Photo Book Review, Reviews

Canberra Re-Seen Photobook

Photography Book Review

Canberra Re-Seen | Various Artists

Three new independently published photo-books were recently launched in Canberra at Photo Access, all examining the city of Canberra as a place of social, cultural and political significance. Each photographer, in all the books, explores their personal relationship to the city, as well as considering its wider, public meaning as a national capital city.

Canberra Re-Seen, by multiple artists, curated by Wouter Van de Voorde (currently acting Director of Photo Access), was an exhibition in 2021 that explored the idea of the city as a community of people, a built environment, and a physical landscape and the book selects and interweaves works from the project. I reviewed the exhibition at the time on this blog here.

Developed in collaboration with Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG), the project brought together sixteen artists to create new work responding to three of Canberra’s landmark photographers – Marzena Wasikowska, Edward (Ted) Richards and Ian North – all part of the CMAG collection. Just one image by each of those photographers are also included in this book.

The words accompanying the images throughout this book provide much information – historical background about the city, the project and the three landmark photographers; and the sixteen artists wrote their own words about their individual approaches and images.

Inspired by Wasikowska’s interest in capturing the human qualities of Canberra, one of the project groups explored the idea that a city is best understood through its people. They had the added benefit of Wasikowska herself leading their workshop. The book’s images from this group include Andrea Bryant’s marvellous portrait of her neighbour Maria, Eva Schroeder’s superb Metamorphosis  – a triptych portrayal of a Canberran transitioning from one gender to another, and Louise Maurer’s extraordinary Weetangera II – a composite speaking to the importance of diminishing green spaces and native ecosystems across Canberra. Each of those named images can be seen in my previous review of the exhibition, so here is just one of them.

Maria Straykova

A second collective, led by Van de Voorde, investigated Richards’ interest in documenting the character of Canberra’s little-known places. They shot on 35mm film and created darkroom prints in response to Richards’ dramatic black and white style. Amongst their creations are Annette Fisher’s delightful Abstracts, and Tessa Ivison’s strong cityscapes – interestingly titled Pastoral. Sari Sutton, inspired by the playful use of lines and geometry in Richard’s Dancing in the Mall, 1964 found her own and used them effectively in her Civic Stripes series. Again, each of those images was included in my review of the previous exhibition, and so, here is just one of them.

Annette Fisher, 4 Abstracts, 2021

Working with documentary photographer David Hempenstall, the third group explored the ideas of North’s early 1980s images of Canberra suburbs – vistas both bleak and beautiful. Peter Larmour took 3D images of landscapes. His Southern Anaglyph (dye sublimation on aluminium) was worthy of close examination when exhibited. Unfortunately, it can only be represented in two dimensions in this book. A very strong contribution is Beata Tworek’s series of excellent collages, which respond to North’s innovative and optimistic colour treatment of deserted streetscapes with austere monochromes reflecting disdain for their lack of individuality. Grant Winkler’s That Sinking Feeling is very much about the bush landscape disappearing as new suburbs creep over it, replaced by homes and other buildings sitting heavily on the scraped earth with what remains of nature being “moulded and manicured” and no longer particularly natural.

Once again, the mentioned images made by this group are in my review of the exhibition, but here is one of them.

Ambivalent collage 6 – Beata Tworek

Translated into this book, Canberra Re-Seen selects and interweaves work from across that broader project, drawing together digital and darkroom works to generate a simultaneously affectionate and challenging look at the city of Canberra and what it means to live in it today. Photo Access staff member Caitlin Seymour-King has done a fine job of designing the book. It is much more than a catalogue of the 2021 exhibition. It is a book to study and return to regularly as the city of Canberra continues to develop and change.

The book can be purchased at Photo Access.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. Another version was published in the Canberra Times on 7/5/22 here as part of a combined review of this and the other two books launched at the same time.

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Photo Book Review, Reviews

EDGE

Photography Book Review

EDGE | Kayla Adams

EDGE, by Kayla Adams, is one of three independently published photo-books about Canberra recently launched. As do the other two, this book explores the author’s personal relationship to the city.

The book looks at the urban and built environment of the Woden town centre through the idea of Edge City. I was not previously familiar with the term but learned that it originated in the United States for a concentration of business, shopping, and entertainment outside a traditional downtown or central business district, in what had previously been a suburban residential or rural area.

The term was popularised by the 1991 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier by Joel Garreau. He argued that the edge city has become the standard form of urban growth worldwide, representing a 20th-century urban form unlike that of the 19th-century central downtown.

So, it is an urban planning phenomenon where new, separate cities spring up around older, established ones. Is that what Woden town centre is – or is becoming? Adams says, rather than it “springing up”, Canberra chose the edge city form consciously. Whether that is so or not, certainly the city has been changing in recent years and continues to do so.

Adams has approached her exploration by focussing on the Lovett Tower, that 93-metre-tall building in Woden’s town centre which once was the city’s tallest building. Current redevelopment plans would see it grow from 24 to 28 storeys and again become the tallest building. Another developer’s plans could see a similar height building nearby. Whatever changes are made to existing buildings and regardless of new additions in the area, this photobook is timely. The views featured in it inevitably will change or be completely lost. The iconic tower may no longer be easily noticed from surrounding suburbs.

Lyons house study & Lovett Tower 2, 2018 – Kayla Adam

All the images in EDGE were shot between 2018 and 2021. They are a mixture of black and white and colour photographs. Around half show the Lovett Tower. There it is – glimpsed through  trees, through the mesh of a structure in a decaying parcel of land, and above the rooftops of suburbia during both day and night.

Lovett Tower and trees at Lyons apartments, 2020 – Kayla Adams

Other images include views from Mount Taylor, the demolition of the Lyons apartments directly across from the Town Centre, and an assortment of pieces of the surrounding suburbia. The Pitch’n’Putt, which also has closed, is another featured subject.

Woden Pitch’n’Putt & Lovett Tower 2, 2018 – Kayla Adams

People themselves are not seen in the works, but the artist’s presence as author is nevertheless evident.  It is not a book simply to be flicked through. Time should be taken to examine and consider each image, looking at their compositions and thinking about why Adams chose their locations and contents. Doing so, viewers will notice details that reveal changes during the short period of years in which they were taken. Through her distinctive use of viewpoints, Adams draws the viewer irresistibly into the process of seeing, creating an intimate complicity between artist, image and audience.

As the years pass by, this book will become akin to a time capsule. Be they planned extensions to existing places or organically born structures in and around the Town Centre, changes will bring with them new identities and notions of place. Who knows what buildings will be demolished or remade? What new features will appear where – and will they replace or add to those currently part of this town centre? Today’s youngsters starting out on their life journey’s and regularly vising the town centre may even be intrigued by this book when it becomes a historical document showing what their part of the city once looked like.

The book can be purchased at Photo Access.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. Another version was published in the Canberra Times on 7.5.22 here as part of a combined review of this and the other two books launched at the same time.

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Photo Book Review, Reviews

Lifetime Book 1. Coming of age

Photography Book Review

Lifetime Book 1. Coming of age | Greg Dickins

There have been various photo-books published about Canberra. Heide Smith published five of them about the city and its people between 1983 and 2012. Col Ellis published one in 2014 – providing tips and tricks for aspiring photographers, as well as creating a memento for expatriates and visitors. And I provided all the images for a 1990 book introducing Canberra to thousands of visitors shown around by local tourism company Hire-A-Guide.

However, I doubt that three independent photo-books about the city have previously been launched simultaneously. But now we have three which all examine Canberra as a place of social, cultural and political significance. Each explores the personal relationships of their photographers to the city. Each also looks at the national capital’s wider, public meaning.

One of them, Life-Time Book 1. Coming of age, is the first in a planned series of five photo-books by Greg Dickins. It catalogues his life in Canberra between 1967 and 1973, focussing on his experiences of childhood, school, university student revelry and family intimacy –  against the backdrop of anti-Vietnam War protests and rallies to establish an Aboriginal embassy. His planned later books will cover the years to 1987, after he left Canberra.

Dickins has spent his working life as a journalist and media consultant but has always had a passion for photography. He picked up a 35mm SLR camera as a teenager in the late 1960s – that time of great social, political and cultural change. Since then he has maintained a permanent darkroom, working mostly in black & white.

As a record of Canberra the way it looked and felt fifty years ago, this volume reveals something of the extent to which the city has evolved and changed through time. In his introduction, Dickins identifies his first dilemma as author of a book of photographs – “What do I have to say?” His response was that he needed to narrate a story linking the pictures and explaining their inclusion. So, he shows us what he saw and hopes we will see his take on what his images mean – or meant at the time.

So, how well has the author achieved his purpose? The childhood section includes some delightful images of youngsters doing the types of things all children do – playing with balloons – and something home-made, rolling about together on the ground, and painting at kindergarten.

Jane, Tricia & friend, June 1973 – Greg Dickins

They are also shown gesturing, laughing, and even looking like Winston Churchill. Some adults also make appearances with the children. These photos clearly represent what childhood meant for the majority of kids in Canberra at that period.

Dickins then moves on to school years. He shows us school-age children playing in the Cotter River, waiting for the school bus, in marching girl outfits, together on a sandy beach, and enjoying Canberra Day.

Di, Paul, Kyle & Judy, Casuarina Sands, November 1967 – Greg Dickins

Perhaps of greatest interest are the strong images of schoolchildren participating in an anti-Vietnam War march and rally in September 1970. Are their counterparts protesting today aware their counterparts did the same?

Next the book explores university student years – speakers’ corner (who remembers that?), rugby, drama (including a nude poetess and a production of Marat Sade), the first on-campus condom vending machine, Bush Week activities and conscription notice burning. Plus a 1972 march to establish the Aboriginal Embassy and, again, an anti-Vietnam War march and rally. A number of well-known people appear, including two political leaders. There are some great historical shots here.

March to establish the Aboriginal Embassy, July 1972 – Greg Dickins

The final three images about family neatly close off what Dickins wanted to say. He has successfully narrated his story.

The book can be purchased at Photo Access or online at https://au.blurb.com/b/11093552-life-time-book-1-coming-of-age-large-12×12.

This review is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. Another version was published in the Canberra Times on 7/5/22 here as part of a combined review of this and the other two books launched at the same time.

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Photo Book Review

Capital Country

Review of Photography Book

Capital Country | Kate Matthews

Many of us make books of our photographs. They range from very simple homemade books, through print-on-demand photobooks containing heaps of travel shots crammed in, to substantial printed books of quality portfolios in whatever quantities we can afford and think we might be able to market.

This photo book by Canberra artist Kate Matthews is, in effect, an exhibition in a book rather than in a gallery. Matthews graduated Bachelor of Visual Arts, Bachelor of Arts, from the ANU in 2020. She was the recipient of a PhotoAccess ANU EASS Residency for her Graduating Exhibition work. She describes herself as an artist and educator, and says her practice frequently involves a collaborative model of engagement with public audiences and spaces. Her teaching philosophy is to use her skills to make people’s ideas come to life, where no idea is too big or small to be realised.

In 2020, Matthews received an ACT Government Creative Endeavour Grant to fund the publication of this book. Continuing her observational documentary practice investigating public spaces, Capital Country presents darkroom produced photomontages analysing the successes and failures of our shared spaces in regional and urban townships. She has sought to document why some places invite people to pause, stay a while and say hello, while others seem to encourage at least some visitors to hurry elsewhere. The question posed is “what dictates where and how public life unfolds in our regional urban spaces?”

To gather material, Matthews toured the Capital region, walking and photographing shared spaces, investigating how sets of buildings and street furniture, roads and trees, signs and shops created stages for everyday routines, chance encounters and community connection.

The artist comments that city ‘activations’ take place in metropolises, including Canberra. Parks, playgrounds and public amenities are meant to increase community benefit. Braddon and Civic are bursting with colour and life, yet suburbs on the fringes of Canberra are left alone. In nearby sprawling towns, the wide-open scale of them challenges effective and engaged public life. Urban planning favours cars and drive-in, drive-out town centres.

Capital Country reveals Matthews’s observations in photomontages, each pulling apart a scene, breaking apart our sense of space and drawing attention to the varied ways of experiencing places. She has sought to underscore the importance of how different people might interact with any particular public space – noting that our built environment must not only accommodate but be inviting to all.

Capital Country 05 © Kate Matthews
Capital Country 13 © Kate Matthews

For me, the best and strongest images to enjoy are those about Yass. A children’s crossing is poignant with no child in sight. There is a lyricism in an image showing material blown by wind.

Capital Country 12 © Kate Matthews
Capital Country 01 © Kate Matthews

A space containing earth moving machinery would be a familiar place to anyone who’s walked along the Belconnen’s Emu Bank lakeside footpath in recent times. A space in Cowra with two damaged cars is also somehow poignant.

Capital Country 11 © Kate Matthews

A simple view through a car windscreen reveals a classic Canberra suburbia place. Regulars who walk through the Valley Tavern door in Wanniassa may never have seen that space in quite the same way.

Capital Country 14 © Kate Matthews
Capital Country 03 © Kate Matthews

There is a lovely touch of humour about an image of a road closed sign in Erindale, whilst a closed skate park in Goulburn is a sad sight. The final image portraying a Gungahlin space with an Exit sign is a perfect choice to end the book.

Copies of Capital Country can be purchased from the Photo Access gallery shop, or online from the artist’s website www.katematthewsphoto.com.

This review was first published in the Canberra Times of 31/5/21 here. It is also published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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