Posts Tagged ‘history

23
Apr
20

Video: Albert Camus ‘La Peste’ (The Plague) 1947

April 2020

 

There is no more important book to understand our times than Albert Camus’s The Plague, a novel about a virus that spreads uncontrollably from animals to humans and ends up destroying half the population of a representative modern town. Camus speaks to us now not because he was a magical seer, but because he correctly sized up human nature. As he wrote: ‘Everyone has inside it himself this plague, because no one in the world, no one, can ever be immune.’

Text from the YouTube website

 

 

 

Albert Camus
La Peste (The Plague)
1947

 

 

What does plague mean for humanity – in his philosophy… we are all, unbeknownst to us, already living through a plague. That is, a widespread, silent invisible disease that may kill any of us at any time and destroy the lives we assumed were solid [death].

The actual historical incidents we call plagues are merely concentrations of a universal precondition, they are dramatic instances of a perpetual rule: that we are vulnerable to being randomly exterminated, by a bacillus, an accident or the actions of our fellow humans. Our exposure to plague is at the heart of Camus’s view that our lives are fundamentally on the edge of what he termed ‘the absurd’.

For Camus, when it comes to dying, there is no progress in history, there is no escape from our frailty; being alive always was and will always remain an emergency, as one might put it, truly an inescapable ‘underlying condition’.

Plague or no plague, there is always – as it were – the plague, if what we mean by this is a susceptibility to sudden death, an event that can render our lives instantaneously meaningless. 

Life is a hospice, never a hospital.

Camus writes: ‘Pestilence is so common, there have been as many plagues in the world as there have been wars, yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared.’

In one of the most central lines of the book, Camus writes: ‘This whole thing is not about heroism. It’s about decency. It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.’

In the words of one of his characters, Camus knew, as we do not, that ‘everyone has inside it himself this plague, because no one in the world, no one, can ever be immune.’

Full text of the video can be found on The School of Life website [Online] Cited 23/03/2020

 

 

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06
Jan
19

Exhibition: ‘Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image’ at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati

Exhibition dates: 5th October 2018 – 10th February 2019

Curated by Steven Matijcio

 

 

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image' 2018

 

Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari' 2012

 

Akram Zaatari
Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari
2012
Made from 35mm scratched negative from the Hashem el Madani archive
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

“As a holistic specimen without fixed parameters, “An informed object,” Zaatari elaborates, “is an object that is conscious of the material and processes that produced it, conscious of its provenance, its morphology and displacement over time, conscious of its history in the sense that it is able to communicate it. An informed object is already materialised, activated.” His self-declared “displacement” of these objects is thusly not about post-colonial uprooting, but rather a deeper, wider recognition of the apparatus that informs the production, circulation and reception of such images in, and beyond their respective context/s. In this expanded field, negatives, contact sheets, glass plates, double exposures, mistakes, erosion and all that is habitually left on the cutting room floor are re-valued as revelatory anomalies with “something to say”.”

.
Akram Zaatari quoted in Steven Matijcio / 2018

 

 

Alternate readings / elisions / a damaged life

This is the first posting of 2019, a new year, a new year of history, memory and life. And what a cracker of an exhibition to post first up!

I have always admired the Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari for the ability of his work to critique the inevitable, referential history of photographs. Anyone who can shine a light on forgotten narratives, histories, contexts and memories, who enlightens the fixed gaze of the camera and the viewer to show the Other, and who empowers the disenfranchised and tells their stories… is excellent in my eyes. For this is what Art Blart has sought to do in the last ten years: build an archive that exposes underrepresented artists and forgotten histories to the world.

Photography, and life, is not all that it seems… and Zaatari implicitly understands the conundrums of the taking, viewing and collecting of photographs in archives. He understands the physical quality of the medium (the presence of the negative, the glass slide, the print and their manipulation by the photographer) as well as the truth of the medium, a kind of truth telling – through history, time, the personal and the collective – that obscures as much as it reveals. As his short biography notes, “Akram Zaatari is an artist whose work is tied to collecting and exploring photographic practices in the making of social codes and aesthetic forms. Regarding the present through a wealth of photographic records from the past… Zaatari investigates notions of desire, pursuit, resistance, memory, surveillance, the shifting nature of political borders and the production and circulation of images in times of war.” Indeed, a rich investigative field which Zaatari makes full use of in his work.

Simply put, the project that Zaatari is undertaking is one of archaeological excavation / re-animation of the many aspects of the cultural geography of Lebanon, his role as auteur in this process combining “image-maker, archivist, curator, filmmaker and critical theorist to examine the photographic record, its making, genealogy and the role photography plays in the production and performance of identity.” (Wall text) “I’m really interested in how the personal and the intimate meet history,” Zaatari says. “What I’m doing is to write history, or [fill in] gaps of history, by using photographic documents.”1

Zaatari “deconstructs the archival impunity of photography to cultivate an expanded architecture of interpretation,” (Wall text) exploring the fold as a catalyst, a narrative, a re-organisation, an enduring obfuscation, and the memory of a material. What a photograph missed and what is present; what an archive catalogues and how, and what it misses, elides or denigrates (the classification system of an archive). As Rebecca Close observes, “The question of what an archive of the image fails to commemorate is particularly relevant in a country marred by decades of civil war and invasion.”2

It is also particularly relevant in a country (and a world) where men are in control. Zaatari interrogates (if I may use that pertinent word) the partitioning of history (between Palestine and Israel), the poses of decorum between male and female, the power of men in marriage, the stigma of homosexuality, male normativity, and “Zaatari’s framing of these photos (particularly as diminutive contact sheets) suggests modern cracks in the visual codification of patriarchal rule…” (Steven Matijcio) The centre cannot hold the weight of these hidden his/stories, as invisible “non-collections” (E. Edwards) in institutions are opened up for critical examination. The damage that accrues through such obfuscation, through such wilful blindness to the stories embedded in photographs is boundless.

What we must remember is that, “photography always lies for the photograph only depicts one version of reality, one version of a truth depending on what the camera is pointed at, what it excludes, who is pointing the camera and for what reasons, the context of the event or person being photographed (which is fluid from moment to moment) and the place and reason for displaying the photograph. In other words all photographs are, by the very nature, transgressive because they have only one visual perspective, only one line of sight – they exclude as much as they document and this exclusion can be seen as a volition (a choice of the photographer) and a violation of a visual ordering of the world (in the sense of the taxonomy of the subject, an upsetting of the normal order or hierarchy of the subject). Of course this line of sight may be interpreted in many ways and photography problematises the notion of a definitive reading of the image due to different contexts and the “possibilities of dislocation in time and space.” As Brian Wallis has observed, “The notion of an autonomous image is a fiction” as the photograph can be displaced from its original context and assimilated into other contexts where they can be exploited to various ends. In a sense this is also a form of autonomy because a photograph can be assimilated into an infinite number of contexts. “This de and re-contextualisation is itself transgressive of any “integrity” the photograph itself may have as a contextualised artefact.” As John Schwartz has insightfully noted, “[Photographs] carry important social consequences and that the facts they transmit in visual form must be understood in social space and real time,” “facts” that are constructions of reality that are interpreted differently by each viewer in each context of viewing.”3

I have no problem with the ethics and politics of the use of photo archives by contemporary artists and the appropriation of archival images as a form of “ironic archivization” to open up new critical insights into culture, and the culture of making, reading and archiving photographs. Zaatari appropriates these images for his own concerns to shine a light on what I call “the space between.” His interdisciplinary practice mines the history of the image while simultaneously expanding its legacy and life. As he observes of his profound and sensitive work, “Every photograph hides parts to reveal others… What a photograph missed and what was present at the time of exposure will remain inaccessible. In those folds lies a history, many histories.” With this powerhouse of an artist, these histories will not remain hidden for long.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Venema, Vibeke . “Zaatari and Madani: Guns, flared trousers and same-sex kisses,” on the BBC News Magazine website 17 February 2014 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108
  2. Close, Rebecca. Akram Zaatari [online]. ArtAsiaPacific, No. 104, Jul/Aug 2017: 108. ISSN: 1039-3625 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108
  3. Bunyan, Marcus. “Transgressive Topographies, Subversive Photographies, Cultural Policies,” on Art Blart, October 2013 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108

.
Many thankx to Akram Zaatari and the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Acclaimed Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari combines the roles of image-maker, archivist, curator, filmmaker and critical theorist to explore the role photography plays in both instituting and fabricating identity. He is also co-founder of the Arab Image Foundation (AIF), an organisation established in Beirut to preserve, study and exhibit photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora from the 19th century to today. Within this endeavour Zaatari discovered the photographs of Hashem El Madani (1928-2017), who recorded the lives of everyday individuals inside and outside his humble studio in the late 1940s and 50s. Zaatari recontextualises this work, along with other archival photos and documents, in an interdisciplinary practice that mines the history of the image while simultaneously expanding its legacy and life. His work is both for and against photography, and the complex histories it cobbles.

For this exhibition he positions the seemingly simple fold as a narrative form, a reorganisation, an enduring obfuscation and the memory of material. In his words, “a photograph captures space and folds it into a flat image, turning parts of a scene against others, covering them entirely. Every photograph hides parts to reveal others… What a photograph missed and what was present at the time of exposure will remain inaccessible. In those folds lies a history, many histories.” The work on display will attempt to uncover and imagine these stories, undertaking a provocative archaeology that peers into the fissures, scratches, erosion and that which archives previously shed.

Presented in partnership with FotoFocus Biennial 2018. Text from the Contemporary Arts Center website

 

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portrait of an anonymous woman' 2012

 

Akram Zaatari
Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portrait of an anonymous woman
2012
Made from 35mm scratched negative from the Hashem el Madani archive
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari and her friend' 2012

 

Akram Zaatari
Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari and her friend
2012
Made from 35mm scratched negatives from the Hashem el Madani archive
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Hands at Rest' (video still) 2017

Akram Zaatari. 'Hands at Rest' (video still) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Hands at Rest (video stills)
2017
SD Video / Running time: 7:30
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

This film is a meditative study of a  selection of studio photographs culled from Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani’s archives. In response to Madani’s maxim that “posing one’s hands on a flat surface such as a table, or a shoulder helps to straighten one’s shoulders,” Zaatari looks closely from one hand to the next, creating a portrait of Lebanese society that implicitly questions the politics embedded in poses of propriety and decorum. Fingers fitted with rings and bodies displaying the comfort and composure of a certain class are juxtaposed with others indicative of manual labor and untrained modelling. The slow, but precise inventory of the video, devoted to the most tactile limb in one’s body, also elicits the ever-present sensuality which circulates throughout Madani’s photographs. (Wall text)

 

Akram Zaatari. Najm (left) and Asmar (right) 1950-1959, Lebanon, Saida. Hashem el Madani From Akram Zaatari's 'Objects of Study/The archive of Studio Shehrazade/Hashem el Madani/Studio Practices' 2014

 

Akram Zaatari
Najm (left) and Asmar (right) 1950-1959, Lebanon, Saida. Hashem el Madani
From Akram Zaatari’s Objects of Study/The archive of Studio Shehrazade/Hashem el Madani/Studio Practices
2014
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
© A. Zaatari/Arab Image Foundation
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Zaatari says that was normal in the 1950s. “If you had your picture taken you would seize the opportunity to create something different of yourself,” he says. “They wanted to look at themselves as if they were looking at an actor in a film.” It was fun.

Movies were a great source of inspiration for Madani’s sitters. This included acting out a kiss – but only men kissing men and women kissing women. “In a conservative society such as Saida, people were willing to play the kiss between two people of the same sex, but very rarely between a man and a woman,” Madani told Zaatari. He remembers that happening only once.

“If you look at it today you think – is it gay culture? But in fact it is not,” says Zaatari. Social restrictions were different then. “If you wanted to kiss it had to be a same-sex kiss to be accepted.”

Men showed off their photos, but for women a picture was considered intimate and would only be shared with a trusted few. Madani had purposely found a studio space on the first floor, so that women could visit discreetly – seen entering at street level, their destination would not be obvious. Once inside, they could relax – but it did not always end well.

Extract from Vibeke Venema. “Zaatari and Madani: Guns, flared trousers and same-sex kisses,” on the BBC News Magazine website 17 February 2014 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative
2011
C-print
145 x 220cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing From Left To Right: Hassan El Aakkad, Munir El Dada And Mahmoud El Dimassy In Saida, 1948' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing From Left To Right: Hassan El Aakkad, Munir El Dada And Mahmoud El Dimassy In Saida, 1948
2011
C-print
145 x 220cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

 

American Psychological Association links ‘masculinity ideology’ to homophobia, misogyny

For the first time in its 127-year history, the American Psychological Association has issued guidelines to help psychologists specifically address the issues of men and boys – and the 36-page document features a warning.

“Traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behaviour, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health,” the report warns.

The new “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” defines “masculinity ideology” as “a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.” The report also links this ideology to homophobia, bullying and sexual harassment.

The new guidelines, highlighted in this month’s issue of Monitor on Psychology, which is published by the APA, linked this ideology to a series of stark statistics: Men commit approximately 90 percent of all homicides in the U.S., they are far more likely than women to be arrested and charged with intimate partner violence in the U.S., and they are four times more likely than women to die of suicide worldwide. …

The report addresses the “power” and “privilege” that males have when compared to their female counterparts, but it notes that this privilege can be a psychological double-edged sword.

“Men who benefit from their social power are also confined by system-level policies and practices as well as individual-level psychological resources necessary to maintain male privilege,” the guidelines state. “Thus, male privilege often comes with a cost in the form of adherence to sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men’s ability to function adaptively.”

Extract from Tim Fitzsimons. “American Psychological Association links ‘masculinity ideology’ to homophobia, misogyny,” on the NBC News website [Online] Cited 10/01/2019

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing Hassan El Aakkad In Saida, 1948' 2007

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing Hassan El Aakkad In Saida, 1948
2007
C-print
220 x 145cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative
2011
C-print
Ed 5 + 2AP
220 x 145cm
© Akram Zaatari

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative
2011
C-print
220 x 145cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

 

The Fold

The fold is the pleat that results from turning or bending part of material against another such as in textile, paper or even earth strata. The fold is the trace that such an action leaves on material, the crease that marks the location of turning and pressing.

Inherent in the action of folding, is that material is turned or moved in three dimensions hence engages with space. Folding is the basic and simplest step in creating form or enclosure. It confines space within folds. It covers parts with other parts. Folding is editing. It is a construction that does not look like its original form.

Unfolding is undoing, deconstructing, turning material back to its initial form. The creases in an unfolded material inscribe its history and in a way save it from amnesia. History inscribes itself on material in creases and in other forms. When unfolded, material testifies that history has already found its way to it, through the fold.

The fold is the memory of material.

When the fold is intentional, it aims to reorganise material to reduce its volume, to create form, or confine space. When accidental or natural such as in geology, or due to ageing organic matter, the fold is a permanent deformation of matter the form of which remains little predictable.

When intentional, the fold is a creative action, like folding a paper sheet into a paper airplane or an origami, like folding several sheets into a book, or a sheet of cardboard into a box or even folding clothes to reduce their volume and store them on a shelf or in a box of specific dimensions.

The fold is a narrative form.

In a way every photograph is an exposure of a field of vision, of something somewhere. Like folding confines space, a photograph captures space and folds into a flat image, turning parts of a scene against others covering them entirely. Every photograph hides parts to reveal others. Every photograph reproduces in small what’s much larger in life, or brings close an image of somewhere far and out of sight. The impact of a fold in a photographed space is permanent, in the sense that hidden parts in a picture are irretrievable. What a photograph missed and that was present at the time of exposure will remain inaccessible. In those folds lies a history, many histories.

The fold in a photograph is a detail through which a narrative different from that narrated by the photograph unfolds. It is an element through which the initial construction of a photograph, its making, is undone. It is an element that bears the history of a photograph, its memory.

The fold in time is the representation of time shortened, like in literature, in illustration or typically in film. The fold in time is the ellipsis. The fold within a narrative is the jump-cut or the jump in time. The fold acknowledges the existence of hidden narratives covered by others. In a film, the cut is the fold.

Akram Zaatari

 

General installation views

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

 

Installation views, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Left
Akram Zaatari
[Unlabelled]
Cairo, Egypt 1940s
Inkjet print of gelatin silver negative on cellulose acetate film
Photographer: Alban
Courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation

 

A negative for photography is equivalent to an engraved zinc plate for traditional print-making. Not only does it allow for the reproduction of the image or print but it itself carrier traces of the tricks the photographer has used while making a picture. As such, photographers did not want their negatives to be displayed because they often carried details the studio might not want to share with the public. The portrait of a baby was made by the Cairo based photographer Alban in the 1940s. Access to the negative tells us that the baby was held by his mother and that she was later withdrawn from the picture (Wall text)

 

Right
Akram Zaatari
[Unlabelled]
Tripoli, Lebanon 1980s
Inkjet print of gelatin silver negative on cellulose acetate film
Photographer: Joseph Avedissian
Collection: Joseph Avedissian
Courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation

 

At at time when going to a photography studio was the only way for people to be photographed for ID or other official purposes, these spaces were shared by a wide spectrum of society. During the Lebanese civil war, they were sometimes employed by opposing militias and certainly by civilians as well. Joseph Avedissian set up his first studio in the late 1950s in al Tell in Tripoli, North Lebanon. Like most inner cities during the civil war in Lebanon, al Tell was the playground of numerous militias ranging from the different Palestinian factions and the Syrian army extending to the Al Tawheed Islamic group in the 1980s. Zaatari visited Avedissian’s with the photographer Randa Saath in 2002. Thousands of negative sheets covered the floor, from where he picked up this sheet that represents one member of the local militia posing with his machine gun. Because of poor preservation, however, a patch of emulsion coming from another exposed negative was accidentally bound to it depicting a woman. The result is an uneasy co-habitation in the shared frame. (Wall text)

 

The End of Love

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view detail)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari

The End of Love (installation view detail)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view detail)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Every photograph hides parts to reveal others…

.
Akram Zaatari

 

 

Desire for the archive as an unassailable repository of documents, testimony and truth seems to escalate despite, or perhaps because of, the more imminent reality that there is no singular history on which all peoples can agree. And while the “post-truth” era feels pandemic in North America, in other parts of the world this is an all too familiar paradigm where the manipulation of the past is a customary practice to administer the present, and influence the future. This is especially true of Lebanon, where fifteen years of malignant civil war from 1975-1990 has produced a knotty, contested history riddled with sectarian animosities, institutionalised amnesia, and ubiquitous uncertainty. And yet when nothing is solid, codified or certain, everything becomes possible. Across the Middle East where formal archives remain partial and at risk, an increasing number of artists employ the fragments as fodder for new forms of historical preservation and production. Akram Zaatari (b. 1966 Sidon, Lebanon) is a pioneer within this amorphous terrain, marrying personal experiences of the war, an abiding interest in the vernacular performance of identity via photo and film and a quasi-archaeological treatment of lens-based documents as artefacts. Beyond his individual practice, one of Zaatari’s greatest, most enduring contributions in this field may be the Arab Image Foundation (AIF) – an archival institution he co-founded with photographers Fouad Elkoury and Samer Mahdad in 1997 to self-declaredly “preserve, study and exhibit photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora from the 19th century to today.” And while the AIF has successfully amassed over 600,000 images from multiple countries and eras, Zaatari adamantly refutes the onset of institutionalisation – shunning the paralysing conservation practices of museums and libraries to double down on a more radical, generative employment of these materials. In his hands, this archive moves beyond a delicate commodity to circulate as a mutable constellation that partakes in an expanded field of histories with cumulative socio-cultural cargo. As such, the archive can be seen as both Zaatari’s medium and subject, and the AIF as both his fuel and foil – collecting and re-presenting photos as “a form,” in his words, “of creative un-making and re-writing that is no less important than the act of taking images.” Ensuing questions of authorship and appropriation yield to more multi-faceted strategies of displacement, where the re-framing of photos and films as living, changing vessels unfurls invigorating new layers and folds to mine and forage.

He does so, not as an iconoclast seeking to condemn archives as cogs in the machine of hegemony, but rather as a revitalising gesture that replaces rhetorical manipulations with emancipated re-assignment. For Zaatari, this frisson happens most intriguingly in the seemingly ordinary and banal, in the snapshots and mistakes archives historically diminish, where he argues, “It is a misconception that photographs testify to the course of history. It is history that inhabits photographs.” As such, Zaatari regularly subverts the canonical treatment of photos as evidentiary relics hidden away in cold storage to slow their inherent/inevitable chemical entropy. He instead treats images as susceptible material objects, and one could argue, as surrogates for the subjects and structures they depict. Much like the wrinkles, scars and repressions that the human body + mind collects, Zaatari reads the folds endemic to photography as a palimpsest of information and suggestion. Whether it be a purposeful edit or crop, an aesthetic gesture to redirect our viewing, or the natural degradation of materials over time, he argues that “The fold in a photograph is a detail through which a narrative different from that narrated by the photograph unfolds.” As fertile superstructures that expand the interpretive constitution of said photos, such folds are less obfuscations than nascent fonts for alternative narratives to percolate. “In these folds lies a history…” according to Zaatari, “many histories.” In this inclusive arena, the micro and macro flow into one another as citizen and state intermingle, and one discovers pockets of collective history in the pictures we have of ourselves and one another. These photos and their attendant folds do not float unattached in clouds, but instead coalesce as archives of their making, and lenses to look backward and forward.

In his position that “the traces that transactions leave on a photographic object become part of it,” Zaatari argues that the physical manufacture and decay of a photograph (or film) is as much a contribution to history as that which it depicts. He calls the ensuing composites “informed objects,” which, while partial or possibly broken, highlight the greater whole “like an exploded view of a machine,” or “a model of the human body used in anatomy class.” As a holistic specimen without fixed parameters, “An informed object,” Zaatari elaborates, “is an object that is conscious of the material and processes that produced it, conscious of its provenance, its morphology and displacement over time, conscious of its history in the sense that it is able to communicate it. An informed object is already materialised, activated.” His self-declared “displacement” of these objects is thusly not about post-colonial uprooting, but rather a deeper, wider recognition of the apparatus that informs the production, circulation and reception of such images in, and beyond their respective context/s. In this expanded field, negatives, contact sheets, glass plates, double exposures, mistakes, erosion and all that is habitually left on the cutting room floor are re-valued as revelatory anomalies with “something to say.” Zaatari’s poignant 2017 series A Photographer’s Shadow is a case in point, presenting a number of historical photos where the cameraman’s shadow has infiltrated the composition, which was historically reason to throw the picture away. In Zaatari’s revised appraisal, however, such discards are instead accentuated as elucidating nexus points where author and subject meet within the frame. A diptych of found photos Zaatari premieres in the CAC exhibition thickens this premise even further, displaying a malfunction in the camera of Hashem el Madani (1928-2017) that led to an in-frame doubling of men (presumably father and son) standing upon the rocks of a swelling shoreline. Evoking past hallmarks of romantic painting, a multiplicity gathers with equal muster across this pairing as the images coagulate with the residue and implication of generational, production and art historical lineage. The cresting physicality of this informed object is pushed even further in the 2017 work Against Photography, which removes the image from the equation to instead detail the natural patterns of environmental decay upon a series of 12 photo plates. By extracting the traditional focal point of the photographic process, Zaatari instead surveys iterations of deterioration that take on an uncanny beauty in multiple media – turning the archival chimera of folds and fracture into a verdant topography of patterns, avenues, and stories untold.

The continued consideration of the photograph as a physical entity with corresponding history, memory and lifespan connects to Zaatari’s ongoing exploration of the human body as it is performed for, and by the camera. As an index of experience and identity, the body and its photographic proxy find a surrogate-like relationship in the images he provocatively re-frames – where intimate narratives are gleaned from voluminous collections and otherwise numbing aggregates. And while we are only sometimes privy to the background and/or the names of those photographed, Zaatari is a long-standing student of the ways in which gender, sexuality and taboo are concurrently codified and obscured by indigenous photographic practices. By re-contextualising private photos in a public arena, Zaatari “frequently composes works,” according to Professor Mark Westmoreland, “that force the photographic medium to comment upon social aesthetics that it has been deployed to produce at different historical moments.” A compelling example is found in Zaatari’s 2011 re-presentation of Madani’s timeworn photographs of male bodybuilders performing feats of both physical strength and acrobatic agility in a showcase of masculine prowess. Inferences to homo-eroticism within this display were comparatively forbidden; and, while we must resist the temptation to define historical images through the lens of today, the entropic folds highlighted in Zaatari’s framing of these photos (particularly as diminutive contact sheets) suggests modern cracks in the visual codification of patriarchal rule, male normativity, and the stigma of homosexuality. Like the photographer’s shadow that interrupts the self-contained world of his subjects in Zaatari’s aforementioned work, the humbling eclipse that befalls many an ideology and monument creep over a pantheon of bravado here. The violent exercise of patriarchal custody is on frightening display in Zaatari’s 2012 diptych Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari and her friend, where otherwise benign photographs of two young women are marred by a flurry of black scratches. These disturbing scars are the product of a controlling husband who demanded Madani lacerate the negatives of a portrait session initiated by his wife before they were married. Years later, after Mrs. Baqari burned herself to death to escape his control, the widowed husband came back to Madani’s studio asking for enlargements of these photos. Their display decades later under the auspices of this exhibition demonstrates the extraordinary valence of the fold, which in this case manifests a tragic relationship, evokes the history of effigies and iconoclasm, embodies the systematic societal violence against women, and opens up a plethora of readings that could not exist without slashes that span both object and subject.

The social life of the informed objects that Zaatari presents thereby opens a larger sociological discourse which, in the case of Lebanon, speaks to the ways love and sexuality have been regulated – and liberated – via photography and film. He traces the visual trajectory of this contested history largely by way of Madani’s studio photography, which pictured thousands of people over the course of almost half a century in Zaatari’s hometown of Saida. The ensuing photos demonstrate a complex spectrum of desire as people moved across both sides of the state-sanctioned line, performing the love they coveted and that which they concealed. As a site of concurrent fantasy and societal uniformity, what genders, professions, events and relationships were prescribed to “look like” created an orthodoxy of both restrictions and their corresponding transgressions. In The End of Love (2013), Zaatari presents over 100 photos of wedding portraits taken in Madani’s studio that collectively illustrate the codes surrounding this classic trope. Kissing was forbidden for such a photo which, in Lebanon, was taken a week after the ceremony with the bride wearing her wedding dress, supplemented by a bouquet of plastic flowers and white gloves provided by the photographer. And while the ensuing images are stiff, sober and highly formulaic, this End of Love is not a cynical farewell to the romantic aura of marriage, but rather a site where ideals collect in the margins, in aspirations that exceed both the subject and frame. Much like Arthur Danto’s post-historical 1984 essay “The End of Art,” Zaatari’s collection implies the exhaustion of a particular lineage of love and the opening of a chaotic, open-ended eddy where de-regulated desire could be performed. Madani’s studio was the site and catalyst for many of these performances; but, in this exhibition Zaatari pairs The End of Love with the aspiration of his 2010 video Tomorrow Everything will be Alright, in which a proposed reunion of estranged lovers is told in the form of typewritten dialogue. The voices here remain anonymous throughout, much like the many couples in The End of Love, and we gradually learn that these contemporary, same-sex lovers speak in prose drawn from popular cinematic clichés. Their conflicted flirtation culminates in the familiar romantic trope of a sunset at seashore, and more specifically that portrayed in the 1986 film Le Rayon Vert in which a disillusioned woman’s faith in love is restored after she sees a green flash at twilight. And yet, despite the overt homage, the time stamp in the bottom corner of Zaatari’s version implies this is his personal footage. And, that amidst many formulae, clichés and the already said, in the seams between The End of Love and Tomorrow Everything will be Alright, something unique and human can be spoken.

In contrast to the charge that photos are moments plucked out of time – slowly staving off death in the airless preservation of archives – Zaatari re-situates photos entrusted to the AIF in a multiplied field that spans origins and invention. Rather than entrenching images with fixed historical assignments, he performs subtle interventions to uncover and suggest alternate readings that inject life into said objects. As a stirring case in point, Un-Dividing History (2017) merges historical images by Khalil Raad (1854-1957), a Palestinian from Jerusalem, and Yacov Ben Dov (1882-1968), a Zionist-Ukrainian filmmaker and photographer, who dually inhabited Jerusalem from 1907-1948 but “belonged,” in Zaatari’s words, “to completely different universes.” Glass photo plates from each of these men had been acquired into a private collection years later and stored against each other for over a half-century in the same position, slowly and mutually “contaminating” one another with the opposing image. Zaatari’s cyanotypes reveal these beautifully compromised hybrids, depicting “traces of one world inscribed into another,” and symbolically de-partitioning the tragic schisms/folds that have long scarred this population and place. This grid of 8 images is not one of easy, idealistic harmony, but rather a complex, messy, fundamentally human portrait of the way lives intersect and overlap, if only they are allowed. A related moment of extraordinary, stirring empathy is found in the 2013 project Letter to a Refusing Pilot, in which Zaatari realises the rumour of Hagai Tamir, an Israeli fighter pilot, who in 1982, during his country’s invasion of Lebanon, disobeyed the order to drop a bomb on what he knew to be a schoolhouse. The legend, and Zaatari’s ensuing interview with Tamir have taken multiple forms in the translation to art, most notably paper planes that have appeared in both video and physical form, floating across terrain that spans real and virtual, truth and myth. What in theory started as a description, or a document, or a letter, has thereby taken flight via multiple folds – transforming this story into a mutable vessel that lands often, but temporarily – its ultimate destination indeterminate. In this lightness of being and itinerant course, the paper plane embodies Zaatari’s affinity for ephemeral records rather than the weighted gravity of archives. These are images, objects, videos, memories and outtakes that bear creases, evince life, and find renewal in each and every reappraisal.

Steven Matijcio / 2018

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Tomorrow Everything will be Alright' 2010 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow Everything will be Alright
2010
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Tomorrow Everything will be Alright' (video still) 2010

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow Everything will be Alright (video still)
2010
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Tomorrow Everything will be Alright' (video still) 2010

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow Everything will be Alright (video still)
2010
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow everything will be alright
2010

 

 

Akram Zaatari was born in 1966, in Sidon, Lebanon and currently lives in Beirut. Zaatari works in photography, video, and performance to explore issues pertinent to the Lebanese postwar condition, specifically the mediation of territorial conflicts and wars though television and media. Zaatari collects and examines a wide range of documents that testify to the cultural and political conditions of Lebanon’s postwar society. His artistic practice involves the study and investigation of the way these documents straddle, conflate, or confuse notions of history and memory. By analysing and recontextualising found audiotapes, video footage, photographs, journals, personal collections, interviews, and recollections, Zaatari explores the dynamics that govern the state of image-making in situations of war. The strength of Zaatari’s work lies in its ability to capture fractured moments in time, even if these sometimes confuse because of their disconnect from the audience and lack of context. Regardless, the stories hold their own as fascinating narratives, managing to reflect on such universal themes as love and lust, and sweet reminiscence, even amidst turbulent political realities. The indie film was nominated for the teddy award for best short film in 2011.

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 1
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 2
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 3
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot4
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 5
2013

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Letter to a Refusing Pilot' (installation view) 2013

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot (installation view)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

In the summer of 1982, a rumour made the rounds of a small city in South Lebanon, which was under Israeli occupation at the time. It was said that a fighter pilot in the Israeli air force had been ordered to bomb a target on the outskirts of Saida, but knowing the building was a school, he refused to destroy it. Instead of carrying out his commanders’ orders, the pilot veered off course and dropped his bombs in the sea. It was said that he knew the school because he had been a student there, because his family had lived in the city for generations, because he was born into Saida’s Jewish community before it disappeared. As a boy, Akram Zaatari grew up hearing ever more elaborate versions of this story, as his father had been the director of the school for twenty years. Decades later, Zaatari discovered it wasn’t a rumour. The pilot was real. Pulling together all of the different strands of Zaatari’s practice for the first time in a single work, Letter to a Refusing Pilot reflects on the complexities, ambiguities, and consequences of refusal as a decisive and generative act. Taking as its title a nod to Albert Camus’ four-part epistolary essay “Letters to a German Friend,” the work not only extends Zaatari’s interest in excavated narratives and the circulation of images in times of war, it also raises crucial questions about national representation and perpetual crisis by reviving Camus’s plea: “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.”

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

In an October 2012 interview with anthropologist Mark Westmoreland, Zaatari further probed whether emotions can be preserved with pictures. The difficulty in resolving the matter perhaps motivated the artist’s move into increasingly abstract terrain. The exhibition’s titular work confirms Zaatari’s current reticent position. Against Photography (2017) – 12 aluminium engravings produced from weathered negatives scanned and then put through a 3D scanner that records only surface texture – withdraws from the image entirely, leaving behind only the shine of relief.

Close, Rebecca. Akram Zaatari [online]. ArtAsiaPacific, No. 104, Jul/Aug 2017: 108. ISSN: 1039-3625. [cited 07 Dec 18]

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view detail)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Akram Zaatari

Against Photography (installation view, right)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view detail)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view detail)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

 

Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image with at left, Un-Dividing History 2017
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Un-Dividing History (installation view)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

These cyanotypes merge two bodies of work from a collection which is no longer in the Arab Image Foundation’s custody, and which consisted of glass plates of Khalil Raad, a photographer from Jerusalem, and those of Yacov Ben Dov, a Zionist filmmaker and photographer of Ukrainian descent. Raad and Ben Dov shared the same city, Jerusalem, but belonged to completely different universes. Zaatari conceived this series as a statement against partitioning history. As the glass plates were stored against each other for over 50 years in the same position, each plate was contaminated by the plate it was leaning against. The cyanotypes depict traces of a world impressed onto another and speak of the ineluctable shared history of Palestine and Israel, safeguarded by a passionate collector. (Text from the Sfeir-Semler Gallery website)

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (details) 2017

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (details) 2017

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (details) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Un-Dividing History (details)
2017

 

Akram Zaatari. 'History' (detail) 2018

 

Akram Zaatari
History (detail)
2018
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

History retraces Zaatari’s pursuit of damaged, erased, withdrawn or scrapped off photographic descriptions from the nineties until the present day. The earliest is a self-portrait he made in 1993, and the most recent are part of Photographic Phenomena, 2018 series.

 

 

Contemporary Arts Center
Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art
44 E. 6th Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202
Phone: 513 345 8400

Opening hours:
Saturday-Monday
10am-4pm
Tuesday
Closed (shop open 10am-4pm)
Wednesday-Friday
10am – 9pm
Contemporary Arts Center website

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04
Sep
13

Exhibition: ‘This Is Not A Silent Movie: Four Contemporary Alaska Native Artists’ at The Craft & Folk Art Museum (CAFAM), Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 26th May – 8th September 2013

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Another interesting exhibition that this blog likes promoting, this time about mixed-race identity.

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Many thankx to The Craft & Folk Art Museum for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the images for a larger version of the art.

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Mehner-5-WEB

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Da-ka-xeen Mehner
Finding My Song Weapons
2012

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Da-ka-xeen Mehner
Finding My Song Weapons (detail)
2012

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Mehner-8-WEB

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Da-ka-xeen Mehner
Finding My Song
2012

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Mehner-3-WEB

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Da-ka-xeen Mehner
Finding My Song
2012

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Mehner-1-WEB

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Da-ka-xeen Mehner
Finding My Song
2012
Projections on rawhide
Courtesy of the Anchorage Museum

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Mehner-2-WEB

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Da-ka-xeen Mehner
Finding My Song
2012
Projections on rawhide
Courtesy of the Anchorage Museum

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Mehner-7-WEB

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Da-ka-xeen Mehner
Finding My Song
2012
Projections on rawhide
Courtesy of the Anchorage Museum

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Nicholas-Galanin-THERE-IS-NO-'I'-WEB

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Nicholas Galanin
There is No “I” in Indian
Nd
Digital photograph

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Nicholas Galanin
White Carver
Nd
Performance and installation

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Nicholas-Galanin-INDIAN-LAND-WEB

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Nicholas Galanin
Indian Land
2012
Digital photograph
Courtesy of the artist

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NICHOLAS-GALANIN-Things-are-Looking-Whiter-WEB

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Nicholas Galanin
Things Are Looking Native, Native’s Looking Whiter
2012
Digital photograph
Courtesy of the artist

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“The Craft & Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) in collaboration with the Anchorage Museum presents This Is Not A Silent Movie: Four Contemporary Alaska Native Artists, an exhibition centered around four acclaimed Alaska Native artists whose groundbreaking contemporary works question institutional methods of identifying Native heritage, examine their own mixed-race identities, and challenge perceptions and stereotypes about indigenous peoples. It will be on view from Sunday, May 26 through Sunday, September 8, 2013.

Through the language of contemporary visual art, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Susie Silook, Da-ka-xeen Mehner, and Nicholas Galanin seek new and distinct ways to speak of tradition and mediate the serious and sometimes ironic conditions of art, identity, and history in the late 20th and early 21st century. Though each artist’s work is rooted in a lifelong immersion in their respective Alaska Native craft traditions, their multi-media installations dissolve the boundaries between contemporary and traditional arts.

Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq/Athabascan) utilizes media such as polyurethane, Beluga intestine, and walrus stomach into her paintings, sculptures, and labor-intensive installations. These works often simulate skin, which is a point of investigation into her struggle for self-definition and identity. Nicholas Galanin’s (Tlingit/Aleut) video and photography installations object to the cultural appropriation and categorization of indigenous peoples by popular culture. In “Things are Looking Native, Native’s Looking Whiter,” Galanin creates a split image that is a composite of one of photographer Edward Curtis’ Native American models with actress Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars. The image references the cross-pollination of the traditional butterfly whorl hairstyle that was worn by unmarried Hopi girls and the popular culture image. In 2013, Galanin received a major award from United States Artists.

Carver Susie Silook (Yupik/Iñupiaq) is a writer and sculptor. The ancestral ivory dolls of Saint Lawrence, traditionally carved by men, are the basis of her work. Silook also departs from tradition by depicting women in her carvings rather than the animals most commonly rendered by men. Her walrus tusk carvings add a distinctly feminist perspective to an otherwise male-dominated art form as they address the widespread incidence of sexual abuse and violence perpetrated against Native women. Silook received a United States Artists Fellowship in 2007. Da-ka-xeen Mehner’s installation “Finding My Song” (Tlingit/N’ishga) draws upon his family’s stories to take a personal look at the retention and reclamation of language. The installation is inspired partially by his grandmother, whose mouth was washed out with soap whenever she spoke her Tlingit language in school in order to “encourage” her to speak English. Mehner’s work examines his own multicultural heritage – and the social expectations and definitions that accompany each aspect of it.

The title This is Not A Silent Movie comes from a quote by Native American writer and filmmaker Sherman Alexie, who works to move audiences away from narrow and stereotypical views of Native people – a view that Native people had very little influence in shaping. The exhibition has been curated by Julie Decker, Ph.D., Chief Curator at the Anchorage Museum.”

Press release from The Craft & Folk Art Museum website

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Susie Silook
Keeping My Heart
2008
Courtesy of Anchorage Museum Collection

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Silook-1-WEB

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Susie Silook
Aghnaghpak (Great Woman)
African Mahogany, whalebone, polar bear, turquoise, baleen, ivory, ink, walrus stomach membrane, brass

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Silook-2-WEB

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Susie Silook
The Healer
Nd
Basswood, caribou antler, ivory, baleen, seal whiskers, purple heart, red ocher

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Silook-3-WEB

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Susie Silook
Ice Incantation
Nd
Walrus ivory, purple heart, porcupine quills, polar bear, blue bead, baleen, red ocher, whalebone, wood

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Silook-4-WEB

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Susie Silook
Mighty Elder
Nd
Ivory, natural stones, polar bear, whale bone, brass, pastels

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The Craft & Folk Art Museum
5814 Wilshire Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Opening hours:
Tuesday-Friday, 11.00 am to 5.00 pm
Saturday/Sunday, 12.00pm to 6.00pm
Closed Mondays.

The Craft & Folk Art Museum website

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30
Apr
13

Exhibition: ‘The Greatest Wonder of the World’ at the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 23rd Feb 2013 – 12th May 2013

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Another fascinating posting, this time featuring Australian colonial photography. In 1951, a hoard of 3,500 glass plate negatives from the nineteenth century was discovered in a garden shed in Chatswood. In time, the find proved to be the most important photographic documentation of goldfields life in Australia. All negatives have now been scanned at high resolution and for the first time in 140 years, it is possible to see what Merlin and Bayliss (from the American & Australasian Photographic Company) photographed, with astonishing clarity and fidelity. “Many of the images in the Holtermann collection were created for an ambitious 1870s publicity campaign to sell the wonders of the Australian colonies to the world.”

What I find particularly interesting is the familiarity of all photographs of goldfields from around the world, whether it be Californian or Victorian – the working class men, the pictures of diggings, etc… but also the particular Australian vernacular that these photographs possess. The photographs could be taken no where else but Australia. Observe the abject poverty of some of the shopkeepers – draper, blacksmith, bootmaker and undertaker (who also acted as carpenter, joiner, builder and cabinet maker) – the timber clad facade of their buildings failing to conceal the bark structure behind (see Holmes, bootmaker, and Spiro Bennett’s store, Gulgong, 1872 below). And yet in their poverty they still thought it important to spend money on advertising with wonderful examples of distinctive typography that I have highlighted in detail – on the photographers, bakers and tent makers shops, on the undertakers facade replete with horses and funeral carriage, and on the painters and sign writers bark clad establishment. Contemporary typographers could have a field day studying these photographs for new typefaces!

Notice in the detail wonderful things:

The roughness of a man’s hand as they stand in front of their loot, the gold specimens;
The incongruous sight of toy dogs among the rough-and-ready types that inhabited a frontier gold town;
The riding crop tucked under the arm of one of the detectives;
The flour that covers the bakers shoes;
The decorative wallpaper hanging outside the painter and signwriters shack, the word ‘Sacred’ on top of the mirror, and his name ‘J.H. Osborne Painter No.2’ emblazoned on the side of his ladder.

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Of particular poignancy is the way the undertaker William Lewis leans in the entrance of his establishment. Propped up against the door (to stop himself from moving during the exposure), his hands stiffly by his side, his eyes stare straight ahead as though he is in a trance. In the photograph he has almost become the corpse that it is his business to bury. We must also acknowledge the temporary nature of these gold field towns, their unsubstantial character and the transitory life of the people that lived and died in them. Bootmaker William Holmes’ wife passed away a few months after the photograph of her family was taken. It was a tough life living on a frontier town. We can also note how desolate the major cities seem, as can be seen in photographs of Sandridge [Port Melbourne] and Pall Mall, Bendigo, with the odd carriage on the street and a single man standing on a street corner.

This is such a rich photographic collection and to have all the negatives digitised and available online is such a pleasure, such a treasure for Australian photographers, historians, researchers and the general public who, with an inquiring mind, can begin to understand the colonisation and conquest of this never empty country.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the State Library 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.

“The State Library of NSW’s world-renowned photographic archive, the Holtermann collection, will be officially included on the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World register at a ceremony in May 2013… The Australian UNESCO Memory of the World program is part of an international initiative, which aims to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity and recognise the significance of all heritage materials… Many of the images in the Holtermann collection were created for an ambitious 1870s publicity campaign to sell the wonders of the Australian colonies to the world. The campaign was funded by German-born entrepreneur, Bernhardt Otto Holtermann, who made his fortune from mining in Hill End. For the first time 100 amazing large format prints from the Holtermann collection are on show [until 12 May] in the State Library’s free exhibition, The Greatest Wonder of the World.”

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Beaufoy Merlin. 'Short Street, Hill End' 1872

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Beaufoy Merlin
Short Street, Hill End
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 5/No. 18504

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Hill End in 1872 was a gold town at its peak. According to the Empire 7 June 1872, “The streets were thronged by a motley crowd; the stores and places of business crowded with customers; the little theatre so densely packed by an admiring audience, that there was not what is facetiously called ‘standing room,’ and even the public-houses, whose name is legion, were crammed. Yet I saw less, far less, drunkenness than can be met with in any street in the metropolis after 10 o’clock at night. There were very few inebriates, no filthy dishevelled women, no crouching loafers, no abject vice. The general aspect of the crowds of decently dressed folk who thronged ‘The Hill’ was that of respectability – rough indeed in many respects, and loud and noisy too, in some instances, but not disreputable, and altogether good-humoured.”

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American & Australasian. 'Photographic Company Hawkins Hill 'Golden Quarter Mile'' 1872

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
Hawkins Hill ‘Golden Quarter Mile’
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 71/No. C

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This panorama of Hawkins Hill was taken by Beaufoy Merlin, who erected his camera in a tree more than a kilometre away across a gully nearly 300 metres deep. In the centre of the image is Krohmann’s mine, with the twin buildings and two storied structure of Beyers and Holtermann’s immediately to the left of it. These two mines contributed to the 12.4 tonnes of gold extracted from Hawkins Hill, but such are the vagaries of goldmining, that Rapp’s, on the extreme right, returned little to its investors, despite digging to a depth of over 380 feet [115 metres]. An almost identical view of the Hawkins Hill ‘Golden Quarter Mile’ taken by Merlin appeared as an engraving in the Australian Town and Country Journal 18 May 1872.

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Gold Specimens from the Star of Hope mine' 1872

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
Gold Specimens from the Star of Hope mine
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 71/No. T

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A month before discovery of the 286 kg Holtermann “nugget” [estimated to hold around 93kg of gold], Bernhardt Holtermann (second from left) Richard Ormsby Kerr (centre) and Louis Beyers (fourth from left) posed with 3,663 ozs [114 kg] of gold specimens from their claim. The specimens were described in The Sydney Morning Herald 28 September 1872 ; “To say they were good would be to say but little – they were almost without rival – magnificent – the talk of this town, where specimens are not unknown.” Holtermann took the best to the Sydney Mint for smelting, “as being clotted with gold it would be almost impossible to crush it in the ordinary way.” The item of clothing on the floor to the right is Beyer’s waistcoat.

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Gold Specimens from the Star of Hope mine' 1872 (detail)

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
Gold Specimens from the Star of Hope mine (detail)
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 71/No. T

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'A domestic miner [Hill End]' 1872

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
A domestic miner [Hill End]
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 10/No. 70154

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Thomas Browne (better known as Rolf Boldrewood) was Gold Commissioner in Gulgong, during the period of Merlin and Bayliss’s photographs. Although this photograph was taken in Hill End, Boldrewood’s description of the domestic miner in his novel The Miners Right seems universal. “The thrifty miner who possesses the treasure, not less common on Australian goldfields than in other places, of a cleanly managing wife, is enabled to surround himself with rural privileges. A plot of garden ground, well fenced, grows not only vegetables but flowers, which a generation since were only to be found in conservatories… the domestic miner is often seen surrounded by his children, hoeing up his potatoes or cauliflowers, or training the climbing rose which beautifies his rude but by no means despicable dwelling.”

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Studio and staff of American & Australasian Photographic Co., Hill End' 1872

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
Studio and staff of American & Australasian Photographic Co., Hill End
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 9/No. 18850

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The American and Australasian Photographic Company established a studio in Tambaroora Street, Hill End in 1872. Beaufoy Merlin’s assistant Charles Bayliss stands, hands in pockets, in the doorway, with studio operator James Clinton behind him. Beside the door is a frame containing large photographic views of Sydney, including the General Post Office and harbour.

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Studio and staff of American & Australasian Photographic Co., Hill End' 1872 (detail)

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
Studio and staff of American & Australasian Photographic Co., Hill End (detail)
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 9/No. 18850

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Blacksmith William Jenkyns' 1872

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
Blacksmith William Jenkyns
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 7/No. 18715

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William Jenkyns’ blacksmith and shoeing forge was situated in Clarke Street, Hill End. The condition of roads around Hill End ensured Jenkyns was busy. A correspondent to The Sydney Morning Herald 23 May 1872 wrote of the road between Bathurst and Hill End, “For miles at a stretch there is nothing to indicate that any money has been spent upon the road for years, and it is doubtful whether any portion of it has ever been properly made.” On 3 December 1872 another wrote, “I think I have travelled the worst of roads; for the sake of humanity, I hope there are none worse than those I have travelled.” Despite a superficial resemblance, the man on the right is not B.O. Holtermann.

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Gibbs, Shallard & Co., Colour Printers [188-?] 'Holtermann's Life Preserving Drops' 1872

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Gibbs, Shallard & Co., Colour Printers [188-?]
Holtermann’s Life Preserving Drops
1872
Poster

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There is no doubt that Bernhardt Otto Holtermann understood the importance and value of maintaining his association with the world’s largest specimen of reef gold. Unable to purchase the monster quartz and gold specimen when it was extracted from the Star of Hope mine in Tambaroora in 1872, he commissioned the American and Australasian Photographic Company to produce a photographic montage of him standing beside it. Photographers Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss seem to have carried out this assignment on more than one occasion, as Holtermann wears different clothing in the several known examples of the image.

Obviously pleased with the result, Holtermann used the montage on his business card and on the label to a patent medicine bearing his name. As an advertising ploy, the image of Holtermann resting his hand on the world’s largest hunk of gold can only have been interpreted as a symbol of success and a guarantee of the worth of his product. (Alan Davies author)

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B.O.-Holtermann-with-the-Holtermann-Nugget-WEB

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
B.O. Holtermann with the Holtermann Nugget, North Sydney
1874-1876?

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During the 1870’s goldrush in central New South Wales, Bernard Holtermann, his partners and miners brought the largest agglomeration of gold to the surface. It was not a nugget of pure gold but he was instantly rich! An even larger gold find was broken up when it came to the surface in late January-early February 1873 but it was not photographed. With his wealth Holtermann financed the photography of the goldfields, a collection of international significance showing the ordinary people from all over the world with their houses and businesses on the goldfields. This composite photograph was put together later to give the appearance of Holtermann with the gold on the veranda of his new mansion at North Sydney, now the site of Shore Grammar School.

Three photographs were used to create this image of Holtermann, (supposedly holding the worlds’ largest accumulation of rock and gold ever brought to the surface in one piece). He was posed in the studio with his hand on a headclamp, the nugget was inserted and both placed on a photograph of the verandah of his mansion, built from the proceeds of his goldmine. The “nugget” was found in Hill End, New South Wales on 19th October 1872. More than half of the 630 lbs weight was pure gold, value 12,000 pounds ($24,000). With gold worth say $1400 per ounce, the value today would be over $A7,000,000. Amazingly Holtermann’s mine had already made him rich before the discovery of this boulder and there was reputed to be an even larger aggregate in the mine!

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“In 1872, the newly rich Bernhardt Otto Holtermann used some of his wealth to employ Henry Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss, of the American and Australasian (A&A) Photographic Company, to photograph gold producing areas and cities in NSW and Victoria for exhibition overseas. These images provide the most comprehensive and detailed record of nineteenth century goldfields life and, with the commissioned photographs, now form the Library’s Holtermann archive of 3500 wet plate negatives. The Greatest Wonder of the World features this extraordinary collection of nineteenth century documentary images. Through enlargements, digital images and a selection of vintage prints and wet plate negatives, the exhibition tells the remarkable story of the A&A Photographic Company and the philanthropy and vision of Bernhardt Holtermann.

In 1951, a hoard of 3,500 glass plate negatives from the nineteenth century was discovered in a garden shed in Chatswood. In time, the find proved to be the most important photographic documentation of goldfields life in Australia. The photographers responsible for the images were Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss of the American and Australasian Photographic Company, who had travelled to the town of Hill End in 1872 to record the rush. From there, they also recorded the burgeoning Gulgong and Mudgee goldfields.

In October 1872, the world’s largest specimen of reef gold, known as the Holtermann nugget, was unearthed at nearby Hawkins Hill and Merlin and Bayliss were there to record it. In an extraordinary act of patronage, the newly rich Bernhardt Otto Holtermann used some of his wealth to employ Merlin and Bayliss to photograph other gold producing areas and cities in NSW and Victoria for exhibition overseas. Proud of his own success, he believed that his travelling exposition would encourage immigration to Australia.  Merlin and Bayliss’s documentation was slow, with long exposures and the difficulty of processing one photograph at a time. Their wet plate negatives captured exceptional detail, but copies made in the twentieth century failed to reveal the wealth of information hidden within.

In 2008, plans were made to digitally scan the Holtermann Collection at very high resolution and this became reality through the generous assistance of the Graham and Charlene Bradley Foundation; Simon and Catriona Mordant; Geoffrey and Rachel O’Conor; Morningstar and numerous other benefactors. For the first time in 140 years, it is possible to see what Merlin and Bayliss photographed, with astonishing clarity and fidelity.”

Press release from the State Library of New South Wales website

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. '[French warship 'Atalante', Fitzroy Dock, Sydney, 1873]' Aug 1873

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
[French warship ‘Atalante’, Fitzroy Dock, Sydney, 1873]
Aug 1873

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This photograph of the French warship Atalante in Fitzroy Dock on Cockatoo Island, with Balmain in the background, was taken in August 1873. Built in 1865, the iron clad Atalante had a protruding brass bow for ramming lesser vessels. It had taken part in the Franco Prussian War in 1870 and at the time of this photograph was the flagship of the Pacific Squadron, under the command of Rear Admiral Baron Roussin. Beaufoy Merlin was particularly pleased with his photographs of the Atalante and wrote about them in the Town and Country Journal.

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. '[French warship 'Atalante' at Fitzroy Dock, Sydney, 1873 / attributed to the American & Australasian Photographic Company]' 1873

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
[French warship ‘Atalante’ at Fitzroy Dock, Sydney, 1873 / attributed to the American & Australasian Photographic Company]
1873

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“… One of the solar pictures which I took on the occasion of my last visit to the Atalante, of which an engraving accompanies the present pen-and-ink sketch, is taken  from the rocks to the north-west, and shows her “ram,” with its massive projecting extremity of solid brass, her swelling sides, portholes, section of the dock, and men at work. The steps to the bottom of the basin as well as [its depth], are fairly indicated. Probably there is no one more difficult to please in procuring a picture of this kind than the landscape photographer himself. I may therefore be permitted to say in behalf of the one referred to, that it gave me satisfaction.”

Sadly, these images of Atalante were among the last photographs taken by Merlin. He contracted pneumonia and died, age 43, in September 1873.

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. '[Merlin's photographic cart ?] and Mitchell's London Hotel, Railway Place, Sandridge [Port Melbourne]' 1870-1875

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
[Merlin’s photographic cart?] and Mitchell’s London Hotel, Railway Place, Sandridge [Port Melbourne]
1870-1875

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Herbert Street, west side looking north from Mayne Street and showing Barnes' Chemist Shop, Gulgong' 1872

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
Herbert Street, west side looking north from Mayne Street and showing Barnes’ Chemist Shop, Gulgong
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 2/No. 18242

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The incongruous sight of toy dogs among the rough-and-ready types that inhabited a frontier gold town has been captured in this view of Herbert Street, Gulgong. According to the Empire 28 May 1872 “The streets – so to call the dusty avenues between the rows of shops and Inns – are thronged in the daytime, by much about the same number, though not, apparently by the same sort of persons, as the streets in Sydney. There is not the same bustling activity about them… There are also fewer women amongst them, and fewer well dressed men. The yellow, clay-stained fustian trousers which have never made and never will make acquaintance with the wash-tub, invest the lower extremities of every two men out of three…”

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Charles Bird, Medical Hall, Gulgong' 1872

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
Charles Bird, Medical Hall, Gulgong
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 2/No. 18160

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The Medical Hall of Charles Bird Jnr was situated at the corner of Belmore and Herbert Streets, Gulgong. Charles Bird Snr. conducted another shop at the corner of Mayne and Herbert Streets, until the Medical Hall was sold and converted into a hotel in 1879. The Gulgong Guardian 20 November 1872 noted that Charles Bird had received a new disinfectant “which will be invaluable during the summer months to all who are unfortunate enough to live in those parts of town where stenches are pungent and plentiful.”

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Holmes, bootmaker, and Spiro Bennett's store, Gulgong' 1872

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
Holmes, bootmaker, and Spiro Bennett’s store, Gulgong
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 3/No. 18314

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This timber clad facade fails to conceal the bark structure behind and the poverty of its inhabitants. This is Gulgong bootmaker William Holmes and his family outside their shop in Mayne Street west. His wife Emily, in the doorway, died a few months after the photograph was taken. The town’s short-term architecture was described in The Sydney Morning Herald 30 September 1872. “Gulgong is not singular in its buildings. The followers of alluvial rushes have ere this found that business is fleeting. As leads work out so does business tide away. Hence have we buildings of a temporary nature; and, although the town of Gulgong may be reckoned three years old, yet not a single brick building stands on its site…”

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'The detectives' 1872

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
The detectives
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 2/No. 18246

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These are detectives Charles Powell and Robert Hannan, outside their Gulgong office. They had plenty to do. In a letter to the editor of the Maitland Mercury 16 May 1872, William Collins stated “The people (except the bankers and storekeepers), are in general a rough and ready set, occasionally a fight is to be seen, but the very diligent police speedily settle such hostile engagements, by marching the pugilists to a place called the town cage, from which place they are brought in the morning before the magistrate, who has often heard of mercy, but does not know what it means…” Powell and Hannan arrested 14 Chinese for gambling in January 1872 and the Empire 20 January 1872 noted, “In all these cases the lawyers reap a rich harvest, and it was somewhat amusing to witness their actively and interest within ten minutes of the time of arrest.”

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'The detectives' 1872 (detail)

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
The detectives (detail)
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 2/No. 18246

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American & Australasian Photographic. 'Company William Lewis, undertaker' 1872

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
William Lewis, undertaker
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 2/No. 18168

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The establishment of William Thomas Lewis, Undertaker and Carpenter at the corner of Belmore and Herbert Streets was primitive, but his funerals were said to be carried out ‘with his usual taste and completeness’. In 1871, Gulgong lacked a suitable place for burials and the Gulgong Guardian commented several times on the growing outcry for a cemetery. The locals had a valid complaint, particularly because of the considerable mortality rate among the young. In April 1871 alone, nine children died in a fortnight. Even Thomas De Courcy Brown, editor of the Guardian, lost his daughter Rose, age 7 months, in December that year. In January 1872, there were 37 deaths in Gulgong, (including 21 children under 5 years) and 17 births. The newspaper complained that the new cemetery was still unfenced.

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American & Australasian Photographic. 'Company William Lewis, undertaker' 1872 (detail)

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
William Lewis, undertaker (detail)
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 2/No. 18168

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'John Osborne, painter and signwriter' 1872

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
John Osborne, painter and signwriter
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 4/No. 18372

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J.H. Osborne, painter & signwriter of Gulgong also supplied decorative wallpaper. It seems he painted faux marble headstones as well. Osborne’s bark clad establishment was located at 2 Medley Street, at the sparsely populated northern end of town, which explains the prominent display of his sign writing skill. The Empire 28 May 1872 commented on the temporary nature of buildings in Gulgong. “The shops and public-houses are, for the most part, of a very temporary and unsubstantial character, considered as buildings. A large proportion of them are capable of being removed, piecemeal, and set up again on a new diggings in the event of Gulgong declining in prosperity, and a rush taking place to another field within a day or two’s journey.”

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American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'John Osborne, painter and signwriter' 1872 (detail)

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American & Australasian Photographic Company
John Osborne, painter and signwriter (detail)
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 4/No. 18372

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“A meeting between gold miner Bernard Otto Holtermann and photographer Beaufoy Merlin in Hill End in 1872 resulted in one of the most astonishing photographic documentations ever undertaken. Holtermann had been associated with the recent discovery of the world’s largest specimen of reef gold, weighing 145 kilograms, extracted from the Star of Hope mine at nearby Tambaroora. Merlin, an itinerant photographer, had just opened a temporary studio in Hill End. In January 1873, the two announced their plans for Holtermann’s great International Travelling Exposition, which would publicise the potential of their adopted country to the world through photography.
Merlin and his assistant Charles Bayliss had already photographed some of the gold producing towns of the colony and Holtermann’s patronage enabled them to continue the undertaking, using a larger camera.

Merlin had begun his photographic career in Victoria in 1866 and within a few years had developed a unique style of outdoor photography. Charles Bayliss joined American & Australasian Photographic Company in Melbourne and the pair headed north into New South Wales, photographing towns along the way. When Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss arrived in Sydney in September 1870, they had already completed an extraordinary documentation of “almost every house in Melbourne, and the other towns in Victoria.” They were aware that their venture was unusual and contemporary advertising by the American & Australasian Photographic Company reflects a considered understanding of the photographic medium and an intellectual approach to their work.

“The chief characteristic and distinguishing feature of the Company’s style of work, is the introduction of figures into the photograph – the most complete and life-like portraits of individuals who happen, or may choose to stand outside, being incorporated in the picture. The A&A Photographic Company desire further to remind the public that these negatives are not taken for the mere immediate object of sale, but that being registered, copies can at all times be had by or of those parties residing in any part of the colonies wherever the Company’s operations have extended, thus forming a novel means of social and commercial intercourse.”

Nevertheless, it is not surprising that Merlin and Bayliss headed west in 1872 with the new gold rushes. The cry “Rush-O!” meant money for businesses, including photographers. A studio for the A&A Photographic Company was built on land owned by Holtermann in Hill End and excursions were made to surrounding areas by horse drawn caravan. The photographic process of the day required the photographer coat each plate just before use and develop it immediately before it lost sensitivity. For the itinerant photographer, this meant taking a portable darkroom wherever he went. Despite the difficulty of the wet plate process, the comprehensive goldfields photography of Merlin and Bayliss has provided a unique documentation of frontier life.

Merlin fell ill and died from pneumonia in 1873, leaving his assistant the task of documenting towns for Holtermann’s Exposition. Consequently, Bayliss toured Victoria the following year, but returned to Sydney in 1875 and began making giant panoramas of the city from Holtermann’s house in North Sydney. The venture was to cost Holtermann over ₤4000, but resulted in the production of the world’s largest wet-plate negatives and several panoramas. One, measuring 10 metres long, astonished audiences overseas and received the Bronze award at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and a Silver Medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle Internationale in 1878. Only a small percentage of the A&A Photographic Company’s output has survived, but 3,500 small format wet plates negatives (including extensive coverage of the towns of Hill End and Gulgong) and the world’s largest wet plate negatives, measuring a massive 1 x 1.5 metres, are held by the Library.”

Text from The Holtermann Collection website

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Charles Bayliss. 'The beginning of Home Rule' 1872

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Charles Bayliss
The beginning of Home Rule
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 3/No. 18278

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Home Rule, 11 km south-east of Gulgong, was only two months old when Charles Bayliss took this photograph. A reporter from the Gulgong Guardian was also in town and wrote on 13 July 1872, “During the past fortnight there has been a great improvement for the better in the appearance of the township at the Home Rule. Large and costly buildings are springing up in every direction and being fitted up for almost every trade. In hotels there is a great change for the better, as in several of them notably Messrs Wright, Moss, and Oliver, the accommodation is almost equal to any on Gulgong; so visitors need not fear that they will suffer hunger or thirst.”

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Charles Bayliss. 'Tent city, Home Rule' 1872

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Charles Bayliss
Tent city, Home Rule
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 3/No. 18285

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In the early days of gold rushes, miners usually lived in tents. Here tentmaker J. Booth has confidently set up his canvas shop in Home Rule. The burgeoning new field was described in the Sydney Morning Herald 22 May 1872, “On Friday last there must have been fully fifteen hundred persons upon the ground, and tents and habitations of every description were springing, apparently Iike mushrooms, from the ground, and such is the rapidity with which a gold-fields town is formed, I shall not be surprised to see the place well supplied with stores, and, of course, hotels, when I again visit the place about a fortnight hence.”

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Charles Bayliss. 'John Davey, baker' 1872

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Charles Bayliss
John Davey, baker
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 3/No. 18384

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With his shoes covered in flour, John Davey steps outside his bakery in the main street of Canadian Lead. Bread cost 6d a 2lb [5 cents per 900g] loaf. The woman and children to the right also appear outside Ruth Beck’s North Star Hotel, three doors away. The rush to Canadian Lead began in early 1872 and the Maitland Mercury 6 April 1872 was able to state “the Canadian Lead, where a month ago some four hundred people were, can now boast of a couple of thousands…” Not everyone was law-abiding. The Maitland Mercury 24 August 1872 related the story of Mrs Beck dropping a purse containing £21 [$42, worth about $2000 today], which was picked up by her little boy, but taken from him by two men claiming that it was theirs. The miscreants were arrested in Mudgee two days later, drinking the profits.

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Charles Bayliss. 'John Davey, baker' 1872 (detail)

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Charles Bayliss
John Davey, baker (detail)
1872
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 3/No. 18384

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Beaufoy Merlin. 'Circular Quay from Dawes Battery' 1873

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Beaufoy Merlin
Circular Quay from Dawes Battery
1873
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 58/No. 285

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In mid 1873, Beaufoy Merlin returned to Sydney to continue photographing the city for Holtermann. The Sydney Morning Herald 2 August 1873 noted, “Mr. Beaufoy Merlin has taken a considerable number of photographic views of Sydney for the first section of ‘Holtermann’s Intercolonial Exposition.'” This image from Dawes Battery, past Campbell’s Wharf to Circular Quay can be dated to early September 1873, as the Haddon Hall (r) from London, is loading for San Francisco at Campbell’s wharf. Behind it is Aviemore and the ship in background in front of Customs House is La Hogue. Both Aviemore and La Hogue left for London on 13 September 1873.

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Charles Bayliss [American & Australasian Photographic Company]. 'Pall Mall, Bendigo' 1874

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Charles Bayliss [American & Australasian Photographic Company]
Pall Mall, Bendigo
1874
Wet plate glass negative, on 4/Box 78/No. 2

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After the death of Beaufoy Merlin in 1873, Bernhardt Holtermann engaged Merlin’s assistant, 24 year-old Charles Bayliss, to continue taking photographs for his planned Exposition. This view of Pall Mall from Hadley’s City Family Hotel, Sandhurst [Bendigo, Victoria] was taken in April 1874. Bayliss photographed the town using the Exposition’s standard 10 x 12 inch [25 x 30cm] glass negatives, but for this image used a mammoth camera specially imported by Holtermann which took glass plates measuring 18 x 22 inches [46 x 56cm]. Bayliss also photographed Ballarat in June 1874, using the mammoth camera to produce a panorama from the town hall clock tower.

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14
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Naoya Hatakeyama: Natural Stories’ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA)

Exhibition dates: 28th July – 4th November 2012

 

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

 

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'Lime Hills #12801' 1986

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Lime Hills #12801
1986
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photograph
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'Lime Hills #22916' 1988

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Lime Hills #22916
1988
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'Lime Hills #23514' 1988

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Lime Hills #23514
1988
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'Lime Hills #27403' 1989

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Lime Hills #27403
1989
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'Lime Hills #29211' 1990

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Lime Hills #29211
1990
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

 

Lime Hills (Quarry Series), 1986-1991

Each year nearly two hundred million tons of limestone – virtually the only natural resource in Japan – are cut to produce the cement necessary to build the nation’s many cities, as well as to make additives used in paper, medicine, and food products. Hatakeyama was drawn to this industrial subject from a young age; his first artistic explorations took the form of paintings of the cement factory that he passed each day as a child. For Lime Hills, his earliest photographic series, Hatakeyama returned to the area near his hometown on the northeastern coast of Japan to investigate the nearby limestone quarries and their corresponding factories. Over the next five years he broadened his scope to include mines throughout Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. Reflecting on the physical connection between these sites and civilisation, the artist later noted: “If the concrete buildings and highways that stretch to the horizon are all made from limestone dug from the hills, and if they should all be ground to dust and this vast quantity of calcium carbonate returned to its precise points of origin, why then, with the last spoonful, the ridge lines of the hills would be restored to their original dimensions.”

These small-scale photographs offer visions of the excavated land that at first glance seem idyllic. Often shooting in the golden evening light with a large-format camera, Hatakeyama captured the sculptural contours of the processed earth, infusing it with the luminous glow seen in many Romantic landscape paintings of the nineteenth century. Yet the Romantic tradition, which highlighted the awesome terror of nature, is upended in Hatakeyama’s pictures, which instead uncover unexpected pleasures in the tamed and built environment, ultimately suggesting the artificiality of conventional notions of beauty.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'Sollac Méditerranée, Fos-sur-Mer, #06709' 2003

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Sollac Méditerranée, Fos-sur-Mer, #06709
2003
From the series Atmos
Chromogenic print
27 9/16 in. x 35 7/16 in (70 cm x 90cm)
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'Sollac Méditerranée, Fos-sur-Mer, #06709' 2003

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Sollac Méditerranée, Fos-sur-Mer, #06709
2003
From the series Atmos
Chromogenic print
27 9/16 in. x 35 7/16 in (70 cm x 90cm)
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

 

Atmos, 2003

In 2003 Hatakeyama was invited to the Camargue, near Fos-sur-Mer, France, to photograph the landscape surrounding a steel factory located on the eastern edge of the Rhône delta. He worked from two perspectives, shooting on the factory grounds as well as from the surrounding landscape, much of which is conserved as a nature park. His photographs contrast the idyllic serenity of the flat plains where the Rhône river meets the Mediterranean Sea with the dramatic clouds of steam – formed when the coke used in steel making is doused in cool water – that often rise above this terrain.

Upon discovering this impressive phenomenon the artist reflected: “The etymology of ‘atmosphere’ is the ancient Greek words for vapor (atmos) and sphere (sphaira). Once I learned this, the air that filled the Camargue and the steam from the factory seemed to fuse into one before my eyes. It no longer felt strange to see signs of humanity in the sky and the land, or to sense nature in the cloud of steam from the factory. And I began to feel that it would no longer be possible to draw a clear line at the border between nature and the artificial.” Through Hatakeyama’s lens, the factory seems at once tranquil and volatile, surrounded by the golden light, billowing pastel clouds, and thick atmosphere found in many early twentieth-century paintings of industrial sites. Like the Impressionists, who embraced modern life by finding their subjects in new technologies, Hatakeyama presents new landscapes that complicate the conventional boundaries between nature and industry.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

From July 28 through November 4, 2012, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present the work of one of Japan’s most important contemporary photographers in the exhibition Naoya Hatakeyama: Natural Stories. This will be the artist’s first solo exhibition in a U.S. museum and the first presentation of his work on the West Coast.

Organised by the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in association with SFMOMA, the exhibition gathers work spanning Naoya Hatakeyama’s entire career, including more than 100 photographs and two video installations, offering viewers new insight into the artist’s practice and place in the rich history of Japanese photography. The presentation at SFMOMA, the sole U.S. venue for this internationally traveling retrospective, is overseen by Lisa J. Sutcliffe, assistant curator of photography.

Hatakeyama is known for austere and beautiful large-scale color pictures that capture the extraordinary powers routinely deployed to shape nature to our will – and, in the case of his photographs made after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the equally powerful impact of natural forces on human activities. Whether photographing factories, quarries, mines, or tsunami-swept landscapes, Hatakeyama has developed a thorough and analytical method for observing the ways in which the human and natural worlds have both coexisted and clashed. “For the past 25 years Naoya Hatakeyama has made pictures that focus on the complicated relationship between man and nature,” says Sutcliffe. “Approaching his subjects from diverse perspectives and across time, he redefines the ways in which we visualize the natural world.”

Hatakeyama has long been interested in the relationship between human industry and the natural environment. His early series of photographs of limestone quarries, Lime Hills (1986-91), references the Romantic painterly tradition of the sublime, but links it to the relentless pursuit of raw materials for modern development. After observing that “the quarries and the cities are like negative and positive images of a single photograph,” Hatakeyama began to investigate urban centers built from limestone and concrete. In Underground (1999), he explores the pitch-black depths of Tokyo’s underbelly from the tunnels of the Shibuya River, revealing the ecosystems of the city’s sewer network that often go unseen. Nearly a decade later he returned to the subject, photographing the remnants of decaying limestone quarries underneath Paris in Ciel Tombé (2007).

Several of Hatakeyama’s photographic series capture scenes of destruction with calm precision. Contemplating the abandoned structures surrounding a disused coal mine, Zeche Westfalen I/II Ahlen (2003/2004) includes images of a German factory hall seemingly suspended in midair at the moment of its demolition. For the Blast series (2005), the photographer used a high-speed motor-driven camera to document explosions in an open-cast limestone mine, framing the instant of impact in a series of still photographs. The exhibition will present the U.S. debut of Twenty-Four Blasts (2011), a video installation of his still photographs from Blast that transforms these explosions into a found sculptural event.

Hatakeyama has applied his measured and unsentimental method of observation to landscapes in transition around the world. In the series Atmos (2003), his representations of tranquil French landscapes include steam clouds generated by steelworks. Also made in France, the series Terrils (2009-10) pictures the massive conical hills created by coal mining, documenting landscapes transformed by the human exploitation of natural resources. Considering a different type of human impact on the natural world, Hatakeyama observes the conquest of the Swiss Alps by tourism in Another Mountain (2005), invoking the sublime both through choice of subject matter and through the contrast in scale between man and nature.

The most recent series in the exhibition, Rikuzentakata (2011), records the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan. For Hatakeyama, the disaster struck very close to home: his hometown of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture was left in ruins, his mother was killed, and the house he grew up in was destroyed. Although these are some of the most personal photographs the artist has ever exhibited, they are remarkably unsentimental, displaying the same clarity and refinement that mark the rest of his work. The video installation Kesengawa (2002-10), named after the river that flows through Rikuzentakata, presents his personal photographs of the area made before the tsunami, creating a poignant dialogue with the 2011 series.

Press release from the SFMOMA website

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'A BIRD/Blast #130' 2006

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
A BIRD/Blast #130
2006
#7 from a series of 17 chromogenic prints
8 in. x 10 in (20.32 cm x 25.4cm)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, promised gift of Kurenboh
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'A BIRD/Blast #130' 2006

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
A BIRD/Blast #130
2006
#15 from a series of 17 chromogenic prints
8 in. x 10 in (20.32 cm x 25.4cm)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, promised gift of Kurenboh
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. Still from 'Twenty-Four Blasts' 2011

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Still from Twenty-Four Blasts
2011
HD video installation from a sequence of 35 mm film
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

 

Blast, 1995
Zeche Westfalen I/II, Ahlen, 2003-2004

While photographing Japanese quarries and factories for Lime Hills, Hatakeyama became intrigued by the regular explosions designed to free limestone from the cliffs. He was interested in the violence and force of the blasts as well as in the engineers’ deep understanding of the “nature” of the rock. Working with these experts, he was able to calculate exactly how close he could place his remote controlled, motorised camera to the blast to capture the explosion in still frames. The striking large-scale photographs this method produced dramatise the tension between the slow geologic formation of the rocks and the split-second detonation that destroys them. Distilling his study to a series of frozen moments of intense scrutiny, Hatakeyama emphasises the volatile character of the blast, offering a perspective that cannot be seen by the naked eye. In the video projection Twenty-Four Blasts, presented in the next room, these explosions are set to motion, serving as documentation of the mining process while also reflecting an understanding of the blast as a sculptural event.

In Zeche Westfalen I/II, Ahlen, a series taken in Germany, Hatakeyama used a remote-controlled camera shutter to photograph the destruction of the Zeche Westfalen coal plant at the time of detonation. An industrial centre since the mid-nineteenth century, the area is experiencing new development as mines are destroyed to make way for commercial and residential growth. These pictures serve as a record of one such transition, trapping the building as it hovers in midair in the moments just before its destruction. Although photography is often used to capture an image of something before it is gone, these pictures reveal Hatakeyama’s interest in documenting destruction analytically and in real time, as a celebration of the future rather than an elegy to the past.

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'Underground #7109' 1999

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Underground #7109
1999
Chromogenic print
19 5/16 in. x 19 5/16 in (49 cm x 49cm)
Collection of Michael and Jeanne Klein
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'Underground #6302' 1999

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Underground #6302
1999
Chromogenic print
19 5/16 in. x 19 5/16 in (49 cm x 49cm)
Collection of Michael and Jeanne Klein
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'Underground #7001' 1999

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Underground #7001
1999
Chromogenic print
19 5/16 in. x 19 5/16 in (49 cm x 49cm)
Collection of Michael and Jeanne Klein
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

 

Underground, 1999 / Ciel Tombé, 2007

After photographing the limestone quarries around Japan, Hatakeyama realised that the urban fabric of Tokyo resembles a mirror image of the excavated earth when viewed from above. As he later wrote, “the quarries and the cities are like negative and positive images of a single photograph.” This revelation led him to photograph the city from great heights and, later, to document the tunnels snaking beneath it. The Shibuya River, diverted beneath Tokyo like a sewer, echoes the chambers Hatakeyama observed within the quarries, yet it is shrouded in darkness and mystery. His abstract and often theatrically lit pictures of the underground river, illuminated by a strobe at the centre of each composition, investigate the process of photographing complete darkness.

Long interested in exploring the subterranean landscapes of France, where limestone was quarried in the carrières below Paris beginning in the thirteenth century, Hatakeyama followed his Tokyo pictures with a Parisian series. For Ciel Tombé he photographed the tunnels beneath the Bois de Vincennes, a wooded park to the east of the city. The series title, which translates literally as “fallen sky,” is a term often used to describe the collapsed ceilings in Parisian underground tunnels. The resulting pictures, which share the dramatic lighting of his Shibuya River series, emphasise the fragility of a built environment exposed to the ravages of time. Hatakeyama has remarked that in these tunnels, “the sky has now become an ancient layer of earth permeating below the city [in which] we live.”

 

Naoya Hatakeyama. 'Noyelles-sous-Lens, #07729' 2009

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Noyelles-sous-Lens, #07729
2009
From the series Terrils
Chromogenic print
23 5/8 in. x 29 1/2 in (60 cm x 75cm)
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958) 'Loos-en-Gohelle, #02607' 2009

 

Naoya Hatakeyama (Japan, b. 1958)
Loos-en-Gohelle, #02607
2009
From the series Terrils
Chromogenic print
23 5/8 in. x 29 1/2 in (60 cm x 75cm)
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

 

 

Terrils, 2009-2010

During 2009 and 2010 Hatakeyama was a photographer in residence in the Nord-Pas de Calais, a region in northern France along the Belgian border. A historically contested area often in the path of wars between France and its neighbours, the Nord became a major centre for industry in the nineteenth century due to its wealth of coal mines, steel mills, and textile factories. Today the landscape is marked by terrils, slag heaps composed of waste products from the mining process, which in the context of the region’s current economic troubles serve as monumental reminders of a prosperous industrial past.

Hatakeyama’s photographs explore the terrain from different perspectives, with conical towers of slag looming in nearly every picture. While some of the pictures expose the burnt orange soil just beneath the earth’s surface, others soften the mining site with a wintry, atmospheric haze. By transforming this man-made wasteland to the point that the viewer can no longer determine its contours, Hatakeyama reveals a complex natural environment that incorporates human developments. According to the artist, “history is not simply a list of events, but a human narrative which weaves together time and memory. The interweaving of passing time and the memory of events creates the fabric where History appears as a pattern from which each individual perceives his own personal story.” In these pictures Hatakeyama maps the traces of one such story on the landscape through the conical forms of the mining deposits. These “hills” not only serve as reminders of the ways in which the land has been used but also evoke the long-established cultural role of mountains as mythological symbols.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Opening hours:
Friday – Tuesday 10am – 6pm
Wednesday 10am – 5pm
Thursday 10am – 9.30pm

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art website

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09
Mar
12

Notes from the lecture ‘Anti-Entropy: A natural History of the Studio’ by William Kentridge at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Melbourne

Date: 8th March 2012

 

Edward Francis Burney. 'A view of Philip James de Loutherbourg's Eidophusikon' c. 1782

 

Edward Francis Burney (English, 1760-1848)
A view of Philip James de Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon
c. 1782
At left a man bowing to a woman, to right figures seated on a bench in the foreground, watching a scene titled ‘Satan Arraying his Troops on the Banks of a Fiery Lake, with the Raising of the Palace of Pandemonium’ during a performance of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” on a stage labelled EIDOPHUSIKON in a cartouche above
Pen and grey ink and grey wash, with watercolour
© The Trustees of the British Museum

 

 

A munificence of Minor White and the revelation of the object through contemplation could be found in the lecture by William Kentridge. As an artist you must keep repeating and constructively playing and something else, some new idea, some new way of looking at the world may emerge. As a glimpse into the working methodology of one of the worlds great artists the lecture was fascinating stuff!

Images in this posting are used under fair use for commentary and illustration of the lecture notes. No copyright breach is intended. © All rights remain with the copyright holder. My additions to the text can be found in [ ] brackets.

 

 

On self-doubt as an artist

“At four in the morning there are no lack of branches for the crow of doubt to land upon.”

.
On Memory

“Memory – both memory and the forgetting of memory. For example, the building of monuments [monuments to the Holocaust, to wars] takes the responsibility of remembering away.”

.
On Play

“We absolutely want to make sense of the world in that way. That’s one of the principles of play – that however much you distort and break things apart, in the end we will try to reconstruct them in some way to make sense of the world. I think that every child does it. It’s fundamental.”
.
On Looking

“It’s the capacity for recognition that makes a difference between order and disorder in looking at visual images. And it’s the vocabulary of recognisable images that we have inside us, which is completely vital to what it is to see. I don’t really buy the idea that order and disorder are the same.”

.
William Kentridge

 

 

First History of the Cinema

Performances of Transformation

  • Cinema
  • Shadow dancing
  • Eidophusikon (The Eidophusikon was a piece of art, no longer extant, created by 18th century English painter Philip James de Loutherbourg. It opened in Leicester Square in February 1781.Described by the media of his day as “Moving Pictures, representing Phenomena of Nature,” the Eidophusikon can be considered an early form of movie making. The effect was achieved by mirrors and pulleys.
  • Quick change artist
  • Stage magicians

.
All work against the time of the audience e.g. the quick change artist may take 3 seconds, the sunset in a Georges Méliès film may take 2 minutes instead of 2 hours. The technology / scrims / screens happen at different speeds but the different times become one in the finished film. There is an elision of time: appearances / disappearances. Stopping time [changing a scene, changing clothing etc…], starting time again.

 

Méliès starring in 'The Living Playing Cards' 1904

 

George Méliès starring in The Living Playing Cards (1904)

 

 

Second History of the Cinema

The sedimented gaze of the early camera. The slow chemicals meant that the object had to wait under the camera’s gaze for minutes. People were held in place by stiff neck braces to capture the trace of their likeness. Congealed time.

On the other hand, in cinema, a tear forward becomes a repair in reverse.

By rolling the film in reverse there is a REVERSAL of time, a REMAKING of the world – the power to be more than you are – by reversing to perfection. You throw a book or smash a plate: in reverse they become perfect again, a utopian world.

YOU MUST GIVE YOURSELF OVER TO PLAY!

Giving yourself over to what the medium suggests, you follow the metaphor back to the surface. Following the activity [of play] back to its root. Projecting forwards, projecting backwards. There is endless rehearsal, constant repetition, then discovering the nature of the final shot or drawing to be made. New ideas get thrown around: leaning into the experience, the experiment, the repetition, the rehearsal.

 

Four elements

  1. something to be seen
  2. the utopian perfection: perfectibility
  3. the grammar of learning that action
  4. Greater ideas, further ideas and thoughts; potentiality and its LOSS
    Further meanings arise

.
How is this achieved?
Rehearsal, repetition

New thoughts will arise being led by the body in the studio NOT in the mind. Not conceptual but the feeling of the body walking in the studio.

The physical action as the starting point not the concept.

 

Six different degrees of tension

  1. Least tension in the body possible: slumped
  2. Relaxed
  3. Neutral
  4. Purpose: an impulse to make things happen – desire
  5. Insistence: listen to me, this is very important
  6. Manic: Noh theatre with its rictus of the body

.
What the body suggests is the construction of an image.

There are different degrees of tension in these performances. What do they suggest? This reverse osmosis from one state to another?

 

Third History of Cinema

Technologies of Looking

Pre-cinematic devices – a process of seeing in the world, of looking. Produces a reconfigured seeing, the invisible made [moving] visible.

 

Stereoscope

3D world made into a 2D image put back into 3D by our brains. The nature of binocularity, of depth perception. We see an illusion of depth, a construction by the eyes. Our brain is a muscle combining the two images. Depth of Field (DOF): focusing at different distances, we are inside the field of the image. Peripheral vision is blanked off; we look through a magnifying glass. A machine for demonstrating seeing. Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Kentridge. Drawing for the film 'Stereoscope' 1998-99

 

William Kentridge (South African, b. 1955)
Drawing for the film Stereoscope
1998-99
Charcoal, pastel, and coloured pencil on paper
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2008 William Kentridge

 

Zoetrope by William George Horner, 1834

 

Zoetrope by William George Horner, 1834

 

Zoetrope

An illusion of movement not depth. Double revelation:

A/ the brain constructed illusion of movement
B/ Caught in time [as the action goes around and around] and wanting to get out of it!

THIS IS CRITICAL – THE ACTION OF REPETITION IS IMPORTANT!

In the reordering, in the crack, something else may emerge, some new idea may eventuate. The tearing of time. 

[Marcus: the cleft in time]

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

The Etching Press

There are erotics built into the language of the etching, but there is also a logic built into the machine used for etching. The Proof print, arriving at the first state. Going on the journey from artist as maker to artist as viewer through the mechanism of the etching press.

 

Claude Glass

“A Claude glass (or black mirror) is a small mirror, slightly convex in shape, with its surface tinted a dark colour. Bound up like a pocket-book or in a carrying case, black mirrors were used by artists, travellers and connoisseurs of landscape and landscape painting. Black Mirrors have the effect of abstracting the subject reflected in it from its surroundings, reducing and simplifying the colour and tonal range of scenes and scenery to give them a painterly quality).” From Wikipedia.

“The Claude glass was standard equipment for Picturesque tourists, producing instant tonal images that supposedly resembled works by Claude. “The person using it ought always to turn his back to the object that he views,” Thomas West explained in his Guide to the Lakes. “It should be suspended by the upper part of the case… holding it a little to the right or the left (as the position of the parts to be viewed require) and the face screened from the sun.”” From the V & A website

 

Claude Glass, manufactured in England, 18th century

 

Claude Glass, manufactured in England, 18th century
V & A

 

Anamorphic Mirror

A counter intuitive way of drawing; turning 2D into 3D. The landscape has no edge, like a carrousel.

A LINK TO THE ENDLESS CIRCLING AND WALKING AROUND THE STUDIO!

 

Anamorphic drawing and cone shaped mirror

 

Anamorphic drawing and cone shaped mirror

 

William Kentridge studio

 

William Kentridge studio
Photo by John Hodgkiss
Art Tatler

 

 

The Studio

In the studio you gather the pieces together like a kind of Zoetrope. You may arrive at a new idea, a new starting point. Repetition, going around and around your head (at four in the morning!). There must be a truce between the artist as maker and the artist as viewer. As in earlier times, you walk the cloisters, you promenade.

You find the walk that is the prehistory of the drawing, that is the prehistory to the work.

A multiple, fragmented, layered performance of walking. You are trying to find the grammar of the studio – the necessary stupidity. Making a space for uncertainty. The conscious suppression of rationality. At some point, emerging, escaping the Zoetrope, from the physical making, something will be revealed. The spaces open up by the stupidities. Something new emerges.

THIS IS THE SPACE OF THE STUDIO.

 

 

Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)
Federation Square, Melbourne, Australia

William Kentridge: Five Themes

Thursday 8 March – Sunday 27 May 2012
Exhibition open daily 10am – 6pm

ACMI website

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16
Oct
11

Essay / review: ‘In camera and in public’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Exhibition dates:  16th September – 23rd October 2011

Curator: Naomi Cass

Artists: ASIO de-classified photos and footage, Denis Beaubois (France/Australia), Luc Delahaye (France), Cherine Fahd (Australia), Percy Grainger (Australia/USA), Bill Henson (Australia), Sonia Leber and David Chesworth (Australia), Walid Raad (Lebanon/USA), Kohei Yoshiyuki (Japan)

 

 

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

 

Persons Of Interest – ASIO surveillance 1949-1980
Author Frank Hardy in the doorway of the Building Workers Industrial Union, 535 George St, Sydney, August 1955
NAA A9626, 212

 

 

Un/aware and in re/pose: the self, the subject and the city

Keywords of essay: surveillance, surveillance photography, the gaze, the camera, photography, stolen images, voyeurism, scopophilia, public/private, disciplinary systems, facework, civil inattention, portrait, social history, persons of interest, the city, the self, subject, awareness, repose, reciprocity, the spectacle, the spectator.

 

 

“The paradox is the more we seek to fix our vision of the world and to control it the less sure we are as to who we are and what our place is in the world.”

.
Marcus Bunyan 2011

 

“Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”

.
Walker Evans

 

“Texts that testify do not simply report facts but, in different ways, encounter – and make us encounter – strangeness.”

.
Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub 1

 

 

Curated by Naomi Cass as part of the Melbourne Festival, this is a brilliant exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne. The exhibition explores, “the fraught relationship between the camera and the subject: where the image is stolen, candid or where the unspoken contract between photographer and subject is broken in some way – sometimes to make art, sometimes to do something malevolent.”2 It examines the promiscuity of gazes in public/private space specifically looking at surveillance, voyeurism, desire, scopophilia, secret photography and self-reflexivity. It investigates the camera and its moral and physical relationship to the unsuspecting subject. Does the camera see something different if the subject is unaware? Is the viewer complicit in the process as they (repeatedly) stare at the photographs? Are we all implicated in a kind of “mass social surveillance” based on Foucault’s concept of the self-regulating disciplinary society, a society that is watched from a single, panoptic vantage point (that of the omnipresent camera lens) and through the agency of the watchers watching each other?3 More on this later in the writing.

 

To the left

A selection of photographs from the series The Sleepers by Cherine Fahd, A4 sized black and white photographs of homeless people, asleep on the grass in a park, taken in secret from a sixth floor apartment in Kings Cross, Sydney. Fahd “went to great pains to make sure her subjects were anonymous, unidentifiable, their faces turned away”4 resulting in photographs of corpse-like bodies on contextless backgrounds – wrapped, isolated, entwined, covered in shadow, the bodies disorientated in space and consequently disorientating the gaze of the viewer.

 

To the right

A selection of photographs from the Crowd Series (1980-82) by Bill Henson. Snapped in secret these black and white journalistic surveillance photographs (‘taken’ in an around Flinders Street railway station in Melbourne) have a brooding intensity and melancholic beauty. Henson uses a flattened perspective that is opposed to the principles of linear perspective in these photographs. Known as The Art of Describing5 and much used in Dutch still life painting of the 17th century to give equal weight to objects within the image plane, here Henson uses the technique to emphasise the mass and jostle of the crowd with their “waiting, solemn and compliant” people.

“When exhibiting the full series, Henson arranges the works into small groupings that create an overall effect of aberrant movement and fragmentation. From within these bustling clusters of images, individual faces emerge like spectres of humanity that will once again dissolve into the crowd … all apparently adrift in the flow of urban life. The people in these images have an anonymity that allows them to represent universal human experiences of alienation, mortality and fatigue.”6

.
Henson states, “The great beauty in the subject comes, for me, from the haunted space, that unbridgeable gap – which separates the profound intimacy and solitude of our interior world from the ‘other’… The business of how a child’s small hand appearing between two adults at a street crossing can suggest both a vulnerability, great tenderness, and yet also contain within it all of the power that beauty commands, is endlessly fascinating to me.”7 His observation is astute but for me it is the un/awareness of the people in these photographs that are their beauty, their insertion into the crowd but their isolation from the crowd and from themselves. As Maggie Finch observes, it is “that feeling of being both alone and private in a crowd, thus free but also exposed.”8

In the sociologist Erving Goffman’s terms the photographs can be seen as examples of what he calls “civil inattention”9 which is a carefully monitored demonstration of what might be called polite estrangement, the “facework” as we glance at people in the crowd, holding the gaze of the other only briefly, then looking ahead as each passes the other.

“Civil inattention is the most basic type of facework commitment involved in encounters with strangers in circumstances of modernity. It involves not just the use of the face itself, but the subtle employment of bodily posture and positioning which gives off the message “you may trust me to be without hostile intent” – in the street, public buildings, trains or buses, or at ceremonial gatherings, parties, or other assemblies. Civil inattention is TRUST as ‘background noise’ – not as a random collection of sounds, but as carefully restrained and controlled social rhythms. It is characteristic of what Goffman calls “unfocused interaction.””10

.
This is what I believe Henson’s photographs are about. Not so much the tenderness of the child’s hand but a fear of engagement with the ‘other’. As such they can be seen as image precursors to the absence/presence of contemporary communication and music technologies. How many times do people talk on their mobile phone or listen to iPods in crowds, on trams and trains, physically present but absenting themselves from interaction with other people. Here but not here; here and there. The body is immersed in absent presence, present and not present, conscious and not conscious, aware and yet not aware of the narratives of a ‘recipro/city failure’. A failure to engage with the light of place, the time of exposure and an attentiveness to the city.

As Susan Stewart insightfully observes,

“To walk in the city is to experience the disjuncture of partial vision/partial consciousness … The walkers of the city travel at different speeds, their steps like handwriting of a personal mobility. In the milling of the crowd is the choking of class relations, the interruption of speed, and the machine.”11

 

On a pedestal

Travelling in the city, in a machine (in this case a subway train) is the subject of the next body of work in the exhibition, represented by the book L’Autre (The Other) by French artist Luc Delahaye.12 Using a hidden camera Delahaye photographs the commuters faces in repose.

“I stole these photographs between ’95 and ’97 in the Paris metro. ‘Stole’ because it is against the law to take them, it’s forbidden. The law states that everyone owns their own image. But our image, this worthless alias of ourselves, is everywhere without us knowing it. How and why can it be said to belong to us? But more importantly, there’s another rule, that non-aggression pact we all subscribe to: the prohibition against looking at others. Apart from the odd illicit glance, you keep staring at the wall. We are very much alone in these public places and there’s violence in this calm acceptance of a closed world.”13

.
This is another example of Goffman’s civil inattention as Delahaye stares into the distance and feigns absence long enough to get his stolen photograph (much like Walker Evans earlier photographs of people on the New York subway photographed with Evans’s camera concealed inside his overcoat).14 Here the photographs are much closer cropped than Evans’, allowing the viewer no escape from staring at the stolen faces. The faces seen in repose remind me of the composite portraits of criminals and the diseased, Specimens of Composite Portraiture c. 1883 by Sir Francis Galton, remembering that one of the earliest scientific functions of the camera was to document the likenesses of criminals, degenerates and other aberrant beings. We must also remember that, as Geoffrey Batchen suggests, “we are so used to the idea that we are always being watched that we might have turned our whole lives into “a grand, impenetrable pose” because we assume the camera eye is always present.”15

In the physiognomy of these faces the viewer is asked to assess a person’s character or personality from their outer appearance. While the viewer may be complicit in this task we must also remember that the photographer who stole these photographs has also re/posed these faces, choosing which people to secretly photograph and culling images that did not meet his conceptual project. We find no smiling or laughing faces in the book, no context is given (the photographs being tightly cropped on the body and face) and the phatic image, the one that grabs us has been manipulated, reposed and restaged for our edification. While the subject may be unaware of being photographed and their face may be in repose, this repose is as much a cultural construct as if they had known their photograph was being taken.

As John Berger and Jean Mohr write,

“The photographer choses the events he photographs. This choice can be thought of as a cultural construction. The space for this construction is, as it were, cleared by his rejection of what he did not choose to photograph.”16

 

On the wall in front

Series of images from Persons of Interest: ASIO surveillance photographs 1949-1980 taken in secret to record the state’s purported enemies (ASIO is the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Australia’s national security service, which is responsible for the protection of the country and its citizens from espionage, sabotage, acts of foreign interference, politically-motivated violence, attacks on the Australian defence system, and terrorism). The photographs were not taken as art and served a purely utilitarian purpose, that of recording and documenting the conversations and movements of persons of interest to the powers that be. “The camera can’t change the world, but there’s an idea that it can protect us – hence surveillance, which promises to watch over us, and watch out for us, rather than merely watch.”17

According to Haydn Keenan, director of the documentary Persons of Interest “Surveillance secretly records an image of someone so that the recorder so that the recorder can have advantage over the subject. Sometimes it’s political, sometimes social, but the very essence of surveillance is the secret theft of the image.”18 Keenan goes on to identify four types of photographic surveillance:

  1. Photographs taken by ASIO agents who are known to the person of interest. These are particularly disconcerting because they are the kind of intimate photographs that you would see in a family album
  2. ASIO photographer taking photographs in public, at demos and public meetings, always happening to get the person of interest “in the frame” so to speak.
  3. Long lens photographs taken by setting up an observation post and then sitting down and waiting.
  4. Photographs taken by what was called a ‘butterbox’ – a camera concealed in another object like a briefcase.19

.
There are thousands of these images, photographs of people in the wrong place at the wrong time. The closely cropped black and white photographs have an intimacy and anonymity to them. They build up a mental image of the changing face of what the State saw as threat: Aboriginal land rights, gay rights, women’s liberation, anti-Vietnam demonstrations, youth culture, Communism – and now terrorism. These photographs evince an inherent suspicion about social issues and they had the power to dramatically alter lives (through the loss of work or home, through imprisonment). “Yet what ASIO didn’t realise is that they were constructing an invaluable social history of Australian dissent as they gradually confused subversion with dissent.”20 The eye of the beholder cast a dark shadow but one that would not remain private forever.

 

Around the corner

The largest series of the exhibition, The Park by Japanese photographer Kohei Yoshiyuki (1971-1979), features twenty-five luscious A3 sized black and white photographs with deep blacks, framed in thin white, wood frames. The photographs were taken in Japanese parks at night where fornicating couples use public space as private space. In most cases the couples were not aware they were being observed by voyeurs and if they were, “with exhibitionist complicity, they fornicate to an audience of peeping Toms.”21 What they were definitely not aware of was that they were being photographed. As Amelia Groom observes, “The levels of complicity, performativity and victimisation of the subjects remains ambiguous.”22

These informal, grainy, infra-red flash photographs, “were first published in 1972 in the popular ‘secret camera’ genre magazine Shukan Shincho and were not initially considered as art photography … however they also sit within a broad tradition of voyeurism in Japanese art.”23 Starting in mid-distance the photographs eventually close right in on the subject matter, tightly composed on the mass of hands going everywhere, the flash over exposing various elements of the infra-red composition. The photographs are most effective when the viewer does not see the object of desire, but is positioned behind the voyeur who is hidden behind the hedge, looking. The viewpoint of the erotic act is denied, is out of shot/sight. We are literally “lined up right behind Yoshiyuki in the chain of voyeurism”24 imbibing the camera’s active, desiring masculine gaze. “Looking at Yoshiyuki’s images induces an uneasiness that has something to do with seeing the seer looking while seeing ourselves being seen looking.”25 The photographs are multiply voyeuristic, implicating the watchers, the photographer and us.26 But they implicate us only as part of a larger cultural signification.

Penny Modra in The Sunday Age M magazine observes of these photographs that, “you are a peeping Tom peeping at peeping Toms peeping at people.”27 I believe it is more than that. The definition of “peeping” is that of stealing a quick glance; to peer through a small aperture or from behind something (peering through a small aperture number is quite an appropriate metaphor since we are dealing with the photographic lens). While this may be true of the act of photography itself it is not true of the process of photography that took place to get the photographer to the point of exposure. Yoshiyuki himself “assembled the story of his association with the park voyeurs and details how the series was shot after spending six months getting to know those observers in the shrubbery.”28 Much as Diane Arbus befriended the subjects in her photographs, Yoshiyuki, rather than having a furtive glance of desire, planned his series using the all seeing narrative eye trained on its target over several months. He positions his subject squarely in his line of sight. And while a voyeur “can be defined as a person who observes without participation, a powerless or passive spectator … a photographer, contemplating a nude or any sexual subject is also a voyeur, but someone with a camera, or the means to distribute a photograph, is not entirely passive or powerless.”29 This power can be seen in the fame that the series has bought the photographer, his infamous series now heralded around the world.

 

At the centre

Black and white ‘snapshot’ photographs from the series Lust Branch by Percy Grainger, printed between 1933 and 1942, that document his sadomasochistic sexual practices including ‘self beating’ which he believed were intrinsic to his creativity. The envelope containing some of the photographs was marked “Private Matters: Do Not Open Until 10 (ten) Years After My Death.” The archive has the quality of forensic records as it documents, in a quasi-scientific Victorian tradition, evidence of his proclivities, his normalcy. The dark 4″ x 5″ brown-toned photographs show Grainger posing in a domestic setting (in Kansas) with a chair and also show the use of a suspended mirror to document his fustigations. Robert Nelson states that the shock of these images isn’t the flagellantism itself but that we’re looking at it. “The transgression isn’t the perversity but the breach of privacy the composer orchestrated: he lashed himself not only with a whip but a camera.”30 Personally I don’t register this shock as S/M practices have regularly been part of my life. What I find more disquieting is people who try to define what is normal and what should be recorded or not and by whom and who gets to see them.

I vividly remember going to the Minor White archive at Princeton University and seeing photographs of erect penises taken by White (who was gay) and thinking why I hadn’t seen these photographs before. The shock was not of seeing them but the fact that they were still hidden and had never been reproduced. Similarly, at The Kinsey Institute there are colour photographs of 1950s physique magazine body builders having full on sex, never to be seen in public. Also at the Kinsey are erotic photographs by the gay George Platt Lynes, taken for his own pleasure but never exhibited in public.31 Lynes had to resort to sending his erotic work to an early German pornographic magazine to get the photographs published. Taking these photographs is not a breach of privacy but an expression of normalcy, freedom and creativity.

 

In conclusion

“The idea of a photographic ‘gaze’ relates to a specific way of looking, and being looked at through the camera, and implies a certain psychological relationship of power and control.”32 Foucault’s analysis of the gaze as a means of surveillance, which is predatory and controlling, used to classify and discipline, allows the camera and mirror to be equated as tools of self-reflection and surveillance, where the double (created through self-reflection and surveillance) can be alienated from the self, taken away (like a photograph) for closer examination.33 Victor Burgin in his seminal 1977 essay Looking at photographs “argues that the ‘recording eye’ of the camera sets it apart from the subject at which it looks. The camera creates an ordering device which ‘depicts a scene and the gaze of the spectator, an object and a viewing subject.’“34 The camera’s gaze is not passive, it is active; it imparts its own subjectivity forming a triangular relationship between the object being photographed, camera and photographer. It has its own reality.

In a society where we are living in the age of ubiquitous networked photography35 the borders between public and private are collapsing. The idea that the gazer is able to see but not be seen; in essence, that the looking is anonymous36 is becoming a fallacy. Everything, even the watcher, becomes visible (after an ever shorter time). The separation that takes place between the looker and the looked-at is disappearing; we all know we are being watched even as we watch (and post) ourselves. “The act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle … are [becoming] one.”37

I would suggest that there is no fixed definition of private and public. For example even after people sign out from Facebook the sites they visit are still tracked.38 Anything that you post on Facebook, the music you like – if you just listen to it, Facebook takes it to mean that you approve of it and distributes it too your friends. Similarly with CCTV, ASIO images, mobile phone images, what is thought of as an invasion of privacy is eventually made public through FOI, leaking, teenage girls posting online (Ricky Nixon) etc … As noted earlier someone with a camera, or the means to distribute a photograph, is not entirely passive or powerless.

Even as the photographer “lifts” the object of his attention with his machine, the camera, he “takes” a picture, “and in so doing he makes a claim for that object or that composition, and a claim for his act of seeing in the first place … transposing a particular and emphatically personal point of view”39 and making a claim for the very act of seeing itself. The thing itself (the object photographed) and the way the photographer looks at it cannot be separated. In other words, in constant oscillation, we stand behind but also in front of the metaphorical camera: “I am nothing; I see all.”40

We know that we are being monitored and so we conform; even if no one is there, even if we cannot see the guard (as in Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison) we suspect we are being watched and so self regulate our behaviour. “And yet, our contemporary society … has ironically embraced surveillance … This is most apparent in social media where millions of people regularly upload their most intimate moments via webcam … we happily embrace the mechanisms devised to control us and turn them into a kind of freefall celebration.”41

“It is though the millions of people, artists or not, who produce and publish images of themselves, their friends, surroundings and ideas in a sort of mass social surveillance (while often being tracked by the devices they are using) are implicated … in surveillance as a source of entertainment and personal gratification.”42

Surveillance, sousveillance as the sight of (perverse) resistance.

.
These contradictory, constantly shifting contemporary information and image flows tends to erode the moral authority of any social order, patriarchal or otherwise, opening up an expanded and abstracted terrain of becoming. Images exceed, incorporate or reverse the values that are presumed to reside within them.43 These phatic images, for that is what they are – targeted images that force you to look and hold your attention – “produce a ‘message-intensification’ within the visual image that accentuates pictorial detail while simultaneously forcing image context and location to recede or disappear. The phatic image is at once technically-mediated, manipulable, intensified and perhaps most importantly for [Paul] Virilio de-localized.”44 This can be observed in bodies of work in this exhibition: most have no image context or defined location while intensifying their message through close-up details. All have been circulated around the world for consumption. Vision is everywhere and nowhere at one and the same time.

The person who gazes is not unfamiliar with the world upon which he looks; he understands the image as seen from without as another would see it, in the midst of the visible.45 No longer is the image seen or considered from a certain spot. That vision is decentred by the networks of signifiers that come to me from the social milieu …

“The viewing subject does not stand at the center of the perceptual horizon, and cannot command the chains and series of signifiers passing across the visual domain. Vision unfolds to the side of, in tangent to, the field of the other. And to that form of seeing Lacan gives a name: seeing on the field of the other, seeing under the Gaze.”46

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While the self and environment are under constant surveillance in an attempt to resemble the truth, to re-assemble the referentiality of the image, it is not the breakdown of an already existing web of visuality (the disciplinary gaze of surveillance) but the wilful amending of its intent that opens up new terrains of becoming. In the public city it is the publicity of the image that will continue to thwart the controlling eye. We are all actors in a performative space, transforming the gaze and collapsing its vision into the tactile worlds of virtual reality (Ron Burnett), “engaging with ideas of pose, of masquerade, of performance, of witness and record as they transact across increasingly contingent boundaries of private and public, fact and artifice,”47 to question who we become in the necessarily public register of the photographic – the public register of memory and history.48

Each enframing of reality opens up the possibility of new discourses. The paradox is the more we seek to fix our vision of the world and to control it the less sure we are as to who we are and what our place is in the world. Does the painting emerge from the figure or the figure from the painting?

Does the image/reality emerge from the image …

.
Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 3,870

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Many thank to the CCP and Naomi Cass for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Text © Centre for Contemporary Photography 2011.

 

Endnotes

  1. Felman, Shoshana and Laub, Dori. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. London: Routledge, 1992, p. 5 quoted in  Fisher, Jean. “Witness for the Prosecution: The Writings of Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 227-228
  2. Stephens, Andrew. “Who’s watching you?” in The Saturday Age. 23rd September 2011 [Online] Cited 14/10/2011
  3. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated from the French by Alan Sheridan. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977 cited in McDonald, Helen. “It’s Rude to Stare,” Footnote 9 in Radok, Stephanie (ed.,). Artlink: Art & Surveillance. South Australia: Artlink, Vol. 31, No. 3, 2011, p. 25
  4. Stephens, Op. cit.,
  5. See Alpers, Svetlana. The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century. University Of Chicago Press, 1984
  6. AnonBILL HENSON: early work from the MGA collection. Education Resource. A Monash Gallery of Art Travelling Exhibition [Online] Cited 14/10/2011. No longer available online
  7. Henson, Bill quoted in the exhibition catalogue. First published as a pdf for the exhibition In camera and in public. Curated by Naomi Cass. Centre for Contemporary Photography, 16 September – 23 October 2011
  8. Stephens, Op. cit.,
  9. See  Goffman, E. Behaviour in Public Places. New York: Free Press, 1963
  10. Giddens, Anthony. The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991, pp. 82-83
  11. Stewart, Susan. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993, p. 2. Prologue
  12. Delahaye, Luc. L’Autre. Phaidon Press, 1999
  13. Delahaye, Luc quoted in the exhibition catalogue. First published as a pdf for the exhibition In camera and in public. Curated by Naomi Cass. Centre for Contemporary Photography, 16 September – 23 October 2011
  14. Morrison, Blake. “Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera,” on the The Guardian website 22nd May 2011 [Online] Cited 14/10/2011
  15. Stephens, Op. cit.,
  16. Berger, John and Mohr, Jean. Another Way of Telling. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982, pp. 92-93
  17. Morrison, Op. cit.,
  18. Keenan, Haydn. “A Job for the Dogs,” in Radok, Stephanie (ed.,). Artlink: Art & Surveillance. South Australia: Artlink, Vol. 31, No. 3, 2011, p. 18
  19. Ibid.,
  20. Keenan, Haydn quoted in the exhibition catalogue. First published as a pdf for the exhibition In camera and in public. Curated by Naomi Cass. Centre for Contemporary Photography, 16 September – 23 October 2011
  21. Nelson, Robert. “Snapped in the moment – forever,” in The Age newspaper. Wednesday, October 5th 2011, p. 19
  22. Groom, Amelia. “Seeing Darkness,” in Kohei Yoshiyuki: The Park. Institute of Modern Art pamphlet for the exhibition
  23. Cass, Naomi quoted in the exhibition catalogue. First published as a pdf for the exhibition In camera and in public. Curated by Naomi Cass. Centre for Contemporary Photography, 16 September – 23 October 2011
  24. Groom, Op. cit.,
  25. Ibid.,
  26. Goldberg, Vicky. “Voyeurism Exposed,” on Artnet magazine website. 2010 [Online] Cited 14/10/2011
  27. Modra, Penny. The Sunday Age M magazine. September 25th, 2011
  28. Gefter, Philip. “Sex in the Park, and its Sneaky Spectators,” in The New York Times, 23rd September 2007 cited in Lida, Shihoko. “Gaze without Subjectivity: Kohei Yoshiyuki and Yoko Asakai,” Footnote 4 in Radok, Stephanie (ed.,). Artlink: Art & Surveillance. South Australia: Artlink, Vol. 31, No. 3, 2011, p. 28
  29. Goldberg, Op. cit.,
  30. Nelson, Op cit.,
  31. See Bunyan, Marcus, “Thesis Notes II – Research Notes and Papers: Research Notes on the Photographs from the Collection at The Minor White Archive and The Kinsey Insitute,” in Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. 2001 [Online] Cited 14/10/2011. Click on the menu on the left hand side
  32. Finch, Maggie. Looking at Looking. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2011, p. 2
  33. Ibid.,
  34. Burgin, Victor, “Looking at photographs,” in Burgin, Victor (ed.,). Thinking Photography. London: Macmillan Education, 1987, p. 146 quoted in Finch, Maggie. Looking at Looking. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2011, p. 3
  35. Palmer, Daniel and Whyte, Jessica. “‘No credible photographic interest’: photographic restrictions and surveillance in a time of terror,” in Philosophy of Photography Vol. 1, No. 2, 2010, p. 182
  36. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings in Braudy, Leo and Cohen, Marshall (eds.,). New York: Oxford UP, 1999, pp. 833-44 cited in Boen, Ashley. “The Male Pornographic Gaze,” on Boen, Ashley. Cultures of the Camera: The Male Gaze website [Online] Cited 15/10/2011. No longer available online
  37. Parrington, Vernon Louis. Main Currents in American Thought 1927-1930. New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1930 quoted in Blinder, Caroline. “”The Transparent Eyeball”: On Emerson and Walker Evans,” Footnote 11 in Mosaic: a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Winnipeg: Dec 2004. Vol. 37, Iss. 4; pg. 149, 15 pgs
  38. Bloomberg. “Facebook in tracking suit,” in The Age newspaper. Monday, October 3rd 2011, p. 3
  39. Blinder, Caroline. “”The Transparent Eyeball”: On Emerson and Walker Evans,” Footnote 11 in Mosaic : a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Winnipeg: Dec 2004. Vol. 37, Iss. 4; pg. 149, 15 pgs
  40. Ibid.,
  41. Marsh, Anne. “Surveillance Art: Genre and Political Action,” in Radok, Stephanie (ed.,). Artlink: Art & Surveillance. South Australia: Artlink, Vol. 31, No. 3, 2011, p. 57
  42. King, Natalie and Fraser, Virginia. “People Who Love To Watch,” in Radok, Stephanie (ed.,). Artlink: Art & Surveillance. South Australia: Artlink, Vol. 31, No. 3, 2011, p. 15
  43. Lumby, Catharine. “Nothing Personal: Sex, Gender and Identity in The Media Age,” in Matthews, Jill (ed.,). Sex in Public: Australian Sexual Cultures. St. Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1997, pp. 14-15
  44. Virilio, Paul. “A topographical amnesia,” in The Vision Machine. London: British Film Institute, 1994 cited in Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/10/2011. No longer available online
  45. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Le Visible et l’invisible. Paris: 1964, p. 177 (trans. by Alphonso Lingis, Evanston, 1968, p. 134) quoted in Damisch, Hubert. The Origin of Perspective. (trans. John Goodman). Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 1994, pp. 34-35
  46. Foster, Hal (ed.,). Vision and Visuality. Bay Press, Seattle: Dia Art Foundation Discussions in Contemporary Culture, Number 2, 1988, p. 94
  47. French, Blair. “The Things That Bill Sees,” catalogue essay from the exhibition Perfect Strangers. Canberra: Canberra Contemporary Art Space, 2000, np.
  48. Ibid.,

 

 

Cherine Fahd. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Sleepers' 2005-2008

 

Cherine Fahd (Australian, b. 1974)
Untitled
From the series The Sleepers
2005 – 2008
Lightjet print
28.5 × 40.2 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Cherine Fahd. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Sleepers' 2005-2008

 

Cherine Fahd (Australian, b. 1974)
Untitled
From the series The Sleepers
2005 – 2008
Lightjet print
28.5 × 40.2 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

 

In 2003 I began photographing people I didn’t know in the streets of Paris, working in a conventional street photography style. I became a prowler searching for photographic opportunities in the faces and gestures of total strangers, fascinated with capturing private moments within the public realm.

In 2005 I was living on the sixth floor of an apartment in Kings Cross, Sydney, below was a park unadorned by play equipment or even a bench. From my window I could see homeless people asleep on the grass in the middle of the day. What struck me most were their bodies resting in dappled light and gesturing in ways usually saved for private moments. The drape of their clothes and the quality of light reminded me of so many paintings I had seen.

So The Sleepers began. I photographed people asleep in the park with my mini DV camera, which allowed me to zoom in and capture detail but also allowed for a grainy image reminiscent of surveillance footage. In the sleeping posture – curled up or lying flat – people generally covered their faces, ensuring their anonymity. I liked this aspect of the work. Although I was photographing them unawares, I wasn’t really intruding if I couldn’t see their faces. Oddly, I have stopped working in this candid way. I wasn’t sure why at the time. In retrospect I understand that it became too difficult because audiences became obsessed with whether I had permission to photograph people. I never considered asking anyone if I could take their photo. It would have defeated the whole point. People change when they know there is a camera present, better to let them be.

The moral dilemmas engulfing candid photography are not something I am interested in addressing in my work. I would much rather ponder whether their faces, or their bodies, or their gestures are cues to something more mysterious, spiritual and human.

Cherine Fahd 2011 text from the exhibition catalogue

 

Kohei Yoshiyuki. 'Untitled' 1971 From the series 'The Park'

 

Kohei Yoshiyuki (Japanese, b. 1946)
Untitled
1971
From the series The Park
Gelatin Silver Print
© Kohei Yoshiyuki, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

 

Kohei Yoshiyuki. 'Untitled' 1971 From the series 'The Park'

 

Kohei Yoshiyuki (Japanese, b. 1946)
Untitled
1971
From the series The Park
Gelatin Silver Print
© Kohei Yoshiyuki, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

 

Yosi Milo Gallery Kohei Yoshiyuki artist
Untitled 1971, 1972, 1973, 1979 from the series The Park
Edition various of 10
25 gelatin silver prints
40.64 – 50.8 cm
Courtesy the artist and Yossi Milo Gallery, New York
Kohei Yoshiyuki: The Park is presented in association with the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane

 

 

Kohei Yoshiyuki’s now infamous documentation of voyeurism features confronting photographs of public space clandestinely used as private space at night: Japanese parks where, in the absence of privacy, young people perform intimate acts while being watched by onlookers.

During the 1970s, young commercial photographer Kohei Yoshiyuki (a pseudonym; his real name remains unknown) frequented Tokyo’s Shinjuku, Yoyogi and Aoyama parks at night with a 35mm camera, infrared film and a flash. Photographed over a decade, the series was exhibited at the Komai Gallery in Tokyo in 1979 where the images were printed life-size and exhibited in the dark while visitors used hand held torches to view the photographs. These prints were subsequently destroyed.1

Images from The Park were first published in 1972 in the popular ‘secret camera’ genre magazine Shukan Shincho and were not initially considered as art photography.2 However, Yoshiyuki’s series also sits within a broad tradition of voyeurism in Japanese art, including eighteenth and nineteenth century erotic ukiyo-e prints and in cinema.

In 1980 Yoshiyuki published a further selection and, in 1989, he wrote about the process of getting to know the park voyeurs. In 2006 Yoshiyuki was included in Martin Parr’s publication The Photobook: A History: Volume 2 as an unknown innovator, prompting Yossi Milo Gallery to track down the reclusive artist and convince him to reprint the remaining negatives for what became a highly successful exhibition in 2007.

Of the relationship between couples and voyeur Yoshiyuki wrote: ‘The couples were not aware of the voyeurs in most cases. The voyeurs try to look at the couple from a distance … then slowly approach toward the couple behind the bushes, and from the blind spots of the couple they try to come as close as possible, and finally peep from a very close distance. But sometimes there are the voyeurs who try to touch … and gradually escalating – then trouble would happen.’3

Naomi Cass text from the exhibition catalogue

 

  1. Amelia Groom. ‘Seeing Darkness’, in Kohei Yoshiyuki: The Park exhibition catalogue, IMA, Brisbane, July 2011
  2. Shihoko Iida, ‘Gaze without subjectivity’, Artlink: Art and Surveillance, 31: 3, 2011, p. 28
  3. Philip Gefter, ‘Sex in the Park, and its Sneaky Spectators’, The New York Times, 23 Sept 2007

 

Luc Delahaye. 'Untitled' from the series 'L'Autre' 1995/1997

 

Luc Delahaye (French, b. 1962)
Untitled
1995/1997
From the series L’Autre
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia

 

 

I stole these photographs between ’95 and ’97 in the Paris metro. ‘Stole’ because it is against the law to take them, it’s forbidden. The law states that everyone owns their own image. But our image, this worthless alias of ourselves, is everywhere without us knowing it. How and why can it be said to belong to us? But more importantly, there’s another rule, that non-aggression pact we all subscribe to: the prohibition against looking at others. Apart from the odd illicit glance, you keep staring at the wall. We are very much alone in these public places and there’s violence in this calm acceptance of a closed world.

I am sitting in front of someone to record his image, the form of evidence, but just like him I too stare into the distance and feign absence. I try to be like him. It’s all a sham, a necessary lie lasting long enough to take a picture. If to look is to be free, the same holds true for photographing: I hold my breath and let the shutter go.

Luc Delahaye, from L’Autre, Phaidon Press, London, 1999 text from the exhibition catalogue

 

Luc Delahaye. 'Untitled' from the series 'L'Autre' 1995/1997

 

Luc Delahaye (French, b. 1962)
Untitled
1995/1997
From the series L’Autre
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia

 

 

To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.

.
Susan Sontag On Photography 1977

 

 

In camera and in pubic is about the relationship between camera and subject when this is fraught in some way, in particular, where the subject is not aware of being photographed, where the contract between photographer and subject has been broken.

Candid photography has been critical in the development of art and evidential photography, in revealing aspects of our history and society which have been hidden, ignored, lied about or simply abandoned. Candid photography has delivered some of the most widely regarded, potent and treasured images.

However, the camera is merely a technical device and some would even say a dumb device, which can be, and is used for contradictory and malicious ends. Candid photography has also hurt, harmed and destroyed people. There are more images in the world than ever before, and image sharing technologies in the hands of those with subversive, destructive or immature desires. Paradoxically, on one hand there is greater access to unmediated information of all genres through the internet but also a counter move of public disquiet about candid photography. Many well-regarded, indeed renowned photographers will no longer photograph at the beach, by a pubic pool, at a junior sports match, on the street. The context for photography has changed.

This exhibition looks at the physical and moral proximity of camera to subject in both historical and contemporary work by Cherine Fahd, Bill Henson, Luc Delahaye, Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Kohei Yoshiyuki, Denis Beaubois, Percy Grainger, Walid Raad and declassified ASIO images from the late 1940s to the 1980s.

In viewing In camera… it is sobering to consider where the photographer is positioned, to viscerally experience the proximity of camera to unsuspecting subject because, importantly, the exhibition moves from candid photography taken with the sole intention of making art (Henson, Fahd, Delahaye, Leber and Chesworth, Raad and Yoshiyuki) through to the intention of surveillance. Not surprisingly, on first view, even the declassified ASIO images are compelling and beautiful.

Of the artists, the viewer might well ask, have you obtained permission to photograph? But as we all know the unprepared body and face reveals quite a different story than the figure composed for the camera. It is the non-composed figure which is the lifeblood of much art and photography.

Surveillance is in part the subject of work by Denis Beaubois, Walid Raad and to some extent in Leber and Chesworth’s multi-media work. Certainly Beaubois, Leber and Chesworth consider the role of architectural space and the all-seeing eye of the state and in the latter, the eye of god within the panopticon of the domed cathedral. Walid Raad puts the tedium of surveillance in perspective when his fictional operative repeatedly forgoes his designated work to relish the setting sun.

In camera and in public exploits the form of CCP’s nautilus galleries and reflects the progress of the camera turned towards an unsuspecting subject until Gallery 4 where, in the hand of Percy Grainger, the camera is turned towards himself, in an astonishing series of vintage photographs, possibly created for display in the Grainger Museum. ‘In camera’ and in public, indeed. In 1941 Grainger wrote, “Most museums, most cultural endeavours, suffer from being subjected to too much taste, too much elimination, too much selection, too much specialisation! What we want (in museums and cultural records) is all-sidedness, side lights, crossreferences.”

We all love to stare, to linger, to see what we might have missed, and with advancing technologies, to see what is unavailable to the naked human eye, and here lies the problem. In looking at these images, are we implicated in an act of transgression?”

Text Naomi Cass September 2011 from the exhibition catalogue

 

Denis Beaubois. 'In the event of Amnesia the city will recall…' 1996-1997

 

Denis Beaubois (Mauritius, b. 1970)
In the event of Amnesia the city will recall…
1996-1997
DVD
9 mins 30 secs
Courtesy the artist

 

 

This work explores the relationship between the individual and the metropolis. Twelve sites were selected around the city of Sydney where surveillance cameras are prominently placed, the locations were mapped out and the stage for this work was created. A daily pilgrimage was made to the sites for a period of three days. No permission was sought for the use of these sites. The performer arrived unannounced and carried out his actions. Upon arrival the performer attempted to engage with the electronic eye. The performer’s actions were directed to the camera, which adopted the role of audience.

The primary audience was the surveillance camera (or those who monitor them). Their willingness to observe is not based upon the longing for entertainment. It stems from a necessity to assess and monitor designated terrain. Imbued with a watchdog consciousness, the primary audience scans the field for suspects, clues and leads. Like many audiences, it assesses the scene and attempts to pre-empt the plot. However this audience is extremely discerning and, ultimately, by assessing and reacting to the event it also adopts the role of performer.

Within this metropolis the walls do not have ears but are equipped with eyes. The city must understand the movements of those who dwell within its domain. To successfully achieve this it must be capable of reading its inhabitants. What can be read can be controlled in theory. Yet the city’s eyes are not content following the narrative provided by its inhabitants. The city weaves its own text within the surface narrative. A paranoid fiction based on foresight.

Denis Beaubois 1997 text from the exhibition catalogue

 

Denis Beaubois. 'In the event of Amnesia the city will recall…' 1996-1997

 

Denis Beaubois (Mauritius, b. 1970)
In the event of Amnesia the city will recall…
1996-1997
DVD
9 mins 30 secs
Courtesy the artist

 

 

In camera and in public represents a very different approach to this year’s Festival theme of protest and revolution. Taking a look at society through the lens of the state, the street photographer, the artist and the eye of the voyeur, this exhibition curated by Naomi Cass examines the abandonment of the contract between photographer and subject.

Ranging from candid street photography through to surveillance photography, In camera explores the camera and its relationship to the subject, unaware of being photographed. From images taken in public spaces, including a series of striking faces taken on the Paris metro, the exhibition proceeds to the grainy anxiety of declassified ASIO photos from the 1960s.

Kohei Yoshiyuki’s now infamous documentation of voyeurism, The Park (1970-1979), features confronting photographs of public space clandestinely used as private space at night: Japanese parks where, in the absence of privacy, young people perform intimate acts while being watched by onlookers.

At the heart of CCP galleries are Percy Grainger’s extraordinary naked self-portraits from his so-called ‘lust branch’ collection, hand printed by Grainger between 1933 and 1942. Here the camera is turned on himself, in camera.

Cherine Fahd offers frank photographs of daytime sleeping bodies in a Kings Cross park taken from her 6th floor apartment, while Bill Henson captures hauntingly beautiful crowd scenes during the 1980s. Sonia Leber and David Chesworth secretly film from the dome of St Pauls Cathedral, London and Walid Raad impersonates a fictional operative who failing in his surveillance task, repeatedly films the sunset.

Finally, Denis Beaubois, with a playful and performative video, seeks a kind of revenge of the subject, through his attempts to engage with a number of surveillance cameras, inviting the camera to respond to pleas earnestly delivered on cue cards.”

Press release from the CCP website

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 1980/82'

 

Bill Henson (Australian, b. 1955)
Untitled 1980/82
Gelatin silver chlorobromide print
From a series of 220
57.5 × 53.4 cm
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Bill Henson (Australian, b. 1955)
Untitled 1980/82
Gelatin silver chlorobromide print
from a series of 220
57.5 × 53.4 cm
courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

The great beauty in the subject comes, for me, from the haunted space, that unbridgeable gap – which separates the profound intimacy and solitude of our interior world from the ‘other’ and in trying to show, in this case through envisioning the crowd, how an awesome, unassailable, even monumental, beauty and grace might attend the undulating, fluid mass of a wall of people as they move toward you.

It is the contradictory nature of life and the way in which this can be suggested in art which first drew me to photograph crowds – much as this underpins my interest in any art form…

The business of how a child’s small hand appearing between two adults at a street crossing can suggest both a vulnerability, great tenderness, and yet also contain within it all of the power that beauty commands, is endlessly fascinating to me.

Bill Henson 2011 text from the exhibition catalogue

 

Persons Of Interest - ASIO surveillance 1949-1980 'Writer Frank Hardy, St Kilda, July 1964'

 

Persons Of Interest – ASIO surveillance 1949-1980
Writer Frank Hardy, St Kilda, July 1964
NAA 9626, 212

 

Persons Of Interest - ASIO surveillance 1949 -1980. 'Eddie Mabo, CPA district conference, Townsville, September 1965'

 

Persons Of Interest – ASIO surveillance 1949-1980
Eddie Mabo, CPA district conference, Townsville, September 1965
NAA A9626, 162

 

Persons Of Interest – ASIO surveillance 1949-1980
Curated by Haydn Keenan
Selected surveillance images from a forthcoming documentary series from Smart Street Films

 

 

I discovered these images as part of my research for our documentary series Persons Of Interest which will be screened on SBS early next year. They are part of a massive archive of pictures secretly recorded by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) from 1949 onwards.

These images are not art. Unlike art these pictures have the power to alter lives dramatically. Be photographed at the wrong place and you’ll find it hard to get a job, when you do you’ll get the sack soon after. Appear in these images and your career will go nowhere without explanation. The eye of the beholder will cast a shadow you will not see until thirty years later when you get access to your file.

The photos create a strange world of frozen youth, high hopes and issues that were seen as subversive then but are now so integrated into the mainstream that they need explanation for Gen Y. ASIO was created to hunt down and eliminate a Soviet spy ring operating in Canberra in the late 1940s. Most of the members of the spy ring were connected with or were members of the Communist Party of Australia. For the next forty years ASIO followed everything the Party did.

The purpose of photographic surveillance is to identify Persons Of Interest in a definitive manner and to record their associations and contacts thereby building a network. Surveillance would occur during demonstrations, May Day marches and at political meetings. It would also occur at specific locations and everyone entering or leaving the location would be recorded. Each person in a photograph with an ASIO file would have an identifying number marked on the image next to them.

I have thousands of these images and what I have noticed is that one builds up a mental image of the changing face of what the State saw as a threat. What starts as the hunt for Communist spies gradually evolves into suspicion about social issues like Aboriginal land rights, youth culture, Women’s Liberation, anti Vietnam, Apartheid – even amateur actors at New Theatre were thoroughly photographed. There’s even a file on the Mother’s Club at Gardenvale Primary School. The absurdity is evident in hindsight. Yet what ASIO didn’t realise is that they were constructing an invaluable social history of Australian dissent as they gradually confused subversion with dissent.

They recorded many people, especially in the 1960s filled with youthful exuberance, high in hope and action. These people were questioning the central values of a society their parents had created. Here they are frozen in the malevolent eye of the security services. Whilst it’s invasive, seedy and incompetent, even they can’t diminish sunlit youth.

Haydn Keenan 2011 text from the exhibition catalogue

 

 

Percy Grainger (Australian, 1882-1961)
Private Matters: Do not open until 10 (ten) years after my death
1955-1956
Envelope
25.1 x 32 cm
Courtesy the Grainger Museum, The University of Melbourne

 

 

Internationally renowned Australian pianist and composer Percy Grainger (1882-1961) built new sounds by modifying old instruments. He built electronic instruments from recycled materials; he built new words, new types of garments and previously unforged links between folk and classical music. He also built the Past-Horde-House, his term for museum, in which he curated his life.

In these photographs, hand printed between 1933 and 1942, Percy Grainer turns the camera on himself (and to a lesser degree his wife Ella) to document his sexual practices, which he believed were intrinsic to his being and his creativity. These works form part of what Grainer called the ‘lust branch’ of his Museum.

Grainger was a sadomasochist and wrote to his partners and friends quite openly about his thoughts on sex, including what he called ‘self beating’. However when in 1956 Sir Eugene Goossens, British composer and Sydney Symphony Orchestra conductor was detained for bringing pornography into the country, and was subsequently destroyed by the scandal, Grainger, like a number of prominent Australian artists, either left the country or outwardly restrained their behaviour. Consequently, Grainger sealed his ‘lust branch’ of the Museum, a selection of books, whips and photographs related to sadomasochistic behaviour in a travelling trunk, and left the instruction: Not to be opened until 10 (ten) years after my death (exhibited). Contained within the accompanying envelope is a kind of manifesto in the form of a letter, the pages of which are carefully bound together by hand, in which he writes, ‘The photographs of myself whipped by myself in Kansas City and the various photographs of my wife whipped by me show that my flagellantism was not make-believe or puerility, but had the element of drasticness in it. Nevertheless my flagellantism was never inhuman or uncontrolled.’

While Grainger was the subject of intense, international media scrutiny, marketing and photography, to document their sadomasochistic practices Grainger had to teach himself photography. The archive he left has the quality of forensic records, consistent with the quasi scientific method he practiced in other aspects of his life. Exhibited is Grainger’s self-printed, hand-made album, Photo-skills Guide in which he makes technical observations, similarly evident in and on other ‘lust branch’ photographs.

Grainger considered his sexual expression integral to all aspects of his life, indeed for Grainger sexuality was inseparable from his renowned life as a pianist and composer. It is probable that the ‘lust branch’ images were designed for display in the Museum, in a more enlightened period. In 1941 Grainger wrote, ‘I have a bottomless hunger for truth … life is innocent, yet full of meaning. Destroy nothing, forget nothing … say all. Trust life, trust mankind. As long as the picture of truth is placed in the right frame (art, science, history) it will offend none.’

Naomi Cass 2011 text from the exhibition catalogue

 

 

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

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Friday, 11am – 5pm
Saturday – Sunday, 12pm – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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22
Jul
10

Text: ‘Across’ by Peter Handke

July 2019

 

As a follow up to my posting ‘How to Understand the Light on a Landscape’ by Pablo Helguera, my friend artist Ian Lobb sent me this text from the first few pages of the novel Across by Peter Handke (1986). In the novel the narrator, Andreas Loser, knocks down a stranger in the street, takes a leave of absence from his post as teacher of ancient languages and leaves his family to move to a drab flat in a housing development.

“Handke’s novel tells the story of a quiet, organised classics teacher named Andreas Loser. One night, on the way to his regularly scheduled card game, he passes a tree that has been defaced by a swastika. Impulsively yet deliberately, he tracks down the defacer and kills him. With this act, Loser has crossed an invisible threshold, and will be stuck in this secular purgatory until he can confess his crime.”

Text from Amazon website

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In this wonderful piece of text the first paragraph sets the scene before one of the most inspired pieces of writing, a meditation on story, on nothing, on light, joy and emptiness – a story of “Emptiness” that is fullness. Now and forever.

Marcus

 

 

 

Text from the novel Across by Peter Handke

 

 

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06
Dec
09

Review: ‘Simryn Gill: Inland’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy

Exhibition dates: 9th October – 13th December 2009

 

Rampant (1999)

“Both populating and haunting the patches of now feral vegetation evoking a sense of foreign/alien source that has been strained, even lost in the act of transplantation. It also parodies the fear of rampant occupation that historically imbues aspects of Australian to Northern neighbours.”10

In Rampant Gill photographed outbursts of introduced plant species in the Australian landscape such as bamboo and sugar cane, which now grow wild and uncontrolled in subtropical northern New South Wales. Again Gill incorporates performative elements, interacting with nature through ‘dressing’ the plants in garments such as lungis and sarongs which were worn by immigrant workers who harvested these crops. Gill explores of the connections between botany, geography and the idea of plants as ‘humanised’ entities – seen in these strange single or groups of ‘figures’ appearing displaced within the Australian landscape.

Text from the education resource for the exhibition Simryn Gill: Inland at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy [Online] Cited 12/05/2019

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Untitled' 1995

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Untitled
1995
From the series Rampant
7 gelatin silver photographs
28.0 x 26.0cm Courtesy the artist and Breenspace, Sydney
© Simryn Gill

 

 

This is a strange survey exhibition of photographs by Malaysian-born Australian artist Simryn Gill at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne – photographs that form distinctive bodies of work that support the artist’s other conversations in art but do not form the main backbone to her practice. Perhaps this is part of the problem and part of the beauty of the work. While the work investigates the concepts of presence and absence, space, place and identity and the cultural inhabitation of nature there is a feeling that this is the work of an artist not used to putting images together in a sequence or body of work, not connecting the dots between ideas and image. Intrinsically there is nothing wrong with the conceptual ideas behind the photographs or the individual photographs themselves. The photographs don’t strike one as particularly memorable and they fail to mark the mind of the viewer in their multitudinous framings of reality.

In the series Forest (1996-1998, see photograph above and below) a selective vision of nature is invaded by cultural texts, torn pages of books mimicking natural forms such as roots, flowers and variegated leaves. The ‘natural’ context is inhabited by the cultural con-text to form a double inhabitation – “this strange hybrid nature before the paper rots away, suggestive of how nature is culturally inscribed and the futility of this attempt at containment.”1

This is a nice idea but the photographs fail to hold the attention of the viewer mainly because of the inability of the viewer to read the text that has been grafted onto the natural forms. I literally needed more from the work to hang my hat on and this is how I felt about much of this work presented here. This feeling persists with another series Vegetation (1999, see photographs below). Mundane landscapes are inhabited by faceless human beings, their absence/presence marking the landscape while at the same time nature marks them. A good idea that needed to be pushed much further.

The main body of work in the exhibition is the series Dalam (2001, see photographs below), a 258 strong series of colour photographs presented in the gallery space in gridded formation (Dalam, in Malay, can mean ‘inside’, ‘interior’ or ‘deep’). Featuring a photographic record of the interior of numerous Malaysian homes these clinical yet someone hobby-like photographs record the minutiae of domestica – the intimacy of the interior balanced by a sense of isolation and loneliness through the absence of human presence. Here, “the living room may be seen here as a cultural and social mask for its inhabitants. It’s the space into which others are welcomed on our own terms and onto which we project a portrayal of ourselves.”3 Although the work asks us “to rethink our concepts of spaces and domesticity in relation to various aspects such as socio-cultural identities, history and memory,” as presented in the gallery space the viewer is initially overwhelmed by the number, colour and construction of the interiors.

Personally I found that in the mundanity/individuality of the repetition I soon lost interest in looking intimately at the work. The photographs lack a certain spark, a certain clarity of vision in the actual taking of the images. None of the wonderful angles and intelligence of camera positioning of Eugene Atget here and maybe this is the point – the stifling ‘personality’ and banality of human habitation echoed in the photographs – but I would have rather have looked at a single monumentally intimate, magical image by Candida Hofer than all of these photographs put together!

Unfortunately in this survey exhibition there is only one photograph from what I regard as Simryn Gill’s best body of work, A small town at the turn of the century (1999-2000, see photograph below). Perhaps this was an oversight as this series would seem to bind the others more holistically together. Photographs of this excellent series can be viewed on the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery website and their presence in this exhibition would have certainly raised the bar in terms of the artist’s vision of nature, place and identity. The square colour format, the interior/exterior of the environments and naturalness of the photographs and their the fruitful bodies really have an eloquent power that most of the work at the Centre for Contemporary Photography seems to lack. Other than the last body of work, Inland (2009, see photograph below) that is.

In the smallest most intimate space at the CCP are some of the most intimate images of Australian place that you will ever see. Spread out on a table in small stacks of jewel-like black and white and Cibachrome images the viewer is asked to done white gloves (ah, the delicious irony of white hands on the Australian land!) to view the empty interiors, landscapes and (hands holding) rocks of the interior. These are beautifully seen and resolved images. The rocks are most poignant.

Gill digs beneath the surface of this thing called Australian-ness and exposes not the vast horizons, decorous landscapes or rugged people (as Naomi Cass states below) but small intimacies of space and place, identity and memory. In the ability to shuffle the deck of cards, to reorder the photographs to make their own narrative the viewer becomes as much the author of the story being told as the artist herself – an open-ended intertextual narrative guided by the artist that investigates the very root of what it is to be Australian on a personal level. I enjoyed this reordering, this subjective experience very much.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

  1. Anon. “Simryn Gill: Selected Work,” on Indepth Arts News website. [Online] Cited 12/05/2019
  2. Gill, Simryn. “May 2006,” in Off the Edge, Merdeka 50 years issue no. 33, September 2007, p. 83
  3. Day, Kate. “After Image: Photography at the Fruit Market Gallery,” on Culture 24 website. [Online] Cited 6th December 2009 no longer available online

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Forest #5' 1998

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Forest #5
1998
From the series Forest
16 gelatin silver photographs
© Simryn Gill

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Forest #13' 1998

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Forest #13
1998
From the series Forest
16 gelatin silver photographs
© Simryn Gill

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Untitled' from the 'Forest' series 1996

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Untitled
1996
From the series Forest
16 gelatin silver photographs
© Simryn Gill

 

 

Forest (1996-98)

Upon close inspection, this series of large scale black and white photographs of lush tropical plants reveal strips of paper and fragments of text which are embedded into tree trunks, covering leaf surfaces, transforming into aerial mangrove roots, weaving their way up walls and mimicking banana flowers.

The artist states: “I decided I needed to echo my situation in my art activities, and started making small interventions in the very rare wild places around where we lived, like gardens of unoccupied houses, roadside growths of tapioca and yam”.7

Returning from Australia to Singapore with her family, Gill went into overgrown gardens and open spaces she was familiar with to construct these site interventions, armed with glue and a range of books – some given to her by friends, others sourced from garage sales – including the colonial texts of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and an Indonesian version of the Hindu tale Ramayana. These works were explorations by Gill into her personal sense of place and history, as an outsider in Singapore. Works in the same series were created in other similar environments in countries such as Malaysia. Although they originate from specific locations, they can be read as anywhere in the tropics.

The process of entering these ‘little bits of jungle’ to construct these works was referred to by Gill as her ‘guerrilla activities’,8 and were temporary site specific interventions which she sought to document.

Her friend and fashion photographer Nicholas Leong, chose the camera and film which required long exposure, suiting Gill’s requirements to create large, dense flat tonal images. Together they documented the works before the paper was to rot away and return nature. This introduced Gill to analogue photography and its slow processing, which she values and continues to use.

Text from the education resource for the exhibition Simryn Gill: Inland at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy [Online] Cited 12/05/2019

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Untitled' from the 'Forest' series 1996

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Untitled
1996
From the series Forest
16 gelatin silver photographs
© Simryn Gill

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Vegetation #1' 1999

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Vegetation #1
1999
From the series Vegetation
5 gelatin silver photographs
© Simryn Gill

 

 

… In these works which were begun at a residency at Artpace in Texas, Gill begins the process of masking and disguising, of naturalising human figures into the landscape (in this case herself) through obscuring their heads with fruit and vegetation, that was to be so important in her later bodies of work such as A small town at the turn of the century.

Curator Sharmini Pereira has written: “In this series of photographs, her self-portrait dominates but only as a stream of disguises involving plants in various geographic locations; tumbleweed and aloe in Texas, mangrove and black boy in Australia, and bird’s nest fern in Singapore. The images bear an uncanny resemblance to a sequence of B-movie stills, where vengeful alien-plant-people threaten to over run the planet. Many Hollywood films have of course played out such narratives as a projection of Cold War anxieties fearful about the threat of Communist contamination. But if Vegetation represents the future through some fear located in the past, it does so through a mimetic representation of the present… Vegetation parodies the camera’s framing of today’s culture contact.

Beyond their still pathos, the enchanting appeal of these photographs lies in their somersaulting between the mythical moment of first contact and its reversal, which the mimetic moment of secondary contact ushers forth. The artist, “unrecognisable” in her jeans and desert boots and wearing her new plant hairstyle, lampoons the power of mimicry as a means of being both alien and indigenous at one and the same time. In as much as Vegetation offers us the chance to poke fun at the natives, it is also an image of the new 21st-century native – able to deliver the laughs rather than be controlled by them. It is here that we observe the breadth of relief that resides in the welcome opportunity to view imitation as a way of moving beyond the imitated…” in “Simryn Gill – Selected Work”, AGNSW, 2002

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 12/05/2019

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Vegetation #5' 1999

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Vegetation #5
1999
From the Vegetation series
5 gelatin silver photographs
© Simryn Gill

 

 

Vegetation (1999)

“Nature becomes just another clichéd signifier of place and of localness, which one may adopt while passing through a ‘strange’ place, or migrating to a new place, or indeed as a cover for invasion.”9

In these small framed photographs, Gill is now the subject within the natural environment. The series was started in San Antonia, Texas in 1999 and was part of a two-month residency during which time she produced a new body of work. Gill was wondering if – in this mimicry of nature – she actually could ‘disappear into the landscape’. On field trips she collected a range of desert plant matter, including aloe and tumble weed and took this back to the studio to construct headdresses. Again, using Nicholas Leong as the photographer, Gill then went back to the location to shoot the series. She continued to work on the series in Singapore using the mangrove and in Australia, the grass tree occasionally referred to as a ‘black boy’. The series is closely related to A small town at the turn of the century in its playfulness and parody of ethnographic portraits.

Text from the education resource for the exhibition Simryn Gill: Inland at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy [Online] Cited 12/05/2019

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Vegetation #3' 1999

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Vegetation #3
1999
From the Vegetation series
5 gelatin silver photographs
© Simryn Gill

 

 

Simryn Gill: Inland is a survey of photography and takes place in a photography gallery. It is important to declare at the outset, that while photography forms a significant and wondrous part of her practice, Simryn Gill does not consider herself a photographer; “For me, the taking of photographs is another tool in my bag of strategies, in that awkward pursuit of coherence we sometimes call art.”2 Simryn Gill: Inland embraces this conundrum as an entry point for considering Gill’s photography, and how photography might function more broadly as a way of engaging with the world.

Seven major series wind almost chronologically through the gallery – in this first survey of Gill’s photography – following a path, quite literally, from outside to inside, from found in nature to found in culture and back. Commencing with three series located outdoors, Forest (1996-1998), Rampant (1999) and Vegetation (1999), the survey moves to Gill’s sweeping interior series Dalam (2001). On the cusp of outside and inside is Power station (2004), which makes a curious and visceral analogy between the interior of her childhood home in Port Dickson, Malaysia and the interior of an adjacent power station. Like a medieval Book of Hours, the hand-sized concertina work Distance (2003-2009) is an attempt by Gill to convey the interior of her home in Marrickville, Sydney to someone residing outside Australia.

Gill’s most recent work Inland (2009), commissioned for this survey and photographed during a road trip from northern New South Wales to South Australia and across the bight to Western Australia, is at the heart of the exhibition. Gill’s only moving image work, Vessel (2004), commissioned for SBS Television, closes the exhibition’s journey with the almost imperceptible passage of a small fishing vessel across the horizon. To ground the exhibition, or perhaps to oversee our journey, one image is selected from Gill’s highly regarded series, A small town at the turn of the century (1999-2000).

Seeking an understanding of the politics of place informs her recent series. Inland confounds what is normally expected from photographs of Australia’s interior and eschews decorous landscapes, vast horizons or smiling rugged people, for modest interiors of homes. Indeed there are no people present, only the houses they have inhabited as evidence of their subjectivity.

Inland consists in piles of small jewel-like Cibachrome and black and white prints sitting on a table for viewers to peruse, heightening the provisional nature of its description, leaving open-ended the question of what can be known through photographic representation.

Naomi Cass,
 Exhibition Curator and Director 
Centre for Contemporary Photography

Press release from the Centre for Contemporary Photography website [Online] Cited 01/12/2009 no longer available online

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Dalam No. 226' 2001

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Dalam No. 226
2001
From the series Dalam
Chromogenic print
9 1/4 in. x 9 1/4 in. (23.5 cm x 23.5 cm)
© Simryn Gill

 

 

Dalam (2001)

Dalam (Malay for ‘deep’, or ‘within’) is a suite of 260 photographic images, the result of Malaysian artist Simryn Gill’s sojourn across her home country over an eight-week period. She went up to the homes of complete strangers and asked to photograph their living spaces. Dalam is an expansive yet uncannily intimate survey of Malaysia at the turn of the century, a mélange of disparate ethnicities, religions, ideologies and allegiances. The title itself alludes to the depiction of interior spaces as signifiers of the individual lives that inhabit and activate them, but, even more importantly, it suggests an exploration of the social fabric of contemporary Malaysia. As the artist observes: “In conceiving the work I had wondered what the ‘inside’ of a place might look like. Do lots of people held together by geography add up to the idea of a nation or single unified group?” Dalam questions what historian Benedict Anderson famously dubbed “the imagined community”, or the various divergent structures that shape the modern nation-state.

Text from the Singapore Art Museum website [Online] Cited 12/05/2019

 

Dalam (Malay for deep; inside; interior), is a series of two hundred and sixty colour photographs arranged in grid formation on the gallery walls.

“Gill deliberately began Dalam with the intention to document the living rooms of residents of the Malay peninsula, and her focus in each photograph is to capture the sense of place conveyed by the living room of the occupants.”11

Accompanied by a close friend, Gill took these over an eight-week period as they travelled across the Malaysian Peninsula. In towns mainly outside the city regions she knocked on the doors of strangers and asked if she could enter their houses to photograph their living rooms. Surprisingly, almost everyone agreed, and the resulting series gives a fascinating insight into the character of the Malaysian Peninsula, made up of a broad mix of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Gill was again exploring her conflicting experience of being both insider and outsider; raised in Malaysia but also having lived outside for a very long time.

Text from the education resource for the exhibition Simryn Gill: Inland at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy [Online] Cited 12/05/2019

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Dalam No. 162' 2001

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Dalam No. 162
2001
From the series Dalam
Chromogenic print
9 1/4 in. x 9 1/4 in. (23.5 cm x 23.5 cm)
© Simryn Gill

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Dalam #39' 2001

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Dalam #39
2001
From the series Dalam
Chromogenic print
9 1/4 in. x 9 1/4 in. (23.5 cm x 23.5 cm)
© Simryn Gill

 

 

How We Are in the World: The Photography of Simryn Gill

Simryn Gill: Inland is a survey of photography and takes place in a photography gallery. It is important to declare at the outset, that while photography forms a significant and wondrous part of her practice, Simryn Gill does not consider herself a photographer; “For me, the taking of photographs is another tool in my bag of strategies, in that awkward pursuit of coherence we sometimes call art”.1 Simryn Gill: Inland embraces this conundrum as an entry point for considering Gill’s photography, and how photography might function more broadly as a way of engaging with the world.

Seven major series wind almost chronologically through the gallery – in this first survey of Gill’s photography – following a path, quite literally, from outside to inside, from found in nature to found in culture and back. Commencing with three series located outdoors, Forest (1996-1998), Rampant (1999) and Vegetation (1999), the survey moves to Gill’s sweeping interior series Dalam (2001). On the cusp of outside and inside is Power station (2004), which makes a curious and visceral analogy between the interior of her childhood home in Port Dickson, Malaysia and the interior of an adjacent power station. Like a medieval Book of Hours, the hand-sized concertina work Distance (2003-2008) is an attempt by Gill to convey the interior of her home in Marrickville, Sydney to someone residing outside Australia. Gill’s most recent work Inland (2009), commissioned for this survey and photographed during a road trip from northern New South Wales to South Australia and across the bight to Western Australia, is at the heart of the exhibition. Gill’s only moving image work, Vessel (2004), screened on SBS Television, closes the exhibition’s journey with the almost imperceptible passage of a small fishing vessel across the horizon. To ground the exhibition, or perhaps to oversee our journey, one image is selected from Gill’s highly regarded series, A small town at the turn of the century (1999-2000).

Gill’s photography takes place within a broader practice that curator Russell Storer describes as “… subjecting found objects, books, local materials and sites – each of which carry specific meanings and histories – to a range of processes including photographing, collecting, erasing, casting, tearing, arranging, stitching, rubbing, wrapping and engraving”.2 Gill takes humble things in the world and shifts them; rearranges them with seemingly endless patience, craft and grace, to communicate something about how the object has come into being. This is not a matter of changing context to appreciate formal qualities as might a connoisseur, but rather a quest for understanding place.

Always evident in the found object is some kind of story that, as Gill gathers the item, is folded into the meaning of her work. The constituent parts of her installations – be they items found on the shore or collected from around her studios in Port Dickson or Sydney, or indeed a particular site Gill photographs – are gathered for their ability to evoke a history. Movement across the globe, of people and vegetation, both enforced and deliberate, if not the subject of her work is certainly a link. While not a unique story, resettlement is part of Gill’s individual and familial history. Her parents originally moved from India to Malaya prompted by the range of human predicaments, from political and economic upheaval, through to adventure and marriage. The displacement of objects echoes the journeys of people.

Naomi Cass Exhibition Curator and Director Centre for Contemporary Photography, extract from catalogue essay [Online] Cited 12/05/2019

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'A small town at the turn of the century #5' 1999-2000

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
A small town at the turn of the century #5
1999-2000
Type C photograph
From a series of 40
91.5 x 91.5 cm
Private collection, Sydney
© Simryn Gill

 

 

A small town at the turn of the century 1999-2000 is a series of 40 type C photographs taken by Gill in the town the artist grew up in. The documentation of the people and place of ones past could be highly nostalgic. Added to this is the moment at which Gill chose to document – the turn of the 20th into the 21st century. Such references to time and memory, the past and the present are potent but Gill has covered each of her subjects’ heads with tropical fruit. Rather than being absurd or ironical the head coverings move the images away from being portraits and into the broader realm of context. The context however is not necessarily as revealing as the viewer might wish. There are numerous variations on dress, interiors, exteriors, pose, and accoutrements that suggest activities (whether work or play). While it is usually clear that the environment is tropical (because of the fruit and foliage) the images provoke a complex set of reactions to the possible messages. Faceless, Gill’s subjects are ciphers constructed by external objects, presented with affection.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 12/05/2019

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Distance' 2003-08

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Distance' 2003-08

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959) 'Distance' 2003-08

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Distance
2003-08
Artist book
Installation views, Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

 

Distance (2003-2008)

Distance, an artist’s book of small colour photographs is produced as a hand-sized concertina work in an edition of just five. This beautiful work is “like a medieval Book of Hours”12 and is displayed in an elegant museum-like cabinet with a protective perspex covering. Distance was produced after many conversations Gill had with friends and family overseas and is an attempt to show them what her home is like. She took one hundred and thirty photographs, using a medium format camera, of everything in the interior of her home in Marrickville, Sydney; however the results seemed to fail in producing a truthful representation of her home, as Gill says, “the final result is almost like an incoherence, it’s too close, there is too much information”.13. Naomi Cass wrote with reference to this, ‘While Distance fails to communicate the gestalt of home, it is remarkable in its details and beauty’.14

Text from the education resource for the exhibition Simryn Gill: Inland at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy [Online] Cited 12/05/2019

 

Simryn Gill. 'Inland' 2009

 

Simryn Gill (Australian, born Singapore 1959)
Inland
2009
Cibachrome and silver gelatin photographs
Photographs (quantity variable)
13.0 x 13.0 cm (each)

 

 

Inland (2009)

“Through an extraordinary ability to engage with strangers, Gill and her fellow traveller Mary Maguire photographed the living rooms of eighty homes ranging in geographical location, socio-economic and cultural background.”15

Inland (2009) is a new series, which was commissioned for this exhibition. Using the same process to produce Dalam, Gill photographed this series on a road trip; however this time in Australia, from northern New South Wales to South Australia and across the bight to Western Australia. The photographs include views of the horizon, skyscapes, interior still life compositions and close ups of stones collected by Gill during her travels. Inland is at the heart of the exhibition and the mode of presentation differs to all other series in the exhibition, as these precious handmade small scale colour and black and white images are assembled on a table in piles for the visitor to examine, with white gloves.

Text from the education resource for the exhibition Simryn Gill: Inland at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy [Online] Cited 12/05/2019

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Friday 11am – 5pm
Saturday and Sunday 12pm – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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08
May
09

Review: ‘My Jesus Lets Me Rub His Belly’ exhibition by Martin Smith at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 21st April – 16th May 2009

 

Martin Smith. 'Hot/humid/oppressive/stifling/still' 2009

 

Martin Smith
Hot/humid/oppressive/stifling/still
2009
Pigment print and collage
90 x 130 cm

 

 

This is an interesting, well constructed exhibition of photographs, collage and sculpture by Martin Smith presented at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne that addresses issues of place and faith: memories of growing up within a religious framework. The work is well resolved, the themes explored are poignant, full of pathos, laden with sardonic humour and pull no punches.

The main body of the exhibition are contemporary personal photographs of sunsets, landscapes and urban spaces (such as the photograph of Central Park in New York, above). Incised into the surface of the photograph, actually cut into the surface, are narratives of boredom, anger and the blind injustice of devotion, memories of stories of a fifteen year old boy. In some of the photographs the lettering follows the pictorial representation of the photograph, in others it overwrites it. The cut letters fall away to the bottom of the picture and are captured by the picture frame, sitting at the bottom of each image like the leaves of autumn – half remembered stories that become jumbled in the mind, played over and over again.

These images consolidate both photographic and written texts while at the same time undermining their veracity and referentiality. Image and text are performative, playing off of each other to provide a transgressive textuality that becomes a mode of agential resistance capable of fragmenting and releasing the subject. In this engagement between image and text the work becomes intertextual, the ritual of production engaging a network of texts, a discursive multiplicity that traverses the entire scope of social, cultural, and institutional production. The childhood taboo of not criticising ‘faith’ is cross/ed in the process of re-remembering, re-inscription.

In these assemblages the surface of the photograph and the body of the text are subverted through a ritualised cutting, like the incision of the stigmata into the body of Christ. They become sites of resistance. As Deleuze and Guittari have noted of this process the site of resistance is both a productive and disruptive re-territorialization and de-territorialization of meaning:

“For them (Deleuze and Guattari), assemblages are the processes by which various configurations of linked components function in an intersection with each other, a process that can be both productive and disruptive. Any such process involves a territorialization; there is a double movement where something accumulates meanings (re-territorialization), but does so co-extensively with a de-territorialization where the same thing is disinvested of meanings. The organization of a territory is characterized by such a double movement … An assemblage is an extension of this process, and can be thought of as constituted by an intensification of these processes around a particular site through a multiplicity of intersections of such territorializations.”1

.
The particular site, the particular intersection that Smith addresses in his work is that of memory, faith and place. The lack of fixity in this intersection provides the artist with abundant opportunity to reinscribe the already inscribed ritual of faith, subverting the iteration of the norms already attributed to it, providing a loss of original meaning and the gaining of new meanings. This productive, disruptive re-inscription provides the positionality of the work and the viewer struggles with the emotional conflicts that result from this territorialization: even if you don’t know these stories they challenge what you believe, now.

Counterbalancing the colour photographs are white collages that are embossed with the answer to the celebrants greeting “The Lord be with you” to which the people respond “And also with you.” Hovering in the background of the work the words are again subverted, this time in a resurrection of cut letters – instead of being cut into the photograph the letters project outwards towards the viewer forming commodified shapes such as cars, underpants and people. The joy doesn’t stop there: the two sculptures in the exhibition add to the chaos with a wonderful sense of humour.

Through their hypertexts the work “becomes more and more layered until they are architectural in design, until their relationship to the context from which they have grown cannot be talked about through the simple models offered by referentiality, or by attributions of cause and effect.”2

Without absolute attribution the work becomes a form of transubstantiation. The flexibility of memory and the orthodoxy of religion are transformed into a spirituality of the self that the child of fifteen with blood running down his arms from his personal stigmata of boredom could never have imagined. At the end of days, when all is said and done, the funny diatribes with their ambiguous photographs are homily and heretic, and together form a more inclusive body of bliss: ‘And also with you and you and you and you’.

Whatever your faith, whoever you are.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Wood, Aylish. “Fresh Kill: Information technologies as sites of resistance,” in Munt, Sally (ed.,). Technospaces: Inside the New Media. London: Continuum, 2001, p. 166
  2. Burnett, Ron. Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, & the Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 137-138

Thank you to Edwin Nicholls for his help.

 

Martin Smith. 'Hot/humid/oppressive/stifling/still' 2009 (detail)

 

Martin Smith
Hot/humid/oppressive/stifling/still (detail)
2009
Pigment print and collage
90 x 130 cm

 

Installation view of Martin Smith exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

In the above installation photograph you can just see the cut letters lying at the bottom of the picture frame

 

Martin Smith. 'I still hate that man' 2009

 

Martin Smith
I still hate that man
2009
Pigment print and collage
130 x 180 cm

 

Martin Smith. 'My Frenetic, Anxiety Driven Snuffing' 2009

 

Martin Smith
My Frenetic, Anxiety Driven Snuffing
2009
Pigment print and collage
90 x 130 cm

 

 

Artist statement

I grew up in the bayside suburbs of Brisbane, Australia with a speech impediment. My teenage years were spent watching and observing, as I was too embarrassed to speak. My inability to express myself during this time left an indelible mark on my personal history and has provided the impetus for my artistic enquiries. Therefore it is no surprise that my art practice is primarily about language and the modes of representation used to express and interpret personal experience.

Among the studio methodologies that I employ are the combination of traditional story telling writing with vernacular photography. The text and the images have no literal relationship and I am very careful to avoid any obvious connection between the two. I write personal stories then hand-cut the text out of the image. The removed letters from the image are collected and captured by the picture frame, sitting at the bottom of each image like fallen leaves creating an Autumnal scene where visible change has occurred and the picture and the figure are going through a transition. The text punctures the surface of the image disrupting the way we view and read the work. We can’t fully view the image because of the text and we can’t read the text without the image creating a constant back and forth between the two. When viewing the visual and textual oscillation between the two narrative devices that have no literal connection we find balance outside the picture frame in a new discursive space. It is through this collision of narrative and languages that unique interpretations of personal experience are built. I am interested in exploring spaces of meaning that are created when two or more narrative devices are blended.

In other works the letters are also glued directly onto the wall of the gallery to form recognisable but featureless figures. These installations explore how meaning and identity are generated through language. The individual letters (the building blocks of language) combine together to form a representation of a life that exists only through the formulation of language.

Recently I performed a stand-up ‘comedy’ routine as another vehicle for exploring story-telling and personal histories. The routine titled “Hello Newmarket Hotel” was performed at an ‘open mic’ night in front of a regular comedy audience. The aim was to recreate and recontextualise a particularly painful childhood memory while incorporating known ‘comedy’ tropes. This work along with my whole practice is interested in the role that photography, and other forms of narrative, plays in the construction of our identity and how personal histories are written and interpreted.

Martin Smith 2017

 

Martin Smith. 'The Relationship Blossomed' 2009

 

Martin Smith
The Relationship Blossomed
2009
Pigment print and collage
115 x 115 cm

 

Martin Smith. 'The Relationship Blossomed' 2009 (detail)

 

Martin Smith
The Relationship Blossomed (detail)
2009
Pigment print and collage
115 x 115 cm

 

Martin Smith. 'The Homily' 2009

 

Martin Smith
The Homily
2009
Pigment print and collage
130 x 90 cm

 

Martin Smith, 'And also with you #2' 2009

 

Martin Smith
And also with you #2
2009
Collage on paper, eva
42 x 30 cm

 

Martin Smith. 'And also with you #3' 2009

 

Martin Smith
And also with you #3
2009
Collage on paper, eva
42 x 30 cm

 

Martin Smith. 'After 3 months on the road Mary started to loosen up' 2009

 

Martin Smith
After 3 months on the road Mary started to loosen up
2009
Photographic carving on marble base
18 x 10 x 10 cm

 

 

Sophie Gannon Gallery
2, Albert Street
Richmond, Vic 3121

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 5pm

Sophie Gannon Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Padlocks/People’ 1994-96

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