive blue colour.

On the last Saturday in September, artists worldwide celebrate this antiquarian process on World Cyanotype Day. Into the Blue was planned as a celebration for this year’s Day – artists provided their works showing how Cyanotype has featured in their creative practices.

The works cover a range of subjects. While most are the rich blues we expect to see, there are some with more “whites” amongst the blues, some toned, and others featuring additional colours.

I particularly enjoyed Kaye Dixon’s Bone Women series. She combined sculpture, painting, digital photography, and cyanotype printing to “re-member” her journey home; the long journey to find her feminine power buried in the depth of her soul. Her bone women are sailing and “re-membering” the times when there was an intrinsic connection between all living things.

Keira Hudson’s works are printed on cotton with threads attached to some edges. This Melbourne-based artist describes her work as “a jumble of mystery, sexuality, and romanticism”. She enjoys pushing the boundaries and her fabric cyanotypes here were created during lockdowns. The images are either self-portraits, or portraits captured virtually – double exposed with dried flora collected from her garden.

Let Me In © Keira Hudson

Dianne Longley’s works on embossed paper using decals, gold and copper leaf and watercolour are not simply cyanotypes – the mixed media result is a series of delightful works. The decals were made from coloured drawings based on figures from the Renaissance, and the French artist François Rabelais, contemporary Japanese ‘kawaii’ figures and toys, the commedia dell’arte, imagined and real plants, and grotesque imagery through history. Longley says “the images offer possibilities for speculation on life and destiny, the quirky and the curious, and the fascinating possibilities that exist for the traveller”.

Susan Baran’s Dreaming of Bali series alludes to the time before COVID-19 when the world was a safer place. She dreams of a time when travel is safe again.

Dreaming of Bali 7 © Susan Baran

Senga Peckham’s From The Garden series explores the Japanese concept of ‘Ma’ which combines ‘door’ and ‘sun’. Together they depict a door through the crevice of which the sunlight peeps. Using resources close to hand during restrictions – some Japanese paper left over from another project, converting her laundry to a dim-room and working with plants from her garden and the sun, she sees this as a meditative process, full of hope and possibility.

From the Garden No. 1 © Senga Peckham

Carolyn Young’s Eliza and the Satin Bowerbird celebrates an illustrator’s life. It features a portrait of her sitting inside the outline of a male Satin Bowerbird (derived from one her illustrations).

Eliza Gould & Satin Bowerbird © Carolyn Young

Maxine Salvatore’s Senza Protezione is about our need for protection against a new virus. Kim Sinclair’s Skull & Blooms refers to the cycle of life and to lockdown tension.

Senza Protezione © Maxine Salvatore
Skull & Blooms © Kim Sinclair

Travel to Sutton is now permitted for all Canberrans and other locals, so the show has been extended to 7 November. Why not visit the gallery tucked behind the bakery?

This review has also been published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. It has also now been published in the Canberra Times here.

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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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Reviews

A Young Black Kangaroo

Photography Exhibition Review

A Young Black Kangaroo | Dean Qiulin Li 

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s easy to say, I know very well,

But Woolloomooloo is not easy to spell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richie, 2019 © Dean Qiulin Li

There is a flamingo is inside Richie’s kitchen.

Flamingo, 2019 © Dean Qiulin Li

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

Ayesha, 2020  © Dean Qiulin Li

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

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

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Reviews

Are We Dead Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarkine, 2018 © Stephen Dupont

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

Scarborough Beach Dust Storm, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

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

Hillville Fires 02, 2019 © Stephen Dupont

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

Bodalla Fires, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

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

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

Snowy Mountains, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

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

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

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