26
Oct
09

Review: ‘Long Distance Vision: Three Australian Photographers’ at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th August – 21st February 2010

.

Max Pam. 'Road from Bamiyan' 1971

.

Max Pam
born Australia 1949, lived in Brunei 1980–83
Road from Bamiyan 1971
gelatin silver photograph
20.1 x 20.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1979

.

Max Pam. 'My donkey, our valley, Sarchu' 1977

.

Max Pam
born Australia 1949, lived in Brunei 1980–83
My donkey, our valley, Sarchu 1977
gelatin silver photograph
20.1 x 20.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1979
© Max Pam

.

Max Pam. 'Sisters' 1977

.

Max Pam
born Australia 1949, lived in Brunei 1980–83
Sisters 1977
gelatin silver photograph
20.1 x 20.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1979
© Max Pam

.

Max Pam.

.

Max Pam
born Australia 1949, lived in Brunei 1980–83
Tibetan nomads 1977
gelatin silver photograph
20.1 x 20.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1979
© Max Pam

.

.

‘Long Distance Vision’ is a disappointingly wane exploration of travel photography at NGV Australia. With the exception of the work of Max Pam the exhibition lacks insight into the phenomena that the curators want the work to philosophically investigate: namely how photographs shape our expectations of a place (even before we arrive) and how photographs also serve to confirm our experience – the picture as powerful mnemonic tool.

Firstly a quick story: when travelling in America to study at the Kinsey Institute I boarded a train from Chicago to what I thought was Bloomington, Indiana only to arrive many hours later at Bloomington, Illinois. Unbeknownst to me this Bloomington also had a motel of the same name as I was staying at in Indiana! After much confusion I ended up at the local airport trying to catch a single seater aircraft to Bloomington, Indiana with no luck – at the end of my tether, fearful in a foreign country, in tears because I just had to be at this appointment the next morning. Riding to my rescue was a nineteen year old kid with no shoes, driving an ex-cop car, who drove me across the Mid-West states stopping at petrol stops in the dead of night. It was a surreal experience, one that I will never forget for the rest of my life … fear, apprehension, alienation, happiness, joy and the sublime all rolled into one.

I tell this story to illustrate a point about travel – that you never know what is going to happen, what experiences you will have, even your final destination. To me photographs of these adventures not only document this dislocation but step beyond pure representation to become art that re-presents the nature of our existence.

.

Matthew Sleeth’s street photographs could be taken almost anywhere in the world (if it were not for a building with German writing on it). His snapshot aesthetic of caught moments, blinded people and dissected bodies in the observed landscape are evinced (to show in a clear manner; to prove beyond any reasonable doubt; to manifest; to make evident; to bring to light; to evidence – yes to bring to light, to evidence as photography does!) in mundane, dull, almost lifeless prints – ‘heavy’ photographs with a lack of shadow detail combined with a shallow depth of field. His remains, the people walking down the street and their shadow, are odd but as as The Age art critic Robert Nelson succinctly notes in his review of this exhibition, “To become art, the odd cannot remain merely quaint but has to signify an existential anomaly by implication.”1

If we look at the seminal photographs from the book ‘The Americans’ by Robert Frank we see in their dislocated view of America a foreigners view of the country the artist was travelling across – a subjective view of America that reveals as much about the state of mind of the artist as the country he was exposing. No such exposition happens in the works of Matthew Sleeth.

Christine Godden’s photographs of family and friends have little to do with travel photography and I struggle to understand their inclusion in this exhibition. Though they are reasonable enough photographs in their own right – small black and white photographs of small intimacies (at the beach, in the garden, at the kitchen table, on the phone, on the porch, on the float, etc…) Godden’s anthropomorphist bodies have nothing to do with a vision of a new land as she had been living in San Francisco, New York and Rochester for six years over the period that these photographs were taken. Enough said.

The highlight of the exhibition is the work of Max Pam. I remember going the National Gallery of Victoria in the late 1980s to view this series of work in the collection – and what a revelation they were then and remain so today. The square formatted, dark sepia toned silver gelatin prints of the people and landscapes of Tibet are both monumental and personal at one and the same time. You are drawn into their intimacies: the punctum of a boys feet; the gathering of families; camels running before a windstorm; human beings as specks in a vast landscape.

“If the world is unfair or beyond our understanding, sublime places suggest it is not surprising things should be thus. We are the playthings of the forces that laid out the oceans and chiselled the mountains. Sublime places acknowledge limitations that we might otherwise encounter with anxiety or anger in the ordinary flow of events. It is not just nature that defies us. Human life is as overwhelming, but it is the vast spaces of nature that perhaps provide us with the finest, the most respectful reminder of all that exceeds us. If we spend time with them, they may help us to accept more graciously the great unfathomable events that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust.”2

The meditation on place and space that the artist has undertaken gives true insight into the connection of man and earth, coming closest to Alain de Botton’s understanding of the significance of sublime places. Through a vision of a distant land the photographs transport us in an emotional journey that furthers our understanding of the fragility of life both of the planet and of ourselves.

.

While the National Gallery of Victoria holds some excellent photography exhibitions (such as Andreas Gursky and Rennie Ellis for example) this was a missed opportunity. The interesting concept of the exhibition required a more rigorous investigation instead of such a cursory analysis (which can be evidenced by the catalogue ‘essay’: one page the size of a quarter of an A4 piece of paper that glosses over the whole history of travel photography in a few blithe sentences).

