Photography Story

2021 Year Ender

Photography, Photo Media, Mixed Media

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.

Ribbons 10 – Milky © Lyndall Gerlach

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.

Aaron Salway, with his nephew Harley Salway 2. Just behind them is the ridge where Aaron’s father Robert, and brother Patrick Salway died protecting their property in Wandella. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

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.

Murramarang NP #1 © Sammy Hawker
Melita Dahl, happy (0.96), 2019

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.

Standard
Photography Story, Reviews

Negotiating the Family Portrait

Review of Photography

Marzena Wasikowska | Negotiating the Family Portrait

Canberra-based photo artist Marzena Wasikowska has built a name for herself over the years. Since 2000, when she completed her Master of Visual Arts at the ANU, she has had more than a dozen solo exhibitions (as well as being in numerous group exhibitions). Her works are in several public collections, and she also has been publicly commissioned on a number of occasions. Wasikowksa has been successful in various major competitions, including being a finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) five times.

Now, Wasikowska has been selected as one of the winners in the 2021 Lens Culture Street Photography Critics’ Choice Awards. Joanna Milter, Director of Photography at The New Yorker selected the series Negotiating the Family Portrait 2011-2021 for an Award. Experts, such as Milter, explored entries from across the globe to select their top three personal favourites. There’s no jurying as a panel; just choices made individually by each of the expert critics.

Images were submitted by photographers from over 150 countries and twenty-one critics chose individual photos and series that captured their hearts. Explaining her choice of Wasikowska’s series, Milter described the images as lively and noted that the artist “purposely captures those instances before everyone is in place. Yet she understands that the presence of a photographer changes everything; even in seemingly offhand moments, her subjects are performing for her camera.”

The ten images in the series have been captured over a decade – indeed it is five of them that have been finalists in the NPPP. Wasikowska says the series title summarises how she thinks about the act and procedure of making family portraits for public viewing. As we all should be, she is keenly aware of the discussions and negotiations of private and public – what to exhibit and what to keep private. She suggests, and I agree with her, that image makers tread a fine line when contributing to the dialogue of family portraiture while revealing something candid but not uncensored.

We have all experienced difficulties taking photos of getting people to smile, not hold fingers above heads, and not hide behind taller folk. Wasikowska has solved those problems. Whilst saying she longs for them to be the actors in her images, she also expresses her hope that each photograph holds the essence of a genuine, personal event, for herself and each of them. These annual portraits of her immediate family are a highlight of her portrait photography, summarising the previous twelve months.

In one image, every family member has brought their year’s story to the table.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2015-16 – A study of history, myth and identity family © Marzena Wasikowska

In another, one of two young children appears to be struggling in the arms of the adult holding them, most probably longing to be put down and set free to again explore the camera equipment now being used to capture them.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2018 – Chaos © Marzena Wasikowska

And then another image is filled with visual symbols for the conflicting extremes associated with this dreadful pandemic affecting each and every one of us in various ways; some the same for us all, others different for particular individuals.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2020-21-A COVID Kind of Day © Marzena Wasikowska

It is a delight to see these ten images together. They start with a relatively simple, yet exquisite, image of just two of the family.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2010 – Long Distance Conversation 1 © Marzena Wasikowska

Along the journey we see far more complex groupings of much larger gatherings of family members, in which the theatricality and performance style truly shines through.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2012 © Marzena Wasikowska

We are members of an audience. Some may wish they were videos rather than just one still image of a moment frozen in time. But these are the precise moments that the artist selected and wants us to see.

This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 4/9/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard