Reviews

Times gone, days lost and you

Photography Exhibition Review | Times gone, days lost and you

Ali Nasseri | Suki & Hugh Gallery, Bungendore | Until 20 March 2022

Times gone, days lost and you is an exhibition of large format photographic images by Sydney-based photographer Ali Nasseri. In this show he has taken inspiration from his own patch – the ocean at Bondi. The images are large and vivid in colour. Each image is complemented with Nasseri’s poetry.

Whilst Nasseri uses digital cameras for commercial jobs, he much prefers film for his art and his experience working with analogue photographic techniques is extensive. Here, he has shot on Kodak Gold 400 film using lead weighted underwater cameras in housings, set up so they float on the surface – held in his hands whilst he paddles around breathing through a snorkel.

Speaking with Nasseri, I learned he had experienced difficulty finding underwater cameras that could be serviced when something went wrong – such as being jammed, saltwater leaking into housings, or light leaking into the camera body. But nothing deterred him. Indeed, accepting what happens and even making the “faults” be important features of his imagery clearly reveals his way of working.

Some works are from double exposed negatives while others are made from two negatives being “sandwiched” together highlighting the unexpected and unique results that working with film can offer.

The large prints on exhibition have been created by rephotographing the film negatives with a 1:1 macro digital lens. That has brought out detail of the 35mm film’s grain – like enlarging it under a microscope. And detail is what the works are all about – we are invited to look right into each image to see what is in it. Yes, grain! But also overlays, light leaks, softness – and more grain!

Each print is accompanied by a small, suspended sheet of paper on which Nasseri has typed poetry. Yes, typed – on a manual typewriter. Imperfections have been corrected on the fly. When he has made typographical errors, he has simply gone back and overtyped them with horizontal lines. Sometimes he has omitted to leave a space between each line, but that does not concern him. And it should not concern us either. These are simply similar “faults” to those in the images. No whiteout liquid has covered them up. You will need to visit the gallery to enjoy those typos, but here is one sample to whet your appetite.

Poetry accompanying image “Take me with you”

The artist says tapping away on a typewriter creating his poetry is like shooting on 35mm film to create his images. His “arranged” words accompany his images in a random emotive way. Just another way of adding to the message.

So, why poetry? Nasseri has found that people look at an image then read the accompanying poetry. The words trap into their conscious minds. Gallery visitors look at images for longer, then the art forms within their brains. There are words about love, romance, seduction and flirting. Along with words about the moon, sea, orbits and tides.

Between the moon and the sea, 2021 © Ali Nasseri

In the poetry accompanying Drift and wonder I particularly appreciated “The furthest thing from the truth is tomorrow.”

Drift and wonder, 2022 © Ali Nasseri

And accompanying Everything is unique, who could argue with “everything can be identified by how it’s different.”

Everything is unique, 2022 © Ali Nasseri

Both musicians and visual artists would surely relate to some words in Space between breaths – “the notes that weren’t played, the black between, where mystery lies, look between the dots.”

Space between breaths, 2022 © Ali Nasseri

Brett Whitely once said “Art should astonish, transmute, transfix. One must work at the tissue between truth and paranoia.” Those words are often quoted by other artists who create mysterious abstracts. Nasseri’s works here are in many respects mysterious, but they are not unfathomable. In a sense they explore the divide between truth and falsity. Certainly they provide much food for thought.

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

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Photo Book Review

Life with Endometriosis

Review of PhotoArt Book

Life with Endometriosis | Margaret Kalms

Endometriosis is an illness where cells similar to the lining of the womb migrate onto internal organs. It can cause inflammation, chronic pain, and adhesions that fuse internal organs together requiring surgery. It affects 1 in 9 women and trans men. That is about 500,000 people in Australia!

When a friend told her about endometriosis, Margaret Kalms was so shocked by the fierceness of its symptoms, she decided to use her art to raise awareness. Seeing it as a social justice issue, she wanted to help. Whilst not having the illness herself, she had experienced similar symptoms. She is inspired by the biblical account of Jesus healing a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.

So, how can art help with a social justice issue, with awareness-raising? People have always used images to communicate – think hieroglyphics and cave art. Visual art can explore concepts and ideas. It can promote specific viewpoints. It can challenge assumptions, support causes, and explore deep personal questions. The word “art” is also used to describe any communication that can be valued as to excellence.

Sometimes artworks employ elements we might not immediately notice – the choice of colours, composition, or how forms are combined or fractured. Art often explores broad ideas or themes, some more obvious than others – and often reflects on the time period in which it was created, whether as a statement of support or a reaction against something.

Kalms’ photo-art is designed to show how endometriosis feels. It’s informed by what people with endometriosis have said to her about their experiences and life impacts. They inspired Kalms to produce her artworks and this book using them. She makes excellent use of colours, graphic elements, double exposures, and editing software. Some may not find all the photo-art easy to look at, but it is nothing compared with the brutal and debilitating reality of the disease. The opening artwork used, Continuous Spotting, will immediately stop viewers/readers in their tracks.

Continuous Spotting © Margaret Kalms

Another artwork, Scratchy Nerve Pain, very clearly shows a woman in pain pressing her fists into her body which is overlaid with lines depicting shooting, searing nerve pain that punches in the abdomen.

Scratchy Nerve Pain © Magaret Kalms

And another, Half My Life, shows just one half of a woman’s face clearly. The other side is obscured. This illustrates that a woman loses half her life when she has bleeding for 2 weeks each month.

Half My Life © Margaret Kalms

All the images are intriguing for people interested in photography and artistic expression, with some vital facts. They provide a valuable tool to aid in communicating how endometriosis feels and its impacts on everyday life.

