Posts Tagged ‘Australian photographers

09
Aug
19

Review: ‘Why Take Pictures?’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 15th June – 11th August 2019

Artists: Alan Constable, Lyndal Irons, Glenn Sloggett, Michelle Tran, David Wadelton
Curator: Madé Spencer-Castle

 

 

Lyndal Irons. 'Backstage before Parade of Champions' 2015

 

Lyndal Irons
Backstage before Parade of Champions
2015
From the series Physie
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Picturing themselves

This is another strong exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, principally due to the integrity of the work and not the investigation of the theme for the exhibition, why take pictures?

I have always loved Alan Constable’s tactile cameras every since I first saw them. Constable is legally blind. He holds photographs of old cameras up to his eyes, a couple of inches away, and scans the images, committing them to memory. He then creates these most wonderful evocations of a seeing machine, almost as though he is transferring his in/sight into these in/operable, beautifully glazed structures. He twists two dimensional, photographic reality into these lumpy, misshapen sculptures, evocations of his memory and imagination. I have three of these cameras in my own collection. I treasure them.

Glen Sloggett’s works is, well… Glen Slogett’s work. What I mean by the statement is that you can always recognise his photographs through his signature as an artist. There is a delicious irony and dark humour present in his work… the cat / dead. The rose / a brothel. The scree of concrete / solidified. Slogett’s insightfulness into our existential condition is evidenced through his unique view of the world, pictured in thought provoking photographs. Nothing is quite as it seems. He has a fantastic eye and aesthetic. I remember the image Cheaper and Deeper (1996) from a book I saw many years ago and it so resonated with me. Just the sensibility of looking at these spaces and contexts. He pokes around in the strangeness of the world and reflects what he sees back to us: life hidden in plain sight, revealed in all its intricacies, in all its mundanity and glory. I really like his work.

Another artist I have a great affection for is David Wadelton. Again, the signature of his work is striking. You know it’s a Wadelton image. What I admire about his work is the persistence of his vision. His intellectual vision, his photographic vision. He sets out on a project and he puts his whole mind and soul into the work, documenting the shifting and changing spaces and places of Melbourne’s suburbs since 1975. What a great eye! The black and white objective newsagents, all Becher frontality, with this seeming emotional detachment when in fact each image is so emotionally charged – through the signage, and through the knowledge that these newsagents are disappearing from our city landscape. And then the colour, some might say kitsch, Suburban Baroque living rooms which picture “mid-century suburban interiors of the formerly working-class northern areas that were the destination of choice for many post-war immigrants from Europe.” Here a different technique, photographed at an angle, off to one side, from above, sometimes central, letting the spaces and colours speak for themselves. Now vanishing, these habitats redolent with pathos and longing for the motherland.

And then Lyndal Irons, an artist whose work I have never seen before. Again, beautifully composed images, the use of a limited colour palette and rouge highlights in Grooming Routine being particularly effective. There is something unnerving about the entire scenario – the fake tans, the too bright lipstick, the fervent admiration, the ecstatic posing… the winners having their photograph taken with their trophies while off to the side others watch (enviously?); the lines of young competitors and a photograph with the instructions: ‘Ideas For Photo Poses’ and ‘Make Sure The Photographer Can See your Number’. The whole charade reminds me of the hideous child beauty pageants in the good ol’ US of A. I would have liked to have seen more photographs from this body of work.

Where the exhibition fails is in its investigation into the theme, why take pictures? The exhibition does not interrogate with any rigour, in fact does not really scratch the surface of why we humans are so obsessed with taking photographs. Through the few lines of text that accompanies the exhibition (below), it offers a few titbits as way of remediation, a few possible ideas to cling to so as to answer the question: perhaps desire, perhaps obsession, curiosity, nostalgia and information. It then throws the photographic work of these artists at us as an answer, but what we are actually looking at is just representation, the outcome of the desire to picture, not an examination of the act itself. What the exhibition really needed was a thoroughly insightful text that examined our impulse to take pictures.

Here is a controversial statement. Every photograph is a self-portrait. What do I mean by this?

When we think back to the cave paintings of the Neolithic period, human beings picture the world around them by painting in colour on the rock that is earth. They picture themselves in that scene by painting what they know of the world around them. Through their imagination and creativity they place themselves in the scene – physically as hunters in the scene, and metaphorically through their relationship to the animals that they know and the objects that they carve, pictured on the cave walls. Theirs is a conscious decision to picture themselves as an infinite presence.

The same with photographs. Every time we press the shutter of a camera, it is a conscious decision to picture our relationship with the world. Through our will (to power), though our imagination and our desire, we place ourselves metaphorically (and physically when actually appear in the photograph) in every photograph. We stand behind the camera but imagine ourselves in that environment, have placed ourselves there to take the photograph. Every photograph is a self-portrait, one that establishes our relationship to the world, our identity, our values, who we are and how we react in each and every context.

These photographs are not memories at the time of their taking, although they make be taken under an impulse to memorialise. They will become memories, as when looking at old photo albums. They are not simply documents either, a recording of this time and place, because there is always the personal, the subjective relationship to the objective. Look at David Wadelton’s photographs of living rooms. Why was he present in all of these spaces? Just to observe, to document, to capture? No… he was their, to imagine, to create, to place himself at the scene, in the scene. Human beings make conscious choices to take photographs for all different kinds of reasons. But the one reason that is never mentioned is that, in reality, they are always picturing themselves.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Why Make Pictures?' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Why Make Pictures?' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Why Make Pictures?' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Why Make Pictures?' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Why Make Pictures?' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Why Make Pictures? at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photographs: J. Forsyth

 

 

Why Take Pictures? returns to one of the fundamental questions in photography, to consider our desire-drive and obsession with taking photographs, the apparatus of the camera and diverse approaches of looking through, or at, the lens. Featuring work by Alan Constable (VIC), Michelle Tran (VIC), Lyndal Irons (NSW), Glenn Sloggett (VIC) and David Wadelton (VIC), Why Take Pictures? considers the divergent motivations and compulsions as to why we take images in the first place.

We all take pictures, leaving every one of us with an extensive collection of images, historically as physical artefacts, but now stored within our digital devices. These collections become vessels of information and nostalgia, desire and curiosity. Why Takes Pictures? interrogates how and why we build up these storehouses of images, as considered through the lens of five exceptional artists.

Traversing documentary, commercial, political and highly personal modes, Why Take Pictures? presents a broad cross-section of different approaches to making photographs. Whether documenting social environments in states of change, examining the discarded or overlooked, prying at the strange behaviour of humans; or through examining the obsession with the camera itself, the artists in Why Take Pictures? are driven to continue to take photographs, like an itch that can’t be scratched.

Press release from the Centre for Contemporary Photography 21/09/2019

 

Biographies

Alan Constable is a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice spans drawing, painting and ceramics. His ceramic sculptures, which he began developing in 2007, reflects his life-long fascination with old cameras, which started at the age of eight when he would make replicas from cardboard cereal boxes. Constable’s finger impressions can be seen clearly on the clay surface, leaving the mark of the maker as a lasting imprint. Constable has been a regular studio artist at Arts Project Australia since 1991. Alongside selection in group exhibitions throughout Australia (including the Museum of Old and New Art in 2017), Constable has presented in a number of solo exhibitions including Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane; Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney; South Willard (curated by Ricky Swallow), Los Angeles; Stills Gallery, Sydney; and Helen Gory Galerie, Melbourne. Alan Constable is represented by Arts Projects Australia, Melbourne; Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney; and DUTTON, New York.

Hand-built from slabs of clay, Alan Constable’s charing sculptural cameras and optical devices … evoke and absolute obsession with the photographic apparatus. Legally blind, Constable creates his work through appropriating photographs from old books and magazines, holding the images close to his face and committing them to memory. Through recall, Constable reinterprets these images, transforming them from high-precision consumer objects, to tactile sculptures imbued with vitality, personality and warmth. Elegantly clunky, anthropomorphic and on the edge of the surreal, Constable’s compelling works all have ‘fictional’ apertures or viewfinders that can be physically seen through. Asking us to consider the functionality of vision, Constable’s ceramics have a human touch and sensibility that connects us directly to the devices we often consider merely utilitarian.

 

Alan Constable. 'Not titled' 2018

 

Alan Constable
Not titled
2018
Earthenware and glaze
9 x 19 x 8 cm
Courtesy of the artist
Alan Constable is represented by Arts Project Australia, Melbourne; Darren Knight, Sydney; Dutton, New York. Image copyright the artist, courtesy Arts Projects Australia. Photo: Andrew Barcham

 

Alan Constable. 'Not titled' 2019

 

Alan Constable
Not titled
2019
Earthenware and glaze
Courtesy of the artist
Alan Constable is represented by Arts Project Australia, Melbourne; Darren Knight, Sydney; Dutton, New York. Image copyright the artist, courtesy Arts Projects Australia. Photo: Andrew Barcham

 

Alan Constable. 'Not titled' 2019

 

Alan Constable
Not titled
2018
Earthenware and glaze
Courtesy of the artist
Alan Constable is represented by Arts Project Australia, Melbourne; Darren Knight, Sydney; Dutton, New York. Image copyright the artist, courtesy Arts Projects Australia. Photo: Andrew Barcham

 

 

Lyndal Irons is a Sydney-based photographer and writer focused on local reportage, who is interested in seeking out parts of Australian society that are familiar and accessible, yet not often closely encountered. By recording social histories and building legacies using photographs and words, her work encourages curiosity and a deeper connection to daily life. Irons has presented solo exhibitions at the State Library of New South Wales (2015), the Australian Centre for Photography (2014), and Elizabeth Street Gallery (2014). Lyndal has been a finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize (2017), the Bowness Prize (2015) and the Olive Cotton Award for Portraiture (2015). Lyndal Irons’ Physie series documents one of Australia’s oldest sporting institutions: physical culture (physie) and calisthenics.

 

Lyndal Irons. 'Mermaid Beach' 2015

 

Lyndal Irons
Mermaid Beach
2015
From the series Physie
Archival inkjet print
37 x 55 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Lyndal Irons. 'Fans' 2015

 

Lyndal Irons
Fans
2015
From the series Physie
Archival inkjet print
37 x 55 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Lyndal Irons. 'Grooming Routine' 2015

 

Lyndal Irons
Grooming Routine
2015
From the series Physie
Archival inkjet print
37 x 55 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Lyndal Irons. 'Junior National Repecharge' 2015

 

Lyndal Irons
Junior National Repecharge
2015
From the series Physie
Archival inkjet print
37 x 55 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Lyndal Irons. 'Ideas for Photo Poses' 2015

 

Lyndal Irons
Ideas for Photo Poses
2015
From the series Physie
Archival inkjet print
37 x 55 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

 

Glenn Sloggett has been exhibiting since the mid-90s. He won the prestigious Josephine Ulrick & Win Schubert Photography Award in 2008, and the inaugural John and Margaret Baker Memorial Fellowship for an Emerging Artist in 2001. He has held numerous solo exhibitions, including Cheaper and Deeper, a national touring show organised by the Australian Centre for Photography (2007). Sloggett’s work was featured on the ABC program The Art Life, and has been included in significant survey exhibitions of Australian art, including Australian Vernacular Photography, Art Gallery of New South Wales (2014); Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria (2013-2014); internationally touring Photographica Australis (2002–2004); and nationally touring New Australiana, Australian Centre for Photography (2001). His work is held in numerous private and public collections including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria and Monash Gallery of Art.

Interested in failure as a mechanism, Glenn Sloggett’s series of medium format photograph made with his twin-lens Rolleiflex could almost have been taken on a single walk around the neighbourhood on a strange, sunlit day. Wryly infused with dark humour and intermittent text punctuations such as “ICE IS A BAD THING” and “DO NOT LEAVE CHILDREN IN CARS”, Sloggett ask us to look beneath the surface of his documentary-style images. Why are people leaving their children in their cars? What precarious situation has driven someone to graffiti “is a bad thing” on this sign?

Sloggett’s work is at times bleak, and at others sublime. Looking closely, a cat that appears to be peacefully sunbaking has sunken eyes, an innocuous rose bush was taken in a brothel carpark. dumped concrete on the sidewalk looks like it has been churned up from a Friday night on the town.

 

Glenn Sloggett. 'Pawn shop' 2018

 

Glenn Sloggett
Pawn shop
2018
C-type print
120 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Glenn Sloggett. 'Industrial dumping' 2019

 

Glenn Sloggett
Industrial dumping
2019
C-type print
120 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Glenn Slogget. 'Dead cat' 2019

 

Glenn Sloggett
Dead cat
2019
C-type print
120 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Glenn Sloggett. 'Brothel car park' 2019

 

Glenn Sloggett
Brothel car park
2019
C-type print
120 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

 

Michelle Tran is a fashion and portrait photographer, born and raised in Melbourne by Vietnamese refugee parents. She began her photographic studies at the Victorian College of the Arts with an exploration into cultural identity through portraiture. Commercially, she has applied her interest in people to fashion, creating an approach that is both delicate and candid. Making a connection with her subjects, Michelle puts people at ease in front of the camera. Her portfolio includes portraits of celebrities such as Kendrick Lamar and Christian Louboutin, while her fashion and advertising work spans across brands including Adidas, MECCA, Amazon, Moroccan Oil, L’Oréal and Myer. Michelle lives in Melbourne with her partner, daughter and two rabbits. Michelle Tran is represented by Hart & Co., Melbourne.

 

Michelle Tran. 'Sachi' 2019

 

Michelle Tran
Sachi
2019
Archival inkjet print
79 x 54 cm
Courtesy the artist and Hart & Co., Melbourne

 

Michelle Tran. 'Madison Shauna' 2019

 

Michelle Tran
Madison Shauna
2019
Archival inkjet print
79 x 54 cm
Courtesy the artist and Hart & Co., Melbourne

 

Michelle Tran. 'Sachi In Shadow' 2019

 

Michelle Tran
Sachi In Shadow
2019
Archival inkjet print
79 x 54 cm
Courtesy the artist and Hart & Co., Melbourne

 

 

David Wadelton is a Melbourne-based painter and photographer who has documented the changing face of Melbourne’s Northern suburbs since 1975. Wadelton has held over 20 solo exhibitions, including three career surveys: Pictorial Knowledge, Geelong Art Gallery (1998); Icons Of Suburbia, McClelland Gallery, Langwarrin (2011) and The Northcote Hysterical Society, Bundoora Homestead Gallery (2015). Wadelton’s work has been included in Vision In Disbelief, 4th Biennale of Sydney (1982); Australian Culture Now, National Gallery of Victoria (2004); Far-Famed City of Melbourne, Ian Potter Museum of Art (2013); Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria (2014); Crossing paths with Vivian Maier, Centre for Contemporary Photography (2014); The Documentary Take, Centre for Contemporary Photography (2016); Romancing the Skull, Ballarat Art Gallery (2017) and Beyond boundaries – Discoveries in contemporary photography, Aperture Gallery, New York (2019).

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Why Make Pictures?' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Why Make Pictures?' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Why Make Pictures?' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Why Make Pictures?' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Why Make Pictures?' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Why Make Pictures? at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing the work of David Wadelton and his series Living Rooms (top), Milk Bars (middle) and Small business (bottom)

 

David Wadelton. 'Coburg' 2018

 

David Wadelton
Coburg
2018
From the series Living Rooms
Courtesy the artist

 

David Wadelton. 'Reservoir' 2017–2019

 

David Wadelton
Reservoir
2017-2019
From the series Living Rooms
Courtesy the artist

 

David Wadelton. 'Pascoe Vale South' 2018

 

David Wadelton
Pascoe Vale South
2018
From the series Living Rooms
Courtesy the artist

 

David Wadelton. 'Reservoir' 2017

 

David Wadelton
Reservoir
2017
From the series Living Rooms
Courtesy the artist

 

David Wadelton. 'Reservoir' 2017

 

David Wadelton
Reservoir
2017
From the series Living Rooms
Courtesy the artist

 

David Wadelton. 'Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn' 2018

 

David Wadelton
Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn
2018
From the series Newsagents
Courtesy the artist

 

David Wadelton. 'Broadway, Reservoir' 2019

 

David Wadelton
Broadway, Reservoir
2019
From the series Newsagents
Courtesy the artist

 

David Wadelton. 'Watsonia Road Watsonia' 2016

 

David Wadelton
Watsonia Road, Watsonia
2016
From the series Newsagents
Courtesy the artist

 

 

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

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

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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05
Nov
17

Review: ‘An unorthodox flow of images’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Melbourne Part 2

Exhibition dates: 30th September – 12th November 2017

Curators: Naomi Cass and Pippa Milne

Living artists include: Laurence Aberhart, Brook Andrew, Rushdi Anwar, Warwick Baker, Paul Batt, Robert Billington, Christian Boltanski, Pat Brassington, Jane Brown, Daniel Bushaway, Sophie Calle, Murray Cammick, Christian Capurro, Steve Carr, Mohini Chandra, Miriam Charlie, Maree Clarke, Michael Cook, Bill Culbert, Christopher Day, Luc Delahaye, Ian Dodd, William Eggleston, Joyce Evans, Cherine Fahd, Fiona Foley, Juno Gemes, Simryn Gill, John Gollings, Helen Grace, Janina Green, Andy Guérif, Siri Hayes, Andrew Hazewinkel, Lisa Hilli, Eliza Hutchison, Therese Keogh, Leah King-Smith, Katrin Koenning, O Philip Korczynski, Mac Lawrence, Kirsten Lyttle, Jack Mannix, Jesse Marlow, Georgie Mattingley, Tracey Moffatt, Daido Moriyama, Harry Nankin, Jan Nelson, Phuong Ngo.

Historic photographers: Hippolyte Bayard (180-1887), Charles Bayliss (1850-1897), Bernd and Hilla Becher (Bernd Becher 1931-2007, Hilla Becher 1934-2015), Lisa Bellear (1962-2006), James E. Bray (1832-1891), Jeff Carter (1928-2010), Harold Cazneaux (1878-1953), Olive Cotton (1911-2003), Peter Dombrovskis (1995-1996), Max Dupain (1911-1992), Walker Evans (1903-1975), Sue Ford (1943-2009), Marti Friedlander (1928-2016), Kate Gollings (1943-2017), André Kertész (1894-1985), J. W. Lindt (1845-1926), W. H. Moffitt (1888-1948), David Moore (1927-2003), Michael Riley (1960-2004), Robert Rooney (1937-2017), Joe Rosenthal (1911-2006), Mark Strizic (1928 -2012), Ingeborg Tyssen (1945-2002), Aby Warburg (1866-1929), Charles Woolley (1834-1922).

 

 

J W Lindt. 'Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography Benalla' 1880

 

(1) J W Lindt (1845-1926)
Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography, Benalla
1880
Courtesy State Library Victoria, Pictures Collection

 

 

Thought to be the first press photograph in Australia, this shows Joe Byrne, a member of the Kelly Gang, strung up for documentation days after his death, which followed the siege at Glenrowan. Byrne is displayed for an unknown photographer and the painter Julian Ashton who is standing to the left with possibly a sketchbook under his arm. Lindt’s photograph captures not only the spectacle of Byrne’s body but the contingent of documentarians who arrived from Melbourne to record and widely disseminate the event for public edification.

 

 

Double take

I was a curatorial interlocutor for this exhibition so it was very interesting to see this exhibition in the flesh.

An unorthodox flow of images is a strong exhibition, splendidly brought to fruition by curators Naomi Cass and Pippa Milne at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Melbourne. To be able to bring so many themes, images, ideas and people together through a network of enabling, and a network of images, is an impressive achievement.

The exhibition explores the notion of connectivity between images in our media saturated world – across context, time and space. “With a nod to networked image viewing behaviour and image sharing – in one long line – the flow also impersonates the form of a sentence.” While the viewer makes their own flows through the works on view, they must interpret the interpolation of images (much like a remark interjected in a conversation) in order to understand their underlying patterns of connection. Like Deleuze and Guattari’s horizontal rhizome theory1 – where the viewer is offered a new way of seeing: that of infinite plateaus, nomadic thought and multiple choices – here the relationship between the photograph and its beholder as a confrontation between self and other, and the dynamic relation between time, subjectivity, memory and loss is investigated … with the viewer becoming an intermediary in an endless flow of non-hierarchical images/consciousness.

In this throng of dialects, the exhibition meanders through different “sections” which are undefined in terms of their beginning and end. The starting point for this flow is the public demonstration of trauma for the edification of society (the photographs of the aftermath of the siege of Ned Kelly and his gang at Glenrowan), notably what is thought to be the first press photograph in Australia, J W Lindt’s Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography, Benalla (1880, above), and the flow then gathers its associations through concepts such as studio work, the gaze, disruption, truth, performance and traces, to name just a few. The exhibition ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organisations of power and contextual circumstances, moving forward and backwards in time and space, jumping across the gallery walls, linking any point to any point if the beholder so desires. In this sense (that of an expanded way of thinking laterally to create a democracy of sight and understanding), the exhibition succeeds in fostering connections, offering multiple entryways into the flow of images that proposes a new cultural norm.

For Deleuze and Guattari these assemblages (of images in this case), “… are the processes by which various configurations of linked components function in an intersection with each other, a process that can be both productive and disruptive. Any such process involves a territorialization; there is a double movement where something accumulates meanings (re-territorialization), but does so co-extensively with a de-territorialization where the same thing is disinvested of meanings.”2 Now here’s the rub (or the trade-off if you like) of this exhibition, for everything in life is a trade-off: the accumulation of new meaning that such a flow of images creates is balanced by what has been lost. Both an accumulation and disinvestment of meaning.

I have a feeling that in such a flow of images the emotion and presence of the subject has been lost, subsumed into a networked, hypermedia flow where, “images become more and more layered until they are architectural in design, until their relationship to the context from which they have grown cannot be talked about through the simple models offered by referentiality, or by attributions of cause and effect.”3 The linear perspective developed during the Renaissance and its attendant evidence of truth/objective reality (the logic of immediacy) is disrupted. It is no longer about being there, about the desire for presence, but about a logic of hypermediacy that privileges fragmentation, process, and performance. Of course, immediacy / hypermediacy are part of a whole and are not exclusionary to each other. But here contemporary art, and in particular contemporary photography, keeps coming back to the surface, redefining conceptual and aesthetic spaces.

This is where I was plainly unmoved by the whole exhibition. Conceptually and intellectually the exhibition is very strong but sequentially and, more importantly, emotionally – the flow of images failed to engage me. The dissociative association proposed – like a dissociative identity disorder – ultimately becomes a form of ill/literation, in which the images seem drained of their passion, a degenerative illness in which all images loose their presence and power. In a media saturated world what does it mean to pluck these images from a variable spatio-temporal dimensionality and sequence them together and hope they give meaning to each other? Ultimately, it’s a mental exercise of identity organisation that is pure construct.

Further, this (re)iteration is a repetition that is supposed to bring you successively closer to the solution of a problem: what is the relevance of the stream of image consciousness in contemporary society? What happens to the referentiality and presence of the individual image?

With this in mind, let us return to the first image in the flow of images, J W Lindt’s Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography, Benalla (1880, above). Here Byrne is displayed for an unknown photographer and the painter Julian Ashton who is standing to the left with possibly a sketchbook under his arm. Amongst other things, the image is by a photographer taking a photograph of another photographer taking a photograph of the body of Joe Byrne. Immediately, the triangular relationship of camera / subject / viewer (cause and effect) is disrupted with the addition of the second photographer. There is a doubling of space and time within this one image, as we imagine the image the photographer in the photograph would have taken. And then we can see two variations of that internal photograph: Photographer unknown Joe Byrne’s Body, Benalla Gaol, 29 June 1880 (below) and William J. Burman’s Joe Byrne’s Body, Benalla Gaol, 29 June 1880 (1880, below) which 1/ appears to solve who the “photographer unknown” is (unless Burman purchase the rights to use another’s photographers’ negatives); and 2/ is a more tightly framed image than the first iteration. If you look at the top of the head in the second image the hair goes over the metal hinge of the door behind… so the photographer (the same one) has moved closer and dropped the height of the camera, so that the camera looks up more, at the body.

Other details fascinate. The ring on the left finger of Joe Byrne; his stripped shirt; the rope under his arms used to help support his weight; the rope disappearing out of picture to help string him up; and questions such as, how did they get his left hand to stay in that position? This is also, “an image of an audience as much as a portrait of the deceased … Members of the public are also documented; children, men – trackers perhaps, bearing witness to the public display of retribution that was intended to restore social order.” To the left we have what is presumably the photographers’ coat hung on a tree; a man wiping his nose with his thumb; and Aboriginal man; and a boy looking at the camera. Through his silhouette the Aboriginal man can probably be identified as Tracker Johnny, one of five trackers who helped track Ned Kelly, and we can see a portrait of him in an albumen photograph held by the Queensland Police Museum (1880, below). A picture of the ‘Other’, both outsiders, the outlaw and the Aboriginal, detailing the social order. The blurred image of the boy looking at the camera shows the length of the time exposure for the glass plate, but it is his “Janus-faced” visage that I am fascinated with… as he both looks forwards and backwards in time. Whilst most images within An unorthodox flow of images are conceptually grounded, they also evidence only one direct meaning in relationship to themselves within that network, “each one connected to those on either side,” – from point to point to point. Conversely, in this image the interpretation is open-ended, WITHIN THE ONE IMAGE. It is a network all of its own. I also remember, emotionally, the other images of the burnt out Glenrowan Inn, the place where the rails were taken up (I was there!), the bodies in the coffins, the preparation for the photograph of the Kelly Gang Armour laid out in a muddy field for documentation, and the burnt to a cinder, charred remains rescued from the ashes of the Glenrowan Inn laid out on a piece of wood. There is a physicality to these photographs, and an emotional charge, that no other photograph in this exhibition matches. I think, then, not of Joe Bryne’s lifeless body and its/the photographs morbidity, but of him as a younger man – standing legs crossed, one hand on hip, the other resting on the surface of a table, imagining his touch on that table in reality – a son, an outlaw, a living being.

I wish the curators had been braver. I wish that they had given these images more chance to breathe. I wish they had cut the number of images and sequenced them so that the space between them (what Minor White calls ice/fire, that frisson of space between two images that adds to their juxtaposed meaning) provided opportunity for a more emotional engagement with what was being presented. Yes, this is a strong exhibition but it could have been so much more powerful if the flow had not just meandered through the sentence, but cried out, and declaimed, and was quiet. Where was the punctum? Where was the life blood of the party, if only disappearing in a contiguous flow of images.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

 

Word count: 1,642

  1. Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis and London: University of Minneapolis Press, 1987
  2. Wood, Aylish. “Fresh Kill: Information technologies as sites of resistance,” in Munt, Sally (ed.,). Technospaces: Inside the New Media. London: Continuum, 2001, p. 166
  3. Burnett, Ron. Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, & the Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 137-138.

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Many thankx to the CCP for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. The numbers in brackets refer to the number of the image in the field guide. The text is also taken from the field guide to the exhibition.

 

An unorthodox flow of images commences with what is known as the first press photograph in Australia and unfurls through historic, press, portraiture, popular and art photography, some in their intended material form and others as reproductions. An unbroken thread connects this line of still and moving images, each tied to those on either side through visual, conceptual, temporal, material or circumstantial links.

This is a proposition about photography now. Relationships between images are sometimes real, and sometimes promiscuous. Unorthodox brings new contexts to existing artworks whilst celebrating the materiality of real photographs, in real time and critically, honouring the shared democratic experience of the public gallery space. (Text from the CCP website)

 

J W Lindt. 'Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography Benalla' 1880 (detail)

J W Lindt. 'Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography Benalla' 1880 (detail)

J W Lindt. 'Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography Benalla' 1880 (detail)

 

J W Lindt (1845-1926)
Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography, Benalla (details)
1880
Courtesy State Library Victoria, Pictures Collection

 

photographer unknown. 'Joe Byrne's Body, Benalla Gaol, 29 June' 1880

 

(2) Photographer unknown
Joe Byrne’s Body, Benalla Gaol, 29 June
1880
Photographic print from glass plate
12 × 19.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

This image appears to the one of the images taken by the photographer in J. W. Lindt’s Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography, Benalla 1880 (above)

 

William J. Burman (1814-1890) 'Joe Byrne's Body, Benalla Gaol, 29 June 1880' 1880

 

William J. Burman (1814-1890)
Joe Byrne’s Body, Benalla Gaol, 29 June 1880
1880
At 209 Bourke Street, East Melbourne 1878 – 1888
Albumen carte de visite
6.5 × 10.5 cm

 

This image appears to the one of the images taken by the photographer in J. W. Lindt’s Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography, Benalla 1880.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Portrait of Tracker Johnny from Maryborough District one of five trackers who helped track Ned Kelly]' c. 1880

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled [Portrait of Tracker Johnny from Maryborough District one of five trackers who helped track Ned Kelly] (detail, not in exhibition)
c. 1880
Albumen photograph
Queensland Police Museum
Non-commercial – Share Alike (cc)

 

J. E. Bray (1832-1891) 'Kelly Gang Armour' 1880

 

(3) J. E. Bray (1832-1891)
Kelly Gang Armour
1880
Albumen cabinet portrait
16.5 × 10.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

“As objects of contemplation, images of the atrocious can answer to several different needs. To steel oneself against weakness. To make oneself more numb. To acknowledge the existence of the incorrigible.”  ~ Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003)

 

Unknown photographer. 'Place where rails were taken up by Kelly gang' 1880

 

(4) Unknown photographer
Place where rails were taken up by Kelly gang
1880
Albumen carte de visite
6.5 × 10.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

J. E. Bray (1832-1891) 'The Glenrowan Inn after the Kelly Siege' 1880

 

(5) J. E. Bray (1832-1891)
The Glenrowan Inn after the Kelly Siege
1880
Albumen carte de visite
6.5 × 10.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

J. E. Bray (1832-1891) 'Charred remains from Kelly gang siege' 1880

 

(6) J. E. Bray (1832-1891)
Charred remains from Kelly gang siege
1880
Albumen carte de visite
6.5 × 10.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

 

In her comments on a related photograph by Bray, Helen Ennis writes, “What you see pictured, presumably as part of the official documentation are the thoroughly blackened remains of either Dan Kelly or Steve Hart… Relatives raked what remained of the bodies… from the ashes of the Glenrowan Inn. These were then photographed before family members took them home on horseback and buried them. … [These photographs] also underscore the brutality and barbarism of the post-mortem photographs – the violence physically enacted on the body in the first instance and then visually in terms of the photographic representation.”

Helen Ennis. “Portraiture in extremis” in Photogenic Essays/Photography/CCP 2000-2004, Daniel Palmer (ed.), 2005, CCP, pp. 23-39, p 34.

 

J. E. Bray (1832-1891) 'Untitled ["McDonnell's Tavern opposite Railway Station, remains of Dan Kelly and Hart in coffins"]' 1880

 

(7) J. E. Bray (1832-1891)
Untitled [“McDonnell’s Tavern opposite Railway Station, remains of Dan Kelly and Hart in coffins”]
1880
Albumen cabinet portrait
16.5 × 10.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

W. E. (William Edward) Barnes (1841-1916) 'Steve Hart' (1859-1880) c. 1878

W. E. (William Edward) Barnes (1841-1916) 'Steve Hart' (1859-1880) c. 1878

 

W. E. (William Edward) Barnes (1841-1916)
Steve Hart (1859-1880) (front and verso, not in exhibition)
c. 1878
Albumen carte de visite
6.5 × 10.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

W. E. (William Edward) Barnes (1841-1916) 'Steve Hart' (1859-1880) c. 1878

 

W. E. (William Edward) Barnes (1841-1916)
Steve Hart (1859-1880) (not in exhibition)
c. 1878
Albumen carte de visite
State Library of Victoria

 

Piero della Francesca (1415-1492) 'Flagellation of Christ' 1455-1460

 

(9) Piero della Francesca (1415-1492)
Flagellation of Christ
1455-1460
Oil and tempera on wood, reproduced as digital print on wallpaper
58.4 × 81.5 cm, reproduced at 20 × 30 cm

 

 

The meaning of della Francesca’s Flagellation and exact identity of the three foreground figures in fifteenth century dress, is widely contested. In the context of this flow of images, the painting represents the pubic display of suffering as punishment, for the edification of society. In both J.W. Lindt’s documentary photograph and the possibly allegorical Flagellation, the broken body of Joe Byrne and that of Christ are isolated from other figures and subject of conversation and debate by gathered figures. Other formal similarities include framing of the tableau into shallow and deep space the organising role of architecture in signifying the key subject.

 

Joosep Martinson. 'Police Hostage Situation Developing at the Lindt Café in Sydney' 2014

 

(10) Joosep Martinson
Police Hostage Situation Developing at the Lindt Café in Sydney
2014
Digital print on wallpaper
20 × 30 cm

 

The scene outside the Lindt Cafe siege, caught by the photojournalist in a moment of public trauma. This bears formal resemblance to J.W. Lindt’s photograph of Joe Byrne, and even further back to Piero della Francesca.

 

Tracey Moffatt. 'I made a camera' 2003

 

(13) Tracey Moffatt
I made a camera
2003
photolithograph
38 × 43 cm, edition 201 of 750
Private collection

 

Returning to J.W. Lindt’s photograph – in particular the hooded central figure photographing Joe Byrne – Tracey Moffatt’s picturing of children role-playing calls to mind the colonial photographer’s anthropological gesture.

 

Siri Hayes. 'In the far reaches of the familiar' 2011

 

(14) Siri Hayes
In the far reaches of the familiar
2011
C-type print
88 × 70 cm, exhibition print
Courtesy the artist

 

The photographer’s hood is the photographer.

 

Janina Green. 'Self Portrait' 1996

 

(15) Janina Green
Self Portrait
1996
Digital version of a hand-coloured work in early Photoshop
44 × 60 cm
Courtesy the artist and M.33, Melbourne

 

Georgie Mattingly. 'Portrait IV' 2016

 

(16) Georgie Mattingly
Portrait IV (After Arthroplasty)
2016
Hand-tinted silver gelatin print
36 × 26 cm
Unique hand print
Courtesy the artist

 

The photographer’s hood has become a meat-worker’s protective gear, tenderly hand-coloured. [And spattered with blood ~ Marcus]

 

Lisa Hilli. 'In a Bind' 2015

 

(17) Lisa Hilli (Makurategete Vunatarai (clan) Gunantuna / Tolai People, Papua New Guinea)
In a Bind
2015
Pigment print on cotton rag
76 × 51.5 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

 

‘The woven material that hoods the artist’s identity is a reference to collected Pacific artefacts, which are usually of a practical nature. Magimagi is a plaited coconut fibre used for reinforcing architectural structures and body adornment within the Pacific. Here it emphasises the artist’s feeling of being bound by derogatory Western and anthropological labels used by museums and the erasure of Pacific bodies and narratives within public displays of Pacific materiality.’  ~ Lisa Hilli 2017, in an email to the curator

 

 

In an era of ‘tumbling’ images, An unorthodox flow of images presents visual culture in a novel way: commencing with Australia’s first press photograph, 150 images unfurl in flowing, a-historical sequences throughout the gallery. Each work is connected to the one before through formal, conceptual or material links.

An unorthodox flow of images draws upon the photographic image in its many forms, from significant historical photographs by major Australian artists, such as J.W. Lindt, Olive Cotton and Max Dupain, through to contemporary international and Australian artists, such as Tracey Moffatt, Michael Parekowhai, Christian Boltanski and Daido Moriyama. This exhibition brings early career artists into the flow, including Georgie Mattingley, Jack Mannix and James Tylor.

Celebrating the breadth of photographic technologies from analogue through to digital, including hand made prints, a hand-held stereoscope, early use of Photoshop, iPhone videos and holography, An unorthodox flow of images propels the viewer through a novel encounter with technology, art, and the act of looking. Rather than a definitive narrative, this exhibition is a proposition about relationships between images: sometimes real and sometimes promiscuous, and is inevitably open to alternative readings. Contemporary culture necessitates quick, networked visual literacy. So viewers are invited to make their own readings of this unorthodox flow.

Akin to how images are experienced in our personal lives and perhaps to how artists are influenced by the multiverse of photography, this extraordinary gathering also includes spirited incursions from other kinds of images – rare prints of grizzly 19th century photojournalism abuts contemporary video first shared on Instagram, and surrealist French cinema nestles in with Australian image-makers.

This exhibition aims to bring new contexts to existing artworks to highlight networked image-viewing behaviour, whilst honouring the materiality of real photographs, in real time and critically, honouring the shared democratic experience of the public gallery space. An unorthodox flow of images is presented as part of the 2017 Melbourne Festival.

Press release from the CCP

 

Siri Hayes. 'Plein air explorers' 2008

 

(30) Siri Hayes
Plein air explorers
2008
C-type print
108 × 135 cm, edition 4 of 6
Collection of Jason Smith

 

An artist’s studio in the landscape.

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Wendy and Brett Whiteley's Library' 2016

 

(31) Robyn Stacey
Wendy and Brett Whiteley’s Library
2016
From the series Dark Wonder
C-type print
110 × 159 cm, edition of 5 + 3 artist proofs
Courtesy the artist and Jan Manton Gallery, Brisbane

 

The landscape brought into the studio by a camera obscura. Robyn Stacey captures the perfect moment of light and clarity, in this instance, also turning the egg-object into an orb of light.

 

Pat Brassington. 'Vedette' 2015

 

(37) Pat Brassington
Vedette
2015
Pigment print
75 × 60 cm, edition of 8,
Courtesy the artist and ARC ONE Gallery, Melbourne and Bett Gallery, Hobart

 

Two orbs, a positive and a negative space.

 

Anne Noble. 'Rubys Room 10' 1998-2004

 

(38) Anne Noble
Ruby’s Room 10
1998-2004
Courtesy the artist and Two Rooms Gallery Auckland

 

Daido Moriyama. 'DOCUMENTARY '78' 1986

 

(42) Daido Moriyama
DOCUMENTARY ’78
1986
Silver gelatin print
61 × 50.8 cm
Private collection

 

Leah King-Smith. 'Untitled #3' 1991

 

(43) Leah King-Smith
Untitled #3
1991
From the series Patterns of connection
C-type print
102 × 102 cm, edition 6 of 25
Private collection

 

 

‘I was seeing the old photographs as both sacred family documents on one hand, and testaments of the early brutal days of white settlement on the other. I was thus wrestling with anger, resentment, powerlessness and guilt while at the same time encountering a sense of deep connectedness, of belonging and power in working with images of my fellow Indigenous human beings.’ ~ L King-Smith, White apron, black hands, Brisbane City Hall Gallery, 1994, p. 7. In this series, the artist superimposes the colonial portrait onto images of the subject’s own landscape, returning the dispossessed to country.

 

 

Unorthodox: a field guide

We could have started anywhere. Perhaps every image ever made connects with another image in some way. But, we have begun with what is known as the first press photograph in Australia – a grisly depiction of Kelly Gang member Joe Byrne, strung up some days after his execution, for a group of onlookers, including a group of documentarians who came in by train to record the event: a painter and several photographers. This is an image of an audience as much as a portrait of the deceased. A hooded photographer bends to his tripod, and a
painter waits in line. Perhaps a seminal moment between competing technologies of record, magnificently captured by colonial photographer, J. W. Lindt (1845-1926): this is as decisive a moment as current technology permitted. Members of the public are also documented; children, men – trackers perhaps, bearing witness to the public display of retribution that was intended to restore social order.

From here, Unorthodox draws a thread of images together, each one connected to those on either side, whether through visual, conceptual, temporal, material or circumstantial ties, or by something even more diffuse and smoky – some images just conjure others, without a concrete reason for their bond. Spanning the entire gallery space, nearly 150 images unfurl with links that move through historic, press, portraiture, popular and art photography.

You are invited to wander through CCPs nautilus galleries, and make what you will of this flow because unlike a chain of custody, there is no singular narrative or forensic link: you are invited to explore not just connections between works but to see individual works in a new light.

At the core of this exhibition is an attempt to lay bare the way that images inform and seep into everyday life, underpinning the way that we see, interpret and understand the world. With a nod to networked image viewing behaviour and image sharing – in one long line – the flow also impersonates the form of a sentence.

The act of looking. Looking is a process, informed by context – where and when we see something, and what surrounds it. Here, images are unbuckled from their original context, indeed there are no museum labels on the wall. But this is often the way when viewing images on the internet, or reproduced in books, referenced in ads, reenacted in fashion shoots, or reinterpreted by artists. The notion of reproductions within photography is slippery, made more so by the rapid circulation of images whereby we sometimes only know certain originals through their reproductions. In this exhibition, sometimes we have the original images, at others we proffer ‘reproductions’, setting out a swathe of contemporary and historical approaches to the craft of photography and video, unhampered by traditional constraints of what we can or cannot show within a non-collecting contemporary art space.

This exhibition moves through a number of notional chapters, for example visual connections can be made between orbs made by soap bubbles (no. 32, 34) and moons (no. 33); eyes (no. 40, 41, 42), gaping mouths (no. 37), the balletic body in space (no. 45); and light from orbs (no. 44, 46) and then moonlight on the ocean (no. 47), which tumbles into salty connections, with photographs exposed by the light of the moon through seawater (no. 48) connecting to an image of salt mines (no. 50), and on to salt prints (no. 51).

We have been influenced by observing how audiences view exhibitions, traversing the space, seemingly drawing connections, making their own flows through works on view. In spite of its indexicality to the world, photography is particularly open to multiple readings due to its reproducibility and its vulnerability to manipulation. A key to this permeability is the intention of the photographer, which can become opaque over time. For example, installation artist Christian Boltanski’s found photograph (no. 137) has been taken out of its time and context
so as to mean something quite different from what the photographer intended.

Importantly, due to their multiple readings, many works could be equally effective if placed in other sections of the exhibition. For example, of the many places to position Leah King-Smith’s Untitled #3 (no. 43), we have elected to locate it amongst compositions that include orbs. However, it is also a staged work; a constructed or collaged photograph; it embodies an Indigenous artist returning the colonial gaze and, due to the age of her source photograph, it represents a deceased person. And, in her own words King-Smith is responding to the trauma of settlement. ‘I was thus wrestling with anger, resentment, powerlessness… while at the same time encountering a sense of deep connectedness, of belonging and power in working with images of my fellow Indigenous human beings.’

A curious process indeed, we have been open to many repositories of images while gathering this flow – from our work with artists at CCP; to childhood memories of images and personal encounters with photography and video; to our trawling of the Internet and books; as well as conversations with writers, artists and collectors. From these stores, we have also considered which works were available in their material form, as opposed to reproductions on wallpaper, postcards and record covers. While we exhibit a broad timespan and multiple technologies, our primary desire as a contemporary art space is to create new contexts for the exhibition of contemporary photography and video.

Unorthodox is a proposition about relationships between images: sometimes real and sometimes promiscuous, and is inevitably open to alternative readings. It brings new contexts to existing artworks whilst celebrating the materiality of real photographs, in real time and critically, honouring the shared democratic experience of the public gallery space.

Naomi Cass and Pippa Milne

 

Brook Andrew. 'I Split Your Gaze' 1997

 

(62) Brook Andrew
I Split Your Gaze
1997, printed 2005
Silver gelatin print
160 × 127 cm
Private collection
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris and Brussels

 

Brassaï. 'Young couple wearing a two-in-one suit at Bal De La Montagne Saint-Genevieve' 1931

 

(63) Brassaï
Young couple wearing a two-in-one suit at Bal De La Montagne Saint-Genevieve
c. 1931
Gelatin silver print
Reproduced as digital print on wallpaper
23.2 × 15.9 cm, reproduced at 24.5 × 19 cm

 

William Yang. 'Alter Ego' 2000

 

(64) William Yang
Alter Ego
2000
from the series Self Portraits
Inkjet print, edition 2 of 30
68 × 88 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Sue FORD (1943-2009) 'St Kilda' 1963

 

(65) Sue Ford (1943-2009)
Lyn and Carol
1961
Silver gelatin print, edition 3 of 5
44 × 38 cm
Courtesy Sue Ford Archive

 

Harold Cazneaux. 'Spirit of endurance' 1937

 

(76) Harold Cazneaux (1878-1953)
Spirit of Endurance
1937
Silver gelatin print
16.8 × 20.4 cm
Private collection

 

 

In the following two works, a critical change of title by the artist reveals what, alone, the eye cannot see. This photograph had already achieved iconic status as a symbol of the noble Australian landscape when, following the loss of his son who died aged 21 at Tobruk in 1941, Cazneaux flipped the negative and presented the image under the new title Spirit of Endurance. The tree is now classified on the National Trust of South Australia’s Register of Significant Trees.

 

Jeff Carter (1928-2010) 'The Eunuch, Marree, South Australia' 1964

 

(77) Jeff Carter (1928-2010)
The Eunuch, Marree, South Australia
1964
Silver gelatin print
37.5 × 27.2 cm
Private collection

 

 

Changing a title can dramatically alter the meaning of an image. This work has had several titles:

Morning Break 1964;
Dreaming in the sun at Marree, outside the towns single store 1966;
At times there is not too much to do except just sit in the sun… 1968;
‘Pompey’ a well known resident of Marree;
and finally The Eunuch, Marree, South Australia 2000

Under early titles, the photograph appeared to be a simple portrait of “Pompey”, a local Aboriginal man in Marree who worked at the town’s bakery. The final title draws viewers’ attention away from what might have seemed to be the man’s relaxed approach to life, and towards the violence enacted on Aboriginal communities in castrating young boys.

 

 

Persons Of Interest - ASIO surveillance 1949 -1980. 'Frank Hardy under awning Caption: Author Frank Hardy shelters under an awning, in the doorway of the Building Workers Industrial Union, 535 George St, Sydney, August 1955'

 

(82) Photographer undisclosed
Persons Of Interest – ASIO surveillance images
1949 -1980
‘Frank Hardy under awning Caption: Author Frank Hardy shelters under an awning, in the doorway of the Building Workers Industrial Union, 535 George St, Sydney, August 1955’
C-type prints
22 × 29 cm each
Private collection

 

The Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) employed photographers to spy on Australian citizens. The photographs which were annotated to indicate persons of interest, were retained by ASIO along with other forms of material gathered through espionage.

 

Luc Delahaye. 'L'Autre' 1999 (detail)

 

(85) Luc Delahaye
L’Autre (detail)
1999
Book published by Phaidon Press, London
17 × 22 cm
Private collection

 

In the footsteps of Walker Evans’ classic candid series, Rapid Transit 1956

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966

 

(94) David Moore (1927-2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966
Silver gelatin print
35.7 × 47 cm
Private collection

 

In 2015, Judy Annear said of this famous photograph: “It’s great to consider that it’s not actually what it seems.” Years after the photo was published, it emerged that four of the passengers in it were not migrants but Sydneysiders returning home from holiday.

 

Joe Rosenthal (1911-2006) 'Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima' 1945

 

(95) Joe Rosenthal (1911-2006)
Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima
1945
Digital print on wallpaper, reproduced at 20 × 25 cm

 

While not present at the the raising of the first flag over Iwo Jima, Rosenthal witnessed the raising of the replacement flag. Some maintain that this Pulitzer Prize winning photograph was staged, while others hold that it depicts the replacement of the first flag with a larger one.

 

Charles Kerry (1857-1928) 'Aboriginal Chief' c. 1901-1907

 

(103) Charles Kerry (1857-1928)
Aboriginal Chief
c. 1901-1907
Carte de visite
13.7 × 8.5 cm
Private collection

 

No name or details are recorded of this sitter from Barron River, QLD. He was a member of the touring Wild West Aboriginal troupe, which staged corroborees, weapon skills and tableaux of notorious encounters between armed Native Police and unarmed local communities.

 

Brook Andrew. 'Sexy and Dangerous' 1996

 

(104) Brook Andrew
Sexy and Dangerous
1996
Computer-generated colour transparency on transparent synthetic polymer resin, included here as postcard of artwork
original 146.0 × 95.6 cm, included here at 15.3 × 10.5 cm
The artist is represented by Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris and Brussels

 

William Eggleston. 'Untitled (glass on plane)' 1965-1974

 

(116) William Eggleston
Untitled (glass on plane)
1965-1974
C-type print
41 × 56 cm
Private collection

 

Bill Culbert. 'Small glass pouring Light, France' 1997

 

(117) Bill Culbert
Small glass pouring Light, France
1997
Silver gelatin print, edition of 25
40.5 × 40.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and Hopkinson Mossman Gallery, Auckland

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003) 'Teacup ballet' 1935, printed 1992

 

(118) Olive Cotton
Teacup Ballet
1935
Silver gelatin print
35.5 × 28 cm
Courtesy Tony Lee

 

David Moore (1927–2003) 'Sisters of Charity' 1956

 

(119) David Moore (1927-2003)
Sisters of Charity
1956
Silver gelatin print
40.5 × 27.1 cm
Private collection

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher. 'Kies-und Schotterwerke (Gravel Plants)' 2006

 

(120) Bernd and Hilla Becher (Bernd Becher 1931-2007, Hilla Becher 1934-2015)
Kies-und Schotterwerke (Gravel Plants)
2006
Silver gelatin print
99 × 121 cm
Private collection

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Backyard, Forster, New South Wales' 1940

 

(123) Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Backyard, Forster, New South Wales
1940
Silver gelatin print
44 × 39 cm
Private collection

 

Joyce Evans. 'Budapest Festival' 1949

 

(138) Joyce Evans
Budapest Festival
1949
Inkjet print
7.6 × 7.6 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Jeff Wall Canadian (1946- ) 'A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai)' 1993

 

(145) Jeff Wall
A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai)
1993
Transparency on lightbox, included here as postcard of artwork
250 × 397 × 34 cm, included here at 15.3 × 10.5 cm
Artist is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery; Gagosian; and White Cube Gallery

 

Masayoshi Sukita. 'David Bowie - Heroes' 1977

 

(147) Masayoshi Sukita
David Bowie – Heroes
1977
Record cover
31 × 31 cm

 

Sukita: In gesture and gaze, Sukita’s photograph for David Bowie’s 1977 cover harks back 60 years to Weimar Republic artist, Erich Heckel’s 1917 painting, Roquairol, which is in Bowie’s art collection.

 

 

(148) Francis Alÿs
Railings (Fitzroy square)
London, 2004
4.03 min.
Francis Alÿs website

 

We posit Fitzroy Square at this point; in honour of your journey through this unorthodox flow of images.

 

 

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

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

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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12
Jul
16

Review: ‘Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31st May – 24th July 2016

National Gallery of Australia touring exhibition

Curator: Shaune Lakin

 

 

An independent vision

 

Pictorialism, Surrealism and Modernism: Light, geometry and atmosphere

This is the quintessential hung “on the line” exhibition from the National Gallery of Australia which features the work of two well respected Australian photographers, Max Dupain and Olive Cotton, showing over three gallery spaces at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. Of its type, it is a superb exhibition which rewards repeated viewing and contemplation of the many superb photographs it contains.

While Dupain may be the more illustrious of the two featured artists – notable for taking the most famous photograph in Australian photographic history (Sunbaker, 1937, below); for being the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism; and for bringing a distinctly Australian style to photography (sun, sea, sand) – it is the artist Olive Cotton’s work that steals almost every facet of this exhibition through her atmospheric images.

Dupain’s importance in the history of Australian photography cannot be underestimated. He dragged Australian photography from Pictorialism to Modernism in a few short years and met fierce resistance from the conservative camera clubs, stuck in the age of Pictorialism, because of it. He was the first to understand what Modernism meant for the medium in Australia, and how photographers would in future picture the country. He wanted to see the world through ‘modern’ eyes. As he observed, ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’ Dupain’s awareness of the ‘zeitgeist’ of modernity was coupled with a keen eye for composition, light and form (what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’), and an understanding of photography’s expressive potential. Over the next 50 years he captured many memorable images, some of the most famous images ever taken of this sun burnt country.

Dupain started to hit his straps with his early cross-over images which contained elements of both Pictorialism and Modernism. His 1930s series of three photographs of Fire Stairs at Bond Street Studio (one of which is feature in the exhibition), and images such as Design – suburbia (1933, below) and Still life (1935, below) still possess that soft, raking light that was so beloved by Pictorialists, coupled with an implicit understanding of form, geometry and light. As fellow photographer David Moore observes, by the time of photographs such as Pyrmont silos (1935, below) and Through the Windscreen (1935), ‘any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’. That sense of the European avant-garde, the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, the strength of industrial forms, imbues Dupain’s photographs with a crisp, clean decisiveness, that ‘symphony of forms and textures’. Whether it be the monumentalism of silos, or the monumentalism of bodies (such as in the classic Bondi, 1939), Dupain relished the opportunity to merge aesthetics with representation, pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible within the medium, believing that both representation and aesthetics could exist within the same frame. Evidence of this merging of can be seen in photographs such as Untitled [Factory chimney stacks] (1940, below) and Backyard, Forster, New South Wales (1940, below). These images are silent in their formalism… they are very quiet, and still, and rather haunting, beautiful in their tonality (with lots of yellow in the 8 x 10 and perhaps even small prints).

Dupain and Cotton both revel “in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present,” and evidence “a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.” But as the press release insightfully observes, “Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.” And this is where the photographs of Olive Cotton are so much more engaging, and alive, than those of Max Dupain.

While Dupain was busy running a commercial studio (with Cotton his assistant and for a couple of years his wife), Olive seems to have had more freedom to experiment, to express herself in a less structured way than her erstwhile husband. Walking around this exhibition my initial thoughts were wow, Olive Cotton, you are an absolute star. Photographs such as The way through the trees (1938, below), while not possessing the technical brilliance of a Dupain, possess something inherently more appealing – a sensitivity and feeling for subject that nearly overwhelms the senses. Truly here is a symphony of texture, light and form. The composition is a subtle paean, a song of praise to the natural and modern world – a world of geometry, textures, light and form. The rendition of this image, a performance of interpretation, is simply magnificent in its sensitivity to subject matter. The print is also glorious in its delicacy and colour. For me, this is what is so appealing about the work of Olive Cotton, an innate sensitivity that all of her photographs seem to possess – in composition, in proportion, in printing and in colour. Cotton maintained an independent vision forged out of experimentation, creating spaces for erotic imaginings, spaces for action and spaces for quiet contemplation. Her use of light and shade, of body and shadow, of classical and modernist motifs …. is superlative. While Dupain’s photographs are more structured and more dazzling in a technical sense, Cotton’s photographs possess more “atmosphere”, a complex and insightful way of seeing and imaging the world which has few equals in the annals of Australian photography.

Below is a short transcription of a voice memo I made on my phone as I toured around the exhibition for the third time:

“What a great show this is, the photographs of Max Dupain and Olive Cotton. But it is the photographs of Olive Cotton that are the wonder of this exhibition. Photographs such as Orchestration in light (1937, below), Sky submerged (c. 1937) and especially The way through the trees (1938, below) are just masterpieces of complex seeing. A sort of… mmmm … an intimate previsualisation where there are hints of Pictorialism – dappled light, moss on the trees – and yet there is a geometric form to the composition that marks it as definitively Modernist. As the wall text states, “this exceptional landscape appears at first glance like a classic Pictorialist view of the Australian bush but typical of Cotton’s best pictures, this landscape merges Pictorialism’s stylistic and formal codes  with those of a cosmopolitan modernist sensibility. Cotton pays particular attention to the similarly angled tree trunks, as well as the all over pattern of the spotted gums and the dapples of light, not bound or hemmed in dogma, Cotton created a view of being completely immersed in the landscape.” The colour of the print, there are hints of pinks and greens and beiges. When was it taken and printed, it must have been an early one, 1938 … and then again the beautiful tonality of it. Wow!

As with all of her best work Cotton is constructing her environment – through music, through geometry, through light. Over the city (1940, below), the light over the city, the shadow of the city, the silhouette of the city in outline, followed by Grass at sundown (1939, below) shooting contre jour, into the light. In Max after surfing (1937, below) there is evidence of Cotton’s understanding of the play of form, of light, of shadow and the composition of the pictorial plane into triangles, horizontals and verticals. This creates a sense of mystery within the four walls of the photograph. As art historian Tim Bonyhady observes, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. The sensuality and atmosphere of the Cotton’s are just gorgeous. Olive Cotton just has such a marvellous grasp of the construction of the picture plane using form, texture and shadow… and feeling. If had a choice I would take away most of the Cotton’s (laughs), because I think they are just amazing…”

There are so many great images in this exhibition, from both Cotton and Dupain, that is hard to know where to start. I haven’t even mentioned images such as Dupain’s sensual but commercial Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935, below), his seminal Street at Central (1939, below) with its raking light and abstraction, or Cotton’s most famous image Teacup ballet (1935, below). I could go on and on. The only disappointment with the exhibition is that, for the uninitiated, there is little to place both photographers works in the context of their time and place, other than a few The Home magazines in a couple of display cases and the wall text. There is little sense of what a tumultuous period this was in Australian history – between two world wars, during a depression, with the advent of modernity, freedom of movement through cars, White Australia policy in full swing, meat and four veg on the table, women’s place in the home, the rise of vitalism and the cult of the bronzed Aussie body and the worship of nature and the outdoors, mateship and the beach as a place of socialisation. But that is the nature of such a classic, hung “on the line” exhibition. It would have been great to see some large photographs, floor to ceiling, of the environment from which all these nearly contextless (as in a particular time and place) images emerged but this is a minor quibble. In the end, I restate that this is a stunning exhibition that is a must see for any aficionado of great Australian photography. Go see it before it closes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,685

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

 

 

“I like few people … to go into a room of strangers is a chore for me … I can effect a relationship, but afterwards, I think: was it worth it?”

.
Max Dupain

 

“Looking at the work of these two great Australian photographers together is enlightening; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Rarely do we get to see two great Australian artists working side-by-side in this way. And while Max Dupain’s reputation might now stand well above most other Australian photographers, this exhibition shows that Olive Cotton had a significant role to play in his development as a photographer, and was in many ways his equal.”

.
Shaune Lakin

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Gallery one

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

installation-g

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

At left, Max Dupain’s Bawley Point landscape (1938) and middle, Dupain’s Untitled [Factory chimney stacks], 1940

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s famous Sunbaker (1937) is second from the right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Olive Cotton’s most famous image, Teacup ballet (1935) at left

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935) at right

Gallery two

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Cabinet with view of The Home magazine (April 1st 1933 right) which feature the photographs of Max Dupain

Gallery three

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Street at Central (1939) left, followed by his Thin man (1936) and Olive Cotton’s Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model) (1937) at right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne
All images © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

 

Olive Cotton (1911-2003) and Max Dupain OBE (1911-1992) were pioneering modernist photographers. Cotton’s lifelong obsession with photography began at age eleven with the gift of a Kodak Box Brownie. She was a childhood friend of Dupain’s and in 1934 she joined his fledgling photographic studio, where she made her best-known work, Teacup Ballet, in about 1935. Throughout the 1930s, Dupain established his reputation with portraiture and advertising work and gained exposure in the lifestyle magazine The Home. Between 1939 and 1941, Dupain and Cotton were married and she photographed him often; her Max After Surfing is frequently cited as one of the most sensuous Australian portrait photographs. While Dupain was on service during World War II Cotton ran his studio, one of very few professional women photographers in Australia. Cotton remarried in 1944 and moved to her husband’s property near Cowra, New South Wales. Although busy with a farm, a family, and a teaching position at the local high school, Cotton continued to take photographs and opened a studio in Cowra in 1964. In the 1950s, Dupain turned increasingly to architectural photography, collaborating with architects and recording projects such as the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Dupain continued to operate his studio on Sydney’s Lower North Shore until he died at the age of 81. Cotton was in her seventies when her work again became the subject of attention. In 1983, she was awarded a Visual Arts Board grant to reprint negatives that she had taken over a period of forty years or more. The resulting retrospective exhibition in Sydney in 1985 drew critical acclaim and has since assured her reputation.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' c. 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind appears to have been the only print Cotton made of this image. It was found in the late 1990s and has been shown only once, in an exhibition at the AGNSW in 2000 where it was also used on the catalogue cover. It was unusual for Cotton to print so large, yet it is entirely fitting that this monumental head and shoulder shot of a beautiful young woman should be presented in this way. The subject was a model on a fashion shoot at which Cotton was probably assisting. Cotton often took her own photographs while on such shoots and used them for her private portfolio. The photograph transcends portraiture, fashion and time to become a remarkable image of harmony with the elements.

Cotton took the title for this photograph from an 1895 poem by English poet Laurence Binyon, ‘O summer sun’:

O summer sun, O moving trees!
O cheerful human noise, O busy glittering street!
What hour shall Fate in all the future find,
Or what delights, ever to equal these:
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind,
Only to be alive, and feel that life is sweet?1

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

1. 1915, ‘Poems of today’, English Association, London p 96

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max
c. 1935
gelatin silver photograph
14.8 x 14.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1998

 

 

In this highly abstracted portrait, Cotton seems to present Dupain as an athlete – perhaps, with his strangely extended arms, a hammer thrower, in an image that predates by at least two years Dupain’s own photographs of athletes outdoors. It is likely that Cotton photographed her friend in this way because of the graphic pictorial effect she wished to achieve. Cotton exploits the shape of the Rolleiflex camera’s square-format film: Dupain’s body cuts across the right-hand corner of the picture, from which his overstretched forearms (the shape and tone of which were the result of much dodging and burning in the darkroom) create a diagonal oblique angle that is classically modernist. A similar conflation of diagonal lines, which was common to the ways that modern life in Australia at the time was represented in advertising and architectural photography, can also be seen in pictures such as Surf’s edge and Teacup ballet.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

“Max Dupain put his lack of clannishness down to a temperament which inclined to the stoic and an early life as an only child. He relished the solitude of his darkroom, familiar places and routines and the early morning calm of Sydney Harbour, where he rowed his scull until prevented by ill health in the early 1990s. He was not a joiner or follower of teams; he was republican in politics and agnostic. Philosophically, Dupain mixed rationalism and a less defined alliance with the passionate exhortation to live directly in one’s environment, body and heart. This philosophy was espoused by poets and writers such as D.H Lawrence, from the movement known in the 1920s and 1930s as Vitalism.

Although he acknowledged that he was a bit of a loner by temperament, portraiture was a significant part of Max Dupain’s personal and professional work. He included some dozen or so portraits in his selection for his 1948 monograph, fifty plates showing ‘my best work since 1935’. Dupain’s images, including many portraits especially of the 1930s to 1960s, have stamped the public image of this era of rapid progress and increasing cultural sophistication in Australia. Portraiture was at the top stratum of Dupain’s first three decades of work but volume decreased markedly from the 1960s, when Max Dupain and Associates, his business, began to specialise in architectural and industrial commissions.”

‘Vintage Max’ by Gael Newton, 1 June 2003

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Sunbaker
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
37.7 x 43.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The photographer's shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The photographer’s shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
16.6 x 15.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The sleeper' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The sleeper
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
29.2 h x 25.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

The sleeper 1939, Olive Cotton’s graceful study of her friend Olga Sharp resting while on a bush picnic, made around the same time as Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, presents a different take upon the enjoyment of life in Australia. The woman is relaxed, nestled within the environment. The mood is one of secluded reverie.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]' Nd (probably late 1930s)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]
Nd (probably late 1930s)
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton shot this portrait of fellow Australian photographer, Max Dupain during their brief marriage at their home in Longueville on Sydney’s lower north shore. Dupain is captured affectionately in the portrait, represented as at once casual through pose and, as industrious on account of his rolled up sleeves and the Rolleiflex TLR camera which hangs from his neck. It is indicative of the combination of a working and personal relationship Cotton and Dupain shared during the late 1930s when they operated a commercial studio together. The couple separated in 1941 but Cotton went on to manage the Dupain Studio while Max was away serving as a camouflage officer during the Second World War 1.

1. Ennis H 2005, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, p. 6

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max after surfing' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max after surfing
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This intimate study of Dupain, who Cotton was romantically involved with at the time, first appeared in the mid-1990s; Cotton did not include it in her reassessment of her oeuvre in the mid-1980s that involved making prints of her best images. For many commentators, this remains a radical image in the history of Australian photography. For the art historian Tim Bonyhady, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. This is the only known vintage print of the image, which inexplicably carries the signature and a message from the fashion photographer George Hoyningen‑Huene, who visited Sydney in December 1937 and spent time with Dupain. It suggests perhaps that Hoyningen-Huene was present when Cotton made the print.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max after surfing is a portrait of Dupain taken in 1939, around the time of their brief marriage. While the photograph was taken indoors, the sharply delineated contrast and the dramatic interplay between light and shade evoke harsh sunlight. The work is loaded with suggestion and emotional intimacy. As art historian and curator Helen Ennis noted in 2000, the close vantage point and the tension between visible form and dense shadow ‘creates a space for erotic imaginings’.

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Jean with wire mesh' c. 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Jean with wire mesh
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
46.0 h x 34.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This portrait of Jean Lorraine, a close friend of Cotton, was one of many taken of her by Cotton and Dupain. This photograph is notable for its technical virtuosity – Dupain’s control of the variegated light across Jean’s body, beautifully lyrical and sensuous, is masterful. It also reflects Dupain’s active interest in the work of Man Ray, whose earlier Shadow patterns on Lee Miller’s torso (1930) was no doubt an influence. Like Man Ray’s image of his lover, Dupain’s portrait of Jean is also notable for its eroticism. While Dupain might have argued that this photograph was a study of light falling on surfaces, the light and shade take particular pleasure in the form of Jean’s naked torso. This eroticism has been underplayed throughout the history of the picture, not surprising given the nature of the relationships involved: when it was published in The Home in February 1936, Jean with wire mesh was known simply as a Photographic study. Dupain printed at least two versions of this shot, another with Jean’s eyes open.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Girl with mirror' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Girl with mirror
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 31.7 h x 29.9 w cm sheet 32.6 h x 30.6 w cm
Purchased 1987

 

 

The photographs Cotton took while attending Dupain’s fashion shoots often focussed on the graphic effects created by light rather than fashion or the dynamics of the shoot itself. Cotton’s role as assistant left her free to explore personal interests, without the imperative of getting a shot for the assignment. This image of a model attending to her make-up, seemingly absorbed in her own image, is primarily concerned with the patterns created by light falling on sand dunes and the way they contrast with the decorative print of her clothing. It is notable that the image we see in the mirror is not the model’s face, but the patterns created by light hitting the sand. As Cotton later remembered, ‘I took it mostly because I really liked the pattern in the sand and the contrasting pattern in the left-hand corner’, which includes a series of diagonal shadows cast by Dupain’s tripod.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'The floater' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
The floater
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia
Purchased 1976

 

 

Two versions of this image of a woman floating in water were printed by Dupain, so like Sunbaker it held particular interest for him. It acknowledges one of the great moments in avant-garde photography, André Kertész’s iconic study of underwater distortion Underwater swimmer (1917). As with Kertész, Dupain’s interest was with the visual effects created by light hitting the water and the impact of this on the contours of the swimmer. In his personal copy of the anthology Modern Photography (1931), Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’ (Wall text)

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)
1937
Cronulla, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 30.4 h x 38.5 w cm sheet 40.2 h x 48.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1988

 

As the studio assistant, Cotton accompanied Dupain on fashion shoots to attend to models, doing their make-up and helping with costume changes. She often used these opportunities to take her own photographs, including this wonderful image of Dupain photographing the model Noreen Hallard for David Jones. As well as producing a striking image of Dupain and Hallard at work, Cotton was interested in the landscape in which they operated, paying particular attention to the pattern created by their footsteps in the sand.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“Olive Cotton and Max Dupain are key figures in Australian visual culture. They shared a long and close personal and professional relationship. This exhibition looks at their work made between 1934 and 1945, the period of their professional association; this was an exciting period of experimentation and growth in Australian photography, and Cotton and Dupain were at the centre of these developments.

This is the first exhibition to look at the work of these two photographers as they shared their lives, studio and professional practice. Looking at their work together is instructive; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.

This exhibition focuses on the key period in each of their careers, when they made many of their most memorable images. Keenly aware of international developments in photography, Cotton and Dupain experimented with the forms and strategies of modernist photography, especially Surrealism and the Bauhaus, and drew upon the sophisticated lighting and compositions of contemporary advertising and Hollywood glamour photography.

They brought to these influences their own, close association with the rich context of Australian life and culture during the 1930s and ’40s. Their achievement can be characterised, borrowing terms they used in discussions of their work, as the development of a ‘contemporary Australian photography’: a modern photographic practice that reflected their own, very particular relationships to the world and to each other.

Lives

Cotton and Dupain’s friendship stretched back to childhood summers spent at Newport Beach, NSW, where their families spent summer holidays. They were both given their first cameras – Kodak Box Brownies – by relatives as young teenagers, and spent days together wandering around taking photographs. They shared a similar commitment to photography as teenagers and young adults: both made and published or exhibited photographs while at school, and in 1929 they became members of the Photographic Society of New South Wales. But their approach to achieving the ‘professional life’ of a photographer took different paths: Dupain undertook a formal apprenticeship with the pictorialist master Cecil Bostock between 1930-33, while Cotton studied arts at Sydney University with the idea of becoming a teacher and photographed after hours.

Cotton and Dupain became romantically involved in 1928 and married in 1939; they separated in 1941 and eventually divorced in 1944. In spite of these personal vicissitudes, Cotton and Dupain remained professionally connected. Cotton managed the Dupain studio from late 1941-45, while he worked with the Department of Home Security’s Camouflage Unit during the Second World War. On his return, Cotton left Sydney and spent the rest of her life in relative isolation near Cowra, NSW, where she raised her family of two with husband Ross McInerney and, between 1964 and 1983, operated a small studio. And while Dupain returned from the war to develop his reputation and significance as Australia’s most recognised twentieth-century photographer, his work was deeply affected by his experience of the war and took on a completely different complexion to his work from the previous decade.

Studio

In 1934, Dupain opened a studio in a rented room at 24 Bond Street, Sydney; Cotton joined him as his assistant soon after. By 1936, the Dupain studio’s business had expanded to the extent that it moved into larger premises in the same building, before relocating in early 1941 to a whole floor of a building at 49 Clarence Street.

Their positions at the Dupain studio were clearly defined – he was the photographer, she the studio assistant. Even so, Cotton and Dupain each maintained distinct but in some ways closely aligned practices, both in and out of the studio. Cotton did not tend to take photographs commercially until after she took over the management of the Dupain studio in late 1941, when photographs were circulated in her name. Before then, she made use of the studio’s equipment afterhours, including Dupain’s large Thornton Pickard camera; her work was exhibited and published on occasion, both locally and internationally.

At the same time, Dupain’s photographs became increasingly widely-seen and influential. Sydney Ure Smith’s iconic monthly magazine The Home regularly published Dupain’s portraits, documentary work, social photographs (often actually taken by Cotton), and fashion and product photographs made for clients such as David Jones. When Dupain went to war, the studio continued to operate successfully under Cotton’s management. While some long-standing clients such as David Jones took their business elsewhere, Cotton took some of her most important pictures in the early 1940s, and her increasing confidence at this time can be identified across images of the city, industry and labour.

Dialogue

Cotton and Dupain were active members of Sydney’s network of young artists and photographers, of which the Dupain studio was a centre. Along with their contemporaries, including figures like Geoffrey Powell, Damien Parer and Lawrence Le Guay, they staked a claim for photography as a vital part of contemporary culture, exhibiting photographs alongside other artworks at venues like Sydney’s David Jones Gallery.

Their networks included members of Sydney’s progressive architectural, design, publishing and advertising communities, with whom they often collaborated. The threads of influence within this complex network of making, exhibiting, publishing and commissions were intricate. It is possible, for example, to see Dupain’s strong visual style affect those around him. His interest in surrealist style, which really took hold in 1935, can be identified in work by other, often lesser photographers working at the time, and indeed in the design of The Home, which published his work in editorial and advertisements. There were also times when Cotton indicated certain directions for Dupain. For example, her images of bodies outdoors, which cleverly pulled together classical and modernist motifs, predate similar images by Dupain.

It is clear also that Cotton and Dupain were engaging in dialogue within their own work. Their shared interest in photographing form, texture and shadow is seen across many pictures throughout the mid- to late 1930s. Their pictures also engage critically with photography as a medium, in images that draw attention to the photograph as a double of its subject, and in pictures that seem to play with photograph’s stillness. As Dupain later remembered, together they ‘shared the problems of photography’.

Contemporary Australian Photography

What were ‘the problems of photography’ that Dupain and Cotton sought to settle? In the most straightforward sense, they involved the assumption that Australian photographers were yet to completely embrace or realise the medium’s potential, which rested in careful attention to its aesthetic possibilities, recognition of its mechanical origins, and negotiation of the particular way the medium engaged notions of objectivity and subjectivity. Their solution to these problems involved a progressive photographic practice that intended to release photography from the shackles of history and orthodoxy, and to revel in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present.

Cotton’s and Dupain’s solution to ‘the problems of photography’ was to make work that made a feature of the medium’s modernity, and the strange way that mechanics, physics and aesthetics come together in modern photography to look at the world and to find beauty in it. They did this in a way that remained firmly footed in their own, very particular place in the world and history. In terms of style, their solution integrated legacies of Pictorialism – especially its interest in the atmospheric effects found in landscape – with a range of other, often competing modes and styles: a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.

It is possible that, for the first time, Australian photography found in the work of Cotton and Dupain a contemporary expression: a photographic practice that emerged from, responded to and expressed the mood, ambitions and sensibility of its time.”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Two different versions of this photograph. Notice the different cropping and colour of each image, and how it adds emphasis to the light and to the shadows of the people.

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Teacup ballet' 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Teacup ballet
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
37.5 x 29.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

‘This picture evolved after I had bought some inexpensive cups and saucers from Woolworths for our studio coffee breaks to replace our rather worn old mugs. The angular handles reminded me of arms akimbo, and that led to the idea of making a photograph to express a dance theme.

When the day’s work was over I tried several arrangements of the cups and saucers to convey this idea, without success, until I used a spotlight and realised how important the shadows were. Using the studio camera, which had a 6 ½ x 4 ½ inch ground glass focusing screen, I moved the cups about until they and their shadows made a ballet-like composition and then photographed them on a cut film negative. The title of the photograph suggested itself.

This was my first photograph to be shown overseas, being exhibited, to my delight, in the London Salon of Photography in 1935.’ Olive Cotton 1995 1

Olive Cotton and Max Dupain were childhood friends and, although she graduated in English and mathematics from the University of Sydney in 1934, her interest in photography led her to work in Dupain’s studio from this year. Cotton was employed as a photographer’s assistant in the studio, however she worked assiduously on her own work and continued to exhibit in photography salon exhibitions. Tea cup ballet is one of Cotton’s most well-known photographs and yet it is somewhat eccentric to her main practice, being at first glance typically modernist with its dramatic lighting and angular shapes. Her longstanding interest in organic forms provides a deeper reading. The abstraction of form by the lighting and the placement of the cups and saucers enables the relationship to dancers on a stage to become clear.

1. Ennis H 1995, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, Canberra p. 25

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Among Cotton’s most famous photographs, Teacup ballet has very humble origins. It was taken after hours in the Dupain studio and used a set of cheap cups and saucers Cotton had earlier bought from a Woolworths store for use around the studio. As she later recounted: ‘Their angular handles suggested to me the position of “arms akimbo” and that led to the idea of a dance pattern’. The picture uses a range of formal devices that became common to Cotton’s work, especially the strong backlighting used to create dramatic tonal contrasts and shadows. The picture achieved instant success, and was selected for exhibition in the London Salon of Photography for 1935.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Shasta daisies' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Shasta daisies
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

 

Celebrated Australian photographer Olive Cotton was given her first Box Brownie by her family for her eleventh birthday (1922) and continued to experiment with taking and developing pictures throughout the 1920s. By the early 1930s Cotton had mastered the Pictorialist style so popular at the time and was on her way to establishing her own approach which also incorporated Modernist principles. The recurrent themes of landscape and plant-life are important to the photographer’s approach, which photography scholar Helen Ennis describes as Cotton’s concern for the ‘potential for pattern-making’.

Shasta daisies is an interesting and rare combination of natural form and a highly-constructed scenario, the flowers having been photographed in Cotton’s studio and carefully arranged for the camera. Cotton, in the 1995 book, wrote of the photograph: “I chose to photograph these in the studio because out of doors I would have had less control of the lighting and background. I examined the composition very carefully through the studio camera’s large ground glass focussing screen and – the view from the camera’s position being slightly different to my own – made as many rearrangements to the flowers as seemed necessary. I then used (apart from a background light) one source of light to try and convey a feeling of outdoors.” Shasta daisies is important within Cotton’s oeuvre for uniting her interest in plants in their natural ‘outdoors’ environment with her enquiry into photographic form and space.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Homage to D.H. Lawrence' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Homage to D.H. Lawrence
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
45.8 x 33.9 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Dupain admired vitalist philosophies, which argued that modern identity had become fragmented and asserted the importance of the integration of body and emotion, of sensual and emotional experience. He was attracted to the work of British writer D.H. Lawrence, especially his insistence on the ‘thingness’ of things as a way of embodying a properly integrated mind and body. This photograph uses surrealist juxtaposition to draw together a copy of Lawrence’s Selected poems, a flywheel (representing the modern world) and a classical bust, recalling the idealised relationship of natural and sensual worlds in ancient Greece and Rome. Other images incorporating classical busts appeared in the pages of the Modern Photography annuals, but Dupain makes them his own, lifted above mere pastiche.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Orchestration in light' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Orchestration in light
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 24.1 h x 27.4 w cm sheet 25.4 h x 28.2 w cm
Purchased with assistance from the Helen Ennis Fund
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton took this landscape early one morning at Wullumbi Gorge in the New England tablelands, during a camping trip with Dupain. It is remarkable for both the way the light transforms the landscape into quivering energy and the way Cotton makes sense of that enigmatic experience in pictorial form. As its title suggests, the photograph recalled for Cotton – who trained as a musician as a girl – a musical composition, particularly ‘the beautiful graduation in tone going from a bass tone to a high treble at the top of the picture’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The patterned road' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The patterned road
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
24.6 h x 28.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Bawley Point landscape' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Bawley Point landscape
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29 x 26.6 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This landscape, one of many taken by Dupain on the south coast of New South Wales, was made in the same year as Cotton’s similar study of shadow and landscape, The patterned road (above). These two landscapes share an interest in what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’. Although Dupain rarely published or circulated his landscapes at this time, pictures such as Bawley Point landscape certainly relate to a broad range of other images, perhaps most notably still lifes and nudes, that articulated an Australian modernist photography through the interplay of light passing through openings. These images find monumental stillness in movement and strong shadows, which quite literally ‘double’ their subject.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Over the city' 1940

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Over the city
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
32.2 h x 30.3 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Grass at sundown' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Grass at sundown
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
Primary Insc: Signed and dated l.l. pencil, “Olive Cotton ’39”. Titled l.r. pencil, “Grass at sundown”.
Printed image 28.9 h x 30.8 w cm sheet 30.0 h x 31.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Design - suburbia' 1933

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 – 1992)
Design – suburbia
1933
Gelatin silver photograph
29.4 h x 23.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This early image proudly displays the influence of the work of pictorialist photographers that Dupain knew well, most notably the Sydney-based photographer, Harold Cazneaux. At the time Dupain made this image, he was serving an apprenticeship in the commercial studio of Cecil Bostock, a Pictorialist and founding member with Cazneaux of the Sydney Camera Circle in 1916. Dupain’s interest in the pictorial effects created by light passing through apertures (here, the posts and beams of a suburban fence) seems to remember similar images of light streaming through blinds and pergolas by Cazneaux, who Dupain called ‘the father of modern Australian photography’. The fascination with capturing light as it passes through openings will stay with Dupain throughout his life, though the focus will sharpen as he moves away from the diffused effects favoured by art photographers in the early decades of the century.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Still life' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 – 1992)
Still life
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 h x 20.8 w cm
Purchased 1982

 

 

While the subject of this photograph seems to be a simple, lidded pail (which featured in a number of Dupain’s still lifes) seen in morning light, it is actually an exercise in abstraction. Of most interest to Dupain is the complex network of diagonal lines created by light, shadow and timber boards. The picture reflects the pleasure Dupain took in the pictorial effects created by light (he was fond of quoting the Belgian photographer Léonard Misonne’s dictum, ‘the subject is nothing, light is everything’), and at the same time expresses the fundamental principle upon which his photographic practice was always based. While the image of light passing through apertures is an analogy for the way the camera operates, the still life also embodies photography’s expressive potential. As Dupain later stated, ‘with still-life you can arrange or rearrange or do what you like, it becomes a very, very personal exercise that you have total control over’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain. 'Pyrmont silos' 1933, printed later

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Pyrmont silos
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 25.2 h x 19.2 w cm sheet 31.2 h x 26.2 w cm mount 42.4 h x 32.0 w
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Max Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism, and took a number of photographs of Pyrmont silos in the 1930s. 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. Olive Cotton’s Drainpipes 1937 shows the precisely formed circles and curves of the pipes, interspersed with slivers of light and long shadows.

In almost text-book fashion, this image reflects Dupain’s assimilation of the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, which he encountered in publications such as the Das Deutsche Lichtbild [The German photograph] and Modern Photography annuals, the 1932 edition of which was edited by Man Ray. While Dupain’s relationship to the contemporary world was complicated, he nonetheless advocated for the latest photographic trends out of Europe and America, and for photographing modern, industrial subjects; as he asserted in 1938, ‘great art has always been contemporary in spirit’. Writing in 1975 about this image for Dupain’s retrospective at the Australian Centre for Photography, fellow photographer David Moore, who had worked with Dupain in the late 1940s, saw it as a turning point in Dupain’s career, believing that here ‘his awareness of the strength of industrial forms was confirmed with confident authority … From this moment any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

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

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Backyard, Forster, New South Wales' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Backyard, Forster, New South Wales
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
30.5 h x 30.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

This highly formal view of the backyard of a hotel in the coastal town of Forster embodies Dupain’s sense of Australian modernist photography. The picture’s frontalism and overriding use of horizontals and verticals acknowledge that the camera faced its subject face-to-face and that the view has been consciously framed. But as the title of the photograph makes clear, it is also a record of a particular place. In his personal copy of G.H. Saxon Mills’ essay ‘Modern photography’, which greatly assisted Dupain to conceptualise his own sense of a contemporary photographic practice, Dupain highlighted and annotated with a question mark the following statement: ‘”modern” photography means photography whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary or representational.’ Dupain believed that both were possible within the same frame.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) '(Factory chimney stacks)' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
[Factory chimney stacks]
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
49.0 h x 38.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’

These factory chimney stacks are reduced to their most simple and direct form, which is shown free of any distraction. As Dupain noted, borrowing from the great American architectural historian Lewis Mumford, the ‘mission of the photograph is to clarify the subject’. The choice of subject matter was influenced by an essay by the English journalist, G.H. Saxon Mills, written in 1931 and read by Dupain soon after: ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The way through the trees' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The way through the trees
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.6 h x 29.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'An old country homestead, Western Australia' 1946

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
An old country homestead, Western Australia
1946
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 3 8344 5148

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

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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14
Feb
16

Exhibition: ‘Cutting edge: 21st-century photography’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 26th November 2015 – 21st February 2016

Artists: Danica Chappell, Peta Clancy, Eliza Hutchison, Megan Jenkinson, Justine Khamara, Paul Knight, Derek Kreckler, Luke Parker, Emidio Puglielli, David Rosetzky, Jo Scicluna, Martin Smith, Vivian Cooper Smith, James Tylor and Joshua Yeldham.

 

 

This is a solid if slightly dour exhibition at the Monash Gallery of Art which examines the phenomena of the deconstruction of the physicality of the photograph. It “features the work of contemporary artists who disrupt the seamless uniformity of screen-based photography by cutting, pinning, folding and puncturing photographic prints. These are photographs that need to be engaged with in physical space, rather than contemplated on a screen; this is an exhibition about making rather than taking photographs.”

Therein lies the rub. If you start such an exercise (the physical deformation of the surface of the print), without caring about the quality of the base image, then you are automatically starting from a bad position. It’s like printing a black and white print from an underexposed negative. Further, much as many of these works are interesting conceptual exercises, most of them lead to emotional dead ends. A friend of mine has a good analogy: imagine standing on a bridge with a fast running stream flowing underneath, and dropping a pebble off the bridge. And then another, and another. Unless they cluster around each other to form an ongoing enquiry by a group of people – such as Australian women’s hand-coloured photography of the 1970s – INTO ONE IDEA (in the 1970s it was feminism and the urban environment), then they will be washed away. And this is the feeling I get from this exhibition: every idea possible is up for grabs (in an earnest kind of way), but nothing sticks memorably in the mind. That is the world in which we live today.

To my mind the best work in the exhibition is the simplest and most eloquent. Out of Joshua Yeldham’s trio of images, it is Owl of tranquillity (2015, below) which is the standout. The base image is beautiful and the careful incision work just adds to the magical resonance of the image. A truly knockout piece that would be a joy in any collection. The other two works suffer from the base image being taken on a mobile phone… the quality of the image is just not there to start with, and to then print and work the image at such great scale (see installation images below) means both images tend to loose cohesiveness. You can get away with it once, but not three times.

I also very much liked the concept and execution of the installation by Jo Scicluna (below). The photographs were well printed, the alterations intellectually and visually challenging, the framing and construction of the installation effective with the use of wood and shadow, and the whole had a wonderful resonance in the corner of the gallery. Plus you got a free poster of the work to take away with you!

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text from the Monash Gallery of Art.

 

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Cutting edge: 21st-century photography' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Cutting edge: 21st-century photography' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Cutting edge: 21st-century photography' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Cutting edge: 21st-century photography' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Cutting edge: 21st-century photography at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

“In the early years of the 21st century many cultural commentators were excited by the prospect of photography becoming a truly global art form. With cameras, computers and printers all communicating seamlessly through digital networks, and with the internet providing a worldwide platform for sharing photographs, it looked like the photographic medium might transcend the specificities of both place and materials.

While global digital networks have clearly impacted photography generally, the work of many art photographers has taken a different turn. Instead of embracing the seamless space of digital production, or the expanded horizon of online galleries, artists working with photography have found a range of ways to ground their practices in the material world.

Cutting edge: 21st-century photography features the work of contemporary artists who disrupt the seamless uniformity of screen-based photography by cutting, pinning, folding and puncturing photographic prints. These are photographs that need to be engaged with in physical space, rather than contemplated on a screen; this is an exhibition about making rather than taking photographs.”

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

Installation photograph of Danica CHAPPELL. 'Light shadow (5 days + 5 hrs in 8 parts + test strips)' 2012–15 (detail)

 

Installation photograph of Danica Chappell. Light shadow (5 days + 5 hrs in 8 parts + test strips) 2012-15 (detail)

 

 

Danica Chappell‘s practice belongs to a long artistic tradition of visual abstraction, which rejects representation in favour of sensual and experimental processes. While this tradition is dominated by painters, Chappell employs the light-sensitive chemistry of traditional photography to generate her images. Even though Chappell’s practice can be described as ‘photographic’, she doesn’t use a camera to produce her work. This helps turn photography into something abstract, rather than representational, but it also allows Chappell to distance herself from the ‘instamatic moment’ and foreground an extended process of creative intuition with colour and form. The work being exhibited here, Light shadow (5 days + 5 hrs in 8 parts + test strips), was created in a colour darkroom over several hours. Approaching this as a type of unseeable performance, Chappell arranged and rearranged scraps of paper and other off-cuts on the light sensitive paper while exposing it to light for different periods of time. Chappell’s final installation of this work incorporates test strips, which have been placed at intervals over the print. The test strips, which were integral in the making of the work, interrupt the fl ow of the underlying print, adding an extra layer of abstraction and temporality.

 

Danica CHAPPELL. 'Light shadow (5 days + 5 hrs in 8 parts + test strips)' 2012–15 (detail)

Danica CHAPPELL. 'Light shadow (5 days + 5 hrs in 8 parts + test strips)' 2012–15 (detail)

Danica CHAPPELL. 'Light shadow (5 days + 5 hrs in 8 parts + test strips)' 2012–15 (detail)

Danica CHAPPELL. 'Light shadow (5 days + 5 hrs in 8 parts + test strips)' 2012–15 (detail)

 

Danica Chappell (born Australia 1972)
Light shadow (5 days + 5 hrs in 8 parts + test strips)
2012-15
Chromogenic prints
Collection of the artist

 

Installation view of David ROSETZKY. 'Aaron I' 2004 'Hamish' 2004

 

Installation view of David Rosetzky. Aaron I 2004 and Hamish 2004

 

David ROSETZKY. 'Hamish' 2004

 

David Rosetzky (born Australia 1970)
Hamish
2004
Chromogenic prints
Courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2005

 

 

David Rosetzky‘s practice encompasses a range of media, including video and photography, and typically explores themes of identity and interpersonal relationships. Throughout his career, Rosetzky has created photographic series and has periodically returned to work on photographic cut-out and collaged portraits. To produce these images, Rosetzky creates cool studio portraits of young models, referencing the style of photography found in advertising and fashion magazines. He then layers as many as three photographic portraits on top of each other before hand cutting sections to reveal parts of the underlying prints (above). Through these works Rosetzky represents his subjects as being multi-layered and highlights the idea that identity is fragile, changeable and often concealed. The crumpled paper, represented in his more recent portraits (below), suggests that surfaces are dynamic thresholds rather than superfi cial masks. Used in a photographic context, the crumpled paper can also be seen as a reference to photography’s power to transform and elaborate a person’s social identity.

 

David ROSETZKY. 'Pieces #1' 2015

 

David Rosetzky (born Australia 1970)
Pieces #1 (installation view)
2015
Chromogenic prints
Collection of Ten Cubed
Collection of the artist

 

David ROSETZKY. 'Pieces #2' 2015

 

David Rosetzky (born Australia 1970)
Pieces #2
2015
Chromogenic prints
Courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)
Collection of Ten Cubed
Collection of the artist

 

Megan JENKINSON. 'meniscus' 2014 (detail)

 

Megan Jenkinson (born New Zealand 1958)
meniscus (installation photograph detail)
2014
From the series Transfigurations
Pigment ink-jet print
Collection of the artist

 

 

Megan Jenkinson began working with lenticular printing technologies in 2007. Lenticular printing combines multiple still images to give the impression of movement and three-dimensionality. The work on display here is from Jenkinson’s Transfigurations series, which employs a handmade form of lenticular photography to evoke the transience of the natural world. This large-scale image of water foliage is composed of two separate photographs that have been digitally spliced together and printed on a single sheet of paper. The artist has then hand-folded the photograph to create a concertinaed surface that can only be seen in its complete form when viewed from multiple angles. As a consequence, viewers need to physically interact with the photographic object, walking from side-to-side in order to experience the artwork. This form of photography disrupts traditional expectations of two-dimensional photography and introduces a tactile aspect to digital production.

 

Megan JENKINSON. 'meniscus' 2014 (detail)

Megan JENKINSON. 'meniscus' 2014 (detail)

 

Megan Jenkinson (born New Zealand 1958)
meniscus (installation photograph details)
2014
From the series Transfigurations
Pigment ink-jet print
Collection of the artist

 

Installation view of works by Justine KHAMARA

 

Installation view of works by Justine Khamara

Looping #3 2014
Distended #2 2013
Ghosting’s ghost #2 2010
Orbital spin trick #2 2013

 

 

In a world where photographs are often viewed on screens, Justine Khamara is interested in the physicality of the photographic surface and how this affects the meaning of an image. Her works begin as two-dimensional photographic portraits, which she then sculpts into three-dimensional forms that protrude from walls or stand alone in exhibition spaces. To create these works, Khamara cuts her photographic prints, either by hand or using a laser cutter. She then manipulates the intricately shredded surfaces by hand to give them a sculptural form. This involves an array of different techniques, such as adhering part of the photograph to a backing board and allowing the filleted paper to hang loosely from the top. In other instances she pulls and weaves the segmented photograph to create more purposeful geometric shapes. By working in this way, Khamara invests the photographic still with a sense of movement and playful elaboration, which effaces the mechanical nature of photographic reproduction.

 

Justine KHAMARA. 'Orbital spin trick #2' 2013

 

Justine Khamara (born Australia 1971)
Orbital spin trick #2
2013
UV print on plywood
50.0 x 50.0 x 50.0 cm
Reproduction courtesy of the artist and ARC ONE Gallery (Melbourne)
Collection of the artist

 

Justine KHAMARA. 'Orbital spin trick #2' 2013 (detail)

Justine KHAMARA. 'Orbital spin trick #2' 2013 (detail)

Justine KHAMARA. 'Orbital spin trick #2' 2013 (detail)

 

Justine Khamara (born Australia 1971)
Orbital spin trick #2 (installation view details)
2013
UV print on plywood
Collection of the artist

 

Justine KHAMARA. 'Looping #3' 2014 (detail)

Justine KHAMARA. 'Looping #3' 2014 (detail)

 

Justine Khamara (born Australia 1971)
Looping #3 (installation view details)
2014
Chromogenic prints
Collection of the artist

 

Luke PARKER. 'Screen memory' 2014

 

Luke Parker (born Australia 1975)
Screen memory
2014
From the series Screen memory
Mixed media
Collection of Mikala Dwyer and David Corben
Collection of the artist

 

 

Luke Parker works across a range of media, his practice is largely concerned with giving a sense of metaphysical weight to everyday events and chance encounters. The works on display here are made up of Parker’s own photographs combined with found images that he has collected over the past 20 years. To create these works, Parker categorised seemingly disparate images according to formal patterns and poetic associations. He then arranged the images onto a unifying background and used a needle and thread to stitch them into a type of artistic circuit board. Parker created this series as a way of making sense of his own image archive as well as the proliferation of images encountered in everyday life.

In a world where images are increasingly set adrift from specific economies of meaning, to circulate freely through digital networks, Parker’s works function as conceptual nets that encourage viewers to think about photographs rather than just watch them pass by.

 

Martin SMITH. 'After seeing every episode twice' 2006

Martin SMITH. 'After seeing every episode twice' 2006

 

Martin Smith (born Australia 1972)
After seeing every episode twice (installation views)
2006
Chromogenic print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2008

 

 

Martin Smith‘s practice revolves around the integration of photography and text. Using photographs that have been recovered from family albums or personal archives, Smith incorporates texts into the visual fi eld of the image. The texts, which have no obvious relationship with the content of the photographs, recall personal memories or lyrics from popular songs. To incorporate the texts, Smith hand-cuts letters out of the photographic prints, often leaving the letters scattered beneath the image. The disconnect between the text and the image is a deliberate attempt to combine two discrete methods of storytelling – image and text – while also emphasising the way memories of an event are usually different from the original experience. By cutting letters out of the photograph, Smith complicates the viewer’s ability to believe in either the text or the image, and opens up a space that encourages new interpretations.

 

Martin SMITH. 'pleasure / storage' 2012

Martin SMITH. 'pleasure / storage' 2012

 

Martin Smith (born Australia 1972)
pleasure / storage (installation views)
2012
Pigment ink-jet prints
Collection of the artist

 

Installation view of Paul KNIGHT. 'Untitled (PK_10_05)' 2010 and 'Untitled (PK_10_02)' 2010

 

Installation view of Paul Knight. Untitled (PK_10_05) 2010 and Untitled (PK_10_02) 2010

 

 

Paul Knight‘s style of his photographs is influenced by his background in commercial photography; they are technically proficient and almost illustrative in their documentary clarity. These cool formal qualities, however, are unsettled by the subject matter, which is often about private desires and passions. Knight’s 2010-11 untitled series of folded photographs document couples embracing in bed. The series reflects Knight’s broader interest in photographing moments of candour and intimacy between lovers, which remains a preoccupation of his practice. In this series, however, Knight has folded the photographic prints to frustrate any expectation we might have about a photograph’s capacity to show or reveal its subject. Instead of offering a crude, voyeuristic perspective, the intimacy documented in these images is obscured and concealed in the folds of the print.

 

Paul KNIGHT. 'Untitled (PK_10_02)' 2010

 

Paul Knight (born Australia 1976)
Untitled (PK_10_02) (installation view)
2010
Chromogenic prints
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2010

 

Emidio PUGLIELLI. 'Colourful mountain disruption' 2009

 

Emidio Puglielli (born Australia 1964)
Colourful mountain disruption
2009
Chromogenic print, pins
Collection of the artist

 

 

Emidio Puglielli‘s work focuses on the relationship between the photograph as a material object and the photograph as an image. He is particularly interested in old photographs and their continued resonance in contemporary society. Puglielli fi nds and collects vernacular photography to use as the starting point for his works. He then highlights the materiality of the photographs by drawing attention to their surface and structure. To do this he employs strategies such as rubbing off the emulsion or piercing the surface with map pins. Puglielli is interested in the way such interventions alter the meaning of a photograph and offer new readings of images.

By damaging the smooth surface of the print, he is able to disrupt the illusion of the photographic image, but his interventions also embellish the photographs in sympathetic ways. This is particularly evident in Snow disruption, where the pins appear as snowflakes, and Shadow disruption where pins become eyeballs in the shadow of the unknown photographer. Puglielli’s works therefore seek to question the nature of photography and the way in which photographs are viewed and reinterpreted.

 

Installation view of Vivian Cooper SMITH. 'Timeless' 2013

 

Installation view of Vivian Cooper Smith. Timeless 2013

 

 

Vivian Cooper Smith‘s artistic practice revolves around photography. Timeless (2013) explores identity and conceptions of self while also reflecting on the nature of photography. To create this work, Smith photographed film noir classics directly from an old television screen. He then printed the images and hand-cut them to fit pieces of irregularly shaped plywood. Smith created this work during a period of personal turmoil and felt that the film noir genre of the post-war period resonated with his own desire to remake himself after a relationship breakdown. As is common to his practice, Smith has interfered with the photograph’s smooth, seamless surface, in this case by dissecting it and creating a three dimensional sculpture. By focussing on the materiality of the photograph, Smith aims to highlight its artificial or constructed nature.

 

Vivian Cooper SMITH. 'Timeless' 2013 (detail)

Vivian Cooper SMITH. 'Timeless' 2013 (detail)

 

Vivian Cooper Smith (born New Zealand 1974; arrived Australia 1987)
Timeless (installation view details)
2013
Chromogenic prints
Collection of the artist

 

Installation view of Derek KRECKLER. 'Holey 1' 2003

 

Installation view of Derek Kreckler.  Holey 1 2003

 

 

Derek Kreckler originally trained as a sculptor and established himself as a performance and sound artist during the 1990s, he has more recently concentrated on producing photographic and installation work. Kreckler’s Holey series consists of beach scenes and seascapes that have been punctured with circular apertures. The excised sections of the images have been transformed into spherical objects that sit in front of the two photographs, as if the photographs have spawned offspring from their holey orifices. This sculptural configuration challenges the notion that photography offers a straightforward document of time and place. Instead, the photograph has been turned into a type of puzzle that the viewer is encouraged to investigate and solve. To further deepen the viewing experience, Holey 1 is a diptych. The two photographs show the same location; the right side captured a short time after the left side. A number of the subjects in the photographs, beach goers on a summer’s day, are displaced by time. Some have remained static, some seem to have meandered between beach and sand, whilst others have disappeared from the scene altogether.

 

Derek KRECKLER. 'Holey 1' 2003 (detail)

Derek KRECKLER. 'Holey 1' 2003 (detail)

Derek KRECKLER. 'Holey 1' 2003 (detail)

Derek KRECKLER. 'Holey 1' 2003 (detail)

 

Derek Kreckler (born Australia 1952)
Holey 1 (installation view details)
2003
Chromogenic prints, spun aluminium spheres and cast vinyl
South Australian Government Grant 2004
Art Gallery of South Australia

 

Installation view of the work of Jo SCICLUNA

 

Installation view of the work of Jo Scicluna in the exhibition Cutting edge: 21st-century photography

 

 

Jo Scicluna works with a range of media, including photography, video, sculpture and installation, often combining these art forms to bring photography into the space of lived experience. Dissatisfied with the way photography, as a documentary device, is almost always tied to past events, Scicluna encourages viewers to engage with the presence of photographic objects. By cutting into the smooth surface of a photographic print, she disrupts the notion that a photograph is a window into the past. She also elaborates conceptual relationships between different photographic objects in her installations. In doing this, Scicluna activates the space between the photographic print, the sculptural form and the phenomenology of a gallery space. For Scicluna, the experience of being in-between things is related to her personal experience of migration and geographic rupture. Scicluna is not interested in using photography to create documents of specific times and places but uses the medium in a conceptual way to evoke sensations that are not as easy to represent in a literal sense.

 

Jo SCICLUNA. 'Where I have always been an island #4' 2014

 

Jo Scicluna (born Australia 1969)
Where I have always been an island #4 (installation view)
2014
Pigment ink-jet prints
Collection of the artist

 

Jo SCICLUNA 'When our horizons meet' 2013

 

Jo Scicluna (born Australia 1969)
When our horizons meet
2013
Pigment ink-jet prints
60.0 x 60.0 cm
Collection of the artist

 

Jo SCICLUNA. 'Where we begin (sunless)' 2014 (detail)

Jo SCICLUNA. 'Where we begin (sunless)' 2014 (detail)

 

Jo Scicluna (born Australia 1969)
Where we begin (sunless) (installation details)
2014
Pigment ink-jet print, acrylic, timber
Collection of the artist

 

Installation view of the work of Joshua YELDHAM

Installation view of the work of Joshua YELDHAM

 

Installation views of the work of Joshua Yeldham in the exhibition Cutting edge: 21st-century photography

 

 

Joshua Yeldham uses a range of media, his practice is focused on exploring the landscape and elaborating spiritual and symbolic narratives around his engagement with the natural world. He captures photographic images on a smart phone before blowing them up and printing them on cotton paper. He then uses tools to physically carve into the paper, disrupting the smooth surface of the photographic image and adding a personal, handmade effect. It is as if the artist is tattooing his own map or story into the skin of the image. The intricate carving creates a textured pattern of lightness over his otherwise dark and mysterious photographs. The technique allows Yeldham to explore history and mythology in the landscape and imbue his works with elements of both the real and the imagined. It also allows him to reference the passing of time as well as the weather and destruction that the natural environment endures on a daily basis.

 

Joshua YELDHAM. 'Owl of tranquillity' 2015

 

Joshua Yeldham (born Australia 1970)
Owl of tranquillity (detail)
2015
Pigment ink-jet print
Collection of the artist

 

Joshua YELDHAM. 'Resonance' 2015

Joshua YELDHAM. 'Resonance' 2015 (detail)

 

Joshua Yeldham (born Australia 1970)
Resonance (details)
2015
Mixed media
Collection of the artist

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
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Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

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27
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘Colour my world: handcoloured Australian photography’ at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 3rd April – 30th September 2015

 

There has always been a history of hand colouring in photography since its very early days – from daguerreotypes, through ambrotypes, cartes de visite, cabinet cards and on to commercial portrait photography from the 1920s – 1960s. But I don’t believe there has ever been, in the history of photography, such a concentration of artists (mainly female) hand colouring photographs as in Australia in the 1970s-80s. If I know my history of photography, I would say that this phenomena is unique in its history. It did not occur in Japan, Europe or America at the same time.

The reasons for this explosion of hand colouring in Australia are many and varied. Most of the artist’s knew each other, or knew of each other’s work on the East coast of Australia, and it was a small, tight circle of artists that produced these beautiful photographs. Not many artists were “doing” traditional colour photography, basically because of the instability of the materials (you only have to look at the faded colour photographs of John Cato in the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection) and the cost of the process. Of course feminism was a big influence in Australia at this time but these photographs, represented in this posting by the work of Micky Allan and Ruth Maddison, are so much more than photographs about female emancipation.

Photography in Australia was moving away from commercial studios such as that of Athol Shmith and into art schools and university courses, where there was a cross-over between different disciplines. Most artists had darkrooms in their bathroom or outhouses, or darkrooms were in basements of university buildings. Speaking to artist Micky Allan, she said that these were exciting times. Allan had trained as a painter and brought these skills to the processes of photography. She observes, “There was an affinity to what you were doing, an immediacy of engagement. Taking photographs, the physicality of the print, their magnificent tonal range – which painting could not match – and then hand colouring the resultant prints, a hands on process that turned the images into something else, something different.” There was a cavalier approach to the process but also a learning atmosphere as well. So it was about doing anything that you wanted, you just had to do it.

Sue Ford was a big influence, in that she started working in series of work, not just the monolithic, singular fine art print. Perhaps as a reaction against the Americanisation of photography, these artists used vernacular photographs of people and places to investigate ways of being in the world. As Micky Allan observes, “My photography of babies and old people were more than being about domesticity, they were about what babies know when they arrive in the world, and how people react to ageing.” (For examples of Allan’s babies and old people photographs please see the exhibition Photography meets Feminism: Australian Women Photographer 1970s-80s). There was a connection to the print through the physicality of the process of printing and then hand colouring – a double dealing if you like – that emphasised the ordinary can be extraordinary, a process that changed one representation into another. And the results could be subtle (as in the delicate work of Janina Green) or they could be surreal, such as Allan’s The prime of life no.7 (man wearing sun glasses) (1979, below), or they could be both. But they were always stunningly beautiful.

This was a very hands on process, an observation confirmed by artist Ruth Maddison. “The process was like hand watering your garden, an intense exchange and engagement with the object. When I started I was completely untrained, but I loved the process. I just experimented in order to understand what medium does what on what paper surface. There was the beauty of its object and its physicality. I just loved the object.” Her series Christmas holiday with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1977/78, below), photographed over Christmas Day and several days afterwards, evidences this magical transformation. Vernacular photographs of a typical Australia Christmas holiday become something else, transformed into beautiful, atypical representations of family, friendship, celebration and life.

So there we have it: domesticity, family, friends, place, being in the world, feminism, craft, experimentation, surrealism, physicality of the object, beauty, representation, series of work and difference… a communion (is that the right word?) of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially on a spiritual level (although the artists probably would not say it) that changed how the they saw, and we see the world. Can you imagine how fresh and alive these images would have been in 1970s Australia? That they still retain that wonder is testament to the sensitivity of the artists, the tactility of the process and our responsiveness to that sense of touch.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

Micky Allan. 'The prime of life no.3 (blond woman wearing sun glasses)' 1979

 

Micky Allan (Melbourne born 1944)
The prime of life no.3 (blond woman wearing sun glasses)
1979
From a series of 12 hand coloured photographs Mountain Lagoon, Sydney Blue Mountains, New South Wales 1979
Gelatin silver photograph, hand-coloured in pencil and watercolour
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1981
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan. 'The prime of life no. 7 (man wearing sun glasses)' 1979

 

Micky Allan (Melbourne born 1944)
The prime of life no.7 (man wearing sun glasses)
1979
From a series of 12 hand coloured photographs Mountain Lagoon, Sydney Blue Mountains, New South Wales 1979
Gelatin silver photograph, hand-coloured in pencil, colour pencils, watercolour and gouache
32.0 h x 42.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1981
© Micky Allan

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Christmas holiday with Bob's family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland' 1977/78

 

Ruth Maddison (Australia born 1945)
Christmas holiday with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland
1977/78
Gelatin silver photographs, colour dyes, hand-coloured
10.6 x 16.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1988

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Christmas holiday with Bob's family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland' 1977/78

 

Ruth Maddison (Australia born 1945)
Christmas holiday with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland
1977/78
Gelatin silver photographs, colour dyes, hand-coloured
10.6 x 16.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1988

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Christmas holiday with Bob's family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland' 1977/78

 

Ruth Maddison (Australia born 1945)
Christmas holiday with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland
1977/78
Gelatin silver photograph, colour pencils, fibre-tipped pen
10.6 x 16.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1988

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Christmas holiday with Bob's family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland' 1977/78

 

Ruth Maddison (Australia born 1945)
Christmas holiday with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland
1977/78
Gelatin silver photographs, colour dyes, hand-coloured
10.6 x 16.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1988

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Jesse and Roger' 1983

 

Ruth Maddison  (Australia born 1945)
Jesse and Roger
1983
From the series Some men
Gelatin silver photograph, colour pigments, hand-coloured
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1983

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Jim and Gerry' 1983

 

Ruth Maddison  (Australia born 1945)
Jim and Gerry
1983
From the series Some men
Gelatin silver photograph, colour pigments, hand-coloured
Image 39.6 h x 26.5 w cm; sheet 41.5 h x 29.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1983

 

 

Colour my world

Introduction

This is the first exhibition dedicated to a significant aspect of recent Australian art: the handcoloured photograph. It draws together new acquisitions and rarely seen works from the collection by Micky Allan, Ruth Maddison, Warren Breninger, Julie Rrap, Janina Green, Christine Barry, Fiona Hall, Miriam Stannage, Robyn Stacey, Nici Cumpston, Lyndell Brown, Charles Green and Jon Cattapan.

The handcolouring of images has a long history in photography. During the infancy of the medium in the mid nineteenth century, the practice of applying paint, dye or other media to a photograph added both lifelike colour to black-and-white pictures and longevity to images that faded quickly. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, handcolouring added economic value and artistic sensibility or corrected photographic mistakes. But, by the middle of the twentieth century, the practice had gone into decline, as photographers sought to maintain and fortify the virtuosity and technical purity of the modernist photographic print.

The 1970s saw a revival of handcolouring among a number of Australian photographers and it remains a significant aspect of contemporary practice. The artists included in this exhibition seek to create a direct connection between their experience and that of the viewer. They challenge the medium’s technical sameness by personalising the print and imbuing it with individuality and uniqueness as well as an intimacy, warmth and fallibility.

 

Challenging conventions

During much of the twentieth century, photography tended to engage with the medium’s technical integrity. Rhetoric about black-and-white photography’s very particular, direct relationship to the world, its technological origins and its highly idiosyncratic capacity to see the world in new ways positioned it in a conceptual space distinct from other kinds of pictures. With notable exceptions, those who dominated the scene worked in black and white. Colour photography (which was expensive) tended to belong to and be associated with the commercial realms of advertising and fashion.

In this climate, to bring colour into the image through handcolouring was an act of resistance. Anyone who took to their prints with colour pencils and brushes, in effect, disputed the so-called authority of black-and-white photography. And many did just this. For feminist photographers, handcolouring acknowledged the under-recognised history of women’s photographic work by remembering the women who were historically employed by studios as handcolourists.

Colouring by hand personalised the print, itself the product of technological processes, arcane knowledge and chemistry. The handcoloured photograph also created community: it engaged a direct connection between the photographer and his or her subjects, the sensual surface of the print and the viewer, a set of relationships staged and made manifest in the experience of the work itself.

 

Handcoloured photography as an aesthetic

While the disrupted surface of the handcoloured photograph may well have challenged the conventions of ‘classic’ photography during the 1970s, it became one of a set of tools used by artists during the 1980s to explore the medium as a studio practice and to interrogate the conventions of authorship and photographic transparency that had supported modernist photographic practice.

Artists such as Julie Rrap, Fiona Hall and Robyn Stacey created handmade work that presented highly personalised responses to some of the grand themes of Western art and culture. Hall tackled one of Western mythology’s points of origin, the Garden of Eden, in a series of hand-toned pictures that replaced pathos and grand narrative with irony and, through daubs of sepia, the patina of historical significance. Rrap took on art history’s archetypes of femininity and made them her own, while Stacey handcoloured photographs to modify many of the myths of popular culture and Australian history. Rrap’s and Stacey’s handcoloured originals were then rephotographed and printed in colour. By doing so, the works shifted from being unique prints – with references to the handmade, the artist’s studio and the careful rendering of places and times – to being images that resembled those found in the mass media.

 

Reconnecting with history and objects

Associated with the rapidly expanding use of digital photography in the 1990s and perhaps in response to the immateriality of photography today (images are now mostly taken, stored and shared electronically), we have seen a reconnection with the medium’s history and a return to the photographic object in contemporary practice. Handcolouring draws our attention to materiality and re-introduces tactility to the photographic experience. It also engages community in a very particular way, establishing social ties between makers and between artists and viewers. Handcolouring demonstrates that even though digitisation has impacted significantly on the accessibility and scale of contemporary practice, many of photography’s rituals, motivations and pleasures remain the same.

For the artists included in this exhibition, handcolouring connects them to the history of photography in strategic ways. Nici Cumpston handcolours large-scale landscapes of the Murray-Darling river system as a way of documenting traces of Indigenous occupation and use and of bringing to our attention the decline of the area’s delicately balanced ecosystems. The handcoloured works of collaborators Charles Green, Lyndell Brown and Jon Cattapan remind us that an essential part of the experience of photography has always been the embodied, social experience of it. For Janina Green, the act of handcolouring prints allows her to engage with and remember the medium’s history of cross-cultural innovation.

Wall text (same text on the website)

 

Julie Rrap. 'Puberty' 1984

 

Julie Rrap (born Lismore, New South Wales 1950; lives and works Sydney)
Puberty
1984
From the series Persona and shadow
Direct positive colour photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Kodak (Australasia) Pty Ltd Fund 1984

 

 

This photograph is from the series of nine works titled Persona and shadow. Julie Rrap produced this series after visiting a major survey of contemporary art in Berlin (Zeitgeist, 1982) which only included one woman among the 45 artists participating in the exhibition. Rrap responded to this curatorial sexism with a series of self-portraits in which she mimics stereotypical images of women painted by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Each pose refers to a female stereotype employed by Munch: the innocent girl, the mother, the whore, the Madonna, the sister, and so on.

Appropriating the work of other artists is one of the strategies that characterises the work of so-called ‘postmodern’ artists active during the 1980s. The practice of borrowing, quoting and mimicking famous artworks was employed as a way of questioning notions of authenticity. Feminist artists tended to use appropriation to specifically question the authenticity of male representations of females. In more straightforward terms, Rrap reclaims Munch’s clichéd images of women and makes them her own. Rrap ultimately becomes an imposter, stealing her way into these masterpieces of art history, but the remarkable thing about these works is the way that the artist foregrounds the process of reappropriation itself. The procedure of restaging, collage, overpainting, and rephotographing becomes part of the final image, testifying to a d0-it-herself politic.

 

Miriam Stannage. 'The flood' from the series 'News from the street' 1984

 

Miriam Stannage (Northam, Western Australia, Australia born 1939)
The flood from the series News from the street
1984
Gelatin silver photograph, colour dye
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1990
© Miriam Stannage

 

Miriam Stannage. 'War' from the series 'News from the street' 1984

 

Miriam Stannage (Northam, Western Australia, Australia born 1939)
War from the series News from the street
1984
Gelatin silver photograph, colour dye
40.6 h x 50.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1990
© Miriam Stannage

 

Janina Green. 'Untitled' 1988

 

Janina Green (Essen, Germany born 1944; Australia from 1949)
Untitled [Washing in basket]
1988
Gelatin silver photograph, photo oils
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1989

 

Janina Green. 'Untitled' 1988

 

Janina Green (Essen, Germany born 1944; Australia from 1949)
Untitled [White cup on tray]
1988
Gelatin silver photograph, photo oils
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1989

 

Nici Cumpston. (Barkindji/Paakintji peoples) 'Scar tree, Fowler's Creek' 2011

 

Nici Cumpston (Adelaide, South Australia, Australia born 1963)
Barkindji/Paakintji peoples
Scar tree, Fowler’s Creek
2011
From the series having-been-there
Archival inkjet print hand coloured with synthetic polymer paint
98.0 x 177.0 cm
Collection of the artist/Courtesy of the artist

 

Nici Cumpston (Barkindji/Paakintji peoples) 'Campsite V, Nookamka Lake' 2008

 

Nici Cumpston (Adelaide, South Australia, Australia born 1963)
Barkindji/Paakintji peoples
Campsite V, Nookamka Lake
2008
Inkjet print on canvas, hand-coloured with pencil and watercolour
Image 77 h x 206 w cm framed (overall) 762 h x 2045 w x 42 d mm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2011

 

 

The once rich and thriving environment of the Murray and Darling River system with its clear waterways, lush flora and abundant fauna was home to the Barkindji, Muthi Muthi and Nyampa peoples.

The shallow Nookamka Lake (Lake Bonney), which connects to the Murray River in South Australia, is the subject of Nici Cumpston’s recent photographic series. However, the series is not of a lush utopia but of the degradation and erosion that has consumed the lake since the forced irrigation flooding of the waterways in the early 1900s.

When damming ceased in 2007, the water began to subside, slowly revealing the original landscape and the history of human occupation. Cumpston beautifully documents this stark landscape and the demise that salinisation and destructive water management practices have wrought on the people and their lands. Today, the landscape is desolate, scattered with twisted and broken trees stripped of their foliage like majestic sentinels in deathly poses. The trees still bare the scars – although obscured by dark tidelines – where canoes, containers and shields were cut from their trunks.

Cumpston highlights these clues to the area’s original inhabitants through the delicate and precise hand-watercolouring of the printed black-and-white photographs on canvas. She does not aim to replicate the original colours of the landscape, as a colour photograph would, but to interpret it, re-introducing the Aboriginal presence within the landscape – a subtle reconnection to Country and reminder of past cultural practices and knowledge. As the artist says, “I am finding ways to talk about connections to country and to allow people to understand the ongoing connections that Aboriginal people maintain with their traditional lands.”

Tina Baum
Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Warren Breninger. 'Expulsion of Eve [No.3]' 1978

 

Warren Breninger (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia born 1948)
Expulsion of Eve [No.3]
1978
Gelatin silver photograph, chinagraph, decal lettering gelatin silver photograph
Image 49.7 h x 36.7 w cm
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982

 

Warren Breninger. 'Expulsion of Eve [No.12]' 1978

 

Warren Breninger (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia born 1948)
Expulsion of Eve [No.12]
1978
Type C colour photograph, ink, crayon
Image 49.8 h x 37.0 w cm
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982

 

Warren Breninger. 'Expulsion of Eve [No.15]' 1978

 

Warren Breninger (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia born 1948)
Expulsion of Eve [No.15]
1978
Photograph, gum arabic print, acrylic paint, crayon, pencil
Image 49.8 h x 37.0 w cm
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982

 

 

The Expulsion of Eve series is in essence a single work which the artist returns to continually to develop and re-work the same image. ‘Number 16’, highly indicative of the series, is a photographic image of a young woman, the print having undergone many transformative processes including being cut out, reapplied, incised, worn back, applied with colour, stripped of colour and re-drawn. Interrogating notions of reality, Breninger expresses his personal and artistic concerns relating to ‘the rift between appearances and what is real’; ideas informed by his deep Christian faith.1

His subject, Eve, is not chosen symbolically as a female archetype; rather, the artist reasons, “because I believe in her historically and all humanity is her descendents”.2 Breninger’s Eve, in her features and expression, suggests a presence caught between the worlds of childhood and adulthood, innocence and intent, the temporal and corporeal. While there is a Christ-like surrender in the pose, Breninger’s Eve also has a strong correlation with Edvard Munch’s ‘Madonna’, both visually and in terms of the obsessive process by which the artist revisits the image.

The artist’s belief that ‘cameras create an appetite for ghosts, for vapour, for beings of steam that we can never embrace, that will elude us like every photo does’,3 explains his intrigue with photography’s abilities and limitations in recording the subjective. He continued to develop the work with series III produced in 1990, followed in 1993-94 by series IV, comprising male and female faces.

1. Breninger W 1983, ‘Art & fulfilment’, self-published artist’s essay p 1
2. Warren Breninger in correspondence with Sue Smith, 24 Feb 1984, collection files, Warren Breninger, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
3. Breninger W 1983, op cit p 3

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

 

Christine Barry. 'Packaged Deal' 1986/96

 

Christine Barry (Australia born 1954)
Packaged Deal
1986/96
From the series Displaced Objects
Direct positive colour photograph/Type C photographic print
50.0cm x 50.0 cm/127.0cm x 127.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Christine Barry. 'Untitled (Patricia Marczak)' 1986-87

 

Christine Barry (Australia born 1954)
Untitled (Patricia Marczak)
1986-87
From the series Displaced Objects
Direct positive colour photograph/Type C photographic print
image 51.1 h x 50.7 w cm; sheet 60.9 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Christine Barry. 'Untitled (Self portrait)' 1986

 

Christine Barry (Australia born 1954)
Untitled (Self portrait)
1986
From the series Displaced Objects
Direct positive colour photograph/Type C photographic print
Image 50.8 h x 50.7 w cm sheet 60.8 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Janina Green. 'Maid in Hong Kong #11' 2008

 

Janina Green (Essen, Germany born 1944; Australia from 1949)
Maid in Hong Kong #11
2008
From the series Maid in Hong Kong
Gelatin silver photograph, colour dyes gelatin silver photograph
Image and sheet 76.0 h x 60.0 w cm
Gift of Wilbow Group PTY LTD Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Untitled' 1985-87

 

Robyn Stacey (born Brisbane 1952; lives and works Sydney)
Untitled
1985-87
Gelatin silver photograph, colour dye
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Untitled' 1985-87

 

Robyn Stacey (born Brisbane 1952; lives and works Sydney)
Untitled
1985-87
Gelatin silver photograph, colour dye
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Untitled' 1985-87

 

Robyn Stacey (born Brisbane 1952; lives and works Sydney)
Untitled
1985-87
Gelatin silver photograph, colour dye
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Untitled' 1985-87

 

Robyn Stacey (born Brisbane 1952; lives and works Sydney)
Untitled
1985-87
Gelatin silver photograph, colour dye
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

 

National Gallery of Australia
Parkes Place, Canberra
Australian Capital Territory 2600
Tel: (02) 6240 6411

Opening hours:
Open daily 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
(closed Christmas day)

National Gallery of Australia website

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22
Aug
14

Review: ‘The road: Photographers on the move 1970-1975’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 13th June – 31st August 2014

Artists: Micky Allan, Virginia Coventry, Gerrit Fokkema, John Gollings, Tim Handfield, Ian North, Robert Rooney, Wes Stacey

 

This is another stimulating exhibition at the Monash Gallery of Art, a gallery that consistently puts on some of the best photography exhibitions in Melbourne each year. Kudos to them.

Each of the eight artists in this exhibition present mainly conceptually based work. Each body of work is individually strong but in the context of the exhibition they come together seamlessly to form a kind of giant jigsaw puzzle of images, a series of impressions of Australia and the road: work that responds to the experience of automotive travel in Australia, announcing “the road-trip as the quintessential Australian journey, highlighting the challenges to life and culture that accompanied suburban expansion and the ways that Australians embraced the road during the 1970s and ‘80s.”

It is a pleasure to finally see Ian North’s colour series Canberra suite (1980-81, below). Having seen but a few images online, to see the whole body of work in the flesh was illuminating. While lacking the formal rigour and structure of some of the other work in the exhibition, I enjoyed the natural simplicity of the photographs, their planned naïveté, which perfectly captures the suburbs of Canberra at that time. I also delighted in the intimacy of the small silver gelatin prints of Micky Allan’s Mock-up for ‘My trip’ 1976 (1976, below) with their pithy aphorisms such as “Need help?” when the car is bogged.

Another great series is Wes Stacey’s spunky The road (1974-75, below) – small automated chemist shop prints with their 1970s colours and rounded corners all housed in cheap plastic sleeves pinned to board. This series is beautifully resolved which today allows for a sensually self-indulgent nostalgia to form for the time in which they were taken. The cars, the colours, the travel, people and places so evocatively captured on an Instamatic camera form a captivating narrative of “the sense of movement and adventure that underpins a road trip in a relatively cheap and expedient way.” Another strong series of photographs are by Tim Handfield who I have always thought is an excellent photographer with a good eye. As can be seen by the four images in this posting, Handfield is a master at handling form, structure and colour in the image field. In these photographs he almost seems to compress the space inside the photograph so that they have a vaguely threatening presence.

Finally, there is the wonderful Surfers Paradise Boulevard (1973, below) by John Gollings. The artist’s riff on the American artist Ed Ruscha’s book Every building on the Sunset Strip (1966) – which presented composite black and white panoramas of each side of Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip – Gollings vision is in glorious Ektacolour film which highlights the sensuality of what can, at that time, be seen as a sleepy surf coast town. The shock comes on seeing the main strip of the town and envisioning in your mind what a monster it has become today… how human beings almost always despoil the very thing that is beautiful and valuable in a spiritual sense (such as my favourite place in Australia, Byron Bay). This fragmented, Hockney-esque view of the vernacular forms of cultural expression perfectly captures the insouciance of a town that doesn’t yet know what’s going to hit ’em – through an ideal representation of contemporary urban space and the automotive experience of it.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.
Many thankx to the Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

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Ian-North-Canberra-Suite-c

 

Installation view of Ian North’s series Canberra suite 1980-81 at the exhibition The road: Photographers on the move 1970-1975 at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

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Installation views of Wesley Stacey’s series The road 1974-75 at the exhibition The road: Photographers on the move 1970-1975 at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

This exhibition brings together a range of photographic projects that responded to the experience of automotive travel in Australia during the 1970s and ’80s. The work in this exhibition shows that there was a strong relationship between photography and the road in Australian culture at this time. Photography helped to make sense of the particular experience of movement made possible by faster cars and better roads; at the same time, it helped to demonstrate the challenges to life and culture that accompanied suburban expansion and the rise of the road in Australia.

The road is one of the great subjects in Australian visual culture. In many of our greatest films, books and works of art, the road is a place where personal identity is negotiated, where the national story unfolds, and where culture, technology and nature come together at times in extraordinary ways. MGA’s latest exhibition The road: Photographers on the move 1970-1975 brings together a range of photographic projects that explore the road as experienced by many Australians in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Presenting the work of eight prominent Australian artists, The road: Photographers on the move 1970-1975 announces the road-trip as the quintessential Australian journey, highlighting the challenges to life and culture that accompanied suburban expansion and the ways that Australians embraced the road during the 1970s and ‘80s. Using a range of strategies – from Instamatic cameras and chemist-shop printing, to expansive composite panoramas and photographic grids that replicate the experience of the modern city – these photographers helped to make sense of the particular experience of movement and landscape made possible by faster cars and better roads, in a way only photography could.

The exhibition features some of the most significant photographic projects produced by Australian photographers during this period. Wes Stacey’s mythic series of over 300 photographs The road presents an epic travelogue of road trips made by the artist in his Kombi Van during 1973 and 1974. The exhibition also features John Gollings’s monumental, ten-metre long streetscapes of Surfers Paradise Boulevard from 1973, as well as Robert Rooney’s iconic Holden park, featuring the artist’s Holden car parked in 20 different locations across Melbourne. The road also features work by two of Australia’s most important feminist photographers, Micky Allan and Virginia Coventry, who both challenged many of the gendered assumptions about the road, automotive travel and Australian life during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

As MGA Curator Stephen Zagala notes, “The road has often provided Australian photographers with a means to an end, whether a landscape or a picturesque community in some distant part of the country. But as this important exhibition shows, during the 1970s, the road took on a whole new meaning for Australian photographers. It provided a space for innovation and experimentation, and also a photographic reconsideration of Australian life.”

Gallery Director Shaune Lakin states, “The history of MGA – with its genesis in the late 1970s – is intricately linked to The road, one of our most important exhibitions of the year. Relatively cheap and accessible petrol, increased private car ownership, and a vastly improved network of roads encouraged the suburban expansion of Melbourne, and MGA is one of the many legacies of this expansion. We are proud to present this exhibition, which provides an as-yet untold account of Australian photography and has such a close historical association with our gallery.”

Press release from the MGA website

 

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Installation views of Micky Allan’s Mock-up for ‘My trip’ 1976 (1976) at the exhibition The road: Photographers on the move 1970-1975 at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

Micky ALLAN
b. 1944, Australia

Micky Allan’s My trip is a conceptual art project based on a road trip that she made through country Victoria in 1976. Allan’s conceptual premise was to photograph everyone who spoke to her and then invite these people to use her camera to photograph whatever they chose. Allan also recorded the conversations that transpired in these encounters, and subsequently compiled all these elements as a photographic essay that was printed and distributed as a broadsheet. Like many road trip narratives, Allan’s My trip conceptualises travel as a trajectory of chance encounters that illuminate social differences.

Micky Allan completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Melbourne in 1967 and a Diploma of Painting at the National Gallery School in 1968. Allan began taking photographs in 1974 after joining the loosely formed feminist collective at Melbourne’s experimental arts and theatre space the Pram Factory. In this context Allan was part of a vibrant community of feminist artists that included Sue Ford, Ruth Maddison, Ponch Hawkes and Virginia Coventry, who taught her how to take and print photographs. Allan is well-known for reclaiming the antiquated practice of hand-colouring monotone photographs, as a way of investing the photo-mechanical process with subjective qualities. She has often used the theme of travel to embed her practice in a personal journey of discovery.

 

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Installation views of Virginia Coventry’s series Service road 1976-78 (detail) at the exhibition The road: Photographers on the move 1970-1975 at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

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Virginia Coventry
born Australia 1942
Service road
1976-78
1 of 34 gelatin silver prints and two text panels
26.5 x 32.5 (each)
Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Courtesy of the artist and Liverpool Street Gallery (Sydney)

 

C00014013-WEB

 

Virginia Coventry
born Australia 1942
Service road
1976-78
1 of 34 gelatin silver prints and two text panels
26.5 x 32.5 (each)
Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Courtesy of the artist and Liverpool Street Gallery (Sydney)

 

C00014045-WEB

 

Virginia Coventry
born Australia 1942
Service road
1976-78
1 of 34 gelatin silver prints and two text panels
26.5 x 32.5 (each)
Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Courtesy of the artist and Liverpool Street Gallery (Sydney)

 

C00014046-WEB

 

Virginia Coventry
born Australia 1942
Service road
1976-78
1 of 34 gelatin silver prints and two text panels
26.5 x 32.5 (each)
Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Courtesy of the artist and Liverpool Street Gallery (Sydney)

 

 

Virginia COVENTRY
b. Melb 1942

Virginia Coventry’s Service road continued the artist’s interest in reflecting social and emotional experiences that differed from dominant, particularly masculine positions and experiences. The series presents two rows of reverse-angle photographs of houses and empty blocks that line a service road near the recently-completed Princes Freeway at Moe, Victoria. The weatherboard houses and the scene no doubt reflect the experience of many Australians living in postwar suburban developments who commuted between home and work, in this case the thousands of men who worked at the nearby Yallourn and Morewell power stations. Coventry photographed these homes and empty blocks as if viewed from a car passing by. Coventry has also included a number of views of the road, seen from inside the homes. The dark interiors take on a particular psychological and emotional countenance, one that contrasts starkly with the brightly lit outside. In this way, the series illuminates the experience of many women for whom the service road was a place of loneliness and dislocation.

Virginia Coventry studied painting at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology during the early 1960s, before undertaking postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London. While painting and drawing have remained a constant part of Coventry’s practice, she started taking photographs during the mid-1960s and developed a significant reputation during the 1970s for her photographs and installations. Her photographic work often comprised sequences of images combined with text and other fragments, and examined the relationship of landscape, place and power – particularly in relation to the experience of women. Her photographs were included in a number of key exhibitions of the period, including Three women photographers at George Paton Gallery, the Sydney Biennales of 1976 and 1979, Ten viewpoints (Australian Centre for Photography, 1976), and Self portrait/self image (Victorian College of the Arts, 1980).

 

Gerrit FOKKEMA
b. 1954, Papua New Guinea; Australia since 1958.

During the 1970s Gerrit Fokkema used the spacious streetscapes of Canberra to compose surreal photographs of contemporary urban life. In Exit Canberra and Ligertwood Street, the infrastructure of new suburbs has become overgrown with grass while waiting to be populated. The road itself doesn’t appear in these photographs, but its presence is alluded to with street signs and a lamp post. In this way, Fokkema suggests that these places exist at the ‘end of the road’ or on a ‘road to nowhere’. The optimistic skies that feature in these photographs seem to mock the aspirations of Canberra’s town planners.

Gerrit Fokkema studied photography at Canberra Technical College (1974-77) while working as a press photographer. In 1980 he moved to Sydney to work for the Sydney Morning Herald, and in 1986 he left the paper to pursue a freelance commercial career. Throughout his professional life Fokkema has maintained a personal photographic practice and exhibited his work on numerous occasions. He held his first solo exhibition at the Australian Centre for Photography in 1975, where he exhibited regularly throughout the late 1970s. His photographs are executed in a social-documentary mode, with a particular interest in urban landscapes and situated portraits of ‘everyday’ Australians.

 

John Gollings. 'Surfers Paradise Boulevard' 1973 (installation view)

John Gollings. 'Surfers Paradise Boulevard' 1973 (detail)

John Gollings. 'Surfers Paradise Boulevard' 1973 (detail)

John Gollings. 'Surfers Paradise Boulevard' 1973 (detail)

 

Installation and detail views of John Gollings’ work Surfers Paradise Boulevard 1973 (details) at the exhibition The road: Photographers on the move 1970-1975 at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

John GOLLINGS
b. Melb 1944

John Gollings is best known for his architectural photography, and has over the last four decades photographed most of Australia’s and Asia’s most significant architectural projects. In 1973, Gollings travelled to Surfers Paradise to photograph its buildings, streetscape and signage. He had recently read influential architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott-Brown and Steven Izenour’s book Learning from Las Vegas (1972), which asked architects to pay closer attention to vernacular forms of cultural expression in favour of heroic or monumental architecture of the past. Gollings was also familiar with the work of the Californian artist Ed Ruscha, notably his book Every building on the Sunset Strip (1966), which presented composite panoramas of each side of Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip. For many urbanists at the time – including the authors of Learning from Las Vegas – Ruscha’s book realised an ideal representation of contemporary urban space and the automotive experience of it.

Gollings undertook a depiction of Surfers Paradise Boulevard that drew on Ruscha’s composite panorama of Sunset Strip. Sitting on the bonnet of a V8 Valiant station wagon, Gollings drove up and down Surfers Paradise Boulevard on a quiet Sunday morning, progressively photographing each side of the strip with his Nikon camera using Ektacolour film. The resulting composite panorama has become a remarkable historical record of an urban setting that has undergone radical transformation in the time since 1973.

 

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Installation view of Tim Handfield’s work Babinda 1981 at the exhibition The road: Photographers on the move 1970-1975 at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

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Installation view of Tim Handfield’s work Gordonvale 1981 at the exhibition The road: Photographers on the move 1970-1975 at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

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Tim Handfield
born Australia 1952
Promenade
1985
Silver dye bleach print
51.0 x 67.0 cm
collection of the artist
courtesy of the artist and M. 33 (Melbourne)

 

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Tim Handfield
born Australia 1952
Bayview Heights, Cairns
1980
Silver dye bleach print
51.0 x 67.0 cm
collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist and M. 33 (Melbourne)

 

 

Tim HANDFIELD
b. Melb 1952

These photographs come from an extended series of pictures taken by Tim Handfield on the road. The series features images of the roadside landscape of places Handfield travelled through and visited along Australia’s eastern seaboard during the 1980s. The photographs relate to a broad body of often diaristic postwar literature, cinema and visual arts that considered the particular experience of the world made possible by the road (at least in the West). In this way, the pictures reflect the dominance of American culture at this time, when earlier assumptions about the road as a place of quest and opportunity were giving way to accounts of the road as a place of boredom, sameness and danger. The series is also about the particular experience of travel and landscape in Australia, at a time when the impending bicentennial of European settlement led many to reconsider the assumptions upon which Australian life was based.

Tim Handfield has been working at the forefront in Australia of new colour photographic processes since the mid-1970s. Spending extended periods of time in the United States during the early to mid-1970s, Handfield became interested in the work of American photographers such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, who found deadpan beauty in the banality of American suburban life. After returning to Australia, Handfield sought out non-dramatic urban sites, which he photographed in highly formal ways. These images were ideally served by the Cibachrome printing process, a dye destruction positive-to-positive photographic process noted for the purity of its colour, clarity of image and archival stability.

 

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Ian North
born New Zealand 1945; arrived Australia 1971
Canberra suite
1980-81
1 of 24 chromogenic prints, printed 1984
37.0 x 46.0 cm (each)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of David Symen & Co. Limited, 2001
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ian-NORTH_Canberra-Suite-WEB

 

Ian North
born New Zealand 1945; arrived Australia 1971
Canberra suite
1980-81
1 of 24 chromogenic prints, printed 1984
37.0 x 46.0 cm (each)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of David Symen & Co. Limited, 2001
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Ian NORTH
b. 1945, New Zealand; Australia from 1971.

Ian North developed his Canberra suite while living in Canberra during 1980-84. The suite reflects North’s experience of the particular suburban interface that is so intrinsic to Walter Burley-Griffin’s vision of Canberra. Having grown up in New Zealand, making artwork about the sublime urban spaces of Wellington, North brought a particularly soulful sensibility to Australia’s suburban capital. Canberra suite also reflects North’s professional experience of the city. He moved to Canberra in 1980 as the first Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia. A key feature of NGA’s collection development at the time was the acquisition of work by contemporary American photographers, including prints by William Eggleston and Stephen Shore and books by Ed Ruscha. After work hours, North made a pastime of wandering the streets of Canberra and taking photographs in a similar vein. Like his American contemporaries, North embraced the roadside as an uncanny threshold between public and private space, systematically documenting the everyday in order to imbue it with a sense of mystery.

Ian North initially studied art history and spent most of his professional life working as a curator and an academic. Alongside his career as a curator, North developed a substantial artistic practice which flourished when he moved away from museum-based work. Working with photography and painting, North’s art practice focuses on the representation of the landscape.

 

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Robert-Rooney-Holden-detail

 

Installation views of Robert Rooney’s series Holden Park 1 & 2, May 1970 at the exhibition The road: Photographers on the move 1970-1975 at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

Robert ROONEY
b. Melb 1937

Robert Rooney’s Holden Park 1 & 2, May 1970 is one of the key works of postwar Australian photography. The work comprises a grid of photographs depicting Rooney’s Holden car parked at 19 different sites around the artist’s East Hawthorn home, locations which Rooney chose at random from a street directory. Holden Park draws on a range of influences that include the photographic books of American conceptualist Ed Ruscha, the absurd topographies of the Swiss conceptualist Daniel Spoerri, and the American composer John Cage’s interest in chance as a creative principle. However, and while the work is very ‘literate’ in relation to these influences, Holden Park is very much a product of postwar Melbourne. Rooney has always maintained a strong interest in the suburban experience and the way that Melbourne has developed around this experience. While it would be disingenuous to say that Holden Park is a product of social history, it was certainly informed by and reflects the sensation of driving around Melbourne’s suburbs on a Sunday afternoon.

Robert Rooney is one of Australia’s best-known artists. Rooney studied art and design at Swinburne Technical College and quickly developed a significant reputation for his abstract painting and art criticism. Rooney gave up painting during the early 1970s and for over a decade focussed largely on photographic work. Using an Instamatic and later a 35 mm camera, Rooney photographed in great detail his suburban life, organising his pictures according to gridded frameworks that seemed to distil the rigour of European and American conceptualism and performance art, the humour of Pop Art, and the particular countenance of Australian suburban life during the 1970s. Examples include AM/PM of 1974, for which Rooney photographed his bed each morning and night for 107 days, and Garments 1972-73, for which he photographed the clothes he would wear each day for 107 days.

 

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Installation views of Wesley Stacey’s series The road 1974-75 (detail) at the exhibition The road: Photographers on the move 1970-1975 at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

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Wesley Stacey
born Australia 1941
The road (details)
1974-75
304 chromogenic prints
9.0 x 12.7 cm (each)
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Wesley STACEY
b. 1941 Australia

Wesley Stacey’s The road is an epic travelogue that documents a series of specific road trips made by the artist in his Kombi Van during 1973 and 1974. This project grew out of Stacey’s interest in Instamatic cameras and automated colour printing, which became readily available during the early 1970s. Remote Australian landscapes are a persistent theme in Stacey’s photography, but these new technologies allowed him to document the sense of movement and adventure that underpins a road trip in a relatively cheap and expedient way. The road was initially exhibited as a series of sequential panels at the Australian Centre for Photography in 1975, and then re-configured as a series of photobooks containing 305 prints. A second version containing 280 photographs was printed for the National Gallery of Australia in 1984.

Wesley Stacey studied drawing and design at East Sydney Technical College (1960-62) before working as a graphic designer and photographer for the ABC in Sydney and the BBC in London through the 1960s. In the late 1960s he worked as a magazine photographer in Sydney and from 1969-75 worked as a freelance commercial photographer. In 1973 Stacey helped establish the Australian Centre for Photography and was a member of its inaugural board of management. In 1976 Stacey moved to the Bermagui area of the NSW South Coast, where he purchased land and established a rudimentary bush camp where he continues to live.

Text © Monash Gallery of Art 2014

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
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Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

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16
Jul
14

Exhibition: ‘Out of the closets, into the streets: gay liberation photography 1971-73’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: Tuesday 22nd July – Saturday 26th July, 2014

Opening: Tuesday 22nd July 6-8pm

Nite Art: Wednesday 23rd July until 11pm
Artists represented: Philip Potter, John Storey, John Englart, Barbara Creed, Ponch Hawkes, Rennie Ellis

Curated by Dr Marcus Bunyan and Nicholas Henderson
Catalogue essay by Professor Dennis Altman (below)

 

 

Five days, that’s all you’ve got! Just five days to see this fabulous exhibition. COME ALONG TO THE OPENING (Tuesday 22nd July 6-8pm) or NITE ART, the following night!

The exhibition Out of the closets, into the streets: gay liberation photography 1971-73 pictures the very beginning of the gay liberation movement in Australia through the work of Philip Potter, John Storey, John Englart, Barbara Creed, Ponch Hawkes and Rennie Ellis. The exhibition examines for the first time images from the period as works of art as much as social documents. The title of the exhibition is a slogan from the period.

As gay people found their voice in the early 1970s artists, often at the very beginning of their careers, were there to capture meetings in lounge rooms, consciousness raising groups and street protests. The liberation movement meant ‘being there’, putting your body on the line. “It was a key feature of the new left that this embodied politics couldn’t stop in the streets: that is, the public arena as conventionally understood. ‘Being there’ politically also applied to households, classrooms, sexual relations, workplaces and the natural environment.”1

Curated by Dr Marcus Bunyan and Nicholas Henderson and with a catalogue essay by Professor Dennis Altman (see below), the show is a stimulating experience for those who want to be inspired by the history and art of the early gay liberation movement in Australia.

The exhibition coincides with AIDS 2014: 20th International AIDS Conference (20-25 July 2014) and Nite Art which occurs on the Wednesday night (23rd July 2014). The exhibition will travel to Sydney to coincide with the 14th Australia’s Homosexual Histories Conference in November at a venue yet to be confirmed.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Barbara Creed. 'Julian Desaily and Peter McEwan in the back of a VW Combi van, Melbourne' Melbourne, c. 1971-73

 

Barbara Creed
Julian Desaily and Peter McEwan in the back of a VW Combi van, Melbourne
Melbourne, c. 1971-73
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© Barbara Creed

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Gay Liberation march, Russell Street, Melbourne' Melbourne, 1973

 

Ponch Hawkes
Gay Liberation march, Russell Street, Melbourne
Melbourne, 1973
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© Ponch Hawkes

 

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John Englart
Gay Pride Week poster, outside the Town Hall Hotel, Sydney Town Hall
Sydney, 1973
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© John Englart

 

 

Out of the closets, onto the streets

Professor Dennis Altman

.
This exhibition chronicles a very specific time in several Australian cities, the period when lesbians and gay men first started demonstrating publicly in a demand to be accorded the basic rights of recognition and citizenship. Forty years ago to be homosexual was almost invariably to lead a double life; the great achievement of gay liberation was that a generation – although only a tiny proportion of us were ever Gay Liberationists – discovered that was no longer necessary.

The Archives have collected an extraordinary range of materials illustrating the richness of earlier lesbian and gay life in Australia, but this does not deny the reality that most people regarded homosexuality as an illness, a perversion, or a sin, and one for which people should be either punished or cured. It is revealing to read the first avowedly gay Australian novel, Neville Jackson’s No End to the Way [published in 1965 – in Britain – and under a pseudonym] to be reminded of how much has changed in the past half century.

Gay Liberation had both local and imported roots; the Stonewall riots in New York City, which sparked off a new phase of radical gay politics – when ‘gay’ was a term understood to embrace women, men and possibly transgender – took place in June 1969. They were barely noticed at the time in Australia, where a few people in the civil liberties world, most of them not homosexual, had started discussing the need to repeal anti-sodomy laws.

Small law reform and lesbian groups had already existed, but the real foundation of an Australian gay movement came in September 1970 when Christabel Pol and John Ware announced publicly the formation of CAMP, an acronym that stood for the Campaign Against Moral Persecution but also picked up on the most used Australian term for ‘homosexual’. Within two years there were both CAMP branches in most Australian capital cities, as well as small gay liberation groups that organised most of the demonstrations illustrated in this exhibition.

The differences between gay liberation and CAMP were in practice small, but those of us in Gay Liberation prided ourselves on our radical critique, and our commitment to radical social change. CAMP, with its rather daggy social events and its stress on law reform – at a time in history when homosexual conduct between men was illegal across the country – seemed to us too bourgeois, though ironically it was CAMP which organised the first open gay political protest in Australia [immediately identified by the balloons in the Exhibition photos].

It is now a cliché to say “the sixties” came to Australia in the early 1970s, but a number of forces came together in the few years between the federal election of 1969, when Gough Whitlam positioned the Labor Party as a serious contender for power, and 1972, the “It’s Time” election, when the ALP took office for the first time in 23 years. We cannot understand how a gay movement developed in Australia without understanding the larger social and cultural changes of the time, which saw fundamental shifts in the nature of Australian society and politics.

The decision of the Menzies government in 1965 to commit Australian troops to the long, and ultimately futile war in Vietnam, led to the emergence of a large anti-war movement, capable of mobilising several hundred thousand people to demonstrate by the end of the decade. Already under the last few years of Liberal government the traditional White Australia Policy was beginning to crumble, as it became increasingly indefensible, and awareness of the brutal realities of dispossession and discrimination against indigenous Australians was developing. Perhaps most significant for a movement based on sexuality, the second wave feminist movement, already active in the United States and Britain, began challenging the deeply entrenched sexist structures of society.

To quote myself, this at least reduces charges of plagiarism: “Anyone over fifty in Australia has lived through extraordinary changes in how we imagine the basic rules of sex and gender. We remember the first time we saw women bank tellers, heard a woman’s voice announce that she was our pilot for a flight, watched the first woman read the news on television. Women are now a majority of the paid workforce; in 1966 they made up twenty-nine per cent. When I was growing up in Hobart it was vaguely shocking to hear of an unmarried heterosexual couple living together and women in hats and gloves rode in the back of the trams (now long since disappeared). As I look back, it seems to me that some of the unmarried female teachers at my school were almost certainly lesbians, although even they would have been shocked had the word been uttered.”

In Australia Germaine Greer’s book The Female Eunuch became a major best seller, and Germaine appeared [together with Liz Fell, Gillian Leahy and myself] at the initial Gay Liberation forum at Sydney University in early 1972; looking back it is ironic that a woman who has been somewhat ambivalent in her attitudes to homosexuality was part of the public establishment of the gay movement.

But the early demonstrations illustrated in this exhibition did often include sympathetic “straights” – a term that seems to have disappeared from the language – for whom gay liberation was part of a wider set of cultural issues. It is essential to recognise that while political demonstrations may seem to assert certain claims they play widely different roles for those who participate. For some of us a public protest is a form of “coming out”; indeed many people had never been public about their sexuality before they attended their first demonstration. For others a demonstration is primarily a place to find solidarity, friendship, and, if lucky, sex.

For the gay movement more than any other just to declare oneself as gay was to take an enormous step, a step that some found remarkably easy while others had to wait until late in life to discover that actually almost everyone knew anyway. I remember the now dead Sydney playwright, Nick Enright, who was one of the first people to be open about his homosexuality, and was so without any sense of difficulty; at the same time there are still people who go to great lengths to hide their sexuality even while acknowledging they would face little risk of discrimination were they not to do so

Maybe there is a parallel for people who now declare their lost Aboriginal heritage, unsure how they will be regarded but aware that this is crucial to their sense of self. Every generation has its own version of coming out stories, this exhibition hones in on that time in our national history when everything seemed in flux, and gay liberation seemed a small part of creating a brave new world in which old hierarchies and restraints would disappear.

Looking back at the photos creates a certain nostalgia – we all look so young, so sure that we were changing the world, though in reality most of us were putting on a brave front. The oddest thing is that in some ways we did change the world. Forty years ago we looked at the police as threatening, symbolised in the photograph from Melbourne Gay Pride 1973 where the policeman is clearly telling people to move on. Today openly lesbian and gay cops march with us in the streets, and the very idea that homosexuality could be criminalised, as it still is in many parts of the world, has largely disappeared from historical memory. Indeed to many people attending this exhibition that may be the first time they confront the reality that being gay in Australia in the early 1970s was to live in a world of silence, evasion and fear.

.
Professor Dennis Altman
July 2014

© Dennis Altman
Reproduced with permission

 

Anonymous. 'I am a Lesbian, Gay Pride Week' Adelaide, 1973

 

Anonymous
I am a Lesbian, Gay Pride Week
Adelaide, 1973
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

 

Anonymous. 'Man in black hat and red shirt, Gay Pride Week' Adelaide, 1973

 

Anonymous
Man in black hat and red shirt, Gay Pride Week
Adelaide, 1973
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

 

 

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1. Connell, Raewyn. “Ours is in colour: the new left of the 1960s,” in Carolyn D’Cruz and Mark Pendleton (eds.,). After Homosexual: The Legacies of Gay Liberation. Perth: UWA Publishing, 2013, p.43.

 

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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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