The Body Electric

Photography Review

Various artists: The Body Electric

National Gallery of Australia | Until 26 January 2021

The Body Electric presents works by 25 woman-identifying artists, pioneers with respect to recent photography and video. It is about sex, pleasure, and desire; celebrates women’s erotic experiences; explores stories of domestic intimacy and love; examines how women’s sexuality has historically been represented; and shows sex, love, and loss as an animating part of human experience.

On the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) website, Curator Anne O’Hehir highlights one of the artists, Nan Goldin. O’Hehir notes that, historically, photography has played a pivotal role in the way sex and sexuality are seen in society; images of women by heterosexual men for heterosexual men dominating. This exhibition reveals a different view to us. O’Hehir’s piece is well worth reading before visiting.

A tender image by Pixy Liao used on the NGA website to represent the exhibition on its listing of current exhibitions clearly illustrates intimacy. Her other works shown are sexy and surreal.


Pixy Liao – Some words are just between us from Experimental relationship 2010
chromogenic photograph, 40.6 cm x 50.8 cm
image courtesy of the artist

Australian Polly Borland is also represented. Others have said her artistic work tends to marry the infantile with a sexual interest in parts of the body other than the sexual organs. The examples here are consistent with that view.


Polly Borland – MORPH 9 2018
pigment inkjet print, 200 cm x 162.5 cm
image courtesy of the artist and Murray White Room, Melbourne
© Polly Borland

A 1976 work by Jo Ann Callis portrays an anonymous woman seated, holding a flashlight in one hand. Decide for yourself what her purpose is but, almost certainly, we are meant to think about masturbation.


Jo Ann Callis – Untitled (woman with flashlight) c 1976
pigment inkjet print, 40.6 cm x 50.8 cm
image courtesy of ROSEGALLERY, © the artist

Christine Godden shows us her own umbilicus in a simple selfie. The title of this work is Self. Sunny day in winter 1974. An alternate title used for this image is Jeans and jumper. Both titles are simple descriptions of things in the image, leaving the interpretation of it open to us as viewers. Many of Godden’s works are intended to show ‘how women see and how women think’.


Christine Godden – Self. Sunny day in winter 1974
gelatin silver photograph, 14.9 cm x 22.6 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
gift of the artist 1987, © the artist

Works by Nan Goldin are much more powerful. Again, titles are simple, but there is strong material in these images.


Nan Goldin – Nan and Brian in bed, NYC 1983
dye destruction photograph, 39 (h) x 59.9 (w) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
purchased 1994, © the artist

Likewise, to the casual observer, a beautiful backlit transparency by Petrina Hicks might be seen simply as a photo of a woman hiding her face behind a rather lovely conch shell. However, the shape of the shell immediately speaks of the pleasure and desire this exhibition is about.


Petrina Hicks – Venus from the series The Shadows 2013
backlit transparent archival film (lightbox), 118.5 cm x 118.5 cm
image courtesy the artist and Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin

Fiona Pardington rephotographed found erotic 1950s images of women. Intended for publication in men’s magazines as pornographic fodder, they fit neatly into her thinking that photography is deeply sexy.

Collier Schorr challenges binary notions of gender and sexuality, reflecting both her queerness and desire. She asserts that her photographs of men and boys are of ‘women’.

Francesca Woodman plays hide and seek with her own body, producing intense yet witty and playful images.

Claire Lambe contributes a provocative red image that allows viewers to muse extensively as to what she is seeking to say to us.


Claire Lambe – Untitled (red Emily) 2017
chromogenic photograph, 94 cm x 140 cm
image courtesy of the artist and Sarah Scout Presents

An exhibition such as this must include work by Cindy Sherman. Here is a disturbingly explicit view of a female doll crouched on knees with a ready plastic orifice.


Cindy Sherman – Untitled #255 2018
chromogenic photograph, 114.9 cm x 173.4 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
purchased 1997, chromogenic print, © the artist

I invited my wife to accompany me to the exhibition so that I might witness her reactions and discuss the works. I also observed other visitors, mostly older women. But none of them, of whatever age or gender, revealed their thoughts to me.

Another of the included photographers, Annie Sprinkle, is quoted as saying “I want to tell women that they are sexually powerful beings, but they often don’t get in touch with it because they are socialised to please men.” Is that still true today? Each of us will have our own thoughts.

This review was originally commissioned by the Canberra Times but not used by them. I have also published it on the Canberra Critics Circle’s blog today here.


