Posts Tagged ‘AGNSW

28
Nov
15

Exhibition: ‘The Greats: masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney Part 2

Exhibition dates: 24th October 2015 – 14th February 2016

 

The second part of this monster two-part posting.

Highlights include the delicacy and strength of the William Blake, the stunning beauty of the John Singer Sargent portrait Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (1892), the perceived movement and presence of The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch by Sir Henry Raeburn (c. 1795). Watteau’s Fêtes vénitiennes (1718-19) confirmed my pleasure when looking at his paintings, the stillness, romanticism and intensity of vision while the muscularity and intensity of the painting in Constable’s The Vale of Dedham c. 1827-28 was a revelation.

Gainsborough’s pastoral River landscape with a view of a distant village (c. 1748-50) was a surprise while the impressionists did not disappoint. Favourite among the last room, though, was the joyous spaces and overlaid patches of light and colour in Paul Cézanne’s The big trees (c. 1904). One of the great treasures of the exhibition.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the AGNSW for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

 

Michael Clarke, Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, with Paul Cézanne's 'The big trees' c. 1904

 

Michael Clarke, Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, with Paul Cézanne’s The big trees c. 1904
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, Sir Joshua Reynolds’ The Ladies Waldegrave 1780-81 and at right, John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw 1892
© Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, in the corner, William Blake’s God writing upon the tables of the Covenant c. 1805 and at right, Sir Joshua Reynolds’ The Ladies Waldegrave 1780-81
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

William Blake (England, 1757-1827) 'God writing upon the tables of the Covenant' c. 1805

 

William Blake (England, 1757-1827)
God writing upon the tables of the Covenant
c. 1805
Ink and watercolour over pencil and some sketching with a stylus on paper
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
William Findlay Watson Bequest, 1881
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This superb watercolour comes from a group of over 80 illustrations to the Bible executed from Blake’s most significant and loyal patron, Thomas Butts. Artist and patron probably first met in 1799, when Butts commissioned Blake to produce 50 small tempera paintings of biblical subjects. This initial commission seems to have developed into an open-ended series of watercolours, painted over a period of nine years, for which Butts paid Blake a regular stipend. The original mount belonging to this work, now lost, was inscribed with a reference to the relevant biblical text, which in this case is Deuteronomy 9:10.

 

Sir Joshua Reynolds (England, 1723-92) 'The Ladies Waldegrave' 1780-81

 

Sir Joshua Reynolds (England, 1723-92)
The Ladies Waldegrave
1780-81
Oil on canvas
143 x 168.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Purchased with funds from the Cowan Smith Bequest and with the aid of the Art Fund, 1952
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The first president of the Royal Academy, Reynolds worked to raise the status of portraiture in Britain by painting people in the ‘grand manner’ more commonly associated with history painting. This informal portrait, a ‘conversation piece’, features the three sisters Lady Charlotte Maria, Lady Elizabeth Laura and Lady Anna Horatia Waldegrave. Depicting interlocking figures, Reynolds subtly alludes to trios of goddesses or graces of antiquity – a reference that would have been understood by classically educated viewers of the late 18th century. Reynolds’s triple portrait was commissioned by the sitters’ great-uncle, the celebrated antiquarian, connoisseur and critic Horace Walpole.

 

John Singer Sargent (USA, 1856-1925) 'Lady Agnew of Lochnaw' 1892

John Singer Sargent (USA, 1856-1925) 'Lady Agnew of Lochnaw' 1892

John Singer Sargent (USA, 1856-1925) 'Lady Agnew of Lochnaw' 1892

 

John Singer Sargent (USA, 1856-1925)
Lady Agnew of Lochnaw
1892
Oil on canvas
125.7 x 100.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund, 1925
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

One of the best-loved pictures of the National Galleries of Scotland, this portrait of 27-year old Lady Agnew of Lochnaw is the first Sargent to be exhibited in Sydney in 35 years. As one of Sargent’s most glamourous and beguiling characterisations, it was pivotal in establishing the renown of both artist and sitter. The painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1893 to wide public acclaim and cemented Sargent’s position as a sought-after, fashionable portraitist of high society. For Lady Agnew, it launched her as a society beauty who later established her own private salon in London. Ironically, the costs of sustaining such fine style led Lady Agnew to sell her own portrait to the Scottish National Gallery in 1925.

In an ornate plush chair and surrounded by swathes of Chinese fabric, Lady Agnew gazes out at the viewer, confidently but enigmatically. Her pose is gracious, but relaxed. The chair and fabric were Sargent’s own props, and along with the generous, gauzy swathes of the sitter’s dress they give the painting a sense of comfort and luxury. Sargent’s brushstrokes are wide and fluid, and in some areas the canvas shows through the thin, sketchy layers of paint. But it is also very carefully composed to present Lady Agnew as an assured and elegant society woman.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw 1892 and at right, Sir Henry Raeburn’s Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch c. 1795
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1756-1823) 'The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch' c. 1795

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1756-1823)
The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch
c. 1795
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 63.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Raeburn was the leading Scottish portrait painter of his time. This striking portrait of Robert Walker (1755-1808), minister of Edinburgh’s Canongate Church and a leading member of the city’s exclusive skating society, has come to be regarded as one of Raeburn’s greatest works. It is the most famous painting in the Scottish National Gallery, often described as the quintessential Scottish painting, and is listed in a recent publication as one of the 1000 paintings you must see before you die.

Its simple composition bestows the painting with an extraordinary visual impact. Walker is shown gliding across the icy surface of one of the small lochs near Edinburgh, his arms folded nonchalantly across his chest and his right leg lifted balletically behind him. Raeburn has cleverly created the effect of ice scored by the skater’s blades by scratching back into the paint surface. Unlike most of his artistic peers, Raeburn received no formal artistic education, instead pursuing other academic studies before being apprenticed to a local goldsmith at the age of sixteen.

Raeburn’s approach to painting reflected this unusual path into his profession. He avoided the meticulous production of preparatory drawings and sketches, instead preferring to work straight onto the canvas with minimal formal planning. While this approach invariably meant having to deal with compositional changes in the process of painting, it also enabled Raeburn to produce portraits that were unrivalled in their directness and spontaneity.

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1756-1823) 'The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch' c. 1795 (detail)

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1756-1823)
The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch (detail)
c. 1795
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 63.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Botticelli. Cézanne. Gauguin. Leonardo. Monet. Raphael. Titian. Turner. Velázquez. Vermeer.

One of the most significant collections of European old master paintings ever seen in Australia is now open at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, providing a once in a lifetime opportunity for Australians to contemplate the extraordinary quality of over 70 masterful paintings and drawings from across four centuries. The Greats marks the first time these artworks have been exhibited in Australia, with the exception of Rembrandt’s A woman in bed (c. 1647) and Seurat’s La Luzerne, Saint-Denis (1884-85).

Deputy Premier and Minister for the Arts, Troy Grant, said with works by some of the world’s most well-known artists, The Greats alongside the Art Gallery of NSW’s own impressive collection is bound to draw big crowds this summer. “An exhibition of this calibre is a real coup for the State and builds on our standing as the cultural capital of Australia,” Minister Grant said. “These incredible works from Scotland may never be on Australian soil again, so art-lovers and novices alike should visit the Art Gallery of NSW and see this historic exhibition while they can.”

Michael Brand, director of the Art Gallery of NSW said The Greats is a rich and intimate show of remarkable quality. “Each masterpiece – whether it be Titian’s luminous Venus rising from the sea (c. 1520-25) or Gauguin’s striking Three Tahitians (1899) – tells its own unique story. Through robust and engaging public programs, the Gallery looks forward to sharing these stories with visitors of all ages.”

The Greats: masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland unfolds in rooms devoted to the art of the Italian Renaissance, the Baroque in Southern and Northern Europe, the French and British Enlightenment, nineteenth century Scotland, and Impressionism. The exhibition has been carefully designed and installed to accentuate the grandeur of the paintings and foster an intimate experience with each of the artworks.”

Text from the AGNSW

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll' 1767

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll' 1767

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88)
John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll
1767
Oil on canvas
235 x 154.3 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburg
Purchased 1953
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The Scottish Duke of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell, whose hereditary seat is Inverary Castle, commissioned Thomas Gainsborough, one of the most celebrated English portraitists of the 18th century, to paint his likeness. The artist’s talents were sought by the wealthy elite both in London and in the fashionable resort town of Bath, where he established a studio in 1759. Gainsborough applied dense and feathery brushwork to convey Argyll’s ducal robes, his collar of the Order of  Thistle, and the baton of his hereditary office of Master of the King’s Household.

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll' (detail) 1767

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88)
John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll (detail)
1767
Oil on canvas
235 x 154.3 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburg
Purchased 1953
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Francesco Guardi (Italy, 1712-93) 'The Piazza San Marco, Venice' c. 1770-75

Francesco Guardi (Italy, 1712-93) 'The Piazza San Marco, Venice' c. 1770-75

 

Francesco Guardi (Italy, 1712-93)
The Piazza San Marco, Venice
c. 1770-75
Oil on canvas
55.2 x 85.4 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the Scottish National Gallery, 1978
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Like his fellow painter Canaletto, Guardi capitalised on the market of tourists eager for topographical views – vedute – of the spectacular urban spaces of Venice. This composition features the Piazza San Marco, which Napoleon would later call ‘the most splendid drawing room in Europe’. On either side, the receding arcades of official buildings, the Procurator Vecchio and Procurator Nuove, lead the eye towards the Basilica of San Marco, its mosaics shimmering in the sunlight. Behind the bellower is a glimpse of the Doge’s Palace. The scene is enlivened by traders, uniformed government officials, and fashionably dressed tourists – all portrayed through only a few deft strokes of the brush.

 

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721) 'Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures)' 1718-19

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721) 'Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures)' 1718-19

 

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721)
Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures)
1718-19
Oil on canvas
55.9 x 45.7 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Bequest of Lady Murray of Henderland, 1861
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721) 'Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures)' (detail) 1718-19

 

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721)
Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures) (detail)
1718-19
Oil on canvas
55.9 x 45.7 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Bequest of Lady Murray of Henderland, 1861
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

At the beginning of the 18th century, Watteau pioneered the fêtes gallant, a type of painting depicting a group of men and women enjoying flirtatious love, music and conversation, generally in a park or a garden setting. His paintings inspired a generation of artists who sought to capture the light-hearted elegance of the period. This painting is one of his few compositions that portray real people: the figure on the left can be identified as Watteau’s friend and fellow artist Nichola Vleugxhels, and the lovelorn bagpipe player on the right is considered a self-portrait of Watteau himself.

 

François Boucher (France, 1703–70) Pastoral scene: l’offrande à la villageoise 1761 Pastoral scene: la jardinière endormie 1762 Pastoral scene: l’aimable pastorale 1762

François Boucher (France, 1703–70) Pastoral scene: l’offrande à la villageoise 1761 Pastoral scene: la jardinière endormie 1762 Pastoral scene: l’aimable pastorale 1762

 

François Boucher (France, 1703-70)
The pleasing pastoral: l’aimable pastorale
1762
Oil on canvas
231.5 x 91 cm

The offering of the village girl: l’offrande à la villageoise

1761
Oil on canvas
229 x 89 cm

The sleeping gardener: la jardinière endormie
Oil on canvas
232 x 91 cm
1762

Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by private treaty from the estate of HMV Showering, 1986
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Boucher, considered the pre-eminent painter of the French rococo, effectively invented this genre of elegiac, erotic pastoral which found a parallel in the pantomimes devised by his friend Charles-Simon Favart. In these three pastoral scenes set in a luxuriant and entirely unthreatening nature, shepherds engage in a perpetual drama of frustrated courtship, reflecting the polished etiquette and suppressed passions of aristocratic society in pre-revolutionary France.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, John Constable’s The Vale of Dedham c. 1827-28 and at right, Thomas Gainsborough’s River landscape with a view of a distant village c. 1748-50
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

John Constable (England, 1776-1837) 'The Vale of Dedham' c. 1827-28

 

John Constable (England, 1776-1837)
The Vale of Dedham
c. 1827-28
Oil on canvas
145 x 122 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with funds from the Cowan Smith Bequest and with the aid of the Art Fund, 1944
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Constable was born in Suffolk, and he dedicated most of his career to painting the surrounding English countryside with a marked romantic idealism. He was influenced by the grand tradition of European landscape painting, which he learned from artists and dealers he met in London early in his career. This composition, for instance, is indebted broadly to that of Claude Lorrain’s work Hagar and the angel 1646 (National Gallery, London). Constable referred to his own mature masterpiece in al better of June 1828: ‘I have painted a large upright landscape, perhaps my best.’

 

John Constable (England, 1776-1837) 'The Vale of Dedham' (details) c. 1827-28

John Constable (England, 1776-1837) 'The Vale of Dedham' (details) c. 1827-28

 

John Constable (England, 1776-1837)
The Vale of Dedham (details)
c. 1827-28
Oil on canvas
145 x 122 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with funds from the Cowan Smith Bequest and with the aid of the Art Fund, 1944
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'River landscape with a view of a distant village' c. 1748-50

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88)
River landscape with a view of a distant village
c. 1748-50
Oil on canvas
76 x 151 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Purchased 1953
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'River landscape with a view of a distant village' (detail) c. 1748-50

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'River landscape with a view of a distant village' (detail) c. 1748-50

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'River landscape with a view of a distant village' (detail) c. 1748-50

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88)
River landscape with a view of a distant village (details)
c. 1748-50
Oil on canvas
76 x 151 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Purchased 1953
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Although best known for his portraits, Gainsborough consistently painted landscape throughout his long career. Rich in detail and carefully composed, this painting reveals his firsthand knowledge of 17th-century Dutch landscapes. During the 1740s, collectors in London admired and sought out works by such artists of Holland’s Golden Age as Meindert Hobbema and Jacob van Ruisdael. The especially horizontal format of this work suggests that it may have been part of a decorative cycle for a domestic interior, perhaps hanging above a fireplace.

 

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875) 'Ville-d'Avray: entrance to the wood' c. 1825, with later retouching

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875) 'Ville-d'Avray: entrance to the wood' c. 1825, with later retouching

 

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875)
Ville-d’Avray: entrance to the wood
c. 1825, with later retouching
Oil on canvas
46 x 35 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of AE Anderson in memory of his brother Frank, 1927
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875) 'Ville-d'Avray: entrance to the wood' (detail) c. 1825, with later retouching

 

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875)
Ville-d’Avray: entrance to the wood (detail)
c. 1825, with later retouching
Oil on canvas
46 x 35 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of AE Anderson in memory of his brother Frank, 1927
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Corot, whose career spanned more than 50 years, emerged from the classicism of the 1820s to found the ‘school of nature’ that would find its culmination after his death in the art of the impressionists. This bucolic early work was painted at Ville-d’Avray, a small town west of Paris, where Corot’s parents owned a modest country house with grounds. The painting was retouched around 1850, at least in part by Corot’s friend and fellow artist Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña, who added the red cap of the seated woman as a bold implement to the otherwise cool palette.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at centre, Sir Henry Raeburn’s Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell, 15th Chief of Glengarry c. 1812
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, Sir Henry Raeburn’s Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell, 15th Chief of Glengarry c. 1812 and at centre, William Dyce’s Francesca da Rimini 1837
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at centre, Sir Henry Raeburn’s Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, 1st Baronet mid to late 1790s
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, William Dyce’s Francesca da Rimini 1837 and at right, Sir Edwin Landseer’s Rent-day in the wilderness 1868
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73) 'Rent-day in the wilderness' 1868

 

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73)
Rent-day in the wilderness
1868
Oil on canvas
122 x 265 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Bequest of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1871
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73) 'Rent-day in the wilderness' (detail) 1868

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73) 'Rent-day in the wilderness' (detail) 1868

 

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73)
Rent-day in the wilderness (details)
1868
Oil on canvas
122 x 265 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Bequest of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1871
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Lands became famous for his paintings of the Scottish Highlands. This unusual history painting is based on the heroic exploits of Colonel Donald Murchison, as recounted in Robert Chamber’s Domestic annals of Scotland (1858-60). Murchison, a lawyer turned guerrilla fighter, supported the rebellion to reinstate the Stuart dynasty to the throne of Great Britain. he brazenly defied the government by collecting rents illegally from Scottish tenants to finance local armed resistance. In this painting – commissioned by Murchison’s great-grandson – Landseer conflates several distinct episodes, including the colonel’s daring and notorious ambush of government-appointed agents, escorted by British redcoats, in 1721.

 

Frederic Edwin Church (USA, 1826-1900) 'Niagara Falls, from the American side' 1867

 

Frederic Edwin Church (USA, 1826-1900)
Niagara Falls, from the American side
1867
Oil on canvas
260 x 231 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Presented by John Stewart Kennedy, 1887
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, Camille Pissarro’s The Marne at Chennevières c. 1864-65 and at right, Claude Monet’s Poplars on the Epte 1891
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, Claude Monet’s Poplars on the Epte 1891 and at right, Paul Cézanne’s The big trees c. 1904
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903) 'The Marne at Chennevières' c. 1864-65

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903) 'The Marne at Chennevières' c. 1864-65

 

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903)
The Marne at Chennevières
c. 1864-65
Oil on canvas
91.5 x 145.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1947
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903) 'The Marne at Chennevières' (detail) c. 1864-65

 

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903)
The Marne at Chennevières (detail)
c. 1864-65
Oil on canvas
91.5 x 145.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1947
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

 

Pisarro, the oldest and perhaps the most paternal of the impressionists, was the only artist to show at all eight of the group exhibitions. He painted this large riverscape early in his career, while renting a house at La Varenne-Saint-Hilaire, a village to the southeast of Paris, situated on the river Marne. The diagonal composition and the use of a palette knife to create this bucolic scene reflect the painter’s admiration for such diverse artists as Charles François Daubigny and Gustave Courbet.

 

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926) 'Poplars on the Epte' 1891

 

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926)
Poplars on the Epte
1891
Oil on canvas
81.8 x 81.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1925
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

In the 1880s, Monet gradually developed a more schematic and decorative approach to landscape, which led to his ‘series’ paintings of the 1890s, beginning with the Haystacks in 1891 and culminating in his water lily paintings. This painting belongs to a series of twenty-three canvases that Monet, the founder of French impressionism and one of the most celebrated artists in Western art history, completed in the late spring and autumn of 1891.

For the series, Monet painted poplar trees on the river Epte, close to where it joins the river Seine, just more than a mile from his home at Giverny. The clear blue sky and sunlit clouds express a fresh atmosphere. Monet painted the scene on the river from his boat, which served as a floating studio. This explains the low vantage point, with the trees towering above, the river bank at eye level, and the vast expanse of water dominating the lower half of the painting. Unlike most of the series paintings which are vertical, the Edinburgh picture’s format is square, emphasising the gentle curve of the bank and the verticality of the slender trees trunks and their reflection in the water.

Monet had already started to create these works when municipal authorities decided to cut down the trees for lumber and sell them at auction. In order to preserve his motifs, Monet partnered with a timber merchant, and successfully saved the poplars, allowing him to complete his series for exhibition in 1892. The painting was the first impressionist picture to enter the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection. It was sold to the Gallery in 1924 by the important Scottish art dealer Alex Reid, who was responsible for introducing impressionism to many British collectors. Degas’ Portrait of Diego Martelli 1879 also passed through his hands (see below).

 

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926) 'Poplars on the Epte' (detail) 1891

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926) 'Poplars on the Epte' (detail) 1891

 

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926)
Poplars on the Epte (details)
1891
Oil on canvas
81.8 x 81.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1925
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Edgar Degas (France, 1834-1917) 'Diego Martelli' 1879

 

Edgar Degas (France, 1834-1917) 'Diego Martelli' 1879

 

Edgar Degas (France, 1834-1917)
Diego Martelli
1879
Oil on canvas
110.4 x 99.8 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1932
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This portrait of the Florentine art critic Diego Martelli, a close friend of Degas and an important champion of impressionism, was painted in Martelli’s Paris apartment. The high viewpoint flattens the composition, throwing the sitter’s legs into sharp perspective. The work’s asymmetry and the cropping of such elements as the discarded slippers reflect Degas’s interest in Japanese prints. The curved picture behind the sofa is a map of Paris: the river Seine is visible, running through coloured segments denoting the city’s new souther neighbourhoods.

 

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906) 'The big trees' c. 1904

 

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906)
The big trees
c. 1904
Oil on canvas
81 x 65 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Presented by Mrs Anne F Kessler, 1958; received after her death, 1983
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This painting dates from the last years of Cézanne’s career. It is one of a series of works executed in the forest around the Bibémus quarry and the Château Noir, areas in which he often painted in his native Aix-en-Provence. The twisting limbs of the tree at left and the dramatic diagonal of the tree at right inject a sense of dynamism into the composition. Cézanne often left his pertaining in seemingly unfinished states, with areas of the primed white canvas showing through; here, they function not only as markers of the painter’s practice but also as patches of reflected sunlight.

 

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906) 'The big trees' (detail) c. 1904

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906) 'The big trees' (detail) c. 1904

 

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906)
The big trees (details)
c. 1904
Oil on canvas
81 x 65 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Presented by Mrs Anne F Kessler, 1958; received after her death, 1983
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left Paul Gauguin’s Three Tahitians 1899 and at right, Georges Seurat’s La luzerne, Saint-Denis 1884-85
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Paul Gauguin (France, 1848-1903) 'Three Tahitians' 1899

Paul Gauguin (France, 1848-1903) 'Three Tahitians' 1899

 

Paul Gauguin (France, 1848-1903)
Three Tahitians
1899
Oil on canvas
73 x 94 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Presented by Sir Alexander Maitland in memory of his wife Rosalind, 1960
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Three Tahitians epitomises the decorative intensity of Gauguin’s late Polynesian works. Painted in the artist’s final years, during his second period in Tahiti, the work is said to depict a silent conversation in which the man appears to be undecided about the choice offered by the two attractive women – the choice between sensuality and piety. Although ambiguous, it has been suggested these two women are respectively symbolic of vice and virtue.

The bare-chested woman, holding a small posy of flowers and wearing a wedding ring, would seem to represent goodness, her gaze directed to the man. While the woman who turns to face the viewer, her sensuous lips in an enigmatic smile, and holds a mango, may be a reference to the biblical figure Eve who tempted Adam with an apple. These two women recur in several other compositions by Gauguin around this time. In the 1880s, the French post-impressionist fled urban civilisation in search of a tropical Garden of Eden, in which he felt his art could flourish. His final two years of life were spent on the remote island of Hivaoa in the tiny village of Atuona.

 

 

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20
Nov
15

Exhibition: ‘The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney Part 1

Exhibition dates: 24th October 2015 – 14th February 2016

 

I was lucky enough to be up in Sydney to review the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales… and the media preview for The Greats was on. What an unexpected bonus!

This is part 1 of a monster 2 part posting on the exhibition which, in all honesty, is a bit of a hotchpotch of a blockbuster. But my god, what a hotchpotch it is.

Highlights in part 1 of the posting include:

  • The vibrancy and folds of the pink dress of the Virgin as it flows down and under the Christ child in Botticelli’s The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child, c. 1485
  • The stillness and intensity, colouration of the figures in Johannes Vermeer’s Christ in the house of Martha and Mary, c. 1654-55
  • The glorious “atmosphere”, light and colour in Jan Lievens’ Young man in yellow c. 1630-31, one of the unexpected highlights of the exhibition
  • The intensity of the painting, the precision and care in Diego Velazquez’s An old woman cooking eggs 1618. Now that is really looking at the world
  • And the glorious frames of all these works. I do like a good frame!

Marcus

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Many thankx to the AGNSW for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Entrance to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Entrance to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

 

Installation photographs of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90-1576) Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene) c. 1520-25
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

 

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90-1576)
Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)
c. 1520-25
Oil on canvas
74 x 56.2 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

 

Titian was the most celebrated Venetian painter of his time. His wealthy and learned patrons spanned across Europe. Well-versed in classical art and literature, including the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, they fuelled a strong demand for paintings like Venus rising from the sea c. 1520-25. According to legend, Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, was born fully grown from the sea. She was then carried to land upon a scallop shell, blown by the zephyr winds.

In Venus rising from the sea, Titian has painted the goddess as a beautiful and voluptuous woman, emerging from the sea and wringing out her wet hair, with a miniature version of her scallop shell floating nearby. Her long auburn locks, milky skin and blushing cheeks are sensuous and tactile, suggesting her seductive powers as the goddess of love. Venus’s gracious, twisting pose recalls classical statues of the goddess. Titian rarely made preparatory drawings for his paintings, preferring to work straight onto the canvas, applying subtle gradations of colour in soft, feathery brushstrokes. He also used live models to pose for his figures, which was uncommon in the early 1500s. This lends the painting its great liveliness and sensuality – qualities that have made Titian justly famous.

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510)
The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (‘The Wemyss Madonna’)
c. 1485
Tempera, oil and gold on canvas
122 x 80.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485 (detail)

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485 (detail)

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510)
The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (‘The Wemyss Madonna’) (detail)
c. 1485
Tempera, oil and gold on canvas
122 x 80.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Painted by one of the most outstanding artists of the Italian Renaissance, The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child c. 1485 is the earliest work in the exhibition. It has not left the United Kingdom since 1846 and The Greats presents the first time in almost three decades that any painting by Botticelli has been exhibited in Sydney. In this devotional painting, the Virgin Mary kneels silently and prays before her son, the infant Jesus Christ, in a rose-filled garden. Her gown and cloak spill onto the ground to provide a pillow for the child, who is nestled among the flowers, asleep. Its simple composition, focusing on just the two figures, invites quiet contemplation.

Like many Renaissance paintings, the picture is rich in symbolism. The enclosed garden is a reference to the purity of the Virgin, who was often called ‘a rose without thorns’. Some symbols are more ominous. The sleeping child with his pallid complexion is presumably a reference to Christ’s eventual death. The red strawberry plant in the lower right corner symbolises the blood he will shed on the cross. Technically the painting is unusual for the Florentine artist: it is quite small and has been painted on canvas rather than wooden panel. This suggests it was intended for a private home or convent, rather than a public space like a church.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, at left, Domenichino’s The adoration of the shepherds c. 1606-08
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (Italy, 1581-1641) 'The adoration of the shepherds' c. 1606-08

 

Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (Italy, 1581-1641)
The adoration of the shepherds
c. 1606-08
Oil on canvas
143 x 115 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1971
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, at centre, Sir Anthony van Dyck’s Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom c. 1620-21
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' c. 1620-21

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' c. 1620-21

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641)
Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom
c. 1620-21
Oil on canvas
230 x 163.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by the Royal Institution, 1830; transferred, 1859
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Anthony van Dyck, the most successful pupil of Peter Paul Rubens, is regarded as one of the masters of the Flemish baroque. Painted just before Van Dyck left Flanders for Italy in 1621, this dramatic composition features Saint Sebastian, a Roman officer who converted secretly to Christianity. When Sebastian’s faith was discovered, he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. Usually shown at the moment of his martyrdom, with the arrows piercing his body, here Sebastian has been portrayed prior to his execution. His twisting body and his upward-turned face seem to anticipate the punishment that is to come.

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' (detail) c. 1620-21

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' (detail) c. 1620-21

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641)
Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom (details)
c. 1620-21
Oil on canvas
230 x 163.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by the Royal Institution, 1830; transferred, 1859
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The Greats: masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland is one of the most significant collections of European old master paintings ever seen in Australia and is presented as part of the Sydney International Art Series 2015-2016. Spanning a period of 400 years from the Renaissance to Impressionism, The Greats includes works by the most outstanding names in Western art, including Botticelli, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Velázquez, Poussin, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Monet, Degas, Gauguin, and Cézanne.

This richly presented exhibition brings together over 70 of the greatest paintings and drawings from the National Galleries of Scotland, based in the beautiful capital city of Edinburgh. The Greats marks the first time these artworks have been exhibited in Australia, with the exception of Rembrandt’s A woman in bed (c. 1647) and Seurat’s La Luzerne, Saint-Denis (1884-85). Botticelli’s Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (c. 1485) has not been exhibited outside of the United Kingdom in 169 years.

Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Michael Brand, said it is a tremendous privilege to host such a fine collection of masterpieces in Sydney and that the Art Gallery of NSW is extremely grateful to the National Galleries of Scotland for their generosity and collegiality. “The Greats is a statement of unequivocal artistic excellence – each piece in this exhibition is of extraordinary quality. We are excited to provide Australian audiences the rare opportunity to come face to face with such unique and masterful artworks,” Brand said.

“Approaching the entrance to the Art Gallery of NSW, we are reminded of Sydney’s historic aspirations for viewing the creations of European old masters, with names such as Titian, Rembrandt and Botticelli adorning the Gallery’s sandstone facade. It is with great pleasure that we now welcome incredible works by these artists to our interior walls, into a sublime exhibition space that promises a moving and absorbing experience for all visitors,” Brand added.

Director of the Scottish National Gallery, Michael Clarke, said, “We are delighted to present some of the finest masterworks from the National Galleries of Scotland at the distinguished Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Gallery provides a marvellous venue for our exhibition, which includes a selection of paintings that have recently toured to art institutions in America, including the de Young in San Francisco and the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth.”

Visitors to The Greats will experience the Scottish National Gallery’s famous interior with part of the exhibition space inspired by the Edinburgh gallery’s octagonal rooms with fabric walls of a sumptuous red – the traditional colour on which to hang old master paintings. This installation will serve to accentuate the grandeur of the paintings and foster an intimate experience with each of the artworks. A variety of associated public and education programs are on offer to visitors of all ages. Serving to engage the widest possible audience, the Gallery will host daily guided tours, lecture series, late night programs and a suite of other events designed to facilitate meaningful interactions with the artworks featured in The Greats.”

Press release from the AGNSW

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with Frans Hals’ Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck c. 1627 (left) and Johannes Vermeer’s Christ in the house of Martha and Mary c. 1654-55 (centre)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666) 'Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck' c. 1627

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666)
Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck
c. 1627
Oil on panel
Scottish National Gallery
Presented by John J Moubray of Naemoor, 1916
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

With his loose and seemingly spontaneous brushwork, combined with an exceptional ability to capture a sitter’s likeness and expression, Hals inspired generations of artists, from Jean-Honoré Fragonard to Édouard Manet. This portrait probably shows Pieter Verdonck, a Haarlem Mennonite, who was said to be aggressive and argumentative. In a contemporary engraving after the painting, an inscription reads: ‘This is Verdonck, that outspoken fellow, / whose jawbone attacks everyone.’ The jawbone that he holds is the same weapon used by the biblical hero Samson to kill the Philistines; here, it may refer to Verdonck’s ability to wound his enemies with his cutting words.

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666) 'Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck' c. 1627 (detail)

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666)
Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck
c. 1627
Oil on panel
Scottish National Gallery
Presented by John J Moubray of Naemoor, 1916
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Johannes Vermeer (The Netherlands, 1632-75) 'Christ in the house of Martha and Mary' c. 1654-55

 

Johannes Vermeer (The Netherlands, 1632-75)
Christ in the house of Martha and Mary
c. 1654-55
Oil on canvas
Scottish National Gallery
Presented by the Sons of WA Coats in memory of their father, 1927
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The fame of Vermeer, now one of the best-known painter of the Dutch Golden Age, rests on just 36 paintings known to survive today. This canvas is music larger than his usual compositions and is the only one that illustrates a biblical subject. In spite of its uniqueness, the painting is replete with the quiet human interactions for which the artist is known. The scene depicts the story from Luke 10:38-42, in which Martha objected to her sister Mary listening to Jesus while she herself was busy serving. Given the substantial size of the canvas, it is likely that the painting was a specific commission, possibly intended for a Catholic church.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, at centre, Rembrandt van Rijn’s A woman in bed 164(7?) and at right, Jan Lievens’ Young man in yellow c. 1630-31
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69) 'A woman in bed' 164(7?)

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69) 'A woman in bed' 164(7?)

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69)
A woman in bed
164(7?)
Oil on canvas (formerly laid down on panel)
81.4 x 67.9 cm (arched top)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Presented by William McEwan, 1892
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The model for this painting is still unidentified. She might be any one of the three main women in Rembrandt’s life: his wife, Saskia; his son’s nursemaid, Geertje Dircx; or his family’s servant girl, Hendrickje Stoffels. Though intimate in its appearance, the painting is probably not a portrait, as a bed would have been an inappropriate setting for a respectable female model. The figure most likely represents the biblical character Sarah from the Old Testament Book of Tobit. Rembrandt shows her watching anxiously as her bridegroom Tobias chases away the devil that had murdered each of her previous seven husbands on their wedding nights.

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69) 'A woman in bed' (detail) 164(7?)

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69)
A woman in bed (detail)
164(7?)
Oil on canvas (formerly laid down on panel)
81.4 x 67.9 cm (arched top)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Presented by William McEwan, 1892
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74) 'Young man in yellow' c. 1630-31

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74)
Young man in yellow
c. 1630-31
Oil on canvas
112 x 99 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund, 1922
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74) 'Young man in yellow' (detail) c. 1630-31

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74)
Young man in yellow (detail)
c. 1630-31
Oil on canvas
112 x 99 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund, 1922
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Jan Lievens and Rembrandt van Rijn were two young artists working in Leiden in the years around 1630. They worked separately, though they engaged in artistic competition and exchange, as this painting suggests. The dramatically lit depiction of a young man posing as a commander with his gorget and baton is not a true portrait, but a tronie – a Dutch term for a painting that features an exaggerated facial expression or a figure in an almost theatrical costume. Both Lievens and Rembrandt experimented with tronies early in their careers, often introducing members of their families or their own likenesses.

 

Paolo Veronese (Italy, 1528-88) 'Venus, Cupid and Mars' 1580s

Paolo Veronese (Italy, 1528-88) 'Venus, Cupid and Mars' 1580s

 

Paolo Veronese (Italy, 1528-88)
Venus, Cupid and Mars
1580s
Oil on canvas
165.2 x 126.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by the Royal Institution, 1859; transferred, 1868
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Veronese was famous in his lifetime as a master of rich colour. His paintings often show exotic figures, sumptuous fabrics and such seemingly incidental details as the spaniel pictured at lower right. The depiction of a dog, a symbol of marital fidelity, was intended as a clever and ironic commentary on the adulterous relationship between Venus, the goddess of love and wife of Vulcan, and Mars, the god of war. This canvas was presented as a diplomatic gift on behalf of the Spanish Crown to King Charles 1 of Britain during his trip to Spain in 1623.

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614) 'An allegory (Fábula)' c. 1585-95

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614)
An allegory (Fábula)
c. 1585-95
Oil on canvas
67.3 x 88.6 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax (hybrid arrangement), with additional funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, and Gallery funds, 1989
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This enigmatic composition has been described as an allegory to fable (fábula), though its specific meaning has long been debated. One possibility is that it is a recreation of a lost painting of a boy blowing a fire, made by the ancient artist Antiphilus of Alexandria and known from a text written in the 1st century by Pliny the Elder. The presence of the monkey evokes the classical notion of art as the ape of nature, while the man, whose toothy grin and red and yellow attire identify him as a jester, may allude to the ultimate folly of the painter’s aim of reproducing the visible world – or, perhaps, of imitating the ancients.

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614) 'An allegory (Fábula)' (detail) c. 1585-95

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614)
An allegory (Fábula) (detail)
c. 1585-95
Oil on canvas
67.3 x 88.6 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax (hybrid arrangement), with additional funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, and Gallery funds, 1989
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

Diego Velazquez (Spain, 1599-1660) 'An old woman cooking eggs' 1618

 

Diego Velazquez (Spain, 1599-1660)
An old woman cooking eggs
1618
Oil on canvas
100.5 x 119.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Art Fund and a special Treasury Grant, 1955
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

 

This simple scene of everyday life in seventeenth-century Spain displays the technical sophistication of painter Diego Velázquez. No Velázquez of comparable importance has been seen before in Australia. And indeed, the painting marks the Scottish National Gallery’s most expensive purchase to date. Painted in 1618 when the artist was just eighteen or nineteen years old, the work depicts an old woman cooking eggs in a red-glazed pot, while a young boy holds a flask of wine and a melon. The subjects were real people, perhaps family members or neighbours, and both reappear in other paintings by the artist. It is likely that Velázquez painted the objects and figures directly from life.

The scene is painted with utmost care and detail. His depiction of light and the textures of objects is meticulous – from the soft folds of the woman’s headscarf, to the thick glaze on a ceramic pot, to the warm sheen of light hitting brass or copper. Unlike other portrayals of everyday people and humble genre scenes, this portrait presents its subjects with dignity, without mockery or censure. The extraordinary skill of Velázquez was considered to be unprecedented in Spain at the time. Establishing himself as much-respected painter in his native Seville, the artist moved to the royal courts of Madrid in 1623 and was soon appointed painter to King Philip IV.

 

Gerrit Dou (The Netherlands, 1613-75) 'An interior with a young viola player' 1637

 

Gerrit Dou (The Netherlands, 1613-75)
An interior with a young viola player
1637
Oil on oak panel
31.1 x 23.7 cm (arched top)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the National Heritage Memorial Fund 1984
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Dou was the father of the so-called fijnschilders (fine painters), the Lieden school celebrated for its commitment to detailed illusionism and refined technique. This painting is rendered so precisely that it is possible to identify the open book, shown at centre, as De Friesche Lust-Hof (The Frisian pleasure garden), a popular Dutch songbook first published in 1621. The pages are turned to a comic number about the joys and sorrows of love, accompanied by an image of two lovers under a tree in a landscape. For the informed viewer, this depiction adds unexpected irony to the tranquil, melancholic portrayal of the young musician.

 

 

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Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

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24
Oct
15

Text / Exhibition: ‘Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney Part 2

Exhibition dates: 14th August – 25th October 2015

Curator: Dr Marta Weiss

 

 

The road less travelled

It was a flying visit to Sydney to see the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The trip was so very worthwhile, for I had never seen JMC’s large contact photographs “in the flesh” before, let alone over 100 vintage prints from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection. They did not disappoint. This exhibition is one of the photographic highlights of the year.

When you think about it, here is one the world’s top ten photographers of all time – a woman, taking photographs within the first twenty five years of the birth of commercial photography, using rudimentary technology and chemicals – whose photographs are still up there with the greatest ever taken. Still recognisable as her own and no one else’s after all these years. That is a staggering achievement – and tells you something about the talent, tenacity and perspicacity of the women… that she possessed and illuminated such a penetrating discernment – a clarity of vision and intellect which provides a deep understanding and insight into the human condition.

Annie; ‘My first success’ (1864, below) points the way to the later development of her mature style. Although not entirely successful, the signature low depth of field and wonderful use of light are already present in this image. Compare this to Lady Adelaide Talbot (1865, below), only a year later, and you can see that her development as an artist is phenomenal. JMC pushes and pulls the face of the sitter within the image plane. In a sequence from the exhibition (enlarge the installation image, below) we have (from left to right), female in profile facing right with light from right Sappho (1865); female lower 2/3rds right with light from front above Christabel (1866); female looking at camera, soft, dark moody lighting hitting only one the side of the face and embroidered cap Zoe / Maid of Athens (1866); now a different tilt of the jaw, lighter print Beatrice (1866, below); a frontal portrait with dark background, pin sharp face and hair to the front and back of the face out of focus Julia Jackson (1867, below), then female portraits facing left, the head filling the upper left corner; looking down in three-quarter profile with light from the right, filling the frame; and then upper right, small face, with the rest falling off into darkness.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (detail)

 

There is something so magical about how JMC can frame a face, emerging from darkness, side profile, filling the frame, top lit. Soft out of focus hair with one point of focus in the image. Beautiful light. Just the most sensitive capturing of a human being, I don’t know what it is… a glimpse into another world, a ghostly world of the spirit, the soul of the living seen now before they are dead.

While it is very interesting to see her failures, or what she perceived as her failures – not so much a failure of vision but mainly a failure of technique: cracking of the plates, under development, defective unmounted impressions – presented in the exhibition, plus all her techniques for developing and amending the photograph – double printing, reverse printing, scratching onto the negative and painting on the print (all techniques later used by the Pictorialists) – it is the low depth of field, wonderful tones and the quality of the light that so impresses with her work. Her portraits have a real but very fluid and ethereal presence. Material, maternal, touch, sublime, religious, allegorical, mythological, and beautiful. She would focus her lens until she thought is was beautiful “instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon.”

She has, of course, been seen as a precursor to Pictorialism, but personally I do not get that feeling from her photographs, even though the artists are using many of the same techniques. Her work is based on the reality of seeing beauty, whereas the Pictorialists were trying to make photography into art by emulating the techniques of etching and painting. While the form of her images owes a lot to the history of classical sculpture and painting, to Romanticism and the Pre-Raphaelites, she thought her’s was already art of the highest order. She did not have to mask its content in order to imitate another medium. Others, such as the curator of the exhibition Marta Weiss, see her as a proto-modernist, precursor to the photographs of Stieglitz and Sander and I would agree. There is certainly a fundamental presence to JMC’s photographs, so that when you are looking at them, they tend to touch your soul, the eyes of some of the portraits burning right through you; while others, others have this ambiguity of meaning, of feeling, as if removed from the everyday life.

Unfortunately, her legacy and her baton has not been taken up in contemporary photography, other than through her love child Sally Mann. One of the main problems with contemporary portrait photography, perhaps any type of contemporary photography, is that anything goes. And what goes is usually linked to the photographer’s desire. It is not about the reality of the subject, but just a refraction of the desires of the photographer reflected in the subject. Many photographers today are not real photographers at all… they are just a pimp to their own ideas. There is a 100% co-relation between their vision and their work which leaves no room for ambiguity. There is no longer the interesting and lovely space between what is attempted and how the photographer would like it to be, as in JMC. Where the shortcomings are welcomed (she embraced flaws, cracks, thumb prints) and it all seems a marvellous activity. She was dedicated to the task of extracting the beauty of this ambiguity, through taking hours preparing plates, through sitting, developing and washing. She took her shortcomings and folded them back into her work so that there seems to be a type of perfection to it. Of course, there isn’t. These fulfilled her photographic vision, a rejection of ‘mere conventional topographic photography – map-making and skeleton rendering of feature and form’ in favour of a less precise but more emotionally penetrating form of portraiture. By contrast, the surface in contemporary “topographic” photography is just a paper thin reflection of the photographer themselves, nothing more.

The road to spirituality is the road less travelled. It is full of uncertainty and confusion, but only through exploring this enigma can we begin to approach some type of inner reality. Julia Margaret Cameron, in her experiments, in her dogged perseverance, was on a spiritual journey of self discovery. In Philip Roth’s Exit Ghost, he suggests Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs as the ideal music for a scene his character has written:

“Four Last Songs. For the profundity that is achieved not by complexity but by clarity and simplicity. For the purity of the sentiment about death and parting and loss. For the long melodic line spinning out and the female voice soaring and soaring. For the repose and composure and gracefulness and the intense beauty of the soaring. For the ways one is drawn into the tremendous arc of heartbreak. The composer drops all masks and, at the age of eighty-two, stands before you naked. And you dissolve.”

These words are an appropriate epithet for the effect of the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron in this year 2015, the 200th anniversary of her birth.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,336

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Many thankx to the AGNSW and the Victoria and Albert Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

NB: it would have been great to see more of the later work as this exhibition mainly focuses on the period 1864-1869 (probably the bulk of what is in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection). Also, in the expansive, open galleries, some colour on the walls would have been good. When JMC exhibited her work it would have been on coloured walls, probably with multiple mounts of different colours as well. It would also have been nice to see some of the signatures on the work, as some of them reveal intimate facts about the sitter/theme.

 

 

When Cameron photographed her intellectual heroes such as Alfred Tennyson, Sir John Herschel and Henry Taylor, her aim was to record ‘the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man.’

‘When I have such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer’.

.
Julia Margaret Cameron 1867

 

‘When … coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon’.

.
Julia Margaret Cameron

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Mrs. Herbert Duckworth' 1872

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Mrs. Herbert Duckworth
1872
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron’s powerful portraits of her niece and goddaughter Julia Jackson depict her as herself, rather than a religious or literary character. Cameron generally reserved this approach for her male sitters. This is one of a series of portraits in which the dramatically illuminated Jackson fearlessly returns the camera’s gaze. Cameron’s niece, here given her married name, once again regards the camera directly, but with an air of sadness rather than confidence. Her husband had died after just three years of marriage. Cameron inscribed one version of this photograph ‘My own cherished Niece and God Child / Julia Duckworth / a widow at 24’.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Annie' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Annie; ‘My first success’
1864
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron was 48 when she received a camera as a gift from her daughter and son-in-law. It was accompanied by the words, ‘It may amuse you, Mother, to try to photograph during your solitude at Freshwater.’ Cameron had compiled albums and even printed photographs before, but her work as a photographer now began in earnest. Cameron made this portrait of Annie Philpot, the daughter of a local family, within a month of receiving her first camera. She inscribed some prints of it ‘My first success’ and later wrote of her excitement, ‘I was in a transport of delight. I ran all over the house to search for gifts for the child. I felt as if she entirely had made the picture.’

Cameron’s mentor and friend, the artist G.F. Watts wrote to Cameron, ‘Please do not send me valuable mounted copies … send me any … defective unmounted impressions, I shall be able to judge just as well & shall be just as much charmed with success & shall not feel that I am taking money from you.’ This is one of approximately 67 in the V&A’s collection that was recently discovered to have belonged to him. Many are unique, which suggests that Cameron was not fully satisfied with them. Some may seem ‘defective’ but others are enhanced by their flaws. All of them contribute to our understanding of Cameron’s working process and the photographs that did meet her standards.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Lady Adelaide Talbot' May 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Lady Adelaide Talbot
May 1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Julia Margaret Cameron, 28 & 31 July 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

In this close-up profile, Lady Talbot gazes out of the frame with determination. Instead of a tangle of branches and leaves, the background is neutral. The focus is soft and the light coming from the right traces the sitter’s profile. This photograph looks more distinctively like the work of Julia Margaret Cameron and shows the development of her signature style.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Il Penseroso; Come pensive nun devout and pure, Sober, stedfast and demure; Portrait or rather Study of Lady Adelaide Talbot' May 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Il Penseroso; Come pensive nun devout and pure, Sober, stedfast and demure; Portrait or rather Study of Lady Adelaide Talbot
May 1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Julia Margaret Cameron, 27 September 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Here Lady Adelaide Talbot appears not as herself, but as Melancholy, the personification of pensive sadness, that John Milton evoked in his poem Il Penseroso (about 1631). Draped in a shawl that hides her everyday clothing, her hands form a V on her chest, in a theatrical gesture. Cameron inscribed this print with two lines from the poem, ‘Come pensive Nun, devout and pure, / Sober, stedfast, and demure’.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron, 'Christiana Fraser-Tytler' c. 1864-1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Christiana Fraser-Tytler
c. 1864-1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Mrs Margaret Southam, 1941
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Christiana Fraser-Tytler modelled for other Julia Margaret Cameron photographs together with her sisters. One of them, Mary, an artist and designer, later married the artist G.F. Watts. This print originally belonged to either Watts or his wife. It came from the Watts estate, which was sold after Mary’s death in 1938.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Sappho' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Sappho
1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Alan S. Cole, 19 April 1913
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

In late 1865 Julia Margaret Cameron began using a larger camera, which held a 15 x 12-inch glass negative. Early the next year she wrote to Henry Cole with great enthusiasm – but little modesty – about the new turn she had taken in her work. Cameron initiated a series of large-scale, close-up heads. These fulfilled her photographic vision, a rejection of ‘mere conventional topographic photography – map-making and skeleton rendering of feature and form’ in favour of a less precise but more emotionally penetrating form of portraiture.

This striking version of Sappho is in keeping with Cameron’s growing confidence as an artist. Mary Hillier’s classical features stand out clearly in profile while her dark hair merges with the background. The decorative blouse balances the simplicity of the upper half of the picture. Cameron was clearly pleased with the image since she printed multiple copies, despite having cracked the negative.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Christabel' 1866

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Christabel
1866
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Alan S. Cole, 19 April 1913
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

The title refers to a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge about a virtuous maiden who is put under a spell by an evil sorceress. Cameron wrote of photographs such as this, ‘when … coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon’.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Beatrice' 1866

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Beatrice
1866
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Alan S. Cole, 19 April 1913
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Cameron based the pose, drapery, and sad expression of her model on a painting attributed to Guido Reni. The subject is the 16th-century Italian noblewoman Beatrice Cenci who was executed for arranging the murder of her abusive father. One review admired Cameron’s soft rendering of ‘the pensive sweetness of the expression of the original picture’ while another mocked her for claiming to have photographed a historical figure ‘from the life’.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Julia Jackson' 1866

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Julia Jackson
1867
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Mrs Margaret Southam, 1941
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Cameron’s powerful portraits of her niece and goddaughter Julia Jackson depict her as herself, rather than a religious or literary character. Cameron generally reserved this approach for her male sitters. This is one of a series of portraits in which the dramatically illuminated Jackson fearlessly returns the camera’s gaze.

Cameron’s good friend Anne Thackeray Ritchie recalled in 1893, ‘Sitting to her was a serious affair, and not to be lightly entered upon. We came at her summons, we trembled (or we should have trembled had we dared to do so) when the round black eye of the camera was turned upon us, we felt the consequences, what a disastrous waste of time and money and effort, might ensue from any passing quiver of emotion.’

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Hosanna' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Hosanna
1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron by her son' about 1870

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron by her son
about 1870
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Vivien and Merlin from Illustrations to Tennyson's Idylls of the King' 1874

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Vivien and Merlin from Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King
1874
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Vivien and Merlin from Illustrations to Tennyson's Idylls of the King' (detail) 1874

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Vivien and Merlin from Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King (detail)
1874
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation views of the exhibition Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron’s career as a photographer began in 1863 when her daughter gave her a camera. Cameron began photographing everyone in sight. Because of the newness of photography as a practice, she was free to make her own rules and not be bound to convention. The kinds of images being made at the time did not interest Cameron. She was interested in capturing another kind of photographic truth. Not one dependent on accuracy of sharp detail, but one that depicted the emotional state of her sitter.

Cameron liked the soft focus portraits and the streak marks on her negatives, choosing to work with these irregularities, making them part of her pictures. Although at the time Cameron was seen as an unconventional and experimental photographer, her images have a solid place in the history of photography.

Most of Cameron’s photographs are portraits. She used members of her family as sitters and made photographs than concentrated on their faces. She was interested in conveying their natural beauty, often asking female sitters to let down their hair so as to show them in a way that they were not accustomed to presenting themselves. In addition to making stunning and evocative portraits both of male and female subjects, Cameron also staged tableaux and posed her sitters in situations that simulated allegorical paintings.

Text from the Victoria and Albert Museum website

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Lady Elcho / A Dantesque Vision' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Lady Elcho / A Dantesque Vision
1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Mrs Margaret Southam, 1941
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron’s earliest photographic subjects were family and friends, many of whom were eminent literary figures. These early portraits reveal how she experimented with dramatic lighting and close-up compositions, features that would become her signature style. In May 1865 Cameron used her sister’s London home, Little Holland House, as her photographic headquarters. Her sister Sara Prinsep, together with her husband Thoby, had established a cultural salon there centred around the artist George Frederic Watts, who lived with them. Cameron photographed numerous members of their circle on the lawn. These included artists, writers and collectors and Henry Cole, the director of the South Kensington Museum.

Cameron clothed Lady Elcho in flowing draperies to suggest a character out of Dante, author of the 14th-century poem the Divine Comedy. Cameron wears the same large, paisley-edged shawl in the portrait by her son. The fragmented female figure at the far left of the frame may have been assisting Cameron.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Resting in Hope; La Madonna Riposata' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Resting in Hope; La Madonna Riposata
1864
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Purchased from Julia Margaret Cameron, 17 June 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Many of the photographs purchased by the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) from Julia Margaret Cameron were ‘Madonna Groups’ depicting the Virgin Mary and the infant Christ. Her housemaid Mary Hillier posed as the Virgin Mary so often she became known locally as ‘Mary Madonna’.  Like many of her contemporaries, Cameron was a devout Christian. As a mother of six, the motif of the Madonna and child held particular significance for her. In aspiring to make ‘High Art’, Cameron aimed to make photographs that could be uplifting and morally instructive.

As in many of Cameron’s depictions of the subject, the Madonna is holding a sleeping child. This had practical advantages as the infant was less likely to move during the long exposure. It was also suggestive of death, a grim reality for many Victorian families and a reference to the Pietà, a subject in Christian art in which the Virgin Mary cradles the dead Christ.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'The Shadow of the Cross' August 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
The Shadow of the Cross
August 1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Julia Margaret Cameron, 27 September 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

With the addition of a small wooden cross and female model in drapery, Cameron transformed a portrait of her sleeping grandson into an image of the Virgin Mary and the infant Christ. The mother leaning over the child prefigures Mary mourning over the body of her son, who had died on the cross. The framed pictures and curtain in the background reveal the setting as a domestic interior.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Devotion' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Devotion
1865
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Julia Margaret Cameron, 27 September 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

In this unusual horizontal composition, the close-up figures of the sleeping Christ child and the Madonna nearly fill the frame. The title suggests both Christian concepts and the theme of motherhood. Next to the title Cameron wrote: ‘From Life My Grand child age 2 years & 3 months’, making the image simultaneously a religious study and a family portrait.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'St. Agnes' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
St. Agnes
1864
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Purchased from Julia Margaret Cameron, 17 June 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

This image may have been inspired by poems by Alfred Tennyson and John Keats based on the legend that virgins dream of their future husbands on St Agnes Eve (20 January). To suggest the night, Julia Margaret Cameron printed the photograph dark and added a moon by hand. The sitter is Mary Hillier, Cameron’s housemaid and one of her ‘most beautiful and constant’ models.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'The Dream' 1869

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
The Dream
1869
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Alan S. Cole, 19 April 1913
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

In 1869, Julia Margaret Cameron wrote to Sir Henry Cole, the founding director of the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) of the ‘cruel calamity … which has over taken 45 of my Gems – a honey comb crack extending over the picture appearing at any moment and beyond any power to arrest.’ Cameron blamed her ‘fatally perishable’ photographic chemicals, while members of the Photographic Society suspected the damp climate of the Isle of Wight. Today’s theory is that failure to sufficiently wash the negatives after fixing them caused the problem.

John Milton’s poem On his deceased Wife (about 1658) tells of a fleeting vision of his beloved returning to life in a dream. On this mount she included G.F. Watts’ assessment: ‘quite divine’. Cameron was particularly distraught by the crackling that befell this negative. She seemed not to be bothered, however, by the two smudged fingerprints in the lower right, which form a kind of inadvertent signature.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Henry Taylor' October 10, 1867

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Henry Taylor
October 10, 1867
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Window & Grove, 1963
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

When Julia Margaret Cameron photographed her intellectual heroes such as Alfred Tennyson, Sir John Herschel and Henry Taylor, her aim was to record ‘the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man.’ Another motive was to earn money from prints of the photographs, since her family’s finances were precarious. Within her first year as a photographer she began exhibiting and selling through the London gallery Colnaghi’s. She used autographs to increase the value of some portraits.

For this portrait of her close friend, the playwright and poet Taylor, Cameron broke from her practice of photographing male heads emerging from darkness. As with some of her female heads, the sitter’s face fills the frame, while his sleeve and beard flow beyond its confines.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Charles Darwin' 1868; printed 1875

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Charles Darwin
1868; printed 1875
Carbon print from copy negative
Given by Mrs Ida S. Perrin, 1939
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

The naturalist Charles Darwin and his family rented a cottage in Freshwater from the Camerons in the summer of 1868. By 27 July, Colnaghi’s was advertising, ‘we are glad to observe her gallery of great men enriched by a very fine portrait of Charles Darwin’. Due to the sitter’s celebrity, Cameron later had this portrait reprinted as a more stable carbon print. When Cameron photographed her intellectual heroes such as Alfred Tennyson, Sir John Herschel and Henry Taylor, her aim was to record ‘the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man.’

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Portrait of Herschel' 1867

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Portrait of Herschel
April 1867
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Given by Window & Grove, 1963
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Herschel was an eminent scientist who made important contributions to astronomy and photography. Cameron wrote of this sitting, ‘When I have such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer.’

 

 

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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18
Oct
15

Exhibition: ‘Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney Part 1

Exhibition dates: 14th August – 25th October 2015

Curator: Dr Marta Weiss

 

I’m heading up to Sydney on Thursday night, especially to see this exhibition on Friday at the Art Gallery of New South Wales = excitement. I’ll limit my words here until I have seen the exhibition and give you some fuller thoughts next weekend. Suffice it to say, that I consider JMC to be one of the top ten photographers of all time.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the AGNSW for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Kept in the Heart/La Madonna della Ricordanza' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Kept in the Heart/La Madonna della Ricordanza
1864
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Whisper of the Muse' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Whisper of the Muse
1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

“The Art Gallery of New South Wales is delighted to bring to Sydney a superb exhibition of works by one of the most influential and innovative photographers of the nineteenth century – Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79). Drawn from the extensive collection of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, the exhibition features over 100 photographs that trace Cameron’s early ambition and mastery of the medium. A series of letters will also be on display, along with select photographs sourced from Australian institutions.

Judy Annear, Senior Curator of Photographs at the Art Gallery of NSW, said it was a privilege to be able to bring such a fine selection of Cameron’s photographs to Australia. “Using the camera to convey both tenderness and strength, Cameron introduced an emotive sensibility to early photographic portraiture. At the time, her work was controversial and her unconventional techniques attracted both praise and criticism,” Annear said. “It is timely to reflect upon Cameron’s significant contribution to art photography, with this year marking the bicentenary of her birth and 150 years since her first exhibition was held at the South Kensington Museum, now the Victoria and Albert Museum,” Annear added.

Across her brief but prolific career, Cameron produced penetrating character studies that memorialised the intellectual and artistic elite of Victorian England, including the poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson, scientists Charles Darwin and Sir John Herschel, and Julia Jackson, Cameron’s niece and the mother of Virginia Woolf. To this pantheon of intellectuals Cameron added housemaids and local children who were enlisted as cherubs, Madonnas and Christ figures in photographic tableaux that re-staged allegorical scenes derived from literary and biblical narratives.

Embracing imperfection, Cameron would leave fingerprints, streak marks and swirls of collodion on her negatives. Her use of soft focus and shallow depth of field defined the painterly tone of her aesthetic signature. Cameron took up photography at the age of 48 after she was given a camera by her daughter Julia in December 1863. She transformed her house into her workspace, converting a henhouse into a studio and a coalhouse into a darkroom. While Cameron had no interest in establishing a commercial studio, concentrating instead on elevating photography as high art, she nonetheless operated as an astute businesswoman, fastidiously marketing, publishing and exhibiting her work.

Within two years of taking up photography, she had both donated and sold work to the South Kensington Museum, London. She corresponded frequently with the museum’s founding director Henry Cole. Cameron’s self-promotion was not restricted to England. In 1874, 20 of her photographs were displayed in the Drawing Room of NSW Government House. Julia Margaret Cameron: from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London will be on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 14 August – 25 October 2015 after touring from Moscow and Ghent. The exhibition is organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Dr Marta Weiss, Cameron expert and curator of the exhibition, will be visiting Sydney for the exhibition’s opening and will give a public lecture at the Gallery on Saturday 15 August 2015. The exhibition is accompanied by the book Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world, by Marta Weiss. Published by Mack in partnership with V&A Publishing.”

Press release from the AGNSW website

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Paul and Virginia' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Paul and Virginia
1864
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Paul and Virginia' (detail) 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Paul and Virginia (detail)
1864
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Portrait of Herschel' 1867

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Portrait of Herschel
1867
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

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31
May
15

Exhibition: ‘The photograph and Australia’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 8th June 2015

Curator: Judy Annear, Senior curator of photographs, AGNSW

 

“Cultural theorist Ross Gibson has written that ‘being Australian might actually mean being untethered or placeless … and appreciating how to live in dynamic patterns of time rather than native plots of space’. Photographs always enable imaginative time and space regardless of their size and how little we might know of the ostensible subject. When people are oriented toward the camera and photographer, there is a gap which the viewer intuitively recognises. The gap is time as much as space. Occasionally – as in an anonymous 1855 daguerreotype taken at Ledcourt, Victoria, of Isabella Carfrae on horseback where we see a servant standing on the verandah, shading her eyes, and in the 1877 Fred Kruger photograph of the white-clad cricketer at Coranderrk – a subject in the photograph presses so close to the picture plane that we know for the time of the exposure they look directly into an unknowable future and collide now with our gaze as we look back.”

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Judy Annear. “Time,” in Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 19

 

 

This is an important exhibition and book by Judy Annear and team at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, an investigation into the history of Australian photography that is worthy of the subject. Unfortunately, I could not get to Sydney to see the exhibition and I have only just received the catalogue. I have started reading it with gusto. With regard to the exhibition all I have to go on is a friend of mine who went to see the exhibition, and whose opinion I value highly, who said that is was the messiest exhibition that she had seen in a long while, and that for a new generation of people approaching this subject matter for the first time it’s non-chronological nature would have been quite off putting. But this is the nature of the beast (that being a thematic not chronological approach) and personally I believe that modern audiences are a lot more understanding of what was going on in the exhibition than she would give them credit for.

In the “Introduction” to the book, Annear rightly credits the work undertaken by colleagues – especially Gael Newton’s Shades of light: photography and Australia 1839-1988, published in 1988; Alan Davis’ The mechanical eye in Australia: photography 1841-1900, published in 1977; and Helen Ennis’ Photography and Australia, published in 2007. As the latter did, this new book “emphasises the ways in which photographs, especially in the nineteenth century, function in social, cultural and political contexts, exploring photography’s role in representing relationships between Indigenous and settler cultures, the construction of Australia, and its critique.” (Annear, p. 10)

While Ennis’ book took a chronological approach, with sections titled First Photographs, Black to Blak, Land and Landscape, Being Modern, Made in Australia, Localism and Internationalism, The Presence of the Past – Annear’s book takes a more conceptual, thematic approach, one that crosses time and space, linking past and present work in classificatory sections titled Time, Nation, People, Place and Transmission. Both books acknowledge the key issues that have to be dealt with when formulating a book on the photograph and Australia: “the medium itself, Australia’s history, and the relationship between them. Is Australian photography different? If so, how, and in relation to what? One has to look at places with not dissimilar histories, such as Canada and New Zealand. And other questions: what has preoccupied photographers working in relation to Australia at various points in time? Have their concerns been primarily commercial, aesthetic, historical, realist, interpretive, or theoretical? Have they developed projects unique to the photographic medium; for example, large-scale classificatory projects? What have they achieved, what did it mean then, and what does it mean now?” (Annear, p.10)

These questions are the nexus of Annear’s investigation and she seeks to answer them in the well researched chapters that follow, while being mindful of “preserving some of the slipperiness of the medium.” And there is the rub. In order to define these classificatory sections in the exhibition and book, it would seem to me that Annear shoehorns these themes onto the fluid, mutable state of “being” of the photograph, imposing classifications to order the mass of photography into bite sized entities. While “the book encourages the reader to explore connections – between different forms of photography, people and place, past and present” it also, inevitably, imposes a reading on these historical photographs that would not have been present at the time of their production.

The press release for the book says, “The photograph and Australia investigates how photography was harnessed to create the idea of a nation.” Now I find the use of that word “harnessed” – as in control and make use of – to be hugely problematic. Personally, I don’t think that the slipperiness and mutability of photography can ever be controlled by anyone to help create the idea (imagination?) of a nation. Nations build nations, not photography. As a friend of mine said to me, it’s a long bow to draw… and I would agree. The crux of the matter is that THERE ARE NO HANDLES, only the ones that we impose, later, from a distance. There is no definitive answer to anything, there are always twists and turns, always another possibility of how we look at things, of the past in the present.

Photography and photographs, “with its ability to capture both things of the world and those of the imagination,” are always unstable (which is why the photograph can still induce A SENSE OF WONDER) – always uncertain in their interpretation, then and now. Photographs do not belong to a dimension or a classification of time and space because you feel their being NOT their (historical) consequence. Hence, all of these classifications are essentially the same/redundant. Perhaps it’s only semantics, but I think the word “utilises” – make practical and effective use of – would be a better word in terms of Annear’s enquiries. It also occurred to me to turn the question around: instead of “how photography was harnessed to create the idea of a nation”; instead, “how the idea of a nation helped change photography.” Think about it.

Finally, a comment on the book itself. Beautifully printed, of a good size and weight, the paper stock is of excellent quality and thickness. The type is simple and legible and the book is lavishly illustrated with photographs. The reproductions are a little ‘flat’ but the main point of concern is the size of the reproductions. Instead of reproducing carte de visite at 1:1 scale (that is, 64 mm × 100 mm), their mounted on card size – they are reproduced at 40 mm x 68 mm (see p. 236 of the catalogue below). Small enough already, this printing size renders the detailed reading of the images almost impossible. Worse, the images are laid out horizontally on a vertical page, with no size attribution of the original, nor whether they are 1/9th, 1/6th daguerreotype’s or ambrotypes, CDV’s or cabinet cards next to the image.

The reproduction size of the daguerreotypes and ambrotypes is even worse, making the images almost unreadable. For example, in an excellent piece of writing at the end of the first chapter, “Time”, Annear refers to “an anonymous 1855 daguerreotype taken at Ledcourt, Victoria, of Isabella Carfrae on horseback where we see a servant standing on the verandah, shading her eyes,”. In the image in this posting (below) we can clearly see this woman standing on the verandah, but in the reproduction in the book (p. 139), she is reduced to a mere smudge in history, an invisibility caused by the size of the reproduction, thereby negating all that Annear comments upon. Instead of the “subject in the photograph presses so close to the picture plane that we know for the time of the exposure they look directly into an unknowable future and collide now with our gaze as we look back,” there is no pressing, hers has no presence, and our gaze cannot collide with this vision from the future past. Why designers of photographic books consistently fall prey to these traps is beyond me.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.
Many thank to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Judy Annear. 'The photograph and Australia'. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 236

 

Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 236

 

 

The first large-scale exhibition of its kind to be held in Australia in 27 years, The photograph and Australia presents more than 400 photographs from more than 120 artists, including Richard Daintree, Charles Bayliss, Frank Hurley, Harold Cazneaux, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Sue Ford, Carol Jerrems, Tracey Moffatt, Robyn Stacey, Ricky Maynard and Patrick Pound.

The works of renowned artists are shown alongside those of unknown photographers and everyday material, such as domestic and presentation albums. These tell peoples’ stories, illustrate where and how they lived, as well as communicate official public narratives. Sourced from more than 35 major collections across Australia and New Zealand, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia and the Australian Museum, The photograph and Australia uncovers hidden gems dating from 1845 until now.

A richly illustrated publication accompanies the exhibition, reflecting the exhibition themes and investigating how Australia itself has been shaped by photography.

 

Extract from “Introduction”

“The task of this book is to formulate questions around Australian photography and its history, regardless of Australia’s, and the medium’s, permeable identity. While early photography in Australia made histories of the colonies visible, and a great deal can be read from the surviving photographic archives, interpretation of this material is often conjecture, and much remains oblique. Patrick Pound describes the sheer mass of photographs and images in the world today as an “unhinged album.”11 This dynamic of making, accumulating, ordering, disseminating, reinterpreting, re-collecting and re-narrating is an important aspect of photography. The intimate relationship, historically, between the photograph and the various arts and sciences, along with the adaptability to technological change and imaginative interpretations, allows for a constant montaging or weaving together of uses and meanings. This works against the conventional linear structure of classical histories and the idea of any progressive evolution of the medium. If what we are dealing with is a phenomenon rather than simply a form then analysing the phenomenon and its dynamic relationship to art, society, peoples, sciences, genres, and processes is critical to our modern understanding of ourselves and our place in the world as well as of the medium itself.12

In the 1970s, cultural theorist Roland Barthes wrote an essay entitled The photographic message.13 While he focussed primarily on press photography and made a distinction between reportage and ‘artistic’ photography, his pinpointing of the special status of the photographic image as a message without a code – one could say, even, a face without a name – and his understanding of photography as a simultaneously objective and invested, natural and cultural, is relevant in the colonial and post-colonial context.

We search for clues in photographs of our past and present. In some ways this is a melancholy activity, in other ways valuable detective work. In many cases it is both. Photography since its inception has belonged in a nether world of being and not being, legibility and opacity. This book preserves some of the slipperiness of the medium, while providing a series of texts touching on the photographs at hand. The history of the photograph and its relationship to Australia remains tantalisingly partial; the ever-burgeoning archives await further excavation.”14

Judy Annear. “Introduction,” in Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 13.

 

11. See ‘Transmission’ pp. 227-33
12. See Geoffrey Batchen, blog.fotomuseum.ch/2012/10/5-a-subject-for-a-history-about-photography accessed 22 April 2014
13. Roland Barthes, ‘The photographic message’, Image, music, text, trans Stephen Heath, Flamingo, London, 1984, pp. 15-31
14. Parts of this Introduction were in a paper delivered at the symposium, Border-lands: photography & cultural contest, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 31 Mar 2012

 

Time

The relationship of the photograph to ‘Time’ is discussed in chapter one, which examines how contemporary artists such as Anne Ferran, Rosemary Laing and Ricky Maynard reinvent the past through photography. The activities of nineteenth-century photographers such as George Burnell and Charles Bayliss are also discussed… The manipulation by artists and photographers of imaginative time – the time of looking at the photographic image – allows for consideration of the nexus between space and time, how subjects can be momentarily tethered and, equally, how they can float free.

Nation

Chapter two considers the idea of ‘Nation’: looking at the public role of the photograph in representing Australia at world exhibitions before Federation in 1901. Photography in this period enabled new classificatory systems to come into existence… Of particular importance was the use of the photograph to cement Darwinistic views that determined racial hierarchies according to superficial physical differences. The photograph also advertised the growing colonies to potential migrants and investors through the depiction of landscapes and amenities.

People

The third chapter, ‘People’, analyses the uncertain post-colonial heritage that all Australian inherit and how that can be evidenced and examined in photographs. The chapter encompasses portraits by Tracy Moffatt and George Goodman, for example, and considerations of where and how people lived and chose to be photographed. These include the people of the Kulin nation of Victoria, those who resided at Poonindie Mission in South Australia, the Yued people living at New Norcia mission in Western Australia, as well as the Henty family in Victoria, the Mortlocks of South Australia, the children living at The Bungalow in Alice Springs and the people of Tumut in New South Wales.

Place

‘Place’ is examined in chapter four, particularly in terms of the use of photography to enable exploration, whether to Antarctica (Frank Hurley), to map stars and further the natural sciences (Henry Chamberlain Russell, Joseph Turner), or to open up ‘wilderness’ for tourism or mining (JW Beattie, Nicholas Caire, JW Lindt, Richard Daintree) … Photographs are examined as both documents and imaginative interpretations of activity and place.

Transmission

Chapter five, ‘Transmission’, considers the traffic in photographs and the fascination with the medium’s reproducibility and circulation… The evidential aspect of the photograph has proven to be fleeting and only tangentially related to the thing it traces. The possibility of being able to fully decipher a photograph’s meaning is remote, even when it has been promptly ordered and annotated in some form of album. Each photographic form expands the possibility of instant and easy communication, but the swarm of material serves only to prove the impossibility of order, classification, and accuracy. The photograph as an aestheticised object continues regardless of platform, and the imaginative possibilities of the medium have not been exhausted.

Sections from Judy Annear. “Introduction,” in Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 12.

 

Charles Bayliss. 'Group of local Aboriginal people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia' 1886

 

Charles Bayliss
Group of local Aboriginal people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia
1886
From the series New South Wales Royal Commission: Conservation of water. Views of scenery on the Darling and Lower Murray during the flood of 1886
Albumen photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased 1984

 

 

This tableaux of Ngarrindjeri people fishing was carefully staged by photographer Charles Bayliss in 1886. Not just subjects, they actively participated in the photography process. It was observed at the time that the fishermen arranged themselves into position, with “the grace and unique character of which a skillful artist only could show.”

“In one extraordinary image created in 1886 by the photographer Charles Bayliss, the Ngarrindjeri people of the lower Murray River were active participants in the staging of a fishing scene. Writing in his journal, Bayliss’s companion Gilbert Parker noted: “Without a word of suggestion, these natives arranged themselves in a group, the grace and unique character of which a skilful artist only could show.” Annear says the image looks like a museum diorama to modern eyes. “But these people were very active in deciding how they wanted to be photographed,” she says. “They were determined to create an image they felt was appropriate.”

The first photographs of indigenous Australians were formal, posed portraits, taken in blazing sunlight. The sitters are often pictured leaning against each other (stillness was required for long exposure times) with eyes turned to the camera and bodies wrapped in blankets or kangaroo skins. Some wore headdresses or necklaces that may or may not have belonged to them.

“Indigenous Australians agreed to be photographed out of curiosity, or perhaps for food,” says Judy Annear, curator of The photograph and Australia, a major new photography exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. “In the past, it was considered that these sorts of early pictures were indicative of the colonial gaze. But now there is a lot of research going on into how these early photos were made. Often, the local people would have been invited to come into a studio and they were paid. They would have been dressed up and told what to do.”” (Text in quotations from the Sydney Morning Herald website)

 

Unknown photographer. 'Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson' c. 1865

 

Unknown photographer
Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson
c. 1865
Carte de visite
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

 

Unknown photographer. 'Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson' (verso) c. 1865

 

Unknown photographer
Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson (verso)
c. 1865
Carte de visite
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

 

Ernest B Docker. 'The Three Sisters Katoomba – Mrs Vivian, Muriel Vivian and Rosamund 7 Feb 1898' 1898

 

Ernest B Docker
The Three Sisters Katoomba – Mrs Vivian, Muriel Vivian and Rosamund 7 Feb 1898
1898
Stereograph
Macleay Museum, The University of Sydney

 

Charles Nettleton (Australia 1825 – 1902) 'Untitled' 1867-1874

 

Charles Nettleton (Australia 1825 – 1902)
Untitled
1867-1874
Carte de visite
6.2 x 9.1 cm image; 6.3 x 10.0 cm mount card
Purchased 2014
Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Charles Nettleton was a professional photographer born in the north of England who arrived in Australia in 1854, settling in Melbourne. He joined the studio of Townsend Duryea and Alexander McDonald, where he specialised in outdoor photography. Nettleton is credited with having photographed the first Australian steam train when the private Melbourne-Sandridge (Port Melbourne) line was opened on 12 September 1854. Nettleton established his own studio in 1858, offering the first souvenir albums to the Melbourne public. He worked as an official photographer to the Victorian government and the City of Melbourne Corporation from the late 1850s to the late 1890s, documenting Melbourne’s growth from a colonial town to a booming metropolis. He photographed public buildings, sewerage and water systems, bridges, viaducts, roads, wharves, and the construction of the Botanical Gardens. In 1861 he boarded the ‘Great Britain’ to photograph the first English cricket team to visit Australia and in 1867 was appointed official photographer of the Victorian visit of the Duke of Edinburgh. For the Victorian police he photographed the bushranger Ned Kelly in 1880. This is considered to be the only genuine photograph of the outlaw.

 

Tracey Moffatt. 'I made a camera' 2003

 

Tracey Moffatt
I made a camera
2003
Photolithograph
Collection of the artist
© Tracey Moffatt, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

“The Art Gallery of New South Wales is proud to present the major exhibition The photograph and Australia, which explores the crucial role photography has played in shaping our understandings of the nation. It will run from 21 March to 8 June 2015.

Tracing the evolution of the medium and its many uses from the 1840s until today, this is the largest exhibition of Australian photography held since 1988 that borrows from collections nationwide. It presents more than 400 photographs by more than 120 artists, including Morton Allport, Richard Daintree, Paul Foelsche, Samuel Sweet, JJ Dwyer, Charles Bayliss, Frank Hurley, Harold Cazneaux, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Sue Ford, Carol Jerrems, Tracey Moffatt, Robyn Stacey, Ricky Maynard, Anne Ferran and Patrick Pound.

Iconic images are shown alongside works by unknown and amateur photographers, including photographic objects such as cartes de visite, domestic albums and the earliest Australian X-rays. The exhibition’s curator – Judy Annear, senior curator of photographs, Art Gallery of NSW – said:

“Weaving together the multiple threads of Australia’s photographic history, The photograph and Australia investigates how photography invented modern Australia. It poses questions about how the medium has shaped our view of the world, ourselves and each other. Audiences are invited to experience the breadth of Australian photography, past and present, and the sense of wonder the photograph can still induce through its ability to capture both things of the world and the imagination.”

The exhibition brings together hundreds of photographs from more than 35 private and public collections across Australia, England and New Zealand, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia and the State Library of Victoria. Highlights include daguerreotypes by Australia’s first professional photographer, George Goodman, and recent works by Simryn Gill. From mass media’s evolution in the 19th century to today’s digital revolution, The photograph and Australia investigates how photography has been harnessed to create the idea of a nation and reveals how our view of the world, ourselves and each other has been changed by the advent of photography. It also explores how photography operates aesthetically, technically, politically and in terms of distribution and proliferation, in the Australian context.

Curated from a contemporary perspective, the exhibition takes a thematic rather than a chronological approach, looking at four interrelated areas: Aboriginal and settler relations; exploration (mining, landscape and stars); portraiture and engagement; collecting and distributing photography. A lavishly illustrated 308-page publication, The photograph and Australia (Thames & Hudson, RRP $75.00), accompanies the exhibition, reflecting its themes and investigating the medium’s relationship to people, place, culture and history.”

Press release from the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

David Moore (Australia 06 Apr 1927 – 23 Jan 2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966, printed later

 

David Moore (Australia 06 Apr 1927 – 23 Jan 2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966, printed later
gelatin silver photograph
30.2 x 43.5 cm image; 35.7 x 47.0 cm sheet
Gift of the artist 1997
© Lisa, Karen, Michael and Matthew Moore

 

 

In this evocative image Moore condenses the anticipation and apprehension of immigrants into a tight frame as they arrive in Australia to begin a new life. The generational mix suggests family reconnections or individual courage as each face displays a different emotion.

Moore’s first colour image Faces mirroring their expectations of life in the land down under, passengers crowd the rail of the liner Galileo Galilei in Sydney Harbour was published in National Geographic in 1967.1 In that photograph the figures are positioned less formally and look cheerful. But it is this second image, probably taken seconds later, which Moore printed in black-and-white, that has become symbolic of national identity as it represents a time when Australia’s rapidly developing industrialised economy addressed its labour shortage through immigration. The strength of the horizontal composition of cropped figures underpinned by the ship’s rail is dramatised by the central figure raising her hand – an ambiguous gesture either reaching for a future or reconnecting with family. The complexity of the subject and the narrative the image implies ensured its public success, which resulted in a deconstruction of the original title, ‘European migrants’, by the passengers, four of whom it later emerged were Sydneysiders returning from holiday, alongside two migrants from Egypt and Lebanon.2 Unintentionally Moore’s iconic image has become an ‘historical fiction’, yet the passengers continue to represent an evolving Australian identity in relation to immigration.

1. Max Dupain and associates: http://www.mdaa.com.au/people/moore-05.php. Accessed 17.06.2006
2. Thomas D & Sayers A 2000, From face to face: portraits by David Moore, Chapter & Verse, Sydney

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

David Moore. 'Redfern Interior' 1949

 

David Moore
Redfern Interior
1949
Silver gelatin print
26.7 x 35.4 cm image; 40.3 x 50.5 cm sheet
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 1985

 

David Moore’s career spanned the age of the picture magazines (for example: Life, Time, The Observer) through to major commissions such as the Sydney Opera House, CSR, and self initiated projects like To build a Bridge: Glebe Island. The breadth and depth of his career means there is an extraordinary archive of material which describes and interprets the last 50 years of Australian life, the life of the region, and events in Britain and the United States. He was instrumental in advancing Australian photography throughout his career and in the early 1970s was active in setting up the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. From well-known images such as Migrants arriving in Sydney to Redfern interior, Moore has documented events and conditions in Sydney.

 

Charles Bayliss (England, Australia 1850 – 1897) Henry Beaufoy Merlin (England, Australia 1830 – 1873) 'Untitled' c. 1872

 

Charles Bayliss (England, Australia 1850 – 1897)
Henry Beaufoy Merlin (England, Australia 1830 – 1873)
Untitled
c. 1872
Albumen photograph
Dimensions
24.5 x 29.4 cm image/sheet
Gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

 

Paul Foelsche. 'Adelaide River' 1887

 

Paul Foelsche
Adelaide River
1887
Albumen photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

 

 

This photo of people relaxing on the banks of the Adelaide River in the Northern Territory was taken by Paul Foelsche, a policeman and amateur anthropologist.

The collection of 19th century images brought together in The photograph and Australia show indigenous people in formal group portraits or as “exotic” subjects. They are photographed alongside early settlers, working as stockmen or holding tools. Amateur gentleman photographers such as the Scottish farmer John Hunter Kerr captured such images on his own property, Fernyhurst Station, in Victoria. Another amateur photographer, Paul Foelsche, the first policeman in the Northern Territory, took portraits of the Larrakia people, which have since become a priceless archive for their descendants.

 

NSW Government Printer. 'The General Post Office, Sydney' 1892–1900

 

NSW Government Printer
The General Post Office, Sydney
1892-1900
Albumen photograph
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, presented 1969

 

Melvin Vaniman. 'Panorama of intersection of Collins and Queen Streets, Melbourne' 1903

 

Melvin Vaniman
Panorama of intersection of Collins and Queen Streets, Melbourne
1903

 

J. W. Lindt (Germany 1845 – Australia from 1862, Australia 1926) 'Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly gang, hung up for photography, Benalla' 1880

 

J. W. Lindt (Germany 1845 – Australia from 1862, Australia 1926)
Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly gang, hung up for photography, Benalla
1880
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Australia’s first ever press photograph pushed boundaries few journalists would transgress today. Captured by J.W, Lindt in 1880, the photo shows the dead body of a member of Ned Kelly’s infamous gang, strung up on a door outside the jail house in Benalla in regional Victoria.

Joe Byrne died from loss of blood after being shot in the groin during the siege of Glenrowan pub. Another photographer is pictured mid-shot, while an illustrator walks away from the new technology with his hat on and portfolio tucked under his arm. “We see this as the first Australian press photograph. It has that spontaneity media photographs have, and it’s also very evocative with many different stories in it,” the gallery’s senior curator of photographs, Judy Annear, said. (Text from the Sydney Morning Herald website)

 

Richard Daintree. 'Midday camp' 1864–70

 

Richard Daintree
Midday camp
1864-70
Albumen photograph, overpainted with oils
Queensland Museum, Brisbane

 

This image was an albumen photograph (using egg whites to bind chemicals to paper) which was then hand-coloured with oil paints to bring it to life. The photographer took it in the 1860s to advertise Australia as a land of opportunity.

 

Ricky Maynard. 'The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania' 2005

 

Ricky Maynard (Australia 1953 – )
Ben Lomond, Tasmania , Cape Portland, Tasmania
The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania, from the series Portrait of a distant land
2005, printed 2009
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
34.0 x 52.0 cm image; 50.3 x 60.8 cm sheet
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by the Aboriginal Collection Benefactors’ Group and the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2009

 

 

Ricky Maynard has produced some of the most compelling images of contemporary Aboriginal Australia over the last two decades. Largely self taught, Maynard began his career as a darkroom technician at the age of sixteen. He first established his reputation with the 1985 series Moonbird people, an intimate portrayal of the muttonbirding season on Babel, Big Dog and Trefoil Islands in his native Tasmania. The 1993 series No more than what you see documents Indigenous prisoners in South Australian gaols.

Maynard is a lifelong student of the history of photography, particularly of the great American social reformers Jacob Riis, Lewis Hines, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Maynard’s images cut through the layers of rhetoric and ideology that inevitably couch black history (particularly Tasmanian history) to present images of experience itself. His visual histories question ownership; he claims that ‘the contest remains over who will image and own this history…we must define history, define whose history it is, and define its purpose as well as the tools used for the telling it’.

In Portrait of a distant land Maynard addresses the emotional connection between history and place. He uses documentary style landscapes to illustrate group portraits of Aboriginal peoples’ experiences throughout Tasmania. Each work combines several specific historical events, creating a narrative of shared experience – for example The Mission relies on historical records of a small boy whom Europeans christened after both his parents died in the Risdon massacre. This work highlights the disparity between written, oral and visual histories, as Maynard attempts to create ‘a combination of a very specific oral history as well as an attempt to show a different way of looking at history in general’.

 

JW Lindt. 'No 37 Bushman and an Aboriginal man' 1873

 

JW Lindt
No 37 Bushman and an Aboriginal man
1873
Albumen photograph
Grafton Regional Gallery Collection, Grafton, gift of Sam and Janet Cullen and family 2004

 

Professional photographers such as the Frankfurt-born John William Lindt (who became famous for photographing the capture of the Kelly Gang at Glenrowan in 1880) took carefully posed tableaux images in his Melbourne studio. One set of Lindt photographs, taken between 1873 and 1874, show settlers and indigenous people posing with the tools of their trade. One unusual image shows a settler holding a spear and a local man holding a rifle.

Annear says the photographs speak of a time when early settlers and indigenous people were engaged in an exchange of cultures. “These photos weren’t just a passive, one-way process,” Annear says. “It wasn’t just about capture and exoticism. We are finding contemporaneous accounts that point to a level of exchange going on that was extremely important. These photos show who those people were, where they lived and what they were doing. They have a very powerful presence in that regard, and Aboriginal people today are going back through these photographs in order to trace their family trees.” …

Annear says she could have put together an exhibition of images of the “great suffering” experienced by Aboriginal people in Australia, but chose not to. “I found the 19th century material so rich and strong and most people aren’t aware of these images. It seemed like a great opportunity to bring them forward,” she says. “I don’t want to whitewash history, but I do want people to see how rich life was, how people were adapting, and then how that was removed. After Federation and the White Australia policy and other assimilation policies, photos of indigenous people seem to disappear. Why did they disappear? The people were still here. They were greatly diminished in many senses, but nonetheless they were still here.”

Elissa Blake. “Art Gallery of NSW photography exhibition: Stories told in black and white,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, April 2, 2015

 

Charles Bayliss. 'Lawrence Hargrave trochoided plane model' 1884

 

Charles Bayliss
Lawrence Hargrave trochoided plane model
1884
Albumen photograph
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, gift of Mr William Hudson Shaw 1994

 

Unknown photographer. 'Duryea Gallery, Grenfell Street, Adelaide' c. 1865

 

Unknown photographer
Duryea Gallery, Grenfell Street, Adelaide
c. 1865
Carte de visite
State Library of South Australia, Adelaide

 

JJ Dwyer. 'Kalgoorlie's first post office' c. 1900

 

J. J. Dwyer
Kalgoorlie’s first post office
c. 1900
Gelatin silver photograph
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth
Photo: Acorn Photo, Perth

 

Harold Cazneaux. 'Spirit of endurance' 1937

 

Harold Cazneaux
Spirit of endurance
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of the Cazneaux family 1975

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand, Australia 1896 - 1974) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand, Australia 1896 – 1974)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph, vintage
30.5 x 35.5 cm image/sheet
Gift of Iris Burke 1989

 

Unknown photographer. 'Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria' c. 1855 (detail)

 

Unknown photographer
Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, hand-tinted
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2012

 

Unknown photographer. 'Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria' c. 1855

 

Unknown photographer
Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, hand-tinted
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2012

 

 

“In the late 19th century, cameras were taking us both inside the human body and all the way to the moon. By the 1970s the National Gallery of Victoria had begun collecting photographic art, and within another decade the digital revolution was underway. But this exhibition – the largest display of Australian photography since Gael Newton mounted the 900-work Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1838-1988 at the National Gallery of Australia 27 years ago – is not chronological.

It opens with a salon hang of portraits of 19th and 20th century photographers, as if to emphasise their say in what we see, and continues with works grouped by themes: Aboriginal and settler relations; exploration; mining, landscape and stars; portraiture and engagement; collecting and distributing photography.

“A number of institutions and curators have tackled Australian photography from a chronological perspective and have done an extremely good job of it,” Annear says. “I have used their excellent research as a springboard into another kind of examination of the history of photography in this country. Nothing in photography was actually invented here, so I have turned it around and considered how photography invented Australia.”

Most of the photographs – about three quarters of the show, in fact – date from the first 60 years after Frenchman Louis Daguerre had his 1839 revelation about how to capture detailed images in a permanent form. Annear says the decades immediately following photography’s arrival in Australia provide a snapshot of all that has followed since.

“In terms of the digital revolution it is interesting to look back at the 19th century. What is going on now was all there then, it is just an expansion. There is a very clear trajectory from the birth of photography towards multiplication. After the invention of the carte de visite in the late 1850s they were made like there was no tomorrow. There are millions of cartes de visite in existence.”

There are quite a few of these small card-mounted photographs (the process was patented in Paris, hence the French) in the exhibition too, including one of a woman reflected in water at Port Jackson dating from circa 1865. With the trillions of images now in existence, it is easy to forget that once upon a time catching your reflection in the water, glass or a mirror was the only way to glimpse your own image (short of paying hefty sums for an artist to draw you).

After the invention of photography, people were quick to see how easily they could manipulate the impression created. While photographs are about fixing a moment in time, we can never be really sure just what it is they are fixing. “It’s not as simple as windows and mirrors – what we are looking at has always been constructed in some way,” Annear says. “What’s interesting about the medium is that you think it’s recording, fixing and capturing, but it is just creating an endless meditation on whatever a photograph’s relationship might be to whatever was real at the time it was taken.”

Extract from Megan Backhouse. “How the Photograph Shaped a Nation,” on the Art Guide Australia website, 20 April 2015

 

Sue Ford. 'Self-portrait' 1986

 

Sue Ford
Self-portrait
1986
From the series Self-portrait with camera (1960-2006) 2008
Colour Polaroid photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by the Paul & Valeria Ainsworth Charitable Foundation, Russell Mills, Mary Ann Rolfe, the Photography Collection Benefactors and the Photography Endowment Fund 2015
© Sue Ford Archive

 

George Goodman. 'Caroline and son Thomas James Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman
Caroline and son Thomas James Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, presented 1991

 

Olive Cotton. 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' c. 1939

 

Olive Cotton
‘Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind’
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by John Armati 2006

 

Unknown photographer. 'John Gill and Joanna Kate Norton' 1856

 

Unknown photographer
John Gill and Joanna Kate Norton
1856
Albumen photograph
Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Unknown photographer. 'Alfred and Fred Thomas, proprietors of the Ravenswood Hotel' 1880-90

 

Unknown photographer
Alfred and Fred Thomas, proprietors of the Ravenswood Hotel
1880-90
Tintype
State Library of Western Australia, Perth

 

Mervyn Bishop. 'Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory' 1975

 

Mervyn Bishop
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory
1975
Type R3 photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

 

Axel Poignant (England, Australia, England 12 Dec 1906 – 05 Feb 1986) 'Aboriginal stockman, Central Australia' c. 1947, printed 1982

 

Axel Poignant (England, Australia, England 12 Dec 1906 – 05 Feb 1986)
Aboriginal stockman, Central Australia
c. 1947, printed 1982
Type C photograph
35.6 x 24.4 cm image/sheet
Purchased 1984
© Courtesy Roslyn Poignant

 

 

Though not born in Australia, Axel Poignant’s work is largely about the ‘Outback’, its flora and fauna and the traditions of Australian and Indigenous identity. Poignant was born in Yorkshire in 1906 to a Swedish father and English mother, and arrived in Australia in 1926 seeking work and adventure. After tough early years of unemployment and homelessness, he eventually settled in Perth and found work as a portrait photographer, before taking to the road and the bush in search of new subjects. Poignant became fascinated with the photo-essay as a means of adding real humanity to the medium, and much of his work is in this form. The close relationships he developed with Aborigines on his travels are recorded in compassionate portraits of these people and their lives – the low angles and closely cropped frames appear more natural and relaxed than the stark compositions of earlier ethnographic photography.

 

Nicholas Caire. 'Fairy scene at the Landslip, Blacks' Spur' c. 1878

 

Nicholas Caire
Fairy scene at the Landslip, Blacks’ Spur
c. 1878
Albumen photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, purchased 1994

 

Frank Styant Browne. 'Hand' 1896

 

Frank Styant Browne
Hand
1896
X-ray
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery collection, Launceston

 

 

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12
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘Max Dupain 
The Paris ‘private’ series and other pictures’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 24th May – 14th September 2014

 

A good friend of mine, who should know what she is talking about, observed that you cannot look at Dupain’s photographs of Paris without first looking at his commissioned photographs of the then new Embassy of Australia. Unfortunately, I could only find one photograph online to show to you, Embassy of Australia, Paris, France (1978, below), but you get the idea. Dupain’s The Paris ‘private’ series were taken during a couple of days off that he had from the commissioned job. Basically they are tourist photographs, a record of things Dupain wanted to see in Paris on one of his few overseas trips. Most of them are disappointing images, serviceable but disappointing.

Having studied Eugène Atget I expected more from Dupain. In these photographs he tends to shoot obliquely into the object of his attention, directing the lead in and vanishing point(s) within the image. For example, in Untitled (the balustrade of Pont Alexandre III) and Untitled (Pont Alexandre III with sculptural balustrade) (both 1978, below), Dupain allows the bridge parapet to lead the eye into the image, while the vanishing point is positioned at far right. Neither are very successful as formal compositions. The same can be said of Untitled (statue of Maréchal Joffre, Place Joffre, Champ-de-Mars) (1978, below) with the vanishing point this time at the left of the image. More successul is Dupains’s Untitled (staircase to the park, looking toward Bassin des Serruriers, Domaine de Chantilly) (1978, below) with its foreshortened out of focus entrance, geometric planes and multiple exit points – but then he goes and spoils it with the simplistic Untitled (staircase and statue of Anne de Montmorency 1886 by Paul Dubois, Domaine de Chantilly) (1978, below) taken at the same location. The best image from the series is undoubtedly Untitled (the statue of Christ at the portal of La Sainte-Chapelle) (1978, below) with its restrained and refined aesthetic. A beautiful image and a wondrous space. The photograph of the people at the Eiffel Tower is also a cracker.

As I said at the beginning, these are tourist art photographs of Paris, but they could have been so much more.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to The Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Max Dupain (1911-92) is one of the leading figures of 20th-century Australian photography. The group of 21 photographs in his Paris ‘private’ series was taken when he travelled to Paris in 1978 with architect Harry Seidler to photograph the Australian Embassy, designed by Seidler. The series consists of transcendent photographs of Paris. Dupain had studied the work of Eugène Atget, and there is a similar enigmatic atmosphere to be found in Dupain’s examination of the city. Primarily depicting 18th- to 19th-century landmarks such as the ornate Alexandre III bridge, the Grand Palais and Chantilly, this compilation offers a view of the city and its environs shaped by layers of history, mythology and art.

Given to the Gallery by Penelope Seidler in memory of her husband and the photographer, this portfolio is shown alongside other photographs of made and natural structures by Dupain from the 1930s to the 1980s.

 

 

Max Dupain. 'Embassy of Australia, Paris, France' 1978

 

Max Dupain
Embassy of Australia, Paris, France
1978
Silver gelatin print

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (cars on rue de Rivoli)' from The Paris 'private' series Year 1978

 

Max Dupain
Untitled (cars on rue de Rivoli)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Silver gelatin print
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

“I like to involve myself in, maybe, a small area geographically and work it out, as simple as that” said Max Dupain in a 1991 interview.1 During his lifetime the photographer visited only three countries outside of Australia. His 1978 trip to Paris was made together with architect Harry Seidler, whose newly built Australian embassy building Dupain was commissioned to document. The long professional association between the architect and the photographer stretched back to the early 1950s, soon after Seidler’s arrival in Australia. Dupain, through his expressive architectural photographs, was closely involved in popularising the modernist aesthetic espoused by Seidler’s starkly functional buildings.

Conversely, the set of 21 photographs of Paris which Dupain compiled and presented to Seidler as a personal gift, does not contain any images of modern architecture. Primarily depicting 18-19th century landmarks such as the ornate Alexandre III bridge, the Grand Palais and Versailles this compilation offers a view of the city and its environs shaped by layers of history, mythology and art. Dupain was nonetheless well read in modern French culture and aware of photographers such as Eugène Atget and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The Parisian images vary from pure architectural studies to compositions with an almost literary scope. They demonstrate Dupain’s signature trait of combining the formal and social aspects of photography. In some of the works, Dupain gives classical architecture the same reductive treatment he brought to modern buildings. Stripped of embellishments, these photographs bring to the fore the essence of order, logic and harmony which lies at the core of classicism. The presence of human figures in photographs such as that of Napoleon’s statue on the balcony of Les Invalides adds a dramatic element to the compositions. Dupain wanted “to extract every ounce of content from any exciting form and I want to give life to the inanimate.”2 Time and the built environment converge in this personal ode to Paris, manifesting the incessant flow of life and the connectedness of past with the present.

1. Max Dupain interviewed by Helen Ennis in Max Dupain: Photographs, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1991, p. 13
2. Max Dupain, “Max Dupain – modernist”, exhibition catalogue, State library of NSW, Sydney, 2007, p. 9

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 - 27 Jul 1992) 'Untitled (statue of Maréchal Joffre, Place Joffre, Champ-de-Mars)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)
Untitled (statue of Maréchal Joffre, Place Joffre, Champ-de-Mars)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
30.0 x 33.7 cm image
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (staircase to the park, looking toward Bassin des Serruriers, Domaine de Chantilly)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)
Untitled (staircase to the park, looking toward Bassin des Serruriers, Domaine de Chantilly)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
30.5 x 36.7 cm image
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 - 27 Jul 1992) 'Untitled (staircase and statue of Anne de Montmorency 1886 by Paul Dubois, Domaine de Chantilly)' from 'The Paris 'private' series' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)
Untitled (staircase and statue of Anne de Montmorency 1886 by Paul Dubois, Domaine de Chantilly)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
31.2 x 30.3 cm image
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (the balustrade of Pont Alexandre III)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (the balustrade of Pont Alexandre III)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (Pont Alexandre III with sculptural balustrade)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (Pont Alexandre III with sculptural balustrade)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (the glass dome of Grand Palais)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (the glass dome of Grand Palais)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (interior staircase and cart wheels)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (interior staircase and cart wheels)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (cannon with a guard standing in a doorway)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (cannon with a guard standing in a doorway)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (the statue of Christ at the portal of La Sainte-Chapelle)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (the statue of Christ at the portal of La Sainte-Chapelle)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (Place Vendôme with the column)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (Place Vendôme with the column)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 - 27 Jul 1992) 'Untitled (tree on Boulevard de la Tour Maubourg, with Hôtel des Invalides in the distance)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)
Untitled (tree on Boulevard de la Tour Maubourg, with Hôtel des Invalides in the distance)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
35.6 x 30.2 cm image
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (mythological sculptural group at the Grand Palais)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (mythological sculptural group at the Grand Palais)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (woman with pram in Jardin des Tuileries)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (woman with pram in Jardin des Tuileries)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (group of people near the Eiffel tower)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (group of people near the Eiffel tower)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (Les Invalides)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (Les Invalides)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (Napoleon's statue on the balcony of Les Invalides)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (Napoleon’s statue on the balcony of Les Invalides)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

“An exhibition of 36 photographs – 21 of which were taken in Paris in 1978 by one of Australia’s most well-known photographers, Max Dupain (1911-92) – will go on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Donated to the Gallery by Penelope Seidler in 2012, this will be the first time the Paris ‘private’ series portfolio will have ever been seen publicly. Max Dupain had gifted these works to renowned architect Harry Seidler and in a handwritten note he wrote:

I owe you so much. For nearly twenty five years I have dwelt on your philosophy of architecture. We register alike about clear thinking, logic of application, poetry of form etc etc. [sic] I have tremendous regard for architecture as a stabilising force in this turbulent society and I think my best work will ultimately show the significance of this by virtue of the photographed form thrown up by architecture and by engineering.

Dupain made the trip to Paris, his second outside Australia and his first to Europe, to accompany his long-time colleague and friend, Harry Seidler (1923-2006). Dupain’s task was to photograph the Australian Embassy there, which Seidler had designed (completed 1977). The pair were not only friends but shared a deep appreciation for form and light, for the modernist curves in space that can be created both architecturally and photographically.

Dupain explored many monuments around Paris. These impressions of a place he was seeing for the first time reveal his exploration of a new city and its sites, varying from formal compositions of photographic space, such as the image of Napoleon’s statue on the balcony of Les Invalides, to more personal or candid moments, as with the group of people captured beneath the Eiffel Tower. Many photographs depict 18th- and 19th-century landmarks such as the ornate Alexandre III bridge, the Grand Palais and Chantilly; the compilation offers a view of Paris and its environs shaped by layers of history, mythology and art.

Despite the diversity of subject matter across the 21 images, Dupain always maintained his signature poise and rigour, appreciation of the way light interacts with the objects it touches, and attention to the composition of photographic space through a play of scale.

In addition to the Paris ‘private’ series, 15 of Dupain’s photographs of architectural and botanical forms will be on display. Almost all are taken in and around Sydney; some of the flowers are from Dupain’s Castlecrag garden and iconic Sydney buildings such as the Opera House are included. These images cover 50 years of the photographer’s practice from 1933 to 1983, and indicate his enduring appreciation for the order, logic and harmony which lie at the core of classicism, the movement that produced many of the iconic Parisian monuments he saw, and for the modernism which Seidler endorsed through his work.”

Press release from the AGNSW website

 

Max Dupain. 'Pyrmont silos' 1933, printed later

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Pyrmont silos
1933, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
Purchased 1976

 

Pyrmont silos is one of a number of photographs that Dupain took of these constructions in the 1930s. In all cases Dupain examined the silos from a modernist perspective, emphasising their monumentality from low viewpoints under a bright cloudless sky. Additionally, his use of strong shadows to emphasise the forms of the silos and the lack of human figures celebrates the built structure as well as providing no sense of scale. Another photograph by Dupain in the AGNSW collection was taken through a car windscreen so that the machinery of transport merges explicitly with industrialisation into a complex hard-edge image of views and mirror reflections. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power.

Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace modernism. One of his photographs of the silos was roundly criticised when shown to the New South Wales Photographic Society but Dupain forged on regardless with his reading, thinking and experimentation. Some Australian painting and writing had embraced modernist principles in the 1920s, but as late as 1938 Dupain was writing to the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Great art has always been contemporary in spirit. Today we feel the surge of aesthetic exploration along abstract lines, the social economic order impinging itself on art, the repudiation of the ‘truth to nature criterion’ … We sadly need the creative courage of Man Ray, the original thought of Moholy-Nagy, and the dynamic realism of Edouard [sic] Steichen.”1

1. Dupain, M 1938, “Letter to the editor,” in Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain. 'Monstera deliciosa' 1970

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Monstera deliciosa
1970
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of the artist 1981
© Max Dupain, 1970. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain 'Nasturtium leaves' 1981

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Nasturtium leaves
1981
Gelatin silver photograph
40 × 50.4 cm
Gift of Edron Pty Ltd 1995 through the auspices of Alistair McAlpine
© Estate of Max Dupain, licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain 'Australia Square and Calder sculpture, Sydney' 1968

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Australia Square and Calder sculpture, Sydney
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of the artist 1981
© Estate of Max Dupain, licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'The magnolia' 1983

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
The magnolia
1983
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of the artist 1986
© Max Dupain, 1983. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Stair rail' 1975

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Stair rail
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of the artist 1981
© Max Dupain, 1975. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

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11
May
14

Text / exhibition: ‘Australian vernacular photography’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 18th May 2014

 

Australian vernacular photography. Such a large subject. Such a small exhibition.

With only 27 photographs from various artists (18 of which are shown in this posting), this exhibition can only ever be seen as the runt of the litter. I would have thought such a large area of photographic investigation needed a more expansive exposition than is offered here. There are no photobook, photo booth, Aboriginal, anonymous, authorless, family, gay or marginalised cultural photographs / snapshots. There are no light leaks, blur, fingers obstructing lenses, double exposures – all examples of serendipity and happenstance which could enter into an aesthetic arena.

Vernacular photography1 can be defined as the “creation of photographs, usually by amateur or unknown photographers both professional and amateur, who take everyday life and common things as subjects… Examples of vernacular photographs include travel and vacation photos, family snapshots, photos of friends, class portraits, identification photographs, and photo-booth images. Vernacular photographs are types of accidental art, in that they often are unintentionally artistic.”2 ‘Found photography’ is the recovery of a lost, unclaimed, or discarded vernacular photograph or snapshot.

While all of the photographs in the exhibition are unique images, some are definitely not vernacular in their construction – they are planned and staged photographs, what I would call planned happenstance (after John Krumboltz’s theory of career development). A perfect example of this are the photographs by Sue Ford (Sue Pike, 1963, printed 1988, below), Anne Zahalka (The girls #2, Cronulla beach, 2007, below) and Fiona Hall (Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975, below) which have an air of ceremonial seriousness that belies their classification as part of this exhibition. My favourites are the fantastic images by Glen Sloggett – witty, colourful, humorous with the photographer “acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history” – they are nevertheless self-deprecating enough that this does not impact on their innate “found” quality, as though the artist had just wandered along and captured the shot.

The route that the AGNSW has taken is similar to that of MoMA. Residing in the collection and shot by artists, these “vernacular” photographs are placed in a high art context. Their status as amateur or “authorless” photographs is undermined. This exhibit does not present vernacular photographs as just that. As the article on the One Street blog notes, what is being exhibited is as much about what has been collected by the AGNSW, its methodical and historicising classification, as it is about vernacular photographic form: chance, mistake and miscalculation. It is about creating a cliché from which to describe an ideal Australian identity, be it the beach, larrikinism, or the ANZAC / sporting “warrior”, and not about a true emotional resonance in the image that is created by, or come upon by, chance.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

1. “Vernacular photography,” on One Way Street blog 20th October 2007 [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

“What is vernacular photography? Too broad to be understood as a genre per se, it can encompass anonymous snapshots, industrial photography, scientific photography, “authorless” photography, advertising, smut, as well as work that might be perceived as “other” than any of this random list. It could be understood as an oppositional photography – outside technical or artistic histories, yet, especially with the snapshot, it could also be entirely conventionalized, a manifestation of visual banalities, or an image so enigmatic that its meaning or genesis is entirely obscured. It is mistakes & failures as much as it may not be. & how we understand the images may or may not be separate from their initial intents. Is this a category we are making up?
The idea of the vernacular in photography is also an indication of photography as a medium informing the everyday, prevalent, “naturalized.””

2. Szarkowski, John. “INTERVIEW: “Eyes Wide Open: Interview with John Szarkowski” (2006)” by Mark Durden, Art in America, May, 2006, cited in “Vernacular photography,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

 

Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography

“At first, I was simply interested in bringing attention to a diverse range of photographic objects and practices that had not been much written about. But I soon recognized that these objects represented a significant challenge to the predominant history of photography. This history, dominated by the values ​​and tropes of art history, was not well-equipped to talk about photographs that were openly commercial, hybrid and mundane. Ie: the history of photography ignores most types of photography. My interest, therefore, has become more methodological and theoretical, in an effort to establish new ways to think of photography that could address the medium as a whole. I suggest that any substantial inclusion of vernacular photographs into a general history of photography will require a total transformation of the character of that history…

I suggest that any inclusion of vernacular photography in the larger story, will require a complete transformation of the character of that story; it will require a new kind of history altogether. My writings may have encouraged this idea, but I am just one of many scholars who have been pursuing this goal. Indeed, I would say that this idea is now the norm. The next step is to look beyond this and engage other parts of the history of photography that have been similarly neglected. For example, there are many researchers at the moment that are examining the photographs produced outside Europe and the United States, such as China, Indonesia, and Africa…

Snapshots are complicated objects. They are unique to each maker and almost always completely generic. They happily adopt the visual economy that mediates most photographic practices: same but different. You might say that every snapshot is an authentic copy of a prescribed set of middle-class values and familiar pictorial clichés. That does not make them any less fascinating, especially for people who treasure them. But it does make them difficult to write about…

It is certainly possible to recognize the existence of regional practices of photography. I wrote, for example, about the making of fotoescultura in Mexico, and about a specific form of ambrotype in Japan. No doubt one could claim to see some regional aspects of snapshots made in the United States that distinguish them from ones made in Australia or, say, Indonesia. But the more challenging task is to talk about those things that can’t be seen. For example, snapshots made in Australia and China may look exactly the same to my eye, but it stands to reason that they don’t mean the same thing (after all, access to the camera for personal photos is a fairly recent phenomenon in China). We must learn how to write these kind of differences.”

Interview by LG. “Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography,” on the LesPHOTOGRAPHES.com website Nd (translated from the French) [Online] Cited 04/05/2014

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

After relocating from USA to Australia in 1973, Ed Douglas spent a few years living in the country prior to taking on a teaching position at Sydney College for the Arts in 1976. The series City-spaces was commenced in Sydney and then developed further when Douglas moved to Adelaide in 1977. Having been schooled in the formal traditions of American documentary photography, Douglas’s images appear like notations of an urban explorer attempting to locate himself in a new country. Seemingly fragmentary, they look at the specificities of the mundane and the ordinary. Close acquaintances such as photographers Ingeborg Tyssen and John F. Williams appear in City spaces #29 and City spaces #28, indicating the personal nature of the series.

Intimately scaled and tonally rich, the black and white images exalt the formal beauty which can be found in the random textures of daily existence. They are also permeated with gentle humour and a sense of quiet drama that unfolds in the strangely misplaced confluences of objects, figures and spaces. Douglas’s interest in the formal and emotional qualities of topography was emblematic of new approaches in documentary photography of the time. His 1983 series of colour photographs depicting the gypsum mine on Kangaroo Island (collection of AGNSW) developed this trajectory further by fusing the aesthetics of abstraction and objective documentation.

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #40, Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #40, Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 x 30.7 cm image
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Woman hosing, Canberra' 1979

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Woman hosing, Canberra
1979
Gelatin silver photograph
34.9 x 46.5 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

Gerrit Fokkema’s photographs of everyday Sydney and Canberra in the early 1980s are examples of Australian photography becoming more self-aware. These decisive snapshots of suburban life reveal an irony and conjure Fokkema’s own history growing up in Queanbeyan. Though captured in seemingly banal settings, the images intrigue, pointing to issues beyond what is represented in the frame. The housewife watering the road and a young tattooed man in front of a car are both depicted alone within a sprawling suburban landscape, suggesting the isolation and boredom in the Australian dream of home ownership. The sense of strangeness in these images is consciously sought by Fokkema, aided by his embrace of the glaring and unforgiving ‘natural’ Australian light.

Gerrit Fokkema’s Woman hosing, Canberra is an affectionate and gently ironic portrait of suburban life in Canberra. Fokkema was familiar with his subject matter, raised as he was in the nearby township of Queanbeyan. After studying photography at Canberra Technical College 1974-77 he became the staff photographer for the Canberra Times in 1975. He held his first exhibition in the same year at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. His career as a photo-journalist lead him to work with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1980 and participation with several international Day in the life of…. projects between 1986 and 1989.

Fokkema uses the ‘decisive moment’ of photo-journalism to reveal the incidental quirks of ordinary life in this image. The bland uniformity of the streetscape, with its identical archways and mundanely shuttered doors, is punctuated by the absurd proposition of a woman watering the street rather than the adjacent grass. Her presence is the only sign of life in an otherwise inanimate scene, and her actions suggest a kind of strangeness that lies within the normality of suburbia. Many of Fokkema’s images play with such chance incidences and odd juxtapositions, revealing his interest in surrealism and the notion of automatism. Indeed, the repeated archways and the lone figure inhabiting otherwise empty urban space of Woman hosing, Canberra recall the proto-typical surrealist painting, Mystery and melancholy of a street 1914, by Giorgio de Chirico. Fokkema’s image is, however, very much a product of Australia – of its bright ‘available’ light and of the dream of home-ownership. Fokkema has continued to document the Australian way of life. In 1986 he left newspapers to freelance as a commercial photographer and published Wilcannia, portrait of an Australian town. He has since exhibited works based on tender observations of his family members and of family life.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Blacktown man' 1983

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Blacktown man
1983
Gelatin silver photograph
30.6 x 40.6 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

The work of Gerrit Fokkema exhibits a particular sensitivity to the uneasiness of people in Australian landscapes, both urban and rural. Fokkema was born in New Guinea in 1954, but raised in Canberra and worked as a press photographer before freelancing from 1986. Although his photographs demonstrate an interest in the formal qualities of landscape, the sense of rhythm his compositions generate also evoke the monotony of Australian space – sweeping terracotta roofs and long straight paths. This monotony is only interrupted by the presence of the human figure, usually isolated, alone and awkwardly out of place. In Blacktown Man 1983, the flat image of the man appears dramatically superimposed on the land and sky of the suburban street. By reminding us of our sometimes uncomfortable relationship with the spaces we inhabit, Fokkema’s work rejects any attempt to romanticise Australian life.

 

John F Williams. 'The Rocks, Sydney' 1973

 

John F Williams
The Rocks, Sydney
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
22.6 x 34.1cm
Purchased 1989
© John F Williams

 

Trent Parke. 'Backyard swing set, QLD' 2003

 

Trent Parke
Backyard swing set, QLD
2003
From the series Minutes to midnight
Type C photograph
109.9 x 164cm
Gift of Albie Thoms in memory of Linda Slutzkin, former Head of Public Programmes, Art Gallery of New South Wales 2006
© Trent Parke

 

 

Australian vernacular photography traces developments in photographic practice from the postwar period through to the present day, with images ranging from documentary or ‘straight’ photography (where the subjects are usually unaware of the camera), through to those that look self-reflexively at the constructed nature of the medium.

The increasing role of photography in the latter part of the 20th century attests to the rising need Australians felt to apprehend the nation, personal identity and society through images. Many of these photographs offer frank perspectives on Australian culture without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photographers. Photographing the everyday became a way of understanding how Australia saw (and sees) itself, with recurrent themes such as beach culture, suburbia, race relations, protest and the role of women among the central concerns of image-makers then and now.

By the 1960s Australian photographers were comparing their work with international peers, thanks to photographic publications and the watershed 1959 tour of The family of man exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Institutional support for photography didn’t come until the 1970s; however those committed to the medium forged on, intent on capturing their visions of Australia photographically. The family of man exhibition toured Australia in 1959 and was enormously influential, with its themes of birth, love and death common to all humanity. However, possibilities for Australian photographers to be noticed were rare until the 1970s due to the lack of institutional support. Nonetheless, photographers from David Moore and Robert McFarlane to the young Sue Ford forged on, trying to find their own vision of Australian life and how it could be represented photographically. This exhibition looks at some of the photographers from then as well as those working more recently – such as Anne Zahalka, Trent Parke and Glenn Sloggett – to consider their various approaches to the depiction of modern Australian life.

In the Australian Photography Annual of 1947, photographer and director of the Art Gallery of NSW Hal Missingham wrote: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport… where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – what do they do – what do they wear, and think?”

Text from the AGNSW website

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 - Oct 2010) 'The Sunbather' 1966

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 – Oct 2010)
The Sunbather
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
39.1 x 27.6 cm image
© Jeff Carter

 

“I don’t regard photography as an art form, although I know it can be for others… To me the camera is simply an unrivalled reporter’s tool. It is an aid to getting the story “properly true,”” Jeff Carter said in 2006. Working mainly as a photojournalist, Carter wanted to make images that depicted social reality. He aimed to show the ‘unknown’, those people who are rarely seen. His approach resulted in frank, arguably even unflattering, images of Australian life, such as this of a beach-goer in the 1960s, heralding the changing social mores of the time.

 

John F. Williams (Australia 1933 - ) 'Sydney' 1964, printed later

 

John F Williams (Australia 1933 – )
Sydney
1964, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
24.3 x 24.3 cm image
© John F Williams

 

Sydney photographer, lecturer and historian John F. Williams has a long and personal interest in the ramifications of the Allies’ commitment to and sacrifice in the First World War which he later explored in his 1985 series From the flatlands. Williams became an amateur street photographer, inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson and the photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. He read The family of man catalogue and saw the exhibition in 1959 but he rejected its “saccharine humanism and deliberate ahistoricism” choosing instead to socially document the raw character of Australia.1

When interviewed in 1994 Williams said: “After the [First World War] you had a range of societies which were pretty much exhausted, and they tended to turn inwards. In a society like Australia which had a poorly formed image of itself, where there was no intellectual underpinning, the image of the soldier replaced everything else as a national identity.”2

Sydney expresses the ‘Anzac spirit’ born in the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Somme and Flanders, a character study of an independent, introspective soldier. With an air of grit, determinedly smoking and wearing his badge, ribbons and rosemary as remembrance, Sydney stands apart from the crowd, not marching with his regiment. Williams embraced the ‘element of chance’ or the ‘decisive moment’ as he documented the soldier in a public place observing the procession. Taken from a low angle and very close up the man is unaware of the photographer at the moment the shot was taken, apparently lost in his own memories. The old soldier represents a generation now lost to history but portraits such as these continue to reinforce the myth of national identity.

1. Jolly, M. “Faith sustained,” in Art Monthly, September 1989, pp. 18-19
2. “John Williams – photographer and historian: profile,” in Sirius, winter, Macquarie University, Sydney, 1994, p. 5

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – ) 'Happening Centennial Park, Sydney' c. 1968

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – )
Happening Centennial Park, Sydney
c. 1968
Gelatin silver photograph
25.9 x 17.6 cm image
© Robert McFarlane

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994) 'Surf carnival, Cronulla' 1968, printed 1978

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994)
Surf carnival, Cronulla
1968, printed 1978
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
38.1 x 26.3 cm image
© Hal Missingham Estate

 

Photographer and former Art Gallery of NSW director, Hal Missingham wrote in the 1947 Australian Photography annual: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport…? Where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – What do they do – What do they wear, and think?” This image points to Missingham’s own attempts to answer that question. An interesting counterpoint to the images taken at Cronulla around 40 years later, here Missingham shows a group of young women standing behind a fence watching as young men train to be lifesavers.

Hal Missingham often holidayed at his beach house at Garie in the Royal National Park south of Sydney, not far from Cronulla. In 1970 he published Close focus a book of photographic details of rocks, pools, sand and driftwood. As a beachcomber and observer of beach culture Missingham delighted in his immediate environment. Surf carnival, Cronulla is a quintessential Australian scene, one that frames an important aspect of national identity and culture. As passive observers, the 1960s was a time when many girls were still ‘minding the towels’ for the boys who surfed or competed in carnivals. Barricaded from the beach and its male activity the young women in bikinis are oblivious to the photographer who has foregrounded their relaxed tanned bodies behind the wire as they in turn observe and discuss the surf lifesavers in formation at the water’s edge. Although a beach is accessible for the majority of Australians and is now an accepted egalitarian space where women bodysurf, ride surfboards and compete along with beachgoers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, Surf carnival, Cronulla suggests a specific demography.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 - ) 'Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975' 1975

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 – )
Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
28.2 x 27.9 cm image
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1987
© Fiona Hall

 

 

Australian vernacular photography considers how photographers have used their cameras to depict Australian life, and how ideas of the nation have been constructed through photographic images.

Sixteen Australian photographers are represented by some 27 photographs taken from the 1960s to the 2000s. The photographs range from the more conventionally photo-documentary through to later works by photographers positioned more consciously in an art context. A selection of photography books of the period are also on display.

Artists include: Jeff Carter, Ed Douglas, Peter Elliston, Gerrit Fokkema, Sue Ford, Fiona Hall, Robert McFarlane, Hal Missingham, David Moore, Trent Parke, Roger Scott, Glenn Sloggett, Ingeborg Tyssen, John F Williams, William Yang and Anne Zahalka. Each of these artists in their own way interweave personal, documentary and fictional aspects through their images.

The works in Australian vernacular photography expose the sense of humour or larrikinism often seen as typical to Australia through showing aspects of beach and urban culture that hadn’t been imaged so bluntly before the 1960s. The characters that emerge range from leathery sunbathers, beer-drinking blokes and hippies, to beach babes, student protesters and suburban housewives, shedding light on the sense of liberation and self-recognition that arose during this period.

As photography struggled to gain recognition as an art form in the mid 20th century, the influence of exhibitions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York’s Family of Man, which toured Australia in 1959, was vital in allowing Australian photographers to compare their work to that of their international peers.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, photographers such as Jeff Carter, Sue Ford, David Moore, Roger Scott and John F Williams worked in a photo-documentary mode that was less about staging a shot or creating formal harmony within the frame than about capturing a moment of lived reality. To this end, such photographs involved minimal intervention from the photographer, both before and after the shutter release. Subjects were often unaware of being photographed and extensive darkroom manipulation was frowned upon, the rawness of prints was supposed to signal authenticity.

This approach resulted in images that seemed to offer a frank perspective on Australian culture, without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photography, which had sought to construct ideals rather than document what was actually there. As artists began to realise what they could do with the camera, so too did the images evolve. By the 1980s and ’90s photographers were making images that showed the subject’s awareness of being photographed, as with Gerrit Fokkema, or presented a harsh, even aggressive perspective on the depicted situations by removing people altogether, as with Peter Elliston. This signalled the increasingly self-conscious role of photographers themselves in the equation, suggesting the influence of post-modern theories of subjectivity and their effect on the images produced.

By the time we reach the 2000s, artists such as William Yang, Anne Zahalka and Trent Parke are acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history. The exhibition maps out this history and offers unexpected insight into the construction of a particularly Australian vernacular within photographic practice.”

Press release from the AGNSW

 

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 - 06 Nov 2009) 'Sue Pike' 1963, printed 1988

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 – 06 Nov 2009)
Sue Pike
1963, printed 1988
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
34.2 x 34.2 cm image
Gift of Tim Storrier 1989
© Estate of Sue Ford

 

Sue Ford’s photograph of her friend Sue Pike blow-drying her hair in the kitchen captures the young woman preparing for a night out. Ford often photographed those close to her as well as continually making self-portraits throughout her career. The photograph is domestic and intimate, showing a common aspect of life for young women in the 1960s. It suggests the procedure of preening necessary to go out and find ‘marriage and children’, while the alcohol and cigarette indicates the emerging movement for women’s liberation.

“My earliest “studio portraits” … were of my friends from school … These photo sessions were approached with a ceremonial seriousness, My friends usually brought different clothes with them and during the sessions we would change clothes and hairstyles.” Sue Ford 1987 1

Sue Ford took the majority of her photographs at this time with the camera set on a 1/60th of a second at f/11, a ‘recipe’ she wrote which had more chance of success. Poetic, fragmentary text relating to Ford’s 1961 photo-essay in “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961–1981” identify the young women’s recipe for flirtatious endeavour – ‘gossamer hairspray’, ‘peroxide’, ‘plucked eyebrows’, ‘big hair rollers to achieve “La Bouffant”‘, ‘Saturday nite’ and ‘Jive’. Sue Pike exemplifies the era of girls preparing for a night out with the boys in their ‘FJ Holdens and Hot Rods’. Staged in the kitchen, probably on a Saturday afternoon, Sue Pike, in a padded brunch coat with hair in rollers plugged into a portable hair dryer, will be a part of the action, the gossip and camaraderie. A further portrait taken in the same year shows Sue Pike metamorphosed as a beautiful bride, carefully coifed ash blonde hair under a white net veil, eyes momentarily shut, traditionally decorated with pearls and posy. Ford suggests in her prose and portraits that there are choices to be made – ‘marriage and children’ or mini-skirts and the Pill, as her old school friends go in different directions.

1. Ford. S. “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961-1981,” Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, 1987, p. 4

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – ) 'The girls #2, Cronulla beach' 2007

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – )
The girls #2, Cronulla beach
2007
Type C photograph
72.5 x 89.5 cm image
Gift of the artist 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Anne Zahalka. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

As part of a generation of Australian women artists who came to the fore in the early 1980s, Anne Zahalka’s practice has always been concerned with questioning dominant myths and cultural constructs. The broad sweep of Zahalka’s oeuvre has often been underpinned by a common strategy: the world in her images appears as theatre where place, gender and national identity are questioned.

Many of Zahalka’s more recent works are located outside the studio though the natural environment can be seen to be equally constructed. In The girls #2, Cronulla beach, the photographer has returned to the seaside, which was the setting for one of her most iconic series, Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989. The girls was made as a response to the Cronulla riots and after an introduction to Aheda Zanetti, the designer of the burqini. Zahalka “also knew of a documentary film being made following the recruiting of Lebanese men and women into the lifesaving club. It seemed like there was change adrift on the beachfront.”1 The permutations and post-modern anxiety about what constitutes Australian identity seen in the Bondi… series, have spilled out into the real world. But the image of these young Muslim women lifeguards seems to celebrate the potential to transgress accepted value systems.

Anne Zahalka said in 1995: “I am primarily concerned with… representations to do with place, identity and culture. Through the appropriation and reworking of familiar icons and styles I seek to question (and understand) their influence, meaning and value.” Twelve years later, Zahalka continues this line of inquiry with the series Scenes from the Shire. In this image, three Muslim girls wearing Burqinis (swimwear made for Muslim women conceived by Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti) are standing cross-armed on Cronulla beach, a lifesaving raft is in the background. Zahalka made this work in response to the Cronulla riots of 2005. The image juxtaposes Muslim tradition with the Australian icon of the lifesaver, suggesting cultural overlap and changing national identity.

1. A. Zahalka et al, “Hall of mirrors: Anne Zahalka portraits 1987-2007,” Australian centre of photography, Sydney 2007, p. 43

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – ) 'Ruby's kitchen Enngonia' 2000, printed 2002

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – )
Ruby’s kitchen Enngonia
2000, printed 2002
From the series miscellaneous obsessions
Type C photograph
35.5 x 53.5 cm image
© William Yang

 

William Yang was born in North Queensland, a third generation Chinese-Australian. He is known both as a photographer and for his monologues with slides which he has presented around the world to great acclaim. One of these, Sadness 1992, was adapted for the screen by Tony Ayres and won AWGIEs amongst other awards. A major retrospective of Yang’s work, Diaries, was held at the State Library of NSW in 1998. Through April 24 – June 1, 2003 Yang presented all his monologues at Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney.

Yang has documented various subcultures over the last 30 years and this is reflected in his photographs as well as his monologues. A remarkable storyteller with a unique style, his current work is a synthesis of his ongoing concerns. While these concerns spring very much from his experiences growing up with a Chinese background in far north Queensland, through to his exploration of the gay community in Sydney, the work transcends the personal and becomes a meditation on the subtleties of the ordinary and everyday.

This series of images reflects Yang’s current life of travel and contact with his far flung friends and extended family. Though the subject, at its most superficial, is food, where, when and who is there at the time is of equal importance. Consequently each photograph in the series presents a web of connections and is underpinned with similar intentions to Yang’s other work, regardless of the subject.

“I don’t think I have a great technical attitude but I am interested in people,” William Yang said in 1998. Yang is known for his candid photographs of friends and situations he encounters. The images are usually accompanied by a story about his life, sometimes handwritten on the print itself, sometimes spoken aloud in performative contexts. He uses narrative as a way of locating his images in a particular moment in his personal history as well as social history at large. Yang explores themes around Australian and gay identity in a way that is frank and sometimes confronting. In this work, from a series about food, a chunk of kangaroo meat sits casually atop a laminate bench; other Australian icons such as Wonder White and Weet-Bix are also visible. The work allows for a multiplicity of signs to coexist: the slaughtered Australian mascot, the drab generic kitchen, the processed ‘white’ bread, with the Chinese-Australian photographer observing it all.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Cheaper & deeper' 1996

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Cheaper & deeper
1996
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.0 x 79.9 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Based in Melbourne, Glen Sloggett has exhibited extensively across Australia, including a touring exhibition with the Australian Centre for Photography, New Australiana 2001. Internationally, his work was included in the 11th Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh, 2004 and the 9th Mois de la Photo ‘Image and Imagination’ in Montreal 2005.

Sloggett’s work depicts scenes from Australian suburbia with a startling mix of warmth and melancholy. Devoid of people, his photographs reflect the isolation and abandonment that afflicts the fringes of Australian urban centres. His images don’t flinch from the ugly, kitsch, and bleak. Sloggett says, “No matter where I go, I always find places and environments that are in the process of falling down. These are the images of Australia that resonate most strongly for me as an artist. I want to capture the last signs of optimism before inevitable disrepair.” (Glen Sloggett, quoted in A. Foster. Cheaper and deeper, ex. Bro. ACP 2005) His images of disrepair are infused with black humour and at the same time, affection for Australian suburbia.

From dumpy derelict flats to pavements graffitied with the words ‘mum killers’, Sloggett’s photographs capture an atmosphere of neglect. One classic image depicts a pink hearse, with the slogan Budget burials cheaper & deeper!! stencilled in vinyl on the side window. Another image shows an industrial barrel, on which is scrawled the evocative word ‘Empty’. In a third image, a dog rests on the pavement outside ‘Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning’ – the bold red and yellow lettering on its window in stark contrast to the cracked paint of the exterior wall, and half-clean sheet that forms a makeshift curtain. These images have a profundity that is at once touching and surprising; as Alasdair Foster has commented, “In a world of rabid materialism and shallow sentiment, Sloggett’s photographs show us that life really is much cheaper and deeper.”

These five works by Glenn Sloggett serve as forms of photographic black humour. Devoid of people and always in colour, his photographs often take mundane elements from the world and make us notice their tragicomedy. This group is rooted in a play with text, where the tension between what is written and what we see is paramount. Sloggett makes comment on Australian life and culture, showing how the fringes of towns and the paraphernalia of the everyday give insight into the Australian psyche.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Hope Street' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Hope Street
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Empty' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Empty
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Kong's 1 hour dry cleaning' 1998

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning
1998
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.2 x 80.0 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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