Inspiration could have easily been found in Alain de Botton’s excellent book The Art of Travel’. Here we find chapters titled ‘On Anticipation’, ‘On Travelling Places’, ‘On the Exotic’, ‘On Curiosity’, ‘On the Country and the City’ and ‘On the Sublime’ to name but a few, with places and art work to illustrate the journey: what more is needed to excite the mind!
Take Charles Baudelaire for example. He travelled outside his native France only once and never ventured abroad again. Baudelaire still dreamt of going to Lisbon, or Java or to the Netherlands but “the destination was not really the point. The true desire was to get away, to go, as he concluded, ‘Anywhere! Anywhere! So long as it is out of the world!'”3
Heavens, we don’t even have to leave home to create travel photography that is out of the world! Our far-sighted vision (like that of photographer Gregory Crewdson) can create psychological narratives of imaginative journeys played out for the camera.

Perhaps what was needed was a longer gestation period, further research into the theoretical nuances of travel photography (one a little death, a remembrance; both a dislocation in the non-linearity of time and space), a gathering of photographs from collections around Australia to better evidence the conceptual basis for the exhibition and a greater understanding of the irregular possibilities of travel photography – so that the work and words could truly reflect the title of the exhibition ‘Long Distance Vision.’

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.

Christine Godden. 'Bobbie and Amitabha at the beach' (c. 1972)

.

Christine Godden
born Australia 1947
Bobbie and Amitabha at the beach (c. 1972)
gelatin silver photograph
13.2 x 20.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1991
© Christine Godden

.

Christine Godden. 'Elliot holding a ring' 1973

.

Christine Godden
born Australia 1947
Elliot holding a ring 1973
gelatin silver photograph
15.0 x 22.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1991
© Christine Godden

.

Christine Godden. 'Joanie at the kitchen table' 1973

.

Christine Godden
born Australia 1947
Joanie at the kitchen table 1973, printed 1986
gelatin silver photograph
20.1 x 30.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1991
© Christine Godden

.

Christine Godden. 'With Leigh on the porch' 1972

.

Christine Godden
born Australia 1947
With Leigh on the porch 1972, printed 1986
gelatin silver photograph
20.2 x 30.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1991
© Christine Godden

.

.

“The National Gallery of Victoria will celebrate the work of Christine Godden, Max Pam and Matthew Sleeth in a new exhibition, Long Distance Vision: Three Australian Photographers opening 28 August.

Long Distance Vision will include over 60 photographs from the NGV Collection exploring the concept of the ‘tourist gaze’ and its relationship with the three artists.

Susan van Wyk, Curator Photography, NGV said the exhibition provides a fascinating insight into the unusual perspective brought by the three photographers to their varied world travel destinations.

“There’s a sense in the works in the exhibition that the photographers are not from the places they choose to photograph, and that each is a visitor delighting in the scenes they encounter.

“What is notable about the photographs in Long Distance Vision is that rather than focussing on the well known scenes that each artist encountered, they have turned their attention to the ‘little things’, the details of the everyday,” said Ms van Wyk.

From the nineteenth century, photography has been a means by which people could discover the world, initially through personal collection and albums, and later via postcards, magazines, books and the internet.

Dr Gerard Vaughan, Director, NGV said that both contemporary photographers and tourists use the camera as a means to explore and capture the world.

“Through their photographs, the three artists featured in ‘Long Distance Vision’ show us highly individual ways of seeing the world. This exhibition will surprise and delight visitors as our attention is drawn to not only what is different but what remains the same as we travel the world,” said Dr Vaughan.

.

Born in Melbourne in 1949, Max Pam began his career in various commercial photography studios in the 1960s. After responding to a university notice for assistance to drive a Volkswagen from Calcutta to London in 1969, Pam got his first taste of being a traveller. The body of Pam’s work in this exhibition is from the series The Himalayas, which was photographed over a number of early visits to India.

Christine Godden also travelled the popular overland route between Europe and India in the early 1970s, returning to Sydney in 1978. In 1972, after a period of travelling, Godden found her home in the US where she remained for six years. Godden’s photographs in this exhibition were taken between 1972 and 1974 during her stay in the US.

Born in Melbourne in 1972, Matthew Sleeth is another seasoned traveller. During the late 1990s, Sleeth settled in Opfikon, an outer suburb of Zurich, Switzerland. The series of photographs in Long Distance Vision were taken during this time, showing Sleeth’s interest not only in street photography, but also in the narrative possibilities in everyday scenes. Dotted with garishly coloured playhouses, naive sculptures and whimsical arrangements of garden gnomes Sleeth’s photographs go beyond the ‘picture-perfect’ scenes of typical tourist photography.

Long Distance Vision: Three Australian Photographers is on display at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Federation Square from 28 August 2009 to 21 February 2010.”

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria press release

.

Matthw Sleeth from the series 'Opfikon' 1997

.

Matthw Sleeth from the series 'Opfikon' 1997

.

Matthw Sleeth from the series 'Opfikon' 1997

.

Matthw Sleeth from the series 'Opfikon' 1997

.

Matthew Sleeth
Born Australia 1972
Photographs from the series Opfikon 1997, printed 2004
Type C photograph
43.2 x 43.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Patrick Corrigan, Governor, 2005
© Matthew Sleeth courtesy of Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

.

.

1. Nelson, Robert. “In blurred focus: le freak c’est chic,” in The Age newspaper. Friday, October 23rd 2009, p.18.

2. de Botton, Alain. The Art of Travel. London: Penguin, 2002, p.178 – 179.

3. Ibid., p.34.

.

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne.

National Gallery of Victoria website

Bookmark and Share


1 Response to “Review: ‘Long Distance Vision: Three Australian Photographers’ at The Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne”


  1. 1 debmitra
    October 26, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    incredible pictures. the angle of photography was 000000000000000000000000000000000


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

Join 2,132 other followers

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Recent Posts

Lastest tweets

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.

October 2009
M T W T F S S
« Sep   Nov »
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Archives

Categories


%d bloggers like this: