Posts Tagged ‘Ian Burn

10
Aug
16

Exhibition: ‘Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph’ at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth, New Zealand Part 2

Exhibition dates: 29th April – 14 August 2016

Curator: Geoffrey Batchen

 

 

Part 2 of a posting on this wonderful exhibition – Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph – at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth, New Zealand.

While there is no doubt as to the quality and breadth of the work on display, nor how it has been curated or installed in these beautiful contemporary spaces, I question elements of the conceptual rationale that ground the exhibition. While curator Geoffrey Batchen correctly notes that “artists are coming back to the most basic and elemental chemistry of photography, hands on, making unique images where there is a direct relationship between the thing being imaged and then image itself” as a response to the dematerialisation of the image that occurs in a digital environment and the proliferation of reproductions of digital images his assertion in a Radio New Zealand interview that the cameraless photograph has a direct relationship to the world, unmediated – through the unique touch of the object on the photographic paper – is an observation that seems a little disingenuous.

Batchen observes in the quotation below, “it’s as if nature represents itself, completely unmediated and directly. In some ways … [this] is far more realist, far more true to the original object than any camera picture could be.” Note how he qualifies his assertion and position by the statement “in some ways”. The reality of the situation is that every photograph is mediated to one degree or another, whether through the use of the camera, the choice of developer, photographic paper, size, perspective and so forth. The physicality of the actual print and the context of capture and display are also mediated, in each instance and on every occasion. Every photograph is mediated through the choices of the photographer, even more so in the production of cameraless photographs (what to choose to photograph, where to position the object, what to draw with the light) because the artist has the ultimate control on what is being pictured (unlike the reality of the world). To say that cameraless photographs have a more direct and unmediated relationship to the world than analogue and digital photographs could not be further from the truth – it is just that the taxonomic system of ordering “reality” is of a different order.

Batchen further states in the Radio new Zealand interview that “in these photographs the object is still there, that’s the strange thing about cameraless photographs. There is a sense of presentness to this kind of photograph. … Cameraless photographs seem to exist in a kind of eternal present, and in that sense they complicate our understanding both of photography but also to the world that is being represented here.”

This is a contentious observation that argues for some special state of being that exists within the cameraless photograph which I believe does not exist. I argue that EVERY photograph possesses the POSSIBILITY of a sense of presentness of the object being photographed (whether it be landscape, portrait, street, abstract, etc…). It just depends whether the photographer is attuned to what is present before their eyes, whether they are attuned to the mediation of the camera and whether the print reveals what has been captured in the negative. Minor White’s “revelation of spirit”. A “hands on” process does not guarantee a more meaningful form of photographic authenticity,  or cameraless photographs possess some inherent authentic reality (the appeal to the aura of the object, Benjamin), any more than analogue or digitally reproduced photographs do. They are all representations of a mediated reality in one form or another. Some photographs will simply not capture that “presence” no matter how hard you try, be they cameraless or not. Further, every photograph exists in an eternal present, bringing past time to present and, in the process of existence, transcending time. In this regard, to claim special status for cameraless photographs is a particularly incongruous and elliptical argument, an argument which posits an obfuscation of the theoretical history of photography.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

PS. I particularly love Len Lye’s work for its visual dexterity and robustness.

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Many thankx to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images are photographed by Bryan James.

 

 

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“You assume that the image caught by the camera is “the” image, but of course a camera is ultimately a device – about from the Renaissance on – in which perspective is organised within a box using a lens, based on a principle that light travels in straight lines. So what you get when you use a camera is a mediated image, an image constructed according to certain conventions developed during the Renaissance and beyond in which the world is developed … according to the rules of perspective, and we’ve learnt to accept those rules as, as reality itself. But … when you put an object directly onto a piece of paper without any mediation [of a machine], it’s as if nature represents itself, completely unmediated and directly. In some ways … [this] is far more realist, far more true to the original object than any camera picture could be.”

.
Geoffrey Batchen

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Christian Marclay and at right, Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of Christian Marclay’s Large Cassette Grid No. 6, 2009 (left) and Allover (Rush, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, and Others), 2008 (right)

 

Christian Marclay (US) 'Large Cassette Grid No. 6' 2009

 

Christian Marclay (US)
Large Cassette Grid No. 6
2009
Cyanotype photograph

 

Christian Marclay (US) 'Allover (Rush, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, and Others)' 2008

 

Christian Marclay (US)
Allover (Rush, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, and Others)
2008
Cyanotype photograph

 

Using hundreds of cassette tapes bought in thrift stores, Christian Marclay has scattered the entangled strands of the tapes across large sheets of specially prepared blueprint paper, deliberately adopting the “action painter” techniques of Jackson Pollock and similar artists. He then exposed them, sometimes multiple times, under a high-powered ultraviolet lamp. In other cases, the cassettes themselves were stacked in translucent grids to make a minimalist composition.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Christian Marclay and at right, Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Walead Beshty (Switzerland/US) 'Two Sided Picture (RY), January 11, 2007, Valencia, California, Fujicolor Crystal Archive, 2007'

 

Walead Beshty (Switzerland/US)
Two Sided Picture (RY), January 11, 2007, Valencia, California, Fujicolor Crystal Archive, 2007
Chromogenic photograph

 

In the series from which this work comes American photographic artist Walead Beshty cut and folded sheets of photographic paper into three-dimensional forms and then exposed each side to a specific colour of light, facilitating the production of multi-faceted prints with the potential to exhibit every possible colour combination. The trace of this process remains visible, with the original folds transformed into a network of contours on the surface of the print.

 

Installation view of Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan/US) 'Lightning Fields 168' 2009

 

Installation view of
Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan/US)
Lightning Fields 168
2009

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan/US) 'Lightning Fields 168' 2009

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan/US)
Lightning Fields 168
2009
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographs of static electricity were inspired by his unsuccessful efforts to banish such discharges from the surface of his negatives during the printing process. Sugimoto decided instead to try and harness such discharges for the purposes of image making. Utilizing a Van der Graaf generator, he directed as many as 40,000 volts onto metal plates on which rested unexposed film. He soon changed tactics when he discovered that immersing the film in saline water during the discharge gave much better results.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Andreas Müller-Pohle Digital Scores (after Nicéphore Niépce) 1995, and to the right in the second and third images, Susan Purdy

 

In 1995 the German artist Andreas Müller-Pohle took the digital code generated by a scan of the supposed “first photograph,” Nicéphore Niépce’s 1827 heliograph View from the window at Le Gras, and spread it across eight panels as a messy swarm of numbers and computer notations. Each of Müller-Pohle’s separations represents an eighth of a full byte of memory, a computer’s divided remembrance of the first photograph. The Scores are therefore less about Niépce’s photograph than about their own means of production (as the title suggests, they bear the same abstracted relation to an image as sheet music has to sound). We see here, not a photograph, but the new numerical rhetoric of digital imaging.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of Ian Burn (Australia/US) Xerox book # 1, 1968 from the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

In the 1960s a number of artists sought to distil artwork from the new imaging technologies becoming commonly available. Ian Burn, an Australian artist then living in New York, made a series of Xerox Books in 1968 in which he churned out 100 copies of a blank sheet of white paper on a Xerox 660 photocopying machine, copying each copy in turn until the final sheet was filled with the speckled visual noise left by the machine’s own imperfect operations.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with in foreground display case, Herbert Dobbie’s illustrated cyanotype books New Zealand Ferns (148 Varieties) 1880, 1882, 1892 and background, the cyanotypes of Anna Atkins

 

Herbert Dobbie, a railway station master and amateur botanist who emigrated to New Zealand from England in 1875, made cyanotype contact prints of specimens of all 148 known species of fern in his new country in 1880 and sold them in album form. Dobbie was responding to a fashion for collecting and displaying ferns among his local audience, a fashion driven in part by a nostalgia for a pre-modern style of life and in part by a developing nationalism. The end result is a group of images that hover somewhere between science and art, between popular aesthetic enjoyment and commercial profit.

 

Anna Atkins (UK) 'Untitled' (from the disassembled album 'Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns') c. 1854

 

Anna Atkins (UK)
Untitled (from the disassembled album Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns)
c. 1854
Cyanotype photographs

 

The English photographer Anna Atkins issued albums of cyanotype prints of seaweed and algae from 1843, and these are often regarded as the earliest photographic books.

In the 1850s, Atkins collaborated with her friend Anne Dixon to produce at least three presentation albums of cyanotype contact prints, including Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns (1853) and Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns (1854). These albums included examples from places like Jamaica, New Zealand and Australia – a reminder that, for an English observer, all these places were but an extension of home, a part of the British Empire. These cyanotypes look as if they were made yesterday, offering a trace from the past that nevertheless always remains contemporary.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) 'Lace' c. 1845

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (UK, 1800-1877)
Floral patterned lace
c. 1845
Salted paper print
23.0 x 18.8 cm (irregular)

 

During the 1850s, William Henry Fox Talbot focused his energies on the invention of a way of producing photographic engravings on metal plates, so that permanent ink on paper imprints could be taken from them. In April 1858, having found a way to introduce an aquatint ground to the process, he filed a patent for a system which he called photoglyphic engraving.

Talbot described his invention in terms of an ability to make accurate photographic impressions without a camera: “The objects most easily and successfully engraved are those which can be placed in contact with the metallic plate, – such as the leaf of fern, the light feathery flowers of a grass, a piece of lace, etc. In such cases the engraving is precisely like the object; so that it would almost seem to any one, before the process was explained to him, as if the shadow of the object had itself corroded the metal, – so true is the engraving to the object.”

This photograph was made using the calotype process, patented in 1841 by its inventor, the English gentleman William Henry Fox Talbot. The increased exposure speeds allowed by the process made it easier to print positive photographs from a negative image, so that multiple versions of that image could be produced. In this case, a positive photograph has been made from a contact print of a piece of lace.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery featuring Len Lye’s cameraless photographic portraits

 

Len Lye (NZ) 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1947

 

Len Lye (NZ)
Georgia O’Keeffe
1947
Courtesy of the Len Lye Foundation Collection
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre

 

Len Lye (NZ) 'Le Corbusier' 1947

 

Len Lye (NZ)
Le Corbusier
1947
Courtesy of the Len Lye Foundation Collection and Archive
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre

 

Lye’s subjects included notable artists such as Joan Miró, Hans Richter, and Georgia O’Keeffe (who brought some deer antlers to the shoot), the architect Le Corbusier, the jazz musician Baby Dodds, the scientist Nina Bull, and the writer W. H. Auden. But they also included a baby and a young woman who remain unnamed; Lye’s new partner, Ann Hindle; and Albert Bishop, a plumber who had come by to do some repairs. (Referencing the history of “silhouette” art)

 

Len Lye (NZ) 'Marks and Spencer in a Japanese Garden (Pond People)' 1930

 

Len Lye (NZ)
Marks and Spencer in a Japanese Garden (Pond People)
1930
Courtesy of the Len Lye Foundation Collection and Archive
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre

 

Len Lye’s earliest cameraless photographs were made around 1930 as he settled into the London art scene and before he emerged as a leading figure in experimental cinema. His practice was eclectic during this period. He exhibited paintings, batiks, photographs and sculpture as part of the Seven and Five Society, Britain’s leading avant-garde group. During a visit to Mallorca with his friends Robert Graves and Laura Riding, Lye made a number of photograms with plasticine and cellophane shapes arranged over the photographic paper. Two of these, Self-Planting at Night (Night Tree) and Watershed, were exhibited in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery featuring James Cant’s Six Signed Artist’s Prints 1948

 

James Cant (Australia) 'The struggle for life' 1948

 

James Cant (Australia)
The struggle for life
1948
Cliché verre print (cyanotype blueprint from one hand-drawn glass plate)
35 x 29.6 cm sheet

 

A number of Australian artists, some working in Melbourne and some in London, issued prints in the 1940s and early 50s using architectural blueprint (or cyanotype) paper, perhaps because, during the deprivations that attended the aftermath of World War Two, it was a cheap and available material for this purpose. James Cant, an artist interested in both Surrealism and Australian Aboriginal art, brought the two together in his designs for a portfolio of Six Signed Artist’s Prints that he issued in a print run of 150 in 1948. Each image was painted on a sheet of glass and then this glass was contact printed onto the blueprint paper to create a photograph.

In August 1834, while resident in Geneva, William Henry Fox Talbot had a friend make some drawings on sheets of varnished glass exposed to smoke, using an engraver’s needle to scratch through this darkened surface. The procedure came to be known as cliché verre.

 

Kilian Breier. 'Kilian Breier: Fotografik 1953-1990' 1991 (cover)

 

Kilian Breier
Kilian Breier: Fotografik 1953-1990 (cover)
1991

 

The German artist Kilian Breier began making abstract photographs in the 1950s, some by folding his photographic paper and others by allowing rivulets of developer to flow across and stain it. A 1991 exhibition catalogue, Kilian Breier: Fotografik 1953-1990, gave the artist an opportunity to make a provocative gesture in line with his dedication to the self-generated image; he included in it a loose unfixed piece of signed photographic paper that continues to develop every time it is exposed to light. It therefore inhabits the book that protects it like a ghost, unable to be seen but nonetheless always present.

 

Max Dupain (Australia) 'Untitled rayograph [with water]' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia)
Untitled rayograph [with water]
1936
Gelatin silver photograph

 

The Australian modernist photographer Max Dupain was a great admirer of the work of Man Ray. In 1935 Dupain reviewed a book of the American’s photographs for The Home magazine in Sydney, declaring that “He is alone. A pioneer of the 20th century who has crystallised a new experience in light and chemistry.” With this book as his inspiration, Dupain himself made a number of experimental cameraless photographs in the later 1930s.

 

Běla Kolářová (Czechoslovakia) 'Pecky broskve' (z 'cyklu' Stopy) 'Peach Stones' (From 'Traces' series) 1961

 

Běla Kolářová (Czechoslovakia)
Pecky broskve (z cyklu Stopy)
Peach Stones
(From Traces series)
1961
Gelatin silver photograph from an artificial negative

 

Taking up photography in 1956 during the Cold War, the Czech artist Běla Kolářová wrote about the need to photograph things normally beneath the notice of photography, the negligible detritus of everyday life. Her initial experiments along these lines involved the making of prints from what she called “artificial negatives.” Collecting all sorts of discarded items (onion peels, peach pits), she either placed her scraps directly on celluloid or embedded them in a layer of paraffin, projecting the resulting image onto bromide paper using an enlarger. Kolářová also began to produce photographic images by placing her light-sensitive paper on a record turntable, rotating it at varying speeds, and allowing the light to produce a series of overlapping and wavy concentric circles.

 

Installation view of György Kepes

 

Installation view of
György Kepes (Hungary/Germany/US)
Black, great and white light composition, 1949
Black and white calligraphy, 1951
Fluid patterns, 1938
(Calligraphic light), 1948
Optical transformation, 1938
Hieroglyphic body, 1942
(Magnetic pattern), 1938
Gelatin silver photographs (printed c. 1977)

 

The Hungarian-born artist György Kepes moved to the United States in the late 1930s, where he published a series of interdisciplinary books concerned with the “language of vision.” Informed by his study of psychological theory, Kepes particularly favoured the cameraless photograph as offering a kind of universal language, stressing the need for images that combined “transparency and interpenetration… the order of our time is to knead together the scientific and technical knowledge required, into an integrated whole on the biological and social plane.” Even when they appear to be abstractions, Kepes’s own photograms were intended as an expression of the interdependence of natural and manmade structures and as an advocacy for the interrelationship of art, science, and technology.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the work of Herbert Matter (left), Chargesheimer (centre), and Roger Catherineau (right)

 

Herbert Matter (Switzerland/France/US) 'Untitled' c. 1939-43

 

Herbert Matter (Switzerland/France/US)
Untitled
c. 1939-43
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Born in Switzerland, Herbert Matter studied with Fernand Léger in Paris before working there and in Switzerland as a graphic designer, incorporating photographic images into his many posters. In 1935 he moved to the United States, involving himself in the design and art world he found there, with a special interest in the work of abstract painters. He produced a number of experimental photographs in this period, deliberately designed to break with what he called “the chains of documentation.” These included a calligraphic image made in 1944 by tracing brush strokes on a wet emulsion plate charged by an electrical current and a series of sinuous, painterly photographs, perhaps made by pouring chemicals on sheets of glass already marked with a resist and then printing from them.

 

 

Chargesheimer (Germany) 'Scenarium' 1961

 

Chargesheimer (Germany)
Scenarium
1961
Gelatin silver chemigram

 

In 1961, the German artist Karl-Heinz Hargesheimer, who went by the single name of Chargesheimer, published a limited-edition book titled Lichtgrafik [Light Graphic]. He described the ten unique prints gathered in it as photochemische Malereien or “photo-chemical paintings,” inducing their strange combinations of gestural calligraphic marks and organic-looking surface using only developer and fixer on gelatin silver photographic paper.

 

Roger Catherineau (France) 'Photogramme' 1957

 

Roger Catherineau (France)
Photogramme
1957
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Starting in the 1950s, French artist Roger Catherineau drew on his interest in sculpture and dance to produce sinuous, layered photograms that look more like graphics than paintings. Their ambiguous depths were made even more elusive by the addition of coloured inks to their surfaces.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Marco Breuer and at right, Lynn Cazabon

 

Installation view of Danica Chappell (Australia) 'Slippery Image #1' 2014-15 'Slippery Image #2' 2014-15 and 'Traversing Edges & Corners (Orange #9)' 2014 'Traversing Edges & Corners (Orange #10)' 2014 tintype

 

Installation view of
Danica Chappell (Australia)
Slippery Image #1, 2014-15
Slippery Image #2, 2014-15
Daguerreotype

Danica Chappell (Australia)
Traversing Edges & Corners (Orange #9), 2014
Traversing Edges & Corners (Orange #10), 2014
Tintype

 

The work of Australian artist Danica Chappell brings together the formal experiments of early modernist avant-garde groups, such as the Russian Constructivists and the German Bauhaus, with some of photography’s earliest techniques, resulting in geometrically patterned daguerreotypes and tintypes. These patterns of light and shadow animate the surface of Chappell’s metallic photographs, while also recording her work in the darkroom, her negotiation of radiation, object, body and time.

 

Installation view of Lynn Cazabon (US) 'Diluvian' 2010-13

 

Installation view of
Lynn Cazabon (US)
Diluvian
2010-13
40 unique silver gelatin solar photographs

 

Diluvian, by American artist Lynn Cazabon, comprises a grid of unique contact prints, with their imagery and the means of its production both being directly generated by the work’s subject matter. Embedded in a simulated waste dump, covered with discarded cell phones and computer parts as well as organic material, expired sheets of gelatin silver paper were sprayed with baking soda, vinegar and water, sandwiched under a heavy sheet of glass, and left in direct sunlight for up to six hours, four prints at a time. The chemical reactions that ensued left visual traces – initially vividly coloured and then gradually fading when fixed – of our society’s flood of toxic consumer items, produced by the decomposing after-effects of those very items.

 

Installation view of works by Marco Breuer

 

Installation view of
Marco Breuer (Germany/US)
Untitled (C-1378), 2013
Untitled (C-1598), 2014
Chromogenic paper, embossed/burned/scraped

Marco Breuer (Germany/US)
Untitled (C-1526), 2014
Chromogenic paper, burned/scraped

Marco Breuer (Germany/US)
Untitled (C-1338), 2013
Chromogenic paper, burned

 

By folding, scoring, burning, scouring, abrading, and/or striking his pieces of photographic paper, German-born, US-based artist Marco Breuer coaxes a wide range of colours, markings and textures from his chosen material. Both touched and tactile, Breuer’s photographs have become surrogate bodies, demonstrating the same fragility and relationship to violence as any other organism. And like any other body, they also bear the marks of time, not of a single instant from the past, like most photographs, but rather of a duration of actions that have left accumulated scars.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at centre, the work of Anne Noble

 

Anne Noble (New Zealand) 'Bruissement: Bee Wing Photograms #10' 2015

 

Anne Noble (New Zealand)
BruissementBee Wing Photograms #10
2015
Pigment print on Canson baryta paper
320 x 110 cm
Courtesy of the artist, Wellington

 

In recent times, the New Zealand artist Anne Noble has made a number of works that address the calamitous collapse of the global honeybee population. In these two cameraless photographs, cascading vertically down the wall like Chinese scroll paintings, we get to see the imprint of thousands of detached bee wings, their determined hum stilled by disease, human interference and a toxic ecology. The haunting beauty of these delicate traceries and strange shadows is also a warning. A beekeeper herself, Noble looks at bees as a living system under stress but also as a model for our own society; as she says, “what is happening to the bees we are likely doing to ourselves.”

 

Installation view of works by Alison Rossiter

Installation view of works by Alison Rossiter

 

Installation views of
Alison Rossiter
(US)
Agfa Cykora, expired January 1942, processed 2013
Eastman Kodak Velox, expired March 1919a, processed 2014
Eastman Kodak Medalist E2, expired September 1956, processed 2010
Eastman Kodak Velox, expired March 1919b, processed 2014
Eastman Kodak PMC No.11, expired September 1937, processed 2013
Defender Argo, exact expiration date unknown, ca. 1910, processed 2013
Velox T4, expiry date October 1, 1940, processed 2008
Unique gelatin silver photographs

 

Since 2007, American photographic artist Alison Rossiter has been buying old expired packets of unexposed film at auction or on the internet, some of them dating from as early as 1900. She then develops these sheets in her darkroom with no further exposure to light, never quite sure what the resulting object-image will look like. The one inscribed Velox T4, expiry date October 1, 1940, for example, was developed in 2008, and displays a Mark Rothko-like grid of pale impressions on a dark ground. These are the chemical traces left behind by the wrapping paper that once protected it from light. We’re looking, then, at an exposure – to chemicals as well as to leaked light – of approximately seventy years.

 

Installation view works by Matt Higgins

 

Installation view of
Matt Higgins (Australia)
Untitled 134-5, 2014
Untitled 254-5, 2014
Untitled 287-5, 2014
Untitled 292-5, 2014
Unique chemigram on gelatin silver photographic paper

 

Australian artist Matt Higgins makes what are called ‘chemigrams,’ created by the interplay of various manual and chemical processes on a single sheet of photographic paper or film. Higgins also uses resists to help create his patterned surfaces, from soft organic substances such as apple syrup to industrial compounds such as epoxy enamel. He thereby returns photography to its historical roots: the desire to coax images from a chemical reaction to light.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

 

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre
Queen St, New Plymouth, New Zealand
Phone: +64 6 759 6060
Email: info@govettbrewster.com

Opening hours:
Wednesday, Friday – Monday
10am – 6pm
Thursday 10am – 9pm

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre website

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28
Feb
11

Review: ‘Stormy Weather: Contemporary Landscape Photography’ at NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th September 2010 – 20th March 2011

 

Nici Cumpston. 'Nookamka - Lake Bonney' 2007

 

Nici Cumpston (Barkindji Australian, b. 1963)
Nookamka – Lake Bonney
2007
watercolour and coloured pencils on ink on canvas
74.2 x 203.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2008
© Nici Cumpston

 

 

“It is this irreversibly modified world, from the polar caps to the equatorial forests, that is all the nature we have.”

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Simon Schama. Landscape and Memory 1

 

“The term “landscape” can be ambiguous and is often used to describe a creative interpretation of the land by an artist and the terrain itself. But there is a clear distinction: the land is shaped by natural forces while the artist’s act of framing a piece of external reality involves exerting creative control. The terms of this ‘control’ have be theorised since the Renaissance and, while representations of nature have changed over the centuries, a landscape is essentially a mediated view of nature.”

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Dr Isobel Crombie 2

 

“And, finally, what of the vexed, interrelated matter of non-Aboriginal Australians’ sense of belonging? While the Australian historian Manning Clark speculated that European settlers were eternal outsiders who could never know ‘heart’s ease in a foreign land, because … there live foreign ancestral spirits’, it now seems plausible that non-Aboriginal Australians are developing their own form of attachment, not to land as such, but to place. Indeed, it has recently been argued that for contemporary non-Aboriginal Australians, belonging may have no connection with land at all. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why art photographs of the natural landscape have lost their currency and are now far outnumbered by photographs of urban and suburban environments – after all, it is ‘here’ that most Australians live and ‘there’ that the tourist industry beckons them to escape.”

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Helen Ennis. Photography and Australia 3

 

 

This review took a lot of research, reading, thinking and writing, all good stuff – I hope you enjoy it!

 

Heavy Weather: Photography and the Australian Land(e)scape

There is nothing fresh about the work in this exhibition. If feels like all the oxygen has been sucked out of the term ‘landscape’, the land itself gasping for air, for life. What the exhibition does evince is an “undercurrent of disruption and contradiction that suggests that all is not as it may appear” (wall text) – and on this evidence the process of photographing the Australian landscape seems to have become an escape from the land, a fragmented and dislocated scoping, mapping and photographing of mental aspects of the land that have little to do with the landscape itself. Landscape as a site of psychological performance. In this sense, the title Stormy Weather should perhaps have been Heavy Weather for contemporary photographic artists seem to make heavy going of photographing our sense of belonging to land, to place.

Is it the artists or the curators that seek to name this work ‘landscape photography’ for it is about everything but the landscape – an escape from the land, perhaps even a denial of it’s very existence. I believe it is the framing of landscape and its imaging in terms of another subject matter. While I am not going to critique individual works in the exhibition, what I am interested in is this framing of the work as ‘landscape photography’.

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Since colonial settlement there has been a rich history of photographing the Australian landscape. In the early colonial period the emphasis was on documenting the building of new cities and communities through realist photography and later more picturesque and panoramic vistas of the Australian land as settlers sought comfort in familiar surroundings and a sense of ‘belonging’ to the land (for example day trippers and photographers travelling to the Blue Mountains). Photographers rarely accompanied expeditions into the interior, unlike the exploration and mapping of the land from the East Coast to the West Coast in the United States. Unlike America there has been little tradition of photographing sublime places in Australia because they are not of the same scale as in the USA. It is very difficult to photograph the vast horizon line of the Australian outback and make it sublime. Photographing the landscape then ventured through Pictorialism in the interwar years, Modernism after WWII through to the emergence of art photography in the 1970s (for example see my posting on Dr John Cato), wilderness and tourist photography. An excellent book to begin to understand the history of photography in Australia is Photography and Australia by Helen Ennis (London: Reaktion Books, 2007) that contains the chapter “Land and Landscape.” As Ennis comments in this chapter, “… landscape photography has been the practice of settler Australians and the expression of a settler-colonial culture … The viewpoint in landscape photography has therefore been almost exclusively European”4 although this culture has been changing in recent years with the emergence of Indigenous photographers.

Ennis observes that contemporary landscape photographers embrace internationalist styles, showing a distaste for totalising nationalist narratives and a rejection of essentialist or absolutist viewpoints, noting that an overarching framework like multiculturalism has lost its currency in favour of transnationalism (which is a social movement grown out of the heightened interconnectivity between people and the loosening of boundaries between countries) that does not disavow colonial inequalities and asymmetrical relations between countries and continents.5 Photographers have developed a “photographic language that allows for the expression of the contradictions inherent in contemporary settler Australians’ relations with the land,”6 whilst offering visual artists a “non-linear, non-didactic way of dealing with the complexities of Australia history and experience, and the relationship between past and present.”7

This much then is a given. Let us now look at the framing of the work in the exhibition as ‘landscape photography’.

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Simon Schama in his erudite book Landscape and Memory (New York: Vintage, 1996) believes that there can never be a natural or neutral landscape (even the brilliant meadow-floor [at Yosemite] which suggested to its first eulogists a pristine Eden was in fact the result of regular fire-clearances by its Ahwahneechee Indian occupants) and that it is our shaping perception that makes the difference between raw matter and landscape. There was also a recognition that ‘nature’ was neither neutral nor beyond ideology during the 1970s – 1980s. Hence there is a double mediation – by both nature and the artist.

Despite the rejection of essentialist or absolutist viewpoints by contemporary photographers and an acknowledgment of the mediated view by/of nature one can say that there is not a single photograph in this exhibition that is just a ‘landscape’. Even the most sublime photographs in the exhibition, David Stephenson’s (Self-portrait), Reflected moon, Tasmania (1985) is cut up into a grid, or Murray Fredericks Salt photographs (2005, see below) where the photographer has waited agonisingly for weeks for just the right weather conditions to take his photographs which the general public, when visiting Lake Eyre, would have no chance of ever seeing. Through this mediation there seems to have emerged an abrogation or denial of landscape by the artists and curators conceptualisation of it, as though they are performing a particular condition, a style; working out a plan of what to do and say. Is it just a denial or is it an artistic strategy?

I believe that these are strategies that limit artists, not strategies that enable them. The curators are equally implicated in these strategies by their naming of these works ‘landscapes’. What purpose does this naming serve, in terms of the development of a sense of place, not nation, that people living in Australia seek to have? We can ask the question: Where do you stand in relationship to the landscape both philosophically and geographically?

After Butler, we can also ask: What forms of cultural myth making are “embedded” in the framing of landscape by the curators, the naming of such work as ‘landscape photography’?

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Rarely is the framing recognised for what it is, when it is the viewer interpreting the interpretation that has been imposed upon us, that limits the visual discourse, producing a view of Australian landscape as fragmented norms enacted through visual narrative frames – that in this case efface the representation of land and place. This conceptual framing of what the work is about limits the grounds for discourse for a frame excludes as much as it corrals. The curators form an interpretative matrix of what is seen (or not seen, or withheld), reinforcing notions of landscape photography, the ‘landscape photography’ “that requires a certain kind of subject that actually institutes that conceptual requirement as part of its description and diagnosis.”8 In other words the description ‘landscape photography’ established by the curators becomes a limiting, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Personally, I think the problem with a landscape exhibition is that this is virtually an inane topic. Somehow “documentary” works as a topic because it is about a mental discipline. But “landscape” is no longer really a topic – it used to be a topic when landscape painters wanted to show the landscape (!) but does anyone really want to show this today? Even when the landscape painters wanted to show the sublime, the landscape was always treated with deference. No-one thinks of Minor White as a landscape photographer for he was a metaphysical photographer. And that’s what this exhibition needs – another word to give sense to a photographers efforts.

This is difficult subject matter. While artists may reject essentialist or absolutist viewpoints what has been substituted in their place is a framing, a definition that is post-nature, that undermines any sense of belonging to land, to place. The dissolutive pendulum has swung too far the other way; we look to theory to be inclusive and sometimes stand on our heads to achieve this to our detriment.

As of this moment we are not at the point where we can look back with some certainty and see that we have reached the beginning of the path of understanding. What I would propose to any artist is a photography that is broadly based, cumulative, offering a layered body of work that builds and refers back to an original body of work, much like the photographs of Robert Adams – photographs that do not make claims but ask questions and hint at a more responsive engagement with the landscape.

My hope is that a more broadly based view of place and our sense of belonging to the land emerges, one that challenges our contemporary understanding of the landscape, a viewpoint and line of sight that calm our troubled sense of reality. Robert Adams has written eloquently about photography and the art of seeing. Here is a quote from his seminal book Why People Photograph (Aperture Foundation, 1994) that aptly concludes this review.

“At our best and most fortunate we make pictures because of what stands in front of the camera, to honor what is greater and more interesting than we are. We never accomplish this perfectly, though in return we are given something perfect – a sense of inclusion. Our subject thus redefines us, and is part of the biography by which we want to be known.”9

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Addendum

Further to my argument above there is a session ‘Australian Identity: Australian Bio-diversity and the Landscape of the Imagination’ at the Festival of Ideas, Friday June 17th 2011 at the University of Melbourne where, in the details of the upcoming session, Ian Burn has been quoted about the loss of the landscape:

Details of the session: ‘The connection between landscape and national identity figures prominently in discussions of Australian experience. Recently the pairing of the two has taken a melancholic turn; artist Ian Burn has remarked that ‘A commitment to representing the landscape has come to be about the “loss” of the landscape’. Has the landscape that once supported the Australian legend disappeared? The landscape is represented not only in art but also through science, law and commerce. Are new landscapes and new identities now being imagined and discovered?’

Quotation: “The idea of landscape does not just invoke rival institutional discourses, but today attracts wider and more urgent reflections. A commitment to representing the landscape has become about the ‘loss’ of landscape in the twentieth century … that is about its necessity and impossibility at the same time. Seeing a landscape means focusing on a picture, implicating language in our seeing of the landscape.”

Burn, Ian quoted in Stephen, Ann (ed.,). Artists think: the late works of Ian Burn. Sydney: Power Publications in association with Monash University Gallery, Melbourne, 1996, p. 8.

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Other sessions on Saturday June 18th 2011 include ‘The Pull of the Landscape’ and ‘Contemporary Visions and Critiques of the Landscape’.

 

Footnotes

  1. Schama, Simon. Landscape and Memory. New York: Vintage, 1996, p. 7
  2. Crombie, Isobel. Stormy Weather. Contemporary Landscape Photography (exhibition catalogue). Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2010, p. 15
  3. Clark, Manning quoted by Peter Read in “A Haunted Land No Longer? Changing Relationships to a Spiritualised Australia,” in Australian Book Review CCLXV (October 2004) pp. 28-33 in Ennis, Helen. “Land and Landscape,” in Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, pp. 71-72
  4. Ennis, Helen. “Land and Landscape,” in Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, pp. 51-52
  5. Ennis, Helen. “Land and Landscape,” in Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p. 123, p. 133
  6. Ibid., “Land and Landscape,” pp. 71-72
  7. Ibid., “Localism and Internationalism,” p. 128
  8. Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? London: Verso, 2010, p. 161
  9. Adams, Robert. Why People Photograph. New York: Aperture Foundation, 1994, p. 179

 

 

Harry Nankin. 'Of Great Western tears / Duet 2' 2006

 

Harry Nankin (Australian, b. 1953)
Of Great Western tears / Duet 2
2006
From The rain series 2006-07
Gelatin silver photographs
(a-b) 107.1 x 214.3 cm (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2007
© Harry Nankin

 

Stephanie Valentin. 'Rainbook' 2009

 

Stephanie Valentin (Australia, b. 1962)
Rainbook
2009
From the earthbound series 2009
Colour inkjet print
69.9 x 86.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Philip Ross and Sophia Pavlovski-Ross, 2009
© Stephanie Valentin

 

Murray Fredericks. 'Salt 154' 2005

 

Murray Fredericks (Australia, b. 1970)
Salt 154
2005
From the Salt series 2003-
Colour inkjet print
119.3 x 149.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Murray Fredericks

 

Siri Hayes. 'Plein air explorers' 2008

 

Siri Hayes (Australia, b. 1977)
Plein air explorers
2008
Type C photograph
104.3 x 134.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Siri Hayes

 

 

The work of the contemporary Australian photographers highlighted in this exhibition comes from a profound engagement with the lived landscape around them. The quiet intensity of their work comes from their close and sustained relationship to particular environments. These photographers may use that lived observation to reveal the layers of history in a landscape; to provoke ecological concerns; as the place for site specific performances; or to use the specific poetics of light to reveal the beauty of a place.  However for all of them, the real world is the starting point for images of particularity.

Photographers’ interest in the landscape has increased in the last few years. Perhaps as a result of heightened environmental awareness, or an evolution in our engagement with Australian history, practitioners are again turning to the natural world as a site for critical practice and inspiration.

Drawn from the permanent collection the National Gallery of Victoria, the selected photographers in this exhibition have a particular focus that comes from their active relationship to various environments. The artists displayed here reveal history in a landscape; provoke ecological concerns; use the landscape as a site of performance; or reveal the distinctive beauty of a place.

Frequently underpinning these works of quiet intensity and considerable beauty is an undercurrent of disruption and contradiction that suggests all is not as it may first appear.

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website [Online] Cited 26/02/2011 no longer available online

 

Rosemary Laing. 'weather #9' 2006

 

Rosemary Laing (Australia, b. 1959)
weather #9
2006
From the weather series 2006
Type C photograph
109.9 x 184.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007
© Rosemary Laing and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Jill Orr. 'Southern Cross to bear and behold - Burning' 2007)

 

Jill Orr (Australia , b. 1952, lived in the Netherlands 1980-84)
Southern Cross to bear and behold – Burning
2007
Colour inkjet print
65.5 x 134.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2010
Photographer: Naomi Herzog for Jill Orr
© Jill Orr

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square

Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Open daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria 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: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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