My Photography, Photography Story

The Queen and Me

Princess Elizabeth was traveling to visit Australia in 1952 when her father King George VI died. She returned to England without visiting. However, Queen Elizabeth II has visited Australia 16 times, usually on important milestones, anniversaries, or celebrations of Australian culture. I favour Australia becoming a republic but, nevertheless, over the years I have seen the Queen on a few occasions during her numerous visits. And her 70 years of service to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth is certainly quite extraordinary.

On 25 April 1970, I was amongst the crowds when she officially inaugurated the Captain James Cook Memorial which was built to commemorate the Bicentenary of Cook’s first sighting of the east coast of Australia. The memorial includes a water jet located in the central basin and a skeleton globe sculpture at Regatta Point of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, showing the paths of Cook’s expeditions.

Captain Cook Memorial Water Jet Opening, 25 April 1970

I was there again the following day, 26 April 1970, when the Queen opened the National Carillon on Aspen Island in Canberra. The carillon has a symbolic value in the link between Britain and Australia. It also has some historic value for its association with the commemoration of the 50th jubilee of the founding of Canberra.

Queen at Carillon, 26 April 1970

When the Queen again visited in 1988, my job saw me responsible for many aspects of all the Bicentennial events in Canberra including the outdoor entertainment for the opening of the new Parliament House on 9 May. Royal “flags”, “designed” by me, were flown from numerous flagpoles during the visit, much to the chagrin of certain officials who objected to “pennants” being flown from flagpoles!

Royal “Flags” flying near new Parliament House, 9 May 1988

As a result of my job responsibilities, I was one of the people invited to attend the Royal race meeting with the Queen on Sunday 8 May. Of course, we were not actually with Her Majesty rather we were all seated several rows in front of her (with an empty space in between) and were instructed not to turn around and look at her.

Photojournalists at the Royal Race meeting, 8 May 1988

The Queen officially opened the new Queen Elizabeth II stand at the racecourse and presented the trophy to the winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Bicentennial Stakes, a weight-for-age event over 2000m carrying prize money of AUD$100,000.

Despite the instructions, various people (myself included) took opportunities to peek and some of us also captured some images albeit from a distance.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke and the Queen at the Royal Race Meeting, 8 May 1988
Queen Elizabeth II – escorted by Dugald Stuart (then Chairman of the ACT Racing Club) – presented trophies to the owner and trainer (Bart Cummings) of Beau Zam which won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, 8 May 1988

On the evening of the same day, I attended a “dress rehearsal” in the new Parliament House for the following day’s main event. Guests were able to roam through the new building and many took the opportunity to sit in the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Representatives chamber. We experienced the entertainment the Queen was to hear the following day and enjoyed refreshments. I have no photographs of the event – my memory suggests we were not allowed to take any.

I was, of course, outside for the official opening of the new Parliament building, so did not actually see the official party that day, but I was close by and able to photograph the protestors who hung large banners on the outside walls.

Prisoners Action Group protest banner at new Parliament House, 9 May 1988
Protest banners at new Parliament House, 9 May 1988
Indigenous activists’ protest banner at new Parliament House, 9 May 1988

On 20 October 2011, I was on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin when the Queen travelled along it from Government House and many folk waved flags and their hands. The boat was too far from the shore to make out Her Majesty (or anyone else) from where I was looking.

Queen passing by on Royal barge on Lake Burley Griffin, 20 October 2011

Earlier this year, the National Capital Authority put out a call for anyone who had met the Queen to submit photos and their stories for potential inclusion in a planned exhibition celebrating the Platinum Jubilee. The exhibition was to be included in the permanent National Capital Exhibition in the Regatta Point building where Her Majesty had stood to see where the Lake would be once rain fell and filled up the created expanse for it. I decided to submit one of my photos of the Queen from 1988 and the story associated with it.

On 23 May I received an invitation for myself and a guest to attend the opening of The Queen and Me.

So, I accepted for myself and my wife. And, at 4.30PM on 3 June 2022, we arrived at the event and very soon found my image and story had been included.

My image and story in The Queen and Me exhibition, 3 June 2022
The 1988 panel including my story in The Queen and Me exhibition, 3 June 2022

We perused the other parts of the exhibition, listened to some amusing stories told by the organisers, had some light refreshments, took some photos and chatted to one of the organisers and a few other guests.

Organisers of The Queen and Me exhibition sharing stories at the opening, 3 June 2022
The Queen and Me exhibition poster
Part of The Queen and Me exhibition, 3 June 2022

As we left the building around 5.15PM we saw that the nearby Water Jet, along with the Carillon and some other buildings on the lake shore were lit with a purple colour. So I grabbed another photo on my phone. We subsequently learned it was Royal Purple and was part of the celebrations for the Platinum Jubilee.

Water Jet in Lake Burley Griffin illuminated with Royal Purple, 3 June 2022

As part of Australia’s celebration of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee celebrating her 70 years on the throne, on 4 June 2022, there was a ceremony on the island where the National Carillon stands.

Australia’s new Labor Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, renamed it from Aspen Island to Queen Elizabeth II Island. He described it as a “fitting salute” to the monarch. “Today we celebrate her long life and 70 years of service to Australia and the Commonwealth, including no less than 16 visits to our shores.”

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

Sunkissed

Photography Exhibition Review

SUNKISSED | JANE DUONG

ACT Hub, 14 Spinifex Street, Kingston | Until 25 June 2022

(By appointment or during theatre performances)

The Causeway Hall in Kingston is the oldest hall in Canberra and a listed item on the ACT Heritage Register. It was completed in 1926 with voluntary labour using materials provided by the Federal Capital Commission. The Causeway remains a distinct district within the suburb of Kingston, although now abutted by the foreshore development.

​For some time, the Hall served as Canberra’s principal place of entertainment. It was, variously, a picture theatre, a dance hall, a concert venue and a place where boxing matches were held.

​This year has seen the building transformed and, as ACT HUB, become a venue for independent theatre productions, such as Free Rain’s production of David Williamson’s Emerald City (8 – 25 June). It is also now presenting exhibitions of artworks, with this show by Jane Duong being the first.

Sunkissed is a modest exhibition. Modest in terms of artwork numbers and sizes. Modest in terms of the works being gentle, almost describable as quiet. They do not shout out for attention, but nevertheless encourage visitors in for a closer investigation of their contents. The venue itself is also modest – in terms of capacity and its somewhat understated décor in the particular area where the artworks hang.

Duong is a Canberra-based photographer with a Bachelor of Communications, majoring in photomedia, and a Diploma in Museums and Collections. Her previous photographic projects include Red Brick Road images from another important part of Canberra’s heritage – the Yarralumla Brickworks.

Red Brick Road was an exploration of the Brickworks architecture, landscape and objects and the use of photography to trigger, layer and construct memory. Duong’s works for that show combined film photography with Van Dyke Brown printing, allowing for the study and representation of time and the ephemeral nature of memory.

The heritage listing of the Causeway Hall makes it most appropriate that Duong has again used an old technique to explore and celebrate it and the nearby Jerrabomberra Wetlands. This time, however, the process is Cyanotype which dates back to the dawn of photography and was invented by astronomer Sir John Herschel in 1842. Cyanotype prints are created with the use of a light-sensitive chemical mixture coated on paper, UV (or sun) light and water to develop and fix.

For heritage reasons, it is not possible to attach works directly to the walls as is a common practice today in many galleries. So all the works are framed. They look great hanging – from a “picture rail” – against a wall, the colour of which blends nicely with the frames and shows off the classic blue tones of cyanotypes.

Each one-off print in this exhibition has been handmade by Duong. Some have unique borders, some have been created with a negative contact sheet, while others have been dipped directly into Wetland waterways.

Several of the works show the Hall itself. Duong has created panoramas using her phone, distorting the building a little, and used software to make some adjustments. Then she has used an inkjet printer to create negatives of each finished image on A4-sized film and used those negatives to create her exhibited prints on cotton paper using the Cyanotype process.

Old Causeway Hall II_Jane Duong_2022

Other works show a nearby entrance to, and parts of, the Jerrabomberra Wetlands – which themselves include some important historic relics of early Canberra.

Jerra Wetlands_Jane Duong_2022
Biyaligee Boardwalk_Jane Duong_2022
Waterways_Jane Duong_2022

And then there are two very different works. These were made by placing the paper directly into Wetlands waterways. They are dark and moody images, which seem quite an appropriate way to show an underwater area. The resultant works allow viewers to consider for themselves just what they are seeing.

This review was published in The Canberra Times of 5/6/22 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review

Entanglement

Photomedia Exhibition Review

ENTANGLEMENT | NOELENE LUCAS

Canberra Contemporary Art Space | Until 12 June 2022

Noelene Lucas is a video installation artist with a background in sculpture. Her work addresses our land from ecological and historical perspectives. It has been curated into major exhibitions in Australia, Europe and Asia, awarded three major Australia Council grants, Thailand, Paris and two Australia Council Tokyo residencies, the latter one deeply affecting both her life and art practice.

Birds are disappearing. Common wild birds connect us to nature. The chance of seeing a Kookaburra in SE Australia has halved since 1999. Those are just three of the messages presented on some of the video panels in this thought-provoking exhibition by Lucas.