The photo-artworks are bold, quirky, confronting, expressive and poignantly beautiful. They make endometriosis visible. They are very different from the traditional images of Jesus healing a bleeding woman.

Words overlaid on or placed alongside the artworks in the book provide much information. Negotiations are under way with a gynaecologist who is willing to translate the words into Arabic, and she is planning for Arabic copies to be available at the book launch. Kalms is very pleased about this as she understands there is a limited amount of intimate information available for the Arabic speaking community.

On 3 April there is to be a book launch, with three guest speakers and refreshments. Each attendee will receive a copy – not intimidating to give a family member, friend, colleague or even medical professional. Money raised from the launch will be donated to the Canberra Endometriosis Centre and a local support group hosted by QENDO, a not-for-profit organisation providing support to anyone affected by endometriosis and other pelvic health related conditions. Kalms is to be commended for her artworks and her awareness-raising.

Book to attend the launch at https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/life-with-endometriosis-photoart-book-launch-tickets-242504656957.

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

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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.

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Reviews

Connections

Photographic Art Exhibition Review

Connections | Various Artists: Alan Charlton, Alan Pomeroy, Andrea Bryant, Andree Lawrey, Ann Gibbs-Jordan, Anne Eldridge, Barb Smith, Brenda Runnegar, Brian Rope, Caroline Lemerle, Chris Holly, Dorothy Zenz, Eva van Gorsel, Geoff Meers, Helen McFadden, John Forsey, Judy Parker, Julie Garran, Louise Bagger, Margaret Stapper, Marion Milliken, Matt James, Michael N King, Nicky Bazley-Smith, Pam Rooney, Paul Carpenter, Phil McFadden, Sheila Lunter, Steven Shaw, Susan Henderson, and Tongbo Sun.

M16 Artspace | 21 May – 6 June

Disclaimer: the author of this review has two works in the exhibition but received no payment for the review.

This is the first exhibition presented by Canberra PhotoConnect, a relatvely new group. The catalogue tells us The strange events of recent times have reminded us how important it is to stay connected with each other, family and places. Visitors to the gallery are invited to celebrate the diversity and joy of connections.

It is difficult to individually comment on all 66 works in the exhibition, so I will not try to; rather, I will look at particular works that attracted my attention for various reasons.

Louise Bagger’s Portrait of Joshua is a very fine portrait. It is intense, dark and moody all at once. There is an obvious connection between subject and artist.

Louise Bagger – Portrait of Joshua

Helen McFadden’s artworks combining photgraphs with scans of sketches are beautifully created and enhanced by being their printing.

Helen McFadden – Gloriosa study

Nicky Bazley-Smith’s Rhythm of the Trees is delightful with four well-placed humans in a beautiful landscape photographed when the lighting effectively brought out the textures and forms before a brooding sky.

Nicky Bazley-Smith – Rhythm of the Trees

Judy Parker’s Burning is richly coloured leaving us in no doubt that we are viewing, and connecting with, a representation of fire even if we are unsure of what she actually has photographed.


Judy Parker – Burning

Julie Garran’s black and white Children Play images are powerful. The boy child at play shots are quite disturbing as he holds and “uses” a powerful-looking toy (hopefully) weapon. The connections between play and real world are clear.

Julie Garran – Children Play II

Eva van Gorsel’s De-Constructed series are further fine examples of this talented artist’s works.

Eva van Gorsel – DeConstructed IV

Caroline Lemerle’s Monaro in drought 2019 is displayed in between two of Margaret Stapper’s images. The three work well together and portray aspects of connections to the rural landscape.

Caroline Lemerle – Monaro in drought
Margaret Stapper – ‘Disconnected’, Coleambally, NSW

Marion Milliken shows just one work, Jeffrey Smart Space. She has not copied, or even imitated, Smart, but has perhaps paid some small personal homage to him by creating a work that “connects” to his.

Marion Milliken – JeffreySmart Space

Steven Shaw’s images from Kolmanskop, a tourist destination ghost town in the Namib in southern Namibia, are worthy contributions. The broken foot in particular is worth contemplating with respect to the connection between the bathtub and the painting on the wall above it.

Steven Shaw – Kolmanskop – The broken foot

Susan Henderson’s Autumn leaves, 2020 is a clever work, showing the fallen evidence of the season on a patchwork of pavers enhanced by colourful art. There is an interesting connection between the colours of the various elements in the artwork.

Susan Henderson – Autumn Leaves

Barb Smith’s somewhat mysterious red, blue and green Mythologies series provides a connection with past technologies, as they are Inkjet prints made from scans of C41 photographs.

Barb Smith – Mythologies II Life

Phil McFadden’s Stone Pull, Hornbill Festival, Nagaland India, 2017 is a successful image – colourful and eye catching (and used for the exhibition’s publicity). But I felt that most of the people in it showed only minimal connection with the photographer.

Phil McFadden – Stone Pull, Hornbill Festival, Nagaland, India

Dorothy Zenz’s Classic is an interesting composite of several images, at least some of which relate to love. It is worth contemplating to see what connections you as the viewer can make to its elements.

Dorothy Zenz – Classic

Alan Pomeroy’s Skyscape Sculpture shows a very colourful sculpture overlaid on a colourless cloudscape. The connection is not clear to me, but the resultant artwork is good.

Alan Pomeroy – Skyscape Sculpture

Ann Gibbs-Jordan has explored the sense of place in two fine monochrome works, each comprising two juxtaposed scenes.

Ann Gibbs-Jordan – Sense of Space II, Mound Spring, SA and near Bedourie, Qld

Brenda Runnegar’s two works are clever composites of photographic images with scanned artworks.

Brenda Runnegar – Fleur

Visit the exhibition to see all the works and make your own connections.

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

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