Photography Exhibition Review
Salt | Sammy Hawker
(including Dark Crystals collaboration | Sammy Hawker, Jessica Hamilton & Sam Tomkins)
Mixing Room Gallery | 9 Feb – 25 Mar 2023
Salt is a new exhibition by ACT-based visual artist Sammy Hawker. A substantial crowd (perhaps 200) at the opening was simply buzzing with conversation and excitement.
Hawker attracted early attention when her work Boy in Versailles was selected by renowned photographer Bill Henson for the 2010 Capture the Fade exhibition in Sydney. And it was the people’s choice winner.
Then we were all impressed in 2019 with her video Dieback about the eerie phenomena of mass tree extinction – white gums in the Snowy-Monaro. Along her artistic journey since, Hawker has had significant success. This exhibition once again delivers. As Senior Curator of Visual Arts at Canberra Museum and Gallery, Virginia Rigney, said in her opening remarks, Hawker’s use of the familiar substance of salt reveals new mysteries.
This exhibition includes works from recent trips across Australia, travelling from the East Coast (the Yuin Nation and Arakwal Country) to Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre (Arabana Country). Taking her ‘studio’ with her, spending significant time at each location to understand it, then co-creating art by processing photos where they were exposed using traces of salt found at the sites to lift the emulsion and alter the documentary images. Hawker speaks of places where a quiet magic resonates; where the water leaves the blood sparkling in your veins; where the horizon disappears – and the sound of nothingness compresses around you.
Hawker’s process brings an essence of Country into her work, painting its way onto negatives and sharing deep and mysterious forces around us that transform her photographs. The details in Broulee Salt Sketch from 2020 show that very clearly. So too do Did I Dream You Dreamt About Me? and Everything is Waiting for You.
Broulee Salt Sketch (Details), 2020 © Sammy Hawker
Did I Dream You Dreamt About Me © Sammy Hawker
Everything is Waiting for You © Sammy Hawker
Two Lake Eyre works are amongst the standout images, Epiphanous and Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre, both featuring delicious pastel tones and the latter revealing a selected pattern from high above.
Epiphanous [Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre] © Sammy Hawker
Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre [From the Skies #2] © Sammy Hawker
Amongst the black and white images, Everything is Waiting for You and Did I Dream You Dreamt About Me? each pose numerous questions. The latter demanded I grab a phone shot of someone reflected in it, dreamily exploring. And the inclusion of Hawker’s 2022 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize winning work, Mount Gulaga, is a bonus for those who have not previously seen it.
Mount Gulaga © Sammy Hawker
There is also a marvellous collaborative work between Hawker, Jessica Hamilton & Sam Tomkins. It explores the possibilities around generating dialogue between image, sound and form.
Their starting point is Hawker’s image, Dark Crystals, a work processed with ocean water at Mollymook, NSW (Yuin Nation) in 2021. Hamilton has a special connection to the place this image was created and was inspired to use the visual data along the horizon line of the image to create a spectrogram. It picked up the varied textures deposited on the negative by the ocean’s salt. She then converted the spectrogram into a waveform and processed it through a synthesiser to create a sound piece.
Dark crystals Waveform horizon © Sammy Hawker, Jessica Hamilton & Sam Tomkins
Next, Tomkins designed and created a chladni plate (use your favourite search engine for information) to respond to the sounds. When the plate is oscillating with certain frequencies, the salt on top creates distinct patterns. Hawker used an online pitch detector to break down the various notes/frequencies in the sound piece. Played through the plate, the visual patterns formed – such as 1041.8 Hz – C6 are intriguing.
1041.8 Hz – C6 © Sammy Hawker, Jessica Hamilton & Sam Tomkins
I look forward to more exciting outcomes from these collaborators.
The exhibition is more than just printed images. There are negatives on display too and, perhaps best of all, a great journal of Hawker’s words along with numerous images worthy of close examination.
This review was first published in The Canberra Times on page 5 of Panorama and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.