Exhibition Review, Reviews

CITY COMMISSIONS – PORTRAITS

Photography Exhibition Review

CITY COMMISSIONS – PORTRAITS | SAMMY HAWKER

Tuggeranong Town Centre (on windows of Lakeview House & under the Soward Way Bridge) | Until 4 July 2022

Installation shot – Under Soward Way bridge (supplied)

Sammy Hawker is a visual artist working predominantly on Ngunawal Country. She works predominantly with analogue photography techniques and often works closely with Traditional Custodians, scientists and ecologists.

In 2021 Hawker had two highly successful solo shows as part of a PhotoAccess darkroom residency. She is currently an artist-in-residence with the CORRIDOR project and is also preparing for another solo show before year end.

Over the last six months Hawker worked closely with nine young people from Headspace Tuggeranong exploring ways they could co-create photographic portraits. This was part of a City Commissions project delivered by Contour 556, one of seven artsACT initiatives in the Creative Recovery and Resilience Program.

Headspace is a safe space that welcomes and supports young people aged 12–25, their families, friends and carers, helping them to find the right services. Learning the Headspace motto “clear is kind”, Hawker realised her project was also about finding clarity as a form of self-compassion – shining light on what for many was a particularly dark and confusing time.


Hawker challenges the notion that a photograph constitutes the moment that a shutter is released. She explores ways of making, rather than taking, images. She wanted the project to be empowering – with no right or wrong and where the final photographs celebrated identity and experience beyond just the way her subjects looked in the frame. It was an opportunity to realise we always have some choice whether we repress difficult experiences.

The portraits of the young people were captured on a large format film camera. Commonly, in photographic practice, touch and marks on negatives are to be avoided. But Hawker invited her subjects to handle, manipulate, scratch or even bury negatives in order to introduce something of themselves. The young folk wrangled puppies, dived into rivers, got dressed up, sprinkled bushfire ash on negatives and processed film in the Headspace carpark.

Each participant was invited to use the project to reflect on their experiences of difficult times. Their statements relating to the images reveal resilience and hope.

Chanelle reflected about living in the moment. The negative of her portrait, showing her immersed in the Murrumbidgee River, was processed with water from that river, ocean water and permanent marker.

Chanelle ©Sammy Hawker

Sophie spoke of learning to embrace everything in life. Her portrait’s negative was processed with bushfire ash and the word Embrace scratched into it. The ash creates a frame that embraces her.

Sanjeta really likes her photo with jellyfish manipulations as metaphors for how she now goes with the flow of her life journey. Her expression conveys a “so be it” attitude. The negative was processed with Murrumbidgee water, rainwater, seaweed and chemical stains.

Sanjeta © Sammy Hawker

Ray wanted to keep connected and bring some joy into the lives of others. The portrait’s beaming smile conveys joy. The idea of processing the negative with Whiz Pop Bang bubble mixture and wattle pollen adds to the joy.

Ray’s Statement

Jazzy is photographed with her much loved dog Milo. So, of course, the processing of the negative utilised Milo’s pawprints.

Jazzy Jazzy © Sammy Hawker
Devante © Sammy Hawker
Installation shot – Under Soward Way bridge (supplied)

When I reviewed her Acts of Co-Creation show (for which she received a Canberra Critics Circle Award) in this publication, I wrote of Hawker’s then newly formed relationship with Ngunawal custodian Tyronne Bell who helped her to learn about sites she was working with. For this project, Hawker arranged for Bell to escort her subjects walking Ngunawal Country, providing a healing experience for them.

I strongly recommended readers to visit City Commissions – Portraits – and reflect on your own difficult times.

An edited version of this review was published in The Canberra Times of 28/6/22 on the Capital Life page, and the full version online here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard
Reviews

Acts of Co-Creation

Photography, Photoart Exhibition Review

Acts of Co-Creation | Sammy Hawker

Mixing Room Gallery | Until 2 July 2021

Sammy Hawker is a visual artist who was noticed early when one of her works was selected for the 2010 ‘Capture the Fade’ exhibition. Since then, Hawker has achieved a Bachelor of Visual Arts (First Class Honours), Sydney College of the Arts (2015), had a solo exhibition ‘Dieback’ (2019), participated in the ANU School of Art & Design Bundian Way Arts Exchange (2020), and received an artsACT Homefront grant to complete a body of work (2020). She is a current recipient of the PhotoAccess Dark Matter darkroom residency program, with an exhibition in the Huw Davies Gallery scheduled for late 2021.

The works in this exhibition have been created in Yuin Country, Ngarigo Country, and Ngunawal Country. Whilst visiting each site, Hawker took a few rolls of film and collected small samples of water, soil, eucalyptus bark and flowers. The show features a stunning collection of works employing pigment inks, emulsions and silver nitrate.

In her process statement for the exhibition, Hawker speaks of time defined by silences – whilst standing in a once-familiar landscape while the ash of a torched ecosystem floated through the air; looking in awe at critically endangered snow-gums; living alone in a city under global lockdown. She reveals that silences led her to practise more active listening; that the exhibition results “from recognising and celebrating the quieter but no less potent agency of the more-than human”.

Broulee Sunset © Sammy Hawker

Hawker also speaks of a newly formed relationship with Ngunawal custodian Tyronne Bell. As a non-Indigenous Australian, she reached out to Bell to learn more about the sites she was working with. Walking with him on Country helped her see more.

Dark Crystals © Sammy Hawker

For each print, we are told what indigenous land it was created on. There are a few traditional landscapes, some composites, and many that reveal their negatives having been processed in solutions that include a variety of waters containing diverse elements.

Murramarang NP #1 © Sammy Hawker

When processing films Hawker uses waters collected from the sites where the films were exposed. So, salt fractals form across works created with ocean water, whilst ripples appear on photographs developed with muddy lake water. Storm clouds photographed from Mount Ainslie were developed with rainwater that fell later that day.

Near Rosedale © Sammy Hawker

Experiments with the technique of chromatography add another aspect to the exhibition. Hawker mixed samples of matter with sodium hydroxide looking for the substance “to visually express itself over filter paper soaked with silver nitrate”. She says “Acts of Co-Creation are never predictable, and the resulting images can be both unsettling and thrilling. To me the image becomes alive; humming with the presence of the site itself.”

Scribbly Gum Bark Chromatogram © Sammy Hawker

Much background information is provided – about snow gums being affected by dieback; about how and why a water bowl tree was created to store water.

A centrepiece of the exhibition, Ngungara (Lake George) #1, was taken after rains had temporarily filled the lake. Ngungara means ‘flat water’ and the lake is a significant site for the Ngunawal. From a roll of medium format film, it was processed with a jar of muddy water collected from the edge of the lake.

Ngungara (Lake George) #1 © Sammy Hawker

Also displayed is a collection of the bottled waters, plus seaweed film developer and such things as casuarina pods, ground up bark and lichen. It is an excellent exhibition where I spent a lot of time taking it in. I was delighted to see that many works had been sold, some of the proceeds benefitting Aboriginal corporations in the Yuin, Ngarigo, and Ngunawal Countries. I congratulate the purchasers and Hawker, and strongly recommend readers to visit this exhibition.

This review was first published in The Canberra Times here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard