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

The Sweet Forever, and A line of best fit

Photography, Photomedia, Mixed Media – Review

Tina Fiveash | The Sweet Forever

Deirdre Pearce | A line of best fit

ANU School of Art & Design Gallery | Until 8 April 2021, Tue-Fri 10.30AM–3.00PM

These two exhibitions are each part of Higher Degree by Research programs being undertaken by the artists.

Tina Fiveash engages in multiple forms of contemporary photomedia including still and moving-image photography, anaglyptic (3D) and lenticular photography.

In The Sweet Forever, Fiveash has explored how photography might inform a re-imagining of death. Promotional material for this exhibition reveals that her personal investigation of death and dying through photography is paralleled with a text-based investigation of wider understandings of death in our society through the personal letters of a diverse range of people in her community.

What is death? What happens when we die? Fiveash invited fifty Australians to write a letter responding to those two questions. Digitised forms of their letters are on a website. The exhibition includes a large print, being a grid of portraits of contributors, with a QR code link to the website. Taken together, both Fiveash’s creative visual practice and her work with people’s letters, form a contribution to the field of death studies. Quotes from some letters included in the exhibition notes are very moving.

Equally moving is a series of large images printed with pigment inks on cotton rag. I saw powerful stories about love in each image. Twin Spirit, 2013  was the winner of the People’s Choice Award in the 2013 Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture.

Tina Fiveash, ‘Twin Spirit, 2013’, Pigment ink on cotton rag, Courtesy the artist

There are two fine triptychs. One reveals a wonderful story about the Hereafter; another gives us delicious blue views of water and sky.

Tina Fiveash, Wide Blue Yonder II, 2014-16. Pigment ink on cotton rag mounted on gataboard, Courtesy the artist

Fiveash told me that discoveries have emerged through scientific and technological innovation in resuscitation, blurring boundaries between life and death. Through creative practice she has explored how photography in the wake of digital transformation might inform a contemporary re-imagining of death and dying. Her constructed images using words from songs and poetry on ‘billboards’ against carefully chosen backgrounds are both beautiful and thought-provoking. One quotes a well-known gospel song There’s a land beyond the river, the lyrics of which include the words ‘the sweet forever’ – the title of the exhibition.

Tina Fiveash, ‘See you on the other side, 2014’, Pigment ink on cotton rag, Courtesy the artist
Tina Fiveash, ‘We Are Stardust, We Are Golden’ 2014, digital photograph, Pigment ink on cotton rag, Courtesy the artist
Tina Fiveash, ‘there is a light that never goes out, 2016-19’, Flip-lenticular photograph, Courtesy the artist

Dierdre Pearce works with drawing, photography, sculpture and installation. In A line of best fit there are three excellent mixed media works.

Pearce is interested in how people interact with the various space types we inhabit, and how we map the boundaries between interior and exterior worlds. She enjoys exploring how technologies influence her experiences and sense of self, focusing on developing visual metaphors for the relationship between the physical self and its growing digital presence.

Her research starting point was the growth of global human-machine networks and the significance humans place on participation in them. This practice-led project investigates how negative space might be used as an analogy for non-machine interactions, which are data-silent yet influence global networks in which humans and machines operate.

Experiments took place through a series of site-responsive installations assembled from everyday materials. Different approaches to describing personal experience were tested, including unusual forms of data visualisation and development of digital and physical ‘windows’ through which audiences could engage with the work.

One work here re-imagines Pearce’s study during the pandemic. It contains a wonderfully vibrant and diverse collection of found and acquired objects that visitors could wander amongst for a long time – irrigation pipe, cable ties, shopping dockets and photographic documentation.

‘A line of best fit’ (installation view) 2020, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photograph Brenton McGeachie

Another work includes yarn, polyester, video documentation and found objects.

‘I am here, I am here, I am here’, 2020, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photograph Dierdre Pearce

The third is a video; both it and the yarns feature ‘dots’ – we see them on screen as when locating a place via maps, and in very colourful woven forms of varying sizes determined by how long Pearce spent at particular locations.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 5/4/21 here. It is published also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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