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.

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
Reviews

Don’t be fooled by the faces I wear, Split, Exploded View

Photography Exhibition Review

Split | Chris Bowes

Don’t Be Fooled By The Faces I Wear | Ben Rak

Exploded View | Catherine Evans

Photo Access | Until 14 August 2021

Each of these exhibitions expands on what would, by many, be deemed photography. Distortion, caricature, masking, disruption – these are the key elements across the three shows.

Artist Chris Bowes is showing Split. It brought to mind those fun and interesting images in distorting convex and concave mirrors giving repetitive reflections, optical illusions in sideshow funhouses. This installation is a sort of high-tech version of them. Screens and webcams watch and distort viewers, taunting them into questioning data capture and use. These mirrored surfaces create caricatures that can be equal parts captivating and disturbing. This installation originally was scheduled to exhibit in the Huw Davies Gallery in mid-2020. Sadly, it was locked down in Melbourne. Furthermore, the same issue prevented the artist from traveling to Canberra to instal it himself this year. His other intended exhibit is, unfortunately missing from the show.

Chris Bowes, Monitor (detail), 2020, webcams, screens, computers, code and cables

Bowes says, “It is unsettling to think that while we watch screens, they quietly watch back at us. Our interactions feed data to hungry tech giants, whose targeted advertising and helpful suggestions seem harmless enough.….We are often passive to these exchanges, ignoring the consequences that come with sacrificing privacy….”

In Don’t Be Fooled By The Faces I Wear, artist Ben Rak examines the phenomenon of “passing” as a condition in both social life and art practice. It also employs methods of screens, this time for masking hidden identities. He attempts to shed light on how we conceal or reveal ourselves in order to gain visibility, avoid marginalisation, and enjoy the privileges afforded to dominant groups.

Rak uses the print process as a metaphor for otherness, drawing parallels between art practice and social interaction. His prints seek to examine changeable identities, investigating how the technical and material language of the print can be combined to mask or reveal its artistic identity.

The exhibited works are diverse; they include large acrylics and silkscreen works on un-stretched canvas, laser-cut dye-sublimation prints on aluminium and papier-mâché masks, inkjet prints on fibre-based paper, and a single channel video. If only we could purchase masks like these each time our current fetish for wearing them is made mandatory. They and the prints are wonderful. Looking at my own reflection in two of the prints, I saw my identity masked.

Ben Rak, The Masks I Wear to Pass, 2020, acrylic and silkscreen on un-stretched canvas
Ben Rak, Unhinged, 2020, acrylic and silkscreen on un-stretched canvas

Exploded View is new work that takes artist Catherine Evan’s recollections of the 1997 Royal Canberra Hospital implosion as a starting point to examine how digital media distorts our perception of time, relation to place, and memory. It takes memory and screen culture head on in a distorted representation of the artist’s personal memories.

When her son was born, Evans looked online for images of the hospital she had been born in, the hospital she watched blasted into the ground some nineteen years earlier. She discovered a home video someone had uploaded to YouTube – two minutes and thirty-one seconds of VHS footage. She took screenshots of the video then, using a flatbed scanner to distort them, introduced a disruption of memory. The result is fascinating images of a scene etched in so many Canberrans minds – shown here as silver gelatin prints made from her digital negatives by putting them directly into contact photosensitive paper.

Catherine Evans, Exploded View, 121ii, 2021
Catherine Evans, Exploded View, 121i, 2021

Also displayed and available for purchase, in the gallery shop, is an intimate companion to Evans’ prints. Her fictiōnella Copper (2020), commissioned for the slow-publishing artwork, Lost Rocks (2017–21) investigates the linked events emanating from the Acton Peninsula, currently the site of the National Museum of Australia and previously the Royal Canberra Hospital and over 20,000 years of Aboriginal history.

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

Standard
Reviews

2021 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize

Photography Exhibition Review

Various artists: 2021 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize

Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre | Until 20 August 2021

The annual Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP) is conducted by the Australian Photographic Society. The 2021 winners were announced on 17 July at the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre (MRAC). Attendance was restricted to just seven people, but the short event was simultaneously livestreamed to a broader audience nationwide via both Facebook and Zoom. As many people cannot visit the physical exhibition the MCPP Management Team has had a wonderful virtual gallery created, which allows anyone to explore all the images.

Of 43 finalists selected by the judges, three are Canberra artists – Ian Skinner, Lyndall Gerlach, and Judy Parker. All three of them were amongst an astounding nine Canberra finalists in 2020, with Parker winning the Prize on that occasion.

This year it was Skinner’s turn – he was announced as the winner of the $10,000 Prize for his finalist entry – Ashscapes 01-04. In his concept statement accompanying the image, Skinner speaks of the catastrophic fires in southeastern Australia in 2019-2020 which were followed by torrential rain. He explains that the rivers and creeks disgorged debris into the ocean causing the waves to turn grey with ash and convulse with charred remnants. The image shows where gentler waves deposited small flecks of carbonised vegetation on the beaches in “ephemeral patterns suggesting the hills, ridges and valleys of their living selves”. It is a beautiful artwork, most deserving of the Prize.

Ashscapes 01-04 – Ian Skinner

Skinner’s winning artwork has been acquired by the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre for its permanent collection of post-war contemporary paintings, ceramic and photography. It joins the previous MCPP winners in that important collection.

Other prize winners were Ian Terry from Hobart and Anne Pappalardo from Brisbane, both of whom also entered excellent works. Terry received a $500 gift voucher for his work Night on the Tier – part of his ongoing project responding to the journeys of George Augustus Robinson who, assisted by palawa (Indigenous Tasmanian) guides, walked through Van Diemen’s Land in the 1830s to persuade palawa still on Country to give up their resistance to the European invasion of their island. In following Robinson, with his journal in hand, Terry is seeking to connect the historical with the contemporary, to make sense of his own existence “in this island of dreams which was stolen violently from its first people”. The fractured landscape shown wonderfully in the image is where Robinson spent his first night on one conciliation expedition.

Night on the Tier – Ian Terry

Terry – also a 2019 finalist – had a second finalist entry this year – about the time he spent in COVID quarantine and reveals his view during those days of the outside world through his hotel bedroom window – whilst outside “the world changed and convulsed in ways few of us had previously imagined”.

This is three years in succession Pappalardo has been a finalist, also taking out an award in 2019. She received a $250 voucher for her work A New Place to Stay. For 50 years, her parents had Christmas holidays at the Tallebudgera Caravan Park on the Gold Coast, where their most cherished family memories were made. Age led them to sell their vintage caravan and book a high-rise beachfront apartment nearby the Park, “with high hopes for this journey toward a new tradition”. It rained torrentially and constantly for their stay, and this artwork reflects their gloom at the disappointing beginning to their new holiday ritual.

A New Place to Stay – Anne Pappalardo

Parker’s finalist artwork Australia-2020-2021? is of collected small objects that have caught her attention as interesting forms, including rusted bottle tops, carelessly discarded in public carparks and distorted by passing traffic. She began to think of these as symbols rather than curiosities: 2020, a horror year, represented in her image by these objects of zero value, in the colours of bushfires and plague: “photographs of 20 bottle tops, arranged in vaguely robotic form, varied to symbolise localised improvements or problems”. At the beginning of 2021, Parker incorporated another found object, a brutalised ten cent piece, (worthless currency) hovering, above the “20” as a symbol of hope but uncertainty.

Australia-2020-2021? – Judy Parker

Gerlach’s finalist image is another of her evocative creations titled Stream of Consciousness. She has always been interested in exploring the intriguing relationships between conscious awareness, the sub-conscious, ‘dream states’, and ‘stream of consciousness’. Addressing the question “What if the conceptual work was about suspending the certainty of conscious control?”, in post-production her images “became independent, remaking themselves, revealing different subjects, emotions and words. Colour, dark, deep, breathless. Embraces completely, cold slow flowing deep ice-water. Faint light shafts catch drifting lines”.

Stream of Consciousness – Lyndall Gerlach

There were series entries as well as single image entries this year, with four series making the exhibition. Of those, Anne O’Connor’s four colourful composites of fallen leaves  – titled Fallen Memories 01 to 04 – look beautiful together on the gallery wall.

Fallen Memories 01 – Anne O’Connor

Amongst the other artworks some that I particularly enjoyed were another two by O’Connor – East Coast Dreaming and I walk the land, Clare Weeks’ Collection Red, David Cossini’s Grande Bruto El Gato Loco,  Greg Tate’s Man Truck Woman Dog Bone, Todd Kennedy’s The East Australian Monolith and Tracy Lees’ A Surreal Life.

East Coast Dreaming – Anne O’Connor
I walk the land – Anne O’Connor
Collection Red – Clare Weeks
Grande Bruto El Gato Loco – David Cossini
Man Truck Woman Dog Bone – Greg Tate
The East Australian Monolith – Todd Kennedy
A Surreal Life – Tracy Lees

I could discuss these and every other exhibit, but I’ll leave it for readers to explore themselves. The best way to appreciate each image is to read the artists’ Concept Statements whilst looking at them – either on the walls of the MRAC, on the virtual gallery mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review, or under the Finalists tab here.

One question for consideration is whether every image is truly conceptual (or whether a statement adequately explains the artist’s concept). One of the judges has shared her view that the majority of the works are not conceptual, despite having been selected as finalists. If she is right, then future entrants may need to work harder on their statements as well as creating great imagery.

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

Standard
Reviews

Canberra Re-Seen

Photography Exhibition Review

Canberra Re-Seen | Various Artists: Peter Bailey, Andrea Bryant, Abby Ching, Annette Fisher, Susan Henderson, Tessa Ivison, Peter Lamour, Caroline Lemerle, Louise Maurer, Greg McAnulty, Aditi Sargeant, Eva Schroeder, Sari Sutton, Beata Tworek, Brian Rope and Grant Winkler

Photo Access | 10 June – 10 July

Disclaimer: the author of this review has two works in the exhibition but received no payment for the review.

Earlier this year Photo Access conducted three workshops, each spread over several weekly sessions, in which participants explored the idea of Canberra as a community of people, a built environment, and a physical landscape. Sixteen artists created new works responding to three of Canberra’s landmark photographers – Marzena Wasikowska, Edward (Ted) Richards and Ian North – each featured in Canberra Museum And Gallery’s current exhibition, Seeing Canberra.

The result is this exhibition, Canberra Re-Seen. There is also an online gallery showing the same works plus others by the participating artists. And there are two solo exhibitions showing simultaneously, both of which explore aspects of portraiture: A Surrounded Beauty by Sarah Rhodes, and Portrait by Melita Dahl

Inspired by Wasikowska’s interest in capturing the human qualities of Canberra, one group explored the idea that a city is best understood through its people. They had the added benefit of Wasikowska herself leading their workshop.

A second collective, led by Wouter Van de Voorde and with Richards’ involvement too, investigated Richards’ interest in documenting the character of Canberra’s little-known places. They shot on 35mm film and created darkroom prints in response to Richards’ dramatic black and white style.

Working with documentary photographer David Hempenstall, a third group explored the ideas of Ian North’s early 1980s images of Canberra suburbs – vistas both bleak and beautiful.

It is difficult to individually comment on all the works in Canberra Re-Seen, so I will just look at particular works that attracted my attention for various reasons.

The highlight for me is Eva Schroeder’s Metamorphis. Born and bred in Canberra, Schroeder has, like me, seen enormous changes in our city over the years. Researching, she learned that 2-4% of Canberra’s community identify as Trans and decided to portray a Canberran transitioning from one gender to another. Her triptych shows Norgaria, who has chosen to use prosthetics, wigs, makeup, and costumes to reveal her real self by entering the world of Cosplay.

Metamorphosis © Eva Schroeder

Then there is Louise Maurer’s beautifully constructed Weetangera II, 2021. That suburb is, like most, in a state of rapid change due to infill. Maurer’s constructed composite image speaks to the importance of the green spaces and native ecosystems, and also speaks for those who tirelessly seek to maintain them as our garden city becomes a thing of the past.

Weetangera II © Louise Maurer

Andrea Bryant’s Maria is another fine standout. It is a portrait of a long-term neighbour, “a strong and feisty woman”. An internationally recognised scientist, she is portrayed heartily laughing. Several other gallery visitors pointed to this work as one they loved.

Maria © Andrea Bryant

Another very strong contribution is Beata Tworek’s series of collages, which respond to North’s innovative and optimistic colour treatment of deserted streetscapes with austere monochromes reflecting disdain for their lack of individuality.

Ambivalent collage 2 © Beata Tworek

Grant Winkler’s Denman Prospect is very much about the bush landscape disappearing as new suburbs creep over it, replaced by homes and other buildings with what remains of nature being “moulded and manicured”.

Grant Winkler © Untitled (Denman Prospect DSCF6388)

Peter Larmour took 3D images of landscapes. His Southern Anaglyph (dye sublimation on aluminium) is worthy of close examination.

Southern Anaglyph © Peter Lamour

Sari Sutton’s Fyshwick is also interesting. She ventured to Fyshwick and photographed “the abstract, asymmetrical sculptural qualities” that she found,  “unjudged and un-romanticised”.

Untitled (Fyshwick) © Sari Sutton

And, inspired by the playful use of lines and geometry in Richards’s Dancing in the Mall, 1964, Sutton also sought images incorporating strong stripes – exploring the same general area near where the Monaro Mall once stood.

Untitled (Civic Stripes 2) © Sari Sutton

Other standouts for me were Annette Fisher’s Abstracts, and Tessa Ivison’s interestingly titled Pastorals.

4 Abstracts, 2021 © Annette Fisher
Pastoral #1 © Tessa Ivison

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

Standard
Reviews

A Surrounded Beauty, and Portrait

Photography Exhibition Review

A Surrounded Beauty | Sarah Rhodes

Portrait | Melita Dahl

Photo Access | Until 10 July 2021

These two exhibitions explore portraiture. ACT-based artist Melita Dahl investigates connections between the traditions of fine-art portraiture, photography and facial emotion recognition (FER) software.

We all try to understand the meaning of facial expressions. Some believe we recognize anger most easily, others that we recognize happiness most easily. Facial cues may be insincere or misinterpreted. Experts are split even on whether the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile is sincere or forced. The ability to decipher the true intent and emotional response from facial expressions is of great interest to a range of sectors.

Dahl muses on how FER builds on the idea of using the subject’s eyes in photographic portraits as a ‘window to the soul’ – because looking into a person’s eyes supposedly can tell us what that person thinks and feels. Dahl draws our attention to the threat of technology that seeks to determine our psychic state.

Perspective Machine 01, 2020 © Melita Dahl

Each of Dahl’s prints is stunning. The print quality is excellent, with each black clearly distinguishable from a subtly different adjacent black. Excellent portrait lighting is a strong feature of each image. The facial expressions of the subjects are wonderfully controlled.

happy (0.96), 2019 © Melita Dahl

Through a series of posed and, sometimes, overwritten images, Dahl explores the idea of adopting neutral expressions as a strategy for disrupting recognition algorithms. By keeping our faces expressionless, would we be able to protect ourselves from digital surveillance?

Deadpan 9.980549278246, 2021 © Melita Dahl

To quote from a catalogue essay by Gael Newton, ‘Paradoxically, the resulting deadpan neutrality Dahl sought in these portraits is countered by the very ability of naturalistic and digital photomedia to create characters that we as viewers, respond to.’

Discussing these works with other gallery visitors, I heard words such as intriguing, mysterious and sinister used. One person enjoyed the ever so slight smile on the face of just one person in two groups of four young men – the same person in each group.

In A Surrounded Beauty, award-winning photographer Sarah Rhodes investigates the capacity of photographic portraiture to explore concepts of place. She has sought to capture each subject’s aura by using the lens as a link between the person’s inner being and that of the place occupied.

These images challenge traditional concepts of portraiture. Rhodes sees the resulting collaborations with her sitters as stories that meditate on the relationship between self, vulnerability, and landscape. For her, these stories ‘heighten our awareness of place and how the atmosphere of place shapes who we are’. One striking example is a work containing no part of any person’s face or body; rather it shows a group of apples fallen from their tree and lying scattered on the ground below, some partially obscured by shadows. Viewers are left to imagine something of the person who planted the trees, grew them, tends the soil, sweeps the path in that place and, perhaps, consumes the fruit.

Fallen Apples, 2021 © Sarah Rhodes

In another image we see a girl, but the emphasis is on the stormy sky behind; her face is looking down at the landscape beneath her feet. This too is not a traditional portrait, but it is good to see an artist taking an approach that seeks to reveal more about a subject than just their appearance.

Girl Under a Stormy Sky, 2020 © Sarah Rhodes

The catalogue essay by Jessie Boylan observes ‘A Surrounded Beauty, conjures a dream-like world, where people and place are disparate yet connected at the same time. Although they all appear to be weaving different threads, their stories are woven into one.’ I found an image of identical twins on the spectrum fascinating and of particular interest, as it very much weaves the two of them into one.

Mirror Identical Twins on the Spectrum, 2018 © Sarah Rhodes

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

Standard
Reviews

Acts of Co-Creation

Photography, Photoart Exhibition Review

Acts of Co-Creation | Sammy Hawker

Mixing Room Gallery | Until 2 July 2021

Sammy Hawker is a visual artist who was noticed early when one of her works was selected for the 2010 ‘Capture the Fade’ exhibition. Since then, Hawker has achieved a Bachelor of Visual Arts (First Class Honours), Sydney College of the Arts (2015), had a solo exhibition ‘Dieback’ (2019), participated in the ANU School of Art & Design Bundian Way Arts Exchange (2020), and received an artsACT Homefront grant to complete a body of work (2020). She is a current recipient of the PhotoAccess Dark Matter darkroom residency program, with an exhibition in the Huw Davies Gallery scheduled for late 2021.

The works in this exhibition have been created in Yuin Country, Ngarigo Country, and Ngunawal Country. Whilst visiting each site, Hawker took a few rolls of film and collected small samples of water, soil, eucalyptus bark and flowers. The show features a stunning collection of works employing pigment inks, emulsions and silver nitrate.

In her process statement for the exhibition, Hawker speaks of time defined by silences – whilst standing in a once-familiar landscape while the ash of a torched ecosystem floated through the air; looking in awe at critically endangered snow-gums; living alone in a city under global lockdown. She reveals that silences led her to practise more active listening; that the exhibition results “from recognising and celebrating the quieter but no less potent agency of the more-than human”.

Broulee Sunset © Sammy Hawker

Hawker also speaks of a newly formed relationship with Ngunawal custodian Tyronne Bell. As a non-Indigenous Australian, she reached out to Bell to learn more about the sites she was working with. Walking with him on Country helped her see more.

Dark Crystals © Sammy Hawker

For each print, we are told what indigenous land it was created on. There are a few traditional landscapes, some composites, and many that reveal their negatives having been processed in solutions that include a variety of waters containing diverse elements.

Murramarang NP #1 © Sammy Hawker

When processing films Hawker uses waters collected from the sites where the films were exposed. So, salt fractals form across works created with ocean water, whilst ripples appear on photographs developed with muddy lake water. Storm clouds photographed from Mount Ainslie were developed with rainwater that fell later that day.

Near Rosedale © Sammy Hawker

Experiments with the technique of chromatography add another aspect to the exhibition. Hawker mixed samples of matter with sodium hydroxide looking for the substance “to visually express itself over filter paper soaked with silver nitrate”. She says “Acts of Co-Creation are never predictable, and the resulting images can be both unsettling and thrilling. To me the image becomes alive; humming with the presence of the site itself.”

Scribbly Gum Bark Chromatogram © Sammy Hawker

Much background information is provided – about snow gums being affected by dieback; about how and why a water bowl tree was created to store water.

A centrepiece of the exhibition, Ngungara (Lake George) #1, was taken after rains had temporarily filled the lake. Ngungara means ‘flat water’ and the lake is a significant site for the Ngunawal. From a roll of medium format film, it was processed with a jar of muddy water collected from the edge of the lake.

Ngungara (Lake George) #1 © Sammy Hawker

Also displayed is a collection of the bottled waters, plus seaweed film developer and such things as casuarina pods, ground up bark and lichen. It is an excellent exhibition where I spent a lot of time taking it in. I was delighted to see that many works had been sold, some of the proceeds benefitting Aboriginal corporations in the Yuin, Ngarigo, and Ngunawal Countries. I congratulate the purchasers and Hawker, and strongly recommend readers to visit this exhibition.

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

Standard
Reviews

Connections

Photographic Art Exhibition Review

Connections | Various Artists: Alan Charlton, Alan Pomeroy, Andrea Bryant, Andree Lawrey, Ann Gibbs-Jordan, Anne Eldridge, Barb Smith, Brenda Runnegar, Brian Rope, Caroline Lemerle, Chris Holly, Dorothy Zenz, Eva van Gorsel, Geoff Meers, Helen McFadden, John Forsey, Judy Parker, Julie Garran, Louise Bagger, Margaret Stapper, Marion Milliken, Matt James, Michael N King, Nicky Bazley-Smith, Pam Rooney, Paul Carpenter, Phil McFadden, Sheila Lunter, Steven Shaw, Susan Henderson, and Tongbo Sun.

M16 Artspace | 21 May – 6 June

Disclaimer: the author of this review has two works in the exhibition but received no payment for the review.

This is the first exhibition presented by Canberra PhotoConnect, a relatvely new group. The catalogue tells us The strange events of recent times have reminded us how important it is to stay connected with each other, family and places. Visitors to the gallery are invited to celebrate the diversity and joy of connections.

It is difficult to individually comment on all 66 works in the exhibition, so I will not try to; rather, I will look at particular works that attracted my attention for various reasons.

Louise Bagger’s Portrait of Joshua is a very fine portrait. It is intense, dark and moody all at once. There is an obvious connection between subject and artist.

Louise Bagger – Portrait of Joshua

Helen McFadden’s artworks combining photgraphs with scans of sketches are beautifully created and enhanced by being their printing.

Helen McFadden – Gloriosa study

Nicky Bazley-Smith’s Rhythm of the Trees is delightful with four well-placed humans in a beautiful landscape photographed when the lighting effectively brought out the textures and forms before a brooding sky.

Nicky Bazley-Smith – Rhythm of the Trees

Judy Parker’s Burning is richly coloured leaving us in no doubt that we are viewing, and connecting with, a representation of fire even if we are unsure of what she actually has photographed.


Judy Parker – Burning

Julie Garran’s black and white Children Play images are powerful. The boy child at play shots are quite disturbing as he holds and “uses” a powerful-looking toy (hopefully) weapon. The connections between play and real world are clear.

Julie Garran – Children Play II

Eva van Gorsel’s De-Constructed series are further fine examples of this talented artist’s works.

Eva van Gorsel – DeConstructed IV

Caroline Lemerle’s Monaro in drought 2019 is displayed in between two of Margaret Stapper’s images. The three work well together and portray aspects of connections to the rural landscape.

Caroline Lemerle – Monaro in drought
Margaret Stapper – ‘Disconnected’, Coleambally, NSW

Marion Milliken shows just one work, Jeffrey Smart Space. She has not copied, or even imitated, Smart, but has perhaps paid some small personal homage to him by creating a work that “connects” to his.

Marion Milliken – JeffreySmart Space

Steven Shaw’s images from Kolmanskop, a tourist destination ghost town in the Namib in southern Namibia, are worthy contributions. The broken foot in particular is worth contemplating with respect to the connection between the bathtub and the painting on the wall above it.

Steven Shaw – Kolmanskop – The broken foot

Susan Henderson’s Autumn leaves, 2020 is a clever work, showing the fallen evidence of the season on a patchwork of pavers enhanced by colourful art. There is an interesting connection between the colours of the various elements in the artwork.

Susan Henderson – Autumn Leaves

Barb Smith’s somewhat mysterious red, blue and green Mythologies series provides a connection with past technologies, as they are Inkjet prints made from scans of C41 photographs.

Barb Smith – Mythologies II Life

Phil McFadden’s Stone Pull, Hornbill Festival, Nagaland India, 2017 is a successful image – colourful and eye catching (and used for the exhibition’s publicity). But I felt that most of the people in it showed only minimal connection with the photographer.

Phil McFadden – Stone Pull, Hornbill Festival, Nagaland, India

Dorothy Zenz’s Classic is an interesting composite of several images, at least some of which relate to love. It is worth contemplating to see what connections you as the viewer can make to its elements.

Dorothy Zenz – Classic

Alan Pomeroy’s Skyscape Sculpture shows a very colourful sculpture overlaid on a colourless cloudscape. The connection is not clear to me, but the resultant artwork is good.

Alan Pomeroy – Skyscape Sculpture

Ann Gibbs-Jordan has explored the sense of place in two fine monochrome works, each comprising two juxtaposed scenes.

Ann Gibbs-Jordan – Sense of Space II, Mound Spring, SA and near Bedourie, Qld

Brenda Runnegar’s two works are clever composites of photographic images with scanned artworks.

Brenda Runnegar – Fleur

Visit the exhibition to see all the works and make your own connections.

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

Standard
Reviews

Hot/Cold

Photography Exhibition Review

Hot/Cold | Various Artists: Abby Ching, Alan Charlton, Amanda Pratt, Andrea Bryant, Andrew Morgan, Bailey Corazza, Brian Rope, Caroline Lemerle, David Bermingham, Eva Schroeder, Fiona Bowring-Greer, Ian Russell, Jane Duong, Jenny Dettrick, Jordan Stokes, Kathy Leo, Marie Lund, Trevor Lund, Marzena Wasikowska, Richard Glover, Susan Henderson, Tessa Ivison, Virginia Walsh, and Yvette Perine.

Photo Access | 13 May – 5 June

Disclaimer: the author of this review has two works in the exhibition but received no payment for it.

Each year PhotoAccess invites entries for a members’ exhibition. The 2021 show Hot/Cold sought responses to the idea that we have entered a time of extremes – seasonal, climactic and perhaps emotional. It complements two other solo exhibitions simultaneously in the gallery, both tackling climate transformation issues: Avalanche by Sari Sutton which looks at seasonal variations producing snow, and Black Summer 2020: the Aftermath by Ben Kopilow which explores landscape after that Black Summer. Those other shows have been reviewed separately here.

All PhotoAccess Members were welcome to submit up to two entries. All entries meeting the submission criteria were included in the gallery exhibition and an online gallery. Works were able to be in any photographic medium but could not have been previously exhibited in a solo or group exhibition. Amongst the mostly inkjet, digital and Type C prints, it was particularly good to see a sun print on silk by Virginia Walsh, Giclee prints by Andrea Bryant, liquid silver gelatin prints on plates by Jane Duong, Polaroid instant film works by Jenny Dettrick, and a resin coated darkroom print by Abby Ching. This demonstrates that PhotoAccess is supporting a wide range of contemporary photo-media practices.

It was also great to see Susan Henderson providing some poetry for the catalogue entry about an image of little girls waiting for ice-cream on a hot day whilst the air was filled with smoke and embers:

Baking heat of day

Azure sky, breathe in, breathe out

Ancient time and place

The exhibition catalogue tells us that “Each twelve months journey around the sun brings us the glorious change of the seasons, from the basking heat of January to the frozen breath of July, and all the shades between. But recently, this variation seems to have grown more intense, bringing devastating bushfires, an unusually cool, rainy summer and a shrinking snow season.”

“This disorder re-shapes our world and our lives, changing the plants and animals around us, provoking us to build new places to live and altering how we spend our days. These changes also impact how we feel about ourselves and participate in our relationships, alternately separating us from and bringing us closer to each other.”

So, the question is: what does it mean to be Hot/Cold? In my view not all works have addressed that question. On the other hand, some have looked at the question in innovative ways.

Amongst the most interesting works are those by Jane Duong, Andrea Bryant and Jenny Dettrick. Duong’s because they are on circular plates and their exploration of the ideas of home, dreams and memory makes the viewer think about their relationship to the theme. Bryant’s because they are Giclee prints of destructive cyclical algae events.

Jane Duong – Heart aches for home, 2020
Andrea Bryant – Blue-Green Dreaming 2, 2020

Dettrick’s works are, perhaps, the cleverest response to the Hot/Cold theme. One of her Polaroids was developed above a sizzling hot frypan and the other was placed under ice in a freezer for 30 minutes.

Jenny Dettrick – Of Fire, 2021

Tessa Ivison’s digital prints resulted from long exposures combined with movement as a way of interpreting her environment.

Tessa Ivison – Atmos, 2020

Eva Schroeder has created her image using, as her subject, a woman who has lived through the extremes of 2020 with serious underlying health conditions whilst using a deep love of performance art to create an adventurous life.

Eva Schroeder – The Phoenix, 2020

One of the best-known of the exhibitors is Marzena Wasikowska. Her landscape is a response to our environmental predicament.

Marzena Wasikowska – The Gap, 2020

This, and the accompanying, exhibitions are well worth visiting.

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

Standard