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Community of People

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

I participated in the workshop about Canberra as a community of people. Inspired by Wasikowska’s interest in capturing the human qualities of Canberra, we explored the idea that a city is best understood through its people. We had the added benefit of Wasikowska herself leading our workshop.

My approach was to make portraits in different styles to anything I had previously done. If I were to Re-see the people of Canberra, I thought that using a different approach (for me) was a way to do it. Instead of seeking to make traditional portraits concentrating on faces, I looked for groups of people interacting with each other whilst out and about in a variety of places – private home gardens, indoor venues, public spaces. I sought images that revealed something of those people from their interactions. Rather than simply show what the subjects look like, I was exploring elements that would provide viewers with facts or clues about each person’s characteristics – what are they interested in, how do they live these parts of their lives. Along the way I photographed individuals and some couples as well, because I saw opportunities. I also tried other approaches, including smart phone selfies so beloved of young folk and the creation of composites.

In June 2021 I reviewed Canberra Re-Seen here. I had two prints in the exhibition but did not show or discuss them in the review as it is not appropriate to review one’s own work. Here are my two works and just a few words about each of them.

Braddon Nightlife © Brian Rope

Braddon Nightlife is a composite combining opposite sides of a young woman using a smart phone near a queue to a popular night-time venue. It suggests to me that she is interested in such venues, in dressing up for a night out and in keeping in contact with at least one other person.

Keeping Clear © Brian Rope

Keeping Clear shows two people who walked in front of my camera and settled down before an emergency exit. It suggests to me that, at that point in time at least, they were simply focussed on what they wanted to do – possibly revealing something of their characters.

There is a possibility of a book being published about the works created by all sixteen workshop participants and it may include other works not shown in the exhibition. If that proceeds three more of my images may be included. Here they are with a few words about each of them.

Enlightened Connections © Brian Rope

Enlightened Connections shows people at the Enlighten Festival. There are several stories intertwined here – the fellow in the centre appears to be photographing a young woman under the rainbow in the bottom right corner, whilst three other young women take an interest in what he is doing. To the left of the frame is another couple, who may or may not be connected to the others. Are they waiting their turn to take a photo under the rainbow? Perhaps all that is revealed about them is that they enjoy a night at Enlighten in casual dress?

Look – up in the sky © Brian Rope

Look – up in the sky shows a large group of people gathered in Kings Park (between the Boundless Playground and Kings Avenue) socialising over drinks one late warm afternoon in February. There are many separate stories – the man in the centre with the beer belly, the trio on the right where one man is playing with his phone, the children exploring in the background where rabbits live, the couple on the left where the man is gesticulating with his hand, and (most strongly) the fellow pointing up towards the sky at something we cannot see (which provides the image title). It shows me how Canberra people dress, interact and enjoy themselves outdoors on a summer day in the 2020s.

Asleep, Awaking, Alive © Brian Rope

Asleep, Awaking, Alive is a composite of nine fun self-portraits purporting to show the transition as I wake from sleep, slowly open my eyes, do some facial stretches, then make myself presentable for the day ahead. What does it reveal about me apart from what I look like, both dishevelled and neat?

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