Noelene Lucas, Bird text, 2022, (detail) multi-screen video

Other panels display slowly moving clouds and ocean waters overlaid with words such as Ozone (O3), Halons (CBrClF2), Halogenated Gases – Fluorine (F2), and Black Carbon (PM2.5). Those words are about a colourless unstable toxic gas with a pungent odour and powerful oxidizing properties, unreactive gaseous compounds of carbon with bromine and other halogens known to damage the ozone layer – including a poisonous pale-yellow gas that causes very severe burns on contact with skin, and a climate-forcing agent contributing to global warming.

Noelene Lucas, Entanglement, 2022, Multi-screen video installation with sound, Dimensions variable_022

I’m no scientist and had to research the meanings of some words when writing this. Nevertheless, the message about environmental changes and damage had been very clear to me whilst actually viewing the works in the gallery.

Another video panel reminds us – if we need any reminder – that “We are dependent for our wellbeing on the wellbeing of the environment.” And yet another informs us that “Filling the Hunter’s existing 23 massive mine voids will cost $25.3 billion but the government holds only $3.3 billion in bonds.”

Noelene Lucas, Entanglement, 2022, Multi-screen video installation with sound, Dimensions variable_008

This well-presented exhibition leaves visitors in no doubt that environmental issues are important and require urgent attention in order to “Save the planet” – words that passed by, overlaid against clouds, on another video panel.

Bird numbers and habitats have dwindled as we have destroyed many forests and wetlands, plus our previously clean air and water. Birds have disappeared as humans have destroyed their life support systems – as well as our own. So, it is most appropriate that there are also several videos of various birds and of water contaminated with drifting litter. The clear message is everywhere as you walk around the exhibition spending time watching the moving imagery.

Noelene Lucas, Galah, 2022, (detail) multi-screen video

Central to Lucas’s work is her investigation of the land from both environmental and historical perspectives. Land, birds and water quality in the light of climate change are key to the environmental research. At the base of all her video work is the exploration of time and fleeting moments.

Noelene Lucas, Entanglement, 2022, Multi-screen video installation with sound, Dimensions variable_011

Every day we hear or read about unprecedented flood or fires, that glaciers are melting faster and faster, that people’s homes and gardens are being inundated by rising sea levels. We are told there’s yet another crisis then, thankfully, that it’s passed.

We only have to consider the recent flood events in NSW and Queensland to appreciate the truth of those words. More crises do keep occurring and many of us now expect that, as a result of climate change inaction, they will only happen more and more frequently – that we are moving towards creating a world that our descendants do not deserve. If any reminder of the problem is needed this exhibition serves that purpose most effectively.

Entanglement highlights so many environmental issues and points to our involvement in the climate change crisis. But it also points to where hope resides – in our contact with other life forms, in seeing and valuing and not being indifferent to the damage that has been done.

This review was published in the Canberra Times of 30.05.22 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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My Photography, Photography Story

A small piece of Canberra’s history

One little functional building in Canberra, the Manuka electricity substation (Chamber Substation 69), was built in 1936. It is thought to have been designed by Cuthbert Whitley. It may be the only one of its kind left. It is no longer used for its purpose and, right now in May 2022, Evo Energy wants to demolish it.

A Development Application (DA number 202240055) has been lodged for Block 5, Section 41, Griffith (zoned for community uses), where the building is located. The remainder of the block contains a small parking area and is, otherwise, undeveloped.

Image taken from the DA

There is now a temporary security fence around the building, which is covered with painted “street art”.

Chamber Substation 69 behind a temporary security fence © Brian Rope
Chamber Substation 69 behind a temporary security fence © Brian Rope

Who was Cuthbert Whitley and why is his involvement in any way relevant? An entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography by Roger Pegrum reveals much about  Whitley:

Whitley was an architect and public servant, who was born on 30 July 1886 at Rutherglen, Victoria.

He trained in design and building with the Victorian Public Works Department. In 1912 he joined the Commonwealth Public Service as a draughtsman in the public works branch of the Department of Home Affairs.

In 1920, Whitley was appointed architect in the Department of Works and Railways. Soon after, he was admitted as an associate of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Whitley was transferred in 1929 to Canberra, where he worked under the principal designing architect (later chief architect) E. H. Henderson. In 1935, he was promoted to senior architect in the Department of the Interior. His first major project was a new building for the Patent Office on Kings Avenue, for which he chose a formal axial composition with sandstone facings and restrained Art Deco embellishment.

Patent Office on Kings Avenue © Brian Rope

In 1936, Whitley designed Ainslie Public School. His plans were both functional and elegant, with carefully articulated facades and creative treatment of conventional materials internally and externally. Art Deco motifs such as chevrons and vertical flutes suggested a fresh and forward-looking view of education.

Ainslie Public School (now the Ainslie Arts Centre) © Brian Rope

He followed this building with a dramatic design for Canberra High School (1939) at Acton, with a lofty clock tower marking the high ground overlooking the city centre and long symmetrical wings of classrooms terminating in bold semicircular ends. He enlivened the formality of the composition with decorative elements integrated into the overall design. Featuring many technological innovations, it was described at the time as ‘the most modern school in Australia’.

The original Canberra High School (now the ANU School of Art & Design) © Brian Rope

Following Henderson’s death in 1939, Whitley was acting chief architect for some six months. His ambitions for a truly modern Canberra were also realised in smaller projects, including houses, and the city’s first fire station, at Forrest. The flat roofs, crisp steel-framed windows and unrelieved brick walls of these buildings were early expressions in Canberra of the Inter-War Functionalist style.

Whitley travelled only for work and, despite his appreciation of contemporary architectural movements, never went overseas. After suffering the first of several strokes in 1941, he retired on 19 September 1942. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 23 October that year in Canberra Community Hospital and was buried in Canberra cemetery.

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Reviews, Exhibition Review

WE BLEED THE SAME

Photography, Documentary & Installations Review

WE BLEED THE SAME | TIM BAUER & LIZ DEEP-JONES

Research School of Social Sciences, ANU | Until September/October 2022

Whilst reporting on conflicts, acclaimed journalist Liz Deep-Jones, was deeply disturbed that they unfolded in the name of religion or racism.  Inspired by a community-led, grassroots initiative ‘Racism Not Welcome’, Deep-Jones joined forces with portrait photographer, Tim Bauer, to present this exhibition ‘We Bleed The Same’.

Deep-Jones grew up in a Lebanese, Arabic-speaking household trying to figure out how she belonged in Australian society where she experienced bigotry. She says the exhibition is “about you, me, humanity!” Bauer is the child of a refugee European father and an Australian mother who taught him to love and respect all human beings.

Thirty-nine women and men from varied backgrounds, religion and race feature in Bauer’s images. And in an accompanying documentary produced by Deep-Jones, they share personal and emotional stories about their diverse cultures and experiences with dangerous and demoralising racism. Like them, we should all be seeking to defeat racism.

As he is a pre-eminent Australian portrait photographer, it is no surprise that Bauer’s diverse images here are simply superb. The people he has wonderfully portrayed include former Race Commissioner Tim Soutphommassane, First Nations Elder Leetona Dungay (whose son David died in custody) and refugee Marcella Kaspar.

Tim Soutphommasane © Tim Bauer
Leetona Dungay © Tim Bauer
Marcella Kaspar © Tim Bauer

Lovemore N’dou, one of the other incredible people featured, had a successful early career in boxing but, due to South Africa’s apartheid policies, was not allowed to compete internationally. He migrated to Australia and continued his boxing career before becoming a lawyer.

Lovemore Ndou © Tim Bauer

There is Australian-born Uyghur woman Subhi Bora, indigenous Torres Strait Islander author and union official Thomas Mayor, and Filipino migrant Brenda Gaddi. Also South Sudanese refugee Deng Adut, proud Australian Muslim woman Maryam El-Kiki, and human rights advocate and refugee activist Thanush Selvarasa.

Maryam El-Kiki © Tim Bauer
Thanush Selvarasa © Tim Bauer

Accompanying each wonderful Bauer portrait are the subjects’ deeply personal stories in words assembled by Deep-Jones – explaining who they are, what their personal racism experiences have been, and how they are involved with seeking to combat bigotry. Those words take the already powerful images even further – they are profoundly moving. It is highly probable that studying the images and reading the words will make most viewers quite emotional.

From Mayor, we learn “Indigenous people experience racism in this country every day. Racism makes me feel less than human, insignificant, like I’m not even there but we need to stand up and be proud of who we are. We are on our country and that can’t be ignored.”

The exhibition also features various installations – including the interactive Kizuna (Japanese  – meaning ties or bonds) in which family photographs submitted by the local community are being hung from a red Hills Hoist using red strings. The threads of photos represent the connectedness between Australians whilst reflecting our diversity. Deep-Jones hopes this exhibition that she has produced will convey that message and spark visitors into ongoing conversations about racism in Australia.

Another installation comprises vials of fake red blood, each labelled with a name of a portrait subject and, so, symbolising them and shouting, ‘We Bleed The Same.’

There are opportunities for visitors to share their personal experiences of, and views about, racism by writing in red alongside images of a “blood-soaked arm.” And a Cedar Tree of Lebanon installation, inspired by Deep-Jones’ family roots, seeks to touch our souls and ignite our hearts to inspire positive action for humanity.

Deep-Jones expects the exhibition will continue until at least October 2022. It is in the foyer and also the first floor of the RSSS building at the ANU. I urge everyone who can to see this important presentation.

For a great interview with Deep-Jones check here.

This review was published by the Canberra Times on 28/05/22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

Voices of Veterans

Photography Exhibition Review

VOICES OF VETERANS | MICHAEL ARMSTRONG

National Press Club Building, | Until 19 June 2022 – by appointment only – bookings to view the exhibition or to experience insights with the artist can be made at https://voicesofveterans.com.au/events

Molasses! A viscous substance primarily used to sweeten and flavour foods. A major constituent of fine commercial brown sugar. And a primary ingredient used to distil rum.

I’ve eaten food containing molasses, seen photographs of it, even found a photography business with the word molasses in its name. Never before have I seen portraits of people covered with molasses with its thick, sticky consistency. Glue-like, tacky, treacly, and slimy might also be used to describe this substance.

Voices of Veterans, created by artist and veteran Michael Armstrong, is a collection of photographic works that visually represent individual experiences of living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). So is this an exhibition of artworks or is it simply about supporting a Veterans’ cause?

The exhibits are most definitely photo artworks and very fine ones indeed. But the exhibition is also part of an important project. Every sale contributes to the Voices of Veterans Fund, supporting veteran health and directly funding grassroots arts programs in Australian veteran communities. And it is always great to see art being used to highlight important issues.

So why use molasses, covering large expanses of the subjects’ bodies with it? Armstrong says “Molasses behaves in a manner that mirrors many of the symptoms of PTSD. Its weight and dark enveloping form, it’s staining and sticky qualities mark everything it touches. The manner in which it mirrors qualities of light and dark around it. My models naturally resonated with the experience of working with molasses and found the medium profoundly evocative”.

There are both monochrome and colour images – dark and brooding portraits, some where facial expressions are not easy to interpret, others where the molasses reminded me of bleeding wounds.

Mike Armstrong #3, 2022
Mike Armstrong #1, 2022

A very powerful one features a hand hanging down alongside part of a torso, richly coloured molasses clinging to it yet also dripping. Indeed all the images featuring hands stand out.

Mike Armstrong #5, 2022

A PTSD survivor himself, Armstrong was motivated by personal experience. Each veteran subject in the exhibition has a story, and their stories are told, expressed, felt and heard through his use of a challenging and rewarding creative process with molasses as a metaphor. The works show both sides of lived experience – the dark emotions of challenging moments and the light feelings of healing, release and hope.

Subjects’ own words are shared alongside artworks. One speaks of “the feeling of being dragged down into the thick, welcoming abyss until you are choking and drowning. Being able to barely keep your head up enough to catch a breath.”

So, the choice of molasses is enormously successful. The resultant images almost force you to study them. They are at once poignant and haunting, dark and evocative, graphic and expressive. They will bring strong memories or feelings to the minds of people who have family or friends who have suffered the effects of PTSD. They will remind others of different, yet also traumatic, experiences.

Mike Armstrong #2, 2022
Mike Armstrong #6, 2022
Mike Armstrong #4, 2022

Indeed, the created artworks have resonated with veterans deeply. When posted on Armstrong’s social media they reached a broad audience, creating high levels of engagement and many conversations. This sparked the need to create widespread awareness – and the project was born.

The exhibition will tour Australia raising awareness of the individual experiences of veterans living with PTSD, and veteran art-based workshops will support the creation and growth of healthy communities. Community events will be offered during the Canberra exhibition, including trauma-informed movement classes with health practitioners and veteran art workshops with Armstrong.

There is a gallery of the artworks online at https://voicesofveterans.com.au/art-gallery.

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

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My Photography, Photography Story

A DAY ON THE FARM

Once upon a time  – in April 1979 actually – there was a farmer with the unlikely name of Shepherd. Mike Shepherd that is. A part-time weekend farmer when I met him. A public servant concerned with matters agricultural during the week. And also a man with a precious knack for entertaining young people. A man who took chances.

Have you ever taken a chance? I don’t mean buying a lottery ticket or betting on the horses. Although that is really how I first met Mike. He had brought a tiny piece of his farm to Canberra one fine and sunny afternoon, as part of a ‘City meets Country’ happening. And I was there with my young children. My nine-year-old son Darren entered a “Guess the Weight of the Black Sheep” contest and, you guessed it – he won! The prize? A visit to Mike Shepherd’s farm.

And so it was that we came to spend two days on Mike’s farm. Not a new experience for me I thought, having lived on farms for some years as a child. Even when Mike warned that the farm always hosted an assortment of people at weekends, I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. But even Mike didn’t always know who would turn up on any particular weekend. Always adventurous, we just set off into the unknown to take a chance on this Mike, his farm and his other unknown guests. As always, of course, my camera was on board!

