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.

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Reviews

2021 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize

Photography Exhibition Review

Various artists: 2021 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize

Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre | Until 20 August 2021

The annual Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP) is conducted by the Australian Photographic Society. The 2021 winners were announced on 17 July at the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre (MRAC). Attendance was restricted to just seven people, but the short event was simultaneously livestreamed to a broader audience nationwide via both Facebook and Zoom. As many people cannot visit the physical exhibition the MCPP Management Team has had a wonderful virtual gallery created, which allows anyone to explore all the images.

Of 43 finalists selected by the judges, three are Canberra artists – Ian Skinner, Lyndall Gerlach, and Judy Parker. All three of them were amongst an astounding nine Canberra finalists in 2020, with Parker winning the Prize on that occasion.

This year it was Skinner’s turn – he was announced as the winner of the $10,000 Prize for his finalist entry – Ashscapes 01-04. In his concept statement accompanying the image, Skinner speaks of the catastrophic fires in southeastern Australia in 2019-2020 which were followed by torrential rain. He explains that the rivers and creeks disgorged debris into the ocean causing the waves to turn grey with ash and convulse with charred remnants. The image shows where gentler waves deposited small flecks of carbonised vegetation on the beaches in “ephemeral patterns suggesting the hills, ridges and valleys of their living selves”. It is a beautiful artwork, most deserving of the Prize.

Ashscapes 01-04 – Ian Skinner

Skinner’s winning artwork has been acquired by the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre for its permanent collection of post-war contemporary paintings, ceramic and photography. It joins the previous MCPP winners in that important collection.

Other prize winners were Ian Terry from Hobart and Anne Pappalardo from Brisbane, both of whom also entered excellent works. Terry received a $500 gift voucher for his work Night on the Tier – part of his ongoing project responding to the journeys of George Augustus Robinson who, assisted by palawa (Indigenous Tasmanian) guides, walked through Van Diemen’s Land in the 1830s to persuade palawa still on Country to give up their resistance to the European invasion of their island. In following Robinson, with his journal in hand, Terry is seeking to connect the historical with the contemporary, to make sense of his own existence “in this island of dreams which was stolen violently from its first people”. The fractured landscape shown wonderfully in the image is where Robinson spent his first night on one conciliation expedition.

Night on the Tier – Ian Terry

Terry – also a 2019 finalist – had a second finalist entry this year – about the time he spent in COVID quarantine and reveals his view during those days of the outside world through his hotel bedroom window – whilst outside “the world changed and convulsed in ways few of us had previously imagined”.

This is three years in succession Pappalardo has been a finalist, also taking out an award in 2019. She received a $250 voucher for her work A New Place to Stay. For 50 years, her parents had Christmas holidays at the Tallebudgera Caravan Park on the Gold Coast, where their most cherished family memories were made. Age led them to sell their vintage caravan and book a high-rise beachfront apartment nearby the Park, “with high hopes for this journey toward a new tradition”. It rained torrentially and constantly for their stay, and this artwork reflects their gloom at the disappointing beginning to their new holiday ritual.

A New Place to Stay – Anne Pappalardo

Parker’s finalist artwork Australia-2020-2021? is of collected small objects that have caught her attention as interesting forms, including rusted bottle tops, carelessly discarded in public carparks and distorted by passing traffic. She began to think of these as symbols rather than curiosities: 2020, a horror year, represented in her image by these objects of zero value, in the colours of bushfires and plague: “photographs of 20 bottle tops, arranged in vaguely robotic form, varied to symbolise localised improvements or problems”. At the beginning of 2021, Parker incorporated another found object, a brutalised ten cent piece, (worthless currency) hovering, above the “20” as a symbol of hope but uncertainty.

Australia-2020-2021? – Judy Parker

Gerlach’s finalist image is another of her evocative creations titled Stream of Consciousness. She has always been interested in exploring the intriguing relationships between conscious awareness, the sub-conscious, ‘dream states’, and ‘stream of consciousness’. Addressing the question “What if the conceptual work was about suspending the certainty of conscious control?”, in post-production her images “became independent, remaking themselves, revealing different subjects, emotions and words. Colour, dark, deep, breathless. Embraces completely, cold slow flowing deep ice-water. Faint light shafts catch drifting lines”.

Stream of Consciousness – Lyndall Gerlach

There were series entries as well as single image entries this year, with four series making the exhibition. Of those, Anne O’Connor’s four colourful composites of fallen leaves  – titled Fallen Memories 01 to 04 – look beautiful together on the gallery wall.

Fallen Memories 01 – Anne O’Connor

Amongst the other artworks some that I particularly enjoyed were another two by O’Connor – East Coast Dreaming and I walk the land, Clare Weeks’ Collection Red, David Cossini’s Grande Bruto El Gato Loco,  Greg Tate’s Man Truck Woman Dog Bone, Todd Kennedy’s The East Australian Monolith and Tracy Lees’ A Surreal Life.

East Coast Dreaming – Anne O’Connor
I walk the land – Anne O’Connor
Collection Red – Clare Weeks
Grande Bruto El Gato Loco – David Cossini
Man Truck Woman Dog Bone – Greg Tate
The East Australian Monolith – Todd Kennedy
A Surreal Life – Tracy Lees

I could discuss these and every other exhibit, but I’ll leave it for readers to explore themselves. The best way to appreciate each image is to read the artists’ Concept Statements whilst looking at them – either on the walls of the MRAC, on the virtual gallery mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review, or under the Finalists tab here.

One question for consideration is whether every image is truly conceptual (or whether a statement adequately explains the artist’s concept). One of the judges has shared her view that the majority of the works are not conceptual, despite having been selected as finalists. If she is right, then future entrants may need to work harder on their statements as well as creating great imagery.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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