Archive for November, 2010

28
Nov
10

Exhibition: ‘László Moholy-Nagy – Art of Light’ at Martin Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 4th November 2010 – 16th January 2011

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My apologies for the paucity of reviews of local exhibitions on the blog recently. It’s not that I haven’t been going to exhibitions far from it, just that nothing has really struck me as worthy of an in depth review!

Recently I went to the new Monash University Gallery of Art (MUMA) and the opening exhibition of the gallery, CHANGE (until 18th December). This is a hotchpotch of an exhibition that showcases the “breadth and depth of the Monash University Collection, reflecting on the changing forms, circumstances and developments in contemporary art practice from the 1960s to the present day – from late modernism to our contemporary situation … the exhibition signals the potential for institutional change that MUMA’s new situation represents.” Avowing an appeal to the senses the exhibition has some interesting works, notably a large canvas by Howard Arkley, ‘Family home – suburban exterior 1993’, Daniel von Sturmer’s installation ‘The Field Equation’ (2006), Mike Parr’s bloody, mesmeric performance ‘Close the Concentration Camps’ (2002) that you just can’t take your eyes off and part of Tracey Moffatt’s haunting series ‘Up In The Sky’ (1998), the “part” declamation leaving one unable to decipher the narrative of the work without seeing the whole series on the Roslyn Oxley9 website. This is symptomatic of the whole exhibition – somehow it doesn’t come together, one of the problems of large, unthematically organised group exhibitions.

The spaces of the new gallery are interesting to wander through but seem a little pokey and confined. A series of smallish intersecting rooms to the left hand side of the gallery leads one around to a big gallery to the right hand side (the best space), before another small front room. Down the spine runs a narrow enclosed area with exposed trusses and ducts that is unimaginative in design and redundant as an exhibiting space. Overall the gallery feels claustrophobic being an almost hermetically sealed environment enclosed by several sliding glass doors at entry points (and yes, I do know that a gallery has to have regulated temperature, light and humidity). This is at odds with the idea of exhibiting fresh, exciting art that breathes life.

I also ventured to Anna Pappas Gallery to see the exhibition of photographic work ‘Endless Days’ by Vin Ryan (until 23rd December). Nice idea but a disappointment. Featuring grided, colour-coded photographs of the physical artefacts used to plate 20 meals eaten by the Ryan family the information within the prints is almost indecipherable, the selection of plates, cups and objects so small as to become mere colour decoration. I struggled to see what the objects actually were; even in the 5 individual prints of a meal the definition of the objects was weak, the printing not up to standard. The moral of the story is this: if you are going to use the photographic medium for artwork make sure that a/ you know how to construct an image visually using the medium and b/ that you get someone who knows what they are doing to print the photographs for you if you can’t print them well yourself.

On to better things. In this posting there are some outstanding photographs: the imaginative camera angles of Moholy-Nagy (heavily influenced by Constructivism and Suprematism) where truly ground-breaking at the time. The iconic ‘From the radio tower, Berlin’ (1928) is simply breathtaking in the photographs ability to flatten the pictorial landscape into abstract shape and form. Many thankx to Martin Gropius-Bau, Berlin for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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László Moholy-Nagy
Am 7 (26)
1926
Oil on canvas
75,8 x 96 cm
Ernst und Kurt Schwitters Stiftung/ Sprengel Museum, Hannover
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
Eton. Eleves watching cricket from the pavilion on Agar’s Plough
ca. 1930
Gelatine silver print
15,7 x 20,7 cm / 16,3 x 21,3 cm
Achat 1994. Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d’art moderne / Centre de création industrielle
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
Photogram
ca. 1938
Original photogram from Chicago
204 x 252 cm
Swiss Foundation of Photography, Winterthur
Donation in memoriam S. and Giedion Welcker
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
Untitled
1940’s
Fujicolor crystal archive print
27,9 x 35,6 cm / 52,1 x 63,5 cm
Courtesy László Moholy-Nagy Estate and Andrea Rosen Gallery Inc., New York
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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“For Moholy-Nagy was always a theoretician and practitioner in equal measure, always wanting to be a holistic artist. He approached his work – painting, photography, commercial and industrial design, film, sculpture, scenography – from a wide variety of aspects and practised it as a radical, extreme experiment, by refusing to place his hugely differing works in any sort of aesthetic hierarchy. He also attached enormous importance to education, which is why, at the request of Walter Gropius, he worked in this field for the Bauhaus in Weimar (1923–1925) and Dessau (1925–1928). In Chicago, where he settled in 1937, he again assumed teaching duties and founded the “New Bauhaus”, which sought to realise the programmes of the German Bauhaus in the United States. Shortly afterwards he founded the Institute of Design in Chicago, where he was to remain active until his death in 1946. The institute was later incorporated in the Illinois Institute of Technology, which offers study courses to this day.

From Weimar to Chicago Moholy-Nagy retained his faith in his pedagogical ideal, which for him meant not only teaching, but the moral education of human beings. He believed in education as a means of developing all the abilities lying dormant in the students and as a means of paving the way to a “new, total human being.”

All of Moholy-Nagy’s theoretical contributions arose out of his artistic and pedagogical work. In his numerous writings he gradually presented his ideas, thus developing a complete artistic and pedagogical aesthetic. In his 1925 landmark essay “Painting, Photography, Film” he developed an aesthetic theory of light – light as a matrix of art and art as light. He applied his aesthetic theory of light not only to painting, photography and film, but also to theatrical and commercial design.

From that point on light became the foundation of Moholy-Nagy’s practical and theoretical work. For him art of whatever kind only acquired meaning when it reflected light. Painting was also reinterpreted on the basis of this criterion. Moholy-Nagy described his development as a painter as a shift away from “painting from transparency” to a painting that was free of any representational constraints and created the possibility of painting “not with colours, but with light.” This theory reached its full potential in photography and film. Etymologically, the word “photography” means “writing with light.” The artistic essence of film consists in the portrayal of “inter-related movements as revealed by light projections.” Although he was not in charge of the photography classes in the Bauhaus, it was there that he wrote Painting, Photography, Film, drawing upon his photographic experience. He invented the “photogram,” a purely light-based form of graphic representation, thus demonstrating an ability to create photographic images without a camera at the same time as the “Rayogram” was invented by Man Ray in Paris. He saw photography as a completely autonomous medium whose potential was still to be discovered. He criticized “pictoriality,” propagating an innovative, creative and productive photography. He regarded seriality as one of the main features of the practice of photography and opposed the “aura” of the one-off work in contrast to the infinite multifariousness of the photographic cliché, thus anticipating one of Walter Benjamin’s theses.

The distinction between production and reproduction is a basic theme of his art. A prominent aspect of every work is its ability to integrate the unknown. Works that only repeat or reproduce familiar relationships, are described as “reproductive,” while those that create or produce new relationships are “productive.” For Moholy-Nagy the ability of a work of art to create something new (a basic feature of Modernism) is a key criterion. He postulated for painting, photography and film a moral and aesthetic imperative – the New. Art had to confront new times and an industrial civilization. In the systematic implementation of this thesis 1926 turned out to be the year in which his pictorial output was greater than his works in other fields, but 1927 witnessed a positive flood of photographic, scenographic, kinetic and film productions. Painting was something he never abandoned. He decided to drop the representational painting inherited from the past and to devote himself to non-representational or “pure” painting instead. The emergence of photography gave painting the perfect opportunity to free itself from all figurative or representative imperatives. Artists did not have to decide in favour of one medium or another, but should use all media to capture and master an optical creation.”

Text from the Martin Gropius-Bau website

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László Moholy-Nagy
Oskar Schlemmer in Ascona
1926
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokio
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
Pneumatik
1924
Collection E. Zyablov, Moskau
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
Flower
ca. 1925-27
Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne / Centre de création industrielle
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
From the radio tower, Berlin
1928
Gelatine silver print
28 x 21,3 cm
Private collection
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
Lago Maggiore, Ascona, Switzerland
ca. 1930
Gelatine silver print
20,8 x 28,4 cm
Collection Spaarnestad Photo/Nationaal Archief
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy / Paul Hartland
Carnival: Composition with two masks
ca. 1934
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
Phone +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 20 hrs
Tuesday closed

Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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24
Nov
10

Exhibition: ‘Hauntology’ at Berkeley Museum of Art, University of California, Berkeley

Exhibition dates: 14th July – 5th December, 2010

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Like the word, love the concept – the proposition that the present is simultaneously haunted by the past and the future: “the persistence of a present past.” Many thankx to the Berkeley Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Carrie Mae Weems
‘The Capture of Angela’
2008
archival pigment print
40 x 40 in.
purchase made possible through a bequest from Phoebe Apperson Hearst
photo courtesy Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco.

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Francis Bacon
‘Study for Figure V’
1956
oil on canvas
60 x 46-1/2”
gift of Joachim Jean Aberbach.

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Paul Schiek
‘Similar to a Baptism’
2007
chromogenic print
30 x 40”
Collector’s Circle purchase: bequest of Phoebe Apperson Hearst, by exchange.

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Hauntology, essentially the logic of the ghost, is a concept as ephemeral and abstract as the term implies. Since it was first used by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida in a 1993 lecture delivered at UC Riverside concerning the state of Marxist thought in the post-Communist era, the term hauntology has been widely discussed in philosophical and political circles, as well as becoming a major influence in the development of various sub-genres of electronic music.

This exhibition focuses primarily on the museum’s recent contemporary acquisitions, mixing these with a number of other works representing a wide range of periods and styles. Although the artists included in Hauntology do not necessarily see themselves as part of a larger movement, when viewed collectively a number of resonances appear, not unrelated to the musical interpretations of the theme. Works in Hauntology frequently incorporate archaic imagery, styles, or techniques and evoke uncertainty, mystery, inexpressible fears, and unsatisfied longing.

For Derrida himself, hauntology is a philosophy of history that upsets the easy progression of time by proposing that the present is simultaneously haunted by the past and the future. Specifically, Derrida suggests that the specter of Marxist utopianism haunts the present, capitalist society, in what he describes as “the persistence of a present past.” The notion of hauntology also can be seen as describing the fluidity of identity among individuals, marking the dynamic and inevitable shades of influence that link one person’s experience to another’s, both in the present and over time.

In the fifteen years since Derrida first used this term, hauntology, and the related term, hauntological, have been adopted by the British music critic Simon Reynolds to describe a recurring influence in electronic music created primarily by artists in the United Kingdom who use and manipulate samples culled from the past (mostly old wax-cylinder recordings, classical records, library music, or postwar popular music) to invoke either a euphoric or unsettling view of an imagined future. The music has an anachronistic quality hinting at an unrecognizable familiarity that is often dreamlike, blurry, and melancholic – what Reynolds describes as “an uneasy mixture of the ancient and the modern.”

This exhibition marks the first time that a museum has presented works of visual art within the framework of hauntology. Works by Luc Tuymans, Paul Sietsema, Carrie Mae Weems, Bruce Conner, Robert Gutierrez, Diane Arbus, Travis Collinson, Paul Schiek, Arnold Kemp, and others form loose groups in which one can discern various thematic concentrations: the enigma of place and placelessness, memorial and longing, transitional beings, displacement and disappearance, demonic manifestations, auras, elegies of nature, and the translucency of the psyche.

Scott Hewicker, artist and musician
Lawrence Rinder, director, BAM/PFA
Curators”

Press release from the Berkeley Museum of Art website

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Bernard Maybeck
‘Frontispiece for “Circe, A Dramatic Fantasy” by Isaac Flagg’
1910
watercolor
17-7/8 x 22-3/4”
Gift of Estate of Mabel H. Dillinger.

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Unknown Artist
‘View of Providence, Rhode Island’
1820
28 x 29 in.
oil on wood panel
Gift of W.B. Carnochan.

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Paul Sietsema
‘Ship drawing’ (detail)
2009
ink on paper
diptych, ea: 50 3/4 x 70 in.
museum purcchase: bequest of Phoebe Apperson Hearst, exchange
photo © Paul Sietsema/Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

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Berkeley Museum of Art
2626 Bancroft Way
2621 Durant Avenue
University of California, Berkeley

Opening Hours (Galleries, Museum Store)
Wednesday – Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Berkeley Museum of Art website

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18
Nov
10

Exhibition: ‘We English’ by Simon Roberts at Robert Morat Galerie, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 2nd October – 4th December 2010

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Being an ex-pat English these photographs have a very special resonance for me. They are beautifully visualised and resolved photographs that do not rely too heavily on the artist’s conceptualisation of landscape (the ever present hand of the artist) in the construction of narrative within the picture plane. In other words the artist allows the image to speak for itself, “a sensitive, resolved response to scenes of ordinary people and how they inhabit and utilise the spaces around them,” with the layering of meaning, the back stories (boundaries, sites of contestation, notions of identity and colonisation of spaces amongst others) kept in balance with the sublime elements of the constructed landscape. The photographs work all the better for this restraint and offer the viewer sensual images that are open and receptive, spaces that are invigorating and enlightening, Roberts has created a magical series of photographs that poignantly capture the essence of what it is to be English.

Many thankx to Simon Roberts for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. The permission is much appreciated. Please click on the photographs to view a larger version of the image.

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Simon Roberts
‘Skegness Beach, Lincolnshire, 12th August 2007’ from the series ‘We English’
2007

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Simon Roberts
‘South Downs Way, West Sussex, 8th October 2007’ from the series ‘We English’
2007

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Simon Roberts
‘Heberdens Farm, Finchdean, Hampshire, 20th December 2007’ from the series ‘We English’
2007

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Simon Roberts
‘Rushey Hill Caravan Park, Peacehaven, East Sussex, 21st December 2007’ from the series ‘We English’
2007

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Simon Roberts
‘Fantasy Island, Ingoldmells, Lincolnshire, 28th December 2007’ from the series ‘We English’
2007

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Simon Roberts
‘Mad Maldon Mud Race, River Blackwater, Maldon, Essex, 30th December 2007’ from the series ‘We English’
2007

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Simon Roberts
‘The Haxey Hood, Haxey, North Lincolnshire, 5th January 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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“We English is the result of a year’s travel around England by Roberts, in a motorhome, documenting its landscape on a large format 5 x 4 camera. Informed by the photography of his predecessors Tony Ray Jones, John Davies and Martin Parr, and by the romantic tradition of English landscape painting, Roberts depicts the English at leisure within pastoral landscapes in a manner that is entirely his own. The work is beautiful, accessible and often heart-warming. This is the most significant contribution to the photography of England since John Davies’s ‘The British Landscape’.”

Chris Boot, Publisher, 2009

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Artist Statement

Initially, I was simply thinking about Englishness and how my upbringing had been quintessentially English. How much of this was an intrinsic part of my identity? In what ways was my idea of what constitutes an ‘English life’ or English pastimes (if there are such things) different to those of others’? My own memories of holidays, for example, were infused with very particular landscapes; the lush green-ness around Derwent Water or the flinty grey skies – and pebbles – of Angmering’s beaches. It seemed to me that these landscapes formed an important part of my consciousness of who I am and how I ‘remember’ England.

Seeking out ordinary people engaged in diverse pastimes, I aim to show a populace with a profound attachment to its’ local environments and homeland. We English explores the notion that nationhood – that what it means to be English – is to be found on the surface of contemporary life, encapsulated by banal everyday rituals and activities.

My first major body of work, Motherland, was a study about Russian identity. The images are not clichéd representations of a Russia ground down by poverty and despair, rather, photographs of a land of dignified people empowered by a growing optimism and a deep rooted sense of national esteem.

The same themes of identity, memory, history and attachment to place – of belonging – resonate throughout We English. To access these abstractions, I’ve produced a series of colour landscape photographs, which record places where groups of people congregate for a common purpose and shared experience. Since landscape has long been used as a commodity to be consumed, I focus on leisure activities as a way of looking at England’s shifting cultural and aesthetic identity. The photographs are rooted in a consciousness of my own attachment to my homeland and are an intentionally lyrical rendering of everyday English landscapes. They draw on issues of cultural geography and contemporary landscape theory, together with vestiges of English romanticism.

We English is not just a mode of social and anthropological commentary, although there are important elements of this in the work; more, it aims to constitute a sensitive, resolved response to scenes of ordinary people and how they inhabit and utilise the spaces around them. The photographs also explore the way in which landscapes can become a site of conflict or unease, where perceived notions of nationhood and quintessential Englishness are challenged, as diverse social groups seek to colonise shared public spaces. Notions of limits and boundaries re-appear throughout the work, reflected in the rivers, trees and hedges that create physical divisions, delineating and defining the limits of human interaction. Indeed, leisure activities often occur at boundary points: the edge of towns and cities, next to lakes and reservoirs, alongside footpaths and mountain ridges.

The project derives its title from the suggestion that photographer and subjects – we ‘English’ – are complicit in the act of representation. (During the five months that I travelled around England in a motorhome, people were invited to post their ideas about events I could photograph on a dedicated website and to share their experiences of living in their particular locality).

The project has been supported by Arts Council England, the National Media Museum and the John Kobal Foundation. A monograph of the photographs will be published in September 2009 by Chris Boot Ltd.

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Simon Roberts
‘Grantchester Meadows, Cambridgeshire, 23rd January 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Simon Roberts
‘Cotswold Water Park, Shornecote, Gloucestershire, 11th May 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Simon Roberts
‘Paul Herrington’€™s 50th Birthday, Grantchester, Cambridgeshire, 15th June 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Simon Roberts
‘Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, Nottinghamshire, 16th June 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Simon Roberts
‘Blackpool Promenade, Lancashire, 24th July 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Simon Roberts
‘Chatsworth House, Bakewell, Derbyshire, 7th August 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Simon Roberts
‘Bradford Bandits BMX Club, Peel Park, Bradford, West Yorkshire, 17th October 2009’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Robert Morat Galerie
Projektraum Berlin
Kleine Hamburger Str. 2
10115 Berlin – Germany
Telefon +49 172 4348781

Robert Morat Galerie Berlin website

Simon Roberts website

We English website

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13
Nov
10

Review: ‘Mortality’ at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 8th October – 28th November 2010

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“… this immersive exhibition swallows us into a kind of spiritual and philosophical lifecycle. As we weave our way through a maze-like series of darkened rooms, we encounter life’s early years, a youth filled with mischief, wonderment, possibilities and choices, and a more reflective experience of mid and later life, preceding the eventual end.”

Dan Rule in The Age

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I never usually review group exhibitions but this is an exception to the rule. I have seen this exhibition three times and every time it has grown on me, every time I have found new things to explore, to contemplate, to enjoy. It is a fabulous exhibition, sometimes uplifting, sometimes deeply moving but never less than engaging – challenging our perception of life. The exhibition proceeds chronologically from birth to death. I comment on a few of my favourite works below but the whole is really the sum of the parts: go, see and take your time to inhale these works – the effort is well rewarded. The space becomes like a dark, fetishistic sauna with it’s nooks and crannies of videos and artwork. Make sure you investigate them all!

There is only one photograph by Gillian Wearing from her ‘Album’ series of self portraits, ‘Self Portrait at Three Years Old’ (2004, see photograph below) but what a knockout it is. An oval photograph in a bright yellow frame the photograph looks like a perfectly normal studio photograph of a toddler until you examine the eyes: wearing silicon prosthetics, Wearing confronts “the viewer with her adult gaze through the eyeholes of the toddler’s mask, Wearing plays on the rift between interior and exterior and raises a multitude of provocative questions about identity, memory, and the veracity of the photographic medium.”1

‘Tilt’ (2002, see photograph below) is a mesmeric video by Fiona Tan of a toddler strapped into a harness suspended from a cluster of white helium-filled balloons in a room with wooden floorboards. The gurgling toddler floats gently into the air before descending to the ground, the little feet scrabbling for traction before gently ascending again –  the whole process is wonderful, the instance of the feet touching the ground magical, the delight of the toddler at the whole process palpable. Dan Rule sees the video as “enlivening and troubling, joyous and worrisome” and he is correct in this observation, in so far as it is the viewer that worries about what is happening to the baby, not, seemingly, the baby itself. It is our anxiety on the toddlers behalf, trying to imagine being that baby floating up into the air looking down at the floor, the imagined alienness of that experience for a baby, that drives our fear; but we need not worry for babies are held above the heads of fathers and mothers every day of the year. Fear is the adult response to the joy of innocence.

There are several photographs by Melbourne photographer Darren Sylvester in the exhibition and they are delightful in their wry take on adolescent life, girls eating KFC (‘If All We Have Is Each Other, Thats Ok’), or pondering the loss of a first love – the pathos of a young man sitting in a traditionally furnished suburban house, reading a letter (in which presumably his first girlfriend has dumped him), surrounded by the detritus of an unfinished Subway meal (see photograph below).

An interesting work by Sue and Ben Ford, ‘Faces’ (1976-1996, see photograph below) is a video that shows closely cropped faces and the differences in facial features twenty years later. The self consciousness of people when put in front of a camera is most notable, their uncomfortable looks as the camera examines them, surveys them in minute detail. The embarrassed smile, the uncertainty. It is fascinating to see the changes after twenty years.

A wonderful series 70s coloured photographs of “Sharps” by Larry Jenkins that shine a spotlight on this little recognised Melbourne youth sub-culture. These are gritty, funny, in your face photographs of young men bonding together in a tribal group wearing their tight t-shirts, ‘Conte’ stripped wool jumpers (I have a red and black one in my collection) and rat tail hair:
“Larry was the leader of the notorious street gang the “BLACKBURN SOUTH SHARPS” from 1972-1977 when the Sharpie sub-culture was at its peak and the working class suburbs of Melbourne were a tough and violent place to grow up. These photographs represent a period from 1975-1976 in Australian sub-cultural history and are one of the few photographic records of that time. Larry began taking photos at the age of 16 using a pocket camera, when he started working as an apprentice motor mechanic and spent his weekly wage developing his shots … He captured fleeting moments, candid shots and directed his teenage mates through elaborate poses set against the immediate Australian suburban backdrops.”2

Immediate and raw these photographs have an intense power for the viewer.

A personal favourite of the exhibition is Alex Danko’s installation ‘Day In, Day Out’ (1991, see photograph below). Such as simple idea but so effective: a group of identical silver houses sits on the floor of the gallery and through a rotating wheel placed in front of a light on a stand, the sun rises and sets over and over again. The identical nature of the houses reminds us that we all go through the same process in life: we get up, we work (or not), we go to bed. The sun rises, the sun sets, everyday, on life. Simple, beautiful, eloquent.

Another favourite is Louise Short’s series of found colour slides of family members displayed on one of those old Kodak carrousel slide projectors. This is a mesmeric, nostalgic display of the everyday lives of family caught on film. I just couldn’t stop watching, waiting for the next slide to see what image it brought (the sound of the changing slides!), studying every nuance of environment and people, colour and space: recognition of my childhood, growing up with just such images.

Anri Sala’s video ‘Time After Time’ (2003, see photograph below) is one of the most poignant works in the exhibition, almost heartbreaking to watch. A horse stands on the edge of a motorway in the near darkness, raising one of it’s feet. It is only when the lights of a passing car illuminate the animal that the viewer sees the protruding rib cage and you suddenly realise how sick the horse must be, how near death. Watch the video on the Lumen Eclipse website.

The film ‘Presentation Sisters’ (2005, see photographs below) by English artist Tacita Dean, “shows the daily routines and rituals of the last remaining members of a small ecclesiastical community as they contemplate their journey in the spiritual after-life.” Great cinematography, lush film colours, use of shadow and space  – but it is the everyday duties of the sisters, a small order of nuns in Cork, Ireland that gets you in. It is the mundanity of washing, ironing, folding, cooking and the procedures of human beings, their duties if you like – to self and each other – that become valuable. Almost like a religious ritual these acts are recognised by Dean as unique and far from the everyday. We are blessed in this life that we live.

Finally two works by Bill Viola: ‘Unspoken (Silver & Gold)’ 2001 and ‘The Passing’ (1991, see photographs below). Both are incredibly moving works about the angst of life, the passage of time, of death and rebirth. For me the picture of Viola’s elderly mother in a hospital bed, the sound of her rasping, laboured breath, the use of water in unexpected ways and the beauty of cars travelling at night across a road on a desert plain, their headlights in the distance seeming like atomic fireflies, energised spirits of life force, was utterly beguiling and moving. What sadness with joy in life to see these two works.

Many thankx to the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of some of the images.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Gillian Wearing
‘Self-Portrait at Three Years Old’
2004
Digital C-type print
© Gillian Wearing

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Fiona Tan
‘Tilt’
2002
DVD
courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery London

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Darren Sylvester
‘Your First Love Is Your Last Love’
2005
© Darren Sylvester

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Sue Ford and Ben Ford
‘Faces’
1976-1996
detail 
of 15 min b/w 
reversal silent film
16mm, shot on b/w 
reversal film

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Larry Jenkins
‘Chad, Jono and Mig, Twig, Beatie and Whitey walking down the street at Blackburn South shops’
1975
© Larry Jenkins

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Alex Danko
‘Day In, Day Out’
1991

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“From the cradle to the grave… ACCA’s major exhibition Mortality takes us on life’s journey from the moment of lift off to the final send off, and all the bits in between. Curated by Juliana Engberg to reflect the Festival’s visual arts themes of spirituality, death and the afterlife, this transhistorical event includes metaphoric pictures and works by some of the world’s leading artists.

Exhibiting artists include:

Tacita Dean, an acclaimed British artist who works in film and drawing and has shown at Milan’s Fondazione Trussardi and at DIA Beacon, New York.

Anastasia Klose, one of Australia’s most exciting young video artists whose works also include performance and installation.

TV Moore, an Australian artist who completed his studies in Finland and the United States and who has shown extensively in Sydney, Melbourne and overseas.

Tony Oursler, a New York-based artist who works in a range of media and who has exhibited in the major institutions of New York, Paris, Cologne and Britain.

Giulio Paolini, an Italian born artist who has been a representative at both Documenta and the Venice Biennale.

David Rosetzky, a Melbourne-born artist who works predominantly in video and photographic formats and whose work has featured in numerous Australian exhibitions as well as New York, Milan and New Zealand galleries.

Louise Short, an emerging British artist who works predominately with found photographs and slides. Anri Sala, an Albanian-born artist who lives and works in Berlin. He has shown in the Berlin Biennale and the Hayward, London.

Fiona Tan, an Indonesian-born artist, who lives and works in Amsterdam. Tan works with photography and film and has shown in a number of major solo and group exhibitions, including representing the Netherlands at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

Bill Viola, one of the leaders in video and new media art who has shown widely internationally and in Australia.

Gillian Wearing, one of Britain’s most important contemporary artists and a Turner Prize winner who has exhibited extensively internationally.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

Albanian born artist Anri Sala’s acclaimed video work Time After Time, featuring a horse trapped on a Tirana motorway, repeatedly, heartbreakingly raising its hind-leg (see photograph below). Anri first came to acclaim in 1999 for his work in After the Wall, the Stockholm Modern Museum’s exhibition of art from post-communist Europe, and his work is characterized by an interest in seemingly unimportant details and slowness. Scenes are almost frozen into paintings.

Peter Kennedy’s Seven people who died the day I was born – April 18 1945, 1997-98 – a work from a series begun by the artist following the death of his father which connects individual lives with political and historical events. Kennedy’s birth in the last year of World War II and the seven people memorialized imply the multitude of others that died during this catastrophic event as well as the perpetual cycle of life.

A series of slides collected by British artist Louise Short, offering a beguiling insight into the everyday lives of everyday people accumulated as a life narrative.

Acclaimed British artist Tacita Dean’s Presentation Sisters, which shows the daily routines and rituals of the last remaining members of a small ecclesiastical community as they contemplate their journey in the spiritual after-life.

Three works from the Time series by influential Australian photographer Sue Ford, who passed away last year, will also be shown. The photographs capture the artist in various stages of her life.

Exhibiting Artists:

Charles Anderson, George Armfield, Melanie Boreham, Bureau of Inverse Technology, Aleks Danko, Tacita Dean, Sue Ford, Garry Hill, Larry Jenkins, Peter Kennedy, Anastasia Klose, Arthur Lindsay, Dora Meeson, Anna Molska, TV Moore, Tony Oursler, Neil Pardington, Giulio Paolini, Mark Richards, David Rosetzky, Anri Sala, James Shaw, Louise Short, William Strutt, Darren Sylvester, Fiona Tan, Bill Viola, Annika von Hausswolff, Mark Wallinger, Lynette Wallworth, Gillian Wearing.”

Text from the ACCA website

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Annika von Hausswolff
‘Hey Buster! What Do You Know About Desire?’
1995
colour photograph
courtesy of the artist and Moderna Museet

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Anri Sala
‘Time After Time’
2003
Video, 5 minutes 22 seconds

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David Rosetzky
‘Nothing like this’
DVD
2007
Courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne

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David Rosetzky
‘Nothing like this’
DVD
2007
Courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne

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Tacita Dean
‘Presentation Sisters’
2005
16 mm film
courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery London

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Tacita Dean
‘Presentation Sisters’
2005
16 mm film
courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery London

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Bill Viola
‘The Passing’
1991
In memory of Wynne Lee Viola
Videotape, black-and-white, mono sound
54 minutes
© Bill Viola

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Bill Viola
‘The Passing’
1991
In memory of Wynne Lee Viola
Videotape, black-and-white, mono sound
54 minutes
© Bill Viola

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1. Mann, Ted. “Self-Portrait at Three Years Old,” on the Guggenheim Collection website [Online] Cited 12/11/2010.
www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_230_1.html

2. Anon. “History,” on the Blackburn South Sharps website [Online] Cited 12/11/2010.
www.blackburnsouthsharps.com/1024×768/history/history.htm

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Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
111 Sturt Street
Southbank
Victoria 3006
Australia

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Weekends & Public Holidays 11am – 6pm
Monday by appointment
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art website

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09
Nov
10

Review: ‘An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar’ by Taryn Simon at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy

Exhibition dates: 15th October – 12th December 2010

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Many thankx to the Melbourne International Arts Festival, Institute of Modern Art and the Centre for Contemporary Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs © 2007 Taryn Simon. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl.

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Taryn Simon
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Contraband Room, John F. Kendedy International Airport, Queens, New York
2005/2007
© 2007 Taryn Simon.
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl

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African cane rats infested with maggots, African yams (dioscorea), Andean potatoes, Bangladeshi cucurbit plants, bush meat, cherimoya fruit, curry leaves (murraya), dried orange peels, fresh eggs, giant African snail, impala skull cap, jackfruit seeds, June plum, kola nuts, mango, okra, passion fruit, pig nose, pig mouths, pork, raw poultry (chicken), South American pig head, South American tree tomatoes, South Asian lime infected with citrus canker, sugar cane (poaceae), uncooked meats, unidentified sub tropical plant in soil. All items in the photograph were seized from baggage of passengers arriving in the U.S. at JFK Terminal 4 from abroad over a 48-hour period. All seized items are identified, dissected, and then either ground up or incinerated. JFK processes more international passengers than any other airport in the Unites States.

2005/2007 Chromogenic color print, 37-1/4 x 44-1/2 inches framed (94.6 x 113cm), Ed. Of 7

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Taryn Simon
Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, Decomposing Corpse, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee
2003/2007
© 2007 Taryn Simon.
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl

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The decomposing body of a young boy is studied by researchers who have re-created a crime scene.

The Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, popularly known as The Body Farm, is the world’s chief research center for the study of corpse decomposition. Its six-acre plot hosts approximately 75 cadavers in various stage of decomposition. The farm uses physical anthropology (skeletal analysis of human remains) to help solve criminal cases, especially murder cases. Forensic anthropologists work to establish profiles for deceased persons. These profiles can include sex, age, ethnic ancestry, stature, time elapsed since death, and sometimes, the nature of trauma on the bones.

2005/2007 Chromogenic color print, 37-1/4 x 44-1/2 inches framed (94.6 x 113cm), Ed. Of 7

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Sally Mann
Untitled WR Pa 59
2001
from the series What Remains
© Sally Mann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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This is an exhibition of large format colour photographs by Taryn Simon which features a body of work titled An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2006). The work investigates the hidden spaces, places, artefacts and rituals of American cultural warfare (here I mean warfare in the sense of good vs bad, natural vs unnatural (or mutated), safety vs danger, death vs life for example). The photographs are very much like opening a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ where the photographer is attempting to challenge the categorical boundaries of environments and objects, things that are yet to be defined and fixed in place. Some of the photographs work very well in their attempts to categorise, to index; others are far less successful.

Dan Rule in The Age sees the photographs as “slick, high-definition visuals … photographs [that] defy their gritty, documentarian sensibilities. Capturing an ominous vision of Bush-era America, her expansive series … doesn’t merely unearth a sinister vantage of the nation’s underbelly, but renders it in shocking clarity and detail … it ‘s a fascinating and troubling portrait. However, it’s not so much the subject matter but the luminous, hyper-realistic orientation that gives these images such resonance.”1

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I see things differently. Where Rule sees luminous photographs I see photographs that are very formal and dull, photographs that are rather lifeless and maudlin. Printed on grey pearlised paper (meaning that the base colour of the photographic paper is not white) and placed in pale grey frames, these A3 high definition, large depth of field photographs possess limited photographic insight into the condition of the spaces and objects being photographed. My friend rather cuttingly, but correctly, noted that they were very National Geographic drained of colour (note: the images in this online posting have far more life and colour than the actual prints!).

This is photography as documentation used to disseminate information, documentation that reinforces the indexical nature of photography (the link between referent and reality) as a form of ‘truth’ – hence the ‘Index’ in the title of the body of work, a taxonomic ordering of reality. Even then some of the photographs have to be validated by text for them to have any meaning. “The visual is processed aesthetically and then redefined by its text” trumpets the wall text. Yes sure, but here the photographs are formalistically visualised, some to very limited effect, and what the text is really doing is semiotically decoding an image that has little meaning (until we are told) through words, words that are about memory, reminders of what we call and know of a thing.
When the photograph tells us very little in the first place, when we do not have knowledge of a thing and cannot construct memories from the photograph but rely solely on words for meaning this can lead to photographs that are intrinsically and inherently poor. An example of a poor photograph in this series is the image of the captured Great white shark. Another example is the photograph of a decomposing body at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (see photograph above). Compare this to Sally Mann’s photograph of the same subject matter: the resonance of Mann’s photograph is powerful, confronting yet ambiguous with an amorphous aura surrounding the body, that of Simon’s almost as though the artist was afraid to really approach the subject; there seems to be an obsequiousness to the subject matter. Hidden is hidden and this photograph is definitely not “transforming the unknown into a seductive and intelligible form” (wall text).

Simon’s photographs are not visual enigmas that approach Atget’s The Marvellous in the Everyday, where he experimented with “the variable play between nature and art through minute changes in the camera’s angle, or as functions of the effects of light and time of day.” Nor do they possess that quality that I noted in my review of the work of Carol Jerrems – spaces that make some room for you in front – some room that would allow you to look forward, and maybe even walk into that space. Despite their ‘hidden’ and ‘unfamiliar’ context these photographs are very dull spaces. Simon’s camera angles are by the book. So are most of the photographs. Of course, I understand the revealing of meaning in the photograph by the text and the surprise this entails but this simply does not dismiss the fact that some of these works are just poor. In fact I would say only about 50% of these photographs could stand alone without the validation of the text. Does this matter? Is this important? Yes I think it is, for some of these works are just deadpan photographs of entropic spaces that are only given meaning because the photographer says they are important things to photograph (see my paper ‘Spaces That Matter: Awareness and Entropia in the Imaging of Place’, 2002). Even with text some of the photographs still have no resonance.

When the photographs do work they are astounding. There is delicious irony in the depiction of a ‘Recreational Basketball Court in Cheyenne Mountains Directorate, Chamber D, Colorado Springs, Colorado’ (2006) a dark, oppressive print of a nuclear bunker with basketball court or the incongruous nature of ‘Death Row, Outdoor Recreational Facility “The Cage”‘ (2006), a barred metal cage situated inside another building for the recreation of death row inmates. Shocking, disorientating. My personal favourite in this human built, human-less world of Simon’s was one of the simplest photographs in the exhibition, a photograph that cuts away the surroundings to picture a labelled flask sitting on a non-descript background. A concise visualisation of a labelled flask given extra meaning when you read the accompanying text: ‘Live HIV, HIV Research Laboratory’ (2006). Pause for thought. The photographs when understood aesthetically are like snapshots of an alien culture, almost mundane but disturbing. I believe the best photographs in the series combine the presence of the space or object, an understanding of the condition of that space or object without having to read the text. The text then supplements the visual interpretation not overrides it.

Human beings are secretive, unstable, paranoid creatures that are exclusory and fearful of Others. Fear is palpable in these photographs. Here is evidence of the human need for control (through the surveillance of photography) over conduct – control of contamination, death, disease, threat and Other. We investigate and document something in order to control it, in order that science can control it (think Foucault’s disciplinary systems of the prison and the madhouse). These photographs excavate meaning by bringing the shadow into the light in order to index our existence, to make the hidden less frightening and more controllable.

Personally, I prefer my world to remain the mutation that is the catastrophe in the pattern/randomness dialectic. I like the chthonic darkness of difference and the rupture of pattern, the dislocation of identity and the challenge of mutation. Even though these photographs address the context of the hidden and unfamiliar there is nothing in the least unusual about them. Here is the paradox of these works: their (ab)normality vs their lack of humanity. The photographs in this exhibition all too easily confirm our prejudices and limit our understanding of difference through their need to document, label, order and exhibit fear (in)difference, all the better to control the mutations of disturbance.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Taryn Simon
White Tiger (Kenny), Selective Inbreeding, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and Foundation, Eureka Springs, Arkansas
2006/2007
© 2007 Taryn Simon.
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl.

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In the United States, all living white tigers are the result of selective inbreeding to artificially create the genetic conditions that lead to white fur, ice-blue eyes and a pink nose. Kenny was born to a breeder in Bentonville, Arkansas, on February 3, 1999. As a result of inbreeding, Kenny is mentally retarded and has significant physical limitations. Due to this deep-set nose, he has difficulty breathing and closing his jaw, his teeth are severely malformed and he limps from abnormal bone structure in his forearms. The three other tigers in Kenny’s litter are not considered to be quality white tigers as they are yellow-coated, cross-eyed, and knock-kneed.

2006/2007 Chromogenic colour print, 37-1/4 x 44-1/2 inches framed (94.6 x 113cm), Ed. Of 7

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Taryn Simon
Hymenoplasty, Cosmetic Surgery, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, Florida
2005/2007
© 2007 Taryn Simon.
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl.

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The patient in this photograph is 21 years old. She is of Palestinian descent and living in the United States. In order to adhere to cultural and familial expectations regarding her virginity and marriage, she underwent hymenoplasty. Without it she feared she would be rejected by her future husband and bring shame upon her family. She flew in secret to Florida where the operation was performed by Dr. Bernard Stern, a plastic surgeon she located on the internet. The purpose of hymenoplasty is to reconstruct a ruptured hymen, the membrane which partially covers the opening of the vagina. It is an outpatient procedure which takes approximately 30 minutes and can be done under local or intravenous anesthesia. Dr. Stern charges $3,500 for hymenoplasty. He also performs labiaplasty and vaginal rejuvenation.

2005/2007 Chromogenic color print, 37-1/4 x 44-1/2 inches framed (94.6 x 113cm), Ed. Of 7

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“Inspired by rumours of weapons of mass destruction and secret sites in Iraq, American photographic artist Taryn Simon focuses her lens on the hidden and inaccessible places in her own country.

An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2006) takes the viewer behind closed doors to uncover some extraordinary things inside places usually hidden from the public’s view. Ranging across the realms of science, government, medicine, entertainment, nature, security, and religion, Simon’s photographic subjects include glowing radioactive capsules in an underwater nuclear-waste storage facility, a Braille edition of Playboy, a deathrow prisoners’ exercise yard, an inbred tiger, corpses rotting in a Forensic Research Facility, and a Scientology screening room.

Shot over four years, mostly with a large-format view camera, the images in this fascinating exhibition are in turn ethereal, foreboding, deadpan and cinematic. In examining what is integral to America’s foundation, mythology and daily functioning, the Index provides a surprising map of the American mindset and creates a vivid portrayal of the contemporary United States.

Inspired by rumours of WMDs and secret sites in Iraq, Taryn Simon decided to address secret sites in her own country, photographing hidden places and things within America’s borders. Ranging across the realms of science, government, medicine, entertainment, nature, security and religion, her subjects include glowing radioactive capsules, a braille edition of Playboy, a death-row prisoners’ exercise yard, an inbred tiger, a teenage corpse rotting in a forensic research facility, and a Scientology screening room. An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar explores a dialectic of security and paranoia that is distinctly American. Offering a heart-of-darkness tour of Bush-period America, it also reflects on photography’s role in revealing and concealing.

In his foreward,¹ Salman Rushdie writes ‘In a historical period in which so many people are making such great efforts to conceal the truth from the mass of the people, an artist like Taryn Simon is an invaluable counter-force. Democracy needs visibility, accountability, light. It is in the unseen darkness that unsavoury things huddle and grow. Somehow, Simon has persuaded a good few denizens of hidden worlds not to scurry for shelter when the light is switched on, as cockroaches do, and vampires, but to pose proudly for her invading lens, brandishing their tattoos and Confederate flags.

Simon’s is not the customary aesthetic of reportage – the shaky hand-held camera, the grainy monochrome film stock of the ‘real’. Her subjects…are suffused with light, captured with a bright, hyper-realist, high-definition clarity that gives a kind of star status to these hidden worlds, whose occupants might be thought to be the opposite of stars. In her vision of them, they are dark stars brought into the light. What is not known, rarely seen, possesses a form of occult glamour, and it is that black beauty which she so brightly, and brilliantly, reveals.’

¹ Salman Rushdie, ‘Foreword’ in Taryn Simon, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Steidl Gottingen, Germany, 2007, p. 7.

Text from the Melbourne International Art Festival and the Centre for Contemporary Photography websites

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Taryn Simon
Cryopreservation Unit, Cryonics Institute, Clinton Township, Michigan
2004/2007
© 2007 Taryn Simon.
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl.

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This cryopreservation unit holds the bodies of Rhea and Elaine Ettinger, the mother and fist wife of cryonics pioneer, Robert Ettinger. Robert, author of The Prospect of Immortality and Man into Superman is still alive. The Cryogenics Institute offers cryostasis (freezing) services for individuals and pets upon death. Cryostasis is practiced with the hope that lives will ultimately be extended through future developments in science, technology, and medicine. When, and if, these developments occur, Institute members hope to awake to an extended life in good health, free from disease or

the aging process. Cryostasis must begin immediately upon legal death. A person or pet is infused with ice-preventive substances and quickly cooled to a temperature where physical decay virtually stops. The Cryonics Institute charges $28,000 for cryostasis if it is planned well in advance of legal death and $35,000 on shorter notice.

2004/2007 Chromogenic colour print, 37-1/4 x 44-1/2 inches framed (94.6 x 113cm), Ed. Of 7

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Taryn Simon
Nuclear Waste Encapsulation and Storage Facility, Chernekov Radiation, Hanford Site, U.S. Department of Energy, Southeastern
Washington State
2005/2007
© 2007 Taryn Simon.
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery/Steidl.

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Submerged in a pool of water at Hanford Site are 1,936 stainless-steel nuclear-waste capsules containing cesium and strontium. Combined, they contain over 120 million curies of radioactivity. It is estimated to be the most curies under one roof in the United States. The blue glow is created by the Cherenkov Effect which describes the electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle, giving off energy, moves faster than light through a transparent medium. The temperatures of the capsules are as high as 330 degrees Fahrenheit. The pool of water serves as a shield against radiation; a human standing one foot from an unshielded capsule would receive a lethal dose of radiation in less than 10 seconds. Hanford is among the most contaminated sites in the United States.

2005/2007 Chromogenic color print, 37-1/4 x 44-1/2 inches framed (94.6 x 113cm), Ed. Of 7

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1. Rule, Dan. “Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” in The Age newspaper A2. Melbourne: Saturday, October 23rd 2010.

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Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
Tel: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday–Saturday, 11am–6pm
Sunday, 1pm–5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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05
Nov
10

Exhibition: ‘Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties’ at The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 29th June – 14th November 2010

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Many thankx to the The J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting.

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Leonard Freed
(American, 1929 – 2006)
New York City
1963
Gelatin silver print
24.6 x 16.4 cm (9 11/16 x 6 7/16 in.)
© Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos, Inc.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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W. Eugene Smith
(American, 1918 – 1978)
Industrial Waste from the Chisso Chemical Company
1972
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 34 cm (9 5/8 x 13 3/8 in.)
Minamata photographs by W. Eugene Smith & Aileen M. Smith – © Aileen Smith
H. Christopher Luce. Courtesy of Robert Mann Gallery, New York, New York

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“In the decades following World War II, an independently minded and critically engaged form of photography began to gather momentum. Situated between journalism and art, its practitioners created extended photographic essays that delved deeply into topics of social concern and presented distinct personal visions of the world. On view at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, June 29 – November 14, 2010, Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties looks in depth at projects by a selection of the most vital photographers who have contributed to the development of this documentary approach. Passionately committed to their subjects, these photographers have captured both meditative and searing images, from the deep south in the civil rights era to the war in Iraq in 2006. Their powerful visual reports, often published extensively as books, explore aspects of life that are sometimes difficult and troubling but are worthy of attention.

“This exhibition focuses on the tradition of socially engaged photographic essays since the 1960s,” explains Brett Abbott, associate curator of photographs and curator of the exhibition. “Working beyond traditional media outlets, these photographers have authored evocative bodies of work that transcend the realm of traditional photojournalism.”

Engaged Observers is structured around suites of photographs from the following projects: “Girl Culture” by Lauren Greenfield, “The Mennonites” by Larry Towell, “Streetwise” by Mary Ellen Mark, “Black in White America” by Leonard Freed, “Nicaragua, June 1978 – July 1979” by Susan Meiselas, “Vietnam Inc.” by Philip Jones Griffiths, “The Sacrifice” by James Nachtwey, “Migrations: Humanity in Transition” by Sebastião Salgado, and “Minamata” by W. Eugene and Aileen M. Smith.

Although one does not always associate style with photojournalism, where objectivity and neutrality are traditionally valued, aesthetics have been an important consideration for all of the photographers represented in the exhibition. One of the strengths of this tradition has been its ability to harness artistic decisions in reporting on the world. Meiselas chose color film for her Nicaragua project because she felt it better conveyed the spirit of the revolution as she experienced it. Salgado noted that the solemn beauty so characteristic of his approach is important in conjuring a persistent grace among his migrant subjects, allowing him to present them in a dignified way while calling attention to their plight. Nachtwey used tight framing of messy conglomerations of tubes, instruments, and arms in The Sacrifice as a way of conjuring the atmosphere of controlled chaos that he experienced in trauma centers in Iraq. In this kind of work, subject and style, message and delivery, are deliberately intertwined.

All of the photographers in this exhibition use a series of images to address conceptual issues. For instance, Freed was concerned with bridging cultural divides to engender support of basic civil rights, while Griffiths denounced violent commercialization; Salgado pointed to the effects of globalization, while the Smiths addressed the related issue of industrial pollution; Meiselas engaged and countered the fragmented process by which we receive news and understand history, while Towell challenged the meaning of “newsworthy” and explored, as did Greenfield, how cultural values affect life; Nachtwey found the human toll of war unacceptable, and Mark, the idea of homeless street kids in one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

Many of the photographers have published books to further convey their socially engaged messages. Books allow for a greater depth of reporting than magazine articles since their length can be tailored to the needs of a particular project. And because they can be read in private, books are conducive to extended contemplation and the slow absorption of ideas, both of which are important to understanding projects that are broad in scope and have layers of meaning that, in many cases, were developed over the course of years. Moreover, they provide photographers authorial control over the presentation of their work. Each artist has the ability to decide how pictures are captioned and with what information.

A final section of the exhibition is devoted to tracing the origins of the documentary photography tradition, touching on American Civil War photographs by Alexander Gardner, turn-of-the-century activism by Lewis Hine, Depression-era photography, and photojournalism in pre-World War II picture magazines. This section also looks closely at the formation of Magnum Photos. Founded in 1947 by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Besson, and several other photographers, Magnum provided a new platform for an independent documentary approach to photojournalism and became one of the world’s most prestigious photographic organizations. Magnum was structured to allow its members to pursue stories of their own choosing, spend as much time as they wanted on a particular topic, and be as involved as they desired in the editing, captioning, and publication of their work. The organization was meant to harness commercial assignments as a base from which to pursue independent work, and the concept has given rise to generations of independent photographers, including many of those in Engaged Observers.”

Press release from The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Walker Evans
(American, 1903 – 1975)
Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama / Bud Fields and His Family, Hale County, Alabama / Bud Woods and His Family
1936
Gelatin silver print
19.4 x 24.3 cm (7 5/8 x 9 9/16 in.)
© The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Philip Jones Griffiths
(Welsh, 1936 – 2008)
Vietnam
1967
Gelatin silver print
21.3 x 31.8 cm (8 3/8 x 12 1/2 in.)
© The Philip Jones Griffiths Foundation / Magnum Photos
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Limits of friendship. A Marine introduces a peasant girl to king-sized filter-tips. Of all the U.S. forces in Vietnam, it was the Marines that approached Civic Action with gusto. From their barrage of handouts, one discovers that, in the month of January1967 alone, they gave away to the Vietnamese 101,535 pounds of food, 4,810 pounds of soap, 14,662 books and magazines, 106 pounds of candy, 1,215 toys, and 1 midwifery kit. In the same month they gave the Vietnamese 530 free haircuts.

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James Nachtwey
(American, born 1948)
The Sacrifice
negative 2006 – 2007; print 2010
Inkjet print
111.8 x 983 cm (44 x 387 in.)
© James Nachtwey
James Nachtwey, New York, New York

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Sebastião Salgado
(Brazilian, born 1944)
Church Gate Station, Western Railroad Line, Bombay, India
negative 1995; print 2009
Gelatin silver print
34.3 x 51.4 cm (13 1/2 x 20 1/4 in.)
© Sebastião Salgado
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Photographic Essays

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LEONARD FREED

BLACK IN WHITE AMERICA

Photography shows the connection between things, how they relate. Photography is not entertaining, this is not decoration, this is not advertising. Photographing is an emotional thing, a graceful thing. Photography allows me to wander with a purpose.

Leonard Freed (American, 1923–2006), interview in Worldview, 2007

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While working in Germany in 1962, photographer Leonard Freed happened to notice a black American soldier guarding the divide between East and West as the Berlin Wall was being erected. It was not the partition between the forces of Communism and Capitalism that captured Freed’s imagination, however. Instead, he was haunted by the idea of a man standing in defense of a country in which his own rights were in question. The experience ignited the young photographer’s interest in the American civil rights movement raging on the other side of the globe. In June 1963 Freed headed back to the United States to embark on a multiyear documentary project, published in about 1968 as Black in White America, that would become the signature work of his career.

The Black in White America series is a kind of visual diary with a moralizing purpose. It is highly personal and socially engaged with an implicit goal of effecting change through communication. While Freed made pictures of important events in the civil rights struggle, including the 1963 March on Washington, he quickly found that his interests lay not in recording the progress of the civil rights movement per se but in exploring the diverse, everyday lives of a community that had been marginalized for so long. Penetrating the fabric of daily existence, his work portrays the common humanity of a people persevering in unjust circumstances. His sensitive and empathetic approach sought not to stimulate outrage but to foster understanding and bridge cultural divides as a means of transcending racial antipathy.

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LAUREN GREENFIELD

FAST FORWARD AND GIRL CULTURE

Girl Culture has been my journey as a photographer, as an observer of culture, as part of the media, as a media critic, as a woman, as a girl. . . . I was . . . thinking about my chronic teenage dieting, my gravitation toward good-looking and thin friends for as long as I can remember, and the importance of clothes and status symbols in the highly materialistic, image-oriented Los Angeles milieu in which I grew up.

Lauren Greenfield (American, born 1966), Girl Culture, 2002

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Photographer and documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield has built her reputation as a chronicler of mainstream American culture. In 2002 she published a photographic project, Girl Culture, that delves into the ways consumer society affects the lives of women in America. Of central concern to Greenfield was the exhibitionist tendencies of contemporary American femininity. Visiting girls of all ages at home, in doctors’ offices, and out with friends,

Greenfield examined personal issues of public consequence, providing an intense and intimate

exploration of girls’ relationships to their bodies and the effects of popular culture on self-image.

Many of her pictures and accompanying interviews focus on what she refers to as “body projects,” the daily grooming rituals undertaken in an effort to express identity through appearance. Others look at the social and consumerist influences from which these young women take their cues as well as the difficulty of living up to such expectations.

Girl Culture grew out of an earlier study, Fast Forward, that critically surveyed what life is like for children growing up in Los Angeles. The work revolves around her perception of an early loss of innocence among her young subjects and traces Hollywood’s role as a homogenizing force in their lives.

Greenfield’s lens becomes a mirror in which to reflect upon ourselves. Together Fast Forward and Girl Culture sensitively explore how culture leaves its imprint on individuals.

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PHILIP JONES GRIFFITHS

VIETNAM INC.

The “bang-bang” aspect of any war is the least likely to offer any explanation of the underlying causes. My task is to discover the why, so it’s the actions surrounding the battlefields that present the best clues.

Philip Jones Griffiths (Welsh, 1936–2008), Aperture, spring 2008

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A lifelong desire to leave the world a better place drove Philip Jones Griffiths, whose work is marked by a fiercely independent approach, deep engagement with his subjects, and a skeptical view of authority. Vietnam Inc., the photographer’s critical 1971 account of America’s armed intervention in Southeast Asia, is one of the most detailed photographic stories of a war published by a single photographer. The project’s exploration of the why, and not just the what, behind the war’s failures made it a particularly engaging and ambitious work of advocacy journalism and a model to which many photographers still aspire.

Griffiths’s independent approach is remarkable because of its sensitivity to the people of Vietnam and its eschewing of a Western point of view. In Vietnam Inc. there are few photographs documenting American troops and the might of their military prowess. Instead, his primary focus was on Vietnamese civilians and a culture in crisis. His book put the conflict in the context of Vietnam’s history and culture, showing the ways in which the Capitalist values that America promoted in its efforts to contain the spread of Communism were out of sync with Vietnam’s predominantly communal and agrarian way of life.

Vietnam, for Griffiths, became a “goldfish bowl where the values of Americans and Vietnamese can be observed, studied, and, because of their contrasting nature, more easily appraised.” And in Griffiths’s appraisal, it was America’s “misplaced confidence in the universal goodness” of its own values that would ultimately lead to an imperialist failure and, more importantly, the unjust devastation of a people.

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MARY ELLEN MARK

STREETWISE

One of the reasons we chose Seattle was because it is known as “America’s most livable city.” Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York were well known for their street kids. By choosing America’s ideal city we were making the point “If street kids exist in a city like Seattle then they can be found everywhere in America, and we are therefore facing a major social problem of runaways in this country.

Mary Ellen Mark (American, born 1940), Streetwise, 1988

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Mary Ellen Mark has reported on the state of our social environment for more than four decades. Far removed from the immediacy of war and conflict, her work plumbs the basic commonality of human experience.

In 1983 Mark traveled to Seattle to do an article for Life magazine on runaway children. Focusing on a set of streets in the city’s downtown area, she began building a sense of trust with the community of runaways and learning about their survival methods. Her pictures showed teenagers who managed to survive on the tough streets through petty crime, prostitution, foraging in dumpsters, and panhandling. She presented the abandoned buildings and underpasses they inhabited and the bonds they built with one another in the absence of family. Mark’s compositions are striking and uncomfortable, emphasizing her subjects’ youth while capturing them engaged in activities beyond their years.

Following publication of an article in Life, she continued to develop the story as both a documentary film and still photographic project with her husband, filmmaker Martin Bell, and reporter Cheryl McCall. The film, titled Streetwise, was released the following year and was nominated for an Academy Award. Mark published her still photographs from the project in a book of the same title in 1988.

The Streetwise project provided dimension to an important issue of its day. In giving specific shape, individuality, and visibility to the problem of runaway children, it called for greater social and political commitment to addressing America’s epidemic of broken families.

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SUSAN MEISELAS

NICARAGUA, JUNE 1978–JULY 1979

We all cross histories, and the ones that we cross shape us as much as we shape them.

Susan Meiselas (American, born 1948), in conversation with the curator, 2010

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In 1978 Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas traveled to Nicaragua. Tensions were high following the assassination of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, the editor of an opposition newspaper critical of the repressive, hard-line government. Meiselas witnessed the eruption of a full-scale revolution in August of that year. Aware that a momentous process was taking place, she stayed to record its unfolding, including the celebration of the revolutionaries’ victory in the central plaza of Managua in July 1979.

Meiselas was taken by the bravery of those who were willing to risk their lives against the dictatorship for the promise of a better future, and she took pains to photograph the action from the perspective of those involved in it. The record of her movements around the country formed a narrative about the progress of their insurrection. She made a decision, which at the time was still considered somewhat unusual in serious war reportage, to record the revolution on color film, seeing it as a more appropriate medium for capturing the vibrancy and optimism of the resistance.

The photographer’s compelling pictures were picked up by major newspapers and magazines around the world, giving individual images a public life, but one that was beyond her immediate control with regard to captioning and that was fragmented from the context of her larger body of pictures. In collecting seventy-one of her photo-graphs into a book, first published in 1981 as Nicaragua, June 1978 – July 1979, Meiselas reasserted the narrative of the revolution as she experienced it and gave greater permanence and coherence to her documentary endeavor.

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JAMES NACHTWEY

THE SACRIFICE

For me, the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke a sense of humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity, then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war. And if it is used well, it can be a powerful ingredient in the antidote to war.

James Nachtwey (American, born 1948), from the film The War Photographer, 2001

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For nearly thirty years James Nachtwey has dedicated himself to delivering an antiwar message by documenting those around the world affected by conflict. Traveling with emergency medical units in Iraq in 2006, the photographer began a photo essay, The Sacrifice, that documents the struggle to save and rebuild lives. The series depicts the helicopter transfers from battle sites to treatment centers, the emergency rooms where lives hang in the balance, and the difficult process of recovery.

In anticipation of showing the work, Nachtwey created a monumental installation print, consisting of sixty individual trauma-center images, tightly framed and digitally collaged into a grid. The work stands as a grim reminder of the human costs of war. The object’s sheer size, in which one picture gives way to the next in a seemingly endless stream of torn flesh, metal instruments, snaking tubes, and bloodied hands, effectively conveys a sense of the controlled chaos that permeates these medical centers as well as the overwhelming volume of casualties flowing through the medics’ hands on a daily basis.

While it may be easy to contemplate and even support war in abstract, strategic terms, it is difficult to face Nachtwey’s portrayal of its inevitable results. In its aggressive scale, his intentionally unsettling work demands that we reconcile the goals and achievements of armed conflict with its human costs, that we be prepared to acknowledge in particular visual terms the sacrifice it entails and the valiant work of those who do their best to mend its path of destruction.

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SEBASTIÃO SALGADO

MIGRATIONS: HUMANITY IN TRANSITION

My hope is that, as individuals, as groups, as societies, we can pause and reflect on the human condition at the turn of the millennium. Can we claim “compassion fatigue” when we show no sign of consumption fatigue?

Sebastião Salgado (Brazilian, born 1944), Migrations, 2000

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Trained in economics before taking up photography, Sebastião Salgado has used his camera to raise awareness of the world’s economic disparities and provoke discussion about the state of our international social environment. Between 1994 and 1999 Salgado pursued an enormous project to document migrant populations around the world. Published in 2000 as Migrations: Humanity in Transition, this epic work of twentieth-century photojournalism documents people across forty-three countries who have been uprooted by globalization, persecution, or war. The pictures in this exhibition represent several themes in Salgado’s study, including the effects of population surges in cities of developing countries, the conditions of refugees fleeing war in Africa, and the process of migration from Latin America to the United States.

Salgado’s work is marked by a heightened attention to aesthetic grace that attempts to endow his subjects with dignity even as it communicates the discomfort of their circumstances. His photographs are constructed with careful attention to dramatic lighting, elegant contours, and striking visual impact. Ultimately, Salgado sees himself as a storyteller and a communicator, a bridge between the fortunate and the unfortunate, the developed and the undeveloped, the stable and the uprooted. Portrayed lyrically and sensitively, his subjects are transformed into metaphors for complex inequities that exist in the world – problems that must be recognized and acknowledged before they can be addressed.

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W. EUGENE AND AILEEN M. SMITH

MINAMATA

[Pollution] is closing more tightly upon us each day. . . . After reflecting on the rights and wrongs of the situation in Minamata, we hope through this book to raise our small voices of words and photographs in a warning to the world. To cause awareness is our only strength.

W. Eugene Smith (American, 1918–1978) and Aileen M. Smith (American, born 1950), Minamata, 1975

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In 1971 W. Eugene Smith, a major figure in the history of socially concerned photography, and his wife, Aileen M. Smith, were told of a controversy over industrial pollution taking place in the small Japanese fishing village of Minamata. Beginning in the 1950s, thousands of people in the area were severely affected by mercury poisoning, brought about by eating fish contaminated with chemical waste dumped in the bay by the Chisso Corporation. Victims were afflicted with brain damage, paralysis, and convulsions. The ailment, which came to be known as Minamata Disease, is not reversible.

When the Smiths arrived in Minamata, lawsuits had already begun, and the couple set out to document the progress of the claims. They spent three years on the project, calling attention to the victims’ cause. Aileen acted as an equal collaborator, making pictures and writing texts with W. Eugene. The work resulted in numerous magazine publications, exhibitions, and a coauthored book, Minamata, published in 1975.

The Smiths’ study records the course of the trial through the court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in 1973. The essay relates the importance of the sea and fishing to the town’s culture, reports on the company’s drainage pipes into the sea, chronicles the lives transformed by the disease, and depicts the demonstrations that took place in opposition to Chisso. As a tale of the dangers of industrial pollution, the project gained traction within the political atmosphere of the 1970s, when the environmental movement was taking off.

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LARRY TOWELL

THE MENNONITES

When a Mennonite loses his land, a bit of his human dignity is forfeited; so is his financial solvency. He becomes a migrant worker, an exile who will spend the rest of his life drifting among fruit trees and vegetable vines, dreaming of owning his own farm some day. But for these who struggle with God at the end of a hoe, the refuge of land, Church, and community may be at least a generation away.

Larry Towell (Canadian, born 1953), The Mennonites, 2000

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Wary of the media’s commitment to speed, photographer Larry Towell insists on the integrity of extended-coverage reporting. In 1989 he came into contact with members of a Mennonite community near his home in Canada. The Old Colony Mennonites are a nonconformist Protestant sect related to the Amish that originated in Europe in the 1500s.

Over the centuries, they have migrated between countries to preserve their way of life, living in colonies where faith and tradition are intertwined and modern amenities, such as cars, rubber tires, and electricity, are not welcome.

The Mennonites Towell befriended had migrated to Canada from colonies in Mexico in search of seasonal work. Due to shrinking water tables in Mexico, the effects of international trade, and a rising population in the colonies, many Mennonites have found themselves landless and economically marginalized, forced to compromise their beliefs in order to survive. Towell was eventually invited to join them in their treks back to Mexico for the winter. With his unique and intimate access, he spent the next ten years photographing their activities, capturing their struggle to preserve a lifestyle incongruent with the larger world on which they have become interdependent.

Towell’s work documented the Mennonites’ way of life for the historical record and inspires greater understanding today for a group whose attempts to embrace life could be easily overlooked. In spending a decade on a subject that would be of only passing interest to mainstream media, he asserts a form of visual reporting in which reflection takes precedence over profitability and immediacy.”

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum

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Sebastião Salgado
(Brazilian, born 1944)
U.S. – Mexico Border, desert of San Ysidro, California
negative 1997; print 2009
Gelatin silver print
34.4 x 51.4 cm (13 9/16 x 20 1/4 in.)
© Sebastião Salgado
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Mary Ellen Mark
(American, born 1940)
Lillie with Her Rag Doll, Seattle
1983
Gelatin silver print
22.6 x 34 cm (8 7/8 x 13 3/8 in.)
© Mary Ellen Mark
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Mary Ellen Mark
(American, born 1940)
“Rat” and Mike with a Gun, Seattle
1983
Gelatin silver print
22.8 x 34.2 cm (9 x 13 7/16 in.)
© Mary Ellen Mark
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Lauren Greenfield
(American, born 1966)
Sheena tries on clothes with Amber, 15, in a department store dressing room, San Jose, California
negative 1999; print 2002
Dye destruction print
32.5 x 49.1 cm (12 13/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
© Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Lauren Greenfield
(American, born 1966)
Erin, 24, is blind-weighed at an eating-disorder clinic, Coconut Creek, Florida. She has asked to mount the scale backward so as not to see her weight gain
negative 2001; print 2002
Dye destruction print
32.5 x 49.1 cm (12 13/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
© Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 – 5.30pm
Saturday 10 – 9pm
Sunday 10 – 9pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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03
Nov
10

Exhibitions: ‘The Other’ by Titania Henderson at Karen Woodbury Gallery, Richmond, ‘Halftone’ by John Nicholson at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond

Exhibition dates: 19/20th October – 13th November 2010

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Two solid exhibitions, ceramics by Titania Henderson at Karen Woodbury Gallery and sculpture by John Nicholson at Sophie Gannon Gallery. Both exhibitions benefit from a straight forward approach to craft – elegant, refined sensibilities that are free from an overly conceptual rendering of ideas; stillness, of form in style, inhabits both bodies of work.

Contemplation is of the essence – in the beautiful, delicate, seemingly fragile shell and tubular mollusc-like bone china structures that, conversely, are physically strong; in the tonal colours of woven amoebic, disc and U-shaped constructions (the ‘Halftone’ of the exhibition title referring to the loss of colour in digital printing, the longing for sumptuous analogue markings). I liked both exhibitions for the paring down of elements to essentials forming a basis for quiet reflection, a grounding in texture, colour and lightness of form.

Many thankx to Karen Woodbury Gallery and Sophie Gannon Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Titania Henderson
‘Silence’
2010
Images courtesy of the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery

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Titania Henderson
‘Remembering’
2010
Images courtesy of the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery

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Titania Henderson
‘Piled up 1 (yellow)’
2009/10
Images courtesy of the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery

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Titania Henderson
‘Piled up 2 (yellow)’
2009/10
Images courtesy of the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery

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Titania Henderson
‘Together II’
2010
Images courtesy of the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery

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Titania Henderson’s exhibition The Other presents a range of ceramic sculptural installations in pure white Bone China that convey a three-dimensional engagement. A fragility and vulnerability resonate through these poignant paper-thin configurations, bringing a sense of clarity and freedom. These hand built works challenge the conception of Bone China as a material only suited for slip casting while also incorporating the use of French Limoges. Henderson’s method involves perseverance, technical proficiency and precision, as she creates her own language of rhythmic ceramic art. There is an inherent translucent character that appeals to elements of shadow and light within the works. This new body of work is based on ideas of the human conscience and larger philosophical ideas beyond the objects themselves and beyond language.”

Text from the Karen Woodbury Gallery website

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John Nicholson
‘Cloudpopper’
2010

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John Nicholson
‘Scan’
2010

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John Nicholson
‘Asymmetric’
2010

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John Nicholson
‘Concept 101’
2010

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John Nicholson
Installation view of ‘Halftone’
2010

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Karen Woodbury Gallery
4, Albert Street
Richmond, Vic 3121

Opening hours: Wed – Sat 11-5pm

Karen Woodbury Gallery website

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Sophie Gannon Gallery

2, Albert Street
Richmond, Melbourne

Opening hours: Tues – Saturday 11 – 5pm

Sophie Gannon Gallery website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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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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