Arriving early Saturday morning we found all the other guests had turned up the night before. One group was in the process of slaughtering a sheep in readiness for the evening meal. As promised – or, perhaps, threatened – the other guests were indeed a whole variety of people. Various ages. Various backgrounds.

A public servant about to opt out of his personal rat race and work the farm. A woman, her four daughters – aged from about six to thirteen – and her unemployed brother. And a caftan-wearing American, resident at the farm. Mike himself. Des, with his great hat. And a couple of teachers from Sydney. Oh, and their class of thirteen teenage children with a level of intellectual disability from Wairoa Public School in Sydney.

The teachers and children were, in fact, stopping over for a few days experiencing country life. With little previous experience of such children, and certainly not any previous opportunity to get to know a group of such children at first hand, the weekend was to prove an exciting opportunity for me. And for my camera!

Ask any farmer and you will be told there is always plenty of work to be done. This one was no exception. All the guests were welcome to get involved with whatever was in progress. My then wife settled down with her sketchbook. My children went exploring and found a pony to ride. One of the other children, Susie, looked longingly but could not be persuaded to join them.

I found myself helping Mike to bring in some sheep. One of the school children used his imaginary walkie-talkie to pass innumerable instructions to imaginary security guards, and to the rest of us as we gathered the sheep! As the rest of the children ran towards us when we brought the sheep in, I ran to get my cameras.

I was not disappointed. Teacher Sylvia, and Des in his hat, tried their hands at cutting toenails and treating footrot on the rams. An upside-down ram and an inquisitive bunch of children soon found Mike giving an impromptu biology and sex lesson. The farm visitors watched on whilst one held a sheep steady, and the nearby building silently observed.

Once the work was over, there was time for fun. The children were enticed to leave their safe viewing positions beyond the yard fence and join the sheep. Not an easy thing for some of them. They dug deep for courage to really get among the unfamiliar.

Darren seems interested in joining the sheep
Mike offers encouragement to the reticent ones
Will I, won’t I?
Maybe I’ll just stay here?
This is a good view from here
I’ll try this nail cutting lark
Some decide to get in there

Eventually, my camera followed Hatice, a mildly retarded girl, as she tentatively moved – in a few feet, back several, in again, back again!

Hatice
Hatice cautiously moves towards the sheep, following her teacher’s lead as two classmates look on
Hatice thinks better of it and heads for the protection of the railings
Hatice finds the courage to overcome her fear and grasp a sheep by its horns

Until eventually she took a firm hold on a sheep and grinned up at me in triumph!

Hatice smiles triumphantly for the camera as she realises she has achieved her goal of touching that sheep

(Those five images about Hatice were published under the heading “I was there” in the February 1980 issue of an Australian Photographic Society magazine, Image.)

Dean, an only child, adopted almost everyone as his temporary family. He really took a fancy to Sandy. She became his sister. Her mother became his mother. Others became his father, uncles and aunts! Around the evening campfire later this young boy delighted us all with his skills playing a guitar.

John also thrilled us with his musical ability. He lacked the co-ordination to peg clothes on a line, but he was able to produce tune after tune on a piano accordion keyboard – as Mike did the squeezing for him!

I will always remember the weekend for so many things. The way small hands slipped quietly into my arm. The way small arms slipped around my shoulder. The shy smiles. Susie – who eventually found the courage to ride the pony. The music and singing after we ravenously tore at the barbecued sheep. And, particularly, the hauntingly beautiful unaccompanied singing of the Lord’s Prayer by one of the young girls from the special school before we turned in for the night.

I became so engrossed in learning from, and getting to know, these special children that I forgot to keep taking photographs. I don’t make that mistake any more. But the images I did get have always served as a reminder of the day my son took a chance.

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Photo Book Review, Reviews

Canberra Re-Seen Photobook

Photography Book Review

Canberra Re-Seen | Various Artists

Three new independently published photo-books were recently launched in Canberra at Photo Access, all examining the city of Canberra as a place of social, cultural and political significance. Each photographer, in all the books, explores their personal relationship to the city, as well as considering its wider, public meaning as a national capital city.

Canberra Re-Seen, by multiple artists, curated by Wouter Van de Voorde (currently acting Director of Photo Access), was an exhibition in 2021 that explored the idea of the city as a community of people, a built environment, and a physical landscape and the book selects and interweaves works from the project. I reviewed the exhibition at the time on this blog here.

Developed in collaboration with Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG), the project brought together sixteen artists to create new work responding to three of Canberra’s landmark photographers – Marzena Wasikowska, Edward (Ted) Richards and Ian North – all part of the CMAG collection. Just one image by each of those photographers are also included in this book.

The words accompanying the images throughout this book provide much information – historical background about the city, the project and the three landmark photographers; and the sixteen artists wrote their own words about their individual approaches and images.

Inspired by Wasikowska’s interest in capturing the human qualities of Canberra, one of the project groups explored the idea that a city is best understood through its people. They had the added benefit of Wasikowska herself leading their workshop. The book’s images from this group include Andrea Bryant’s marvellous portrait of her neighbour Maria, Eva Schroeder’s superb Metamorphosis  – a triptych portrayal of a Canberran transitioning from one gender to another, and Louise Maurer’s extraordinary Weetangera II – a composite speaking to the importance of diminishing green spaces and native ecosystems across Canberra. Each of those named images can be seen in my previous review of the exhibition, so here is just one of them.

Maria Straykova

A second collective, led by Van de Voorde, investigated Richards’ interest in documenting the character of Canberra’s little-known places. They shot on 35mm film and created darkroom prints in response to Richards’ dramatic black and white style. Amongst their creations are Annette Fisher’s delightful Abstracts, and Tessa Ivison’s strong cityscapes – interestingly titled Pastoral. Sari Sutton, inspired by the playful use of lines and geometry in Richard’s Dancing in the Mall, 1964 found her own and used them effectively in her Civic Stripes series. Again, each of those images was included in my review of the previous exhibition, and so, here is just one of them.

Annette Fisher, 4 Abstracts, 2021

Working with documentary photographer David Hempenstall, the third group explored the ideas of North’s early 1980s images of Canberra suburbs – vistas both bleak and beautiful. Peter Larmour took 3D images of landscapes. His Southern Anaglyph (dye sublimation on aluminium) was worthy of close examination when exhibited. Unfortunately, it can only be represented in two dimensions in this book. A very strong contribution is Beata Tworek’s series of excellent collages, which respond to North’s innovative and optimistic colour treatment of deserted streetscapes with austere monochromes reflecting disdain for their lack of individuality. Grant Winkler’s That Sinking Feeling is very much about the bush landscape disappearing as new suburbs creep over it, replaced by homes and other buildings sitting heavily on the scraped earth with what remains of nature being “moulded and manicured” and no longer particularly natural.

Once again, the mentioned images made by this group are in my review of the exhibition, but here is one of them.

Ambivalent collage 6 – Beata Tworek

Translated into this book, Canberra Re-Seen selects and interweaves work from across that broader project, drawing together digital and darkroom works to generate a simultaneously affectionate and challenging look at the city of Canberra and what it means to live in it today. Photo Access staff member Caitlin Seymour-King has done a fine job of designing the book. It is much more than a catalogue of the 2021 exhibition. It is a book to study and return to regularly as the city of Canberra continues to develop and change.

The book can be purchased at Photo Access.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. Another version was published in the Canberra Times on 7/5/22 here as part of a combined review of this and the other two books launched at the same time.

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Photo Book Review, Reviews

EDGE

Photography Book Review

EDGE | Kayla Adams

EDGE, by Kayla Adams, is one of three independently published photo-books about Canberra recently launched. As do the other two, this book explores the author’s personal relationship to the city.

The book looks at the urban and built environment of the Woden town centre through the idea of Edge City. I was not previously familiar with the term but learned that it originated in the United States for a concentration of business, shopping, and entertainment outside a traditional downtown or central business district, in what had previously been a suburban residential or rural area.

The term was popularised by the 1991 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier by Joel Garreau. He argued that the edge city has become the standard form of urban growth worldwide, representing a 20th-century urban form unlike that of the 19th-century central downtown.

So, it is an urban planning phenomenon where new, separate cities spring up around older, established ones. Is that what Woden town centre is – or is becoming? Adams says, rather than it “springing up”, Canberra chose the edge city form consciously. Whether that is so or not, certainly the city has been changing in recent years and continues to do so.

Adams has approached her exploration by focussing on the Lovett Tower, that 93-metre-tall building in Woden’s town centre which once was the city’s tallest building. Current redevelopment plans would see it grow from 24 to 28 storeys and again become the tallest building. Another developer’s plans could see a similar height building nearby. Whatever changes are made to existing buildings and regardless of new additions in the area, this photobook is timely. The views featured in it inevitably will change or be completely lost. The iconic tower may no longer be easily noticed from surrounding suburbs.

Lyons house study & Lovett Tower 2, 2018 – Kayla Adam

All the images in EDGE were shot between 2018 and 2021. They are a mixture of black and white and colour photographs. Around half show the Lovett Tower. There it is – glimpsed through  trees, through the mesh of a structure in a decaying parcel of land, and above the rooftops of suburbia during both day and night.

