Photo Book Review

Capital Country

Review of Photography Book

Capital Country | Kate Matthews

Many of us make books of our photographs. They range from very simple homemade books, through print-on-demand photobooks containing heaps of travel shots crammed in, to substantial printed books of quality portfolios in whatever quantities we can afford and think we might be able to market.

This photo book by Canberra artist Kate Matthews is, in effect, an exhibition in a book rather than in a gallery. Matthews graduated Bachelor of Visual Arts, Bachelor of Arts, from the ANU in 2020. She was the recipient of a PhotoAccess ANU EASS Residency for her Graduating Exhibition work. She describes herself as an artist and educator, and says her practice frequently involves a collaborative model of engagement with public audiences and spaces. Her teaching philosophy is to use her skills to make people’s ideas come to life, where no idea is too big or small to be realised.

In 2020, Matthews received an ACT Government Creative Endeavour Grant to fund the publication of this book. Continuing her observational documentary practice investigating public spaces, Capital Country presents darkroom produced photomontages analysing the successes and failures of our shared spaces in regional and urban townships. She has sought to document why some places invite people to pause, stay a while and say hello, while others seem to encourage at least some visitors to hurry elsewhere. The question posed is “what dictates where and how public life unfolds in our regional urban spaces?”

To gather material, Matthews toured the Capital region, walking and photographing shared spaces, investigating how sets of buildings and street furniture, roads and trees, signs and shops created stages for everyday routines, chance encounters and community connection.

The artist comments that city ‘activations’ take place in metropolises, including Canberra. Parks, playgrounds and public amenities are meant to increase community benefit. Braddon and Civic are bursting with colour and life, yet suburbs on the fringes of Canberra are left alone. In nearby sprawling towns, the wide-open scale of them challenges effective and engaged public life. Urban planning favours cars and drive-in, drive-out town centres.

Capital Country reveals Matthews’s observations in photomontages, each pulling apart a scene, breaking apart our sense of space and drawing attention to the varied ways of experiencing places. She has sought to underscore the importance of how different people might interact with any particular public space – noting that our built environment must not only accommodate but be inviting to all.

Capital Country 05 © Kate Matthews
Capital Country 13 © Kate Matthews

For me, the best and strongest images to enjoy are those about Yass. A children’s crossing is poignant with no child in sight. There is a lyricism in an image showing material blown by wind.

Capital Country 12 © Kate Matthews
Capital Country 01 © Kate Matthews

A space containing earth moving machinery would be a familiar place to anyone who’s walked along the Belconnen’s Emu Bank lakeside footpath in recent times. A space in Cowra with two damaged cars is also somehow poignant.

Capital Country 11 © Kate Matthews

A simple view through a car windscreen reveals a classic Canberra suburbia place. Regulars who walk through the Valley Tavern door in Wanniassa may never have seen that space in quite the same way.

Capital Country 14 © Kate Matthews
Capital Country 03 © Kate Matthews

There is a lovely touch of humour about an image of a road closed sign in Erindale, whilst a closed skate park in Goulburn is a sad sight. The final image portraying a Gungahlin space with an Exit sign is a perfect choice to end the book.

Copies of Capital Country can be purchased from the Photo Access gallery shop, or online from the artist’s website www.katematthewsphoto.com.

This review was first published in the Canberra Times of 31/5/21 here. It is also published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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