Posts Tagged ‘William Clift

28
Jul
11

Review: ‘Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 14th August 2011

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Ricky Maynard
The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania
2005
from the series Portrait of a Distant Land
gelatin silver resin-coated print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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“For me, photographs have always been personal and I hope to convey the intimacy of a diary. Photography has the ability to tell stories about the world and how the photograph has power to frame a culture.”

Ricky Maynard

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Having posted about this exhibition when it was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney I was looking forward to seeing it ‘in the flesh’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art. I have seen the exhibition three times now and each time I have left feeling underwhelmed.

While it is encouraging to see the development of an Aboriginal photographic art practice and the documentary depiction from inside this culture as a form of visual oral history, there is something leaden about this story telling. Other than a few incisive images I had no feeling for these photographs; the photographs don’t really take me anywhere. The best of them give access to the spaces they depict (usually the landscapes of distant islands or mountains that evoke “a sense of absence that exist within these landscapes,” a sense of displacement and departure) but most of the work seems to be blocked at the surface of the image: there just seems to be no way in to the emotional and psychological aspects of the photographs. The viewer is hardly ever drawn into the pictures force field. Occasionally they come alive but even when photographing scenes of friends and happiness there is a deadness about the work – a portrait of an emotionally distant and constrained land that is understandable (due to the “existence of the struggle beneath the surface”) but does not make for very compelling art. Even in the printing the highlights are occluded and grey as though a miasma hovers over their production. Commenting in The Age newspaper, Dan Rule observes that series such as Maynard’s mid-80s ‘The Moonbird People’ that describes the Aboriginal community of his native Flinders Island during the annual mutton bird season, “are at once formally sparse and richly layered in the textural and historical narrative of the land.” Poetic and bearing an incredible weight of history. Personally I didn’t buy into the poetry of the storytelling and I found the photographs heavy going as though that incredible weight of history was inexorably weighing them down. If you want to see real poetry in the art of photography look at the work of William Clift.

I am asked by the curator Keith Munro “Do not forget these faces” but there is nothing truly memorable about them unlike, for example, some of the photographs of Sue Ford or Carol Jerrems. A perfect example are the photographs of Wik elders from the series ‘Returning to places That Name Us’ (2000, see three photographs below). The viewer is caught at the surface of these images, observing the minutiae of detail, the faces closely cropped at the forehead and neck against a contextless white background. These are confronting images of presence at the large size they are produced in the exhibition but what else are they? At a smaller scale one might have related to the scars, creases and furrows of the Elders like the bark of the tree weathering the storm, an intimacy with a fellow human being and their life journey – but not here. My favourite photograph was an untitled landscape from the series ‘In the Footsteps of Others’. In this beautiful image a mountain hovers in the distance while in the foreground dark grasses and trees are shot through with raked sunlight. A mysterious, haunting evocation of space and place that left me wanting more precisely because of its ambiguity and longing.

While the photographs capture individuals and their relationship to place it is a journey they do not take me on. This is the crux of the matter for a photographer – allowing the viewer to see things that are not immediately visible, to construct their own narrative and take that leap of faith invested in the equivalency of the image. For me this never happened with this exhibition.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Katrina Raymond for her help and to The Ian Potter Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Ricky Maynard
Mission
2005
from the series Portrait of a distant land
gelatin silver resin-coated print
70 x 100 cm
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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Ricky Maynard
Custodians
2005
from the series Portrait of a distant land
silver gelatin resin-coated print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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Ricky Maynard
Broken Heart
2005
from the series Portrait of a Distant Land
gelatin silver resin-coated print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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Portrait of a Distant Land is an exhibition of 60 works by leading indigenous photographer Ricky Maynard, spanning two decades of his practice. Through his photographs Ricky Maynard offers a journey of alternative perspectives and cultural insights. His passion and meticulous attention to detail encapsulates an honest and deeply felt interpretation of his people and the land they inhabit.

Drawing on six bodies of work, this remarkable exhibition was first shown as part of the inaugural Photoquai Biennale organised by Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

Maynard is based on Flinders Island in Bass Strait and has been recording the lives of his people since the mid 1980s. Several of Maynard’s renowned photographs trace songlines, massacre sites, key historical events, important meeting places, sacred cultural sites and practices of Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

The artist works closely with the communities he photographs and his approach to social documentary represents a major development in the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

In Urban Diary (1997) Maynard focuses on the experiences of Aboriginal people in Melbourne’s beachside suburb, St Kilda, while his portraits of Wik elders in Returning to Places that Name Us (2000) are inspired by the landmark High Court of Australia’s ruling which recognised the existence of the traditional lands of the Wik people located on Cape York in northern Queensland. Also on view are images from the series The Moonbird People (1985–88) which depicts a Tasmanian Aboriginal community during the annual muttonbird season, and No More Than What You See (1993), a confrontational and emotionally-charged portrait of Indigenous people incarcerated in the South Australian prison system.

Maynard’s personal pilgrimage and spiritual journey as a member of the Ben Lomond and Big River people of Tasmania comes full circle with his images of important cultural sites, ochre trails and scarred trees represented in the series In the Footsteps of Others (2003).”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art

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Ricky Maynard
Untitled
1997
from  the series Urban diary
gelatin silver fibre print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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Ricky Maynard
Untitled
1997
from  the series Urban diary
gelatin silver fibre print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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Portrait of a Distant Land

“DO NOT FORGET THESE FACES – THEY HOLD SOMETHING YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE 1

Through his photographs Ricky Maynard offers a journey of alternative perspectives and cultural insights. His passion and meticulous attention to detail encapsulates an honest and deeply felt interpretation of his people and the land they inhabit.

Maynard, of Tasmanian Aboriginal descent, is a documentary photographer who lives on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait between Tasmania and the southeast Australian mainland. This exhibition presents his latest developing body of work Portrait of a Distant Land, which he began in 2005, as well as a selection of images from five earlier series including The Moonbird People (1985-88), No More Than What You See (1993), Urban Diary (1997), Returning to Places that Name Us (2000) and In The Footsteps of Others (2003), tracing key aspects of Maynard’s practice to the present day.

The ten works from the Portrait of a Distant Land series trace song lines, key historical events, massacre sites, petroglyphs and midden2, important meeting places, sacred cultural sites and practices of Tasmanian Aboriginal people. Presented alongside insightful and poignant quotations by community members who have maintained their local cultural heritage, these powerful images reaffirm a cultural dynamic forged by a strong belief in the importance of upholding cultural integrity both in and through picture making. Importantly, they provide the viewer with a greater understanding of both individual and  collective histories from outside a dominant gaze. Wybalenna on Flinders Island as depicted in Death in Exile and The Healing Garden for instance, is one of numerous historically-scarred sites; and for Maynard Vansittart Island encapsulates the crude and culturally insensitive research and documentation by dominant societies that continues to this day. Some photographs such as Mission, Broken Heart and A Free Country capture moments of reflection while others, like Traitor and The Spit are powerfully loaded references to either specific historical acts of oppression that contributed greatly to the devastation of Aboriginal people of Tasmania or recall childhood memories of people and place. Alongside these works, Coming Home is an example of cultural assertion: it depicts the ongoing significance of muttonbird hunting to Maynard’s people.

The annual muttonbirding season is the subject of Maynard’s powerful and innovative black and white series The Moonbird People, a deeply personal story relating the importance of this tradition to the people on the islands in Bass Strait3. The series was commissioned for the book After 200 Years: Photographic Essays on Aboriginal and Islander Australia Today, produced as part of Australia’s bicentennial celebrations in 19884. These images record a cultural practice that significantly predates European colonisation and continues today.

Urban Diary focuses on the experiences of Aboriginal people in Melbourne’s beachside suburb, St Kilda. This body of work captures the interactions between members of the community whilst also depicting some of the challenges Aboriginal people face in urban environments. Through his ability to connect with his subjects, Maynard reveals and honours the humility of this group of individuals who have invited him into their lives.

In the early 1990s, Maynard was given special access by the South Australian Correctional Service to document the life of Aboriginal inmates held in South Australian prisons. No More Than What You See goes beyond mere documentation. The photographs not only reveal the regimented and sanitised environment that inmates are forced to inhabit, they emphasise the dehumanising aspects that have had an indelible impact upon their lives – suggesting personal experiences that may have led to imprisonment and demonstrating the effects of prison life upon them. The fact that the photographs were taken in 1993 during the International Year of the Indigenous People, makes the series more poignant.

Contributing to the provocative nature of this diverse range of images of male and female inmates are the piercing eyes that confront us and expressions of individuality: the family snapshots pinned to the walls of their cells that express the desire to make even the most hostile spaces appear homely. Maynard’s portrayal stands in stark contrast to the impersonal and statistical report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-90) 5 and to the common presumption that young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees will become adult offenders.

There is a change of direction in Returning to Places that Name Us. This series of exclusive large-scale portraits was inspired by the landmark High Court of Australia’s Wik ruling which recognised the existence of the traditional lands of the Wik people located on Cape York in northern Queensland. 6 Maynard’s visit to Aurukun to photograph Wik elders became complicated because the Federal Government responded to the High Court ruling on Native Title with the introduction of an amended Wik ‘Ten Point Plan’. In his portraits of Wik elders, Maynard’s aim was to:

IDENTIFY IN THESE PICTURES THE EXISTENCE OF STRUGGLE BELOW THE SURFACE, TO SEE THINGS THAT ARE NOT IMMEDIATELY VISIBLE AND TO RECOGNISE THAT WHAT THINGS MEAN HAS MORE TO DO WITH THE OBSERVER. 7

As Maynard has stated: ‘… I seek a balance between craftsmanship and social relevance. Photography has the ability to tell stories about the world and… the photograph has the power to frame a culture.’ 8

Important cultural sites found in the artist’s ‘country’ are the focus of the series In The Footsteps of Others including ochre trails, petroglyphs, stonework sites and scarred trees. Points of travel, contact and interaction, departure and displacement are also referenced. What you begin to sense in these landscapes is a strange absence, an echo of which occurs in his current body of work Portrait of a Distant Land. There is also a strong sense of presence within this absence – of markings, events and cultural practice that have been in existence for thousands of years.

