02
Mar
13

Review: ‘Andrew Curtis: Moonlight Mile’ at Blockprojects, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th February – 3rd March 2013

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This is a strong exhibition of large scale hybrid black and white photographs by Andrew Curtis at Blockprojects, Cremone. The photographs look grand in the simple, beautiful exhibition space, perhaps too grand, too sympatico with the theme of the work: mountains made out of piles of earth dumped at building sites in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. There is humour and absurdity here as Dan Rule notes, but also more than a hint of the sublime. By playing with scale (narratives of the miniature, the gigantic) and light (these images have been studiously lit from different angles during a long time exposure), Curtis tricks the eye of the viewer, just for a split second (the punctum?), elucidating “the strength of the almost blinding role that expectation plays in our reading of an image.” (Dan Rule)

What do I mean by hybrid monochrome images – the work was shot on a 4 x 5 large format film camera and then printed digitally as an archival pigment print on cotton rag. Personally, if I went to all the trouble to shoot on film, then why wouldn’t I go the distance and get them printed the traditional way to preserve the optical veracity that large format brings? With this in mind I asked myself why the images had to be so big (the gigantism of most contemporary photography) for the smaller image, Point Cook 2 (2012, below) seemed at least as valid, perhaps more so as an image, than the larger photographs. It was almost as if the smaller size gave the subject more validity in terms of its abstractness (see installation photograph below). Perhaps a size in between the two presented in the exhibition and printed the analogue way would have been more appropriate to the spirit of the work.

The other thing that I found puzzling was the lack of depth of field from front to back of most of the images. The foregrounds were invariably out of focus (when you could actually see them) which is a strange choice when using a large format camera, where everything can be in focus front to back (a la F64). Curtis’ aesthetic choice is directly from the Pictorialist handbook, as is his decision to darken the out of focus foreground with an aura of black so that nothing is visible (see Hoppers Crossing 1, 2 and 3 below). This makes for a strange reading of the photographs where the mountain becomes isolated yet is the sole grounding of the image (save for a shadowy horizon line behind), a trope that didn’t really work for me.

My favourite images where the more intimate images such as Point Cook 2 and Wonthaggi (both 2012, below). In both the foreground is agreeably present to lead the eye into the image. In Point Cook 2 the eye is also led in from the right hand side by the spine of the mountain range, the light on the earth matching the ethereal light in the sky. A good image. Even better is Wonthaggi where the stand alone isolation of the monolithic mountains in most of the other images is broken by the “shoulders” of the mountain disappearing out of frame. This, combined with more subtle lighting and the presence of massed shadows of trees in the background, adds a valuable context to the image while at the same time referencing the history of Australian photography through the images of such people as Harold Cazneaux.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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PS. Just as a general point of interest. It is so difficult to make the right choice when displaying large, dark photographs in a gallery setting. If you pin them to the wall, as here, there tend to be waves in the photographs and a client who wants to purchase the print has to factor in where to get the print framed and how much this is going to cost: a lot of hassle for a potential client. If you do get the work framed there is the initial upfront cost plus the dark image is more than obscured by the glass in front of the image, lessening the photographs presence in front of the viewer. Finally there is the choice to have the photograph mounted on aluminium (dibond mounting) or facemounting a print onto acrylic. This gets rid of the need for framing and keeps the print flat but a serious collector of photography will not touch them because they have been stuck down with glue to these materials. A perplexing problem indeed.

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Many thankx to Blockprojects 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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Andrew Curtis. 'Wonthaggi' 2012

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Andrew Curtis
Wonthaggi
2012
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
120 x 180 cm

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Harold Cazneaux. 'The bent tree, Narrabeen' 1914

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Harold Cazneaux
The bent tree, Narrabeen
1914
Bromoil photograph
14.6 x 18.9 cm

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Andrew Curtis. 'Point Cook 2' 2012

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Andrew Curtis
Point Cook 2
2012
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
66 x 100 cm

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Installation view of 'Andrew Curtis: Moonlight Mile' at Blockprojects, Melbourne

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Installation view of Andrew Curtis: Moonlight Mile exhibition at Blockprojects, Melbourne

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Andrew Curtis. 'Hoppers Crossing 1' 2012

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Andrew Curtis
Hoppers Crossing 1
2012
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
120 x 180 cm

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Andrew Curtis. 'Hoppers Crossing 2' 2012

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Andrew Curtis
Hoppers Crossing 2
2012
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
120 x 180 cm

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Andrew Curtis. 'Hoppers Crossing 3' 2012

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Andrew Curtis
Hoppers Crossing 3
2012
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
120 x 180 cm

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Catalogue essay by

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Catalogue essay by Sean Payne, Deakin University (please enlarge to read)

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Andrew Curtis. 'Point Cook 1' 2012

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Andrew Curtis
Point Cook 1
2012
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
120 x 180 cm

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Andrew Curtis. 'Almurta' 2011

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Andrew Curtis
Almurta
2011
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
120 x 180 cm

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Blockprojects
79 Stephenson Street
Cremorne 3121 VIC
Australia
T: +61 3 9429 0660

Opening Hours:
Tuesday via appointments only.
Wednesday – Friday 11-5pm
Saturday 11-4pm
Sunday 12-4pm

Blockprojects website

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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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