Exhibition Review, Reviews

The Corner of My Eye

Photography Exhibition Review

The Corner of My Eye | Mark Van Veen & David Hempenstall

M16 Artspace Gallery 1 | 21 October – 6 November

Mark Van Veen – Edge Pool Branches, 2020.

Mark Van Veen – Grey Stone Branches

The term The Corner of My Eye might refer to things one sees quickly and briefly, rather than clearly. Using that phrase as its title, this exhibition explores the work of two photographers reflecting on easily overlooked details that, when studied, can reveal hidden meaning in the everyday. Both artists use photographic imagery as points of departure from actuality or truth, and as instances of lucidity.

Davis Hempenstall’s “familiar” family life photographs each show one view of the state of things as they actually exist, in which individuals in his family inhabit the places where he has chosen to photograph them. No doubt this illustrates fondness for his subjects. Perhaps he is even investigating the meaning of life. But it is left to us to interpret them for ourselves. Apart from a location – Narrabundah, Etty Bay, Lake Wivenhoe – or a name – Neville, Rafi, Fred – we have only what we are looking at to use in discern his meanings.

In the room sheet, Hempenstall quotes the famous American photographer Lee Friedlander “I only wanted Uncle Vern standing in front of his new car (a Hudson) on a clear day. I got him and the car. I also got a bit of Aunt Mary’s laundry and Beau Jack, the dog, peeing on the fence, a row of potted tuberous begonias on the porch and seventy-eight trees and a million pebbles in the driveway anymore. It’s a generous medium photography”.

Hempenstall’s black and white images include a lot of shadows – in one case partially obscuring a child such that a touch of mystery is added, often adding an additional shape to a geometric image.

David Hempenstall – Untitled, 2015

There are two photographs displayed alongside each other which are essentially identical in most respects. However, the face of the young child portrayed in them is a little more visible in one than the other. This is a delightful touch, illustrating how quick photographers need to be to capture particular postures or expressions adopted by people – especially youngsters. Whilst each separate image reveals a different moment, the two together provide a hint of how the child was responding to Hempenstall.

Mark Van Veen’s series “Cease to Exist” reveals a fascination with the reflections in cemetery headstones and graves, how they hold images of the surrounding branches, leaves, skies, that sets one’s eyes focusing beyond the polished stone surface. In that moment it’s as if we can see into a world beyond the engraved memorial as the hard materiality seemingly dissolves and a portal opens.

His quote in the room sheet is from another famous American, Minor White, “No matter what role we are in – photographer, beholder, critic – inducing silence for the seeing in ourselves, we are given to see from a sacred place. From that place the sacredness of everything can be seen.”

Van Veen’s works are all colour photographs, although it is difficult to see much colour in a small number of them. The titles of his works are generally sufficient to reveal the stories he saw and is sharing with us – Barriers are Imagined, Veiled Landscape, Deep Space.

Mark Van Veen – Memorial Stone Garden
Mark Van Veen, Puddle Forest

There are a number of excellent images relating to horizons – not what we traditionally consider to be a horizon, perhaps a set of strata with particular characteristics, or even simply his perception that what he saw when he looked was a horizon.

Mark Van Veen – Lichen Stone Sky

Appropriately, since photography is painting with light, the word light appears in four separate titles where Van Veen has seen it dividing time, being hard breaking, or even sacred.

This is a substantial exhibition – both in terms of quantity and quality.

This review was first published online by The Canberra Times here on 31/10/22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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.