Posts Tagged ‘Australian photographers

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

 

 

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Victoria 3150 Australia
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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

 

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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
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

 

John-Englart-Gay-Pride-Week-Sydney-1973-c

 

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

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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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11
May
14

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

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 18th May 2014

 

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

John F Williams. 'The Rocks, Sydney' 1973

 

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

 

Trent Parke. 'Backyard swing set, QLD' 2003

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Text from the AGNSW website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the AGNSW

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Empty' 2000

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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21
Apr
14

Text / review: ‘A Vocabulary of Printing and the Syntax of the Image’ from the exhibition ‘KHEM’ at Strange Neighbour, Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 11th April – 3rd May 2014

Artists: Jane Brown, Ponch Hawkes, Siri Hayes, Ruth Maddison, Lloyd Stubber, David Tatnall, Claudia Terstappen
Curated By Linsey Gosper

 

A Vocabulary of Printing and the Syntax of the Image

 

“No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer It has chosen.”

“One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.”

.
Minor White

 

.
As an artist who originally trained in the alchemical, analogue art of photography, the magic of this process will always hold sway in my heart. No matter how many excellent digital photographs I see, there is always a longing for silver – that indescribable feeling of looking at a master printers work, an image that literally takes your breath away. I hardly ever get that in a digital print. For me, it’s the difference between the fidelity of a CD and the aura of an LP, with all its scratches and pops, hisses and, yes, atmosphere.

Minor White, that guru of enlightenment, knew how difficult it was to capture spirit in a photograph. To make a connection between photographer and object, back through a glass lens and a metal box onto a piece of plastic or glass (completing a Zen circle), then printed onto a piece of paper. There are three ways it goes: you see something (you previsualise it) and you don’t capture it in the negative; you don’t see it, and the negative surprises you; but, best of all, you see it and you capture it – the object of your attention reveals itself to you. Then all you have to do is print it – easier said than done. Much testing and assessing, dodging and burning to balance the print knowing that, as MW says, each negative is like a dragon that an image has to be wrenched from.

.
No longer for ears …: sound
which like a deeper ear,
hears us, who only seem
to be hearing. Reversal of spaces.

.
Extract from Rainer Maria Rilke Gong 1925

 

Emmet Gowin printing mask for The Hint That Is a Garden: Siena, Italy 1975

 

Emmet Gowin printing mask for The Hint That Is a Garden: Siena, Italy 1975 (below)

 

 

Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941)
The Hint That Is a Garden: Siena, Italy
Dedicated to Frederick Sommer, 1975
Gelatin silver print
19.5 x 24.5 cm. (7 11/16 x 9 5/8 in.)
Gift of Mrs. Saul Reinfeld

 

 

When you do the analogue printing yourself (or when assessing a digital test print at a lab such as CPL Digital), the most important thing is to understand the vocabulary of printing. In both analogue and digital printing it all starts from the negative/file. If you don’t understand your negative or digital file, what hope have you of attaining a good end result? You must study the negative to understand its pushes and pulls, what needs to be held back, what other areas brought forward in the image. You have to feel the balance within the negative/file in the sensibility of the print. Darren from CPL observes that he has a lot of photographers and students come in and say, “I don’t want it to be like that,” but then they can’t explain what they do want it to be like or how they can get there. They have no vocabulary of printing or how to get the “feel” that they want from the print. I believe this is where training in the analogue darkroom can stand digital photographers in good stead.

What photographers need to understand is the syntax of an image, “the system of organization used in putting lines together to form pictures that can stand as representations of particular objects,”1 where they is a clear association between the structure of photographic prints and the linguistic structure that makes verbal communication possible. Photographers are the Keepers of Light and photography broke the boundaries of the visual field that had been delimited by etchings and prints, to allow human beings to see far beyond the physical field of view, to have photographic power over space and time which fundamentally changed the scope of human consciousness.2 Photography makes drawing unnecessary in the physical sense, but through previsualisation photography is predicated on mental drawing (with light) and through the physical form of the photograph, the print, photography has a syntactical basis – which comes from the languages of the photographer inherent in human consciousness and the chemical, optical and mechanical relationships that make photography possible. Both feeling and technology.

I believe that these two things go hand in hand and when photographers have no language, no vocabulary to describe what they want from a photographic print, then they are basically coming up against the limitations of their feelings, technologies and the machine. “Genius is constantly frustrated – and tempered – by the machine.”3 As William Crawford observes, “You simply cannot look at photographs as if they were ends without means. Each is the culmination of a process in which the photographer makes his decisions and discoveries within a technological framework.”4 “Each step in the photographic process plays a syntactical role to the degree that it affects the way the information, the sentiment, the surprises, and the frozen moments found in photographs actually meet the eye.”5 In the case of the photographic print, this means understanding the emotional linguistic vocabulary of printing through the syntax of the image.

.
With these thoughts in mind, the two standouts in this delightful group exhibition are Claudia Terstappen and Ponch Hawkes. Terstappen’s Brazilian rainforest photographs are as well seen and exquisitely printed as ever but this time they are slightly let down by the nearness of the frame and the colour of the moulding, both of which seen to limit the breathe of the image. Hawkes’ photographs are sublime (especially the two reproduced below), the best silver gelatin photographs that I have seen by an Australian artist in since Terstappen’s last solo exhibition In the Shadow of Change at Monash Gallery of Art. They have wonderful tonality and presence, and a quietness that really lets you contemplate the image through the beauty of the print – and a snip at only $800 each framed!

Other artists in the exhibition have singular images that are interesting (pictured below), but the major disappointment are the prints of Jane Brown. When I first saw the images of Brown’s Australian Gothic at Edmund Pearce Gallery in 2012 I said that they were, “small, darkly hewn, traditionally printed silver gelatin photographs… surrealist tinged, film noir-ish mise-en-scènes, the ones that emphasise the metaphorical darkness of the elements gathered upon the stage. Photographs such as Big TroutThe Female Factory, Adelong, New South Wales and Captain’s Flat Hotel, New South Wales really invoke a feeling of unhomely (or unheimlich), where nature is out of kilter. These images unsettle our idea of Oztraliana, our perceived sense of Self and our place in the world. They disrupt normal transmission; they transmutate the seen environment, transforming appearance, nature and form.”6 This was again the feeling that I got when I saw the series at a later exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography.

Not this time. The prints shown here are much darker and have become almost ungrammatical; where the syntax of the image has broken down so that the linguistic structure of the image makes communication nearly impossible. It is not enough just to make prints darker and darker, hoping for some mystery to magically appear in the image because it won’t. This is a case of overprinting the negative, forcing the vocabulary of the image through a wish to impart something emphatic, some condition of being from the negative that has been imperfectly understood. Is this because this is Edition 2 out of 7, a different printer and a different size? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but Brown really needs to go back to the negatives and reassess the results, especially as these nearly incomprehensible prints are selling for an overinflated $2,000 each framed.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Crawford, William. “Photographic Syntax,” in Crawford, William. The Keepers of Light: A History and Working Guide to Early Photographic Processes. Morgan and Morgan, 1979, p. 2
2. Ibid., p. 5
3. Ibid., p. 6
4. Ibid., p. 6
5. Ibid., p. 7
6. Bunyan, Marcus. Review: Jane Brown / Australian Gothic at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne, 6th May 2012 [Online] Cited 21st April 2014 http://wp.me/pn2J2-2RL

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

 

ps 6

 

William Crawford. “Photographic Syntax,” in William Crawford. The Keepers of Light: A History and Working Guide to Early Photographic Processes. Morgan and Morgan, 1979, p. 6

 

Claudia Terstappen. 'Jungle I (Brazil)' 1991

 

Claudia Terstappen
Jungle I (Brazil)
1991
from the series Ghosts at the Jucurucu
Silver gelatin print
46 x 68 cm

 

Lloyd Stubber. 'Untitled' 2012

 

Lloyd Stubber
Untitled
2012
Fibre-based silver gelatin print
11 x 14 inches

 

David Tatnall. 'Clifton Springs Jetty' 2012

 

David Tatnall
Clifton Springs Jetty
2012
From the series Coastal Pinholes
Silver gelatin contact print
20 x 25 cm

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Bellambi, NSW' 1989

 

Ruth Maddison
Bellambi, NSW
1989
Hand coloured gelatin silver print
19.6 x 49 cm
Vintage print, unique state

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Self-portrait #2' 2004

 

Ruth Maddison
Self-portrait #2
2004
From the series Light touches
Sun print on black and white photographic paper
Vintage print, unique state

 

 

“The process of analogue photography is created through darkness and light. To celebrate the launch of the Strange Neighbour Darkroom this exhibition brings together a group of artists who pursue and extend the practice of analogue and darkroom photography. These artists work across many of the countless possibilities of the medium: 35mm, medium format and large format photography, and their diverse processes include pinhole photography, photograms, sun prints, fibre printing and hand colouring. Contemporary photographers are driving the current resurgence in analogue photography and Strange Neighbour is excited to be able to facilitate this irreplaceable art form. Darkroom practice is unique and magickal, alive and well.”

Press release from the Strange Neighbour website

 

Khem; a possible derivative of the word alchemy, the native name of Egypt, is thought to mean black. Some scholars maintain that Khem is derived from a root meaning wise.1

Alchemy is described as chemistry endowed with magic, and alchemists as those who work with metals and keep these operations secret.2 Apart from the obvious associations of working with metals (silver) and chemistry, there are more subtle and intimate parallels between the art and science of alchemy and darkroom practice.

It is common among darkroom practitioners to consider the process as ‘magic’. When most people encounter printing their first photograph in the darkroom, the simple sight of an image appearing on the paper in the developer tray seems ‘magical’. Even experienced darkroom practitioners never lose this special feeling. Exhibiting artist, Siri Hayes notes, “Watching images come up in developing tray is as mysterious and exciting as any magic show. Perhaps more so as there are no tricks except that the photographic product is the grandest of illusions.”

Distinct from many other forms of photography, darkroom based practice is now specialised, with few people having access to the knowledge, equipment and skills associated with the medium. Like a secret esoteric order, few share this wisdom, and even those willing to teach it may keep special recipes, techniques and discoveries to themselves or within a select dedicated group. Some of this information, although scientific, is not completely understood in rational terms of facts or calculations, but is more related to intuition and perception. It is technical and it is intuitive.

The complex rituals associated with the process allow practitioners to get into a headspace that is conducive to contemplation, bringing forth intuition, allowing space for chance and universal cause and effect. In this art and science there are so many variables with endless possibilities. Ruth Maddison‘s Sun prints are made without camera, film, enlarger or developer. She states, “the tonal range depends on variables like paper stock, length of time in sun or shade, whether the objects are wet or dry…. and an unpredictable magic that happens when light sensitive paper is touched by light.”

In this unpredictable environment often mistakes lead to new ideas and create new methodologies. One of the charms of analogue processes is the discovery of beauty through error. Ponch Hawkes recalls this as disasters and wonderful happenstance. Claudia Terstappen remarks it is the number of variables in the darkroom that leaves the creative process wide open and it is often these inaccuracies caused by chemical reactions that lead to a new meaning. This is what makes analogue processes so valuable and irreplaceable. There are many effects in the analogue process that one can recreate with digital technologies, but not invent.

Imperfections caused by these variables or ‘mistakes’ may imbue the image with a ‘spirit’ and otherworldliness, as if the energy of a place or person has been captured. Black and white photography too has the ability to transcend time, memory and death. Jane Brown says, “I examine this a lot in my work – landscapes seem to have vestiges or traces of past life and memorials become otherworldly.” Claudia Terstappen’s work, “is motivated by the stories, beliefs and histories of the people who live there. Here people spoke about the forest spirits that one should be aware of. B+W images suggest a kind of silence.” At a symbolic level, silence is part of most sacred traditions3, and it is part of darkroom practice.

Using analogue processes and working in the darkroom can be aligned to the slow movement, of valuing quality over quantity and returning to a feeling of connectedness. For the images in this exhibition David Tatnall has used an 8 x 10 inch pinhole camera and made contact prints. He expresses of this technology, “my reasons for using this slow, cumbersome and fickle means to make photographs is because I feel it conveys the interaction of the sky and water, the presence of wind and the pulse of nature. I am particularly interested in how the long exposures and lack of sharpness make these features merge into something else… (The) simplicity: no lens, shutter or batteries, no need to upgrade, no click or buzz, no flashing lights or mega pixels no viewfinder and no distortion.” For Ruth Maddision, “she says of working with hand colouring, the pleasure of it – I love working on the real object again, and away from the screen.”

Clearly there is belief and an element of trust in the medium. Lloyd Stubber‘s images in this exhibition are taken from a one-month round the world trip. On return he processed the 15 rolls of film in his laundry. Perhaps the potential fear of loss is overwhelmed by the sense of anticipation, surprise and the flood of memories that return on seeing the work at a later date, as compared to digital, which is immediate and holds none of the mystery.

Another important distinction of darkroom and analogue practice from other forms of photography is the presence of artist’s hand throughout the entire progression of creation to final outcome. In each step of the process, significant choices are made from the many possibilities, from exposing light sensitive film in the camera, developing the film, to printing and finishing the art object. The artist’s mark is therefore not only discernible but also inherently valuable. To Ponch Hawkes, being the maker is of significance. For Terstappen, The physicality of arriving at the ‘perfect’ Gelatin Silver print – with its deep tonal ranges – is something that I highly value.

Contemporary artists are driving the current resurgence in analogue photography. This is a treasured, magickal4 and irreplaceable art form. It is with great pleasure that I declare the Strange Neighbour Darkroom open, and may it provide the space and opportunity for the love of darkroom practice to be enjoyed, shared and fostered.”

Linsey Gosper, curator, darkroom lover, 2014
1. Francis Melville. The Book of Alchemy. Quarto Publishing plc, 2002, p. 6
2. Kurt Seligman. Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion. Pantheon Books, 1948, p. 84
3. Ami Ronnberg (ed.,). The Book of Symbols. Taschen, 2010, p. 676
4. Magick, in the context of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, is a term used to differentiate the occult from stage magic and is defined as the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will, including both mundane acts of will as well as ritual magic

 

Jane Brown. 'Decommissioned Art History Library, University of Melbourne' 2012-2013

 

Jane Brown
Decommissioned Art History Library, University of Melbourne
2012-2013
Fibre-based gelatin silver print
44 x 49.5 cm
Edition 2 of 7

 

Jane Brown. 'Lathamstowe' 2011- 2013

 

Jane Brown
Lathamstowe
2011- 2013
Fibre-based, gelatin silver print
46 x 44 cm
Edition 2 of 7

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Silken Seam' 2005

 

Ponch Hawkes
Silken Seam
2005
Silver gelatin print
34 x 34 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Chrysalis Gallery, Melbourne

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Rouleau' 2005

 

Ponch Hawkes
Rouleau
2005
Silver gelatin print
34 x 34cm
Courtesy of the artist and Chrysalis, Melbourne

 

Siri Hayes. 'Aquatic listening device' 2009

 

Siri Hayes
Aquatic listening device
2009
Silver gelatin print
39 x 45 cm
Courtesy of the artist and M.33, Melbourne

 

 

Strange Neighbour
395 Gore St, Fitzroy
Victoria Australia 3065
T: +61 3 9041 8727

Opening hours:
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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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