Reviews

Congruent – Incongruent

Photography and Art Exhibition Review

Eva van Gorsel and Manuel Pfeiffer | Congruent – Incongruent

M16 Artspace | Until 21 November 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lake Burley Griffin © Manuel Pfeiffer

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

View From Cocoparra © Manuel Pfeiffer

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

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

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Reviews

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

Photography Exhibition Review

PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery | Until 27 November 2021

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

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

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

Tom & Pyrocumulus © Sammy Hawker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4, 2021 © Aloisia Cudmore

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

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

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Photo Editing

Creating with ZPS X

Last week I explored more features of Zoner Photo Studio X (ZPS X).

This image scanned from a 1998 transparency of a man fishing at Dee Why in Sydney, Australia was my starting point.

1998.01 – 35 – Dee Why © Brian Rope

Whilst exploring the features, I used a few of them to create something very different from it. I looked at Layers, Adjustments, Masks, Cropping, Rotating, Selection Tools, and some Effects. I explored various Tools, including Gradient and Radial Filters, and Retouching. I looked at ways of varying exposure, contrast, white point and black point. My familiarity with most of those features in other software meant that, for those, it was pretty straightforward to use them in this package. The features I have rarely used elsewhere took a little more work on my part but none of them were difficult to understand.

I examined the ease of creating contact sheets, documentation photos, and portfolio presentations – and exporting them to PDFs or to a variety of image formats. I was most pleased to see the extensive range of image types that I could have used, including not only the common JPEG, TIFF and PNG formats, but also the less used such as AV1F. I was also pleased that I could quickly change the image profile to one of those I use when printing to various inkjet paper types.

I used the create feature to make a contact sheet and explored making postcards, calendars, collages, canvas prints, videos and photo books. All of that is straightforward and easy to learn. Also, whenever you start a new project, you are immediately shown what the prices are for the available sizes

Whenever you need help, you simply click the ? at the top of your screen and choose the ZPS X online manual or the Getting Started option (also online). The ? menu is also where you find technical support and system information – or check for updates.

So, what did I create from my starting image? This:

Dee Why Fisherman © Brian Rope
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Reviews

Living Memory – NPPP 2021

Photography Review

Living Memory – NPPP 2021 | Various artists

National Portrait Gallery | Until 16 January 2022

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

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

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

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

Wandella Firestorm © Dion Georgopoulos
The Salway Family © Dion Georgopoulos

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

The Goodall Boys © Tamara Dean

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

Max © Rachel Mounsey
Anna © Matthew Newton

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

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

The Cats Out Of The Bag © Kalyanii Holden

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

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

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Reviews

Into The Blue – a celebration of the Cyanotype print

Photography & Photomedia Exhibition Review

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

Sutton Village Gallery | Until 7 November

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let Me In © Keira Hudson

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

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

Dreaming of Bali 7 © Susan Baran

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

From the Garden No. 1 © Senga Peckham

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

Eliza Gould & Satin Bowerbird © Carolyn Young

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

Senza Protezione © Maxine Salvatore
Skull & Blooms © Kim Sinclair

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

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

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My Photography, Photography Story

APS PhotoWalk Day: Environmental Impact – What does it mean to you?

On 25 September 2021 the Australian Photographic Society held its first APS PhotoWalk Day with the theme Environmental Impact – What does it mean to you?

Photography clubs were invited to take images in response to the theme on that day, with each club entering 20 images (no more than 4 per individual member).

Promotional material for the event said “Whether you walk city streets or wander bush trails, you can indulge your imaginative self with club members and individuals from all around Australia. What an amazing opportunity to connect through photography and to interpret the good and the bad of Environmental Impact. Images must be captured on the day and metadata must be included when the images are uploaded for judgement. Individuals do not need to be APS members.”

The winning club is to receive a $500 MOMENTO Pro Photobook voucher (to be divided at that Club’s discretion). All participating clubs will have their images displayed in a gallery on the APS website. All participating clubs will receive a Certificate of participation to place on their website.

There were three judges and each of them scored entries out of 9, with the points being added together. People who were not members of a participating club could enter as individuals and submit 2 images. The individual scoring most points is to receive a $150 MOMENTO Pro Photobook voucher and certificate.

As the club I belong to decided not to participate, I registered as an individual participant. An introductory session was held via Zoom the evening before the event. One of the judges was Lisa Kurtz who teaches Contemporary Photomedia at Central Queensland University and has a passion for encouraging photographers to be open to new ideas. Lisa’s own work explores concepts of memory, place and time. She has been a finalist in the Clayton Utz Art Awards, Head On Photo Awards, Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture, and the Milburn and Lethbridge Landscape Prizes.

In the introductory Zoom session, Lisa spoke about the topic and gave tips for capturing great images. I found her presentation to be excellent and she inspired me to create images that said something about environmental impacts in a different way.

I created fifteen possible entries in total. The two I selected to enter scored sufficient points for me to take out third place in the section for Individuals. So, no voucher, but an Award certificate.

These are the two images I entered:

Life Re-emerged © Brian Rope

With this image I took a print I had made of a previous image of mine into the natural grasslands near my home and put it in the branches of a dead-looking tree seeking to create a new image that was representative of new life re-emerging after destructive fires. During post-processing I deliberately darkened down the tree trunk and branches to make it look more fire blackened.

Might as well add my waste to this © Brian Rope

Again, with this image, I took a print I had made of a previous image of mine into the natural grasslands near my home and put it in the branches of a dead looking tree seeking to create a new image that was representative of a person throwing his hands up in horror at the appalling behaviour of people who dump, then burn, waste illegally in the grasslands. To emphasise the story, I “dumped” a bag of old slides that I had scanned and have no further use for – in with the existing waste. (I did bring the plastic bag and its contents back home afterwards.)

This second image scored higher than the other one but, my understanding is that the points received for both of them were added together to determine my ranking.

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My Photography, Photo Editing

Editing with ZPS X

In my first blog piece about Zoner Photo Studio X (ZPS X), I started by saying I’d recently installed it and suggested it was likely to take a long time for me to explore all of its features. I finished by saying that I’d best get started on my explorations and that, from time to time as I learned, I would post another piece about it here. Well, it has taken too long, but here is my second piece about it.

Firstly, I quickly learned to create copies of images before I processed any of them, so as to avoid possibly overwriting the originals when I didn’t want to. That, of course, is a smart way to operate regardless of what editing software you are using. Anyway, I set up a folder called Zoner, then copied a few existing folders of RAW images into it giving myself a selection of images to work with. The next thing I learned was that, after doing some editing, I couldn’t overwrite my starting file because the Nikon RAW image format is not supported for saving. No problem though, clicking OK in response to the message telling me that instantly brought up a set of options, including TIF, JPEG, PNG, gif and various other common formats to select from.  I could also choose to save it in Truecolor or in Greyscale. That gave me a new file to continue working on whilst the original RAW file remained in the folder.

I then explored a series of adjustments options, including such things as levels, curves, colour enhancement, sharpening, blurring, and vignetting. Using them was, for me, completely intuitive – and you can preview the results before saving and overwriting your file. Another option is to use a list of effects, including mixing channels, creating oil painting or pencil drawing looks, cartooning, and even turning a high-quality image into a degraded old photo looking as faded, scratched and aged as you wish.

Making use of a selection of the available features mentioned, I quickly created new versions of two of my images. Not once did I need to refer to the online manual. I started with these very ordinary RAW files taken during a recent visit to the small country village of Sutton in New South Wales, Australia:

and created these framed cartoon versions:

Yes, I know there is nothing remarkable about those created images; but making them demonstrated to me that it is quite simple to use ZPS X without needing to refer to the manual. Not that looking at a manual is a problem – I’ve no doubt there will be times when I need to (or should anyway). In addition, there are regular notifications about new articles on Zoner Photo Studio’s ‘Learn Photography’ school, so there is a heap of material that users can source to assist them on their journeys. This school is not just about learning to use ZPS X, it’s about everything – starting from the basics, like beginner’s tips, cheat sheets and mastering your camera.

