Exhibition Review, Reviews

Between Hope and Despair – Natasha Fijn, Eating Wild Weeds – Alex Flannery, Archive Apparitions – Elisa deCourcy

Photography Exhibition Review

At Photo Access | 21 April – 21 May 2022

In this suite of exhibitions, three artists explore the possibilities of cross-cultural and/or intergenerational communication through the photographic medium.

Dr Natasha Fijn is an ethnographic researcher and observational filmmaker. In combination with text, observational films and photo essays form an integral part of her creative research output.

In the aftermath of the 2020 Plumwood Mountain bushfires, Fijn shows her observations of temperate Australian forest recovering alongside her grandfather Jan Reinder Fijn’s record of the liberation of Nazi-occupied Maastricht in 1945. Each set of images in Between Hope and Despair documents a place immediately following a time of crisis. So, we see burnt trees and a destroyed shed at Plumwood, and a destroyed bridge at Maastricht.

Natasha Fijn, Burnt trees with water meadow beyond, Plumwood Mountain, 2020
Natasha Fijn, Destroyed Shed, Plumwood Mountain, 2020
Jan Reinder Fijn, A sad picture the destroyed St Servatias Bridge, 1944

Both Fijns have employed the art of critical, participant observation in the documentation of their respective landscapes. The two documented times are separated by seventy-five years, but are connected by an intergenerational sense of urgency, through attention to their environments. The juxtapositions effectively reveal that both the old and recent events were indeed crises.

An Australian of Irish descent, Alex Flannery’s aim is to create photos that are both documents of the moment and also of things meaningful to him. Ouyang Yu is a contemporary Chinese-Australian poet and prose-writer. Operating in two languages and closely, caustically interrogating Australia’s cultural identity and diversity, Yu’s work is seen as matching a strident political voice with a tightly tuned lyrical self.

Eating Wild Weeds is a collaboration between Flannery and Yu. Together, they consider the complexities of cross-cultural understanding. Flannery’s images paired with Yu’s poetry investigate seeing, knowing and experiencing life in another country, engaging questions of visitation, migration, communication and being part of a multi-national family.

Flannery shows us interesting everyday scenes that he saw in the Chinese cities of Xiangyang and Wuhan during 2019.

Alex Flannery, Laddermen and Mao, 2019
Alex Flannery, sun and man in the street, 2019
Alex Flannery, river and jumping board, 2019

Yu’s displayed poetry needs to be read and considered. To illustrate, I share the concluding words of his I Love Sleep – “I love sleep … correct me if I am wrong … for in sleep I am equal to anyone … Without a fight.”

Dr Elisa deCourcy is currently an Australian Research Council fellow, working on a project about the first fifteen years of photographic practice in the Australian colonies. For Archive Apparitions, she collaborated with historic processes photographer, Craig Tuffin, who is among one of a dozen artists working with the historic daguerreotype process internationally, and with James Tylor.

In this work, deCourcy reactivates the daguerreotype process, as practised in the 1840s, to tell new stories of migration, environmentalism, family, and photography’s role as a container of memory. The work continues conversations around colonisation, race, femininity, work and mobility, and photographic custodianship that began in the mid-nineteenth-century photography studio.

Cased daguerreotypes are among the oldest extant photographic images in (Australian) gallery, library and museum collections. These tiny, pocket-sized photographs in cases look quite foreign to us today. Their mirror-like surfaces make their subjects appear ethereal and otherworldly, but they are often sharp images often rich in detail.

Elisa deCourcy and Craig Tuffin, Konrad, 2021 – detail

In the mid-nineteenth century, both settler-colonists and First Nations people brought objects to the photography studio: books, letters from loved ones, cloaks, shields, heirlooms and even other photographs to narrate their personal biographies and relationships to family, kin and Country outside the frame.

The visual narratives constructed in this contemporary series gesture to engagements with the past. However, instead of objects, here are portraits of currently living people, who have various personal and professional relationships with historic colonial Australian photography, narrated through historic portrait devices. How appropriate that one of the subjects is Helen Ennis, who specialises in Australian photographic history.

Elisa deCourcy and Craig Tuffin, Helen, 2021, sixth-plate, cased, daguerreotype

This review was published (albeit without the final sentence) in print version of The Canberra Times of 2/5/22 and online (also without the final sentence) here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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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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