The Sweet Forever, and A line of best fit

Photography, Photomedia, Mixed Media – Review

Tina Fiveash | The Sweet Forever

Deirdre Pearce | A line of best fit

ANU School of Art & Design Gallery | Until 8 April 2021, Tue-Fri 10.30AM–3.00PM

These two exhibitions are each part of Higher Degree by Research programs being undertaken by the artists.

Tina Fiveash engages in multiple forms of contemporary photomedia including still and moving-image photography, anaglyptic (3D) and lenticular photography.

In The Sweet Forever, Fiveash has explored how photography might inform a re-imagining of death. Promotional material for this exhibition reveals that her personal investigation of death and dying through photography is paralleled with a text-based investigation of wider understandings of death in our society through the personal letters of a diverse range of people in her community.

What is death? What happens when we die? Fiveash invited fifty Australians to write a letter responding to those two questions. Digitised forms of their letters are on a website. The exhibition includes a large print, being a grid of portraits of contributors, with a QR code link to the website. Taken together, both Fiveash’s creative visual practice and her work with people’s letters, form a contribution to the field of death studies. Quotes from some letters included in the exhibition notes are very moving.

Equally moving is a series of large images printed with pigment inks on cotton rag. I saw powerful stories about love in each image. Twin Spirit, 2013  was the winner of the People’s Choice Award in the 2013 Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture.

Tina Fiveash, ‘Twin Spirit, 2013’, Pigment ink on cotton rag, Courtesy the artist

There are two fine triptychs. One reveals a wonderful story about the Hereafter; another gives us delicious blue views of water and sky.

Tina Fiveash, Wide Blue Yonder II, 2014-16. Pigment ink on cotton rag mounted on gataboard, Courtesy the artist

Fiveash told me that discoveries have emerged through scientific and technological innovation in resuscitation, blurring boundaries between life and death. Through creative practice she has explored how photography in the wake of digital transformation might inform a contemporary re-imagining of death and dying. Her constructed images using words from songs and poetry on ‘billboards’ against carefully chosen backgrounds are both beautiful and thought-provoking. One quotes a well-known gospel song There’s a land beyond the river, the lyrics of which include the words ‘the sweet forever’ – the title of the exhibition.

Tina Fiveash, ‘See you on the other side, 2014’, Pigment ink on cotton rag, Courtesy the artist
Tina Fiveash, ‘We Are Stardust, We Are Golden’ 2014, digital photograph, Pigment ink on cotton rag, Courtesy the artist
Tina Fiveash, ‘there is a light that never goes out, 2016-19’, Flip-lenticular photograph, Courtesy the artist

Dierdre Pearce works with drawing, photography, sculpture and installation. In A line of best fit there are three excellent mixed media works.

Pearce is interested in how people interact with the various space types we inhabit, and how we map the boundaries between interior and exterior worlds. She enjoys exploring how technologies influence her experiences and sense of self, focusing on developing visual metaphors for the relationship between the physical self and its growing digital presence.

Her research starting point was the growth of global human-machine networks and the significance humans place on participation in them. This practice-led project investigates how negative space might be used as an analogy for non-machine interactions, which are data-silent yet influence global networks in which humans and machines operate.

Experiments took place through a series of site-responsive installations assembled from everyday materials. Different approaches to describing personal experience were tested, including unusual forms of data visualisation and development of digital and physical ‘windows’ through which audiences could engage with the work.

One work here re-imagines Pearce’s study during the pandemic. It contains a wonderfully vibrant and diverse collection of found and acquired objects that visitors could wander amongst for a long time – irrigation pipe, cable ties, shopping dockets and photographic documentation.

‘A line of best fit’ (installation view) 2020, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photograph Brenton McGeachie

Another work includes yarn, polyester, video documentation and found objects.

‘I am here, I am here, I am here’, 2020, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photograph Dierdre Pearce

The third is a video; both it and the yarns feature ‘dots’ – we see them on screen as when locating a place via maps, and in very colourful woven forms of varying sizes determined by how long Pearce spent at particular locations.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 5/4/21 here. It is published also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Habitat: Ways of living

Visual Art Exhibition Review

Various Artists: Alex Asch, Burchill/McCamley, Miriam Charlie, Sean Davey, David Flanagan, Michal Glikson, Tina Havelock Stevens, Katie Hayne, Mikhaila Jurkiewicz, Waratah Lahy, Hardy Lohse, Catherine O’Donnell, David Paterson, Alan Patterson, Patrice Riboust, Natalie Rosin, Khaled Sabsabi, James Tylor (Possum)

CMAG | Habitat: Ways of living | Until 26 June

This important and well-constructed exhibition examines high-rise, upmarket apartments, suburban settings and places that have collapsed. In Canberra, elsewhere in Australia, and overseas.

In her catalogue foreword, Rowan Henderson makes the point that ‘Home’ is a value-laden word. Very true – for the fortunate, homes are where we feel secure. Others are less fortunate, even suffering the domestic violence issues currently filling so much media.

David Paterson exhibits photographic images of densely packed high-rise apartment blocks in Hong Kong and Singapore. They are wonderful geometric compositions. Look for birds in flight passing across the buildings.

David PATERSON
Singapore apartments, 2019
inkjet print, courtesy of the artist

In intimately scaled watercolours (and gouache) on paper, Waratah Lahy illustrates the recent transformation of Canberra’s inner north, from older residences on large blocks, to townhouses and apartments.

Hardy Lohse’s photographs of the Currong Flats being demolished pose questions. What are our memories and responses?

Hardy LOHSE
Currong Apartments, 2016
inkjet print, courtesy of the artist

Katie Hayne’s engagement with demolition of mid-century public housing is depicted in her video, Stuart Flats, going, 2019. She also evokes this disappearing side of Canberra in two small oil on board paintings.

David Flanagan’s photographs are about green fields’ real estate projects near Canberra’s northern boundary, and include one featuring a billboard proclaiming, ‘FULL OF POSSIBILITY’.

David FLANAGAN
Untitled # 21, from ‘Move up to the views’ series, 2015
chromogenic colour photograph

Alex Asch explores the suburban life of Canberrans in his installation, Suburban Block, 2020. The catalogue suggests a visual association with children’s building blocks. They reminded me of black houses I’ve seen in coastal areas of Kent, England.

With charcoal on paper artworks, Catherine O’Donnell focuses on suburban landscapes and houses from her youth. And she shows a linear analysis of composition in a graphic depiction of the Sirius Building in Sydney. There also is a watercolour and ink sketch, Sirius public housing apartments, 1978 – 79, bearing Alan Patterson’s signature.

Catherine O’DONNELL
Sirius, 2018, charcoal on paper
Courtesy of the artist and May Space

Patrice Riboust spent many hours studying various forms of historical architecture. Using those as source material, he produced highly detailed sketches of imaginary structures – ink and marker on tracing paper.

Natalie Rosin contributes impressive ceramic sculptures reflecting brutalist buildings observed during a residency in Poland.

Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley used old colour film to photograph Berlin locations being used by Turkish immigrants as places of refuge and informal socialising. The resulting work, Freiland, 1992, consists of a series of nineteen discrete but sequential images. Some of the film stock used had been compromised prior to use, infusing some of the images with an unearthly blue, or harsh red cast.

The 2006 Lebanon War severely damaged civilian infrastructure in central Beirut. Khaled Sabsabi has painted over his photographic images creating a frieze-like series.

Miriam Charlie is a Yanyuwa/Garrwa woman living in Borroloola, a community in the Northern Territory. Her photographic series, No country, no home, 2015, documents the living conditions of her friends and relatives there.

One work by James Tylor (Possum), Unresettling (Stone footing for dome hut), 2016, is a simulacrum of the stone foundations for an Aboriginal domestic shelter. These phantom structures are physically created by the artist’s hand and translated via the camera’s aperture.

None of us need reminding that calamitous bushfires were experienced over the 2019-20 summer in nearby forests. Sean Davey’s photographs nevertheless are a poignant reminder.

Sean DAVEY
Untitled (Little Bombay Road, Bombay NSW) 2019
pigment print on Ilford cotton paper, Courtesy of the artist

Flame is also an important element of Michal Glikson’s video, Jhumpiri: Coming down, 2014 – 2019, set in one family’s makeshift structure on the streets of Lahore, Pakistan.

Tina Havelock Stevens shows stills adapted from her video, Drum Detroit, 2011, revealing urban decay.

Tina HAVELOCK STEVENS
Skull House, from the Drum Detroit series 2011 – 13
video still, chromogenic colour photograph, metallic
Courtesy of the artist

Mikhaila Jurkiewicz often uses large format negatives in her photography, requiring her subjects to remain still during protracted sittings. The results somehow  reminiscent of daguerreotypes.

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

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At the point of a singular horizon

Photomedia Exhibition Review

Ren Gregorčič | At the point of a singular horizon

M16 Artspace | Until 4 April

This modest exhibition features a new body of video and image-based work by artist and researcher Ren Gregorčič “interrogating the interface of digitally mediated expressions of structurally mediated environments”. Modest only in the sense that it comprises just a 2:33 minutes video, two digital prints of texture map images – and a catalogue. Not ordinary, unimposing or, for that matter, inexpensive – although much less costly than was recently achieved with a non-fungible token (NFT), another form of digital asset.

Gregorčič is an artist working in the field of sculpture and spatial practice. He explores how various mechanisms are expressed in architecture, infrastructure, urban planning and nature-management. He often combines artistic, philosophic and social research to produce creative outputs.

Here, Gregorčič explores a 3D reconstruction of a garden plot within an internal concrete courtyard of a converted high school building in Canberra. He used photogrammetry, a computational method that constructs 3D digital geometry from photographic data. The 3D rendering produced the video, showing a simulated light source passing across the surface of the digital object at different angles.

The texture maps (images that are applied to surfaces of 3D models to give them colour and detail) are also outcomes of the photogrammetric process. From a top-down view, the digital reconstruction seems complete and cohesive; from other angles, it appears distorted and broken. This structural/aesthetic quality is a result of the software used seeking to make a complete object from incomplete data.

Ren Gregorčič, At the point of a singular horizon (Texture Map No. 5), 2020-21. Digital print

Reference photographs used to produce the digital reconstruction were taken at sunset, fixing native shadows onto the 3D object’s surface. In the video work, a light source simulating the sun moving across the sky has been used to illuminate the digital object. This produced subtle moments where the fixed and projected shadows overlap as the garden plot fades in and out of view.

Despite the few works on display, this is an exhibition worthy of your time, studying the texture maps closely and watching the video again and again, properly taking everything in. In the video, I found I was viewing collages, assembled by the digital processes. Gaps appeared at times, seemingly placing irregularly shaped black holes amongst the green leaves, weeds, rocks and much more. Watching it was a seductive experience.

Ren Gregorčič, At the point of a singular horizon (video still), 2021 -Image 1
Ren Gregorčič, At the point of a singular horizon (video still), 2021 -Image 2
Ren Gregorčič, At the point of a singular horizon (video still), 2021 -Image 7

An excellent catalogue essay by Eryk Salvaggio (an artist and researcher from the USA) describes the body of work as “A total portrait without omissions”. That is an interesting concept to consider. How difficult it would be to create such a portrait of a person. How could we reveal absolutely everything about any one person in a portrait? It would need to be a complex portrait combining many images. Even then it is difficult to imagine there being nothing about the subject that was not revealed.

I recalled reading an article with the same “total portrait without omissions” title years ago. The author, who had been struggling with editing images for a book, wrote about how she could structure text in her head, seeing it somewhat like a 3D form, but struggled to do the same with imagery for a book. That resonates with me. Salvaggio also writes “The once theoretical concept of a life lived through screens moved from cyberpunk fiction to lived experience for much of the world in 2020.” Those of us who have immersed ourselves in Zoom and similar systems all know what he is saying. Just one more thought to consider whilst viewing Gregorčič’s video in this intriguing show.

This review was published by the Canberra Times on 29/3/21 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Mervyn Bishop, the exhibition

Photography Review

Mervyn Bishop | Mervyn Bishop, the exhibition

National Film and Sound Archives | Until 1 August 2021

This exhibition is drawn from the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) collection and Mervyn Bishop’s private archive; and enriched by sound and moving images from the NFSA. It features iconic photographs that derive from his career as a photojournalist, alongside personal images of family and friends and intimate portraits of members of the Aboriginal community.

H. Thomas, C. Dixon, K. Smith ACT from the Mervyn Bishop archive 1976 35mm colour slide 2.5 x 3.5 cm National Art Archive|Art Gallery of New South Wales © Mervyn Bishop Photo: AGNSW

There are also images of Bishop by other photographers, cameras from his personal collection, sound and moving image about him, and other videos providing context. So, it is not simply an exhibition of the artist’s imagery. It is an exhibition about the artist, one of Australia’s most prolific and influential photographers, who has significantly influenced our collective understanding of Australia’s history.

Bishop himself has said: ‘Photography has been my life, my passion for 60 years: the art and technique, the stories I’ve witnessed and captured. I’m glad to be able to share my life’s work with the public’.

Born and raised in Brewarrina, Bishop was encouraged by his mother to take his first photograph. After witnessing the ‘magic’ of the developing process, he became passionate about photography. In 1963 he successfully applied for a four-year cadetship at The Sydney Morning Herald and became Australia’s first Aboriginal press photographer. In 1971 he won the News Photographer of the Year Award with his front-page photograph, Life and Death Dash, 1971.

There is no need for me to assess the quality of Bishop’s images; others have recognised his skills many times over many years. I will simply say that his body of work is amongst the most significant by any Australian photographer.

Inevitably displayed is the iconic image from 1975 when the (then) Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, poured a handful of earth back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional landowner. This image became an icon of the land rights movement and Australian photography.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory 1975, printed 1999 type R3 photograph 30.5 x 30.5 cm image; 33.9 x 33.9 cm sheet Art Gallery of New South Wales Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991 © Mervyn Bishop/ Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Photo: AGNSW

But there is so much more. A wonderful shot of womenfolk at Bowraville includes Aunty Elaine Kelly wearing a cloth nappy around her face to ease toothache pain. Women attending a home management course at Yuendumu are portrayed sensitively in a fine moody image. Another of a woman balancing precariously on a wooden plank, holding a pot of water over a submerged cord supplying electricity to neighbours is a moving portrayal of living conditions for Aboriginal people in 1988.

There are important documentary images of well-known and important people, including Lois O’Donoghue and Oodgeroo Noonuccal. Other featured people include Roslyn Watson, one of the first Aboriginal ballerinas, and June Barker, an Aboriginal educator and story keeper.

Lois O’Donoghue CBA, AM, and Oodgeroo Noonuccal 1974, printed 2008 gelatin silver photograph 30 x 30.4 cm image; 40.4 x 50.6 cm sheet Art Gallery of New South Wales Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008 © Mervyn Bishop Photo: AGNSW
Roslyn Watson 1973, printed 2008 gelatin silver photograph 40 x 30 cm sheet Art Gallery of New South Wales Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008 © Mervyn Bishop Photo: AGNSW

And there are other more simple or gentle portrayals, such as Bob with his tiny catch at Shoalhaven Heads. An early work from 1966 portrays two of the photographer’s cousins when he visited Gundawera, a property near Brewarrina, where his grandfather, father and uncle once worked. It tenderly portrays a special and fun moment on a boat. It is a precious memory for Bishop, just as our old family photos are precious for each of us.

Cousins, Ralph and Jim, Brewarrina 1966, printed 2008 gelatin silver photograph 30 x 40 cm sheet Art Gallery of New South Wales Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008 © Mervyn Bishop Photo: AGNSW

We are shown an excellent film about Bishop, directed by Warwick Thornton. And a home movie dating from c1957-8 of Bishop with fellow altar boys and Brothers at Brewarrina’s Christchurch, Church of England.

And when you have explored and taken in all of that, you can sit down and watch a curated slideshow of images from Bishop’s personal archive of over 8000 photos, taken during his 60 years of taking them. Like most photographers of his generation, he liked to host ‘slide nights’ for family, friends and neighbours. They were most fortunate people.

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

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L’homme et son environment & Preying for Modesty (Meatheads)

Photography Review

Babacar Traore | L’homme et son environment

Katrina Stamatopoulos |

Photo Access | Until 3 April 2021

These two separate exhibitons are quite different, but are connected as they each address issues of human consumption.

Babacar Traore (aka Doli), a photomedia artist based in Dakar, Senegal, explores waste or, if you prefer, refuse. He searches through the streets where he lives and takes snapshots of discarded rubbish. Then he digitally reworks the snaps, giving them new life and presenting us with his original vision reflecting life as it is. The exhibition is aptly titled (in English) The Man/Humankind and his/its Environment.

Traore refers to himself as a neighbourhood photographer who is interested in the arts. He expresses himself through various mediums, including photography, painting, installations, performance art and writing. A video tells us (in French with English subtitles) that Dakar is a very lively and vibrant place of over three million people, of which Traore is a witness. He refers to writing poetry through his photographs, as he tries to present an original vision reflecting life there.

A catalogue tells us that the five works displayed by Traore are ‘photography and digital paint painted on photographic paper’. In her catalogue essay, Jennifer Houdrouge explains that Traore ‘decomposes the scene in 5 sequences similarly to mythological narrative structure: dusk, early morning, zenith, afternoon and dawn’.

Each artwork is incredibly vibrant. They are full of colours, dots, and compositional geometric and circular lines – added by a lengthy digital painting process. Contemplating them, we can amost hear the sounds of the Dakar sreets even though we have never been there.

Babcar Traore, Aube, 2018, photo paper
Babcar Traore, Petit-Matin, 2018, photo paper
Babcar Traore, Zenith, 2018, photo paper

In other parts of the gallery, Katrina Stamatopoulos, a Greek-Australian artist based in London shows us thirteen large hand-painted emulsion works on a traditional printmaking paper, along with a three-part video filmed at a number of farm locations in NSW. These works are all about our relationship with the animals we eat. Stamatopoulos invites us to meet the meat as it were – see the livestock that is killed for most of us to consume. This exhibition is also aptly titled, Preying for Modesty (Meatheads).

The black and white prints are not artworks that I would display in my home. I found them confronting, no doubt as intended. They feature reincarnated packaged cuts of meat as human heads. The packaged cuts were sourced from big chain supermarkets, local grocers and farmers’ markets. In other words it is just what we might purchase ourselves.

Katrina Stamatopoulos, 1.80 (From Meatheads), 2020,
black and white handprint on emulsion coated
Katrina Stamatopoulos, Meatheads #1, 2020,
black and white handprint on emulsion coated paper
Katrina Stamatopoulos, Meatheads #4, 2020,
black and white handprint on emulsion coated paper

For some, the exhibited video also may be confronting as it shows farmers carefully butchering animals they raised themselves. Having spent some years of my childhood and youth living on farms and observing such practices, I did not find the video uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it raises questions that need to be considered.

Benjamin Carey’s catalogue essay suggests we ‘might look down and ponder our own hands and feet’ and ‘that, but for colour, texture, and heartbeats per minute, our material is the same, our blood and skin and sinew the same, and our captivity in fields between birth, barcode and beloved care…the same’. I’m not sure that I would go quite that far but, currently being on an enforced diet that has eliminated most meat, I am probably less inclined at present to consider such a comparison than you might be.

I would sum up this exhibition by quoting from a promotion for a scheduled artist in conversation event relating to it – ‘Just like a burp, connected ideas need a release’. So, I would suggest these two exhibitions are connected ideas released for your consideration.

This review was published in the Canbera Times on 13/3/21 here. It also was published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Otherwise Arbitrary Moments, Passing Time 2020, & Works from the Gallery’s Permanent Collection

Photography & Photomedia Exhibition Review

David Ryrie | Otherwise Arbitrary Moments

Tamara Dean | Passing Time, 2020

Katthy Cavaliere, Henri Mallard, Jackie Ranken, Cathy Laudenbach, Jon Lewis | Works from the Gallery’s Permanent Collection

Goulburn Regional Art Gallery | Until 3 April 2021

David Ryrie’s Otherwise Arbitrary Moments is the ‘main feature’. This new work is his first major solo at the Gallery. In it, he pairs seemingly ordinary encounters with the question of human scale.

Ryrie considers a photograph to be ‘a document which, like any other, can be objective, flawed, loved, hated – a translation of sorts by the photographer, open to interpretation by the viewer, evidence of a moment in time, real or imagined.’

The titles are sometimes obvious and other times enigmatic. An image which includes a sign saying ‘Town Water’ was clearly simple to title. Another showing inflatables at a swimming pool has the title ‘Empathy, No.1’ The look on the face of one inflatable in the pool seems to be conveying empathy for another inflatable stranded upside down and out of the water. An illuminated globe-shaped lightshade is more mysteriously titled ‘Cacophony’.

David Ryrie, Ball Games 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Drowning No.4, 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Empathy No.1 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Interruption 2018 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Perfect 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery

In the catalogue we read ‘these works offer new details and revelations at each viewing’. They certainly have something to say. It was great to explore and personally interpret them. Thinking about the titles added to my enjoyment.

A much smaller Gallery 2 is where you stand and, for just over 12 minutes, immerse yourself in Tamara Dean’s single channel video work entitled ‘Passing Time, 2020’. Dean’s practice explores our connection to nature and rites of passage in contemporary life. Her unique understanding of light and landscape reveals sensual pieces that invite contemplation.

This video work references Dean’s experience of self-isolation on her property during the pandemic last year. It starts with an image of the sun seen through leaves suspended from trees. And, because it repeats itself backwards on a loop, it concludes with the same sun.

Between the start and finish of the video, we see many aspects of nature. I noticed reflections of the sky on the surface of water, with occasional birds flying or circling in that sky, whilst unknown things landed on the water’s surface creating circular ripples. I saw fast flowing water, blurred and also clearly focussed. I saw a spider, a lily, wind blown trees and grasses, and either mist or smoke floating by. Part of me longed to hear the sounds accompanying this mesmerising imagery.

Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.

Last, but not least, there is The Window – literally “a window” into the Gallery’s permanent collection, showcasing works selected by a Guest Curator – this time Stephen Hartup, a photographer based in Tarago, working across large format film and producing silver gelatin prints. He considers photography to be ‘at its best when it is an intense visual language which does not require a dense, complex shield of written language to explain or justify it.’ He has some of his own works in the Gallery’s permanent collection but here presents material by other photographers.

The Window, curated by Stephen Hartup

Hartup has selected five interesting works. The first (top left) is Katthy Cavaliere’s Gaze of the Masked Philosopher, 2004 – showing the view out across the wool stores and sale yards through the eyes of Goulburn’s Big Merino when it was in its original location.

Then (top centre) there is an untitled print (2011) from original stereo half negative made by Henri Mallard. It depicts a worker during construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Jackie Ranken (top right) is represented with her intriguing Aerial Abstract #4 – of the Millennium drought-damaged landscape.

Cathy Laudenbach’s Girl Running (bottom left), a pigment print on archival bamboo paper, successfully causes us to think about the potential scariness of a forest, particularly the Belanglo State Forest.

Finally (bottom right), The Window contains Jon Lewis’s Aussie Soldier in Ainaro Hospital Ruins, 2012, which shows a locally painted Jesus Christ, surprisingly not destroyed by the rampage of the militias.

A version of this review was published in the Canberra Times of 6/3/21 here. The review is also published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Self Reflection

Roughly every quarter, I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is a modified version of my latest piece, published in the March 2021 issue now in newsagencies. A few words in the final two paragraphs have been varied following rule changes relating to the MCPP.

As published:

I first joined a photographic club in 1977 and the APS in 1986 and have learned an enormous amount about photography during the years since. Most importantly, I am still learning – as I believe we all should. In recent years I have been closely involved with two areas within APS – the Contemporary Group (CG) and the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP).

I chair the CG, edit its monthly online magazine and administer its Friends group on Facebook. I learn from each and every image I see, and from the discussions that take place about them on social media. Recently we have conducted some Zoom sessions for interested CG members and, just last night, we shared a few images in such a session and had interesting conversations about them. The newest CG members learned from that – so too did those who have been involved for many years.

The MCPP is now in its third year. Again, I have learned a lot from seeing which entries were selected as finalists in 2019 and 2020, and which were not. Of course, different judges might select different finalists and winners. Anyone who has ever attended a club judging or entered an international competition knows that. More importantly, if they listen to judges’ comments, or read adjudicators remarks, or carefully read available artist statements and study individual works, they will have learned.

A requirement to submit a concept statement with each entry in the MCPP challenges some photographers, but we should all see it as another way of learning. If we cannot describe what we were seeking to reveal through our image, then how did we manage to create an image relating to our concept?

So, are you entering in 2021? I hope you are and that you have some great images and words illustrating some excellent concepts to submit. I also hope you will be amongst the finalists and, maybe, even take home the $10,000 prizemoney. Most importantly, I hope you learn something from developing concepts, creating images to illustrate them and writing your associated concept statements.

I managed to have one of my entries selected as a finalist in 2020. As I prepare my entries for other such competitions (not the MCPP as management of it have been ruled ineligible now) I will look again at works previously entered and others of mine that haven’t made the cut. I will also look more at other past entries, such as the one by Roger Skinner below. I will be seeking to learn again.

20190918 Roos Songlines © Roger Skinner

Those of who become finalists in the 2021 MCPP will have their prints displayed for seven weeks during July and August at the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre (MRAC). This is a significant move to an art gallery within the Museums and Galleries of NSW network, allowing scope for interaction with other galleries in that network. The acquired annual MCPP winners will go into this regional gallery’s permanent collection, adding a great deal of prestige for the winning artists.

Entries close on Friday 23 April at 11PM AEST via https://www.a-p-s.org.au/ or https://myphotoclub.com.au/.

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Bracha – Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls

 Photography Review

Agnieszka Traczewska | Bracha – Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls

ACT Jewish Community Centre Gallery | Closing date uncertain, but expected to continue throughout 2021 | Viewing hours are 10am-3pm, Monday to Thursday, except on Jewish holy days.

A fine photographic insight into pilgrimages by ultra-Orthodox Jews is on display at the ACT Jewish Community Centre gallery. Outstanding artistic black and white prints provided by the Polish Embassy provide this excellent exhibition of Chasidim (a sect of Orthodox Jews) returning to destroyed shtetls (small Jewish towns or villages) in Poland. Unsurprisingly given its origins, the exhibition prints are of a very high quality. What’s more the quality of the photojournalism is great.

Bracha – Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls was first shown publicly at the United Nations headquarters in New York in January 2019. Writing in The New York Jewish Week at the time, Jonathon Mark quoted the then Polish Consul-General as saying “this is how my town must have looked [around] 1932, my grandmother’s reality.” Poland’s then UN ambassador told the guests at the opening that there is no Polish culture without Jewish culture. She suggested the photos showed that the traces of the Old World had not completely disappeared, and that Jewish heritage was well and alive in Poland. She did not mention that a community of millions was down to 10,000.

Although other Holocaust-related exhibits (such as one honouring diplomats recognized as “Righteous Gentiles”) were on display in the same UN lobby for longer, the Polish photographs were removed after only a week. Asked why at the time, a representative of the consulate was quoted as saying, “The status of this exhibition was a bit different.” 

Since then, the exhibition has only been displayed in Dusseldorf and Tel Aviv. Now we are privileged to have it in Canberra for an extended period.

Nearly completely wiped out in the Holocaust, there are no actual permanent Chasidim communities still living in Poland. Pilgrims travel there from all around the world to visit the ancient graveyards of deceased rabbis lucky enough to have graves, tombs and synagogues.

The photographs were taken by a non-Jewish Polish woman, Agnieszka Traczewska, who gained the confidence of some of the pilgrims, enabling her to capture the piety of their activities whilst visiting their ancestral religious sites. As the Chasidic women in particular don’t like being exposed, the fact that there are some portraits of women in the exhibition is unusual.

On her website, Traczewska reveals that on her very first journey to Leżajsk, Poland for Rabbi Elimelech’s anniversary of death, she had no idea that photography of Chasidim would become her lifelong passion. All she knew was that there were men there that are part of her country’s story, part of her history, and so she had to see, learn, capture and connect.

This exhibition is a testimony to the author’s passion and long-term commitment to documenting the descendants of Chasidim visiting the remains of their enduring heritage.

Unlike Traczewska, most of us, even many Jewish people, will never meet any Chasidim and are unlikely to know much about them. That makes this exhibition all the more interesting. The top-class social documentary imagery is very moving and provides us with a little knowledge.

In one particularly powerful image, we see Chasidim withstand a downpour during a visit to a Jewish cemetery.

The Jewish Cemetery, Krynica (Yid. Krenitz), 2018, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

Another looks down on Chasidim davening (reciting the prescribed ritual prayer). 

The anniversary of the death of Tsadik David in Lelow (Yid. Lelov), 2008, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

Others depict ceremonies – such as welcoming a spectacular new Torah and acknowledging anniversaries of deaths. 

Ceremony welcoming a new Torah, Lezajsk (Yid. Lizhensk), 2016, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

The Jewish Cemetery, Sieniawa (Yid. Shinev), 2015, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

There are numerous scenes of people in synagogues and graveyards, and some very fine portraits of individuals.

Lelow (Yid. Lelov), 2009, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

It is the first exhibition held at the ACT Jewish Community since it opened its new multimillion-dollar wing and will be on show for the remainder of the year. This review was published in The Canberra Times on 27/2/21 here. It was also published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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VIEW2021

Photography & Photomedia Review

Eleven artists | VIEW2021

Huw Davies Gallery, Photo Access | Until 27 February

View2021 shows works from eleven early career photographers and photomedia artists – Kayla Adams, Bridget Baskerville, April Davis, Sofia Dimarhos, Alex Flannery, Claire Fletcher, Tessa Ivison, David Lindesay, Adanna Obinna, Janhavi Salvi and Jordan Stokes.

The curators have arranged the exhibits so that viewers should progressively find themselves exploring works that are, in some ways, more challenging.

We commence with Janhavi Salvi’s Mary had a little lamb – not about the nursery rhyme per se, but about the processes through which humans have turned sheep into domesticated animals. This is done via a marvellous interactive, three-dimensional digital interface coded by Salvi.

Then we see several images Tessa Iverson captured using a digital camera fitted with a body cap with three pinholes. Each incorporates three perspectives of the same rural landscape. This experimental work was, for me, evidence that this contemporary artist is growing in her practice.

Next, Kayla Adams shows her interest in the urban form, with images of the one building taken from different places where she could emphasisie sightlines and symmetry.

Kayla Adams, Woden Pitch & Putt, 2020, inkjet print

Jordan Stokes exhibits three giclee prints of Burrinjuck Dam, each taken whilst it was shrouded by smoke and severely impacted by drought. These reminded me again that the land has been impacted by climate change.

Jordan Stokes, Burrinjuck II, 2019, giclée Print

Bridget Baskerville contributes four large prints plus a hand-crafted photobook of images, all captured in her home town of Kandos. They range from almost formal studies inside her grandmother’s home to quite raw images. One is titled Tennis Court – we would have no idea of that location without the title. The same is true of another – Brogan’s Creek Road. That does not matter – both images successfully tell us things about this small town in the Central Tablelands. A video on the Photo Access online gallery has a soundtrack of Baskerville’s reminiscences as she turns the pages of the book.

Bridget Baskerville, Nan’s House 2, 2020 inkjet print

Further along are three richly colourful portraits by Adanna Obinna of her friend Julia. They beautifully document this woman of colour, an ex-refugee now settled in Australia.

Adanna Obinna, Melanacious Golden, 2020, inkjet print

Three images by April Davis explore the attachments we have to our bodies, land and objects. With her grandmother during the pandemic, she photographed the two of them indoors, herself wearing a formal gown intended to draw our attention to the constraints experienced. My small gripe is that the gown did not leap off the prints to capture my attention.

After that come works by Alex Flannery – two of places and two of people from the Cowra area where he grew up. For me, the people images are the strongest, essentially because they portray interesting characters.

Alex Flannery, Dylon and Chad, Harden, 2020, silver gelatin print

Claire Fletcher shows just one print – I am my Mother’s Daughter. It cleverly superimposes portraits of both herself and her mother so as to explore their relationship. After seeing it on opening night, Photo Access member Ian Skinner used social media to identify it as his pick of the show – A very delicate interpretation with a sound underlying concept that supports the visual beauty of the image rather than vice versa.”

David Lindesay also displays just one print – an intimate, softly lit “accompanied self-portrait” intended to turn the artist’s queer gaze on moments of emotional and physical connection.

Finally, we spend time looking at a video by Sofia Dimarhos, and closely studying three inkjet prints that she has turned into wonderfully intriguing sculptural forms. All these works use the human body as raw material. They both explore and celebrate its form.

Sofia Dimarhos, Physique (three), 2020, inkjet print sculpture

Photo Access has included an excellent commissioned exhibition essay in a limited-edition high-quality book of the show that can be purchased from its shop.

A slightly edited version of this reiew was published by the Canberra Times on 15/2/21 here. It has also been published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Beforehand – the private life of a portrait

Photography Review

Various Artists | Beforehand – the private life of a portrait

National Portrait Gallery | Until 14 February 2021

Beforehand – the private life of a portrait is about the backstories behind iconic works from the NPG collection and the creative and social process of making a portrait. It features excellent works in a variety of media, including thirteen photographic prints.

Entering the exhibition, the first things visitors can read is about storytelling. We are told a portrait captures a person’s presence in time as well as space; tells a story about lived experience – at times conveying a sense of the subject’s past and future. I suspect the vast majority of portraits, including selfies captured by smart phones today, tell very little about lived experience. However, those who are serious about creating good portraits would do well to think about telling their subject’s stories.

The exhibition takes us to the creative journeys behind the portraits, showing us working drawings, studies, scrapbooks, sketches and footage taken in studios or on location. Interviews with artists and sitters tell us much more; revealing relationships and connections between the two parties that generated the story being told.

An interview with champion woodchopper David Foster provides an excellent example of storytelling. Foster is pictured before a tree that he says has witnessed all the years of his family and the legacy of their championships. Photographer Jacqui Stockdale responds “Wow, what the tree saw” and uses that as the title for her image. The collaborative nature of their relationship produced a portrait capturing the essence of Foster’s story.

What the tree saw: David Foster 2018 © Jacqui Stockdale. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Commissioned with funds provided by the Sid and Fiona Myer Family Foundation 2018.

Greg Weight’s portrait of contemporary artist Lindy Lee shows her standing within one of her own installations. Weight is present with Lee and has captured her much as he might capture a landscape, connecting us with her creativity.

Lindy Lee 1995 © Greg Weight. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Gift of Patrick Corrigan AM 2004. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

Ian Lloyd has also photographed leading artists throughout Australia. His portrait of the acclaimed indigenous artist Gloria Petyarre was taken as she applied layer on layer of dots on a canvas. The resultant image is remarkable, revealing clearly who she is: “an Anmatyerre woman from the Atnangkere country, near Alice Springs”. It is her country, her family’s country, the country she loves. Lloyd shows how his subject has touched and shaped many others.

Gloria Petyarre 2005 © R. Ian Lloyd. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Gift of the artist 2010. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

When cyclist Anna Meares and photographer Narelle Autio met ahead of their shoot, both were delighted to learn that neither wanted Meares wearing lycra or riding her bicycle. Both wanted an image of who she was, rather than what she did. The image taken amongst the trees and rocks in the Adelaide Hills clearly shows something of her toughness; the dress she wears shows her femininity.

Anna Meares 2018 © Narelle Autio. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Commissioned with funds provided by King & Wood Mallesons 2018

Peter Brew-Bevan’s image of the Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister, is stunning. It most successfully portrays the elegant motion of ballet, whilst delighting McAllister by showing what he describes as a “pensive moment”. The image reveals much about Brew-Bevan as well. His own energy is a major part of the shot’s energy, so it becomes a self-portrait of him as well as a portrait of McAllister.

The Dance David McAllister 2016 © Peter Brew Bevan. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Commissioned with funds provided by The Stuart Leslie Foundation 2016

In a similar way, Hari Ho’s portrait of Dadang Christanto is a document of a powerful moment of performance in both of their practices. All who have seen Christanto’s Heads from the North in the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden, will immediately see and relate to Ho’s intentions here.

Most of us have followed Jessica Mauboy’s career, either closely or at least with some interest. David Rosetzky’s portrait splendidly conveys her energy. Every portrait in this exhibition reveals something of the stories of the subjects and it is well worth spending time with each work, thinking about what is revealed about lived experiences.

This review was first published in the Canberra Times of 30/1/21 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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