2020 Mullins Australian Conceptual Photography Prize

Photography Review

Various artists | 2020 Mullins Australian Conceptual Photography Prize

Magnet Galleries, Docklands, Melbourne | Until 1 August 2020

The annual Mullins Australian Conceptual Photography Prize (MACPP) is conducted by the Australian Photographic Society. The 2020 winners were announced on 9 July during an onsite exhibition opening in the Magnet Galleries, simultaneously livestreamed to a broader audience nationwide via Zoom. Sadly, the physical exhibition is closed to visitors because of the Melbourne lockdown. However, the gallery has created a wonderful virtual gallery which allows us to explore all the images. There is a link on their Website

Of 34 finalist images selected by the judges, an extraordinary 9 of them are by Canberra artists – Sophie Dumaresq, Ian Skinner, Lyndall Gerlach, Mark Van Veen, Judy Parker, Jim McKenna, and me. So, it was not altogether surprising when one of them, Judy Parker, was announced as the winner of the major prize of $10,000 cash for one of her two finalist images.

Dumpster Sketchbook- Waterside - by Judy Parker

Dumpster Sketchbook: Waterside © Judy Parker

Parker’s concept statement for the image read: Recently I took a series of photographs of the side panels of a large open container at a local recycling centre. The markings had a wonderfully strong graphic quality, red rust-lines on a silver-painted surface: a calligraphy of wear and tear. When I processed my images, I was intrigued by the way sections of the random patterns suggested a series of semi-abstract coastal landscapes, each quite different. I modified three of these to reinforce the reference and combined them as a triptych. Our minds are not limited to the literal. They can equally re-identify and re-imagine.

Parker’s second finalist image quickly brought a smile to my face for its creation of a human emotion in an inanimate object.

Delighted Vertebra - by Judy Parker

Delighted Vertebrae © Judy Parker

Other prize winners were Louise Alexander from Western Australia and Anne O’Connor from Launceston, both of whom entered excellent works. Alexander’s image about wanting to hide and not be seen was a standout for me. O’Connor’s work features red hand stitching representing the blood of humanity and the land in their struggle for survival.

014 Beige Chair

Beige Chair © Louise Alexander

055 The Price of Water

The Price of Water © Anne O’Connor

Amongst the other Canberran finalists, one of the works that I most enjoyed was The Hairy Panic, Untitled 15 by another Canberran, Sophie Dumaresq.

The Hairy Panic, Unitled #15 - by Sophie Dumaresq

The Hairy Panic, Untitled 15 © Sophie Dumaresq

It is part of Dumaresq’s series of photographs of a Land Art Installation that took place out in the windswept grasslands surrounding Lake George. That full series was exhibited in Canberra’s Nishi Gallery in March/April 2020. Another image from the series was a finalist in the 2020 Goulburn Art Prize.

Ian Skinner’s two finalist images wonderfully tell their sad stories of loss by his friends because of the New Year’s Eve bushfires at Cadgee.

Aftermath Cadgee 2020 No.1 - by Ian Skinner

Aftermath Cadgee 2020 No.1 © Ian Skinner

Aftermath Cadgee 2020 No.3 - by Ian Skinner

Aftermath Cadgee 2020 No.3 © Ian Skinner

Lyndall Gerlach features with an evocative creation titled Skinbark, from her “Textures of Life” series exploring age and ageing both emotionally and visually.

Skinbark (Textures of Life Series) - by Lyndall Gerlach

Skinbark ©Lyndall Gerlach

Mark Van Veen also brought us an image from an ongoing series, “Point of Return”, exploring reflections in our urban environment and how they alter our view of the world.

Blue Kimono Takamatsu 2019 7626 - by Mark Van Veen

Blue Kimono Takamatsu 2019 7626 © Mark Van Veen

Jim McKenna (technically no longer a Canberran as he has moved to the Bega Valley, but still a participating member of the Canberra Photographic Society) tells a powerful story about life’s journey.

Lifes Journey

Life’s Journey © James McKenna

And the final featured Canberran is me with an image seeking to show that there is nothing to fear.

The Black Crow - by Brian Rope

The Black Crow © Brian Rope

I could discuss every other image in this fine exhibition, but I’ll leave that to you to explore them for yourself via the virtual gallery mentioned in the opening paragraph of this. After exploring them you can vote for the People’s Choice Award. I haven’t decided yet but am leaning towards giving my personal vote to an image about the need for good to triumph over despair.

185 Helena and Florek

Helena and Florek © Sue Joy


Shadows and Consequences

Photography Review

Vic McEwan | Shadows and Consequences

PhotoAccess | Until 25 July 2020
This exhibition focuses on the impact of human activity, and the role of the arts and photographic media, exploring the period during which scientists say we have significantly altered the Earth. The changes include global warming, habitat loss, altered chemical composition of the atmosphere, oceans and soil, and animal extinctions. Addressing all of that is a huge challenge, but one that the artist has tackled imaginatively.

What do embryos, intestines, bogongs and a koala paw have in common? They’re all animal specimens, mostly from the National Museum of Australia’s collection that some of us will remember seeing in jars at the old Institute of Anatomy. Vic McEwan has photographed the specimens and then projected his images onto diverse surfaces to create new still and video images.

Selection of projection sites was important in telling the story. Sections of old walls along the River Thames during periods of low tides. Plymouth walls dating from the time of Cook’s voyages of discovery. An ancient fort in Portsmouth, from where the First Fleet departed.

Vic McEwan, Koala Paw - River Thames, 2020

Vic McEwan, Koala Paw – River Thames, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 84.1cm x 59.4cm

Vic McEwan, Specimen Foliage - Plymouth, 2020

Vic McEwan, Specimen Foliage – Plymouth, 2020 – photographic archival pigment print, 84.1cm x 59.4cm

Vic McEwan, Embryo - Portsmouth, 2020

Vic McEwan, Embryo – Portsmouth, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 59.4cm x 42cm

The Arthur Phillip monument in the centre of London displays a wonderful image of lizard intestines. McEwan rightly suggests they look like a big bunch of balloons. This is intimate, being only a 40 or 50 cm wide projection, quite different from the other images.

One specimen is a monkey’s head – a curious collection item as monkeys are not native to Australia. Foliage in the form of ivy appears on one projection wall. Two animals in one jar – a love story? Each element of every image contributes to the complex story that is shared with us.

The projections in England were done using a small handheld projector with its batteries charged in Australia using solar power. More connections! Back in Australia at Narrandera, on the Murrumbidgee, and close to McEwan’s own house, he used a much more powerful projector – takes 4 people to carry it – because of the projection distance.

In the second gallery, images show the same body of specimens projected onto smoke during the recent Summer of bushfires. Again, this is about the consequences of the way European colonisation has impacted on Australia – millions of animals have died because of fires and smoke. The specimens are not recognisable in these – to viewers who do not have the artist’s knowledge of them. He accurately describes the result as “paintings” in projected light. They would stand alone as images if we knew nothing of their purpose here. A much bigger catastrophe is represented in these strong works.

Then there are three images of bogongs from a CSIRO collection – taken at Mt McKay in Falls Creek. Scientists are trying to find out why bogongs have disappeared from there in recent years. So, the artist used projections to return moths into that landscape.

In the third gallery space I thoroughly enjoyed a three-act video work made from materials gathered during the project. Almost hosted by lizard and kangaroo specimens, it steps through the chronology from departure of the First Fleet through to the current day’s consequences. The video soundtrack also was made on the sites of the projections. We hear the artist playing the Arthur Phillip monument with a bow and extracting bell sounds from the bars in windows of the old Plymouth fort. Sonically mined from the time when they were built.

McEwan speaks about his work in a 37 minutes recording. This “photo-story” is available on the Photo Access online gallery and is an excellent audio guide if used when walking through the exhibition.



Epherema Created, Artworks Evolve

Encouraged by the responses to my initial foray into writing poetry to accompany an image – see my blog piece of 4 July 2020 titled Spilled Shadow – I have tried again.

This time I’ve overlaid short pieces on six images from my looking down to the pavements beneath my feet series – see my 12 May 2020 blog piece titled Pavement Pounding. Here they are.

Ephemera 1

Ephemera 2

Ephemera 3

Ephemera 4

Ephemera 5

Ephemera 6


Spilled Shadow

The Friends of APS Contemporary Group on Facebook challenges members to post images in response to a particular them each month. The theme this month is RGB colours – i.e. the Reds, Greens and Blues we see around us. I stumbled across an example of Red and took this image, which I titled Spilled Shadow.


After seeing it, two other members of the group thought I should write a poem to accompany it. One even suggested that Spilled Shadow would make an excellent title.

Now writing poetry is not something I’ve ever done. Nor had I ever seen myself as a poet. However, I recently participated in a Zoom presentation organised by the Canberra PhotoConnect group. The  poet, photographer and author, Giles Watson, from Albany in Western Australia shared some of his images and recited his poetry, and shared about his collaborations with other creative artists and his experiences with book publishing. I loved his work and his presentation. That had already made me think about trying to write some words – poetry or otherwise – to go with some of my images.

So, I decided to take up the challenge to write a poem to accompany my Spilled Shadow image. Today I showed what I had written to participants in another Canberra PhotoConnect Zoom gathering, seeking feedback from others. A number of them were most generous in their comments. A couple of suggestions were made for my consideration, and I made a modest adjustment to the words in response to one of the suggestions.

I have just shared it on the Facebook group mentioned earlier and asked those who challenged me what they think of it. Their responses may lead to further changes. But for now, here it is.

Spilled Shadow

I’m already working on words to accompany a set of images telling the story of the challenge of walking 9 km from an altitude of 1840 metres to the highest point in our land, altitude 2228 metres. And return! It was on 26 April 1999. I’ll post that story here when I complete it.


Traces Unseen

Various artists: Traces Unseen

PhotoAccess Online Gallery


Until 20 June 2020

Traces Unseen features three interstate artists Damien Shen, Todd Johnson and Tara Gilbee, all working at the cutting edge of photomedia.

Shen has created and etched tintypes to respond to archives documenting his rich heritage of mainland China and the indigenous Ngarrindjeri people. Johnson has studied the effects of the geographical environment on our emotions and behaviour. Gilbee contributes solargraphic works capturing a forensic digital tracing of a quarantine site. Each has explored contemporary questions relating to personal identity.

In her catalogue essay, exhibition curator Aimee Board writes “Each exhibited artist calls into question the essence of the photograph as an imprint of light, while at the same time uncovering the historical role and narrative of the image.”

Renowned for his skills as a draughtsman and explorations of his personal heritage, Shen combines traditional imagery and the archival source to create his works. His practice is to deconstruct the world around him to understand his identity. Here, he has drawn on archival images of paintings sourced from various Dynasty periods, tying in with family heritage from China. He shows us himself as Emperor mounted on horseback, but in his Ngarrindjeri homeland. This work strongly resonated with me, just a year after seeing some aspects of various dynasties whilst touring China.

Image 1

Damien Shen, Never Venture, Never Win, 2020, etched tin type, 4 x 5 inches. Courtesy of MARS Gallery.

After making charcoal drawings of relatives as he recorded their oral histories, Shen photographed them. He overlaid the resultant images with intricately etched lines, exploring darker aspects of Australia’s complex past. The resultant masks are quite fascinating to look at, although I didn’t find them quite as compelling as some of his previous “vintage style” portraits.

Gilbee has a multidisciplinary approach to art making. Her practice moves between individual studio work to the exploration of interesting sites and context for making and presenting work, with a focus on the intervening spaces.

Using solargraphy, a pinhole photographic method for recording the marks of the sun rising and falling, she tells the story of the Old Quarantine site at Point Nepean in Victoria, set up in 1852 to protect the local population. Ships carrying diseased passengers were required to land and disembark, where luggage and people were disinfected before heading to Melbourne. Another appropriate exploration given the quarantine arrangements most recently used because of COVID-19. Gilbee says, With the pinhole,’s like the porthole that you look out in a ship or a guard looking through to the inside of a cell. It has a really strong ocular and pupil effect…

Image 3

Tara Gilbee ‘Untitled’ (Solagraph – Nepean Quarantine Station (1) 6 months) 2017-2019 Digital scan of original photographic record. Dimensions variable.

Johnson employs analogue techniques to explore the materiality of photographic images resulting from a physical exchange between the body, film, and elements of the environment. His ongoing series, Eighty Lakes, documents numerous Australian lakes including Burley Griffin. Once developed, the film is later submerged in water collected on site, for durations of up to two months. Gradually, the film becomes malleable, as minerals, bacteria and pollution of the water create unpredictable abstractions. The shapes and patterns in these images are wonderful to explore.

Image 2

Todd Johnson, 1 week, 3 days, 2 hours, 2020, archival giclee print, 80 x 80 cm

Johnson considers film to be an obsolete medium and sees a three parts connection between the obsolescence of film images, the technology itself, and landscape in an age of environmental instability. He speaks of “decaying slide film” productively performing the material embodiment of environmental deterioration. Many people scanning their old slide collections during COVID-19 isolation will have discovered decay in them, so should relate to that.

​As curator Board writes “As luminous inscriptions of light, the works presented in Traces Unseen investigate the intangible aspects of histories and of place. They also capture, indirectly, points at which the producer and the produced converge.”



Pavement Pounding

During the pandemic isolating I have spent considerable time pounding the pavements of my suburb getting exercise; also photographing things on those pavements beneath my feet. Here are just three of the images I have captured.

1    2      3

Each year the Canberra Photographic Society conducts two portfolio competitions, one for prints and the other for projected images. This year I decided to create my entry for the projected image event from the pavement imagery. I called the entry Pavement Pounding. The title image repeated the words in the opening paragraph of this article.

ROPE_B_0_Pavement Pounding - Title image

Here are the images in the portfolio, in the order presented to the judge, Judy Parker. Each separate image is a triptych. They show shadows, textures, partially eroded surfaces, weeds, shapes, faults lines in concrete, leaves and more. I did a little work to make the edges of each part of each triptych have a slight sort of torn paper edge.

ROPE_B_1_Pavement Pounding

ROPE_B_2_Pavement Pounding

ROPE_B_3_Pavement Pounding

ROPE_B_4_Pavement Pounding

ROPE_B_5_Pavement Pounding

ROPE_B_6_Pavement Pounding

Judy made her comments on each entered portfolio during a Zoom meeting of the Society on 5 May, sharing the images from her computer monitor screen as she spoke about them. A few days later Judy’s commentary was circulated to all the Society’s members. This is what she said about my portfolio: “A well-observed series of triptych groupings of extremely simple but emotionally gentle subject matter. I found this set very graphically satisfying and quite beautiful. The mix of organic and more geometric surfaces and the linking within and across the sets make this a particularly effective portfolio.”

Judy gave my portfolio a score of 4 out of 5. I was not amongst the top scoring entries. The winning portfolio scored 5. Numerous others scored either 4.5 or 4.

The winner was Marta Yebra with “After the Fire”.

Annotation 2020-05-12 123138

Judy said it “is a strongly observed, highly graphic and beautifully presented set of four images in the aftermath of recent fires. The high angles, both distant and downwards, give an overview of the general (with the damage contrasting with the distant green) and the detail, with tortured trees and layers of ash. The sequence, including the visual links between images, makes this a highly emotive and successful portfolio. The precision of the detail heightens the starkness of the subject and strengthens the communication.”

The two runners up were Dave Basset’s “Country Pub” and Sarah Ausserlechner’s “Orcas in Alaska”.

Annotation 2020-05-12 123050

Judy’s comments: “All in the one location and presumably on the same occasion, this very well executed and presented set of people studies, passing in front of a country pub and its occupants, is particularly well-timed and empathetic. Crisp captures, entertaining in their identification of character (even the Renaissance portrait in the window), these are a wonderful set of characters in an iconic location.”

Annotation 2020-05-12 123432

Judy’s comments: “A very well-photographed set of four Orcas in motion. I love the water details as well: ripples, spray, bow waves and the neutral tones of cold water. Precise focus and stop-motion: “the frozen moment” literally. Whether formation, solo or interactive groupings, the format and presentation of this group of images make it a clearly seen and empathetic description of a rare sight. Including the strongly motivated male. A very well-integrated set. Well done.”


Some history around my entering this world

On 3 March 1942, temperatures stayed below freezing over much of the Midlands and Southern England.

My birth certificate indicates that I began my life outside of the womb on 3 March 1942 at Matlock.

Birth Certificate

In fact, I was born at Willersley Castle in Cromford, a few miles down the road from Matlock, the births registration centre sub-district which takes in Cromford. This is in the county of Derbyshire in England, on the edge of what is known as the Peak District.

My birth certificate records that my dad, James William Rope, was Gunner 1076690 Royal Artillery (Laundryman) at that time. My mother was Eileen Elsie (nee Davey). So, the first days of my life were spent in Willersley Castle. Dad was in the army at that time but not overseas, so was able to obtain leave to come and visit mum and meet me.

Of course, at the same time as I emerged into the world, another far more significant event was happening – World War II. On the day I was born, a supplement to the London Gazette announced “The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards: — Distinguished Flying Cross. Wing Commander Henry Neville Gynes RAMSBOTTOM-ISHERWOOD, A.F.C. (29116). Squadron Leader Anthony Garforth MILLER (90088), Auxiliary Air Force, No. 134 Squadron. Acting Squadron Leader Anthony Hartwell ROOK (90071), Auxiliary Air Force, No. 81 Squadron. The above awards are for gallantry and devotion to duty in the execution of air operations.”

3 March 1942 was also the night of a major RAF raid on the Renault works in Paris.

RAF raid on Renault Paris

Image above and words immediately below sourced from

Annotated vertical taken during night raid on the Renault works at Boulogne-Billancourt, west of the centre of Paris. The largest number of RAF aircraft sent to a single target at that point in the war – 235 – were despatched, dropping a record tonnage of bombs. A significant development was the mass use of flares to illuminate the target (‘1’ and ‘2’). Smoke and flame from exploding bombs can be seen on the factory (‘3’), and also on the Ile St Germain (‘4’ and ‘5’). Only one aircraft, a Vickers Wellington, was lost during the raid, which was judged to be a great success.

Another event on 3 March 1942, but on the other side of the world in a country that was to become my future home, saw Japanese fighter aircraft, fresh from their victories in the then Dutch East Indies, attack Broome in Western Australia. Nine Japanese Zero planes strafed the town, planning to destroy the aerodrome and American planes. With no notice, the townsfolk could only put up minimal opposition and in an attack that lasted only an hour, almost one hundred men, women and children lost their lives. Not a single operational aircraft remained in Broome. The town itself was reduced to ruins. The full story of this has been told in “The Ghosts of Roebuck bay” by Ian W. Shaw, a Canberra writer.

Broome 3.3.42

Plaque in Broome, 2010 © Brian Rope

So, I was born a “pommy” and, later, became an “aussie”. To start at the beginning and explain why I was born in a castle, it is necessary to provide some relevant history.

Once upon a time there was a famous Mothers’ Hospital in London. It traces its origins to the work for unmarried mothers begun in the earliest days of the Salvation Army. ‘Refuge Homes’ for poor and destitute women were provided in private houses in various parts of London. As part of this scheme the Salvation Army established a home at Ivy House, Mare Street, Hackney in 1884. Many of the women seeking shelter there were pregnant, and in 1888 the Salvation Army decided to dedicate Ivy House to the confinement of unmarried mothers.

Although maternity hospitals had existed in Britain since the eighteenth century, these were almost entirely reserved for married mothers only. This was the first time that maternity hospital facilities had been combined with a ‘Home of Refuge’.

The hospital trained its first student midwife in 1889 and more than 250 pupil midwives graduated from the school during its eighteen year’s existence at Ivy House. During this period, the hospital continued to expand, and more buildings were bought.

One of the later developments was a mother-and-baby home called Cotland, based at 11 Springfield Road, Upper Clapton. It existed between 1912 and 1920, and many of the women mentioned in the records of the Mothers’ Hospital gave Cotland as an address.

Finally, the Salvation Army purchased land in Lower Clapton Road, London E5 in order to build a hospital dedicated to unmarried mothers. In 1912, the foundation stone for the new Mothers’ Hospital was laid by Princess Louise, daughter to Queen Victoria, and the Hospital was officially opened in 1913. Designed for 600 births per year, it soon outgrew its facilities and various extensions were made over the years.

The new hospital continued to uphold the teaching tradition of Ivy House and midwives were trained to the standards of the London Obstetrical Society and of the Central Midwives Board (CMB). Pupils attended classes for Parts I and II of the examinations of the CMB and gained experience both on the wards and in District work.

The First World War meant that the hospital opened its doors to both married and unmarried women. Soldiers could not always send enough money to their families and the loss of many lives often caused acute poverty. Therefore, it was decided that the hospital would be allowed to admit married women whose husbands were in the Army or Navy or had been killed. So, then the hospital began to accept both married and unmarried mothers.

Between the two World Wars, many improvements and additions were made. In 1921, the new Nurses’ Home and Theatre were opened by Queen Mary. By the 1930s, the number of births had risen to 2,000 per annum. The hospital suffered damage during the Second World War, but fortunately there was no great loss of life.

Although the hospital remained in service throughout the war for those who did not leave London, arrangements were made for evacuations to Willersley Castle in Matlock, Derbyshire and to Bragborough Hall, Northamptonshire.

Off to Willersley

Women off to Willersley Castle during the Second World War, c.1941 © Salvation Army Heritage Centre

Willersley Castle itself has a most interesting history. Its construction began in 1790, commissioned by Sir Richard Arkwright, the great industrialist who developed the Water Frame which revolutionised the cotton milling industry in this country and all around the world. In 1791 a fire broke out causing severe damage to part of the interior of the castle, a major setback in construction. The damage was repaired, but sadly Arkwright died in 1792 before completion of the building. His son, also named Richard, moved into Willersley Castle with his family in 1796 and the family continued to live there until 1922.

Willersley Castle

Sourced from Internet – author unknown

In 1927 a group of Methodist businessmen bought Willersley Castle as a Methodist Guild Holiday Centre and opened its doors on the 5th May 1928. It became a popular location for young Methodists, with its tennis courts, bowling green, games field and organised excursions in the Peak District proving a real success.

As I’ve already described, during the Second World War the Castle was used as a Maternity Hospital by the Salvation Army. Over four thousand babies were born at Willersley between 1940 and 1946.

Many of the original features could still be seen when I visited Willersley Castle in 1978 and, again, in 2006. In 1978 it was a place where young underprivileged girls were given holidays. I chanced to visit on an Open Day and managed to sneak in through the gate without an invitation ticket but could not get inside the building.

I had better luck in 2006, by when it had become part of a chain of temperance hotels operated by Christian Guild (a trading name for Methodist Guild Holidays). It was, and still is, a popular hotel. In addition to providing holidays, it also catered for residential conferences, day conferences, coach parties and group meals.

It is now possible to visit without staying there. Willersley is open every day, 365 days a year, for coffee and lunch and afternoon tea. Management says that l inks with the past are never far away: a special break every year sees the return and reunion of Willersley Babies – those like me who were born there when it was a maternity hospital.

‘People kept visiting and saying, “I’ve come here because it’s on my birth certificate”. So, we investigated a bit and put it out there and said, why not invite them? Some come just once, some come every year. It’s lovely.’

I did not stay there but did go inside and have a look around and speak with staff about having been one of the 4,000 babies born there.

Brian at Willersley - by Robyn

Me outside the castle entrance, 2006 © Robyn Swadling

The most striking feature is the Well Gallery, an oval gallery with a glass dome situated in the centre of the building, with cantilevered galleries on the first and second floors. An Adams archway leads through the building towards the Well Gallery, whilst the Music Room, Drawing Room and Dining Rooms all contain their original Adams fireplaces.

Willersley-Cotswolds 012

The Well Gallery, 2006 © Brian Rope

Willersley-Cotswolds 018 corrected &cropped small

The reception corridor 2006 © Brian Rope

So, there it is, a little about how I entered this world and some history associated with it.



The Salon

Photography Review: THE SALON

Members’ Exhibition: PhotoAccess Online Gallery

16 April – 16 May 2020

The Salon is an opportunity for PhotoAccess to showcase recent work of its diverse membership. The aim is to celebrate the breadth and diversity of the community’s creative and technical practice. Work in, or incorporating, any photographic medium (including digital and darkroom prints, video, photo-sculpture and installation) was welcome for submission.

This year, for reasons that need no explanation, the exhibits are on the brand new online gallery space: Photo Access hopes viewers enjoy the new format, and the works of their brave members willing to take a leap of faith into the unknown!

In her catalogue essay, Virginia Rigney reminds us that “The salon hang – instituted in the high-ceilinged drawing rooms and art academies of Europe to be an annual open gathering of the latest works made by their members – was traditionally the place to test response and their social attention rivalled sporting events. An exhibitor at these 19th century Salons would look anxiously to see where their work had been hung. At eye line was a sure sign of favoured status – too high or too low might consign the work to the fate of forgettability.  But for the impartial spectator, the pictures seemed to jostle next to each other in spirited companionship. To witness a crowd gathered around a work – debating its merits – would be a measure of its currency.” Sadly, we are not able to do that on this occasion. We have instead to view the salon in the intimacy of our own digital screens.

​Whilst many images in the exhibition reflect on the recent and current disasters, many others do not. There are numerous photographs taken at other places far away that might remind us of opportunities we hope to take in the future.

Helen McFadden’s Ndutu Lions, 2019 shows us two male lions still resting in the shrubbery as the sun came up over Ndutu at the southern edge of the Serengeti plains. The bleached silver vegetation makes this image different to so many other shots of lions that we have all seen. Andree Lawrey’s Hokkaido Winter is simply a delicious artwork.

Still overseas, Kleber Osorio has contributed a very strong monochrome image utilising the hard light and shadows he saw at the Tate Modern to reveal the silhouettes of visitors.

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Kleber Osorio, Shades of Tate, 2018, Inkjet Print

Eva Van Gorsel takes us away from Canberra too, beautifully showing us an iconic Australian outback scene.


Eva Van Gorsel, Nightfall, 2020, inkjet print, 25 x 44cm

Also away from Canberra, but in a very different place, Amanda Pratt tempts viewers to consider why she might have chosen to take such a photograph. It clearly shows us that good and interesting images can be found and created anywhere.


Amanda Pratt, Candelo Blue Pegs, 2020

In works by Leeanne Mason we see our own part of the world in a beautiful way. Her landscapes were taken during the recent bushfires but reveal the wonderful beauty to be found in this place.


Leeanne Mason, Snowy Mountains Kangaroo, 2020

Judy Parker has let us into the private intimacy of her own world showing just one of a current body of work where she has embedded poems expressing her thoughts into the image itself. The image alone is a thing of delicate beauty. The added poetry only enhances it.


Judy Parker, Brocaded Lace, 2020, inkjet print

​Brian MacAlister is also showing part of a larger body of work, looking at spaces and at human behaviours, both intentional and accidental. I particularly like his Untitled (1), 2020.

Andrew Babington also shows us part of a series which he says is a reflection on humanity’s selfishly driven attempt to overcome the natural world. It is a timely reminder that, after the pandemic is overcome, there will still be environmental issues to overcome.


Andrew Babington, Dreaming of The Murrumbidgee, I, 2020, inkjet print, 30 x 40cm, 1/50

With his Mount Ainslie, Jamie Hladky provides the one exhibit that is not a straight-forward still image. Like a GIF it flickers in something of the way that we expect of a campfire. It is great to see an artwork that is one step beyond a simple capture. It should remind us all that we need to explore and experiment with our creations to further our art.

Robert Jack has also explored and successfully shows us what his own accompanying words say “There is no reality. There is only abstraction. The camera always lies.” He is right.


Robert Jack, Echo o, 2020, Type C Print

Joe Slater’s extremely dark image is, perhaps, the most arresting one in the exhibition. It needs time absorbing it before we can adequately see what is in it. Slater notes that times are dark and that his work reflects that. As Rigney reminds us, the act of picking up a camera is reassuringly normal behaviour in these strange days and instantly a way to comprehend what is going on.

Joe_Slater_Stairs Falling

Joe Slater, Stairs, Falling, 2020

I could go on mentioning every one of the more than fifty artworks in the exhibition, but I’ll leave it there and simply encourage you to look at every work for yourself. In addition to the actual exhibition and catalogue, there is an excellent exhibition essay by Virginia Rigney, audio and video recordings from members about their artworks, and a full list of works and their prices. If you wish to become a member of PhotoAccess yourself, head here to sign up! Some of these works are for sale, please contact for any enquiries.

Footnote: I probably should mention that there are two of my own images in this exhibition.



Photography Review | SLOW | Greg Stoodley

PhotoAccess Online Gallery 16 April – 16 May 2020

After having to close its physical gallery, PhotoAccess has moved its scheduled exhibitions to a new online gallery space: and expressed the hope that viewers enjoy the new format, and the works of their exhibitors who have been willing to take a leap of faith into the unknown!

The online gallery space introduces Slow, by Greg Stoodley, by saying his exhibition ‘reflects a personal take on the modernist portraits of Irving Penn. The artist has used principles and foundations he’s noticed in Penn’s portraits to create engaging, meaningful portraits of his own. These works strike one as timeless and classical, yet moreover relevant and recognisable as a contemporary photo-media practice. Stoodley is a dedicated member of PhotoAccess, and a master in the ways of platinum palladium darkroom printing, and we’re honoured he chose us to host this exhibition.’

Stoodley graduated from the Canberra Institute of Technology with an Advanced Diploma of Photography in 2014. Then he was offered a position at the Royal Australian Mint to photograph the National Coin Collection. He is currently continuing his studies at the ANU School of Art, whilst maintaining a commercial photography practice as a freelance photographer. He also has been an instructor at Photo Access, teaching short courses in Studio Photography and Art Documentation.

For any readers who do not know the work of Penn, he was one of the twentieth century’s great photographers. Despite being celebrated as one of Vogue magazine’s top photographers for more than sixty years, Penn was an intensely private man. Known for striking images and first-rate prints, he pursued his work with quiet and unfailing commitment, approaching his photography with an artist’s eye and expanding the creative prospects of the medium.

Penn was among the first photographers to pose subjects against a simple grey or white backdrop and he effectively used its simplicity. Expanding his austere studio surroundings, he constructed a set of upright angled backdrops, to form a stark, acute corner. Stoodley has utilised similar backgrounds.

When he submitted his exhibition proposal to Photo Access, Stoodley’s concept envisaged a “slowing down” using traditional techniques, studio setups, medium format cameras, black and white film, and platinum printing processes. This exhibition invites us to carefully examine the choices made by photographers today.

So, against that background, how well has Stoodley done? My answer is that, overall, he has done very well.

This exhibition comprises 18 portraits, all bar one being monochrome. For me the standouts include Waist Coat, Arnett, and Michael; all shot in a corner and all of men. Penn famously photographed the Duchess of Windsor standing in much the same type of corner.


Waist Coat © Greg Stoodley

Plaubel Makina 67, Minus

Arnett © Greg Stoodley

Canberra, 2020, Neutral Scan

Michael © Greg Stoodley


Saskia is photographed in the same corner setting but, otherwise, does not relate to the other images already mentioned. This is the one nude included in Stoodley’s exhibition. It is a fine image but does not, for me, compare with Penn’s best-known nudes which are of fleshy models, whereas Stoodley has a much slimmer subject.


Canberra, 2019, Neutral Scan

Saskia © Greg Stoodley


Likewise, there is just a single colour image in Slow and I found myself asking why it was included. Penn did shoot in colour, but his strength is in his black and white work. The exhibition would have been equally strong without Dixie.



Dixie © Greg Stoodley


The catalogue essay Learning from slowness by Kate Warren, a Lecturer of Art History and Curatorship at the Australian National University, is well worth reading and there is some additional interesting behind the scenes background to the exhibition on Woodley’s own blog He shows some of the prints in the wash bath, drying and laid out for observation, as well as shots of his final print products.


All artworks are for sale, in multiple editions. Some works are available as inkjet, platinum palladium prints, or silver gelatin prints. Contact for details.