Reviews

Canberra Re-Seen

Photography Exhibition Review

Canberra Re-Seen | Various Artists: Peter Bailey, Andrea Bryant, Abby Ching, Annette Fisher, Susan Henderson, Tessa Ivison, Peter Lamour, Caroline Lemerle, Louise Maurer, Greg McAnulty, Aditi Sargeant, Eva Schroeder, Sari Sutton, Beata Tworek, Brian Rope and Grant Winkler

Photo Access | 10 June – 10 July

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

Earlier this year Photo Access conducted three workshops, each spread over several weekly sessions, in which participants explored the idea of Canberra as a community of people, a built environment, and a physical landscape. Sixteen artists created new works responding to three of Canberra’s landmark photographers – Marzena Wasikowska, Edward (Ted) Richards and Ian North – each featured in Canberra Museum And Gallery’s current exhibition, Seeing Canberra.

The result is this exhibition, Canberra Re-Seen. There is also an online gallery showing the same works plus others by the participating artists. And there are two solo exhibitions showing simultaneously, both of which explore aspects of portraiture: A Surrounded Beauty by Sarah Rhodes, and Portrait by Melita Dahl

Inspired by Wasikowska’s interest in capturing the human qualities of Canberra, one group explored the idea that a city is best understood through its people. They had the added benefit of Wasikowska herself leading their workshop.

A second collective, led by Wouter Van de Voorde and with Richards’ involvement too, 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.

Working with documentary photographer David Hempenstall, a third group explored the ideas of Ian North’s early 1980s images of Canberra suburbs – vistas both bleak and beautiful.

It is difficult to individually comment on all the works in Canberra Re-Seen, so I will just look at particular works that attracted my attention for various reasons.

The highlight for me is Eva Schroeder’s Metamorphis. Born and bred in Canberra, Schroeder has, like me, seen enormous changes in our city over the years. Researching, she learned that 2-4% of Canberra’s community identify as Trans and decided to portray a Canberran transitioning from one gender to another. Her triptych shows Norgaria, who has chosen to use prosthetics, wigs, makeup, and costumes to reveal her real self by entering the world of Cosplay.

Metamorphosis © Eva Schroeder

Then there is Louise Maurer’s beautifully constructed Weetangera II, 2021. That suburb is, like most, in a state of rapid change due to infill. Maurer’s constructed composite image speaks to the importance of the green spaces and native ecosystems, and also speaks for those who tirelessly seek to maintain them as our garden city becomes a thing of the past.

Weetangera II © Louise Maurer

Andrea Bryant’s Maria is another fine standout. It is a portrait of a long-term neighbour, “a strong and feisty woman”. An internationally recognised scientist, she is portrayed heartily laughing. Several other gallery visitors pointed to this work as one they loved.

Maria © Andrea Bryant

Another very strong contribution is Beata Tworek’s series of collages, which respond to North’s innovative and optimistic colour treatment of deserted streetscapes with austere monochromes reflecting disdain for their lack of individuality.

Ambivalent collage 2 © Beata Tworek

Grant Winkler’s Denman Prospect is very much about the bush landscape disappearing as new suburbs creep over it, replaced by homes and other buildings with what remains of nature being “moulded and manicured”.

Grant Winkler © Untitled (Denman Prospect DSCF6388)

Peter Larmour took 3D images of landscapes. His Southern Anaglyph (dye sublimation on aluminium) is worthy of close examination.

Southern Anaglyph © Peter Lamour

Sari Sutton’s Fyshwick is also interesting. She ventured to Fyshwick and photographed “the abstract, asymmetrical sculptural qualities” that she found,  “unjudged and un-romanticised”.

Untitled (Fyshwick) © Sari Sutton

And, inspired by the playful use of lines and geometry in Richards’s Dancing in the Mall, 1964, Sutton also sought images incorporating strong stripes – exploring the same general area near where the Monaro Mall once stood.

Untitled (Civic Stripes 2) © Sari Sutton

Other standouts for me were Annette Fisher’s Abstracts, and Tessa Ivison’s interestingly titled Pastorals.

4 Abstracts, 2021 © Annette Fisher
Pastoral #1 © Tessa Ivison

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

Standard
Reviews

A Surrounded Beauty, and Portrait

Photography Exhibition Review

A Surrounded Beauty | Sarah Rhodes

Portrait | Melita Dahl

Photo Access | Until 10 July 2021

These two exhibitions explore portraiture. ACT-based artist Melita Dahl investigates connections between the traditions of fine-art portraiture, photography and facial emotion recognition (FER) software.

We all try to understand the meaning of facial expressions. Some believe we recognize anger most easily, others that we recognize happiness most easily. Facial cues may be insincere or misinterpreted. Experts are split even on whether the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile is sincere or forced. The ability to decipher the true intent and emotional response from facial expressions is of great interest to a range of sectors.

Dahl muses on how FER builds on the idea of using the subject’s eyes in photographic portraits as a ‘window to the soul’ – because looking into a person’s eyes supposedly can tell us what that person thinks and feels. Dahl draws our attention to the threat of technology that seeks to determine our psychic state.

Perspective Machine 01, 2020 © Melita Dahl

Each of Dahl’s prints is stunning. The print quality is excellent, with each black clearly distinguishable from a subtly different adjacent black. Excellent portrait lighting is a strong feature of each image. The facial expressions of the subjects are wonderfully controlled.

happy (0.96), 2019 © Melita Dahl

Through a series of posed and, sometimes, overwritten images, Dahl explores the idea of adopting neutral expressions as a strategy for disrupting recognition algorithms. By keeping our faces expressionless, would we be able to protect ourselves from digital surveillance?

Deadpan 9.980549278246, 2021 © Melita Dahl

To quote from a catalogue essay by Gael Newton, ‘Paradoxically, the resulting deadpan neutrality Dahl sought in these portraits is countered by the very ability of naturalistic and digital photomedia to create characters that we as viewers, respond to.’

Discussing these works with other gallery visitors, I heard words such as intriguing, mysterious and sinister used. One person enjoyed the ever so slight smile on the face of just one person in two groups of four young men – the same person in each group.

In A Surrounded Beauty, award-winning photographer Sarah Rhodes investigates the capacity of photographic portraiture to explore concepts of place. She has sought to capture each subject’s aura by using the lens as a link between the person’s inner being and that of the place occupied.

These images challenge traditional concepts of portraiture. Rhodes sees the resulting collaborations with her sitters as stories that meditate on the relationship between self, vulnerability, and landscape. For her, these stories ‘heighten our awareness of place and how the atmosphere of place shapes who we are’. One striking example is a work containing no part of any person’s face or body; rather it shows a group of apples fallen from their tree and lying scattered on the ground below, some partially obscured by shadows. Viewers are left to imagine something of the person who planted the trees, grew them, tends the soil, sweeps the path in that place and, perhaps, consumes the fruit.

Fallen Apples, 2021 © Sarah Rhodes

In another image we see a girl, but the emphasis is on the stormy sky behind; her face is looking down at the landscape beneath her feet. This too is not a traditional portrait, but it is good to see an artist taking an approach that seeks to reveal more about a subject than just their appearance.

Girl Under a Stormy Sky, 2020 © Sarah Rhodes

The catalogue essay by Jessie Boylan observes ‘A Surrounded Beauty, conjures a dream-like world, where people and place are disparate yet connected at the same time. Although they all appear to be weaving different threads, their stories are woven into one.’ I found an image of identical twins on the spectrum fascinating and of particular interest, as it very much weaves the two of them into one.

Mirror Identical Twins on the Spectrum, 2018 © Sarah Rhodes

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 21/6/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard
Uncategorized

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.

Standard
Uncategorized

Bracha – Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls

 Photography Review

Agnieszka Traczewska | Bracha – Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls

ACT Jewish Community Centre Gallery | Closing date uncertain, but expected to continue throughout 2021 | Viewing hours are 10am-3pm, Monday to Thursday, except on Jewish holy days.

A fine photographic insight into pilgrimages by ultra-Orthodox Jews is on display at the ACT Jewish Community Centre gallery. Outstanding artistic black and white prints provided by the Polish Embassy provide this excellent exhibition of Chasidim (a sect of Orthodox Jews) returning to destroyed shtetls (small Jewish towns or villages) in Poland. Unsurprisingly given its origins, the exhibition prints are of a very high quality. What’s more the quality of the photojournalism is great.

Bracha – Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls was first shown publicly at the United Nations headquarters in New York in January 2019. Writing in The New York Jewish Week at the time, Jonathon Mark quoted the then Polish Consul-General as saying “this is how my town must have looked [around] 1932, my grandmother’s reality.” Poland’s then UN ambassador told the guests at the opening that there is no Polish culture without Jewish culture. She suggested the photos showed that the traces of the Old World had not completely disappeared, and that Jewish heritage was well and alive in Poland. She did not mention that a community of millions was down to 10,000.

Although other Holocaust-related exhibits (such as one honouring diplomats recognized as “Righteous Gentiles”) were on display in the same UN lobby for longer, the Polish photographs were removed after only a week. Asked why at the time, a representative of the consulate was quoted as saying, “The status of this exhibition was a bit different.” 

Since then, the exhibition has only been displayed in Dusseldorf and Tel Aviv. Now we are privileged to have it in Canberra for an extended period.

Nearly completely wiped out in the Holocaust, there are no actual permanent Chasidim communities still living in Poland. Pilgrims travel there from all around the world to visit the ancient graveyards of deceased rabbis lucky enough to have graves, tombs and synagogues.

The photographs were taken by a non-Jewish Polish woman, Agnieszka Traczewska, who gained the confidence of some of the pilgrims, enabling her to capture the piety of their activities whilst visiting their ancestral religious sites. As the Chasidic women in particular don’t like being exposed, the fact that there are some portraits of women in the exhibition is unusual.

On her website, Traczewska reveals that on her very first journey to Leżajsk, Poland for Rabbi Elimelech’s anniversary of death, she had no idea that photography of Chasidim would become her lifelong passion. All she knew was that there were men there that are part of her country’s story, part of her history, and so she had to see, learn, capture and connect.

This exhibition is a testimony to the author’s passion and long-term commitment to documenting the descendants of Chasidim visiting the remains of their enduring heritage.

Unlike Traczewska, most of us, even many Jewish people, will never meet any Chasidim and are unlikely to know much about them. That makes this exhibition all the more interesting. The top-class social documentary imagery is very moving and provides us with a little knowledge.

In one particularly powerful image, we see Chasidim withstand a downpour during a visit to a Jewish cemetery.

The Jewish Cemetery, Krynica (Yid. Krenitz), 2018, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

Another looks down on Chasidim davening (reciting the prescribed ritual prayer). 

The anniversary of the death of Tsadik David in Lelow (Yid. Lelov), 2008, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

Others depict ceremonies – such as welcoming a spectacular new Torah and acknowledging anniversaries of deaths. 

Ceremony welcoming a new Torah, Lezajsk (Yid. Lizhensk), 2016, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

The Jewish Cemetery, Sieniawa (Yid. Shinev), 2015, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

There are numerous scenes of people in synagogues and graveyards, and some very fine portraits of individuals.

Lelow (Yid. Lelov), 2009, ©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

It is the first exhibition held at the ACT Jewish Community since it opened its new multimillion-dollar wing and will be on show for the remainder of the year. This review was published in The Canberra Times on 27/2/21 here. It was also published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard