These three solo shows have been described as each sharing a fascination with the strange. They are said to probe notions that have long intrigued photographers in numerous ways, demonstrating the diversity of contemporary photo-media.
One show, William Broadhurst’s Selected Suburban Works, imbues everyday scenes with a sense of mystery through abstraction. He presents a series of fleeting encounters shot in south-west Sydney.
The majority of Broadhurst’s works convey a powerful sense of movement and, if you like, blur – causing the detail of the content to be strangely abstracted whilst, sometimes, revealing almost ghost-like shapes and figures.
There are other works where particular content is more obvious – the moon is a clear presence in two works, in one seemingly hovering over a field of suburban lights.
Another work includes a person pushing a shopping trolley near the top of a hill. Others reveal a young person near a post and two youngsters alongside a soccer goal – doing precisely what is unclear in both images.
Yet another work features a shirtless man (the artist?) working with a whipper snipper, although what it is cutting is out of the frame leaving us to imagine it. Perhaps the image I enjoyed most includes, it seems, a blurred reclining kangaroo surveying suburbia from a nearby hill.
A second show, Gabrielle Hall-Lomax’s Fantasy Collision, integrates paint and digital manipulation techniques into layered photographic images. The works draw some attention to how human activity has transformed our Australian eco-systems. Expanding on environmental photography traditions – often used as a tool to raise awareness and educate us humans about the impact we cause on the environment – Hall-Lomax integrates paint and digital manipulation techniques into her works to reflect on the interconnectedness of nature – the body and the psyche are unified.
One work is titled Slip – whereas I saw a leap.
Another titled Bushfires did not speak to me of that phenomenon – but is a lovely image, nonetheless. These are reminders, perhaps, that titles are unimportant to many artists and exhibition visitors. Whatever our views about that, these are fine images.
Yet another is titled Rituals – it shows four modest-sized, standing stones amongst the mist – an acknowledgement of Stonehenge perhaps?
And Touching the sun is a sublime work that deserves lengthy contemplation – for me, the most interesting piece in the suite of three exhibitions.
The exhibition catalogue says the third show, Jamie Hladky’s Reverberation Time, “uses flash to explore places that have been reclaimed by nature after human occupation, illuminating the power of natural forces and our futile attempts to corral them.” Hladky himself has told me that the work is not so much about decay, or nature reclaiming, as he’s seen written. For him, his imagery is about “the irrelevant brevity of our short endeavours and our moments of self-absorbed pride.”
The titles of Hladky’s works reveal only where the images were taken. Around half are of decaying building interiors and half of cave and mining tunnel interiors.
One shot of the exterior of a neat and clean motel located in a desert area initially seemed out of place. Asked about it, Hladky told me he sees it as the first image in the series to pull the rest of them indoors – demonstrating that it is always good to have opportunities to discuss works with their authors!
In addition to viewing the three exhibitions, reading the delightful “essays” in their catalogues is a definite must, especially The House by Paddy Julian and A Cloak Stands in a Bore Hole, Arms Extended by Simon Eales.
This review was published in The Canberra Times of 4/4/22 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.
Where Lakes once Had Water (2020) is a video that runs for 28:14 minutes. Whether gallery visitors see it from start to finish depends on whether they manage to arrive as it commences to play. I arrived around 7 minutes into it, so stayed to see the missed opening scenes after viewing all the rest of the video.
In 2018 and 2019, Melbourne/Naarm-based artists Sonia Leber and David Chesworth travelled with a team of Earth and environmental scientists investigating changes in climate, landscape and ecology in the Northern Territory over millennia. Their resultant video channels this experience, in which Indigenous rangers, Elders and community members collaborate with scientists in spectacular yet challenging environments.
Leber and Chesworth are known for their distinctive video, sound and architecture-based installations that are audible as much as visible. Their works are speculative and archaeological, often involving communities and elaborated from research in places undergoing social, technological or local geological transformation. The works emerge from reality but exist significantly in the realm of the imaginary, hinting at unseen forces and non-human perspectives.
Presented across two screens, this immersive long-form video is a journey encompassing audio-visual realms, scientific endeavour and traditional Indigenous knowledge, stories and custodianship – an amalgamation of efforts to understand this ancient land.
Where Lakes Once Had Water was filmed on the lands and waters of the Mudburra, Marlinja, Jingili, Elliot, Jawoyn and Larrakia communities, with additional filming and editing on Barkindji, Dharawal, Djabugay, Yidinji and Wurundjeri Country. In partnership with Bundanon, it is the first of four art commissions by The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH), which works across disciplinary boundaries, and seeks to garner broad perspectives of the past in order to engage new audiences with the story of ‘epic Australia.’ The aim is to engage artists with aspects of research – to make new work that responds to, questions, and interprets the research for broader audiences.
From fieldwork in deserts to microscopic work in laboratories, scientists sought evidence of Earth’s forces over long-term cycles of wet and dry. Many of those forces – wind, temperature, long-term aridification and tectonic movement – were invisible to the human eye or lay beyond human timescales.
Leber and Chesworth say their project “tests the hypothesis that the Earth is experienced and understood through different but interconnected ontologies. These ways of being, seeing, sensing, listening and thinking can align with art, Indigenous thought, science, ancient and modern cultures, the non-human, and somewhere in between.”
The video introduces Ray Dimakarri Dixon calling to ancestral spirits to watch over Country as scientists excavate the red earth of once-submerged lake beds. The fieldwork is observed by non-human cohabitants, as ecologies of birds, termites, flies and vegetation continue their own struggles of survival. Across the ancient shorelines, everyone is receptive to the signs, signals and rhythms of the land and water.
There are few spoken words – essentially only Auntie Susan Kingston, appropriately using Indigenous language. There are, however, numerous other sounds employed. Was that a created xylophone I saw and heard? Were sounds recorded by microphones and other recording devices scanning termite hills part of the soundtrack I listened to?
There is so much to see in this video. Dry landscapes, grains, gorges and ants. Core samples, bottled water, laboratories, measurements, analysis. Geological explorations, erosion, dirt roads, fishing. Cattle, a road freight train. I could go on and on.
It is wonderful to see art used to educate artists and art lovers about biodiversity and heritage research and, hopefully, gain at least a little more understanding of these places where lakes once had water.
This review was published on page 37 of The Canberra Times of 7/3/22 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.
Judith Nangala Crispin, Stephen Harrison and Victoria Royds
Grainger Gallery | 27 January – 13 February 2022
Wamboin resident Judith Nangala Crispin describes herself as “a Canberra-based poet and visual artist, with a background in music.” What an understatement! She has been highly successful in each field, has been an Honorary Creative Arts Fellow at the National Library, and currently is Artist in Residence at Musica Viva.
She is also a photographer who has developed her own alternative process, Lumachrome Glass Printing, with which she now makes extraordinarily beautiful and artistic images of roadkill – “a threnody for fallen rabbits, birds, spiders and other beings with whom we share this planet”. A threnody is a lyric poem of mourning.
The image titles reveal something of Crispin’s poetry talents. For example, She remembered running, baby in pouch, the burrow nearly visible, birds lifting from the water tank at the first rifle’s crack– so cold in the long grass, day drops night, and the joey stills. In the winter sky over Braidwood, Enid finds her baby again, 2021. A loving description of a wombat mother and her frozen joey, respectful burying them.
Wondering what Crispin’s works have to do with photography when no camera was involved? Photography can be defined as the art or process of producing images by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface. No requirement to use a camera.
Crispin’s earliest Lumachrome glass prints in 2018 were made simply as expanded sunprints, on black and white fibre paper, coated with her own emulsions, and left to expose under glass for between 12 and 36 hours. Her practice has evolved to use complex layers of glass and chemistry to control the colours and textures. She says the works are the result of genuine collaboration with the landscape, literally constructed from light, earth and flesh. She loves that the technique makes dead animals and birds seem alive again. It is light alone that manifests these colours and shapes; not paint or anything that can be completely controlled.
For finer detail, Crispin uses chemigram variants, painting compounds like selenium or copper chloride directly onto feathers, scales or fur. Her process is adapted for each work. She might paint an animal’s blood into the image during exposure. Ochres, seeds, sticks and other materials are sourced where the animal or bird was found. If maggots and flies appear, their tracks are incorporated into the work. These 2020 prints clearly show her process has developed splendidly.
Speaking at the opening, Crispin referred to Royds as the Queen of regenerative farming, and to a project she is working on with Harrison as a regenerative road bearing witness to the animals and other wildlife that were killed on the path between Canberra and the coast during the 2019/20 fires. This exhibition, in many ways, is the first step along the road. Crispin suggests everything beautiful in the world is so because it is transitory, and the exhibition allows us to witness the miracle of things before they are gone. By chance but nevertheless appropriately, this exhibition opened in the same week as other events in Canberra celebrated caring for country.
There is insufficient space here to describe the sculptural pieces adequately. But I must say that they are quality works by two skilled artists, well worth looking at and thinking about. So please visit this exhibition.
This review was first published in The Canberra Times of 5/2/22 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.
2021. What a year! Despite everything, local photo artists have continued to make their marks.
There have been many exhibitions. Some openings were conducted outdoors; galleries having to let small numbers inside at a time. Even during lockdown, photo galleries and artists were active, using social media, livestreaming and virtual exhibitions most creatively.
I remain disappointed about poor supporting material available for visitors in some galleries. I urge those that fall short to improve the exhibition experience – catalogues that tell us more than titles and prices, artist/concept statements about artworks, catalogue essays, recordings about the artists and works to hear, and opportunities to look at and, perhaps, purchase books and other material as well as the actual works exhibited.
There have also been interesting new photobooks and books about photography this year, including Capital Country – an ‘exhibition in a book’ by Kate Matthews, and the substantial Installation View by Daniel Palmer & Martyn Jolly which has enriched our understanding of the diversity of Australian photography.
There have been marvellous awards for individual artists. For the third year in succession, Canberra photo artists were finalists in the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP). Indeed, once again a Canberran earned the $10,000 Prize. This year it was Ian Skinner for his poetic work, Ashscapes 01-04, about how the ocean delivered ash to the sandy edge of the land when the catastrophic fires in south-eastern Australia in 2019-2020 were shortly followed by torrential rain.
Skinner also took out 3rd prize in the storytelling section of the Australian Photographic Society (APS)’s annual photobook awards for his Aftermath: Cadgee 2020 – an intimate story of heartbreak and loss in the devastating bushfires which swept through the NSW South Coast hinterland in the summer of 2019-2020.
Lyndall Gerlach was again a finalist in the MCPP, was commended for several works in the Australia’s Top Emerging Photographers competition and the Mono Awards; and was featured in FRAMES Magazine’s Digital Companion.
Judy Parker, winner of the 2020 MCPP, won the portfolio section of the APS’s photobook awards, with her book Afterthoughts, described by the judges as “a stunning body of work with consistent post-production”.
The Canberra Times own Dion Georgopoulos, and Marzena Wasikowska, were both finalists in the prestigious National Photographic Portrait Prize. Georgopoulos has also done some wonderful Darling River photography, whilst Wasikowska was also selected as one of the winners in the 2021 Lens Culture Street Photography Critics’ Choice Awards.
Two photographers received 2021 Canberra Critics Circle Awards. Sammy Hawker – for her exhibition Acts of Co-Creation at the Mixing Room Gallery, comprising unsettling and thrilling prints processed with water, soil, bark and flowers collected from the locations of the images. And Melita Dahl for her intriguing exhibition Portrait at Photo Access exploring connections between the traditions of fine-art portraiture, photography and facial emotion recognition software.
Many professional photographers were hard hit by the pandemic, with sparse numbers of events to photograph, and physical outlets for their works closed. The recent collapse of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography after 75 years of serving photographers is, no doubt, an added blow. So, it was great to see on social media, just before writing this, photos from local professional Ben Kopilow’s coverage of a wedding in a hot air balloon.
I’ve recently reviewed some fine nature prints at the Australian National Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre – Recovery was the eighth annual photographic exhibition by the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens Photographic Group. And also recently I reviewed the final show for the year at Photo Access by 11 photo artists – outcome of a Concept to Exhibition project. And there is one other show to see before the year is done – at Canberra Contemporary Art Space.
This city can, rightfully, be proud of all of the artists I have named here – and of many more making excellent photo artworks. No doubt 2022 will deliver great photomedia exhibitions, events and achievements, including the successful emergence of new local talents. Hopefully, it also will see significant progress on the Kingston Arts Precinct project!
This article was published in the Canberra Times of 23/12/21 here.
ANBG Visitors Centre Gallery | 25 November – 12 December
Recovery is the eighth annual photographic exhibition by the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens Photographic Group.
This year there are four categories of images. Firstly, there are plant portraits of a single plant, or group of primarily the same species. Then there are wildlife images (in the Gardens, but also outside due to access restrictions this year). Next there are creative compositions of banksia plants in recognition of Joseph Banks’ visit to Australia and the new banksia garden. And, to complete the show, images of rare, threatened or endangered plants. In total there are forty-eight prints by twenty artists, all framed in a light-coloured timber and, so, the overall exhibition looks cohesive.
The exhibition successfully displays in print aspects of our beautiful natural environment through the camera lens – and on screen with revolving images of plants, birds and animals in the ANBG.
There are just three monochrome prints on display, all by the same author – Ulli Brunnschweiler. They stand out amongst the colour works, not just because they are black and white but also because they are quite lovely works each showing plants (plural). In particular, Acacia pravissima, hung at the top of the three works here is just delightful. Commonly known as the Ovens or Tumut wattle, this is an acacia with which we are all familiar. But generally, we see it in yellow and green.
Amongst the colour works the standouts for me include David Bassett’s Feeding Gang-Gang and Imperial Jezabel. This Queanbeyan author’s nature imagery – indeed all his varied artworks – are consistently excellent and these are no exception.
Local professional and photography teacher Irene Lorbergs has contributed several fine prints – Honeyeater and Macrocarpa, Bee and Flower, and Banksia. The latter is suggestive of a delicious tasting cupcake.
Pam Rooney’s winning Woolly Banksia image superbly displays what can only be described as delicate tracery.
Bill Hall’s vulnerable Thick-lip Spider Orchid shows great detail and makes excellent use of complementary colours. Steve Playford’s Bejeweled Qualup Bell does the same with virtually identical colours.
Graham Gall’s Juvenile Male Satin Bowerbird shows the bird’s soft, mostly green and brown, colours amongst similar greens and browns of the foliage. The rich blue of the bird’s eye is striking and commands attention.
Jim Gould’s Baby Blue Flowers is a visually pleasing selection of a small piece of a silver-leaved mountain gum, clearly showing viewers how its flowers bud in groups of three; white flowers and cup-shaped to cylindrical fruit.
All the prints are worthy of close examination, and I encourage readers who can do so to visit and see for themselves.
Both framed works and unframed prints are for sale. Unique gifts of cards, calendars, photo bags and more are also on display and available for purchase. A percentage of sales go to the Friends for projects in the Gardens.
Visitors can also check out the 2022 Calendar that is available in the bookshop; all images produced by the Photographic Group members.
The exhibition supports and raises awareness of the aims and values of the ANBG and highlights the Gardens’ wide-ranging diversity of flora and fauna through the medium of photography. The participating members of the Photographic Group should be pleased and proud of their contributions.
Any reader who would like more information on the Photographic Group should email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Group encourages potential speakers and new members.
This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.
Mark Mohell, Macdonald Nichols & Peter Ranyard | Plein Air, High Plain
M16 Artspace | Until 21 November 2021
Monaro is a Ngarigo word meaning “high plain”. And it is the Monaro that centres Mark Mohell, Macdonald Nichols and Peter Ranyard’s durational photographic exhibition, Plein Air, High Plain.
The gallery’s room sheet for this exhibition tells visitors “Their photographs investigate the dynamic forces that shape the endless, reciprocal drama that is Landscape….The exhibition is a result of numerous transversals of the Monaro that sought to consider the distinctive character of Plein Air as a productive practice. The works are conceived completely in the Monaro environment affirming its presence and the individuals within it: a physical and affective immersion.”
So, does the exhibition focus on what we would think of as the high plains of the Monaro? In my view, it focusses on the Monaro region as a whole – not just the high plains landscapes, but also places built on those plains by humans, some on the open plains, others in towns. Some of the imagery is of small details, such as a door, a card holder with a cribbage board, a jumble of cutlery, and a film processing clock. That gives this interesting exhibition a substantially broader focus than I expected.
