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Resilience: Yet Here We Are

Photography Exhibition Review

Resilience: Yet Here We Are | Flavia Abdurahman and Gabor Dunajszky

Belco ARTS, Pivot Gallery | UNTIL 9 OCTOBER 2022

I am a man, raised in the Christian tradition, with minimal knowledge of Islam, with no memories of my childhood war zone experience, who’s never visited Afghanistan. How can I review an exhibition about Afghan Muslim women in war zones? I’ll do my best!

Resilience: Yet Here We Are uses video by Flavia Abdurahman and photographs by Gabor Dunajszky. Both speak about seeing themselves as resilient. The people shown in the work certainly are. This is about amazing social structures supporting people – traumatised women nevertheless feeding, supporting and caring for their families. A definition of resilience. They are still there, doing the things they need to, despite all their experiences.

At the time of filming her Afghanistan footage, Abdurahman was an independent video journalist, specialising in short documentaries and current affairs. Her clients included the UN Mission to Afghanistan’s Public Information Office and the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

The video features parts of footage for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, 2005-6, and of a journey shooting video of Afghan women and girls, 2003-6. It’s a female video journalist’s view; but speaks to us all. Powerfully. Inviting us to observe, and absorb, human dignity. To appreciate why she considers the Minister is a hero. Ideally, we should watch the Ministry of Women documentary before viewing ‘The Journey.


Purple girl at WD at Blue Mosque (video still) – Flavia Abdurahman


Blushing Bride to be (video still) – Flavia Abdurahman

One clip is titled Endless Life, specifically to draw attention to civilian resilience in the face of the post-Cold War military doctrine of “Endless War”. Abdurahman suggests that our former federal government’s policy aspiration to make Australia a “Top Ten” defence exporter means that, in order to make the defence industry profitable, the Anglo-American sphere would need to create more “Afghanistans.” And that means we should learn from the resilience of the Afghans. She hopes viewers of her videos appreciate the factual depictions of heroism; unassuming, humble and very human. 

Dunajszky is a well-experienced humanitarian aid worker who happens to take photographs – following a family tradition. He first worked in Afghanistan in 2001 shortly after the fall of the Taliban.

The photographs were recorded where the residents – despite their “normal” living conditions having been destroyed by earthquakes, war zones, and the like – retained their humanity and continued their everyday lives under very difficult conditions, relying on their resilience, good humour and belief in a better future.

The black and white photos are, perhaps, more powerful than his coloured works. The people photos are the most emotive. His portraits of “a young Afghan Lady,” and of then Minister of Women’s Affairs Dr Jalal during an unguarded moment reveal much.


Dr Massouda Jalal, the then Minister of Women’s Affairs, 2004-6 – Gabor Dunajszky

Images of boys playing in a Kabul scrapyard, and of a desecrated graveyard, tell us much more than their specific content.


A Graveyard in Herat – Gabor Dunajszky

Together, the photos and video provide respectful and rare glimpses, some now forbidden, into the resolute and inventive endeavours of ordinary people to return dignity to their families and communities, in the face of complex challenges.

More recent re-occupation of Afghanistan by the Taliban makes these images important memories of people trying to refashion and reimagine its future. During the brief period, 2003 to 2006, Afghanistan worked towards becoming a viable democracy. Steps were taken to protect women’s rights. It was moving away from a tribal militia environment and commenced essential dialogue and interaction between civilian and military actors to promote humanitarian principles.

In January 2022, the Taliban closed down the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. They’ve shut down most girls’ secondary schools and forbidden women to work.

This exhibition needs to be widely seen, touring other parts of Australia – including regional areas where Afghan refugees now live and work.

This review was first published online by The Canberra Times here on 12/9/22 and then in print on page 28 on 26/9/22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

Aftercare, I am that I am, Transcending bodies

Photography Exhibition Review

Prue Hazelgrove | I am that I am – a deconstruction 

Emily Portmann | Aftercare

Xi Li, Meng-Yu Yan and Joseph Blair | Transcending bodies

Photo Access | 11 August to 10 September 2022

Across the three gallery spaces, these exhibitions come together to de-construct traditional ideas of identity and interrogate ideologies of self that exist within society. Each exhibition employs distinct methods in exploring societal definitions of self, suffering, and gender nonconformity.

Bringing tintype and collage processes into conversation, Prue Hazelgrove’s I am that I am – a deconstruction examines histories of queer visibility and erasure. The artist says she “is attempting to transform harm into healing through representation and reclamation.”

Hazelgrove achieves her goals most successfully with her excellent well-constructed paper, photo and text collages. Close reading of each piece of text clipped from a Christian self-help book clearly reveals the story of each particular artwork. The act of having cut up the texts for use in the collages can be seen as having removed any sense of authority they may have had in the source book. Their use also brings vividly to mind the dreadful selective use of scriptural texts by those who have sought, and still do seek, to make people conform to their views of what is right or wrong.

Prue Hazelgrove, Too much Skin- I am that I am, 2022, paper, photo and text collage
Prue Hazelgrove, According to Gods design- I am that I am, 2022, paper, photo and text collage

A number of high-quality tintypes complement the collages, revealing with raw honesty the people portrayed. Using the tintype medium fits with its long-standing use for documentation and adds to the artist’s intention of reclaiming her right to “exist as I am”.

Prue Hazelgrove, Just a couple of good buds – I am that I am, 2022, Tintype

The catalogue for Hazelgrove’s exhibition also features a piece of fine writing by Emma Batchelor, a queer writer, award-winning author and dancer from Canberra. This piece, Ultra Visible, should be read intently.

In Aftercare, the artist, Emily Portmann, presents a video of her performance as she encases her head in a large pink roll of bubble wrap. Using a sheet of the same pink bubble wrap as the backdrop in the gallery for the video screen is a nice touch. The video is accompanied by a series of self-portraits taken during the performance, each exploring the emotional and psychological ideology behind self-care and wellbeing. In each of them her head has become a large pink cylinder. Hands explore this mysterious object, searching for something unknown to us. The catalogue suggests we are viewing an emerging parody of “a society in which fetishised notions of self-comfort, protection and healing coincide with the commercialisation of wellbeing.”

Emily Portmann, Aftercare, Action 7, 2021 , archival pigment print

Then there is a group exhibition by Xi Li, Meng-Yu Yan and Joseph Blair.  Transcending Bodies employs video, 3D animation, AI and printed photo-media to challenge normative ideas of identity and envision new forms of living in the virtual realm.

This exhibition explores how sense-of-self and social dynamics are shaped in virtual environments and brings into focus the possibilities and limits of existing online, untethered from our physical bodies. The catalogue speaks of the existence of hybrids of machine and organism being reality, drawing attention to the fact that many of us now have technological items implanted in our bodies functioning to keep us in better health – or even alive.

There also is a catalogue reference to the way so many of us use social media video games, phone Apps and other technological things on a daily basis, thus moving our physical selves into the virtual realm.

In his series Postcards from Hyrule, Meng-Yu Yan has taken the role of photographer within a virtual space. We see screenshots of this virtual world in a Game played during COVID-19 lockdown. They present as illusory or ghost-like landscapes, with an apparition here and a luminous nebula there. They are printed on a metallic gloss paper as postcards, suggesting they are souvenirs acquired from another planet. Each artwork is a worthy inclusion in the show.

Meng-Yu Yan, Postcards from Hyrule 5, 2021, inkjet print on Ilford Metallic gloss

Joseph Blair contributes two diptych works from a series The Tongue of Missing Lovers. Each comprises a photographic portrait accompanied by words about the subject and expressing a feeling about that person. They have an emotional impact if we allow it.

Joseph Blair, A Much Larger Tip (From series The Tongue of Missing Lovers), 2022, inkjet prints, diptych

The third artist in the group is the interdisciplinary Xi Li. Here we see 8.5 minutes of  video, Brain Island: Hyperreal City. It is important to take a seat because the strong probability is that you will want to view it more than once. This is as fine a video artwork as I have seen. It draws you in, uncertain as to what you might come next. So much is happening all through this work that during each viewing you will observe something new.

Xi Li, Brain Island Hyperreal City, 2019, video still

Li has woven so many aspects of her own identity into this remarkable piece. She has inserted herself into the work utilising green screen compositing – a process of layering two images or video streams into one another. We see her various alter-egos and contradictory cultures, reflecting her lived experience under both Chinese and Western political systems.

These three exhibitions and their catalogues are each well worth visiting and spending time with.

This review was first published on page 18 of The Canberra Times of 5.9.22 and online here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

Into the Forest

Photography Exhibition Review

Into the Forest | Eva van Gorsel and Manuel Pfeiffer

M16 Artspace, Gallery 1b | UNTIL 4 SEPTEMBER 2022

Partners Eva van Gorsel and Manuel Pfeiffer are regular exhibitors at M16 Artspace. Their 2020 joint show Facets exhibited interpretations of the Australian landscape they had seen during a lengthy journey. Their works complemented each other as they revealed the same facets. Then, in 2021, they brought us Congruent-Incongruent using numerous diverse techniques and media to create varied, interesting and pleasing artworks.

Their 2022 exhibition Into the Forest aims to raise awareness of the role our forests have on our planet, our climate and our lives by showcasing the beauty of mostly regional treescapes and woodlands using imagery, sculpture and a sound installation. Along with growing numbers of people around the world, they recognise that the importance of forests cannot be underestimated.

Pfeiffer has a background in earth system sciences, graphic design and arts and shares a deep appreciation of the environment with Van Gorsel who was a principal research scientist in atmospheric sciences before turning to photography. The two artists asked themselves why it is important to show and appreciate the beauty of our natural environment and have offered an answer.

“In science we have pointed out the dangers of climate change before anyone cared to listen. With climate extremes now so extreme that they are getting hard to ignore many more people are aware that urgent action is needed. Many artists were early uptakers of that message. There is a long tradition of showing natures beauty. But many artists now also show the impact our disrespect of nature has on ecosystems. This is important work that is critically needed. But it is key that we do not get lost in despair. That is why we think it is important to show and appreciate the beauty of our natural environment. I think we are at a turning point where it becomes important to again remind us of what we can keep – if only we set our minds and actions to it.”

Van Gorsel’s works here are, perhaps, more traditional than she has shown in their previous two joint exhibitions. They are fine examples of this genre of photography, showing us numerous wonders of nature in our forests – birds, mist, and understory vegetation are just some examples. In every case, the available natural light is used beautifully – as all photographers should strive to do. Monochrome is used sparingly, but to great effect. Shallow focus is used wonderfully in others.

Eva van Gorsel_Into The Forest II_Namadgi
Eva van Gorsel_Mist_Gundagerra NR
Eva van Gorsel_Last Light_Namadgi NP
Eva van Gorsel_Aglitter 03

Pfeiffer’s contributions are equally pleasing, showing us the sights of the forests through his chosen media. A set of artworks of trees, bark and fungi using colour pencils on paper are simply lovely, with their wonderfully balanced light and peaceful hues. Others painted with acrylics on canvas, such as Dreaming Xanthorrhoeas, are equally successful.

His three pieces using wood are special features in the exhibition. A mixed media piece, The Wise, 2021, is the standout for me. Glass, a suspended small rock gently moving, wood and more combine beautifully into a piece to explore, a piece that also says much about nature.

Manuel Pfeiffer_BarkA
Manuel Pfeiffer_Dreaming Xanthorrhoeas
Manuel Pfeiffer_At The Coast

All the artworks take us into the artists’ views of nature. They make us feel good – enabling us to see the colours, hear the sounds, smell the scents. All give us some comfort. And they make us want to be amongst the calming effects of forests and connecting directly with nature through our senses, seeking to reduce the gap that we have opened between us and the natural world. This exhibition very much invites us to reflect on how we humans have impacted the natural environment, and to ask ourselves what we as individuals must now do.

This review was published online by The Canberra Times on 30.08.22 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Photography Story, Reviews

No Name Lane

Review of Photography “Exhibition”

No Name Lane | Hilary Wardhaugh

End date not known yet, but probably until the end of 2022

Many, if not all, cities and towns have pedestrian laneways without names. Queanbeyan has one that is now being referred to as No Name Lane. It runs off the northern side of Monaro Street and is directly opposite Blacksmiths Lane on the southern side. After securing funding from the NSW Government’s Your High Street grant program in May 2021, Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council put in place a project to improve the safety, amenity and functionality of these two lanes.

Four artists are currently creating a contemporary take on an evocative old-world experience in Blacksmiths Lane. The concept is to reimagine the laneway experience reminiscent of the blacksmiths and wheelwrights who used to work in Monaro Street dating back to 1877.

In contrast, No Name Lane has a colourful and contemporary design. Canberra-based artist Yanni Pounartzis has completed a large-scale mural work in “fun colours” that encompasses both façades and pavement. The re-designed laneway also features neon light elements, greenery, new seating and a collection of lightboxes to showcase rotating exhibitions from local artists. In effect it has become an outdoor art gallery.

Looking along No Name Lane towards and across Monaro Street, we can see through Blacksmiths Lane on the opposite side to a large-scale mural on the side of The Q theatre, featuring Ricky Stuart as the face of Queanbeyan – another Council project.

The first exhibition in No Name Lane is now in place. The artworks are by well-known Queanbeyan professional photographer/artist Hilary Wardhaugh. She has said “Photography to me is more than just a business, it’s an expression.” The “candid, photo journalistic moments” and the “the dirt in between” is what lures her to capture an image.

This display brings together a number of quiet and reflective scenes from around the region.

Autumn in the Bush © Hilary Wardhaugh
Under London Bridge © Hilary Wardhaugh

Wardhaugh tells me she did not personally curate the artworks. Rather, the agency designing the laneway selected them from images she supplied. Some are from her project #welcomenotwelcome – exhibited at PhotoAccess in 2016, and in her finalist photobook in the 2017 Australian AIPP Photography Book of the Year.

Wardhaugh loves documenting urban scenes that are often not noticed by passers-by but which, with the right light, can quietly come together in a body of work. She loves creating mystery, asking the viewers to question or imagine what is behind a wall, fence or hedge – her images deliberately framed so as not to reveal the answers. A published review of #welcomenotwelcome said “It is a case of what you see is not what I want you to see.”

Grass is always greener © Hilary Wardhaugh

One image featuring a quite lovely colourful floral hedge has the intriguing title I haven’t got a welcome mat because I’m not a fucking liar. Virtually all we can see beyond the hedge is a broodingly dark cloud-filled sky.

I Haven’t Got a Welcome Mat Because I’m Not A Fucking Liar © Hilary Wardhaugh

Build a Fence also features a substantial area of sky, with a tiny glimpse of the moon, plus the tops of two streetlights – one adorned by the presence of a bird. But the new-looking fence, with absolutely no gaps in it, totally hides whatever else might be beyond.

Build A Fence © Hilary Wardhaugh

Wardhaugh considers couches sitting by the roadside to be “so Queanbeyan”; therefore something that just had to be part of this display. She views abandoned couches as a comment on our throwaway society. This artist is not the only person to photograph such couches – indeed, there is a Canberra-based Instagram account devoted to them, @kerbsidecouches.

Couches of Queanbeyan 001 © Hilary Wardhaugh

No Name Lane’s gallery space is a welcome addition to the Queanbeyan CBD and Wardhaugh a most appropriate choice for the first artist to be featured there.

This review was published on page 10 of Panorama in The Canberra Times of 20.8.22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

ADORNED

REVIEW OF PHOTOGRAPHY, VIDEO, WEARABLE ART, & SCULPTURE EXHIBITION

ADORNED | ADORNED COLLECTIVE

TUGGERANONG ARTS CENTRE | UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2022

This exhibition is a survey of the Adorned Collective’s creative journey over the past seven years. It features photographic and video work, plus wearable artworks and sculptural installations.

The Collective was formed in 2015 as a participant-driven initiative to support artists, artisans, makers and craftspeople of all ages and abilities from culturally diverse backgrounds and experiences, by providing a friendly, culturally safe and accessible creative space. The community that was established participates fortnightly in supported drop-in skill-sharing workshops and public programs. The Collective meets and works on Dharug Country, Western Sydney, and is based at Parramatta Artist Studios in Rydalmere.

Within the workshops, participants collaborate and share creative processes, stories and skills in order to professionally develop and to build community capacity. The group nurtures friendships and celebrates life, culture, diversity and difference whilst creating inclusive social and professional networks and opportunities for local creatives.

During the seven years since 2015, the Collective has developed and exhibited solo and collaborative works. The Adorned artists have utilized each exhibition and project as a way of engaging community through public programs and creative workshops.

So, what is in this extensive exhibition? There are numerous handmade wearable artworks on display. They include wonderful and intricate masks and hatbands. Then there are woven baskets, and sculptures using various materials such as second-hand paper, wire, twigs and sequins. There are letters from a letter exchange project that connected artists living in regional Queensland. And more.

Farzana Hekmat_Freedom Girl_2020 – wearable art
Ginette Morato_Starry Night_2020 – wearable art

How does photography and video come into this? Well, the artists have been photographed and videoed wearing their own artworks. The photographs in the exhibition are large portraits from 2015. They are all colourful and well-photographed. Each image reveals a considerable amount about its subject. Firstly, we learn about their cultural connections and identities. However, if we take the time to study the works more closely and to think about the details that each reveal, we might begin to understand something of what motivated them when deciding to create the artwork being worn. We might say they embody the souls of each artist.

Hilin Kazemi, 2015. In collaboration with Liam Benson. Photo Jasmine Robertson
Kiri Morcombe, 2015 in collaboration with Liam Benson. Photo Jasmine Robertson

There are two video installations, each quite different from the other. The creative directors of Adorned Wisdom, Memory and Song, 2017, show us the excellent outcomes from a period when guest dance and performance teachers engaged ten of the artists and their drop-in visitors with performance and script development as a means of weaving their stories together and bringing their wearables to life.

The resulting high quality two panel video created from camera footage and sound recordings is most engaging. Diverse music styles, movement, voices, stories and more hold the viewer’s attention as each segment reveals something different and new. The musical score adds the skills of yet another artist to the collaboration. The Do you remember me? Segment tells a wonderful story. Another part, about domestic violence – is simultaneously simple and powerful. And the concluding piece where our eyes watch numerous eyes watching us is delightful.

Susan Ling Young, Wisdom Memory and Song (production still) 2017

In another part of the gallery the second video installation Incognito, Adorned, 2010 is very different. It features footage captured by the artists themselves. They have put on their wearable masks and performed for their cameras, revealing small moments – tender, humorous and, most importantly, empowering of themselves. I particularly enjoyed one artist playfully interacting with a pink blossom tree whilst wearing her “matching” mask and dress.

Lesley-Anne – still from Incognito, Adorned Incognito, 2020
Marina – still from Incognito, Adorned Incognito, 2020
Marina 2 – still from Incognito, Adorned Incognito, 2020

Indeed, empowering is the word for this entire exhibition. Working together in the Collective and with the numerous guest artists brought into the projects undoubtedly has professionally developed each and every participant – and enhanced the creative community of Western Sydney.

This review was published on page 10 of Panorama in The Canberra Times of 13.08.22. It was published on the Canberra Times website here on 14.08.22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize 2022

Photography Exhibition Review

Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize 2022 | Various artists

Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre | 9 July – 27 August 2022

For the third year in succession, a Canberran has won the MCPP. After Judy Parker won in 2020 and Ian Skinner in 2021, this year the first prize of $15,000 went to Sammy Hawker.

In his magazine Inside Imaging here, Will Shipton said “There must be something in the water around Canberra that feeds the conceptual photographic mind, as three of the four winners are from the relatively small capital city” and “The fourth MCPP is organised by the Australian Photographic Society (APS), an umbrella organisation for Australian camera clubs. The grand prize won by Hawker is an impressive $15,000 cash, making the MCPP a major Australian photo contest.”

I’ve previously reviewed two of Hawker’s recent exhibitions here and here. She works predominantly with film, often in close association with traditional custodians, and challenges the notion that a photograph constitutes the moment a camera shutter is released.

Sammy Hawker – Mount Gulaga, 2021

Hawker’s concept statement reads “This work was captured on 4×5 film looking out towards Mount Gulaga from the Wallaga Lake headland. I processed the negative with ocean water collected from site. When processing film with salt water the corrosive properties lifts the silver emulsion and the representational image is rendered vague. However an essence of the site is introduced to the frame as the vibrant matter paints its way onto the negative. A ghost of Gulaga looms behind the abstraction ~ felt rather than seen.”

Other Canberran finalists this year were Lyndall Gerlach, with two of her works, and Susan Henderson. Gerlach says, “For me, a good photographic image must always engage the viewer either emotionally or intellectually.” You can read more about Gerlach in another of my pieces here.

Lyndall Gerlach – Night City-ness #1, 2021
Lyndall Gerlach – Contemporary Lifestyle, 2021

This is Henderson’s first time as a finalist. Henderson believes photography is mostly about capturing the real and the now. She is “fascinated by the conjuncture of the two, the transient opportunity to record the light rather than the subject, to take advantage of nature and the built environment to photograph.”

Susan Henderson – Rain 2, 2021

At the opening, adjudicator Bill Bachman said “we were instinctively looking for images with a strong or original concept and superior execution, that in some way challenged our notions of normal. Happily, there were ideas, techniques and processes galore.”

Julie Williams had two works selected as finalists. Of them, Moth was given one of three Honourable Mentions. My first thought when I saw it was “bushranger”. Then I learned it is a reinterpretation of the life of the Lady Bushranger Jessie Hickman (1890-1936).

Julie Williams – Moth, 2022

The other HMs were works by Claire Conroy and Ben Blick-Hodge.

Claire Conroy – 35mm slide recovered in Lismore floods 2022
Ben Blick-Hodge – Soup’s up! 2022

At the opening I met two first time finalists Sue Gordon and Michael Shirley, both of whom were thrilled to have had their works selected. In his artist statement relating to his work, Rain, Shirley speaks of rain coming to take you, your life, your house, your possessions, your friends. The black and white artwork shows numerous people under umbrellas, almost obliterated by rain which he has deliberately exaggerated.

Michael Shirley – Rain, 2021

Gordon’s work is a self-portrait titled What’s hidden in shadows. It is a powerful bruised depiction of physical abuse once experienced, but no more hidden or excused.

Sue Gordon – What’s Hidden in Shadows, 2022

It was also great to see the work by Vicky Cooper and Doug Spowart – a concertina photo book – displayed on a shelf. This was the first year that anything other than 2 dimensional prints could be entered, so it was excellent that this work was a finalist.

Victoria Cooper & Doug Spowart – Desire Paths, 2022

All the finalists in the 2022 MCPP exhibition can be seen in a virtual gallery here.

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

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

National Photographic Portrait Prize 2022

Photography Exhibition Review

NPPP 2022 | Various artists

National Portrait Gallery | 25 June – 9 October 2022

As I noted when reviewing the 2021 NPPP here, group exhibitions can be awkward to review because of the diversity of imagery subject matter and quality. In a major show such as this though, there is unlikely to be poor quality work. Furthermore, with a focus on portraiture the diversity is diminished. That’s not to suggest there is a sameness as there are many approaches to portraiture on display here. As in previous years, the diversity of the quality artwork delivers a powerful visual exhibition.

The winning work Silent Strength 2021, by well-known Indigenous photo artist Wayne Quilliam, is a fine portrait, beautifully portraying Culture through the rich colours in the ochres and feathers of his indigenous subject, and also his sense of pride. Quilliam is a lovely modest man and very proud of his prizewinning artist daughter who was with him at the media preview I attended. And he’s giving the $20,000 worth of gear he won to Indigenous communities and organising for them to learn to use it.

Silent Strength – Wayne Quilliam

As always, in such shows, I look for works by locals and other people whom I know personally, as well as images by artists whom I follow. Canberrans in the show include Cat Leedon, with a powerful, perhaps confronting, self-portrait titled Breast Cancer, aged 37. It clearly shows the anguish she was feeling after her second breast surgery.

Breast cancer, age 37 – Cat Leedon

Fiona Bowring has a delightful Family Portrait, incorporating another shot of the same family hanging behind them. This again is a story which, no doubt, includes pain – it relates to palliative care and to love of family.

Family portrait – Fiona Bowring

Greg Stoodley’s contribution is another self-portrait Greg & Orbit that I had seen previously on his website. The image was taken during lockdown and features a cat looking at his apparently bored face and supine body.

Greg & Orbit – Greg Stoodley

And then there is Lauren Sutton’s work Lauren and Poppy. Yes, another self-portrait during lockdown. All work cancelled, the artist took this and other selfies to document the time spent with her four-month-old daughter.

Lauren and Poppy – Lauren Sutton

There are various other images made during restrictions, including Andrew Rovenko’s The Shuttle, a delightful shot of four-year-old astronaut Mia wearing her homemade space suit and helmet.

The Shuttle – Andrew Rovenko

There are also other good portraits of Indigenous people, such as Cordy in the Clouds by Adam Haddrick.

Cordy in the Clouds – Adam Haddrick

There are people from other cultures, an Olympian, well-known people such as Barry Jones, a survivor of a lifetime of abuse and mistreatment, a 6’ 9” tall man, neighbours, lifelong friends, a dancer, music journalist Bob Gordon, and a young woman in transitional housing after a period of homelessness.

One of the represented photographers whose work I always appreciate is Michael Bowers. His work Stella is of a grandmother whose grandson was last seen where she is seated on the banks of the Gwydir River.

Stella – Michael Bowers

As in previous years, there are numerous works in this diverse exhibition that we all need to study and explore, such as Matthew Newton’s Indigo, featuring an activist, dressed as an endangered wedge-tailed eagle, heading into the Tarkine forests in Tasmania, where they spent a bitter winter to halt development of roading to access a planned tailings dam – yet to be built.

Indigo – Matthew Newton

This is far more than pretty pictures, far more than high quality portraits. There are so many stories, so many varied aspects of our Australia and its peoples, so many identified issues for us to think about – all revealed through the talented story-telling photographers using their insights and artistic skills to depict their subjects.

We who view the works are privileged to gain access into the personal lives and emotions of the people portrayed.

This review was first published on page 23 of The Canberra Times of 11 July 2022 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews, Exhibition Review

EVIDENCE AND THE VISIBLE

Photography Exhibition Review

EVIDENCE AND THE VISIBLE | CATHERINE ROGERS

Drill Hall Gallery | 24 June – 14 August 2022

Evidence and The Visible is a large exhibition, deserving multiple visits. Extraordinary is not too strong a word for this retrospective of works by Catherine Rogers. Not only are there many images, using every available space in the gallery, but there also are five short essays about them. I recommend collecting a copy at the entrance and reading each essay before viewing the relevant works.

Rogers’ photographic practice began in the 1970s and her copious, yet relatively little-known, body of work is surveyed here for the first time. None of the visitors I spoke with at the opening had been aware of Rogers previously.

We see a set of images from 2018 investigating diverse techniques established by pioneering photographers in the 19th century, resulting in an array of extremely plausible fakes. An essay about these works invites us to enter the game. Most students and practitioners of photography know of the pioneer Fox Talbot and his Latticed Window, generally regarded as the first negative photograph. It is delightful to see this set alluding to that beginning.

There is a group of A1-sized prints titled Between Heaven and Earth, Lost in Space. These too reference Talbot, who was a skilled user of telescopes. There is a set labelled Found Negatives, another Found Glass Plate Negatives. Each set is different, each interesting and worthy of close examination.

Catherine Rogers, Blue moon as an orange from the series Lost in Space 1990-2020
Catherine Rogers, Shadows in deep space from the series Lost in Space 1990-2020

Much of Rogers’ photography relates to landscape, using conventional and unconventional methods of recording and evoking the physical terrain. There are seascapes glorying in the splendour of the silver halide medium, accentuating the dividing horizon line between ocean and sky. Another visitor expressed to me his view that works showing an area of sky immediately above an area of sea, with nothing more than the cloven horizon between was not novel. Whilst others have also created such works, those displayed here are fine examples.

Catherine Rogers – Southern Ocean

Perhaps the most intriguing works and, certainly, drawing numerous visitors in for a close look are those labelled Nature of Evidence. Dating from 1986, these are about the Azaria Chamberlain case. Rogers notes that photography played a very important part in the case, particularly the trial of Lindy Chamberlain, from the outset. All kinds of photographic material were used as evidence. At the 1987 Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Chamberlain Convictions, Rogers observed how sharp, detailed and colour accurate photographs used as evidence had to be explained and given words by forensic experts. She asked herself why and that led to development of this body of work.

Catherine Rogers, The Nature of Evidence (Looking and not looking for her), 1986

There is a group of visually stunning and large colour prints of ancient forests in the Upper Florentine area of Tasmania. These works date from 2007, when trees in the area were marked to be cut down so a logging road could be made. From 2003 Rogers recorded aspects of this valley and the Styx before they were destroyed. An essay about these works is a sad reminder, if needed, of the destruction.

Catherine Rogers, Red Road Upper Florentine #4, Tasmania, logging coup F044A, 2007

And I was most delighted to see the set of images labelled Waiting Rooms. I enjoyed considering which of these most Contemporary works would suit what types of waiting rooms.

Catherine Rogers, from Pictures for Waiting Rooms 2015-2022
Catherine Rogers, from Pictures for Waiting Rooms 2015-2022

My word limit does not allow me to address everything in the exhibition, but I must mention the fact this artist has embraced tintype, film negatives and positives, colour and black and white, digital, cameras with lenses and some without (pinholes). She has also made images without using a camera. Rogers describes her image archives as extensive, and notes that her images have been made over a period of forty years. Long may she continue creating new work.

This review was first published on page 23 of The Canberra Times of 11/7/22 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

Sky Eternal by Cat Wilson, Up in the Air by Claire Grant, Wild Blue Yonder by Photo Access members

Review of Photography Exhibitions

Sky Eternal | Cat Wilson

Up in the Air | Claire Grant

Photo Access | 30 June – 30 July

The artists in these two exhibitions have used sky space to explore our human condition. They invite us to reflect on the importance of the surface of our planet and the sky space above – and the care needed to keep everything in good condition.

Blue moon. Blue Monday. Blue blood. Is blue hardwired into our psyche? Did it contribute to our evolutionary development – as hunter-gatherers who learnt to survive among blue skies and oceans? It is the major colour of the works in these shows. Most appropriately, an accompanying Photo Access members’ exhibition has the theme “Wild Blue Yonder.”

Trevor Lund, Exploring Scoresby Sound, 2022. From the “Wild Blue Yonder” members’ exhibition.

Across the ages, blue has been used when visualising something from our imagination, out of reach or the divine. As a pigment, blue is extremely rare in nature, despite being found in the environment around us – from the tranquil light blue of a sky to the melancholy deep blue of an ocean. Unlike particular reds, browns and yellows, blue pigment cannot be created from materials within our easy grasp. Arguably, blue represents an entirely new world beyond our own.

Sky Eternal by Cat Wilson is an immersive video installation, which mirrors moving cloudscapes. The immediate reaction on entering the room regardless of the point the video has reached is that one is looking at a Rorschach inkblot. I wonder what Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli would make of this slowly changing inkblot. Accompanied by an ambient soundscape, composed by Jamie Saxe, this is a captivating work. The catalogue suggests it “mediates on the ways in which the universal and timeless sky unites us all, a metaphor for innovation, positivity, hope and heaven.” When I joined them, I wanted to ask others viewing it what they saw in the inkblot. As they were transfixed, I couldn’t interrupt.

Cat Wilson – Eternal Sky, 2021 – video still

Up in the Air by Claire Grant includes three things. Firstly, there is a 90 x 400 cm composite of 57 A4-sized cyanotypes each printed on fragile paper ephemera that the artist collected during employment as a flight attendant. The papers originally were crew briefings providing details of routes she would be flying, so amongst the imagery she has created there is text and lines and also creases and marks – as she folded the paper to fit in her pocket during each trip.

The images are aerial vignettes framed by Grant’s ‘office’ windows, the plane’s portholes. They are, truly, landscapes. As the aircraft flew over an outback mine, we can see that open cut mine’s landscape in regional Queensland laid out below us. Some of the cyanotypes are essentially white images of the clouds below the plane. Others reveal different aspects of the atmosphere. We are looking at skies filled with navigational charts to and from different destinations around Australia.

It is also worth noting that the artist captured the initial works with a phone camera, making use of its technical limitations to obtain the pixelated and repetitive images that she wanted for her pe-visualised end product. It is quite wonderful.

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

On the opposite wall of the gallery is a series of individual artworks, each being cyanotypes and encaustic on washi paper – renowned for strength not fragility. Each image is framed by a porthole. Reflecting the recent period of air travel disruptions, many show terminal boards indicating numerous cancelled flights.

Claire Grant – CANCELLED(CBROvernight), 2022
Claire Grant – Up In The Air (Installation Photo 9)

On the end wall of the “aircraft’s corridor” is one further work – a large cyanotype portrayal of Employee 152578’s pre-employment dental record adding a final piece to this clever interpretation of Grant’s previous career. The whole exhibition opens up a shutdown world.

Claire Grant, Dental Record (Employee 152578), 2022 (Installation Photo)

This review was first published on page 10 of the Panorama supplement in The Canberra Times of 9 July 2022 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

CITY COMMISSIONS – PORTRAITS

Photography Exhibition Review

CITY COMMISSIONS – PORTRAITS | SAMMY HAWKER

Tuggeranong Town Centre (on windows of Lakeview House & under the Soward Way Bridge) | Until 4 July 2022

Installation shot – Under Soward Way bridge (supplied)

Sammy Hawker is a visual artist working predominantly on Ngunawal Country. She works predominantly with analogue photography techniques and often works closely with Traditional Custodians, scientists and ecologists.

In 2021 Hawker had two highly successful solo shows as part of a PhotoAccess darkroom residency. She is currently an artist-in-residence with the CORRIDOR project and is also preparing for another solo show before year end.

Over the last six months Hawker worked closely with nine young people from Headspace Tuggeranong exploring ways they could co-create photographic portraits. This was part of a City Commissions project delivered by Contour 556, one of seven artsACT initiatives in the Creative Recovery and Resilience Program.

Headspace is a safe space that welcomes and supports young people aged 12–25, their families, friends and carers, helping them to find the right services. Learning the Headspace motto “clear is kind”, Hawker realised her project was also about finding clarity as a form of self-compassion – shining light on what for many was a particularly dark and confusing time.


Hawker challenges the notion that a photograph constitutes the moment that a shutter is released. She explores ways of making, rather than taking, images. She wanted the project to be empowering – with no right or wrong and where the final photographs celebrated identity and experience beyond just the way her subjects looked in the frame. It was an opportunity to realise we always have some choice whether we repress difficult experiences.

The portraits of the young people were captured on a large format film camera. Commonly, in photographic practice, touch and marks on negatives are to be avoided. But Hawker invited her subjects to handle, manipulate, scratch or even bury negatives in order to introduce something of themselves. The young folk wrangled puppies, dived into rivers, got dressed up, sprinkled bushfire ash on negatives and processed film in the Headspace carpark.

Each participant was invited to use the project to reflect on their experiences of difficult times. Their statements relating to the images reveal resilience and hope.

Chanelle reflected about living in the moment. The negative of her portrait, showing her immersed in the Murrumbidgee River, was processed with water from that river, ocean water and permanent marker.

Chanelle ©Sammy Hawker

Sophie spoke of learning to embrace everything in life. Her portrait’s negative was processed with bushfire ash and the word Embrace scratched into it. The ash creates a frame that embraces her.

Sanjeta really likes her photo with jellyfish manipulations as metaphors for how she now goes with the flow of her life journey. Her expression conveys a “so be it” attitude. The negative was processed with Murrumbidgee water, rainwater, seaweed and chemical stains.

Sanjeta © Sammy Hawker

Ray wanted to keep connected and bring some joy into the lives of others. The portrait’s beaming smile conveys joy. The idea of processing the negative with Whiz Pop Bang bubble mixture and wattle pollen adds to the joy.

Ray’s Statement

Jazzy is photographed with her much loved dog Milo. So, of course, the processing of the negative utilised Milo’s pawprints.

Jazzy Jazzy © Sammy Hawker
Devante © Sammy Hawker
Installation shot – Under Soward Way bridge (supplied)

When I reviewed her Acts of Co-Creation show (for which she received a Canberra Critics Circle Award) in this publication, I wrote of Hawker’s then newly formed relationship with Ngunawal custodian Tyronne Bell who helped her to learn about sites she was working with. For this project, Hawker arranged for Bell to escort her subjects walking Ngunawal Country, providing a healing experience for them.

I strongly recommended readers to visit City Commissions – Portraits – and reflect on your own difficult times.

An edited version of this review was published in The Canberra Times of 28/6/22 on the Capital Life page, and the full version online here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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