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.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

The Opal Byway

Photography Exhibition Review

The Opal Byway | Rachael Maude

M16 Artspace | 30 SEPTEMBER – 16 OCTOBER 2022

Rachael Maude is an independent artist who works with film photography and traditional darkroom practices.

The Opal Byway is Maude’s high quality analogue photography essay exploring the unique experience of life in the community of Yowah. Where? I hear you asking.

Yowah is in western Queensland, 938 Km west of Brisbane and 132 Km west of Cunnamulla. It is known for its opal mining and numerous opal fields that lie around the town – including the Yowah Nut, a local type of opal distinctive to the region.

The road to Yowah, known as The Opal Byway, takes you through a collection of small opal mining communities, including Quilpie and Eromanga. Yowah is at the end of the road. It is remote and inside a vast cattle station. But it has a successful annual Opal Festival on the third weekend of July. You can read about it, and the town itself, on a Facebook page or at yowahfestival.com.

Opal mining has long attracted non-conformers and outliers. In the opal fields you can encounter every kind of person, each with a compelling story about what drew them there. During a visit to the 2018 Festival, Maude became fascinated with the lifestyle of the locals and saw a special opportunity to capture an intimate look at their work and daily life.

As part of her later artist residency in Yowah, Maude shot continuously over a 6-month period, hand-processed negatives, and established a darkroom and studio, from which she printed all the works shown in this exhibition. The print quality of these black and white images is very good. And the stories told by each image are most interesting.

This body of work aims to introduce viewers to the individual experience of this isolated and eccentric community. You’ll learn much about Yowah and its small community by visiting this exhibition and taking it all in.

So, what is there to see? There are people – diverse members of this small community. Miners obviously, but also others such as the ceramicist and timber carver with a famous name who uses opal level clay and found native timbers.

Rachael Maude – Eddie McGuire in his studio

Some residents have been there for many years and not found any opals. Others have done very well and travel the world for months every year marketing their gemstones.

There are three children – brothers Jaiden, Cooper and James – who travel to attend school over an hour away in Eulo. There are places – mullock heaps of dumped mining rubble, beautiful patterns in the ground created by dried runoff, cutting sheds, underground offices and mines.

Rachael Maude – Ray’s office

There are hardy gidgee trees, including one at the town rubbish tip, which emit beautiful aromas when fallen ones are burned as winter firewood.

Rachael Maude – Lone Gidgee Tree

There are pieces of mining equipment – including trommels, rickety hoists, buckets and a Caldwell drill that is expensive and dangerous.

Rachael Maude – Explorations

This is an eccentric yet strongly connected and self-sufficient community creatively problem solving as necessary to keep operational – some members diligently keeping records of finds, others drinking cold beer, all using Artesian Basin water.

Rachael Maude – Fred at his opal hut

Each image tells a different part of the fascinating story of this small community of about one hundred persons in this remote place. There is Dean who lives with his horse Nikki – literally. Each resident has their own unique, unconventional, probably non-conforming life story.

Rachael Maude – Dean & Nikki

When she exhibited these works at Yowah, virtually the entire community came along to see it over a shared barbecue – and purchased pieces from the show. No wonder Maude plans to return to explore Yowah further and spend more time with her established friends.

This review was first published by The Canberra Times online here on 5/10/22 and in print on page 19 of the paper on 10/10/22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

A Feminine Perspective

Photography Exhibition Review

A Feminine Perspective | Hedda Photography Group – Andrea Bryant, Andrée Lawrey, Brenda Runnegar, Eva van Gorsel, Helen McFadden, Judy Parker, Julie Garran, Lyndall Gerlach, Margaret Stapper, Marion Milliken, Pam Rooney, Susan Henderson, Ulli Brunnschweiler.

M16 Artspace | 9 – 25 SEPTEMBER 2022

This is the first exhibition from the Hedda Photography Group – named for the wonderful photographer Hedda Morrison who lived the last part of her life (1967-1991) in Canberra. Its convenor started the Group “because some photography clubs tend to be male oriented.” She feels that, stereotypically, men are more interested in equipment whilst women are more interested in what images mean, and how they relate. Most of the exhibitors know me, as photographer and reviewer. I’d be surprised if they consider me to be any less interested in the actual images than they are. I have known some men keenly interested in cameras and lenses, I also know women who fit that bill.

One of the women exhibitors revealed that the Group’s members had shared a long and vibrant discussion about feminist perspectives and that many different views were expressed. Are photographers’ life experiences the main determinant of their interests? Are they gender related? Do they reflect our cultural backgrounds? Or our economic circumstances or where we have lived?

