Posts Tagged ‘Australian road photography

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

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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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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)

 

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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)

 

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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)

 

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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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:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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