Lovett Tower and trees at Lyons apartments, 2020 – Kayla Adams

Other images include views from Mount Taylor, the demolition of the Lyons apartments directly across from the Town Centre, and an assortment of pieces of the surrounding suburbia. The Pitch’n’Putt, which also has closed, is another featured subject.

Woden Pitch’n’Putt & Lovett Tower 2, 2018 – Kayla Adams

People themselves are not seen in the works, but the artist’s presence as author is nevertheless evident.  It is not a book simply to be flicked through. Time should be taken to examine and consider each image, looking at their compositions and thinking about why Adams chose their locations and contents. Doing so, viewers will notice details that reveal changes during the short period of years in which they were taken. Through her distinctive use of viewpoints, Adams draws the viewer irresistibly into the process of seeing, creating an intimate complicity between artist, image and audience.

As the years pass by, this book will become akin to a time capsule. Be they planned extensions to existing places or organically born structures in and around the Town Centre, changes will bring with them new identities and notions of place. Who knows what buildings will be demolished or remade? What new features will appear where – and will they replace or add to those currently part of this town centre? Today’s youngsters starting out on their life journey’s and regularly vising the town centre may even be intrigued by this book when it becomes a historical document showing what their part of the city once looked like.

The book can be purchased at Photo Access.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. Another version was published in the Canberra Times on 7.5.22 here as part of a combined review of this and the other two books launched at the same time.

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Photo Book Review, Reviews

Lifetime Book 1. Coming of age

Photography Book Review

Lifetime Book 1. Coming of age | Greg Dickins

There have been various photo-books published about Canberra. Heide Smith published five of them about the city and its people between 1983 and 2012. Col Ellis published one in 2014 – providing tips and tricks for aspiring photographers, as well as creating a memento for expatriates and visitors. And I provided all the images for a 1990 book introducing Canberra to thousands of visitors shown around by local tourism company Hire-A-Guide.

However, I doubt that three independent photo-books about the city have previously been launched simultaneously. But now we have three which all examine Canberra as a place of social, cultural and political significance. Each explores the personal relationships of their photographers to the city. Each also looks at the national capital’s wider, public meaning.

One of them, Life-Time Book 1. Coming of age, is the first in a planned series of five photo-books by Greg Dickins. It catalogues his life in Canberra between 1967 and 1973, focussing on his experiences of childhood, school, university student revelry and family intimacy –  against the backdrop of anti-Vietnam War protests and rallies to establish an Aboriginal embassy. His planned later books will cover the years to 1987, after he left Canberra.

Dickins has spent his working life as a journalist and media consultant but has always had a passion for photography. He picked up a 35mm SLR camera as a teenager in the late 1960s – that time of great social, political and cultural change. Since then he has maintained a permanent darkroom, working mostly in black & white.

As a record of Canberra the way it looked and felt fifty years ago, this volume reveals something of the extent to which the city has evolved and changed through time. In his introduction, Dickins identifies his first dilemma as author of a book of photographs – “What do I have to say?” His response was that he needed to narrate a story linking the pictures and explaining their inclusion. So, he shows us what he saw and hopes we will see his take on what his images mean – or meant at the time.

So, how well has the author achieved his purpose? The childhood section includes some delightful images of youngsters doing the types of things all children do – playing with balloons – and something home-made, rolling about together on the ground, and painting at kindergarten.

Jane, Tricia & friend, June 1973 – Greg Dickins

They are also shown gesturing, laughing, and even looking like Winston Churchill. Some adults also make appearances with the children. These photos clearly represent what childhood meant for the majority of kids in Canberra at that period.

Dickins then moves on to school years. He shows us school-age children playing in the Cotter River, waiting for the school bus, in marching girl outfits, together on a sandy beach, and enjoying Canberra Day.

Di, Paul, Kyle & Judy, Casuarina Sands, November 1967 – Greg Dickins

Perhaps of greatest interest are the strong images of schoolchildren participating in an anti-Vietnam War march and rally in September 1970. Are their counterparts protesting today aware their counterparts did the same?

Next the book explores university student years – speakers’ corner (who remembers that?), rugby, drama (including a nude poetess and a production of Marat Sade), the first on-campus condom vending machine, Bush Week activities and conscription notice burning. Plus a 1972 march to establish the Aboriginal Embassy and, again, an anti-Vietnam War march and rally. A number of well-known people appear, including two political leaders. There are some great historical shots here.

March to establish the Aboriginal Embassy, July 1972 – Greg Dickins

The final three images about family neatly close off what Dickins wanted to say. He has successfully narrated his story.

The book can be purchased at Photo Access or online at https://au.blurb.com/b/11093552-life-time-book-1-coming-of-age-large-12×12.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. Another version was published in the Canberra Times on 7/5/22 here as part of a combined review of this and the other two books launched at the same time.

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