In all of his photographs, Ricky Maynard’s emphasis is on the broader social and cultural context: he is determined not to present Aboriginal people as victims. Rather, he challenges the assumptions of many non-Indigenous Australians and proposes social change by questioning popular notions of historical events and shared histories. He addresses elements of historical amnesia or highlights social issues that affect Aboriginal people.

While this form of documentary photography is not something new, what becomes an interesting development is the formation of an Aboriginal photographic practice, documenting a cultural framework that sees Maynard acknowledge the importance of co-authorship between image maker and subject. This is significant from a wider Aboriginal viewpoint and certainly from the local perspective he represents in his latest body of work.

Focusing on Aboriginal people who historically were ignored and continually denied their cultural heritage, Ricky Maynard considers landscape photography to be a process of rediscovery, a ‘revaluation of where we find ourselves’… ‘a continuing journey’, a way ‘to address issues of identity, site, place and nation’. 9 His personal pilgrimage and spiritual journey as a member of the Ben Lomond and Big River people of Tasmania back to the country where he produced his very first body of work The Moonbird People becomes then, much more than just a portrait of a distant land.”

Keith Munro
Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

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Footnotes

1. Quote accompanying Custodians 2005, from the series Portrait of a Distant Land.

2. Petroglyphs, pictures carved into stone, are one of the oldest forms of human expression. A midden (or kitchen midden) is an archaeological term used worldwide to describe any kind of feature containing waste products such as animal bones, shells and other refuse that indicate a site of human settlement. Shell middens, some nearly 40,000 years old, have been found in Australian coastal regions.

3. Muttonbirding is the seasonal harvest of petrel chicks, especially the shearwater species, for food, oil and feathers. It usually refers to the more sustainable and regulated harvesting of chicks in the southern regions of Australia and New Zealand for five weeks every autumn. For the Bass Strait Islanders it is short-tailed shearwater, or ‘yolla’; and in Aotearoa/New Zealand it is the sooty shearwater or ‘titi’.

4. Penny Taylor (ed), After 200 Years: Photographic Essays of Aboriginal and Islander Australia Today, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1988.

5. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody led to fundamental changes to the way the criminal justice system deals with Indigenous people in Australia. The Commission (October 1987 and November 1990) investigated the deaths of 99 Aboriginal persons in police and prison custody between 1983-87. The disproportionate rate at which Aboriginal people were arrested and imprisoned in Australia was identified as the principal and immediate explanation for deaths in custody. Although more than 300 of the Commission’s recommendations were adopted, little has changed and there is still widespread suspicion in the Aboriginal community about a spate of deaths in custody.
www.austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjproject/rsjlibrary/rciadic/rciadic_summary/rcsumk01.html

6. Following the 1992 Mabo Decision that established that native title is recognised under Australian law, The High Court of Australia’s 1996 Wik Decision further investigated land ownership of pastoral leases. The Wik Decision recognised native title rights for land that was owned on behalf of the Australian public by government; issuing co-existence to Indigenous peoples and pastoral owners. The Native Title Amendment Act (commonly referred to as the ‘Ten Point Plan’), passed by the government in 1998 in response to the Wik Decision, counteracted the coexistence and authorised the absolute governing of land rights issues to the newly established Native Title Tribunal. www.nlc.org.au/html/land_native_wik.html

7. Artist statement, Returning to Places that Name Us 2000.

8. Artist statement, In Response to Place, exhibition catalogue, City Gallery, Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne, 2007.

9. Ibid.,

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Ricky Maynard
Bruce, Wik elder
2000
from the series Returning to places that name us
gelatin silver fibre print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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Ricky Maynard
Arthur, Wik elder
2000
from the series Returning to places that name us
gelatin silver fibre print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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Ricky Maynard
Gladys, Wik elder
2000
from the series Returning to places that name us
gelatin silver fibre print
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2010
© Courtesy the artist

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The Ian Potter Museum of Art
Swanston Street between Faraday and Elgin streets in Parkville
The University of Melbourne
Victoria 3010 Australia

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am to 5pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 to 5pm
Monday closed

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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26
Nov
08

William Clift. ‘Certain Places’ 1987

William Clift. “Somebody’s House, Baltimore, Maryland, 1964”

 

William Clift
“Somebody’s House, Baltimore, Maryland, 1964”

from the book

Certain Places 
Photographs and Introduction by William Clift. 
William Clift Editions, Santa Fe, 1987. 44 pp., twenty-two tritone illustrations.

 

One of the most ravishing photographic books ever produced. Sensitive photography, luminous images, wonderful reproductions on quality stock. Nothing more need be said. My favorite of so many great images is above.

 

Signed copies back in stock on photoeye (click on the book tease to see more images)




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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘The Songs of Eternity’ 1994

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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