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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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

SELECTED SUBURBAN WORKS – WILLIAM BROADHURST – FANTASY COLLISION – GABRIELLE HALL-LOMAX, REVERBERATION TIME – JAMIE HLADKY

Review of Photography, Mixed Media Exhibition

At Photo Access, 10 March – 9 April 2022

These three solo shows have been described as each sharing a fascination with the strange. They are said to probe notions that have long intrigued photographers in numerous ways, demonstrating the diversity of contemporary photo-media.

One show, William Broadhurst’s Selected Suburban Works, imbues everyday scenes with a sense of mystery through abstraction. He presents a series of fleeting encounters shot in south-west Sydney.

The majority of Broadhurst’s works convey a powerful sense of movement and, if you like, blur – causing the detail of the content to be strangely abstracted whilst, sometimes, revealing almost ghost-like shapes and figures.

William Broadhurst, Untitled#6, 2021

There are other works where particular content is more obvious – the moon is a clear presence in two works, in one seemingly hovering over a field of suburban lights.

Another work includes a person pushing a shopping trolley near the top of a hill. Others reveal a young person near a post and two youngsters alongside a soccer goal – doing precisely what is unclear in both images.

William Broadhurst, Untitled#5, 2021

Yet another work features a shirtless man (the artist?) working with a whipper snipper, although what it is cutting is out of the frame leaving us to imagine it. Perhaps the image I enjoyed most includes, it seems, a blurred reclining kangaroo surveying suburbia from a nearby hill.

William Broadhurst, Untitled#1, 2021

A second show, Gabrielle Hall-Lomax’s Fantasy Collision, integrates paint and digital manipulation techniques into layered photographic images. The works draw some attention to how human activity has transformed our Australian eco-systems. Expanding on environmental photography traditions – often used as a tool to raise awareness and educate us humans about the impact we cause on the environment – Hall-Lomax integrates paint and digital manipulation techniques into her works to reflect on the interconnectedness of nature – the body and the psyche are unified.

One work is titled Slip – whereas I saw a leap.

Gabrielle Hall-Lomax, Slip

Another titled Bushfires did not speak to me of that phenomenon – but is a lovely image, nonetheless. These are reminders, perhaps, that titles are unimportant to many artists and exhibition visitors. Whatever our views about that, these are fine images.

Gabrielle Hall-Lomax, Bushfires, 2021

Yet another is titled Rituals – it shows four modest-sized, standing stones amongst the mist – an acknowledgement of Stonehenge perhaps?

Gabrielle Hall-Lomax, Rituals

And Touching the sun is a sublime work that deserves lengthy contemplation – for me, the most interesting piece in the suite of three exhibitions.

The exhibition catalogue says the third show, Jamie Hladky’s Reverberation Time, “uses flash to explore places that have been reclaimed by nature after human occupation, illuminating the power of natural forces and our futile attempts to corral them.” Hladky himself has told me that the work is not so much about decay, or nature reclaiming, as he’s seen written. For him, his imagery is about “the irrelevant brevity of our short endeavours and our moments of self-absorbed pride.”

The titles of Hladky’s works reveal only where the images were taken. Around half are of decaying building interiors and half of cave and mining tunnel interiors.

Jamie Hladky, Gilgandra NSW, 2021
Jamie Hladky, Yarrangobilly NSW (1), 2021

One shot of the exterior of a neat and clean motel located in a desert area initially seemed out of place. Asked about it, Hladky told me he sees it as the first image in the series to pull the rest of them indoors – demonstrating that it is always good to have opportunities to discuss works with their authors!

In addition to viewing the three exhibitions, reading the delightful “essays” in their catalogues is a definite must, especially The House by Paddy Julian and A Cloak Stands in a Bore Hole, Arms Extended by Simon Eales.

This review was published in The Canberra Times of 4/4/22 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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Reviews

Mixed Signals

Review of Visual Art Exhibition | Mixed Signals | Jess Cochrane | aMBUSH Gallery | Until 20 March 2022

Jess Cochrane is an Australian contemporary visual artist. Canberra is her hometown. She has been based in London for a few years now but has recently returned to Canberra for a brief time. She created new large-scale multidisciplinary pieces specifically for this solo exhibition, Mixed Signals. A well-known Canberra dairy product even features in one of the pieces.

Canberra Milk © Jess Cochrane (2022)

Cochrane’s work questions the relationship between society, consumerism and pop culture. Her focus is on feminine beauty, illustrated through the application of paint over photographic images. She paints highly gestural and expressive marks over the surface of glossy photographic portraits. This approach seeks to reflect our relationship to imagery and, particularly, to our own self-image.

The artist reflects upon insecurity and perfectionism in the modern age. Connecting the history of art, design and advertising, she plays on the idea of pop culture and its roots that are planted in both displaying and disguising parts of ourselves.

It is a body of work that explores themes around desire and semiotics through digital photography, which Cochrane styles in an editorial manner then embellishes with rough, gestural mark-making using acrylic paint to provide the element of subversion she has become known for. These are portraits featuring her friends, acquaintances and people she admires. By including recognisable elements and iconography that reference popular culture and identity, Cochrane reveals the reflective creative spirit that pervades her work.

Two artworks titled Carbs, and Guilt and Pleasure, feature the model cradling and holding substantial quantities of sweet pastries. Another with the title Gluten Free had me thinking “something for everyone” until I realised it includes even more of the same baker’s confectionery. Whether the goodies were gluten free or not, I’d be sure they were not sugar free.

Guilt And Pleasure © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)
Gluten Free © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)

Another work has cherries on a model’s ear, in her hands, against a breast obscuring the nipple, in the crotch area and on the fabric where she is seated. The boots she is wearing are painted over in red. The model has a dreamy, wistful look. What was she thinking whilst her photographic portrait was being taken?

Boots feature in various images. Indeed one work is titled Gucci Boots. They appear to be from that company’s latest collection, designed by Alessandro Michele, the Italian fashion designer who is its creative director.

Fresh figs feature in more than one work, opened to reveal the pink/red flesh inside – some held by the model, others scattered around her feet. And there are shucked oysters. Again, some being held by – and others scattered around – the model.

In one work, I’m the Pearl, a dark-skinned beauty wearing a beautiful necklace holds an opened oyster “containing” a pearl. A heart shape has been painted around the oyster. The model’s eyes, her full lips – indeed everything about her – shout to us that she is a pearl.

This use of cherries, figs and oysters is all very sensual. And the seductiveness is added to by Cochrane’s use of her paints – for example, by drawing attention to a breast and nipple by painting an enlarged outline of the same around them.

Of course, sensuality is also the condition of being pleasing or fulfilling to the senses. And that is very much what the artist is seeking to do – and achieving – with all her works. They dazzle with their sensuality, their colours.

Open © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)

This exhibition is a powerful interrogation of our aspirational and perfection-seeking modern-day culture. It’s a collection of artworks unafraid to probe the historical conditioning of society, especially in the context of femininity, and ask the question ‘What do we perceive as beautiful and what is grotesque?’

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 5/3/22 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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AP Focus, My Photography, Photography Story

Keeping it Personal

Roughly every for months, I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is my latest piece, published in the March 2022 issue now in newsagencies.

As published:

One of the things we all should do is set ourselves personal projects to work on. In recent years, I have identified various projects I thought might lead to the production of photobooks or even exhibitions.

Creating photobooks is quite straight forward really. The cost of a particular size book is known ahead of time, so you can decide what to make and be aware of exactly how much money you need before proceeding. And if you do make a good one, you could always enter it in the annual APS Photobook competition – either in the portfolio category or the storytelling category. And there are also other photobook competitions you might decide to enter.

The projects I have embarked on in recent times have been diverse, despite the pandemic restrictions. Walking, cycling or driving around your close neighbourhood is all you need to do when searching for shots. I found the roadside littered with many more than usual corflute signs when it was election time here. See. Stop. Photograph. Repeat. The end result was 54 images – plenty for a photobook.

Then I found Love. Well sort of. Someone was, and still is, painting graffiti all over the place and, most particularly, around the suburbs closest to where I live. Every artwork primarily consists of images of a dinosaur/worm/alien, often accompanied by a heart and messages. I’ve completed a book Expressing Love in Canberra featuring many of those artworks that I photographed. If nothing else, I have a documentary record of those since removed or painted over! And, I’m adding to my collection every time I see a new work. I’d actually like to acquire one work that is painted on an electrical box door so I could display it along with my photos and the photobook at an exhibition.

Love 041 – © Brian Rope

When I first saw some Say Less graffiti on buildings in two suburbs on opposite sides of a major entrance road to our city, I had no idea what it was about. However, I quickly thought about the old saying that one picture is worth a thousand words, and the concept for a book about saying less with words and more with images started to take shape in my mind. Again, I’ve made a photobook.

Cover of Say Less photobook © Brian Rope

Say Less is also about graffiti (or street art if you prefer) and explores various meanings of the term.

Lyneham Flats 004 © Brian Rope

My possible exhibition could explore Love, Say Less, Corflutes and, maybe, also E-Scooters – the method of transport that has made a relatively recent appearance here, welcomed by many but irritating others because of perceived misuse as the scooters litter our streets.

Having an exhibition is more difficult to achieve. Firstly, there is the difficulty of getting a timeslot in a gallery. Getting into most of our local galleries is a real challenge. You have to compete with many graduating students keen to emerge and establish their names, as well as numerous already established photo artists from other parts of the country and even overseas.

I ask myself if older folk like me who have been in numerous group exhibitions over the years but never had their own solo show, can now emerge and be lauded as photo artists? I don’t know, but I’ll keep pursuing a solo exhibition and, in the meantime, will make more photobooks. What was the closing date for that competition I read about?

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Autobiography, My Photography, Personal Story

1959 – My first year in Canberra

I arrived in Canberra on 2 March 1959, along with others in the first ever group of Statistics Cadets selected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The Cadetship program was the first large-scale graduate recruitment scheme to run within the Australian Public Service. All participants signed up out of high school and sought to complete an economics degree with honours over four years. In 1959, we studied at the Canberra University College (CUC).

CUC was a tertiary education institution established in by the Australian government and the University of Melbourne in 1930. It operated until 1960 when it was incorporated into the Australian National University as the School of General Studies. Over the course of its operation it had two directors, including Bertram Thomas Dickson whilst I was a student there. It was staffed by many notable academics including economist Heinz Wolfgang Arndt whose lectures I attended. Other staff I recall included Professor Fin Crisp (Political Science) and Patrick Pentony (Psychology).

The salary and allowances paid to Cadets (Statistics) at the time is interesting. My income was a drop from what I had earned at Australian Iron and Steel over the 1958-59 Summer period.

The first group of Cadet (Statistics) March 1959, I’m standing on the far left. Official photo, photographer unknown to me

We were there for orientation week at CUC, prior to commencing our studies the following week. We were unable to move into our rooms at the Narellan House hostel as they were in its new wing, which was not quite ready, so we were placed temporarily in the Hotel Kurrajong on the opposite side of the Molonglo River which flowed through the sheep paddocks between the northern and southern suburbs of Canberra.

Unfortunately, it chose that very time for the heavens to open and dump an enormous amount of rain, which soon flooded the paddocks, rising so close to the deck of the original Commonwealth Avenue bridge that it was closed for safety reasons. The only route from our new digs to the Canberra University College was via Queanbeyan. But none of us had cars or even bikes, so we could go no further than the swollen river and look across to the northern side.

Fortunately, the weather changed and our new rooms at Narellan House became available in time for us to attend our first tertiary education lectures as we embarked on our quest to gain Bachelor of Commerce degrees from the University of Melbourne.

One of the formalities I had to complete was to sign the matriculation roll. I provided evidence of my matriculation to the university college and received a letter inviting me to sign the roll.

Back on 11 March 1947, Federal Cabinet had approved a program to construct 3500 homes in Canberra over the next five to seven years, with an annual allocation of £1 million. Nevertheless, between 1946 and 1950 only 1147 houses were built. In the meantime, the government resorted to other measures. It built a series of guest houses and hotels to accommodate public servants and enlarged some existing facilities.

The government also recycled former defence facilities. Narellan House, located on Coranderrk Street in Reid and opened in 1949, was built using defence materials relocated from Narellan, south-west of Sydney. The Chifley Federal Government brought the huts, asbestos and all, on five semi-trailers for storage in Canberra. It became one of the Government Hostels in Canberra, housing forty-nine guests and a staff of eight. At Narellan it was ladies in the north wing and gents in the south. It survived all the other hostels and, with the addition of the new wing in 1959, became a residence for tertiary students, including me. The new wing housed both men and women students.

Front entrance of Narellan House showing the part of the original buildings, March 1959 © Brian Rope

One of the people I became closest to during my year at Narellan was another Cadet (Statistics), Derrick Low Choy. His room was directly opposite mine.

Derrick Low Choy in the grounds of Narellan House, March 1959 – © Brian Rope

Derrick and I spent much time in my room listening to my newly acquired pink mantel radio and devouring massive quantities of delicious potato crisps that his mother made and sent to him on a regular basis from her home in Queensland. We listened to the 2SM Sydney Top 30 hit parade broadcast weekly by 2XL Cooma trying to win a prize for accurately predicting which songs would fill which positions the next week.

My pink radio in my room at Narellan House, March 1959 – © Brian Rope

Another Cadet I became friends with was Ken, who was a member of the reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints – a spinoff from the Mormons. Ken worshipped at Reid Methodist Church just up the road from Narellan, because there was no branch of his church in Canberra.

Ken – original Canberra High School in background, March 1959 – © Brian Rope

Having stood in its tranquil setting in Reid, just across from Glebe Park, since 1949, Narellan was demolished in May 1992. The last historic link with Narellan Military Camp near Sydney was severed. The site was redeveloped as an apartment complex, now Monterey apartments.

In a communal lounge room at Narellan House, large groups of residents (as many as 30) regularly played Rickety Kate, a trick-taking card game – but only in reverse because the object is to avoid taking tricks. Some tricks are okay to take. They are safe, but you must be careful. If you take hearts, you get points. Points are no good. You do not want points. Most of all, you need to avoid old Rickety Kate, the Queen of Spades. She’s worth a lot of points. You do not want a lot of points. The first player to exceed one hundred points will end the game, but that only means she or he has come in last place. Our version of it involved using as many decks of cards as were necessary depending on the number of participants – but only using one Rickety Kate. Usually we played with so many decks that the number of cards each player was dealt was almost too many to hold in your hands.

There was some conflict between older residents (such as the future Solicitor General, Tony Blunn) and those of us who were new and younger arrivals. We tended to be noisy and having an enjoyable time, whilst the older residents were more focussed on their studies.

A Methodist Youth Group (MYF) happened to start up at the nearby Reid Methodist Church just when I moved into Narellan, so I was a founding member of what became a great social group. The Minister at the church at the time was Rev Harold Cox. There was a pool table inside the halls complex and two tennis courts were built out the back of the church and halls during 1959. The church was Canberra’s first urban church and had been opened on 8 October 1927 (as the South Ainslie church). A Sunday School Hall came a little later, opening on 24 July 1929 with future extensions in mind. They were not opened until 21 September 1957, with the complex being given the name Reid Methodist War Memorial Youth Centre. Badminton, table tennis, indoor bowls, darts and quoits were all amongst the games played there. Sadly, the MYF is not mentioned in The Red Bricks of Reid by R. T. Winch, a history of the church published on its fiftieth anniversary in 1977.

During 1959 there, I made many good friends, who included young women Lee, Angel, Judy, Margaret Bird, Meg Wicks, Margaret Bales, Bev, Edith Guard and Sue. Young men involved with the church included Bob Gray (whom I had met at Wollongong) and Kevin Veness. They all feature often in my photos from that year, including when most of us attended a Crusaders church camp at Gunning over Easter and later took a trip to the snow in Perisher Valley.

Reid Methodist Church, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Lee, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Angel & Judy at Canberra Show, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Kevin (in white singlet) at Easter Camp in Gunning, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Angel at Easter Camp in Gunning, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Judy, Meg and another girl at Easter Camp in Gunning, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Edith and Sue, architects and builders, construct a miniature igloo at Perisher Valley, 1959 – © Brian Rope

There were also trips home to Goulburn on some weekends. My dad’s work brought him to Canberra often, so I was able to get a lift one or both ways with him. When in Goulburn I would attend youth group gatherings there with Alan.

At CUC I explored things that I might get involved with on campus, I decided to get involved with the group that put on annual Revues at the Childers Street Hall/theatre. I’m not sure when it was but I recall being made up for a skit in which I wore little. The make-up involved applying something to all my bare skin areas. The dressing room where this happened was mixed genders and the people applying my make-up were females. This was an eye-opening experience for a young male who previously had lived a sheltered life.

I also visited the Woroni (student newspaper) office and expressed interest, but never really did much for it. The 13 May 1959 issue of Woroni ran stories about both Narellan House and the Revue.

At the Australian Bureau of Statistics, we Cadets were initially required to work part-time whilst undertaking a full-time study load. After a time, the authorities realised this was a mistake and allowed us to be full-time students.

So, what about actual study? Lectures and tutorials were held in various ageing weatherboard buildings with inferior quality heating in Winter. Most of my lectures were held late afternoon or early evenings, so were easy to get to even when working during the day.

The National Library of Australia, then located on Kings Avenue, was my preferred place to study and obtain study material, so I spent some time there.

Original National Library, 1959 – © Brian Rope

One of the four subjects we had to study was Pure Mathematics 1. The syllabus was effectively a duplicate of the Maths Honours I had studied, and done so well in, the previous year for Matriculation. I achieved a basic pass for it – and failed all three other subjects! My cadetship was suspended with a requirement that I repeat all failed subjects the following year, whilst working full time and being a part-time student. Clearly, my school studies had not prepared me for university studies. And being only seventeen also meant I was not mature enough to undertake university.

But, hey, I learned to play 500 and billiards. I made friends and enjoyed myself!

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Reviews

VIEW2022

Photomedia Exhibition Review

VIEW2022 | Annette Fisher, Catherine Feint, Fiona Bowring, Greg Stoodley, Isaac Kairouz, Izaak Bink, Jemima Camper, Tom Campbell, Wendy Dawes, Xueqin Yi

Photo Access | 4 February – 5 March 2022

This show features emerging, or re-emerging, contemporary photographers. Technically, an emerging artist – no matter how old or how long they’ve been at their chosen medium – has not yet been recognised by major critics, galleries and museums. More generally, the term tends to be used when artists have been practising for less than 10 years, haven’t been acquired by a gallery, and have a low profile in the art market. A re-emerging artist is one whose career was interrupted by circumstances and is now resuming. I understand one of these exhibitors is 80. Yes, artists can emerge at any age.

Ten photographers, each producing works in their own distinctive styles, using diverse materials and exploring many subjects. You might appreciate different artists/works than those that stand out for me. I am confident, however, that every gallery visitor will find delight here and enjoy contemplating all exhibits.

Accompanied by a video showing demolition, Annette Fisher’s powerful Demolition print captures light coming from the rubble, surprisingly revealing beauty in the site.

Demolition, 2021 – Annette Fisher

Greg Stoodley’s two Small Worlds prints delightfully reflect on how animals, in this case a cat, may be real supports during lengthy periods spent at home.

Cat TV, 2021 – Greg Stoodley

Isaac Kairouz’s Hek! BIDEO installation includes video, collage and painting. Each element needs to be explored individually, whilst the whole wonderful installation also needs to be contemplated in the context of the ways a person’s various social identities come together.

GolDen sHowASs, 2020 – Isaac Kairouz

Catherine Feint’s Childhood Home is a set of monochrome film shots of the house in which she grew up. The twist though is that they are actually photographs of her created cardboard models of the house. The quality of the shots is such that I did not realise that until reading the catalogue.

Figure 4 – Catherine Feint

Suspension, by Wendy Dawes, also took me by surprise. The catalogue refers to the rotoscope technique and drawing on suspension files. I know of rotoscoping, but it did not occur to me that the reference to suspension files meant just that – two artworks have been created on those ugly holders that we suspend in filing cabinets to hold documents. A much more creative use!

Suspension Trampoline, 2021 – Wendy Dawes

Jemima Campey’s two related video works explore the growing use of scripted and performed apologies, designed to minimise damage to the person’s “brand”. We can all quickly bring to mind certain politicians.

Still from digital video Crocodile Tears, 2021 – Jemima Campey

Tom Campbell’s split-screen video work tells two simultaneous stories, investigating the impact of border closures on our connections with places and family. I had to view this a few times to take in all the words on each screen but doing so reinforced the message.

Still from split-screen video – not that hill as a site of dominion 2021, Tom Campbell

Fiona Bowring’s Spoonville is another quality print of a whimsical feature. Having seen this work previously on social media (as well as other folk’s images of other Spoonville installations) reduced its impact for me.

Spoonville-7719, Fiona Bowring

Xueqin Yi’s Plants Chant images resulted from using her camera to escape boredom and, so, becoming intensely interested in and gaining comfort from observing plants. There is much more than just plants in the images though, as she has included their, sometimes odd, surrounds.

Untitled, 2018 – Xueqin Yi

The catalogue says Izaak Bink’s I want you, because I can’t have you uses found images to draw attention to the exaggerated masculinity gay men can be forced to emulate – and forces us to ask, “whose place is it to decode this work?” Whilst not feeling any need to ask such a question, I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed the graphic style of these two works.

Ride Em Cowboy – Izaak Bink

Thoughtfully curated by Wouter van de Voorde, this exhibition explores alternative processes and offers fresh perspectives on current issues, from early-career artists.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 14/2/22 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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