Photography Story

2021 Year Ender

Photography, Photo Media, Mixed Media

2021. What a year! Despite everything, local photo artists have continued to make their marks.

There have been many exhibitions. Some openings were conducted outdoors; galleries having to let small numbers inside at a time. Even during lockdown, photo galleries and artists were active, using social media, livestreaming and virtual exhibitions most creatively.

I remain disappointed about poor supporting material available for visitors in some galleries. I urge those that fall short to improve the exhibition experience – catalogues that tell us more than titles and prices, artist/concept statements about artworks, catalogue essays, recordings about the artists and works to hear, and opportunities to look at and, perhaps, purchase books and other material as well as the actual works exhibited.

There have also been interesting new photobooks and books about photography this year, including Capital Country – an ‘exhibition in a book’ by Kate Matthews, and the substantial Installation View by Daniel Palmer & Martyn Jolly which has enriched our understanding of the diversity of Australian photography.

There have been marvellous awards for individual artists. For the third year in succession, Canberra photo artists were finalists in the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP). Indeed, once again a Canberran earned the $10,000 Prize. This year it was Ian Skinner for his poetic work, Ashscapes 01-04, about how the ocean delivered ash to the sandy edge of the land when the catastrophic fires in south-eastern Australia in 2019-2020 were shortly followed by torrential rain.

Skinner also took out 3rd prize in the storytelling section of the Australian Photographic Society (APS)’s annual photobook awards for his Aftermath: Cadgee 2020 – an intimate story of heartbreak and loss in the devastating bushfires which swept through the NSW South Coast hinterland in the summer of 2019-2020.

Lyndall Gerlach was again a finalist in the MCPP, was commended for several works in the Australia’s Top Emerging Photographers competition and the Mono Awards; and was featured in FRAMES Magazine’s Digital Companion.

Ribbons 10 – Milky © Lyndall Gerlach

Judy Parker, winner of the 2020 MCPP, won the portfolio section of the APS’s photobook awards, with her book Afterthoughts, described by the judges as “a stunning body of work with consistent post-production”.

The Canberra Times own Dion Georgopoulos, and Marzena Wasikowska, were both finalists in the prestigious National Photographic Portrait Prize. Georgopoulos has also done some wonderful Darling River photography, whilst Wasikowska was also selected as one of the winners in the 2021 Lens Culture Street Photography Critics’ Choice Awards.

Aaron Salway, with his nephew Harley Salway 2. Just behind them is the ridge where Aaron’s father Robert, and brother Patrick Salway died protecting their property in Wandella. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Two photographers received 2021 Canberra Critics Circle Awards. Sammy Hawker – for her exhibition Acts of Co-Creation at the Mixing Room Gallery, comprising unsettling and thrilling prints processed with water, soil, bark and flowers collected from the locations of the images. And Melita Dahl for her intriguing exhibition Portrait at Photo Access exploring connections between the traditions of fine-art portraiture, photography and facial emotion recognition software.

Murramarang NP #1 © Sammy Hawker
Melita Dahl, happy (0.96), 2019

Many professional photographers were hard hit by the pandemic, with sparse numbers of events to photograph, and physical outlets for their works closed. The recent collapse of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography after 75 years of serving photographers is, no doubt, an added blow. So, it was great to see on social media, just before writing this, photos from local professional Ben Kopilow’s coverage of a wedding in a hot air balloon.

I’ve recently reviewed some fine nature prints at the Australian National Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre – Recovery was the eighth annual photographic exhibition by the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens Photographic Group. And also recently I reviewed the final show for the year at Photo Access by 11 photo artists – outcome of a Concept to Exhibition project. And there is one other show to see before the year is done – at Canberra Contemporary Art Space.

This city can, rightfully, be proud of all of the artists I have named here – and of many more making excellent photo artworks. No doubt 2022 will deliver great photomedia exhibitions, events and achievements, including the successful emergence of new local talents. Hopefully, it also will see significant progress on the Kingston Arts Precinct project!

This article was published in the Canberra Times of 23/12/21 here.

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Reviews

‘hand/made/held/ground’ & Made in Australia Series II

Photography & Mixed Media Review | Brian Rope

‘hand/made/held/ground’ & Made in Australia Series II | Brenda L. Croft

Canberra Museum & Gallery | Until 22 January 2022

‘hand/made/held/ground’ is a major body of work by a leading contemporary artist, Brenda L. Croft, a proud Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra woman whose background also includes Australian, Chinese, English, German and Irish heritage.

This mixed media installation explores Croft’s intimate patrilineal relationship, and her return to her father’s, and her own, Country; sharing something of that lineage connection and her journey. It reimagines and honours customary objects – jimpila (spearhead) and kurrwa (stone axe) – created on their Gurindji homelands in the Northern Territory. Contemporary representations on display reflect ancestral journeys – undertaken on traditional homelands, and returning home.

When, and who by, the stone axe was created is unknown. However, it is known that the axe survived over 130 years of pastoral impact prior to being found by Croft when she visited the remote site where it was.

The spear tip was given to Croft under temporary care by a supporter (Lyn Riddett) of the Wave Hill walk-off led by Vincent Lingiari. Riddett received the spear as a gift from an Elder at Daguragu in 1971. In the following years, the tip of the spear was accidentally broken before it was able to be repatriated to the Gurindji community, via Croft.

Whilst caretaker of the spear, Croft repaired it with wax and had a wax mould made of it, along with a mould of the stone axe. With permission from family and community members, she used those moulds to create multiple copies of these significant cultural objects – black and red lead crystal, clear and uranium glass cast stone axes and spear tips.

It is these copies, displayed on a combination of new and aged steel bases echoing steel bore water tanks, that we see in this exhibition. Each is lit individually from within revealing various colours, their configuration representing constellations in a night sky.

Jimpila (spearheads) (detail) from hand-made/held-ground installation at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 19 November – 14 December 2019.
Photographer © James Henry. Image courtesy Brenda L Croft and Niagara Galleries.
Jimpila (spearhead – uranium glass) 2017 – 21. Glass components: kiln cast uranium glass. Display case: stainless steel, Sikaflex, electrical wire, 12 volt globe. Dimensions: variable. Photographer © James Henry. Image courtesy Brenda L Croft and Niagara Galleries.

As well as the kurrwa and jimpila pieces, large satellite images displayed on the gallery walls map journeys embarked on by Croft, sometimes alone and other times accompanied by family and Gurindji community members. These maps, together with the axe and spear tip copies, reveal a connection between land and sky. As the lights in the moulds pulse on and off, their beating synchronises with ancient footsteps on the earth and symbolises the beating hearts of the objects’ owners.

Yijarni (Gurindji History Book Project) (detail) and Jimpila (spearheads) (detail) from hand-made/held-ground installation at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 19 November – 14 December 2019. Photographer © James Henry. Image courtesy Brenda L Croft and Niagara Galleries.

In an adjacent space to that displaying ‘hand/made/held/ground’, Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) is showing eight works from Croft’s earlier ‘Made in Australia II’ series, held in its own collection. This is an interesting and clever juxtapositioning of two sets of artworks.

Made in Australia II was produced by Croft to honour her mother, who advocated for social equity at a local level, while also ensuring her children were proud of their heritage. A non-Indigenous woman, Dorothy Jean Croft broke from tradition in Sydney – she found love with a Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra man, Joseph Croft. They married and raised a family together, living in numerous regions of Australia, including Canberra.

The artist Croft has celebrated her mother’s story by scaling up her (mother’s) original 1950s-60s vividly coloured 35mm Cibachrome slides to giant size photographic prints that speak to the strength and potency of her parent’s relationship – played out quietly in this heart of the nation.

CROFT 21. Civic Centre Canberra 1959 – Made in Australia II Series
CROFT 24. Joe – Car, Canberra – Made in Australia II Series
CROFT 44. Joe & Snow 3 Mile Lake – first snowfall ANZAC – 1960 – Made in Australia II Series

Together, these two bodies of Croft’s work celebrate both the male and female lines of her kinship stories, whilst also shedding light on some of our nation’s tensions: a story of lives impacted by stolen generations, returning to traditional homelands, the assertion of women’s independence and the breaking of class and racial barriers.

Both series wonderfully pay tribute to her mother’s memory.

This review was published in The Canberra Times of 20/12/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Uncalibrated Space

Photomedia Exhibition Review

Rory Gillen | Uncalibrated Space

Tuggeranong Arts Centre | Until 16 December 2021

Rory Gillen is a Canberra-based audio-visual and new media artist and educator. He has worked extensively in documentary and event photography, as well as maintaining an arts practice exploring the cutting edge of post-digital and networked photographic art. Working across photography, audio, video, and electronics, Gillen creates multisensory installations that critically engage.

Graduating from the ANU School of Art and Design in 2019 with first class honours, Gillen has exhibited in various galleries, including Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Brunswick Street Gallery (Victoria), and the Perth Institute for Contemporary Art.

Gillen is sometimes referred to as the resident tech nerd at Photoaccess where he currently works developing post digital programming and workspaces as well as tutoring and facilitating visiting artists in their practice and technical skills.

Many scholars consider us to be in the era of ‘Post Digital’. What does this mean for photography; its analogue form in some ways already consigned to the dustbin of history by theorists who insist that we live in a post-media era?

In a recently streamed conversation with another multidisciplinary artist Gillen dived deep into the changing face of photographic practice. He suggested, correctly, that whilst digital photography is essentially about capturing data, post digital is about investigating it and exploring concepts that silently exist in the data set. As someone who was amongst the first computer programmers in Australia and who watched the ones and zeros coming together as light dots on a bulky “pre-computer” whilst debugging my programs, I am fascinated now when people speak about manipulating ones and zeros – akin to manipulating negatives in darkrooms.

In his artistic practice, Gillen is fascinated by “the digital paradigm shift toward the fundamental machine readability of objects, exemplified by the digital image”. Here he explores the facets that deep learning carves into images and investigates “the underlying machinations of the algorithms themselves” posing the question “what is real, and how do we know”?

This exhibition comprises twelve inkjet prints plus a mixed media installation showing faces, illustrations, landscapes and objects – and much more. Aluminium, plywood, a desktop computer, wires and miscellaneous electronics are all part of the installation, without them there would be no screen images to see.

3500 Steps From Illustrations, 2021 © Rory Gillen
3500 Steps From Objects, 2021 © Rory Gillen

The prints relationships to faces, illustrations, landscapes and objects is not immediately obvious. At first glance I asked myself why one smaller print was of parked cars with a music stand amongst them. Closer inspection revealed that the stand was in fact supporting a copy of one of the larger prints. The same is true for other smaller prints of a landscape, Gillen’s own face, and an illustrative poster – stands in each of them support copies of larger prints in the exhibition. Four large prints titled 3500 Steps from Faces, etc. are curated grids of images resulting from heavy manipulation of ones and zeros.

Untitled Source Image IV, 2021 © Rory Gillen
Untitled Source Image II, 2021 © Rory Gillen

There is so much to look at, so much to wonder about. Images on the computer screen are mesmerising, flashing on and off at a rapid rate. Individual images on a larger LCD screen have a dreamlike quality. I saw cartoon-like faces, old hand made nails, overhead views of building site plans, hieroglyphics and lenses. Whatever you see you will enjoy.

Uncalibrated Space IV, 2021 © Rory Gillen
Uncalibrated Space III, 2021 © Rory Gillen

Grant Scott, the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, has written “The role of the 21st century photographer has changed and is constantly evolving. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the engaged photographer to understand that reality and to respond to those changes.” Gillen is so engaged. We can expect the future to bring us many more manipulated and appropriated artworks from him and others.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 27/11/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Experiments in Living [Melt], Surface Appearances, Light Materials, & 398

Photography Exhibition Review

PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery | Until 27 November 2021

Each year, PhotoAccess awards local and interstate artists, both emerging and established, assisting them to expand and develop their photo-media practices. They are provided with mentorship to produce solo exhibitions in the Huw Davies Gallery. The four ACT exhibitors this year were recipients of the Dark Matter, Emerging Artists Support Scheme, and Wide Angle residencies.

The works in Sammy Hawker’s Experiments in Living [Melt] encompass text, documentary video and negative prints produced in collaboration with the chemical activity of rain, hailstones, seawater and open flame. This is now familiar territory for Hawker, who challenges us to reconsider the illusion of control we hold over the natural world. These images do not disappoint.

Because we are limited, finite, beings subject to dying, vulnerability to trauma is a necessary and universal feature of our human condition. Hawker’s images speak to this, identifying the importance of nurturing our relationship to the world, and reminding us that our everyday experience is illusory, never the reality itself, of non-human forces shaping our lives.

Tom & Pyrocumulus © Sammy Hawker

Eunie Kim says she is grateful to have found her life’s calling in photography and is excited to see what comes next, embracing every opportunity. In Surface Appearances, Kim has used ‘Liquid Light’ photographic emulsion painted onto varied papers and brought her current Australian life into conversation with the traditional aesthetics of her Korean heritage. This is most evident in three beautiful “paintings” on sugarcane paper, looking at flowers, birds and insects.

Using materials and subjects from a contemporary Australian setting whilst simultaneously conjuring the aesthetic of traditional Korean painting, Kim explores her immigrant experience. Applying the emulsion via brushstroke, on differing thickness and texture of paper, has produced varying works. They reflect Kim’s process of learning, regretting and then correcting mistakes, and taking chances.

Cells, captured in 2015, recreated in 2021 © Eunie Kim

Light Materials is a series of video works deconstructing and recombining film materials through a process of digital or analogue weaving, Caroline Huf explores the exhaustion and re-invention of settler Australian myths about the mystery and threat of the bush.

Huf’s work, It’s No Picnic, disrupts Peter Weir’s iconic movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, a key cultural expression of early colonial anxieties in the unfamiliar Australian landscape. Each scene is pulled apart, altered in speed, scale, and moved out of time to appear as woven patterns and twills. The film’s pan pipes become an industrial sound and the threads slowly disappear, suggesting a worn-out myth.

It’s no picnic- 2021, video still © Caroline Huf

And Let’s Get Lost presents Huf’s personal engagements with local landscapes, wearing dresses she created from strips of 16mm film to remind us of the, often, fleeting nature of our experiences with landscapes. The film dress unravels as she moves through the landscape before being fed through the projector and into the gallery. Both the dress and its experience become an ephemeral memory. Watching these works, particularly the digital video projected onto sandstone, is a somewhat mesmerising experience.

Aloisia Cudmore’s works span multiple mediums including photography, video, sound and installation. She investigates the notions of intimacy at the threshold between physical and virtual space.

398 comprises personal black and white digital images in which Cudmore captures intimate moments of physical proximity with her friends, family and community, during a time when travel restrictions, prohibitions on gathering and ultimately lockdowns separated us emotionally from those most important to us. These quite simple images of moments are a testament to the people that keep us connected.

4, 2021 © Aloisia Cudmore

We are fortunate to have these four photomedia workers amongst our quality emerging and established artists in the A.C.T. It is no surprise they were chosen to receive the awards that led to these works.

This review was first published in the Canberra Times here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Into The Blue – a celebration of the Cyanotype print

Photography & Photomedia Exhibition Review

Fourteen artists | Into The Blue – a celebration of the Cyanotype print

Sutton Village Gallery | Until 7 November

Into the Blue shows works from fourteen artists – Susan Baran, Wendy Currie, Kaye Dixon, Dianne Longley, Silvi Glattauer, Kiera Hudson, Peter McDonald, Senga Peckham, Maxine Salvatore, Eva Schroeder, Ian Skinner, Kim Sinclair, Virginia Walsh, Carolyn Young.

It celebrates the Cyanotype process discovered in 1842, involving two chemicals – ammonium iron (III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide – and UV light. Over time, variations to the original chemical formula have provided more creative possibilities, and the cyanotype print process is used by photographers, artists and creative enthusiasts globally. Works are made by treating a print surface – paper, cloth or leather – with the chemicals which then react to UV light creating a distinctive blue colour.

On the last Saturday in September, artists worldwide celebrate this antiquarian process on World Cyanotype Day. Into the Blue was planned as a celebration for this year’s Day – artists provided their works showing how Cyanotype has featured in their creative practices.

The works cover a range of subjects. While most are the rich blues we expect to see, there are some with more “whites” amongst the blues, some toned, and others featuring additional colours.

I particularly enjoyed Kaye Dixon’s Bone Women series. She combined sculpture, painting, digital photography, and cyanotype printing to “re-member” her journey home; the long journey to find her feminine power buried in the depth of her soul. Her bone women are sailing and “re-membering” the times when there was an intrinsic connection between all living things.

Keira Hudson’s works are printed on cotton with threads attached to some edges. This Melbourne-based artist describes her work as “a jumble of mystery, sexuality, and romanticism”. She enjoys pushing the boundaries and her fabric cyanotypes here were created during lockdowns. The images are either self-portraits, or portraits captured virtually – double exposed with dried flora collected from her garden.

Let Me In © Keira Hudson

Dianne Longley’s works on embossed paper using decals, gold and copper leaf and watercolour are not simply cyanotypes – the mixed media result is a series of delightful works. The decals were made from coloured drawings based on figures from the Renaissance, and the French artist François Rabelais, contemporary Japanese ‘kawaii’ figures and toys, the commedia dell’arte, imagined and real plants, and grotesque imagery through history. Longley says “the images offer possibilities for speculation on life and destiny, the quirky and the curious, and the fascinating possibilities that exist for the traveller”.

Susan Baran’s Dreaming of Bali series alludes to the time before COVID-19 when the world was a safer place. She dreams of a time when travel is safe again.

Dreaming of Bali 7 © Susan Baran

Senga Peckham’s From The Garden series explores the Japanese concept of ‘Ma’ which combines ‘door’ and ‘sun’. Together they depict a door through the crevice of which the sunlight peeps. Using resources close to hand during restrictions – some Japanese paper left over from another project, converting her laundry to a dim-room and working with plants from her garden and the sun, she sees this as a meditative process, full of hope and possibility.

From the Garden No. 1 © Senga Peckham

Carolyn Young’s Eliza and the Satin Bowerbird celebrates an illustrator’s life. It features a portrait of her sitting inside the outline of a male Satin Bowerbird (derived from one her illustrations).

Eliza Gould & Satin Bowerbird © Carolyn Young

Maxine Salvatore’s Senza Protezione is about our need for protection against a new virus. Kim Sinclair’s Skull & Blooms refers to the cycle of life and to lockdown tension.

Senza Protezione © Maxine Salvatore
Skull & Blooms © Kim Sinclair

Travel to Sutton is now permitted for all Canberrans and other locals, so the show has been extended to 7 November. Why not visit the gallery tucked behind the bakery?

This review has also been published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here. It has also now been published in the Canberra Times here.

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My Photography, Photography Story

From audio to video

Last year when COVID restrictions prevented choirs from gathering together, one I belong to persevered practising via Zoom. When we “knew” a particular piece, we each individually recorded ourselves singing our parts on one device (as best we could whilst listening to a backing track through headphones attached to a separate device) and sent our recorded contributions to our musical director. Then they were mixed together to create a finished product. One piece that was handled in that way was God the Sculptor of the Mountains.

Now, in COVID lockdown, the choir is back to Zoom practices again which means a forthcoming service celebrating creation during a Sustainability Festival will almost certainly have to be via Zoom. The organisers wanted to have the choir involved singing an appropriate piece. So that resulted in my being asked to convert the God the Sculptor recording into a video using some of my photographs for the visuals.

I chose images to reflect one word from each line of the song – 23 in all. Here are five of the images and the lines from the song that they illustrate.

I used an image taken at Interlaken in 2006 to illustrate a mountain:

God the sculptor of the mountains

Then it was an image of a stepson playing the role of Pharaoh in a stage musical.

God the nuisance to the Pharaoh

An image from the Barossa Valley in 2009 illustrated a vineyard.

God the dresser of the vineyard

Then one from Delhi in 2008.

we are hungry; feed us now

And a touch of fun with an image taken in Boorowa in July this year.

God the table turning prophet

Then I set about making the video using Microsoft’s Video Editor software. I needed to create some title slides for the beginning of the video, identifying the song by title, crediting the author of the words and music, crediting the musical director of the choir and crediting my own photography. I was able to use one of the 23 images as background in some of those title slides and found suitable images of the church, the musical director and myself to use in others.

After sharing my “finished” product with the musical director and the liturgist putting the service together, I took up a couple of suggestions and revised the video (using the somewhat more sophisticated Movie Maker Video Editor, also by Microsoft) adding fades between most slides plus one additional image at the very end as the music ended.

This was an interesting experience. I learned a lot and I expect this will not be the last video I create.

Interested readers can see all the images by watching the final finished video at https://youtu.be/jwLirAOX1uE and at https://vimeo.com/600743991

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Reviews

Don’t be fooled by the faces I wear, Split, Exploded View

Photography Exhibition Review

Split | Chris Bowes

Don’t Be Fooled By The Faces I Wear | Ben Rak

Exploded View | Catherine Evans

Photo Access | Until 14 August 2021

Each of these exhibitions expands on what would, by many, be deemed photography. Distortion, caricature, masking, disruption – these are the key elements across the three shows.

Artist Chris Bowes is showing Split. It brought to mind those fun and interesting images in distorting convex and concave mirrors giving repetitive reflections, optical illusions in sideshow funhouses. This installation is a sort of high-tech version of them. Screens and webcams watch and distort viewers, taunting them into questioning data capture and use. These mirrored surfaces create caricatures that can be equal parts captivating and disturbing. This installation originally was scheduled to exhibit in the Huw Davies Gallery in mid-2020. Sadly, it was locked down in Melbourne. Furthermore, the same issue prevented the artist from traveling to Canberra to instal it himself this year. His other intended exhibit is, unfortunately missing from the show.

Chris Bowes, Monitor (detail), 2020, webcams, screens, computers, code and cables

Bowes says, “It is unsettling to think that while we watch screens, they quietly watch back at us. Our interactions feed data to hungry tech giants, whose targeted advertising and helpful suggestions seem harmless enough.….We are often passive to these exchanges, ignoring the consequences that come with sacrificing privacy….”

In Don’t Be Fooled By The Faces I Wear, artist Ben Rak examines the phenomenon of “passing” as a condition in both social life and art practice. It also employs methods of screens, this time for masking hidden identities. He attempts to shed light on how we conceal or reveal ourselves in order to gain visibility, avoid marginalisation, and enjoy the privileges afforded to dominant groups.

Rak uses the print process as a metaphor for otherness, drawing parallels between art practice and social interaction. His prints seek to examine changeable identities, investigating how the technical and material language of the print can be combined to mask or reveal its artistic identity.

The exhibited works are diverse; they include large acrylics and silkscreen works on un-stretched canvas, laser-cut dye-sublimation prints on aluminium and papier-mâché masks, inkjet prints on fibre-based paper, and a single channel video. If only we could purchase masks like these each time our current fetish for wearing them is made mandatory. They and the prints are wonderful. Looking at my own reflection in two of the prints, I saw my identity masked.

Ben Rak, The Masks I Wear to Pass, 2020, acrylic and silkscreen on un-stretched canvas
Ben Rak, Unhinged, 2020, acrylic and silkscreen on un-stretched canvas

Exploded View is new work that takes artist Catherine Evan’s recollections of the 1997 Royal Canberra Hospital implosion as a starting point to examine how digital media distorts our perception of time, relation to place, and memory. It takes memory and screen culture head on in a distorted representation of the artist’s personal memories.

When her son was born, Evans looked online for images of the hospital she had been born in, the hospital she watched blasted into the ground some nineteen years earlier. She discovered a home video someone had uploaded to YouTube – two minutes and thirty-one seconds of VHS footage. She took screenshots of the video then, using a flatbed scanner to distort them, introduced a disruption of memory. The result is fascinating images of a scene etched in so many Canberrans minds – shown here as silver gelatin prints made from her digital negatives by putting them directly into contact photosensitive paper.

Catherine Evans, Exploded View, 121ii, 2021
Catherine Evans, Exploded View, 121i, 2021

Also displayed and available for purchase, in the gallery shop, is an intimate companion to Evans’ prints. Her fictiōnella Copper (2020), commissioned for the slow-publishing artwork, Lost Rocks (2017–21) investigates the linked events emanating from the Acton Peninsula, currently the site of the National Museum of Australia and previously the Royal Canberra Hospital and over 20,000 years of Aboriginal history.

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

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Reviews

The Sweet Forever, and A line of best fit

Photography, Photomedia, Mixed Media – Review

Tina Fiveash | The Sweet Forever

Deirdre Pearce | A line of best fit

ANU School of Art & Design Gallery | Until 8 April 2021, Tue-Fri 10.30AM–3.00PM

These two exhibitions are each part of Higher Degree by Research programs being undertaken by the artists.

Tina Fiveash engages in multiple forms of contemporary photomedia including still and moving-image photography, anaglyptic (3D) and lenticular photography.

In The Sweet Forever, Fiveash has explored how photography might inform a re-imagining of death. Promotional material for this exhibition reveals that her personal investigation of death and dying through photography is paralleled with a text-based investigation of wider understandings of death in our society through the personal letters of a diverse range of people in her community.

What is death? What happens when we die? Fiveash invited fifty Australians to write a letter responding to those two questions. Digitised forms of their letters are on a website. The exhibition includes a large print, being a grid of portraits of contributors, with a QR code link to the website. Taken together, both Fiveash’s creative visual practice and her work with people’s letters, form a contribution to the field of death studies. Quotes from some letters included in the exhibition notes are very moving.

Equally moving is a series of large images printed with pigment inks on cotton rag. I saw powerful stories about love in each image. Twin Spirit, 2013  was the winner of the People’s Choice Award in the 2013 Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture.

Tina Fiveash, ‘Twin Spirit, 2013’, Pigment ink on cotton rag, Courtesy the artist

There are two fine triptychs. One reveals a wonderful story about the Hereafter; another gives us delicious blue views of water and sky.

Tina Fiveash, Wide Blue Yonder II, 2014-16. Pigment ink on cotton rag mounted on gataboard, Courtesy the artist

Fiveash told me that discoveries have emerged through scientific and technological innovation in resuscitation, blurring boundaries between life and death. Through creative practice she has explored how photography in the wake of digital transformation might inform a contemporary re-imagining of death and dying. Her constructed images using words from songs and poetry on ‘billboards’ against carefully chosen backgrounds are both beautiful and thought-provoking. One quotes a well-known gospel song There’s a land beyond the river, the lyrics of which include the words ‘the sweet forever’ – the title of the exhibition.