The term Plein Air is generally used in that other artform, painting, referring to the act of painting outdoors – in contrast to studio painting or academic rules. ‘En plein air’ painting emerged from the concept by which the artist paints directly onto canvas in situ within the landscape, enabling better capture of changing weather and light. Nevertheless, it can be applied to photography as well. When photographers work outdoors using natural light and without staging anything, their captured images reflect real events and subjects in real time. I expect that is why the term is in the exhibition title. It is arguable that, when prints of images have words added to them, they cease to be strictly real. But, perhaps, that is pedantry on my part.
The works are of good quality. They vary in size and price, some framed and others not. Raynard’s works are small squares on Hahnemühle Museum Etching art paper, Mohell’s are large “archival pigment prints”. And the inkjet prints by Macdonald Nicholls range from very small to very large.
Those I found most interesting were Nichols’ prints with handwritten words. In particular I loved Dentist – although the image itself doesn’t identify the dentist’s practice, added words tell us it is upstairs above the colourful Massie Street (Cooma) seafood takeaway shop in the photo and that it has a window looking out to trees. Even better the wonderfully descriptive words tell us that the colour of pain is green, and the smell is hot chips – adding considerably to the visual image. On the other hand, his large-scale landscapes in Ngarigo Country – including one of Jounama Creek and another near Shanahans Mountain – are traditional works.
Mohell features powerlines, tanks, tracks and other mundane outdoor objects in his quality works. Two landscapes, Sign and Paint, show additions made by human hands – one a road speed limit sign and posts marking the road’s edge, the other paintwork on a rock outcrop behind a fence along the road’s edge. So, they are more than straightforward landscapes.
Ranyard shows us objects, including a kettle and a flattening iron, plus chimneys, mountain huts, bridges, and much more. I recall reading some years ago that he has always been fascinated by objects, particularly those changed by weather, time, and neglect. Clearly, he is still fascinated and enjoying opportunities to interpret objects and more. Mountain Hut and Kettle are excellent black and white images.
This review was published in the Canberra Times of 20/11/21 here and also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.
Eva van Gorsel and Manuel Pfeiffer | Congruent – Incongruent
M16 Artspace | Until 21 November 2021
Eva van Gorsel is a photographer who uses numerous diverse techniques and approaches to create varied, interesting imagery – her background in environmental sciences and scientific photography always there. Her imagery here does not disappoint. As usual they are excellent artworks, pleasing to look at, contemplate and think about.
Manuel Pfeiffer is a painter who uses an extensive range of materials, including acrylics, pencils, charcoals and much more. His works here are of mixed media, including acrylics, pencils, even plaster of Paris. They are equally pleasing to explore.
The gallery sheet informs visitors that these artists feel our lives have changed, that harmony has been disrupted by climate change and pandemics globally. Few would disagree. The artists suggest many of us have been striving for balance more consciously – in our friendships and workplaces, and in how we interact with our environment.
Here was their starting point to create an exhibition addressing congruence (in agreement or harmony) and incongruence. The artists have creatively investigated their concept, exploring balance, harmony and disharmony, symmetry and asymmetry.
They have also used the mathematical concept of congruence – figures, identical in form, coinciding exactly when superimposed. In geometry, two figures or objects are congruent if they have the same shape and size, or if one is a mirror image of the other.
So, in these works, we see reflected, rotated and translated shapes and lines overlaid on a variety of landscapes. Whilst art lovers generally enjoy the aesthetics of congruent images, they also do not mind some tension – it keeps us looking and exploring the artwork.
The depicted landscapes are from diverse Australian places, including New England, Lake Burley Griffin, Kosciusko, Cocoparra National Park, the Flinders Ranges, and the Devils Marbles. They include mountains and seas, sunrises and night times. Some include circular shapes that may be either the sun or the moon – or something else?
Van Gorsel has an interest in how colour and geometry shape landscapes. She examines moods created by warm and cold colours, the direction of light and how it changes, transitioning colours painted on skies or reflected in water. Here, her diptychs are congruent – despite focussing on contrasting concepts. They are displayed as pairs of works side by side. All the images are based on photography. Each panel is the same size, each is a pigment ink print on archival paper.
Her Mountain Ranges diptych shows the same scene overlaid with the same triangles and lines – each a reflection of the other, one warm toned, the other cool.
And the two images in her Lake Lights diptych are again reflections of each other, except that the circle in each varies in density or hue.
Pfeiffer’s works are, on the one hand, based on incongruence: every diptych, in itself partly congruent, is different in technique and the materials used reflect the wide variety of possibilities available to artists. On the other hand, all works are of the same size (some in portrait, others in landscape format) and mounted the same way, in the mathematical sense of the word congruent.
The left-hand side of his Lake Burley Griffin diptych is a monochromatic version of the coloured and inverted right hand side.
View From Cocoparra is presented in an analagous way but is much more graphic with delightful contour lines and a simple and subtle tree.
Two sets of works play off each other perfectly. These artists have again produced a fine exhibition as they did with their previous joint show Facets in 2020.
This review was published in the Canberra Times of 20/11/21 here and on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.
PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery | Until 27 November 2021
Each year, PhotoAccess awards local and interstate artists, both emerging and established, assisting them to expand and develop their photo-media practices. They are provided with mentorship to produce solo exhibitions in the Huw Davies Gallery. The four ACT exhibitors this year were recipients of the Dark Matter, Emerging Artists Support Scheme, and Wide Angle residencies.
The works in Sammy Hawker’s Experiments in Living [Melt] encompass text, documentary video and negative prints produced in collaboration with the chemical activity of rain, hailstones, seawater and open flame. This is now familiar territory for Hawker, who challenges us to reconsider the illusion of control we hold over the natural world. These images do not disappoint.
Because we are limited, finite, beings subject to dying, vulnerability to trauma is a necessary and universal feature of our human condition. Hawker’s images speak to this, identifying the importance of nurturing our relationship to the world, and reminding us that our everyday experience is illusory, never the reality itself, of non-human forces shaping our lives.
Eunie Kim says she is grateful to have found her life’s calling in photography and is excited to see what comes next, embracing every opportunity. In Surface Appearances, Kim has used ‘Liquid Light’ photographic emulsion painted onto varied papers and brought her current Australian life into conversation with the traditional aesthetics of her Korean heritage. This is most evident in three beautiful “paintings” on sugarcane paper, looking at flowers, birds and insects.
Using materials and subjects from a contemporary Australian setting whilst simultaneously conjuring the aesthetic of traditional Korean painting, Kim explores her immigrant experience. Applying the emulsion via brushstroke, on differing thickness and texture of paper, has produced varying works. They reflect Kim’s process of learning, regretting and then correcting mistakes, and taking chances.
Light Materials is a series of video works deconstructing and recombining film materials through a process of digital or analogue weaving, Caroline Huf explores the exhaustion and re-invention of settler Australian myths about the mystery and threat of the bush.
Huf’s work, It’s No Picnic, disrupts Peter Weir’s iconic movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, a key cultural expression of early colonial anxieties in the unfamiliar Australian landscape. Each scene is pulled apart, altered in speed, scale, and moved out of time to appear as woven patterns and twills. The film’s pan pipes become an industrial sound and the threads slowly disappear, suggesting a worn-out myth.
And Let’s Get Lost presents Huf’s personal engagements with local landscapes, wearing dresses she created from strips of 16mm film to remind us of the, often, fleeting nature of our experiences with landscapes. The film dress unravels as she moves through the landscape before being fed through the projector and into the gallery. Both the dress and its experience become an ephemeral memory. Watching these works, particularly the digital video projected onto sandstone, is a somewhat mesmerising experience.
Aloisia Cudmore’s works span multiple mediums including photography, video, sound and installation. She investigates the notions of intimacy at the threshold between physical and virtual space.
398 comprises personal black and white digital images in which Cudmore captures intimate moments of physical proximity with her friends, family and community, during a time when travel restrictions, prohibitions on gathering and ultimately lockdowns separated us emotionally from those most important to us. These quite simple images of moments are a testament to the people that keep us connected.
We are fortunate to have these four photomedia workers amongst our quality emerging and established artists in the A.C.T. It is no surprise they were chosen to receive the awards that led to these works.
This review was first published in the Canberra Times here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.
Group exhibitions can be awkward to review because of the diversity of imagery subject matter and quality. This exhibition has a specified theme but, like all themes, it was open to wide interpretation and, unsurprisingly, the images in it approach portraiture in differing ways. Overall, the quality of the prints is high as we would hope in such a show, although I was disappointed with a small number.
So, what is on display in this, the 15th annual National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP)? With its Living Memory theme having been set to acknowledge the seismic events of 2020, it was hoped entries would offer a powerful and historic visual record of the year that was and would capture the unique ways in which we as individuals, and as a nation, responded to it. Many of the images on display certainly show both the photographers and their subjects responding to the dramas of 2020. Others, though, do not – in my view. Nevertheless, the diversity and quality of the artwork combines in a powerful visual exhibition.
In shows such as this I always look for works by locals and other people whom I know personally, and images by artists whose work I have long admired. This year I found a familiar work by local Marzena Wasikowska – A Covid kind of day, from her series Negotiating the Family Portrait 2011-2021. I wrote about that series here earlier this year, noting that this is the fifth time an image from the series has been a NPPP finalist.
I also found two images by Canberra Times photographer Dion Georgopoulos, both taken after the firestorms and previously seen published in this newspaper. I consider Wandella Firestorm, 2020 to be the more powerful of the two but The Salway Family is also a fine portrait with a father and nephew placed before a devastating background.
One of the represented photographers whose work I always appreciate is Tamara Dean. The Goodall Boys, 2021 came from Dean finding beauty in her immediate environment and being inspired to create photographs of the people and places she was surrounded by when unable to venture further afield. That is an experience most artists shared in 2020.
Two of the most powerful images displayed are side by side and both feature emotionally charged situations. When Rachel Mounsey photographed Max, 2020 her subject said ‘All has been erased. Nature has to come back through a black, blank canvas. It’s a lamentable game of survival, but beautiful to watch.’ The resultant image successfully conveys that. Alongside it is Matthew Newton’s Anna, 2020 showing peaceful activist Anna Brozek standing determined, tall and proud on the remains of a logged tree in Tasmania’s precious old growth forests. Her message could not be clearer.
But what of the winner and other awarded images? I have read considerable commentary elsewhere about the winner – a familiar scene (of a farmer walking towards a dust storm), hard to understand why certain photos win these types of Prizes, what does it reveal about the person? Whether or not those are valid comments, there is no denying the emotion the winning work and other awarded images convey.
There are numerous works in this diverse exhibition that we all need to study and explore, especially the few type C prints such as Kalyanii Holden’s beautiful The Cat’s Out Of The Bag.
I could not look at one work as it had been covered. The person depicted has recently passed away. I applaud the Gallery for respecting Indigenous cultural protocols while the person’s family and community are consulted regarding their wishes.
This review was published on 6/11/21 by the Canberra Times here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.
Daniel Palmer & Martyn Jolly| Installation View: Photography Exhibitions in Australia (1848-2020)
In 2014, Canberra-based Dr Martyn Jolley and Melbourne-based Dr Daniel Palmer received a grant to research the impact of new technology on the curating of Australian art photography.
One outcome – their substantial new book, Installation View – enriches our understanding of the diversity of Australian photography. It is a significant new account, told through the most important exhibitions and modes of collection and display. It presents a chronology of rarely seen installation views from both well-known and forgotten exhibitions, along with a series of essays.
Additionally, the authors hope to identify some of the challenges faced by institutions in effectively engaging with new forms and practices of photography enabled through digital circulation. Establishing a dialogue around old and new curatorial approaches, the research is premised on the idea that in this age of photo sharing, when photographs are proliferating as never before, the curatorial selecting, collecting and contextualising functions have never been more important.
The foreword correctly notes that photos can be ephemeral even though the camera records and remembers. It invites readers to visit exhibitions of the past and actively imagine what it would have been like to be there. Somewhat like imagining what today’s virtual exhibitions might look like physically in an actual gallery.
Our appetites are whetted by references to viewing images at exhibitions, to the ghostly figures that are audiences, and to the changes in exhibition spaces since the 1870s – to spaces where photographers’ intentions interact with institutional imperatives and exhibition design.
Then the introduction speaks of the exploration of the “constantly mutating forms and conventions through which photographers and curators have selected and presented photographs to the public”.
Despite the book’s 424 pages, the authors have had to be selective as to which exhibitions they have explored. I have also had to be selective as to which content to discuss here.
Seeking to demonstrate shifts in how photography has been conceptualised, who has produced it and the types of spaces where it has been exhibited, the authors note that photographers and curators have always grappled with scale so that images command attention. They discuss how photographs rely on other media, including print and reproduction technologies, and graphic design. They suggest that art museums have frequently turned to the nineteenth century to complicate the contemporary moment.
So, this is not a book for light reading. It is a substantial text to be studied, raising numerous things for us to consider and contemplate. I do not like the design – tiny margins, and a strange style of page and plate numbering – nor the lack of an index and the listing of the plates in the separate appendix. But the content is excellent. All serious creators, photographers and collectors should have a copy on their reference bookshelves.
An important question posed is what constitutes Australian photography? Is it work by Australians, here and on travels? Does it include significant works made by non-Australians whilst visiting these shores for short periods? How important are overseas exhibitions involving Australian-based photographers? Have exhibitions of international works here impacted on local practice? Very early in the book it is asserted that, in the 1980s, photography moved from the periphery to the centre of the art world; and it speaks about the loss of photo medium-specific curators and galleries.
Having personally had 45 years involvement with amateur Australian photography societies, I was enjoyed reading about the involvement of amateur associations and pictorialist photography exhibitions, starting with a description of the first annual exhibition by members of the Amateur Photographic Association of Victoria way back in 1884. Any person interested in photography would be aware of the New Zealand born, Sydney-based Harold Cazneaux. His 1909 solo exhibition in the Sydney rooms of the Photographic Society of NSW was the first such by any Australian.
Another famous Australian, Frank Hurley, had his first solo show in 1911 – again in Sydney, but at the Kodak Salon. Given our recent experiences of exhibitions having to await gallery re-openings after pandemic lockdowns, it is interesting that Hurley had to wait for the influenza epidemic to subside before his venue similarly could re-open.
Reading about the use of photographers’ studios as exhibition spaces in the mid nineteenth century set me thinking about parallels today. Many photographers now would display examples of their works in their workplaces, including their homes, where clients would come to have studio portraits made.
Chapter 11, Exhibiting the Modern World, describes the major 1938 Commemorative Salon of Photography, again in Sydney, as part of the celebrations for Australia’s 150th anniversary. It was a joint effort by amateur and professional associations. Australia’s Bicentennial, 50 years later, is mentioned briefly in chapters about indigenous photographers and digital spaces, but the major 1988 traveling Australian Bicentennial Exhibition with which I was personally very involved is not discussed.
There is a reference to photographic constructions in the form of a ceremonial arch over Sydney’s Bridge Street during the 1954 Queen’s visit which I’m sure some will remember. The extraordinary and famous Family of Man international touring exhibition in 1959, including just two Australians out of 273 photographers, gets a short chapter to itself which refers to this country’s White Australia policy being dismantled against the context of the exhibition’s vision of global humanity.
The ongoing significance of some photography is highlighted by reference to the important After the Tent Embassy show – displayed at our own Woden shopping mall in 1983. It included some works that became incredibly important later.
Of considerable personal interest to me as an organiser of a current annual Prize for conceptual photography was the chapter Photoconceptualism, discussing the emergence of that style of exhibition practice. The first Australian exhibition to include conceptual photography was held in 1969 at Pinacotheca Gallery in St Kilda.
Juxtaposition of images and texts remains a device employed by many conceptual artists today. Locally, the Canberra PhotoConnect group aims to promote “the evolving practice of photography and its links to the arts and society”. It encourages using poetry as an integral part of image presentation.
Plates in the book, of which there are 218, include a hand-coloured installation shot of Micky Allan’s exhibition Photography, Drawing, Poetry – A Live-In Show. Another has particular local interest, showing Huw Davies at the door of Photo Access in Acton in 1984. The gallery at that organisation’s current premises carries Davies name.
References regarding Bill Henson, Simryn Gill, and Tracey Moffatt representing Australia at the Venice Biennale identify them as key moments putting Australia at the “centre of the art world”. The book also notes that photography has been “so successful at becoming art that the place of photography departments in Australian art galleries appears to have become unmoored”.
During an online conversation about the book, a question posed was whether institutionalisation has left us with sensory deficit. We heard that curators are now working like artists, and vice versa. Mention was made of William Yang using a gallery as a diary space. The audience, which included Yang, also heard that “each person who walks into a gallery changes everything”. Remember that when next you visit a gallery!
This review was first published in the Canberra Times here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.