Australian Dreams: Picturing our Built World

Visual Arts Review

Various Artists | Australian Dreams: Picturing our Built World

Exhibition Gallery, National Library of Australia | Until 31 January 2021

Australian Dreams: Picturing our Built World shows how visual artists have documented and interpreted Australia’s buildings for over 200 years. The works are exclusively from the National Library’s extensive collections and include many of our best artists; those whose names and images are known by all art lovers, some less familiar.

Entering the gallery, I was immediately immersed in a stunning photo wall of 48 images, selected from the vast 25,292 collected for the Regional cities and major towns project, which documents the architecture of hundreds of Australian towns. There is a dark moody image of the closed railway station on the Kulwin line in Wycheproof. And there’s an image of Toowoomba’s closed Camera Obscura – how many remember sitting inside as the cylinder wall rotated noisily and you saw significant buildings below in the ancient crater where the city is situated?

Inside the gallery, there are many more wonderful photos, prints, drawings and paintings. Captions are not needed for famous buildings, such as Canberra’s Shine Dome and Parliament House but, for most of us, are necessary for a Surry Hills street, a deserted farmhouse on the outskirts of Maitland during the major flood of 1955, a home by Lynchford railway tracks, a scarred tree in the front yard of a suburban Canberra house, and a miner’s hut in Lithgow Valley.

A miner’s hut, Lithgow Valley, New South Wales, ca. 1885 © Charles Kerry

There are other delights in display cabinets – contemporary photo books documenting Oxford Street, Masters stores, and ordinary homes. How I longed to pick them up and turn their pages! There is a slide show from Wes Stacey’s archive – homesteads, timber buildings, and the architecture of historic towns and settlements.

Visitors to the exhibition explore the colonial era, when European artists produced paintings, prints and photographs of streetscapes and major public buildings in the new cities and towns, and on frontier properties. Conrad Martens’ striking watercolour of Craigend in Sydney is a feature.

Then we see the first decades of the twentieth century, when artists such as photographer Harold Cazneaux and wood engraver Lionel Lindsay created romantic images of old Sydney, the bush and grand colonial buildings. These images were influenced by the revival of etching in printmaking and a more impressionistic approach to photography.

Going home, Doohat Lane, North Sydney, New South Wales, 1910 © Harold Cazneaux

Later, modernism began to dominate – whether the subjects were post-war architecture or familiar old streets. We see compositions utilising strong contrasts, sharp forms and lines. Olive Cotton’s Fire Escape clearly displays her techniques as expressed in a 1938 magazine interview: “The lighting, the relation of the various objects to the shape of the picture, and many other factors can be changed by the individual, and this is where discernment and personality come into the picture.”

Fire Escape c.1935 © Olive Cotton (1911–2003)

The final images in the exhibition demonstrate how many of these artists found something compelling in buildings where ordinary lives played out, in various states of use, disuse, demolition and destruction. They also created images communicating why buildings are worth seeing and saving.

William Yang, a third generation Australian Chinese, has developed an international reputation as a photographer and performer. His art is about the telling of stories, often writing words on the surfaces of his prints, as in his image of Canberra’s School of Art after a hailstorm in 2007.

Hail #5, School of Art, 2007. From the series – Breathing the Rarefied Air of Canberra © William Yang

Other great images that appealed to me were Maggie Diaz’s Higgins Boys, Charles Bayliss’s Sydney Technical College Building Exterior, Wolfgang Sievers’ Olympic Swimming Pool, and John Bertram Eaton’s Steps in a Courtyard. Go see for yourself and think about what other buildings are worth going to see again or should be saved for future generations.

Sydney Technical College Building Exterior, 1889, 2 in Photographs of Premises Occupied by the Board of Technical Education of New South Wales, 1889 © Charles Bayliss (1850-1897)

This review was first published by the Canberra Times of 23/1/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Migration

This is a description of the journey when I migrated from England to Australia in 1950

Our human family had not increased when mum and dad took what I consider to have been a most courageous decision to emigrate to Australia, where they hoped their sons would have better future life opportunities.

A Document of Identity in lieu of a passport was issued to dad for travel to Australia as an approved migrant accompanied by mum and their two children, myself included.

So, late in 1950, we sailed from Liverpool on the MV Cheshire, a ship which had seen service as a troop transport in World War II and, later, was to be used in a similar role during the Korean War.

MV Cheshire

So, for around five weeks, my home was on the seas. We travelled south past France and Spain, with a majority of the passengers including me being horribly seasick for the first several days. The ship had no stabilisers, so it rolled horribly in the waves. Then we went past Gibraltar and through the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Suez, and the Red Sea to Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka), and across the Indian Ocean to Australia.

My memories of life on board are again fragile. I know that dad, Alan and myself were in a cabin with five other men, whilst mum was elsewhere with a group of women. I also know that the children were given bread and jam as a treat each day. We rushed to line up for ours then took them to mum and dad so they could have them, before returning to the queue for a second time.

On board the MC Cheshire

We stopped at Port Said (Egypt), where locals in small boats rowed out to our ship and plied their wares of fresh fruit. Purchases were hauled up in baskets that were then lowered back down empty. As we passed through the Suez Canal, we passed a ship going the other way, and some of its passengers were disgruntled British people who had tried Australia and called out to us that we were making a mistake.

We stopped again in Aden (Yemen).

At Aden
Dad, mum, Alan and me at Aden

We also stopped at Colombo (Ceylon) and took a short land trip south of there to Mount Lavinia.

Ead, mum, Alan and me at Mount Lavinia
Mum (back, far right). Me and Alan (front, far right) at Mt Lavinia

When we crossed the equator there was a fun ceremony to mark that. On other occasions we wore fancy dress for events that brightened the journey.

Alan in “fancy dress”

After completing our crossing of the Indian Ocean, our first Australian port was Fremantle. Some people, including friends mum and dad had made on board, disembarked at Fremantle to begin their new lives in Western Australia.

Our destination was Melbourne, which we reached on the fourteenth of December. We were greeted by a wild storm which almost prevented the tugs from getting us to the wharf. As a result, we – and the rest of the Melbourne-bound British migrants still on board – did not disembark until the morning of the fifteenth. Some continued on to Sydney.

Melbourne’s Sun newspaper told the story on page 2 of the tugs’ difficult task:

The passenger lists held by the National Archives of Australia show the four of us. They also show the four members of the Pfur family, with whom we remained in contact for many years:

After disembarking, we were met by my aunt Mary & uncle Tom and cousins David & Margaret, and by Tony Wilson – a member of the family that was to be mum and dad’s employers and who had sponsored us as assisted passage migrants.

Met at Port Melbourne. Back- Uncle Tom, Mum Eileen, Aunt Mary, Dad Jim. Front- cousins David and Margaret, Alan and me.

We were driven by Tony what seemed an incredible distance in the Wilson’s Armstrong-Siddeley utility to our new home on their property of Bundoran, near Glenthompson and Dunkeld in the Western Districts of Victoria.

Before settling into this new home and jobs we were to spend a short period, including Christmas of 1950, with dad’s sister, Mary Brown, and her family on another property in nearby Victoria Valley, in the Grampian Mountains. Aunty Mary and Uncle Tom, plus cousins David and Margaret, had themselves migrated in 1949, having in turn been enticed to join Tom’s brother Charles, who had come to work with the Methodist Church and had become its Minister at Dunkeld.

One of the things I brought with me from England was a copy of “Bobby Bear’s Annual” – a book given to me by the Browns inscribed “With love and best wishes to dear Brian from Uncle Tom, Auntie Mary, David and Margaret. Dec. 1949. Just as we were leaving on ‘SS Raneli’ for Australia”. Minus its front hard cover, that book remains in my possession.

Not too many years later, although I don’t remember the date, I received another bible. It was a gift from a grandmother, but the inscription is in my mother’s handwriting – not doubt because she would have purchased it in Australia on behalf of grandma nanny still living in England.

And, so, my new life in Australia began.

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Early Life In London

This is an account of my early childhood

The home address mum gave when registering my birth on 12 March 1942 was 39 Fairview Road, Tottenham, London, N15. I don’t know whether we ever lived there. I do know that during World War II mum and I spent a lot of time living with mum’s sister Nell Ridley and her eldest children, who were also very young, but I’m not sure at whose house that was. Mum was evacuated a second time to Bragborough Hall, Northamptonshire for the birth of my younger brother Alan James Rope (on 9 June 1943) when I was just 15 months old. I presume I went with her. Dad got army leave again at that time.

When clearing out mum’s last independent living residence at the time she moved into residential care in 2016 we came across my baptism certificate and a letter written at the time. It revealed I was baptised in our local Congregational church on 22 March 1942 (just 19 days after birth), whereas I had previously heard a story about being baptised in a Presbyterian church close to where my dad’s sister Mary lived one day when we went to visit her.

The Minister, Rev Henry Donald, wrote out some words by the abolitionist, author, and Congregationalist clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher and provided them to mum and dad at the baptism.

I believe this to be an architectural drawing of the Stamford Hill Congregational Church:

Below is the earliest photograph I have of myself and I wonder whether it was taken on the day I was baptised.

Here are some other early photos of me (at least I’m pretty sure they are of me and not my brother):

My first memory of a home where all four of us lived as a family relates to 60 Ravensdale Road, Stamford Hill, London, N16. The house at that address has long since been demolished and replaced by housing commission bungalows. When we lived there it was a large, somewhat ugly, building with three families occupying different floors, despite an internal staircase via which each family could freely move into their neighbours’ apartments. We had the basement and ground floor. The view from the basement’s rear windows was straight into a wall, into which was set a flight of steps leading up to the back garden area. This image taken from Google maps shows 63 Ravensdale Road at the left. It and the adjacent houses look very much what I imagine our house was like.

Although we lived at this address until I was eight years old, I have only a few memories of it and suspect they only relate to things I was subsequently reminded of by mum and dad. There is a story of a big Guy Fawkes Night bonfire in the back garden area when someone’s nylon stockings were set on fire by a lit jumping jack. And I know we had pets, including a golden retriever dog that got distemper, and a couple of goldfish named after two of my uncles. There also were pet mice in a “house” with installations for them to exercise and play on.

Whilst living here I attended the Craven Park School. I started there on my fifth birthday, which apparently was the practice in England at that time. I’m told that Mum walked me to school that morning through a couple of feet of snow. My reports show that I was a good student, placing 1st in my class in both December 1949 and July 1950.

This latter report also records that my Religious Knowledge was “V. Good.”

The Bible

I do not consider myself to be a bible scholar, although it has been a part of my entire life. Here is a montage of inscriptions in my various bibles overlaid on a photo I took of another youngster reading a bible and an illustration from one of mine:

I do not know when I would have been given my first bible but, no doubt, it would have been an illustrated version considered most suitable for a young child at the time.

I certainly received an illustrated bible when I was just 7 years old. The Ravensdale Road Methodist Sunday School that my brother, Alan, and I attended presented me with one in 1949. As we lived in Ravensdale Road we didn’t have to go far to Sunday School. The sticker inside the front cover records that I got 43 marks, presumably in some sort of bible test. I don’t know how many that was out of – if it was 100 my knowledge wasn’t so good, but if it was out of 50 then I wasn’t doing too badly.

I received another bible just one year after the Sunday School prize. In 1950 our family left London and sailed from England to Australia as migrants. The 177th London Life Boy Team, of which I had been a member gave me a bible as a farewell gift.

So, that is when I left England heading towards a new life in the Great Southern Land known as Australia.

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Best of 2020 – Photography

This aticle was published on page 20 of The Canberra Times of 5 January 2021 and on their website here.

When I wrote a similar piece to this a year ago, I expressed a hope that we could look forward to a lot of great photography to enjoy with our 20/20 vision.

Despite everything, there has been a significant number of good public photography exhibitions throughout our city. I have reviewed 24 of them for this newspaper, plus one that was held in Goulburn. There are a number of others that I have seen but not reviewed here, as well as a few more that I missed.

How were so many exhibitions possible with the restrictions imposed on galleries? Seven of the reviewed exhibitions commenced before any restrictions. Only one was totally online. Others took place during periods of restrictions, but galleries were innovative in their approaches. And now the remaining restrictions create no real barriers for galleries.

Having commenced an excellent online gallery, Photo Access continued to use it in conjunction with physical exhibitions whilst visitor numbers were greatly restricted. The use of recorded conversations with exhibitors, audio and video pieces contributed by other exhibitors, and posting links to ArtSound FM interviews was an innovative and clever response. Some other galleries also went online with virtual exhibitions.

Their substantial outdoor space also allowed Photo Access to conduct openings outside letting small numbers go int the gallery at a time during those openings. One exhibition was actually “hung” in the outside space for its duration.

Another outdoors gallery came into being during the year, with the establishment of Exhibition Avenue on the ANU campus. The first, and still continuing, exhibition there is photography that can be viewed 24 hours per day. The passing foot traffic is substantial so I expect many people have looked at the works on display, whereas they may not have visited an indoors gallery space.

I continue to be disappointed when some galleries provide inadequate background material regarding exhibitions. I appreciate that there is a cost involved in commissioning an essay about an exhibition – but it is a modest price to pay for something that can make a significant difference to visitors (even if only published online rather than in a printed catalogue).

It was disappointing that restrictions prevented the Canberra Photographic Society from properly celebrating its 75th anniversary during 2020. We were denied the opportunity of seeing something special.

A year ago, I mentioned that two locals had been finalists in the 2019 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP). I expressed my hope that we might go one better in 2020 and see a local winning that or another of the major photography Prizes. Well, it happened. Canberra photographer Judy Parker took out the $10,000 Prize. And several other locals were also finalists. Two other Canberra photographers took out prizes in a national 2020 Photobook of the Year competition.

And, even better, two photographers received 2020 ACT Arts Awards. Sophie Dumaresq received an award for her exhibition ‘The Hairy Panic’ at Nishi Gallery during Art, Not Apart, comprising photographs of a land art installation on grasslands surrounding Lake George, plus tumbleweed sculptures. Two images from that exhibition were finalists in the 2020 MCPP, and one a finalist in the Goulburn Art Prize.

Hairy Panic, Untitled #15 © Sophie Dumaresq

Grace Costa received an award for being the driving force behind the exhibition ‘The Journey Through’ by eleven Canberra region artists at Photo Access, showing the results of exploring, confronting and sharing their personal stories during an eight months’ long workshop.

Now let’s hope that 2021 brings us more great photography exhibitions, events and achievements, including the successful emergence of new local talents.

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The Space Between

Photography Review

Jakub Beseda | The Space Between

Cox Gallery, 1/19 Eastlake Pde, Kingston | Until 29 January 2021

Jakub Beseda discovered photography during high school years. Like so many others, he experienced that magical moment in a wet darkroom –  developing and printing his first photograph.

Studying photomedia at university, focussing on capturing the built environment, led to architecture and exploring how people interact with those environments. Beseda uses photography to document how we perceive and interact with the designed spaces around us.

I have previously enjoyed some of Beseda’s imagery on Instagram. It was great to see his prints. Images printed start speaking to us, invite us to be a part of them and, at times, let us hold or touch them.

Providing background to his exhibition, Beseda quotes the famous American freelance photojournalist Steve McCurry: “Some of the great pictures happen along the journey and not necessarily at your destination”.

When people travel, or when they are journeying near home, using photography to explore particular places is a worthy approach. It allows the artist to provide viewers, themselves included, with a sense of what those places mean. A place can be a physical one, or an imaginary one evoked by experience and emotion. It can be the detail of a single location, or an extensive exploration of an entire street, city or rural property. Our images of one place might stir another’s memories of a different place – or invite others into our own memories.

In Between 02 © Jakub Beseda

Good contemporary images, such as those in this exhibition, suggest rather than describe. They allow us to use our imagination. Returning to the place where he was born, after an absence of thirty years, Beseda wanted to reconnect and explore his roots. The places have changed, the people have grown. His images invite us into his memories.

In Between 06 © Jakub Beseda

Using his camera as a tool to arrest the fractures of time and explore the intersections of natural and built environments, Beseda discovered things. He has interpreted places seen again many years after leaving Europe; places he would have been unable to visit in earlier years.

In Between 07 © Jakub Beseda

He wanted to join the dots of his past to his place now; and discover the dots of his future. That is, to connect moments and events that have shaped his past life and will shape his future – not necessarily static, some significant and others mundane. He doesn’t think he has been successful discovering the dots of his future – not surprising as most of us cannot prophesy. However, he has been successful in his explorations with his camera, having discovered and learned – both personally and artistically.

In Between 08 © Jakub Beseda

All eleven excellent prints on display are worthy of individual contemplation. They were taken from moving cars, buses or trains; so many include the familiar blur often seen. I saw these blurs as metaphors – for the spaces between his previous and now lives. As for many of us, his memories may have become a mix of reality and fantasy – a blurred space between the past and now.

In Between 10 © Jakub Beseda

The prints in the exhibition have a strong horizontal linearity about them, seemingly drawing lines between the dots of his childhood and now. There are spaces between the artist’s camera and the captured scenes. Some images might remind us of places we have passed through; near where he was or somewhere else altogether.

The images aren’t, intrinsically, architectural, landscape, documentary or travel photos – although different viewers may see them as such. For me they fall neatly into the Contemporary photography genre, lending themselves more to intentional creative expression.

The Space Between is presented in association with Design Canberra, and all profits from sales will be donated to the Black Dog Institute.

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 27 December 2020 here, and on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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The Roots That Clutch

Photomedia Review
Lara Chamas, Caroline Garcia, Jess Miley, James Tylor, Derek Sargent

The Roots That Clutch
Photo Access | Until 12 December 2020

The Roots that Clutch is a quality group exhibition curated by Saskia Scott, a curator, artist and arts writer, currently at the ANU School of Art & Design Gallery. It presents works from five photo artists and explores the role of the artist as storyteller. It highlights how our values, beliefs, and sense of identity are shaped by the stories we tell.

An exhibition catalogue tells us that, drawing on history, these artists explore their own identities and how they understand the modern world. Their works challenge grand narratives, fill in gaps and silences, and reinsert intimacy and nuance into our understanding of both the past and the present.

Lara Chamas reveals her strong memory of a saying by a mother – ‘do you know how hard it is to mash a banana with a plastic fork?’ Her digital video with sound uses narrative and experience documentation to tell the story as viewers see various people finding out just how hard it is.

Whilst that at first might seem trite, the real-life backstory reveals so much more. During an interview with a torture and trauma councillor who worked on Nauru, Chamas learned many things, including that metal utensils were not permitted to refugees there seeking asylum. Basic human rights were taken away from them, even when feeding young children.

Lara Chamas, do you know how hard it is to mash a banana with a plastic fork?
(video still), 2017, digital video, sound, duration: 00:07:57

James Tylor exhibits a selection of his works highlighting the contemporary absence of Aboriginal culture within the Australian landscape. There was a much larger display of these works in his excellent solo exhibition From an untouched landscape at the East Space Gallery (until 29 November). In earlier work that I have seen, Tylor had superimposed black geometric shapes over his landscapes. Here the geometric shapes are holes removed from the prints ‘revealing’ black velvet voids. Once again, he is drawing attention to the erasure of past Aboriginal care for our environment, along with their artifacts and identity.

As well as his fine and thought-provoking imagery, Tylor is displaying black painted timber objects, such as a Wadnawirri Battle Axe and a Midla Spearthrower. Together, the images and objects present a bold graphic display.

James Tylor, (Deleted scenes) From an untouched landscape#4, 2013, Inkjet print on hahnemuhle paper with hole removed to a black velvet void, 50 x 50 cm.

Derek Sargent and Jess Miley are exhibiting ten strong prints from their The Grave Project. They have researched historic individuals who have had an impact on ‘queer and non-normative culture’, and then visited their burial sites and used photography, film and text to document and create an alternative historical archive.

Each print features Sargent and Miley displaying the name and image of a researched individual at their burial site. So, for example we see Vaslav Nijinsky at Montmartre Cemetery in Paris. A brochure at the exhibition tells us a little more about each portrayed individual. Susan Sontag took refuge in books to escape absent parents. Gertrude Stein escaped the rigid ways of the medical patriarchy and penetrated the Paris art scene. This is a tantalising series of artworks.

Derek Sargent and Jess Miley, RIP Vaslav Nijinsky (Queer Expats of Paris Series),
2019, Giclée print, 50 x 50 cm.

A ‘culturally promiscuous, interdisciplinary artist’, Caroline Garcia contributes a mesmerising digital video, just over 10 minutes duration. Aficionados of Westernised mainstream cinematic musicals and portrayals of dance from other cultures will recognise various pieces of the sampled footage into which Garcia has edited herself. In doing so she has attempted to reclaim the imagery and so to rewrite history. It is most cleverly done and quite mesmerising.

Caroline Garcia, Imperial Reminiscence (video still), 2018, digital video, colour, sound, duration: 00:10:15.

All parts of this exhibition contribute successfully to its purpose of inviting us to interrogate our own beliefs and clarify what our own histories tell us. We all should use the various skills we have to document and share our personal stories with others, in ways that reveal them accurately.

This review was published in the Canberra Times here and also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Respectfully Intruding II

Photography Review
John Wiseman | RESPECTFULLY INTRUDING II
M16 Artspace | Until 22 November 2020

John Wiseman is an award-winning professional wildlife and nature photographer. The images in RESPECTFULLY INTRUDING II have been selected from many captured in various countries, including Ecuador, Kenya, Botswana, India, and Namibia, during over fifteen years of travel.

Wiseman says “I love photography. I can’t think of any other art form that provides such wonderful satisfaction. Searching for that special moment in time that gives us such a rich and enduring memory is a wonderful reward. A respectful intrusion.”

Despite running a successful financial planning business, Wiseman’s constant quest to be creative led him into photography. His interest grew from watching friends who worked as photographers. He started taking photos of family and friends fifteen years ago. As his eye and skill improved, he became serious about photographing landscapes, then wildlife.

An initial exhibition, RESPECTFULLY INTRUDING, was held at Brisbane’s Maud Gallery in 2014. Describing it in his wotwedid blog at that time, Doug Spowart wrote that it “presents an invitation to go on safari and peek over his shoulder while he observes and photographs …. Luckily for us his invitation is to the gallery and the trials and complexities of journeys to exotic places are made easy for us”. That remains the same here.

There is one delicious landscape – the Cloud Forest of El-Oro in the Ecuadorian Andes. This area is very important for the presence of various famous birds, such as the El Oro Parakeet. But mostly, the images are of elephants, big cats, rhinos, and zebra. Plus, hummingbirds, toucan, parakeets, flowers, and frogs.

Most of us have seen numerous images of wild animals – in TV documentaries, and in specialist magazines – but good ones in an exhibition are something else for we can take our time to explore the details.

This photographer clearly takes time exploring his subjects and seeking to capture something special. He told me he does not take lots of shots using a rapid-fire shutter approach, with a view to search through the results for good images. Rather, Wiseman thinks about what he wants to reveal in his images, seeks to use the available light and other elements, and endeavours to compose in a way that is appropriate for each subject.

The first image to attract my attention was Mother & Son, a portrait of a cow elephant with her calf. This large print would look stunning filling a small wall at the end of a walkway. Those walking towards it would never tire of seeing it.

Mother & Son © John Wiseman

To look at Zebras by Moonlight is to immediately feel calm and composed. It simply is an image of serenity.

Zebras by Moonlight © John Wiseman

Arrow Head & Cubs will surely make you smile. It features a mother and the heads of her cubs, almost looking like a three-headed animal.

Arrow Head & Cubs © John Wiseman

Difficult to photograph, and beautifully coloured, hummingbirds are captured hovering near to equally colourful plants.

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird © John Wiseman

A print, Toucan in Rain, is displayed alongside one of another toucan that is dry. There is a clear sense of design in these photographs of birds and other smallish creatures.

Toucan in the Rain © John Wiseman

Exhibited prints of larger animals are appropriately large. When we move into the parts of the gallery displaying images of smaller creatures, the prints also become smaller.

A copy of Wiseman’s award-winning, limited-edition Ecuador book is also on display. Handle it carefully using the cotton glove provided.

Finally, before you leave, stand quietly before an image of TIM, one of the elephants with the biggest tusks in the world and probably the most famous, who died just a few days after Wiseman’s shots were taken.

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

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This is Suburbia

Photography Review

Davey Barber | This is Suburbia

Canberra Contemporary Art Space – East Space Gallery

and Belconnen Arts Centre – Window Gallery

Until 29 November 2020

Davey Barber has set out to explore the place that raised him, the Canberra suburbs, for his debut exhibition This Is Suburbia. Commissioned by Craft ACT for the 2020 DESIGN Canberra festival, these photos document something of Canberra’s suburban streets.

It is unusual to have one exhibition shown across two locations, as is the case here. At Belconnen there are six images of Belconnen suburbs. At the East Space Gallery, on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin, there are a further ten prints from other suburbs.

Barber’s intention was to document characteristics that he believes make suburbs instantly recognisable, both to residents and to their visitors. He shows dwellings, shops, laneways, parks, and a couple of residents. To emphasise our ‘Bush Capital’, the photographs also cover our four very distinct seasons. They are candid and storytelling, but nobody has been asked to smile for his camera.

In an exhibition catalogue essay, a National Gallery of Australia Curator of Photography, Annie O’Hehir, says “It’s something special to have your city reflected back at you through the lens of a camera…..what the camera is capable of doing….shows us….what our usual distracted, glancing, preoccupied way of seeing does not…” This is spot on. It is why good photographers speak of seeing, rather than simply looking. Until we truly see, we do not get the best images.

I have lived in seven suburbs since arriving in Canberra: Reid (in a hostel), Ainslie (in a house, with my parents and siblings), Braddon (briefly in a backyard caravan), Hackett (my newly built first house), Bruce (briefly, in a townhouse), Melba (a second-hand house for a new relationship), and now Lawson (brand new townhouse in a complex). Viewing this exhibition, and thinking back over the years, I recalled various characteristics of each suburb. The long-established gardens of Reid. Things that became our landmarks as my brother and I regularly walked between Ainslie and Civic via Braddon. Laneways and shopping centres.

Two of Barber’s images are of specific businesses that I know – a suburban take-away a short walk from one of my homes, and a restaurant that I visited in the past. So, I was reminded of specific things and memories associated with them.

In addition to the shops already mentioned, we see street views of houses – hidden by closed shutters or large trees, small ghostly figures gathering for community sport on fog-shrouded parkland, a boat “parked” in a laneway, a resident mowing his grass, a backyard, the floodlit exterior of a supermarket alongside an empty carpark, a skateboarder passing through one of our ubiquitous tunnels, and a carwash with no clients on a foggy night.

5. Untitled 5 © Davey Barber
3. Untitled 3 © Davey Barber
9. Untitled 9 © Davey Barber
12. Untitled 2 © Davey Barber
13. Untitled 3 © Davey Barber
16. Untitled 6 © Davey Barber

If we look carefully, we not only see these things but also hear sounds and smell odours. Unfortunately, viewing the prints in the new Window Gallery at Belconnen was spoiled by reflections each different time of day that I visited. Barber himself is disappointed that it is not possible to get close and see the details in his imagery. I hope these problems can be overcome as the concept is good, providing a space where passing pedestrians can both see exhibits and be enticed to go inside and see more there.

Puzzlingly, two of the prints displayed at Belconnen are not in the catalogue, whilst two that are in the catalogue are not in the Window.

Also, in the East Gallery, there are the semi-finalists and finalists in the Sweet Suburbia: 2020 Photography Competition which sought responses to the ‘This is Suburbia’ theme. That is appropriate as Barber was one of the judges.

This review was first published in the Canberra Times on 16.11.20 and on its Website here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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State of Change, & Found

Photography Review

David Flanagan | Found

Emilio Cresciani |State of Change
Photo Access | Until 7 November 2020

These exhibitions present the outcome of work undertaken by 2019 and 2020 PhotoAccess Dark Matter Residents, David Flanagan and Emilio Cresciani. These residencies provide a supported opportunity for artists to produce new photo-media work that incorporates darkroom-based or other alternative photographic processes.

Opening the exhibition, Virginia Rigney, Senior Visual Arts Curator at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, noted that the residents have access to one of a shrinking number of open access darkrooms left in Australia, drawing attention to the fact that what is made in those darkrooms allows us to see the materiality of bodies of work.

Flanagan was the 2019 Resident, but his work – Found – was delayed by restrictions on his movements during the pandemic. He is interested in the role of the object in contemporary photographic practice, where the majority of images are not seen as anything beyond pixels on a screen.

Various found – natural, recycled, and discarded – objects were carefully coated in Liquid Light. Images were then exposed onto those surfaces underneath an enlarger, giving new life to each item. This intricate technique liberates images from their usual 2D environment.

The surfaces Flanagan used include a trowel, an iron, a nautilus shell, and souvenir spoons. Rigney made the guests smile when she referred to an alternative Canberra museum called The Green Shed that yields up things allowing us to connect with the past in ways not possible at other museums. Now with images on them, the intriguing objects selected by Flanagan speak to us in new ways. Transformed into mementos, they assuredly will become keepsakes – especially the spoons now featuring the eyes of his wife and daughters.

Souvenir, 2020, liquid emulsion on souvenir spoons © David Flanagan
Bonsai, 2020, Silver emulsion on stone © David Flanagan

Flanagan comments, “There is an absurdity about the process which takes up to a week to prepare an object for printing, only to then to see it fail in the darkroom, which is both alluring and frustrating in equal parts. Repetition and experimentation have been the key to resolving issues with each of the materials I have chosen for this project. The element of unpredictability adds something magic to the process and a uniqueness to every object.”

Still life triptych, 2020, Silver emulsion on broken fishtank © David Flanagan

In State of Change, the 2020 Resident, Cresciani, explored the phenomenon of climate change through integrating the transformation of ice into water with photographic processes. Drawing links between these states of change, his show examines, literally, figuratively, and abstractly, human impact on Earth.

Cresciani explains, “Our ice caps are melting. As the ice melts new landscapes, new landforms are created. And scientists say that more light is absorbed onto the earth’s surface as part of this process, further accelerating global warming.”

His work documents a dialogue between massive chunks of ice and light sensitive papers in the darkroom, a reflection on climate change and all its implications. He has made photograms, recording on photographic paper what happened as his blocks of ice melted. As the viewers we can each interpret the results. In her essay for the exhibition catalogue, Anne Ferran speaks of maps, islets in a dark sea, and clusters of rocky outcrops fringed by beaches. You might see something completely different.

Breaking of Ice #7, 2020, Duratran, 42 [h] x 30cm [w], Edition of 3 + AP © Emilio Cresciani

Regardless of what we each see, the images are spectacular, particularly those presented on Duraclear. The Duratrans in light boxes are also dramatic.

On Ice #1, 2020, gelatin silver photogram, 35 x 28cm © Emilio Cresciani

PhotoAccess Director Kirsten Wehner rightly says, “Emilio and David have produced two cutting edge exhibitions showcasing what the program aims to foster; a challenged perception of what contemporary darkroom photography can offer.”

This review was first published in the Canberra Times on 2.11.20 and on its Website here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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FACETS…

Review: Photography and Art

Eva van Gorsel and Manuel Pfeiffer | FACETS…
M16 Artspace Gallery 1 | Until 1 November 2020

Undertaking a lengthy Australian journey, Eva van Gorsel and Manuel Pfeiffer aimed to experience and bring home their impressions of the diverse landscapes they saw. The exhibition is a celebration of that journey.

Van Gorsel is a photographer who uses an extensive range of techniques and approaches to create diverse and interesting imagery. She has a background in environmental sciences and scientific photography, and she loves the outdoors, traveling and hiking. Describing her approach, she says “photography makes me focus on all the beautiful things that exist – in the tiny detail or the grand landscapes. I’d like to capture some of this beauty and share it and maybe it can even help us as a society to better understand and appreciate the environment we live in.”

So, her works are not documentary but are interpretations of, and connection to, nature. They are shaped by her vision. One technique used is to combine her own images, satellite imagery and textures. The major end product is archival inkjet pigment prints. There is also a book of 100 postcards.

Useless Loop © Eva van Gorsel

Walking around the gallery, we view the results of van Gorsel’s investigation into how colour palette and geometric features defined the landscapes for her; revealing how life, climate and earth movements have shaped those forms and colours. We also see how she has played with the colours, the shapes, and the perspectives.

Broome © Eva van Gorsel

The works are arranged in groups revealing elements; most particularly, the facets, colours and textures seen in various places. In the Woomera area the colours are muted. Around Coober Pedy and the Breakaways, they are stronger. At the Devils Marbles they have become bold. Kakadu National Park reveals softer tones, including beautiful gentle greens. Each location has its own colours. Sometimes the colours of particular elements have been modified, emphasising those seen as consistently being part of the particular landscape.

Ningaloo © Eva van Gorsel

Amongst the most interesting works are those where van Gorsel has introduced other elements to a landscape. For example, floating in the skies over a Coober Pedy landscape we see an opal. At Fowlers Bay, the shape of a whale seen at the Nullarbor Roadhouse has been added.

Coober Pedy © Eva van Gorsel

Use of Google Earth imagery of the area being explored, adjusting the colours to create new images, use of the contour lines feature in Photoshop – all are techniques employed to create excellent works.

Fowlers Bay © Eva van Gorsel

I visited this exhibition knowing I would see good images by van Gorsel, whose work I have always admired, but knowing nothing of Pfeiffer’s work. The gallery’s Website promotion of the exhibition features just one of van Gorsel’s works and nothing of his. It only refers to them as artists and I confess to being surprised to learn that he is a visual artist of another kind.

Pfeiffer is a painter who uses an extensive range of materials, including acrylics, pencils, charcoals and much more. His works here are acrylics and mixed media on canvas. He takes inspiration from what he describes as “the ubiquitous beauty of the world surrounding us – from the coast, over the hills to the outback – and from the ‘music’ which is inherent in every place, in everything like a rock or a tree, a waterfall or a dune.”

Nullarbor © Manuel Pfeiffer – picture supplied

His works complement van Gorsel’s perfectly, revealing the same range of facets. His colours, shapes and perspectives again explore and reveal.

Pilbara © Manuel Pfeiffer – picture supplied

Together van Gorsel and Pfeiffer have produced a fine exhibition showing, as intended, many facets of Australia.

This review was first published in the Canberra Times on 31.10.20 here. It has also been published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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