Exhibition Review, Reviews


Review of Photography, Videography, Text Exhibition

Haunting | Vic McEwan

National Museum of Australia | 23 Feb – 30 Apr 2023

Vic McEwan was National Museum of Australia (NMA) 2015 artist-in-residence. He created this exhibition’s large-scale still photography and video works in collaboration with curator George Main.

McEwan is a contemporary artist with a deep interest in the ethics involved in making artistic work relating to the lives of other people. His rich, and most successful, practice has nourished broad cross-sector conversations about the role that arts can play within communities. He was the recipient of the Council for the Humanities Arts and Social Sciences2018 Australian Prize for Distinctive work for another project –  which involved three years of creative research within hospital environments.

He has shared his project outcomes at such places and events as Tate Liverpool, the National Gallery of Lithuania and Australia’s Big Anxiety Festival (the biggest mental health and arts festival in the world). The Director of Australia’s National Institute for Experimental Arts, Jill Bennet, has declared McEwan’s outputs as ‘field defining work’ and ‘both intensely moving and inspirational’.

The aim of the project featured here was to “remove” objects from their cabinets and put them instead into “the active materiality of places connected to the stories of those objects”. During the cold of night, photos of museum objects, historic photographs and a time-worn map were projected across the Murrumbidgee River, onto drifting and swirling mist, fog, and campfire smoke.

Haunting comprises over 65 photographic works and 2 video works created during McEwan’s yearlong NMA residency. Touring the country since 2020, it explores the complex history of agriculture and land use in the Murray–Darling Basin. The tour has included the Blue Mountains and Burnie.

Key collection objects photographed and projected include prize-winning wheat samples collected at agricultural shows by Cootamundra district farmer James Hately and his son. There’s a stump jump plough used on a Canberra CSIRO research station projected onto Murrumbidgee River fog at Lambrigg.

NMA – Haunting: Stump-Jump Plough: Fog Murrumbidgee River at Lambrigg – stump-jump plough, light, projector, fog, archival pigment print

A historic photo of William Farrer, Fred Wills & Nathan Cobb was also projected on fog – at both Lambrigg and Narrandera.

NMA – Haunting: Farrer: Riverbank Murrumbidgee River at Narrandera – photograph, light, projector, fog, archival pigment print

Another projected photo is of the Dunn family farmers near Wagga Wagga. The back row folk seem to have shafts of light searching the skies above. Another, of the Sutton family, is projected onto both fog and campfire smoke. There is poet/activist Mary Gilmore and her typewriter, and a stack of wheat bags awaiting rail transport at Temora.

NMA – Haunting: Mary Gilmore 4: Fog and Smoke Murrumbidgee River at Lambrigg – photograph, light, projector, fog, smoke, archival pigment print
NMA – Haunting: Mary Gilmore’s Typewriter 1: Riverbank Murrumbidgee River at Lambrigg – typewriter, light, projector, fog, archival pigment print
NMA – Haunting: Wheat Bag 2: Fog Murrumbidgee River at Lambrigg – photograph, light, projector, fog, archival pigment print

Part of a letter from climate scientist Katrin Meissner expressing her concerns about climate change in 2014 is also projected – onto fog and smoke and also the riverbank. A video shares her concern that her children “won’t have the same quality of life that we had” for us to reflect on.

McEwan has said the exhibition offers a chance to reconsider the complex histories of museum objects. Reanimating then layering them back into the landscape using light, projection and natural elements, created the abstract images on display – looking as though they were painted with light into the landscapes.

This is not the first exhibition by McEwan of imagery using this approach. For Shadows and Consequences (Photo Access, 2020), he photographed animal specimens, also (mostly) from the NMA’s collection, and then projected his images onto diverse surfaces to create new imagery.

But this time we have images created in a landscape along a river we all know or, at least, have heard about. Some of us have camped or lived on its banks, many have been to country towns along the ’bidgee, even photographed the riverbank scenery. These haunting images challenge us to think again about the great river, and its place in both First Nations and European settlement history.

This review was fist published by The Canberra Times on page 10 of Panorama and online on 25/03/23 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

Beyond the Material: at the Intersection of Glass and the Digital Image

Review of Photomedia-Glass Exhibition

Beyond the Material: at the Intersection of Glass and the Digital Image | Kate Baker

SCHOOL OF ART & DESIGN GALLERY, ANU | 10 Mar, 10.30am – 23 Mar, 3pm

Kate Baker is a Sydney-based artist whose contemporary practice merges photo, print and moving image technologies with studio glass.

Before graduating from the Glass Workshop at the Australian National University (ANU) School of Art in Canberra in 1999, Baker studied photography, printmaking and sculpture. In 2017, attracted by its practice-led approach to research, she returned to the ANU as a Higher Degree by Research Candidate, seeking to complete her Doctor of Philosophy and further develop her studio research in a critiqued setting. This is her PhD examination exhibition.

Like most parents, Baker photographs her children. She also videos and draws them. What makes her imagery better or different to those of our children playing on their trampolines? Baker clearly reflects on bonds formed between people. She also uses unexpected arrangements of the body. She sees the images being of abstracted universal people – placeholders for people. Or, if you prefer, metaphors. She sees bodies as containers for our inner feelings, thoughts and imagination.

Works from her Within Matter series explore the intersection between physical beings and the less tangible space of our subjective perceptions. Young figures are captured in various moments where the abstraction of their forms invites us to question where their physical bodies begin and end, and whether there are other dimensions also in that space.

Each artwork results from making ultraviolet flatbed digital prints on translucent panels of glass, then mounting them on architectural steel bases. The freestanding nature of the works allows light to pass through the imagery so they can be experiences more as sculptures than photographs.

Kate Baker – Within Matter 7 (side view cropped)

Unreal and evocative images, along with narratives, are fixed into layers of glass, mirror and, more recently, metal. Baker is closely examining the qualities of glass. Her themes explore the human environment – physical, psychological and emotional layers, inviting viewers to consider the relationship between us and our experiences.

Baker has been both a finalist and winner of national and international art prizes, including the 2018 Hindmarsh Prize, which recognises excellence in the field of Contemporary Art made primarily from glass. These are most definitely excellent Contemporary artworks.

Her research leading to this exhibition saw a reconfiguring of her existing studio practice. She used a broader interdisciplinary approach to explore the intersection of glass and the digital image, incorporating their relationship to light, space and time. Drawing from her own experience, Baker overlaid images, surface treatments and text. The use of highly personal text information, including years of her technical process notes, may initially strike us as ambiguous scribbles before we learn about the source material.

The reflective surfaces offer us opportunities to become actively involved in the works – for they change as we move around the gallery space. This is about how we co-exist and establish emotional ties, how our connections with others change as time passes. This would almost certainly be more pronounced if the lighting on the works was natural, rather than artificial, but it is clear, nevertheless.

Documentation Image 3 – Yun Ha-ANU
Documentation Image 1 (foreground Within Matter background Pulse) – Yun Ha-ANU

One rather special installation, Pulse, projects segments of video onto numerous hanging irregular shards of coloured glass. Distorted images of a performer slide across the glass. A soundtrack of hollow knocking suggests she is trapped inside the glass. Poetically exploring the grief of losing something, the human spirit and the physical boundaries of our bodies personal space, the slivers of glass capture the light and shadows within the installation like a crystalline wind vortex briefly paused.

Documentation Image 2 (detail of Pulse installation) – Yun Ha-ANU

Nick Mitzevich, Director of the National Gallery of Australia, has correctly said Baker’s work is a sophisticated resolution of the glass medium that feels entirely contemporary and rooted in the present.

This review was first published on page 12 of The Canberra Times print edition of 19/3/23 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews


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.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

Under the Sun & Cyscape

Photography Exhibition Review

Under the Sun & Cyscapes Jane Duong

Reading Room Gallery, Rusten House Art Centre | 4 February – 25 March 2023

Jane Duong is a Canberra-based photographer. She majored in photomedia at Edith Cowan University in 2003 for a Bachelor of Communications. Then, in 2007, graduated with a Diploma in Museums and Collections from the ANU.

As with her Sunkissed exhibition in 2022, Duong has used the cyanotype technique for this show. Under the Sun is more substantial – both in terms of the number of works and their content. Once again, the works do not shout seeking attention, but quietly encourage visitors in for a closer investigation. The cyanotype process dates back to the dawn of photography and was invented by astronomer Sir John Herschel in 1842. Prints are created with the use of a light-sensitive chemical mixture coated on paper, ultraviolet (or sun) light to expose, and water to wash before drying.

So, what are we looking at here? The artworks result from an exploration and celebration of public spaces and historical places in Queanbeyan – through the magic and coincidence that comes with the cyanotype process. Her subjects include The Dog & Stile Inn, the Queanbeyan River, Rusten and Benedict Houses, and the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. Each exhibited print is a one-off, handmade on cotton paper. Some have unique borders. Some have been created with negative contact sheets. And some exposed artworks were washed by dipping them directly into the Queanbeyan River.

Cross to bear – Jane Duong

Rusten House I – Jane Duong

When I learned to make prints from negatives in a darkroom years ago, it was drummed into me to use clean water for the processes. Nowadays, a growing number of artists seem to be using “unclean” water. Some collect water from creeks, dams, oceans or wherever to use. Others immerse the paper or other material on which they are printing directly into a water source, as Duong has done here for some works. In the last couple of days I have seen this approach questioned on social media, with someone wondering aloud whether it was appropriate to “contaminate” the ocean with cyanotype chemicals. Responses have been varied.

Dip your toe in the water – Jane Duong

Cyscapes is a video work previously shown at a 2022 Contour 556 event, the Forest Bathing Night Walk, put on by Localjinni Shinrin-Yoku in the Cork Forest at the National Arboretum. Localjinni refers to itself as an eco-feminist art collective which, traveling in collective safety at night, transforms spaces into places using visual art, poetry, music, film, oral history, and digital stories.

The collective states that it ‘strides’ to bring local culture and active travel together, to reclaim community ownership of the street and public spaces. It asks that we think of the collective’s members as art street vendors. They screen virtual exhibitions, lighting up parks, paths, and plazas on night walks and scooter rides.

Their focus on place recognises the importance of local production and local knowledge. As a Virtual Artist Run Initiative (VARI), including more than fifty contributing artists and artworkers, they bring research and teamwork together to develop and refine new ways of connecting people to place. Checkout their website for more details: localjinni.com.au.

If, like me, you missed the Night Walk, you can view an interesting 2-minute showreel of it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTiKKhoH2J4.

The video on display in this gallery exhibition is described by the artist as “moving image, colour, sound, 2 minutes 46 seconds”. On a loop, viewers are able to watch the full video of moving images as many times as they wish. I watched them, mesmerised and enjoying windmills and foliage appearing on a tree.

Cyscapes-3 – Jane Duong (Still from video)

Cyscapes-2 – Jane Duong (Still from video)

Cyanotype images cleverly layered and manipulated with Duong’s choice of today’s software (which utilises Artificial Intelligence) created this most worthwhile video exhibit.

This review was first published in The Canberra Times on page 10 of Panorama and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

A Lens on the Lake, & Kambah

Photography Exhibition Review

A Lens on the Lake | Andrea Bryant

Kambah | Louise Curham

Tuggeranong Arts Centre | 20 Jan – 24 Mar 2023

These two separate exhibitions are both outcomes of explorations by their respective artists.

A Lens on the Lake is a series of abstracted moments Andrea Bryant has gathered whilst exploring life around Lake Tuggeranong. Shot predominantly with an infrared converted digital camera, the surreal scenes are part of a broader project focusing on the health of Canberra waterways and their direct environments.

Kambah, by Louise Curham, is also part of a larger project that is ongoing.

She is interested in the history of Kambah and is making an online digital Kambah People’s Map. As she develops the map, Curham will include images and stories shared with her during public programs at the arts centre whilst the exhibitions are on display. Bryant is also conducting a workshop. Details of those events can be found at https://www.tuggeranongarts.com/whats-on/.

Bryant completed a Diploma in Photography and Photographic Imaging in 2019 at the Canberra Institute of Technology. Her practice focuses on the use of abstraction. Working primarily with black and white photography, she juxtaposes disregarded things with the natural world – thus reflecting on our penchant for destroying the environment.

Here Bryant shows us thirty-six framed fine art prints. Whilst most are black and white, a small number are vibrantly coloured. The images were developed over several years from meditative walks at Lake Tuggeranong, prompted by copious amounts of rubbish discarded in the area.

Amongst the subjects for Bryant’s camera are, inevitably, a shopping trolley and graffiti. But there is also the floating wetland’s structure, people relaxing, fishing gear, filaments, the skatepark, and a black swan. There are even images of Einstein and his “intelligent eye”.

Relaxing 1 © Andrea Bryant
Relaxing 2 © Andrea Bryant
Filaments © Andrea Bryant
Mimis © Andrea Bryant

Each walk taken uncovered new debris, different structures and diverse wildlife that Bryant has transformed through artistic use of infrared to shift the commonplace in a way that stirs curiosity. Largely stripped of context, the artist invites us to reconsider our relationship to what have become mysterious or puzzling forms within the landscape.

Floating Wetlands, 2021 © Andrea Bryant
Schism © Andrea Bryant

Tension between unpleasant dumped objects and the beauty found in their forms is intriguing. Bryant’s reframing draws us to reconsider how we move through our environment and the actions we take to pollute or restore it.

This artist is to be congratulated on this, her first solo show, and on the messages she has successfully conveyed.

Curham uses art, and archivist expertise, to explore how we can look after things we can’t digitise. She invites people to think about the wisdom accompanying things they want to keep and how it can be passed on. She focuses on old media and the lessons that can be learned from it.

Kambah, a suburb of Canberra first settled in 1974, was not designed according to the ‘neighbourhood’ philosophy guiding suburban design and is the largest in Canberra. It took its name from the once prosperous Kambah sheep and cattle farm. The property was sub-divided; Village Creek waterway went underground. Seeking to build community, Curham invites residents, alumni and visitors to select the contents of an archive about Kambah.

The exhibition displays a digital map built from the community’s answers to the question ‘what do you know about Kambah that you think is important to share with others?’ Alongside the map is a series of images of Kambah made using pinhole and cyanotype photography. Both processes have created very literal but diverse portraits of Kambah.

Kambah people’s map digital map – © Louise Curham
Urambi20 – © Louise Curham
Pinhole06 – © Louise Curham

The subjects include the historic Urambi Woolshed, the IGA, a bike, casuarinas, dusk (towards the Brindabellas) and cleared woodlands. It all makes for an intriguing show that gallery visitors should spend time with, especially Kambah residents.

Woolshed – © Louise Curham
IGA from Boddington – © Louise Curham
Clearing at Kambah – © Louise Curham

This review was first published online on 9.2.23 by The Canberra Times here and then in the printed paper on 13.2.23. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews


Photography Exhibition Review



The Reflections on Nature artist-in-residence project was launched on social media at the end of April 2020. At that time it was described as “designed to encourage artists to connect with nature over the coming months…… observing and creating in response to observations of colour, regrowth, seasonal change and interesting revelations….. for everyone from beginner artists ….. a guided journey of topics and inspirational thoughts….. a safe space …. to share …. sketches, photos, ideas, prose and observations.…… We may even grow this into an exhibition of observations or a publication eventually!”

Well it certainly grew. And now there is an exhibition of works selected from the huge number of observations by the substantial membership of the project – more than 600 people made thousands of contributions. The creative reflections gathered represent a unique and contemplative perspective on the environment during a time when our world changed. 

Before this project was born, the environment had been dreadfully damaged by fire and drought. Then COVID-19 began. As a result, project participants felt a great need to explore the outdoors. They slowed down and looked for ways to create a sense of possibility, and for the promise of healing.

Photographers, writers, artists, journalers, ecologists and naturalists joined forces exploring the natural environment. Places they often knew well became sources of fresh wonder and delight, as they rediscovered and saw them afresh. Indeed this was a personal experience as I walked around the open areas of my own suburb.

Over a period of twelve months of guided, focussed observations in the Canberra region and beyond, the artists shared purpose around a common interest in nature resulted in a rich record of their experiences.

The exhibition was officially opened on World Wetlands Day (wetlands are being lost three times faster than forests) by Senator David Pocock who described the artworks as incredible and the exhibition as making a massive contribution.

The Senator noted that First Nations people had looked after our environment for thousands of years and that we all need to do so now. He suggested the participants’ engagement with the environment had gathered information that politicians could not ignore, and urged all present to fight for what they love – the bush capital and its landscape – by having hard cultural conversations with other Canberra residents and seeking to engage the next generation.

The many fine artworks on display are diverse – photography, video, drawings, painting, sketched and written journal entries, and more. It is difficult to single out some artworks for individual mention.

However, amongst those to which I was drawn was Bohie Palecek’s delightful and colourful portrait of herself with a bird on her shoulder.

Transformations Theme – Self-portrait by Bohie Palecek

Rainer Rehwinkle’s spectacular Grasslands was one of many standout photographic images.

Sense of Place theme – Rainer Rehwinkel – Grassland image-2

I also very much enjoyed David Flannery’s various quality bird images.

Transformations Theme – Choughs – Photography by David Flannery

Amongst the many collages is an excellent one of eucalypt bark abstracts.

Panel of eucalypt patterns – colours and textures by Terry Rushton (Installation shot)

Chris Lockley is showing a colourful image amongst another of the collages.

Waning Theme – Fungi photography by Chris Lockley

Sue Bond shares a delightful photo of a crane fly at a sundew .

Textures and Revelations Theme – A sundew with a crane fly Photography by Sue Bond

There also are many marvellous journal pages to flick through or explore carefully, depending how much time you are able to spend at the exhibition.

Emergence Theme – Nature journaling of grassland forbes by Julia Landford

Julia Landford 1

Waning Theme – nature journaling response by Fiona Boxall (watercolour sketch)

An engaging Nature Video by David Rees is also well worth viewing in its entirety. Images included in the video can be seen on his Flickr site here.

I could go on sharing details of individual artworks here for ever, but it would be much better to visit the exhibition for yourself if possible. If you can’t make it, take a look at the project’s Facebook page here.

I understand the organisers have been invited to show the work at Canberra Museum and Gallery in 2024, which is further recognition of the importance of our environment and the value of nature. It will provide another opportunity to see the artworks on display.

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

Photo Book Review, Reviews

Death is not here

Photography Book Review

Title: Death is not here

Author: Wouter Van de Voorde

Publisher: Void | Australian Distributor: Perimeter Books

Price: AUD$105

Format: Softcover with dustjacket

ISBN: 978-618-5479-25-1

Students of theology, medical practitioners, poets. All have reflected for centuries on the nature of death. Is it “good” or “bad”? A famous death poem often spoken at funerals, Death is nothing at all (Henry Scott-Holland), includes these words “It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened”.

Death is not here, a new photobook by Canberra’s Wouter Van de Voorde, is a photographic reflection on the topic. Published by Void, an Athens-based independent photobooks publisher, last November, it has been reviewed and commented on by others on websites and in publications from various countries. Australian distribution commenced in January 2023.

It is, as other commentators have suggested, a mysterious book. It contains no words (in the traditional sense) other than a page of credits and minimal background – itself slightly intriguingly referring to the book as “This is not death”.

The book’s 160 pages are primarily filled with photographs, but also some delightful sketches of fossils. All images and drawings are by the author. Readers – yes, we are reading when we look at photos – are challenged to understand the author’s story for themselves. Or, perhaps, create their own stories about life and death from those images. Van de Voorde himself has written “A peculiar convergence of death/life and permanence/impermanence occurred during the period I made these images. ‘Death is not here’ is a personal time capsule capturing and preserving this time in my life.”

The subjects include ravens, dug holes, lumps of clay, rings of fire, curtains, a mother and newborn, sculpted pieces, an egg, plus dead or dying animals and plants.

© Wouter Van de Voorde -32 (raven on pole with fixer stain, 2021)

© Wouter Van de Voorde -30 (Round fire hole, 2021)

© Wouter Van de Voorde -33 (cracked egg on fossils sculpture)

But the subjects, per se, are not the story. Readers need to take up the challenge to explore and interpret what the images reveal.

In some ways, many photographs are so unlike it is difficult to see how they belong together. Every so often there is a blank page. For me, these said stop awhile, think about what you have read, review the material already seen before moving on. Some images may generate feelings of anxiety or be difficult to appreciate in the context of the whole story. Or you may simply not like them.

At the time of taking the photos, the author was about to become a father for the second time. He had been making still lifes with fossils.

© Wouter Van de Voorde -31 (mother and newborn)

When his son wanted to play a real-life version of video game Minecraft, they began digging in their backyard. The hole grew deeper and wider.

© Wouter Van de Voorde -29 (Felix and Leo playing with mud in the garden, 2021)

Van de Voorde began experimenting – drawing the outlines of holes with flames. Unearthing the grave of a chicken, bones visible, they harvested clay and used it to fire small objects, including a skull. Images of empty backyard spaces are interspersed with others of the artist’s son in an eroded gorge. Were the father and son together exploring what lies beneath. Remember the supernatural horror thriller film of that name?

© Wouter Van de Voorde -34

The philosopher Epicurus famously asserted that death should not be feared. His argument has been summarised. When we die, we no longer exist and can feel neither pain nor pleasure. Therefore, there is nothing to fear in death, as death literally is nothing. Or, if you prefer – Don’t worry, as long as we’re alive, Death is not here!

But isn’t death everywhere? In Ukraine and other battlefields, in various Californian shootings recently, on our roads regularly when vehicles crash, sometimes in hospital operating theatres, in the funeral notices pages. The nature of death is highly variable. Despite Epicurus, many do fear it.

How do you perceive life and death?

This review was first published by the Canberra Times – online here and on page 5 of Panorama in the print edition of 4/2/23. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Exhibition Review, Reviews

WE ARE ONE – The First XI

Photography Exhibition Review

WE ARE ONE – The First XI Claire Letitia Reynolds and Sasha Parlett

PhotoAccess | 20 Jan – 10 Feb 2023

Everyone should see this exhibition. All indigenous people, because it is about a significant event in their history. Cricketers and cricket lovers, as it’s a significant cricket story. Historians, since it’s a historical event. Photographers and everyone interested in the medium. And everyone else, as it’s a fascinating and important story.

The portraits in WE ARE ONE – The First XI were produced by artist Claire Letitia Reynolds, the filmed interviews by Sasha Parlett. Reynolds discovered her love of photography at 14. She is known for capturing subjects at their most familiar moments. Parlett is the proud descendant of the first Indigenous woman to break in horses, was born on Darumbal country and educated and raised in Kabi Kabi ways. Together, the two artists are aiming to champion this epic piece of Australian history.

Parlett’s two videos are a series of vignette interviews providing a documentary style look into the verbal history of cricket in Australia. Through discussions with descendants of The First XI, past and current First Nations Cricketers, a

light is shed on the truths and triumphs such cricketers have faced since The First XI. Highlighting a forgotten history of this colonial sport turning stockmen into athletes and becoming an iconic sport within First Nations communities. The exhibition aims to uplift and contribute to reconciliation in Australia.

Still from Part 1 – WE ARE ONE –The First XI – Uncle Adrian, Mununjalli, Goreng Goreng Nations, QLD © Sasha Parlett
Still of title page of Part 2 – WE ARE ONE – First Nations Cricket © Sasha Parlett

Reynolds’ artworks, created utilising analogue and digital processes, comprise twenty-two portraits and three landscapes referencing the unique connection between Australian Indigenous people, culture and Country. The First XI included men from tribes in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. The portraits are of current and past Indigenous Australian cricketers, direct descendants of the First XI, and Elders.

Incredibly, this indigenous team of thirteen athletes undertook Australia’s first ever international tour. It is a story of strength, triumph and, sadly, tragedy. Several players suffered severe illness. Some were sent home early; others lost their lives. Despite the tragic incidents, the ledger was 14 apiece at the end of the England-wide tournament.

This exhibition seeks to square up the Australian identity ledger, with these pioneering men providing impetus for progress. Their story of courage, resilience, and identity is celebrated with pride. The beautifully printed artworks from hand-developed films are mostly on fine art paper using handcrafted dyes from various trees, bark, leaves, and sap.

Rosie, Gubbi Gubbi Nation, QLD, 2022 photographic print on fine art paper with narrow-leaved Red Gum bark hand crafted dye © Claire Letitia Reynolds
Aunty Betty, Bundjalung Nation, NSW, 2022 photographic print on fine art paper with Brown Bloodwood bark hand crafted dye © Claire Letitia Reynolds
Uncle Mickey AM, Yawuru Nation, WA, 2022 photographic print on fine art paper with Brown Bloodwood bark hand crafted dye © Claire Letitia Reynolds

One large portrait, of Aunty Fiona Clarke, is printed on 100% pure mulberry silk and displayed hung on a found Eucalyptus branch.

Aunty Fiona Clarke, Gudintjimara, Kirre Whurrong Nations, VIC photographic print on 100% pure mulberry silk © Claire Letitia Reynolds (Installation view)

Three landscapes showing black swans are hung close together in a row alongside each other on an end wall of the gallery.

Black Swans of Gunaduyen, Home of The First XI, Parts 1,2,3 photographic prints on fine art paper with Grey Ironbark hand crafted dye © Claire Letitia Reynolds (Installation View)

Below each portrait are quotes from  ‘Cricket walkabout : the Australian Aboriginal cricketers on tour, 1867-8 / D.J. Mulvaney’. Part of one reads “Yanggendyinadyuk/Dick-a-Dick challenged all comers to stand 15 or 20 yards distant and pelting with cricket balls….protected his body with a [narrow wooden parrying shield]….during his displays he often called out to the throwers ‘Can’t you do better than that?’….His wooden club is now in Lord’s Cricket Museum.”

There is one other rather special exhibit – The First XI Didge-Bat, with the names of The First XI inscribed.

The project was previously exhibited briefly on the Sunshine Coast (where Reynolds is based). It opened here as a big bash cricket fixture next door attracted a huge crowd by comparison. Its run includes the contentious 26 January date. It will be going to the home of The First XI – Harrow, Victoria and elsewhere. It is hoped to show it at Lord’s. And, more importantly, I was pleased to learn there are folk seeking to have items such as the previously mentioned club returned to Country.

This review was first published by The Canberra Times here and in its print edition of 28/1/23. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Photo Book Review, Reviews

Joyce Evans (Photographer)

Book Review

Title: Joyce Evans

Author: Sasha Grishin

Publisher: National Library of Australia Publishing

It seems a little odd to review a book by a fellow reviewer, but this book is about the photographer, Joyce Evans, and her imagery – not its author, Sasha Grishin.

Reading the book I was quickly struck by Grishin’s observation “her work is neither widely known nor fully appreciated”. Why? Because I had no knowledge of Evans’ work. Curiously though, my wife knew Evans and typed a lot of her university essays when she worked for Evan’s husband.

I decided to contact a dozen folk who I expected would know of Evans because of their past art/photography studies, curatorial backgrounds, or key roles with important art museums. I asked whether they were aware of Evans’ work and whether or not they appreciated it. To my surprise, only one had any knowledge of Evans whatsoever. She had exhibited with Evans several times and been impressed with her photography.

A blogger I follow recently wrote a short personal appreciation of another photographer’s life and work. In it, he spoke of photographers who have made their major contributions early in their careers and over a relatively short period of time. He expressed enthusiasm for those who continue producing quality work throughout their lives. Evans owned and used a camera from the age of 16, albeit initially as an avid amateur. In her mid-40s she visited an international art fair in Basel and was excited by the photography scene. That led her to open a photography gallery in Melbourne, then to study photography. Evans was 50 when she began using photography as a serious art form. She had her first solo exhibition in 1986 which launched her career as a professional photographer. She remained active in photography for the remainder of her life.

The National Library of Australia holds an archive of Evans’ life work, containing around 30,000 analogue and 80,000 digital works, plus considerable associated documentation. It’s one of the largest archives of any contemporary Australian photographer in any public institution. In 2016, Evans herself invited Grishin to write this book and worked closely with him to achieve it, despite declining health. She approved the final text of all chapters but, sadly, died before publication.

So what do I think of Evans’ imagery? It is diverse. Some, not all, early amateur shots are, perhaps unsurprisingly, amateurish. One about a 1996 rally against racism is certainly about an important Australian story.

Joyce Evans, Rally against Racism, Treasury Gardens, Melbourne, 1996, nla.obj-143145840

Evans’ somewhat privileged life and good contacts (often portrait subjects) definitely assisted to get her professional career going. Federal Minister Clyde Holding’s invitation to join Aboriginal Affairs as an honorary documentary photographer was instrumental and resulted in her recognising the need to see photographs that should be taken. One book chapter is devoted to “finding the image”. Another to documentary shots of Australia, including roadkill on Australia’s “endless roads”. The latter caused me to think about Judith Nangala Crispin’s very different poetic artworks of such subject matter. Evans’ images such as Uluru, Northern Territory (featured on the book cover) are delightful renditions of our outback.

Joyce Evans, Portrait of Barbara Blackman, 1989, nla.obj-135941390
Joyce Evans, Uluru, Northern Territory, 1987, courtesy National Library of Australia
Joyce Evans, Desert Car on Gunbarrel Highway, Northern territory, 1991, nla.obj-153485555

The book includes some  photos of places Canberrans know well – a windmill at lake George, the Niagara Café at Gundagai. Images taken a little further away include one of the start of Benalla’s Anzac Day march in 1994.

Joyce Evans, Windmill on Lake George, New South Wales, 1983, nla.obj-153304178

There are some excellent art landscape images, including Eelgrass with Blades Coated in Algae, Mungo Tree, Dimboola Dreaming and two of Cotswold Farm.

Joyce Evans, Eelgrass with Blades Coated in Algae, 2000–2001, courtesy National Library of Australia
Joyce Evans, Mungo Tree, 1990, courtesy National Library of Australia

I know of many folk who have substantial photography collections telling Australian stories which would be worthy additions to the NLA collections. You might even have a great collection. If so, check out https://www.nla.gov.au/support-us/giving-your-national-library/offer-us-collection-material.

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

Photography Story

2022 in Review

Photography | Brian Rope

2022 in Review

This time last year I wrote of local photo artists continuing to make their marks. 2022 has surpassed it. I have seen and reviewed 37 exhibitions of photography-related artworks, including videography, post-digital and networked photographic art.

It began with Judith Nangala Crispin’s sell out show at Grainger Gallery, which resulted in a Canberra Critics Circle Award.

On the curve of a desert track, a motorcycle hums in sand, wheels spinning, stars lifting from yinirnti and bloodwood trees

Then the first Photo Access show of the year, featuring diverse photomedia works by ten emerging, or re-emerging, contemporary photographers – including an 80 years old.

A Critics Circle Award also went to Michael Armstrong, for his stunning portraits of Veterans with PTSD. It was just one of the exhibitions this year focussing on important issues and groups in the community.

Mike Armstrong #5, 2022

There was Tim Bauer’s portraits of people and an accompanying documentary by Liz Deep-Jones, about confronting racism and bigotry. Flavia Abdurahman and Gabor Dunajszky revealed the resilience of Afghan Muslim women in war zones. And at year’s end (continuing into February), there is Hilary Wardhaugh’s work portraying people with lived experience of being disabled or of being mental health consumers. These are all worthwhile uses of photographic art.

There was more than one exhibition looking at issues relating to climate and ecology, educating artists and art lovers about biodiversity, heritage research and more. Most recently, ecologist and photographer David Wong explored different aspects of eucalypt ecosystems within local nature reserves. A group of 17 photographers led by Wong also produced a delightful separate exhibition about Bluett’s Block which is under threat from encroaching suburbia.

David Wong – Bruce Ridge, 2021

A photobook of the Bluett’s Block show is just one of the books released this year from Photo Access projects. There were three more in May, and another three in July. And Margaret Kalms launched her own excellent book in February to raise awareness about the illness endometriosis.

Lots of Blood – Margaret Kalms

The exhibitions seen include some shown in NSW. There was Ali Nasseri’s exploration of his local patch, the ocean at Bondi, shown in Bungendore. And there was a celebration of the cyanotype print displayed at Sutton Village.

Hydrangea © Ellie Young

It has also been a year of modest (or small) shows, including an exhibition of photos by someone who is not a photographer at CCAS Manuka. Jane Duong had just a few images displayed at ACT Hub, in The Causeway Hall – which is the oldest hall in Canberra and a listed item on the ACT Heritage Register. They were also cyanotypes. And even more cyanotypes featured in Claire Grant’s wonderful “Up in the Air” and a simultaneous members’ exhibition at Photo Access.

Claire Grant – Nothing’s as precious as a hole in the Ground, 2021-22

There also have been outdoor exhibitions – the Bluett’s Block one opened in a pop-up at the Block before moving into the Manuka Arts Centre Gardens. Sammy Hawker had a show in Tuggeranong, on the windows of Lakeview House & under the Soward Way Bridge. And Hilary Wardhaugh has had works on display in Queanbeyan’s No Name Lane.

Hawker was also a most deserving winner of the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize this year with her work Mount Gulaga, 2021, making her the third Canberran in succession to take out that annual Prize and, thus, confirming the high calibre of local photo artists.

SAMMY HAWKER Mount Gulaga, 2021

Two other female Canberra photographers, Lyndall Gerlach and Susan Henderson were amongst the finalists. Gerlach and Henderson were also amongst the exhibitors in an excellent all women show at M16 Art Gallery.

There have been great shows at major institutions, including the National Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery, and Viewfinder: Photography from the 1970s to Now at the National Library of Australia.

My advice? See every local photo art exhibition in 2023.

This article was first published in The Canberra Times online here and at page 31 of the print edition on 2/1/23.