Tina Fiveash, ‘See you on the other side, 2014’, Pigment ink on cotton rag, Courtesy the artist
Tina Fiveash, ‘We Are Stardust, We Are Golden’ 2014, digital photograph, Pigment ink on cotton rag, Courtesy the artist
Tina Fiveash, ‘there is a light that never goes out, 2016-19’, Flip-lenticular photograph, Courtesy the artist

Dierdre Pearce works with drawing, photography, sculpture and installation. In A line of best fit there are three excellent mixed media works.

Pearce is interested in how people interact with the various space types we inhabit, and how we map the boundaries between interior and exterior worlds. She enjoys exploring how technologies influence her experiences and sense of self, focusing on developing visual metaphors for the relationship between the physical self and its growing digital presence.

Her research starting point was the growth of global human-machine networks and the significance humans place on participation in them. This practice-led project investigates how negative space might be used as an analogy for non-machine interactions, which are data-silent yet influence global networks in which humans and machines operate.

Experiments took place through a series of site-responsive installations assembled from everyday materials. Different approaches to describing personal experience were tested, including unusual forms of data visualisation and development of digital and physical ‘windows’ through which audiences could engage with the work.

One work here re-imagines Pearce’s study during the pandemic. It contains a wonderfully vibrant and diverse collection of found and acquired objects that visitors could wander amongst for a long time – irrigation pipe, cable ties, shopping dockets and photographic documentation.

‘A line of best fit’ (installation view) 2020, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photograph Brenton McGeachie

Another work includes yarn, polyester, video documentation and found objects.

‘I am here, I am here, I am here’, 2020, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photograph Dierdre Pearce

The third is a video; both it and the yarns feature ‘dots’ – we see them on screen as when locating a place via maps, and in very colourful woven forms of varying sizes determined by how long Pearce spent at particular locations.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 5/4/21 here. It is published also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

Otherwise Arbitrary Moments, Passing Time 2020, & Works from the Gallery’s Permanent Collection

Photography & Photomedia Exhibition Review

David Ryrie | Otherwise Arbitrary Moments

Tamara Dean | Passing Time, 2020

Katthy Cavaliere, Henri Mallard, Jackie Ranken, Cathy Laudenbach, Jon Lewis | Works from the Gallery’s Permanent Collection

Goulburn Regional Art Gallery | Until 3 April 2021

David Ryrie’s Otherwise Arbitrary Moments is the ‘main feature’. This new work is his first major solo at the Gallery. In it, he pairs seemingly ordinary encounters with the question of human scale.

Ryrie considers a photograph to be ‘a document which, like any other, can be objective, flawed, loved, hated – a translation of sorts by the photographer, open to interpretation by the viewer, evidence of a moment in time, real or imagined.’

The titles are sometimes obvious and other times enigmatic. An image which includes a sign saying ‘Town Water’ was clearly simple to title. Another showing inflatables at a swimming pool has the title ‘Empathy, No.1’ The look on the face of one inflatable in the pool seems to be conveying empathy for another inflatable stranded upside down and out of the water. An illuminated globe-shaped lightshade is more mysteriously titled ‘Cacophony’.

David Ryrie, Ball Games 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Drowning No.4, 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Empathy No.1 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Interruption 2018 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Perfect 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery

In the catalogue we read ‘these works offer new details and revelations at each viewing’. They certainly have something to say. It was great to explore and personally interpret them. Thinking about the titles added to my enjoyment.

A much smaller Gallery 2 is where you stand and, for just over 12 minutes, immerse yourself in Tamara Dean’s single channel video work entitled ‘Passing Time, 2020’. Dean’s practice explores our connection to nature and rites of passage in contemporary life. Her unique understanding of light and landscape reveals sensual pieces that invite contemplation.

This video work references Dean’s experience of self-isolation on her property during the pandemic last year. It starts with an image of the sun seen through leaves suspended from trees. And, because it repeats itself backwards on a loop, it concludes with the same sun.

Between the start and finish of the video, we see many aspects of nature. I noticed reflections of the sky on the surface of water, with occasional birds flying or circling in that sky, whilst unknown things landed on the water’s surface creating circular ripples. I saw fast flowing water, blurred and also clearly focussed. I saw a spider, a lily, wind blown trees and grasses, and either mist or smoke floating by. Part of me longed to hear the sounds accompanying this mesmerising imagery.

Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.

Last, but not least, there is The Window – literally “a window” into the Gallery’s permanent collection, showcasing works selected by a Guest Curator – this time Stephen Hartup, a photographer based in Tarago, working across large format film and producing silver gelatin prints. He considers photography to be ‘at its best when it is an intense visual language which does not require a dense, complex shield of written language to explain or justify it.’ He has some of his own works in the Gallery’s permanent collection but here presents material by other photographers.

The Window, curated by Stephen Hartup

Hartup has selected five interesting works. The first (top left) is Katthy Cavaliere’s Gaze of the Masked Philosopher, 2004 – showing the view out across the wool stores and sale yards through the eyes of Goulburn’s Big Merino when it was in its original location.

Then (top centre) there is an untitled print (2011) from original stereo half negative made by Henri Mallard. It depicts a worker during construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Jackie Ranken (top right) is represented with her intriguing Aerial Abstract #4 – of the Millennium drought-damaged landscape.

Cathy Laudenbach’s Girl Running (bottom left), a pigment print on archival bamboo paper, successfully causes us to think about the potential scariness of a forest, particularly the Belanglo State Forest.

Finally (bottom right), The Window contains Jon Lewis’s Aussie Soldier in Ainaro Hospital Ruins, 2012, which shows a locally painted Jesus Christ, surprisingly not destroyed by the rampage of the militias.

A version of this review was published in the Canberra Times of 6/3/21 here. The review is also published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

State of Change, & Found

Photography Review

David Flanagan | Found

Emilio Cresciani |State of Change
Photo Access | Until 7 November 2020

These exhibitions present the outcome of work undertaken by 2019 and 2020 PhotoAccess Dark Matter Residents, David Flanagan and Emilio Cresciani. These residencies provide a supported opportunity for artists to produce new photo-media work that incorporates darkroom-based or other alternative photographic processes.

Opening the exhibition, Virginia Rigney, Senior Visual Arts Curator at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, noted that the residents have access to one of a shrinking number of open access darkrooms left in Australia, drawing attention to the fact that what is made in those darkrooms allows us to see the materiality of bodies of work.

Flanagan was the 2019 Resident, but his work – Found – was delayed by restrictions on his movements during the pandemic. He is interested in the role of the object in contemporary photographic practice, where the majority of images are not seen as anything beyond pixels on a screen.

Various found – natural, recycled, and discarded – objects were carefully coated in Liquid Light. Images were then exposed onto those surfaces underneath an enlarger, giving new life to each item. This intricate technique liberates images from their usual 2D environment.

The surfaces Flanagan used include a trowel, an iron, a nautilus shell, and souvenir spoons. Rigney made the guests smile when she referred to an alternative Canberra museum called The Green Shed that yields up things allowing us to connect with the past in ways not possible at other museums. Now with images on them, the intriguing objects selected by Flanagan speak to us in new ways. Transformed into mementos, they assuredly will become keepsakes – especially the spoons now featuring the eyes of his wife and daughters.

Souvenir, 2020, liquid emulsion on souvenir spoons © David Flanagan
Bonsai, 2020, Silver emulsion on stone © David Flanagan

Flanagan comments, “There is an absurdity about the process which takes up to a week to prepare an object for printing, only to then to see it fail in the darkroom, which is both alluring and frustrating in equal parts. Repetition and experimentation have been the key to resolving issues with each of the materials I have chosen for this project. The element of unpredictability adds something magic to the process and a uniqueness to every object.”

Still life triptych, 2020, Silver emulsion on broken fishtank © David Flanagan

In State of Change, the 2020 Resident, Cresciani, explored the phenomenon of climate change through integrating the transformation of ice into water with photographic processes. Drawing links between these states of change, his show examines, literally, figuratively, and abstractly, human impact on Earth.

Cresciani explains, “Our ice caps are melting. As the ice melts new landscapes, new landforms are created. And scientists say that more light is absorbed onto the earth’s surface as part of this process, further accelerating global warming.”

His work documents a dialogue between massive chunks of ice and light sensitive papers in the darkroom, a reflection on climate change and all its implications. He has made photograms, recording on photographic paper what happened as his blocks of ice melted. As the viewers we can each interpret the results. In her essay for the exhibition catalogue, Anne Ferran speaks of maps, islets in a dark sea, and clusters of rocky outcrops fringed by beaches. You might see something completely different.

Breaking of Ice #7, 2020, Duratran, 42 [h] x 30cm [w], Edition of 3 + AP © Emilio Cresciani

Regardless of what we each see, the images are spectacular, particularly those presented on Duraclear. The Duratrans in light boxes are also dramatic.

On Ice #1, 2020, gelatin silver photogram, 35 x 28cm © Emilio Cresciani

PhotoAccess Director Kirsten Wehner rightly says, “Emilio and David have produced two cutting edge exhibitions showcasing what the program aims to foster; a challenged perception of what contemporary darkroom photography can offer.”

This review was first published in the Canberra Times on 2.11.20 and on its Website here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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