Using ZPS X, you can convert to or assign an ICC profile, resize your image, adjust the canvas size, overlay text, overlay an image, and much more. And all of this is in the one dropdown menu: Edit. That’s before I even start looking into the other six dropdown menus in the manager module: Acquire, Information, Organize, Create, Publish and View. After I explore all of them, there are 3 more modules to work through – Develop, Editor and Create. I’ve already taken a peek at the Create menu and noticed there is the facility to create photobooks, postcards, calendars, collages, contact sheets, videos and more. What was I saying about how long a thorough exploration would require?

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Autobiography, Personal Story

Sojourn in Northern NSW

Our journey north from Bundoran took us through many country towns. Dad had mapped out the shortest (in terms of distance) route without concern for road qualities, rivers, mountains, or anything else really. His various driving experiences – including being the lead driver for British Army truck convoys on narrow mountain passes at night without lights during World War II, driving double-decker buses in London, and driving the first coach operated by Reginal Ansett (of later Ansett Airlines fame) in Australia – would have meant he was well equipped to undertake any road journey.

I don’t remember where we crossed the border into New South Wales nor the precise route we took. I do recall a long stretch in southern NSW with just one railway crossing around the halfway point providing the only bend between two towns, later passing through Rylstone and Kandos, and then finally approaching our destination via a ‘Dry Weather Only’ road not long after there had been considerable rain in the area.

Our destination was a property called Greenhills located somewhere south of Little Jacks Creek on the road between Merriwa and Willow Tree. That road remained one to avoid in wet weather for many years. When we arrived the owners and others at the property were astounded that we had travelled the route we used.

Amongst the other residents at Greenhills were mum and dad’s friends, Len and Marge Payne and their children Joyce and Rob. Like dad, Len had played piano in London clubs. His job at Greenhills included putting ferrets into rabbit burrows as part of getting rid of the rabbits. He used to walk around with a pair of ferrets inside his trousers!

Together with Joyce, my brother and the other kids on Greenhills, I learned to roll a cigarette and smoke them. One of the girls was easily able to get hold of the makings from her chain-smoking father’s cache and all of us would climb to the top of the haybales in the shed, roll ciggies and smoke them there after school. Somehow, we avoided ever starting a fire in the hay! We hid our supplies in a hollow. But, attracted by whatever we used to cover it, mum found them and our days of smoking were over.

I also learned to ride a horse that I could not control whilst living there. I recall being in the saddle one day when the fast-galloping horse, doing what it was trained to, thundered along perilously close (in my mind) to a high fence with barbed wire – to overtake and bring back some cattle that had left a pen. I had neither the knowledge nor the skills to do anything to get the horse to alter course or stop until it was ready to do so on completion of its task.

So, we had moved to northern NSW and to rugby league instead of Aussie Rules – another brand of football that I was hopeless at. Through 1954, I studied second-year high school by Blackfriars Correspondence while sitting in a one-teacher Willow Tree primary school.

Willow Tree Public School, photographed by me in October 2015

There were two girls, including Joyce Payne, doing first-year high school by Blackfriars also at that school. The idea was that the teacher would assist we three high schoolers whilst also teaching everyone in the primary years (including brother Alan).

Willow Tree Public School 5 & 6 students in 1954 – image found on Internet – can’t see Alan in it

As the “senior” student our teacher would use me to “control” all the others whenever he wanted to pop outside for a smoke. He also used me to try and show the younger children a thing or two. On one occasion he had set me the task of memorising “T’was the night before Christmas” so I could recite it during the end of year Christmas event. When I told him the very next morning that I had memorised it, he asked me to practise reciting it before all the students whilst he turned his back to me. When I finished, he turned and said to the assembled students that he thought I had read it well. They all said no sir, he didn’t read it he didn’t look at the book. That gave the teacher his opportunity to say well look what is possible when you put your mind to something.

At another time he suggested to mum and dad that the best thing they could do was to sign me up to the Navy as soon as I was old enough – which I think was at age 15 or thereabouts. I’ve been forever pleased that they did not take his advice.

Whilst at Willow Tree school I participated in a range of activities with the younger students. I recall doing country dancing, including Strip the Willow. I was partnered with a girl who sort of became my girlfriend. She lived in a house beside an open railway crossing that we drove over every time we travelled north from Willow Tree to Quirindi for special shopping. Her dad was employed by the railways to manually close and then reopen the gates at the crossing whenever a train was passing through. Inevitably, the rest of the family would tease me about my girlfriend each time.

This rail crossing, photographed by me in 2015, is in the general area.

At the age of 12 I joined a club. The Argonauts Club was an Australian children’s radio program. According to Wikipedia the program was first broadcast in 1933 on ABC Radio in Melbourne. The show was discontinued in 1934 but revived and broadcast on ABC radio stations nationally (except to Western Australia) on 7 January 1941 as a segment of the Children’s Session. From 6 September 1954 it was called the Children’s Hour, running from 5 to 6pm. It became one of the ABC’s most popular programs, running six days a week for 28 years until October 1969, when it was broadcast only on Sundays and was finally discontinued in 1972.

The Argonauts Club was open to Australian boys and girls aged from 7 to 17. It proved hugely popular with young Australians: by 1950 there were over 50,000 members, with 10,000 new members joining each year through the 1950s (national membership reached 43,000 in 1953). Applications for membership (and subsequent contributions) were made by post. An enamelled badge and handsome membership certificate with the Pledge (brought over from 1931):

Before the sun and night and the blue sea, I vow

To stand faithfully by all that is brave and beautiful;

To seek adventure and having discovered aught of wonder, or delight, of merriment or loveliness,

To share it freely with my comrades, the Band of Happy Rowers.

and the new member’s allocated pseudonym (Ship name and number) were sent out to the new member. With no indication given of age, sex or origin, the only comparisons that could be made were between contributions; the members’ only competitors were themselves.

A card system held the member’s real name and address and Club name and number, together with a record of contributions and awards. The Club encouraged children’s contributions of writing, music, poetry and art. Contributions from members were awarded Blue Certificates (worth 1 point) or Purple Certificates for particularly impressive work worth 3. Members reaching 6 points redeemed the tear-off ends for a book prize. Higher targets were acknowledged on air (by Ship Name and Number): The Order of the Dragons Tooth for 150 points and The Order of the Golden Fleece for 400 points. A further award Golden Fleece and Bar (for 600 points) was instituted later to cater for particularly talented and industrious Argonauts.

The segment was opened and closed with a specially commissioned theme written by Elizabeth Osbourne and Cecil Fraser and sung by Harold Williams and the male members of the ABC Wireless Singers:

Fifty mighty Argonauts, bending to the oars,

Today will go adventuring to yet uncharted shores.

Fifty young adventurers today set forth and so

We cry with Jason “Man the boats, and Row! Row! Row!”

Row! Row! Merry oarsmen, Row!

That dangers lie ahead we know, we know.

But bend with all your might

As you sail into the night

And wrong will bow to right “Jason” cry,

Adventure know,

Argonauts Row! Row! Row!

A further touch was a call to sick members: “The Ship of Limping Men”, as notified by parents. On Saturdays a major segment was the Argonauts Brains Trust. From December 1944, the ABC Weekly carried an Argonauts’ Page devoted to selected contributions from members and relevant news items. Annual ‘live’ productions of the Children’s Session (and Argonauts Club) were a feature of Royal Shows in each State from 1947.

Members of the Argonauts Club who later became prominent public figures included:

  • Tim Fischer (National Party politician, Deputy Prime Minister, diplomat, died 2019)
  • Kate Fitzpatrick (film, TV and theatre actress, world’s first female Test cricket commentator)
  • Rolf Harris (painter, entertainer – conviction in 2014 of the sexual assault of four underage girls effectively ended his career)
  • Barry Humphries (actor, artist, author, comedian and satirist)
  • Clive Robertson (journalist, radio and television personality)
  • Peter Sculthorpe (composer)
  • Dame Joan Sutherland (dramatic coloratura soprano)

As you’ve read earlier in this piece, at the time I joined the Argonauts and was an avid listener, I was living on Greenhills near the small township of Willow Tree in northern NSW. I did not become a similarly prominent public figure (although I did much later in life have a reasonable public profile in my home city of Canberra).

In November 1954 one of the Argonauts Club’s monthly competitions for members required entrants to submit the then Governor-General’s style, name and decorations, with the prize being awarded to the correct entrant who gave the most interesting way of finding out what the answer was. Long before Google, I had no idea. My dad came up with the idea of my writing to the Governor-General and asking him. I did that in a letter dated 24 November 1954. On the 29th of that month, the Official Secretary to the Governor-General replied on his behalf, providing not only the answer but a set of biographical notes that he thought may be of some help to me with the competition.

The GG’s Official Secretary’s Response

I submitted my entry and, when listening to an episode of the Argonauts which announced the results, was delighted to hear my Ship Name and Number announced as the winner. (I wish I could remember my Ship Name and Number). Thanks dad.

The prize that I won was a book by the famous Australian novelist and short story writer, Frank Dalby Davison. I still have that book. Whilst several of Davison’s works demonstrated his progressive political philosophy, he is best known as “a writer of animal stories and a sensitive interpreter of Australian bush life in the tradition of Henry Lawson, Joseph Furphy and Vance Palmer.” His most popular works were two novels, Man-shy and Dusty, and his short stories.

My composite image telling the story about Dusty

I am not sure why Davison’s novel, Dusty, was the competition prize in 1954, given that it was actually published eight years earlier in 1946. However, it was the prize and, as an avid reader, I was delighted to win it, and read it. At one level the story of a half-kelpie, half-dingo sheepdog which becomes in turn a champion worker, a killer and a wild dog, Dusty has also been read as a meditation on many of the political issues which animated Davison in the early 1940s (coincidentally when I was born); among them his fascination with the rebel and his ambivalent attitude towards the promised new social order following victory over fascism. The novel, Dusty, also won first prize in the Argus competition for novels. In 1983, it was made into a movie, also titled Dusty, starring Bill Kerr, Noel Trevarthen and Carol Burns.

Mum tried hard to help me with the homework that arrived by post from Blackfriars. I recall an art assignment that required me to send in a painting I had done of two eggs in a frying pan, that should not look like two eggs in a frying pan. This mystified both me and mum and, try as we did, we could not produce anything that we thought met the requirements.

By the end of 1954 I had only managed to get to the halfway point of the full year’s correspondence lessons, so a decision was made that I would repeat the second year of high school and attend the Quirindi High School not too far away; but necessitating me to board again.

Quirindi High School, photographed by me in October 2015

Arrangements were made for me to board with Reverend Harry Brentnall, the Minister of the Quirindi Methodist church, and his family. The church was in Henry Street, where the building still stands today. Its foundation stone was laid on 4 July 1882.  Though no longer used for church services, it is the oldest and only original church building remaining in Quirindi and has the honour of being the first brick church in the town. The Methodist Central Hall was built next to the church in 1911. Elmswood School and Kindergarten was established in 1912, utilising the supper room of the Central Hall and continued to the end of 1922.  A brick residence, the Methodist Parsonage was also built in Henry Street for the use of the Minister so that is where I boarded.

As soon as I moved into the parsonage with the Brentnalls, I was introduced to the organisation known as the Order of Knights, which used secret handshakes and the like (a little like the Masons I think). The Order of Knights group may have met at the Methodist Church or the Central Hall. I didn’t like OKs so was fortunate when we moved again not long after.

The Central Hall was moved in 1977 and relocated behind Pollock Hall in North Avenue. The church building and grounds became available for the establishment of the Elmswood Hostel. The Methodist Church donated their land and the building to Quirindi Retirement Homes Ltd, on the stipulation that they would be used for age care. The former church building was used initially as a dining room for the Elmswood residents and was later refurbished as the Whitten Room, in memory of the Whitten Family, devoted members of the Methodist Church.

Mum and dad applied for, and I was awarded, a bursary. In return for the financial support received, I had to study certain subjects until completing the NSW Intermediate certificate after three years in high school. The subjects had to include a modern language and the only such language taught at Quirindi High was French, so that was the one.

Heavy rain owing to the influence of La Niña had been occurring over the catchment of the Hunter River since October 1954 when, on 23 February 1955, an extremely intense monsoonal depression developed over southern Queensland and north-east New South Wales and moved southwards. The very strong and extremely moist north-easterly airflow meant that over the basin of the Hunter and parts of the Darling River, rainfall amounts for a 24‑hour period were the highest since instrumental records began around 1885. Around Coonabarabran, as much as 327 millimetres (over 13 inches) fell in a single day, whilst falls in the upper part of the Hunter Basin the following day were generally around 200 millimetres (8 inches).

Both Quirindi High and the parsonage where I was living are high on a hill, so we were safe from floodwaters. Indeed, I believe we could see the flooded areas clearly from both vantage points. The railway bridge over the river was damaged with one pylon sinking so that the rails broke and there was a significant drop part way across.

By early 1955, mum and dad had decided to move again to new jobs elsewhere. We travelled on the first train out of Quirindi, slowly across a temporarily repaired bridge, then south to Singleton where we transferred to a coach which took us to Maitland as that stretch of the railway was still unusable. We saw a lot of the devastating flood damage as we passed by.

Then it was on to Sydney where we arrived too late to take the next leg of our train journey. We were allowed to stay and sleep overnight in a carriage parked at Central Station. The next day we completed our journey South – our destination being another property called Werriwa just north of Bungendore. It had its own railway station called Butmaroo, which we reckon was the smallest station in the world being just longer than its name sign and having nothing more on it than a large box under the sign where deliveries of things such as bread were left. More of that in the following chapter of my story.

Our sojourn in Northern NSW had come to its end.

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Photo Book Review, Photography Story, Reviews

Installation View

Book Review

Daniel Palmer & Martyn Jolly| Installation View: Photography Exhibitions in Australia (1848-2020)

In 2014, Canberra-based Dr Martyn Jolley and Melbourne-based Dr Daniel Palmer received a grant to research the impact of new technology on the curating of Australian art photography.

One outcome – their substantial new book, Installation View – enriches our understanding of the diversity of Australian photography. It is a significant new account, told through the most important exhibitions and modes of collection and display. It presents a chronology of rarely seen installation views from both well-known and forgotten exhibitions, along with a series of essays.

Additionally, the authors hope to identify some of the challenges faced by institutions in effectively engaging with new forms and practices of photography enabled through digital circulation. Establishing a dialogue around old and new curatorial approaches, the research is premised on the idea that in this age of photo sharing, when photographs are proliferating as never before, the curatorial selecting, collecting and contextualising functions have never been more important.

The foreword correctly notes that photos can be ephemeral even though the camera records and remembers. It invites readers to visit exhibitions of the past and actively imagine what it would have been like to be there. Somewhat like imagining what today’s virtual exhibitions might look like physically in an actual gallery.

1866_Intercolonial Exhibition_nla.obj-260430885-m

Our appetites are whetted by references to viewing images at exhibitions, to the ghostly figures that are audiences, and to the changes in exhibition spaces since the 1870s – to spaces where photographers’ intentions interact with institutional imperatives and exhibition design.

Then the introduction speaks of the exploration of the “constantly mutating forms and conventions through which photographers and curators have selected and presented photographs to the public”.

Despite the book’s 424 pages, the authors have had to be selective as to which exhibitions they have explored. I have also had to be selective as to which content to discuss here.

Seeking to demonstrate shifts in how photography has been conceptualised, who has produced it and the types of spaces where it has been exhibited, the authors note that photographers and curators have always grappled with scale so that images command attention. They discuss how photographs rely on other media, including print and reproduction technologies, and graphic design. They suggest that art museums have frequently turned to the nineteenth century to complicate the contemporary moment.

So, this is not a book for light reading. It is a substantial text to be studied, raising numerous things for us to consider and contemplate. I do not like the design – tiny margins, and a strange style of page and plate numbering – nor the lack of an index and the listing of the plates in the separate appendix. But the content is excellent. All serious creators, photographers and collectors should have a copy on their reference bookshelves.

An important question posed is what constitutes Australian photography? Is it work by Australians, here and on travels? Does it include significant works made by non-Australians whilst visiting these shores for short periods? How important are overseas exhibitions involving Australian-based photographers? Have exhibitions of international works here impacted on local practice? Very early in the book it is asserted that, in the 1980s, photography moved from the periphery to the centre of the art world; and it speaks about the loss of photo medium-specific curators and galleries.

Having personally had 45 years involvement with amateur Australian photography societies, I was enjoyed reading about the involvement of amateur associations and pictorialist photography exhibitions, starting with a description of the first annual exhibition by members of the Amateur Photographic Association of Victoria way back in 1884. Any person interested in photography would be aware of the New Zealand born, Sydney-based Harold Cazneaux. His 1909 solo exhibition in the Sydney rooms of the Photographic Society of NSW was the first such by any Australian.

Another famous Australian, Frank Hurley, had his first solo show in 1911 – again in Sydney, but at the Kodak Salon. Given our recent experiences of exhibitions having to await gallery re-openings after pandemic lockdowns, it is interesting that Hurley had to wait for the influenza epidemic to subside before his venue similarly could re-open.

Reading about the use of photographers’ studios as exhibition spaces in the mid nineteenth century set me thinking about parallels today. Many photographers now would display examples of their works in their workplaces, including their homes, where clients would come to have studio portraits made.

Chapter 11, Exhibiting the Modern World, describes the major 1938 Commemorative Salon of Photography, again in Sydney, as part of the celebrations for Australia’s 150th anniversary. It was a joint effort by amateur and professional associations. Australia’s Bicentennial, 50 years later, is mentioned briefly in chapters about indigenous photographers and digital spaces, but the major 1988 traveling Australian Bicentennial Exhibition with which I was personally very involved is not discussed.

There is a reference to photographic constructions in the form of a ceremonial arch over Sydney’s Bridge Street during the 1954 Queen’s visit which I’m sure some will remember. The extraordinary and famous Family of Man international touring exhibition in 1959, including just two Australians out of 273 photographers, gets a short chapter to itself which refers to this country’s White Australia policy being dismantled against the context of the exhibition’s vision of global humanity.

1967_Expo ’67 Montreal 2
1971_Frontiers, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 8_RGB

The ongoing significance of some photography is highlighted by reference to the important After the Tent Embassy show – displayed at our own Woden shopping mall in 1983. It included some works that became incredibly important later.

Of considerable personal interest to me as an organiser of a current annual Prize for conceptual photography was the chapter Photoconceptualism, discussing the emergence of that style of exhibition practice. The first Australian exhibition to include conceptual photography was held in 1969 at Pinacotheca Gallery in St Kilda.

Juxtaposition of images and texts remains a device employed by many conceptual artists today. Locally, the Canberra PhotoConnect group aims to promote “the evolving practice of photography and its links to the arts and society”. It encourages using poetry as an integral part of image presentation.

Plates in the book, of which there are 218, include a hand-coloured installation shot of Micky Allan’s exhibition Photography, Drawing, Poetry – A Live-In Show. Another has particular local interest, showing Huw Davies at the door of Photo Access in Acton in 1984. The gallery at that organisation’s current premises carries Davies name.

1978 Micky Allan, Photographs, Drawing, Poetry – A Live-In Show, hand-coloured installation shot, GPG, Melbourne, courtesy Helen Vivian

References regarding Bill Henson, Simryn Gill, and Tracey Moffatt representing Australia at the Venice Biennale identify them as key moments putting Australia at the “centre of the art world”. The book also notes that photography has been “so successful at becoming art that the place of photography departments in Australian art galleries appears to have become unmoored”.

During an online conversation about the book, a question posed was whether institutionalisation has left us with sensory deficit. We heard that curators are now working like artists, and vice versa. Mention was made of William Yang using a gallery as a diary space. The audience, which included Yang, also heard that “each person who walks into a gallery changes everything”. Remember that when next you visit a gallery!

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

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Photography Story

Madeline Bishop wins her second Iris Award

Madeline Bishop is a photo artist now based in Melbourne. However, she grew up in Canberra, began her career here, and regularly visits the capital – and her family – when you know what permits. She completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts (First Class Honours) at the ANU in 2013, before gaining her Master of Fine Arts (First Class Honours), at the University of Melbourne in 2016.

Some, if not all, of Bishop’s family members have been subjects for her evocative people imagery. So too many friends have found themselves called on as subjects. Her 2014 show at Photo Access exploring the complexity of sisterhood and female relationships is a case in point.

This artist has had considerable success, including being a finalist in the Bowness Photography Prize, the Alan Fineman New Photography Award, the National Photographic Portrait Prize, and the Maggie Diaz Photography Prize. She was also Artist in Residence at Canberra’s Photoaccess in 2014, Photographer in Residence at Carriageworks (NSW 2018), and was a Firecracker Photographic Grant Winner (UK 2020).

In addition to participating in numerous group shows, Bishop to date has had at least thirteen solo exhibitions commencing with three in Canberra – Familial/Familiar at the ANU in 2013, then 80 Denier at Photoaccess and Monuments at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, both in 2014. Since then, she has also exhibited in NSW, Victoria, Western Australia, Northern Territory, and Tasmania. Right now, her Without Your Mother series is showing at Sawtooth ARI gallery in Launceston.

In 2016 Bishop won the Iris Award (Perth Centre of Photography, WA). Her winning image, Liz and Talulah, was from The In Between series exhibited here at Photo Access in early 2018. That series explored the construction of women’s identities and the development of relationships within domestic space, using her share house as a site and constructed photographic images as a tool to “consider the social malleability of liminal space and the relationships forged within it”.

Now she has just won the Iris Award again with her image Neil and Vasantha, from another series, Without your mother. Her artist statement for this series reads “We begin our lives looking for our mothers. Do we ever stop looking for them and do they ever stop looking for us? As we grow, we attempt to detach ourselves in order to become independent and live adult lives. What remnants of this relationship that defines our early lives remain in the distance of adulthood? Our memories morph, the details become duller and distorted over time and we’re left with a summarised version of what might have happened, similar to a photograph. Some edges will blur and some will sharpen until those are the only parts we can remember.”

Neil and Vasantha © Madeline Bishop
Julie and Jacqui © Madeline Bishop
Margaret and Liz © Madeline Bishop
Shashi Meera and Simran © Madeline Bishop
Stef and Marina © Madeline Bishop

Those who consider photography prizes awarding single images to be unfortunate would be extremely pleased that Bishop has had opportunities to show the full series from which her Iris Award prize winners have come.

The artist’s website, www.madelinebishop.com, seems to me to present her works very much as she generally presents them in exhibitions. It also includes images showing her installations in galleries, which reveal her choices to sometimes hang works low near the floor – or even on it. At least some photo historians would wish she had also shown images of exhibitions that included people viewing the works, considering such shots can reveal a great deal about the public response to an exhibition.

Canberra can be proud of Bishop – and indeed of many other artist graduates from the ANU. Hopefully, those who are collectors include some of her works in their collections.

This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 16/10/21 here. It is also on the Canberra critics Circle blog here.

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