The exhibition concept was for participants to express what they wanted, however they wished, with no constraints as to subject matters or themes. The gallery website says, “as women they are interested in subjects that may tend to be relegated from mainstream art practice, perhaps because of their perceived lack of relevance to the male gaze.”

So, against that background, I went to the exhibition wondering what I might see and how, as a mere male, I would react. I saw portraits (of women and store mannequins), architectural details, abstracts, nature (including details), family history (one even including an image of a man), wonderful contemporary creations, and many beautiful artworks. There are references to crafts that, traditionally, women have been more likely to explore than men. There is some exploration of families, but not specifically of women’s family roles. And haven’t we all seen the increased numbers of men assuming such roles? I saw nothing that exclaimed, to me, “only a woman would have seen or created this.”

However, none of this means I didn’t very much enjoy the show. There are many excellent works on display. So let me now select some for specific mention. Susan Henderson has four delightful works, showing old family photos together with other items of family significance. Each of them works very well. A collage work titled Memories: Cousins Tilly and Sunday, 2022 incorporates scans of brightly coloured vintage Suffolk puffs – from the patchwork and quilting world.

Susan Henderson – Memories-Cousins Tilly and Sunday, 2022

Brenda Runnegar’s three works showing Amber and friends at various locations are intriguing, visual allegories  – the hidden meanings of which might have moral significance. Or might not?

Brenda Runnegar – Bush Hut

Andrea Bryant’s three portrait images use the word enigma in their titles. Enigma 3, with its eyes peering through bubble wrap is the most mysterious one.

Andrea Bryant – Enigma 3

Judy Parker’s delicately coloured compilations of dead and decomposing leaves and other organic material are fine examples of this genre that she does so well.

Judy Parker – Transience

Julie Garran is showing a strong sample of her store mannequin and doll images, the latter incorporating some images of a daughter.

Julie Garran – Portrait 3

Marion Milliken is displaying a fine essay of architectural building pieces.

Marion Milliken – Buildings-An Essay, 2022

Lyndall Gerlach has four exquisite examples of her lilies.

Lyndall Gerlach Iconographic Lily #8

And Ulli Brunnschweiler’s Groundworks series are wonderful abstracts.

Ulli Brunnschweiler – Groundworks IV

I could mention every individual exhibitor, but space does not permit. Suffice to say that all of them are showing strong works.

I encourage you to visit and enjoy each artwork, including six photobooks . Consider what contemporary photography and photo art is all about, and how both women and men photographers see their worlds.

This review was first published by The Canberra Times online here and on page 12 of Panorama in the print version of the paper on 24/9/22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews


Photography Exhibition Review


M16 Artspace, Gallery 2  | UNTIL 4 SEPTEMBER 2022

Lisa Stonham is a photo-media artist who lives and works in Gadigal Country/Sydney.

In her artworks she seeks to capture the temporary, ephemeral and momentary through the exploration of immovable man-made landscapes. She documents the ever-evolving relationship between light and time in the context of architectural space, to produce sensory and evocative colour field photographs.

Stonham’s work has been exhibited in various Australian galleries. In 2021 she exhibited in the Head-on Photo Festival Open Programme. She has been a finalist in numerous art prizes and awards including the Blake Prize, Iris Award, and CLIP Award.

The exhibition catalogue describes the artist’s work as “a concourse between documentary and abstraction. Although factual, her photographs are detached from physical or concrete reality and resistant to any narrative sense.” So, how can I describe the works in this exhibition if they are resistant to narrative?

In Conversations with My-Self and Others, the artist explores and exaggerates the tiny perfect moments … the ‘right now’ – that a more isolated and contemplative existence led her to appreciate. She has captured ephemeral and impressionistic moments within the context of the everyday. The resultant colour driven abstractions engage with the temporal nature of light and physical space. They involve the interpretation of light as gesture, everyday rainbows in the context of positive projections and articulation of colour experience in meditation and memory.

During the official opening, the works were described as extending from the usual photographic language to the painting language and particularly into abstraction in the way that photographic light can make us appreciate interior spaces but also remind us of reflective spaces within colour field painting. That is certainly one way of describing the works with words.

My first response when I began looking at the images was wow, look at those vibrant colours, that use of light, and those wonderful shadows. Then I found myself questioning whether some works were single images or composites. And one of the prints is quite small compared with all the others, so I was curious as to why that was the case and why it had been included in the exhibition.

Lisa_Stonham_Perfect Moment … Right Now (inYellow)
Lisa Stonham_Dopamine Rush_2021

Having an opportunity to speak with Stonham whilst standing in the middle of the gallery space enabled me to share my reactions, questions and thoughts with her – always a good way of getting further into the artist’s mindset and intentions. During the discussion, we were joined by another artist and listening to her comments and questions also added to my enjoyment of this show.

Lisa_Stonham_Everyday Rainbow (in Blue) 2021

The aforementioned small print Wayfinder was included because it works well with the larger one, Perfect Moment… Right Now, alongside it. The colours in the two works are the same delicious reds and greens. The small work is an archival pigment print mounted to aluminium, whereas the larger one is an eco-solvent print on solve glaze satin rag.

Perfect Moment…Right Now (in green) 2021 and Way-Finder 2021 (installation shot)

I was previously not familiar with eco-solvent inks, but limited research tells me they have their colours suspended in a mild biodegradable solvent, and they don’t contain as many volatile organic compounds. The eco-solvent prints in the show are vibrant – and it is okay to put water on them.

I also learned that Stonham had added separate images of shafts of light seen in her home to other images of pieces of walls, floors and other areas – also in her own home. The combinations work extremely well and are not at all obvious.

LisaStonham_Self-Talk (Chromatic Aberration)_2021

This is a colourful, absorbing and well-presented exhibition. Without objective context, the compositions and colour relationships have become subjects in themselves. No narrative is required to enjoy the works.

This review was first published on page 19 of the Canberra Times of 29.8.22 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

Reconstructed Landscapes 2022

Photography Exhibition Review

Reconstructed Landscapes 2022 | Emilio Cresciani

M16 Artspace, Gallery 1b | UNTIL 4 SEPTEMBER 2022

Emilio Cresciani is an artist living and working on Gadigal land (Sydney). He graduated from Sydney College of the Arts in 2012 in photo media and has been a finalist in numerous awards including the Earth Photo Award London and the Bowness Photography Prize.

In 2020 he was the recipient of a Dark Matter Residency at Canberra’s PhotoAccess. His works from that residency, exhibited with the title State of Change, explored the phenomenon of climate change by integrating the transformation of ice into water with photographic processes – photograms, recorded on photographic paper revealed what happened as blocks of ice melted. The images examined – literally, figuratively, and abstractly – human impact on Earth. My review at the time described them as spectacular.

Trees have long been an inspiration for artists, so it is not surprising to see another one responding to the fact that Australia has cleared nearly half of its forest cover in the last 200 years, resulting in habitat loss, extinction of native flora and fauna, rising salinity and 14% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Making it worse, in 2020 Australia was ravaged by bushfires and more forests were destroyed. There were increased calls for back-burning and land-clearing.

Cresciani’s artwork continues to explore the intersection between climate change and altered landscapes. He has a keen interest in objects, structures, and landscape in transition, and in particular the increasing number of ‘non-places’ that fill our environment. He started the project presented here before those deadly fires, deforestation already being a huge public issue.

The process for this new project by Cresciani again uses a photographic process, but quite a different one. This time, he took an analogue camera into numerous national parks to document forests in the Australian landscape at times when those parks were being quite traumatized by the disasters resulting from climate changes. Using a daylight-type high-image-quality colour reversal 4” x 5” film, he captured patterns of tree branches, bark and leaves, light and shade.

The artist then sliced the pieces of positive slide film into different shapes and sizes, like woodchips. The slices were rearranged into bold abstract compositions on a scanner and digital images created. Every piece of every photo was included in the abstract results – even the edges of the emulsion identifying the film type. The resultant works are also very different to the previous show mentioned earlier – but are equally effective and quite fascinating to look at. They need to be closely explored.

Emilio Cresciani. Blue Mountains National Park, 2021

Emilio Cresciani. Bongil Bongil National Park, 2021

The total exhibition is a wonderful and poignant set of works. What is on exhibition here is the trauma imposed on eco-systems essential to our lives. The billions of trees cut down annually are represented by these ‘photochips’, symbolising what we are doing to our natural environment. Cropping of film images would rightly be considered by many as an act of vandalism. Bold cutting of the images into numerous pieces represents the experienced trauma. Sliced – even shredded – in such a way that the film cannot be put back together in its original form is a clear metaphor shouting to us that, when the damage done to the forests is massive, regeneration is impossible.

Emilio Cresciani. Marrangaroo National Park, 2021
Emilio Cresciani. Royal National Park, 2021

By bringing what he describes as “these cut fragments” into an art gallery, Cresciani hoped to highlight the gap between the myth of the Australian bush and the real cost of our lifestyles. Sliced and cut, sawn and hacked, these images upset the perception of trees as beautiful, functional, replaceable. They are out of place, not as they should be. The artist has succeeded in his aim – Reconstructed Landscapes effectively highlights the costs of humankind’s failings.

This review was first published on page 19 of The Canberra Times of 29.8.22 and online here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.