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

WE BLEED THE SAME

Photography, Documentary & Installations Review

WE BLEED THE SAME | TIM BAUER & LIZ DEEP-JONES

Research School of Social Sciences, ANU | Until September/October 2022

Whilst reporting on conflicts, acclaimed journalist Liz Deep-Jones, was deeply disturbed that they unfolded in the name of religion or racism.  Inspired by a community-led, grassroots initiative ‘Racism Not Welcome’, Deep-Jones joined forces with portrait photographer, Tim Bauer, to present this exhibition ‘We Bleed The Same’.

Deep-Jones grew up in a Lebanese, Arabic-speaking household trying to figure out how she belonged in Australian society where she experienced bigotry. She says the exhibition is “about you, me, humanity!” Bauer is the child of a refugee European father and an Australian mother who taught him to love and respect all human beings.

Thirty-nine women and men from varied backgrounds, religion and race feature in Bauer’s images. And in an accompanying documentary produced by Deep-Jones, they share personal and emotional stories about their diverse cultures and experiences with dangerous and demoralising racism. Like them, we should all be seeking to defeat racism.

As he is a pre-eminent Australian portrait photographer, it is no surprise that Bauer’s diverse images here are simply superb. The people he has wonderfully portrayed include former Race Commissioner Tim Soutphommassane, First Nations Elder Leetona Dungay (whose son David died in custody) and refugee Marcella Kaspar.

Tim Soutphommasane © Tim Bauer
Leetona Dungay © Tim Bauer
Marcella Kaspar © Tim Bauer

Lovemore N’dou, one of the other incredible people featured, had a successful early career in boxing but, due to South Africa’s apartheid policies, was not allowed to compete internationally. He migrated to Australia and continued his boxing career before becoming a lawyer.

Lovemore Ndou © Tim Bauer

There is Australian-born Uyghur woman Subhi Bora, indigenous Torres Strait Islander author and union official Thomas Mayor, and Filipino migrant Brenda Gaddi. Also South Sudanese refugee Deng Adut, proud Australian Muslim woman Maryam El-Kiki, and human rights advocate and refugee activist Thanush Selvarasa.

Maryam El-Kiki © Tim Bauer
Thanush Selvarasa © Tim Bauer

Accompanying each wonderful Bauer portrait are the subjects’ deeply personal stories in words assembled by Deep-Jones – explaining who they are, what their personal racism experiences have been, and how they are involved with seeking to combat bigotry. Those words take the already powerful images even further – they are profoundly moving. It is highly probable that studying the images and reading the words will make most viewers quite emotional.

From Mayor, we learn “Indigenous people experience racism in this country every day. Racism makes me feel less than human, insignificant, like I’m not even there but we need to stand up and be proud of who we are. We are on our country and that can’t be ignored.”

The exhibition also features various installations – including the interactive Kizuna (Japanese  – meaning ties or bonds) in which family photographs submitted by the local community are being hung from a red Hills Hoist using red strings. The threads of photos represent the connectedness between Australians whilst reflecting our diversity. Deep-Jones hopes this exhibition that she has produced will convey that message and spark visitors into ongoing conversations about racism in Australia.

Another installation comprises vials of fake red blood, each labelled with a name of a portrait subject and, so, symbolising them and shouting, ‘We Bleed The Same.’

There are opportunities for visitors to share their personal experiences of, and views about, racism by writing in red alongside images of a “blood-soaked arm.” And a Cedar Tree of Lebanon installation, inspired by Deep-Jones’ family roots, seeks to touch our souls and ignite our hearts to inspire positive action for humanity.

Deep-Jones expects the exhibition will continue until at least October 2022. It is in the foyer and also the first floor of the RSSS building at the ANU. I urge everyone who can to see this important presentation.

For a great interview with Deep-Jones check here.

This review was published by the Canberra Times on 28/05/22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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My Photography

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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