Posts Tagged ‘John Cato

19
Aug
13

Opening speech: ‘John Cato Retrospective’ and book launch at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale by Dr Marcus Bunyan

Exhibition dates: 17th August – 15th September 2013

Opening: 17th August 2013

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'John Cato Retrospective' at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition John Cato Retrospective at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat
Photograph by Marcus Bunyan
© Marcus Bunyan, John Cato family and Ballarat International Foto Biennale

 

 

It was an emotional time on Saturday afternoon as I opened the  John Cato Retrospective. I hope I did John and Dawn, their family and everyone proud. I burst into tears after the speech… I got a lovely email from Senga Peckham today which was very much appreciated:

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“Dear Marcus

Thank you so much for your excellent speech on Saturday. It was strong, heartfelt and beautiful.

Up there with the microphone you were probably not aware of the sentiment in the space. Many tears were shed. The grand daughters were so happy to be there. They were near me during your talk and extremely emotional. Many others were too. It was more of a wake really than an exhibition opening and book launch. Some people had travelled a long way and everyone wanted to be there. The warmth and tenderness was palpable and will be remembered for a long time.

Thank you for being such a major part of it and for putting your heart into each word.

Senga Peckham”

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Many thankx to BIFB for asking me to officially open the John Cato Retrospective and to launch the new book.

Photographers David Callow and Andrew Chapman’s video tribute to John Cato (18 mins 39 secs) can be viewed on Vimeo (Password is Cato)

 

John Cato Retrospective opening speech

It is a great pleasure to be here today to officially open the John Cato Retrospective and to launch a book that will have a major contribution to a continuing assessment of John’s work and is also an honouring, a mark of respect and admiration. These brief words are not about the many sides of John and all his aspects and careers – for that you will have to look elsewhere – but they are a short introduction to the personal and wider cultural need for John’s work.

My friendship with John and Dawn goes back to when I was studying photography at RMIT University in the early 1990s. John became a mentor when I held my first three solo photography exhibitions at the Photographers Gallery in Punt Road between 1991 and 1994. After I had finished my Phd in 2001, I co-curated a retrospective of his work at the very same gallery.

Many a weekend my partner and I travelled down to Carrum to see John and Dawn for lunch and afternoon tea, to talk about the things that matter in life – music, literature, art, love, loss – and to talk about my latest prints. They were the most glorious couple with such wonderful energy and they were so generous with their friendship and advice. John could smell bullshit a mile away and he would tell you, but he would also encourage you to look deeper into yourself and the world for the answers you were seeking. As James McArdle said to me recently, “He was a teacher determined to seek out the aptitudes and endowments of each student who came before him; his teaching and mentorship involved a deep empathy with each student’s approach. He was almost clairvoyant in being able to very quickly identify one’s strengths and it was on those he would concentrate, unafraid to express criticism; but only in terms of how a certain fault might detract from a certain strength.”1

And I will add, all of this with a warmth and affection that opened up a pathway to his insights.

John had strength of character in spades, always backed up by the vivacious Dawn. Imagine having a successful commercial career in Melbourne in the 1960s and giving it all away – to become an artist, a photographic artist at that! Imagine the courage it would have taken, in that time and place, to abandon all that had been successful in your life and follow another path, a path full of doubt and self-discovery, a journey that ultimately enabled him to help others through his teaching. As another friend of mine said to me recently, “In 1970 where did you go to see a fine art photograph on exhibition in a non-institutional gallery in Melbourne? The only place was the doorway to the John Cato / Athol Shmith / Paul Barr studio in Collins Street. You would never know which of the three photographers would have a print placed in that doorway.”

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According to Helen Ennis there has always been a distaste for self-reflective and contemplative modes of thinking in Australia, and photography has overwhelmingly been about ‘things’, “including actions and events, which have a concrete reality and a verifiable, independent existence… For most of the twentieth century inward-looking approaches, whether symbolist, surrealist or abstract, never really took hold.”2

John’s work is different. He was a groundbreaking artist. He was one of the first Australian photographers to create musical tone-poems – not traditional photo-essays as for magazines, but spiritual expositions about Self. In his internal meditation upon subject matter his concern was for the ‘felt’ landscape. He sought to express his relationship with the earth, air and water, aware of the contradictions in contemporary settler relations with the land. His photographs are not about the ‘when’ or ‘where’ but about a feeling in relation to the land, the spirit and the universe.

In this sense (that the photograph is always written by the photographer), these are photographs of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. John exposes himself as much as the landscape he is photographing. This is his spirit in relation to the land, to the cosmos, even. Like Monet’s paintings of water lilies these photographs are a “small dreaming” of his spirit with a section of the land and not necessarily, as in Aboriginal art, a dreaming and connection to the whole land. His photographs are photographs of the imagination as much as they are of place, rid of ego and become just the world. He created visions that placed the individual in harmony with the earth and in the process became not just a citizen of Australia but also a citizen of the world.

In this transformative act the artist not only awakens the reasoning mind but more importantly the soul. This is what John’s work does; it awakens the soul. His Alcheringa, his dreaming (for that is what Alcheringa means), was to pursue poetic truth in the world and it is his “gift” to us, to those that remain looking at his work. John commented that he would rather have questions than answers – I’m sure he would want to say that, and he would want to believe it – but it is my feeling that very deep down he was searching for the more beautiful answer – rather than just the beautiful question.

A very good friend of mine asked me recently whether I thought that John Cato was a great photographer. I have been thinking about that question ever since and my answer is this: he was a great photographer, one of Australia’s greatest, a great teacher and together with the sparkly-eyed Dawn, a wonderful human being. One measure of a photographer’s greatness is the amount of time he is prepared to spend helping others, and John spent a lot of time imparting his hard-earned wisdom.

As an artist, John has for too long been ignored by notable institutions that cannot accept the wonder in his work. There is an inexplicable coolness toward John and guardedness when talking about his work, as though people are afraid of saying anything about it at all. Well, let me say it for them: John’s work is magnificent. It is to the great credit of the people who have organised this exhibition and the publication of this book that finally, John might start to get the recognition he so strongly deserves.

John Cato unquestionably deserves a place in the pantheon of significant and influential Australian photographers for he is right up there with the very best of them. May the cosmos bless him.

© Dr Marcus Bunyan
August 2013

 

Footnotes

  1. James McArdle email to the author 28th July 2013
  2. Ennis, Helen. “Introduction,” in Ennis, Helen. Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p. 9.

 

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'John Cato Retrospective' at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'John Cato Retrospective' at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'John Cato Retrospective' at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'John Cato Retrospective' at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'John Cato Retrospective' at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat

 

Installation photographs of John Cato Retrospective at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat
Photographs by Marcus Bunyan
© Marcus Bunyan, John Cato family and Ballarat International Foto Biennale

 

John Cato book cover

 

John Cato Retrospective book cover

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Ballarat International Foto Biennale
12 Lydiard St North, Ballarat 3350

Ballarat International Foto Biennale website

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28
Jul
13

Exhibition: ‘A World of Bonds: Frederick Sommer’s Photography and Friendships’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 16th June – 4th August 2013

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Moon Culmination' 1951

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Moon Culmination
1951
gelatin silver print
24.2 x 19.2cm (9 1/2 x 7 9/16 in.)
Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

 

Frederick Sommer is not as well known as others in the famous quintet (the others being Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Minor White and Paul Strand). He is the (slightly) forgotten master. But for those that know his work, Frederick Sommer is the photographer’s photographer.

There is a visual and intellectual alchemy transmitted through his work. It is as if he was a magician, producing images out of thin air: paper cuts, smoke on glass, collage, found objects, rites, passages, cleavages, heroes, occultism (Paracelsus was a Renaissance physician, botanist, alchemist, astrologer, and general occultist). From the few photographs I have seen in the flesh his prints, like his thinking, have a volume to them that few other photographers can match. Here I must cede to the knowledge of my friend and photographer Ian Lobb who visited Sommer at his home in Prescott, Arizona.

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“You will notice with FS prints that the only date given is the date of the negative. This is not unusual of course, but one of FS strengths is being interested in returning to a negative and print it with enthusiasm after looking at other versions for a very long time.

Another strength is a really simple strong way of working – according to Les Walkling, FS had a block of wood the same size as an 8 x 10 contact print. By placing the print on this base as he spotted, the print was always raised above his work environment and the chance of an accident was reduced. So simple – so elegant. I see this state of mind repeated – eg when he was out photographing with Siskind and he found a pile of X-rays and said that this was his work for the day.

Caponigro and Sommer are the ones that make their technical skill communicate in very unique ways. By chronology, Sommer is the first one who found that something beyond the f/64 Group vocabulary could be said. Whereas Edward Weston and Paul Strand are working at about 3/10 for their prints, Sommer is working at 9/10. He doesn’t always get there in every print but when he succeeds the results are beyond what any other classical photographer ever achieved in the physical presence of the photograph.

Venus, Jupiter and Mars was the first extended viewing of Sommer that arrived here (in Australia). It would have been at the Printed Image (bookshop) in 1981.”

Ian Lobb

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

 

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Venus, Jupiter and Mars' 1949

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Venus, Jupiter and Mars
1949
Gelatin silver print
23.8 x 19.1cm (9 3/8 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Valise d'Adam' 1949

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Valise d’Adam
1949
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 18.9 cm (9 7/16 x 7 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

 

Against a backdrop of rusting metal, Frederick Sommer arranged a grouping of found objects. A clipboard clamp represents a head and shoulders while dirty, cracking doll’s arms and legs provide more literal context, defining the object as a human body. Within that fragmented body, Sommer places a complete doll with its head pointed downward, as if ready to be born.  The photograph’s French title, Valise d’Adam, or as Sommer translated it, Adam’s Traveling Case, is a sly reference to the idea that man travels through woman into the world, and perhaps, woman even carries man through life.

 

Aaron Siskind. 'Manzanillo, Mexico' 1955

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Manzanillo, Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print
35.6 x 27.8cm (14 x 10 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, René Huyghe Collection
Image courtesy of the Aaron Siskind Foundation

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Untitled' 1947

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Untitled
1947
Gelatin silver print
24.2 x 19.1cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

Frederick Sommer. 'The Anatomy of a Chicken' 1939

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
The Anatomy of a Chicken
1939
Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard
24.1 x 19cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Paracelsus' 1957

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Paracelsus
1957
Gelatin silver print
34.3 x 25.6cm (13 1/2 x 10 1/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

 

Paracelsus (1493/1494 – 24 September 1541), born Theophrastus von Hohenheim (full name Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim), was a Swiss physician, alchemist, lay theologian, and philosopher of the German Renaissance.

He was a pioneer in several aspects of the “medical revolution” of the Renaissance, emphasising the value of observation in combination with received wisdom. He is credited as the “father of toxicology”. Paracelsus also had a substantial impact as a prophet or diviner, his “Prognostications” being studied by Rosicrucians in the 1600s. Paracelsianism is the early modern medical movement inspired by the study of his works.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Cut Paper' 1980

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Cut Paper
1980
gelatin silver print
24.2 x 18.7cm (9 1/2 x 7 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

 

The National Gallery of Art explores the continuities in Frederick Sommer’s varied body of work and demonstrates the influence of his friendships with fellow artists in the exhibition A World of Bonds: Frederick Sommer’s Photography and Friendships, on view in the East Building from June 16 to August 4, 2013. Drawn from the Gallery’s significant holdings, which include a major 1995 gift from the artist himself, the exhibition showcases 27 works by Sommer, Edward Weston, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Aaron Siskind, and Charles Sheeler, including three pieces on loan from other museums and private collections.

“The Gallery is privileged to display this influential body of work, which illuminates Frederick Sommer’s interactions with his fellow artists,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “In addition to photographs drawn from our permanent collection, we are grateful to the lenders who have assisted us in revealing the continuities in Sommer’s broad range of work, as well as The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation for its generous support.”

 

About the exhibition

The exhibition showcases the beauty and diversity of Sommer’s striking images and places them in the context of his formative friendships with such prominent contemporaries as Edward Weston, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Charles Sheeler, and Aaron Siskind.

As an artist, Frederick Sommer notoriously defies classification. Over the span of more than 60 years, he created paintings, drawings, and photographs, as well as collages, musical scores, poetry, and theoretical texts. Today, Sommer is best known for his photography, the medium in which he produced his most inventive visual experiments and which best suited the breadth of his visual interests. These ranged from disorienting desert landscapes to surrealistic arrangements of found objects, and to abstractions that brought together drawing and photography.

“All rare things should be lent away / and I have borrowed very freely,” Sommer wrote of his art. He also asserted that “the world is not a world of cleavages, it is a world of bonds.” This exhibition examines both claims, offering a glimpse into the ways in which Sommer shared ideas with his contemporaries while simultaneously creating a body of work uniquely his own.

 

About the artist

Just as he defied the bounds of medium and genre, Sommer, who lived in the small town of Prescott, Arizona, also never fully belonged to any artistic group or movement. His work reflects both wide-ranging personal interests and a broad scope of artistic affinities with artists as divergent as the surrealists and the members of the f/64 group of West Coast photographers.

Sommer’s circle of close artist-friends and mentors helps explain his idiosyncratic sensibilities. This circle included the photographer Edward Weston, whose precise attention to the details of the natural world inspired Sommer’s turn to photography. Equally important to Sommer, however, was his friendship with Max Ernst, the surrealist whose automatic painting techniques and uncanny imagery encouraged Sommer to reconfigure familiar objects into strange new creations. Aaron Siskind was yet another close friend and peer with whom Sommer shared a fascination with the abstract textures of everyday materials. Other artists represented in the exhibition who influenced Sommer’s approach to photographing assemblages and his exploration of photographic abstraction include Man Ray and Charles Sheeler.

Text from the National Gallery of Art website

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Coyotes' 1945

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Coyotes
1945
Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard
19 x 24.2cm (7 1/2 x 9 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

John Cato. 'Man tracks #9R' from the 'Mantracks' series 1978-83

 

John Cato
Man tracks #9R
from the Mantracks series 1978-83
Gelatin silver photograph
42.9 x 35.2cm

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Ondine' 1950

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Ondine
1950
Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard
19.2 x 24.3cm (7 9/16 x 9 9/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

 

The nymph Ondine was an immortal water spirit who became human after falling in love for a man, marrying him, and having a baby. In one of the versions of the tale, when she caught her husband sleeping with another woman, she cursed him to remain awake in order to control his own breathing.

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Taylor, Arizona' 1945

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Taylor, Arizona
1945
Gelatin silver print
19.2 x 24.2cm (7 9/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Max Ernst' 1946

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Max Ernst
1946
Gelatin silver print
19.05 x 24.13cm (7 1/2 x 9 1/2 in.)
Collection of Susan and Peter MacGill
Frederick & Frances Sommer Foundation

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Untitled' 1947

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Untitled
1947
Gelatin silver print
19 x 24cm (7 1/2 x 9 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Coyotes' 1941

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Coyotes
1941
Gelatin silver print
19.1 x 24.1cm (7 1/2 x 9 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

Les Walkling (Australia born 1953) 'Flypaper' 1980

 

Les Walkling (Australia, b. 1953)
Flypaper
1980
Gelatin silver photograph
19.1 x 24.3cm
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982
© Les Walkling

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Lacryma' 1992

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Lacryma
1992
Collage of photomechanical reproductions of lithographic, relief and intaglio prints on
heavyweight wove paper
36 x 42.4 cm (14 3/16 x 16 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

Lacryma, alternative form of lacrima – a tear (drop of liquid from crying)

 

Frederick Sommer. 'Drawing' 1948

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Drawing
1948
Tempera on black wove paper
30.4 x 46.9 cm (11 15/16 x 18 7/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

Frederick Sommer. 'The Queen of Sheba' 1992

 

Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
The Queen of Sheba
1992
Collage of photomechanical reproductions of relief and intaglio prints on heavyweight wove
paper
21.8 x 31.8cm (8 9/16 x 12 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Frederick Sommer

 

Fiona Hall. 'Envy, Seven Deadly Sins' 1985

 

Fiona Hall (Australian, b. 1953)
Envy, Seven Deadly Sins
1985
Polaroid photograph
61 × 50.8cm
© Fiona Hall

 

 

National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 1000am – 5.00pm
Sunday 11.00am – 6.00pm

National Gallery of Art website

Frederick Sommer website

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18
Jul
13

Openings: ‘John Cato Retrospective’ / Erika Diettes ‘Sudarios (Shrouds)’ at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale

Opening date: 17th August 2013
BiFB dates: 17th August – 15th September 2013

Venue: The Mining Exchange, 12 Lydiard Street North, Ballarat
Opening hours: 9am – 5pm daily

 

 

I have the great honour of being guest speaker at the John Cato Retrospective and book launch at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale on the 17th August, 2013. My essay … And His Forms Were Without Number from the 2002 retrospective I co-curated at the Photographers Gallery, has been included in the book. John is one of the most underrated but influential artists in the history of Australian photography and it is wonderful that a book is being published about his work. Finally, the recognition he so strongly deserves.

I have also written the catalogue essay for another core program, Erika Diettes Sudarios (Shrouds) that also opens on the same day. This was one of the most complex writing assignments that I have undertaken for the subject matter is very difficult and I wanted to do the work justice. I will publish the essay in an upcoming posting. The artist is flying over from Colombia for the opening so it will be great to meet her.

I hope you can make the trip to Ballarat for these important events!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

John Cato Retrospective opening and book launch invite

 

 

John Cato Retrospective


“The meeting of land and sea has always held a mystic fascination for me. Through my camera, my experience of it has been heightened, my awareness of its wonder deepened. Above all, I remember its clamourous silence.”

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John Cato 1976

 

John Cato was one of the first photographers in Australia to consider the lyrical and poetic aspects of landscape and to create extended series of photographic essays. He wanted to ‘explore the elements of landscape’ and gave himself 10 years to complete his study, two years for each of the five elements. His practice would take him into the desert for extended periods of time. He would spend 40 days, seeing, observing and waiting for the perfect conditions for the shot, on one occasion exposing 3 rolls of film and being satisfied enough to use only 11 photographs from them. These powerful images, free of manipulation, capture the essential qualities of natural elements and indeed how John Cato saw the world.

This exhibition of work from 1971-1991 honours the achievement of John Cato as mentor and as teacher. It pays homage to his significant contribution of photography in Australia. John Cato was born in Hobart, Tasmania in 1926. From the age of 12 years he was apprenticed to his father the photographer Jack Cato. John Cato had been a press photographer with the Argus newspaper and a commercial photographer in partnership with Athol Shmith for 20 years before experiencing ‘a kind of menopause’. He walked away from a successful career, quietly burned all his commercial work and became an educator and fine art photographer. Cato was involved in the foundation years of the Photography Studies College, still in South Melbourne, and a lecturer there and at Prahran College of Advanced Education becoming Department Head in 1979 until he retired in 1991 by which time it was called Victoria College. He felt ‘duty bound’ to hand on his experience. He loved teaching and he was a much-loved teacher. Many of his past students are now highly regarded photographers, whilst others hold important positions in universities and art institutions around Australia.

Cato exhibited nationally and internationally in solo and group exhibitions and his work is featured in many public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

Text from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale core special guide.

The exhibition is curated by Paul Cox.

 

John Cato (1926-2011) 'Tree, a journey #1' from the 'Tree, a journey' series 1971-73

 

John Cato (Australian, 1926-2011)
Tree, a journey #1

From the Tree, a journey series 1971-73
Gelatin silver photograph
45.3 x 35.1cm

 

John Cato (1926-2011) 'Tree, a journey #18' from the 'Tree, a journey' series 1971-73

 

John Cato (Australian, 1926-2011)
Tree, a journey #18

From the Tree, a journey series 1971-73
Gelatin silver photograph
45.3 x 35.1cm

 

John Cato (1926-2011) 'Double concerto #13' from the 'Double Concerto' series 1985-91

 

John Cato (Australian, 1926-2011)
Double concerto #13
From the Double Concerto series 1985-91
Gelatin silver photograph
45.5 x 32.8 cm

 

 

Erika Diettes Sudarios (Shrouds)

Many times, with my camera, I have been a witness of the moment when people have to close their eyes as they recall the event which divided their life into two parts. My decision to create Sudarios (Shrouds) comes from unanswered questions that came out of my pervious series Silencios (Silences), which dealt with survivors of the Second World War who live in Colombia. Similarities are also to be found in Río Abajo (Drifting Away), a series which focuses on the victims of forced disappearance, and A Punta de Sangre (By Force of Blood), a series in which I examine the idea of the search for the bodies of the disappeared by their families, who, in the midst of despair, find a ray of hope in the vultures that might lead them to the remains of their loved ones. To date, I have received the testimonies of more than 300 victims of the violence in Colombia. They have confided intimacies of this violence to me: not only its harrowing details, but the way they rebuild their lives and keep going despite what they have suffered.

The women who serve as the models in Sudarios were first-hand witnesses of acts of horror. The intention of the series is to enable the spectator to observe the moment when these women close their eyes, with no other way to communicate the horror that they witnessed and the intensity of the sorrow they were subjected to. They were forced to feel on their own flesh, or in front of their own eyes, that there is no difference between man and the most savage beasts of nature; but that we are the only species capable of mass murder and the only ones who do not adapt to our own kind (N. Timbergen, 1968). I am convinced that this series speaks of something that is timeless, universal and infinite.

Erika Diettes is a visual artist who lives and works in Bogotá. Her work explores the problems of memory, sorrow, absence and death. She has a Masters in Anthropology from the Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, with a major in photographic production, and a degree in Social Communication from the Pontificia Universidad de Bogotá.

Text from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale core special guide.

Erika Diettes website

 

Erika Diettes. 'Untitled' 2011 from the series 'Sudarios' (Shrouds)

 

Erika Diettes (Colombian, b. 1978)
Untitled
2011
From the series Sudarios (Shrouds)
Digital black and white photograph printed on silk
2.28 x 1.34m
© Erika Diettes

 

Erika Diettes. 'Untitled' 2011 from the series 'Sudarios' (Shrouds)

 

Erika Diettes (Colombian, b. 1978)
Untitled
2011
From the series Sudarios (Shrouds)
Digital black and white photograph printed on silk
2.28 x 1.34m
© Erika Diettes

 

Installation photograph of Erika Diettes 'Sudarios' (Shrouds) at Iglesia de Chinquinquirá (La Chinca). Santa Fe de Antioquia [COL] December 5-9, 2012

Installation photograph of Erika Diettes 'Sudarios' (Shrouds) at Iglesia de Chinquinquirá (La Chinca). Santa Fe de Antioquia [COL] December 5-9, 2012

 

Installation photographs of Erika Diettes Sudarios (Shrouds) at Iglesia de Chinquinquirá (La Chinca). Santa Fe de Antioquia [COL] December 5-9, 2012 © Erika Diettes

 

Installation photograph of Erika Diettes 'Sudarios' (Shrouds) at Ex Teresa Arte Actual. México D.F. [MEX] May-Jun, 2012

 

Installation photograph of Erika Diettes Sudarios (Shrouds) at Ex Teresa Arte Actual. México D.F. [MEX] May-Jun, 2012 © Erika Diettes

 

Installation photograph of Erika Diettes 'Sudarios' (Shrouds) at Trinity Episcopal Church. Houston TX [USA] Feb-Apr 2012

 

Installation photograph of Erika Diettes Sudarios (Shrouds) at Trinity Episcopal Church. Houston TX [USA] Feb-Apr 2012 © Erika Diettes

 

 

Ballarat International Foto Biennale
12 Lydiard Street North, Ballarat 3350 Australia
PO Box 41 Ballarat Central 3353 Australia
Email: info[at]ballaratfoto.org

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23
Sep
12

Review: ‘Photographic abstractions’ at the Monash Gallery of Art (MGA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd August – 30th September 2012

 

John Gollings. 'Untitled' from the series 'Bushfire aerials' 1988

 

John Gollings (Australia, b. 1944)
Untitled
1988
From the series Bushfire aerials
Gelatin silver print
45.5 x 56.0cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist

 

 

Dropping the abstract ball

There are some excellent works in this interestingly themed exhibition at the Monash Gallery of Art. Unfortunately the exhibition, the theme and the work are let down by two curatorial decisions. Before I address those issues I will give my insight into some of the work presented:

  • A wonderful print of Sisters of Charity, Washington DC by David Moore (1956) where the starched cornettes of the sisters reminded me of paper doves. The kicker or punctum in this image is the hand of one of the sisters pointing skywards/godwards
  • Wonderful David Stephenson Star Drawing. I always like photographs from this series. Taken in Central Australia using as many as 72 multiple exposures, Stephenson used a set of rules for each exposure – deciding on the length and amount of exposure and how far he would rotate the camera between each exposure before embarking on the creation of each image. The construction of the image was pre-determined  but because of the movement of the earth and stars over a couple of hours, the result always incorporated an element of chance. Stephenson draws with light that is millions of years old, the source of which may not exist by the time the light falls on Stephenson’s photographic plate (the star might be dead)
  • John Gollings Untitled from the Bushfire series. Beautiful, luminous black and white silver gelatin prints of tracks in bushfire affected areas. These aerial photographs make the surface of the earth seem like the surface of the skin complete with hairs and wrinkles. In process they reference the New Topographics exhibition of 1975, where the mapping of the landscape is etched into the surface of the photographic print, where the pictorial plane records the environment like the marks on an etching plate. “The pictures were stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion.”
  • The beautiful Scott Redford Urinal photographs where the subject becomes secondary to the abstract visual elements as the flash bounces off the metal surfaces. Tight camera angles and a limited colour palette cause an almost transcendent composition. The swirls and markings and the sword-like quality of the central image (see below) remind me of Excalibur rising from the lake, dripping water.
  • Four photographs by John Cato, one each from Petroglyph 1971-79, Waterway 1971-79, Proteus 1971-79 and Tree – a journey 1971-79. These were incredibly beautiful and moving photographs, abstractions of the natural world. You need to be reminded what an amazing artist John was, one of the very best Australian photographers, his poetic photographs are cosmological in their musicology and composition
  • Two photographs from Paul Knight’s outstanding Cinema curtain series (below). For me there was a textural, sensory experience here, an intimacy with the subject matter that forced me to focus on the surface of the photograph, the flat plane of the photographic print, itself a highly abstract form. Amazing
  • My particular favourite in the exhibition were the, to me, unknown works of the artist Jozef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski (see the two images directly below). These photographs were the most delightful surprise of the exhibition – landscapes of the mind that had great feeling and focus, felt movement, space, flow of light and energy. This was wonderfully nuanced work that I wanted to see more of

 

Some excellent work then that was let down by two curatorial decisions. The first was the amount of work in the exhibition by each artist – a couple of prints here, another three small prints there – that really never gave the viewer chance to fully engage with the outcomes that the artist was trying to achieve nor explore the process that the artist was using. I know this was a group exhibition trying to highlight work from the collection but a more useful contribution would have been less artist’s in the exhibition with greater work from each, allowing for a more focused exhibition.

Far more serious, however, was the lack of any text that placed the work in a socio-cultural context. At the beginning of the exhibition there was 5 short paragraphs on a wall as you enter the space with mundane insights such as:

  • Photographic language engages the senses and imagination and challenges the way we “look” at the world
  • Through the use of cropping and obscure angle the familiar is made unfamiliar
  • Colour, shape and form (geometric patterns) are important
  • Some artists’ eliminate the camera altogether through photograms, scanner, collage
  • Use of multiple exposures, distortion, mirroring
  • By drilling down into the substances and processes of photography we can reflect on the very nature of photography itself
  • Exploring geometry and patterns found in nature and the built environment or alluding to more intangible themes such as time, mortality and spirituality

 

I have précised the five paragraphs but that’s all you get!

The only other information comes from brief wall texts accompanying each artist and these sound bites really don’t give any social and cultural context to the artist, the time they lived in or the social themes that would have influenced the work. For example, who would know from this exhibition that the artist John Cato was one of the first photographers in Australia to create visual tone poems using images of the Australian landscape, one of the first to work in sequences of images and who would go on to be a teacher of great repute, helping other emerging photographic artists at a critical time in the development of Australian art photography. Nobody. Also, I wanted to know more about the “substances” and “processes” of photography in regard to photographic abstraction. There was no serious theoretical enquiry, no educational component offered to the viewer here.

While money might be tight there is really no excuse for this lack of creditable, researched, insightful information. You don’t need a catalogue, all you need is a photo-stated 4-6 page essay to be given to visitors (if they desire to have one, if they want the information). It doesn’t take money it takes will to inform and educate the viewer about this important aspect of Australian photographic history. For a subject so engaging this was most disappointing. In this particular case the curators really did drop the abstract ball.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

John Gollings. 'Untitled' from the series 'Bushfire aerials' 1988

 

John Gollings (Australia, b. 1944)
Untitled
1988
From the series Bushfire aerials
Gelatin silver print
45.5 x 55.0cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist

 

David Stephenson. 'Star drawing 1996/402' 1996

 

David Stephenson (born USA 1955 arrived Australia 1982)
Star drawing 1996/402
1996
From the series Star drawings 1995-2006
Chromogenic print, printed 2008
55.8 x 55.8cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist, John Buckley Gallery Melbourne, Boutwell Draper Gallery, Sydney and Bett Gallery, Hobart

 

Paul Knight. 'Cinema curtain #3' 2004

 

Paul Knight (Australia, b. 1976)
Cinema curtain #3
2004
Chromogenic print
43.5 x 55.0cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist

 

 

The function of the stage curtain in the cinema was to help suspend the illusion of reality in the moving image of the film. The idea being that the plain white screen behind the curtain was never seen without the moving image on it. So the illusion always existed behind the curtain and was simply masked-off from us by it. This is partly why the image was alway projected onto the curtain for a moment before it was opened, to ensure that we never saw the dead white screen. These works use this function of the cinema stage curtain as a way of engaging with the meta-reality offered by the flat-plane of a photographic print. Utilising the lure of aesthetics and pattern to bring the viewer onto the folded membrane of the curtain and onto the essentially flat plane of the print. Both give way to a potential of volume.

Text from the Paul Knight website [Online] Cited 21/09/2012 no longer available online

 

Paul Knight. 'Cinema curtain #4' 2004

 

Paul Knight (Australia, b. 1976)
Cinema curtain #2
2004
Chromogenic print
43.5 x 55.0cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist

 

Jozef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski. 'Untitled' c. 1971

 

Jozef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski (born Poland 1922 arrived Australia 1949 died 1994)
Untitled
c. 1971
Gelatin silver print
24.6 x 19.2cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist

 

Jozef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski. 'Australia Square - Sydney' 1971

 

Jozef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski (born Poland 1922 arrived Australia 1949 died 1994)
Australia Square – Sydney
1971
From the series Inscape 871
Gelatin silver print
29.4 x 24.0cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist

 

Anne MacDonald. 'Cloth (red velvet)' 2004

 

Anne MacDonald (Australia, b. 1960)
Cloth (red velvet)
2004
Ink-jet print
127.0 x 105.0cm
Collection of the artist
© courtesy of the artist and Bett Gallery, Hobart

 

John Cato. 'Tree – a journey' 1971-79

 

John Cato (Australian, 1926-2011)
Tree – a journey
1971-79
From the series Essay I
Gelatin silver print
35.5 x 27.5cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the John Cato Estate

 

Chantal Faust (Australian, b. 1980) 'Waiting' 2007

 

Chantal Faust (Australian, b. 1980)
Waiting
2007
Chromogenic print
80.0 x 58.0cm
Collection of the artist
© courtesy of the artist

 

Chantal Faust. 'Lap Milk' 2007

 

Chantal Faust (Australian, b. 1980)
Lap Milk
2007
Chromogenic print
80.0 x 58.0cm
Collection of the artist
© courtesy of the artist

 

 

Drawing on MGA’s collection of Australian photographs, Photographic abstractions highlights the work of 33 Australian artists who use photography to achieve abstract effects. Ranging from modernist geometric abstraction and the psychedelic experiments and conceptual projects of the 1970s, through to recent explorations of pixelated pictorial space, this exhibition surveys a rich history of abstract Australian art photography. Photography is traditionally recognised for its ability to depict, record and document the world. However, this exhibition sets out to challenge these assumptions. As co-curator of the exhibition and MGA Curator Stephen Zagala states, “The artists in this exhibition are less concerned with documenting the world and more interested in engaging the senses, exciting the imagination and making the ordinary appear extraordinary.”

Some artists have eliminated the camera altogether, preferring the effects that can be achieved with photograms and digital scans. Other artists have experimented with multiple exposures, mirrored images, irregular lenses and the printing of the usually discarded stubs of negatives. Co-curator and MGA Curatorial Assistant Stella Loftus-Hills says, “Photography has always been tied to abstraction. Some of the first photographs ever produced were abstract and subsequent photographers have sought out abstract compositions in their work.”

One highlight of the exhibition is a selection of works by the iconic Australian photographer David Moore, who experimented with abstract photography alongside his more well-known figurative work. In Moore’s Blue collage (1983) the process of cutting bands of colour from existing photographs to create a new composition celebrates the artist’s imagination above and beyond the camera’s ability to capture content.

Artists include Andrew Browne, John Cato, Jo Daniell, John Delacour, Peter Elliston, Joyce Evans, Chantel Faust, Susan Fereday, Anthony Figallo, George Gittoes, John Gollings, Graeme Hare, Melinda Harper, Paul Knight, Peter Lambropoulos, Bruno Leti, Anne MacDonald, David Moore, Grant Mudford, Harry Nankin, Ewa Narkiewicz, John Nixon, Rose Nolan, Jozef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski, Robert Owen, Wes Placek, Susan Purdy, Scott Redford, Jacky Redgate, Wolfgang Sievers, David Stephenson, Mark Strizic and Rick Wood.

Press release from the MGA website

 

David Moore. 'Sun patterns within the Sydney Opera House' 1962

 

David Moore (Australian, 1927-2003)
Sun patterns within the Sydney Opera House
1962
Gelatin silver print, printed 2005
37.75 x 25.0cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the Estate of David Moore

 

David Moore. 'Sisters of Charity, Washington DC' 1956

 

David Moore (Australian, 1927-2003)
Sisters of Charity, Washington DC
1956
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 19.5cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the Estate of David Moore

 

Robert Owen. 'Street, Burano, Italy' 1978

 

Robert Owen (Australian, b. 1937)
Street, Burano, Italy
1978
Silver dye bleach print
20.0 x 25.0cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist and Arc One Gallery, Melbourne

 

Robert Owen. 'Green Sheet, Burano, Italy' 1978

 

Robert Owen (Australian, b. 1937)
Green Sheet, Burano, Italy
1978
Silver dye bleach print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist and Arc One Gallery, Melbourne

 

Scott Redford. 'Urinal (Broadbeach)' 2000-01

 

Scott Redford (Australian, b. 1962)
Urinal (Broadbeach)
2000-01
From the Urinals series 1988-2001
Chromogenic print
Collection of the artist
© courtesy of the artist

 

Scott Redford. 'Urinal (Surfer's Paradise)' 2000-01

 

Scott Redford (Australian, b. 1962)
Urinal (Surfer’s Paradise)
2000-01
From the Urinals series 1988-2001
Chromogenic print
Collection of the artist
© courtesy of the artist

 

Scott Redford. 'Urinal (Fortitude Valley)' 2000-01

 

Scott Redford (Australian, b. 1962)
Urinal (Fortitude Valley)
2000-01
From the Urinals series 1988-2001
Chromogenic print
Collection of the artist
© courtesy of the artist

 

 

Redford’s photographs of urinals… dialogue with art historical motifs that precede discourses of minimal art and postmodern understandings of the abject. In representing the site of male urination, they evoke the oxidation paintings of Andy Warhol, who directed young men to piss onto canvases prepared with copper oxide, resulting in compelling abstract imagery… All of that is in Redford’s photographs and at the same time they are completely empty and quiet and contemplative… They are pure sensory experience like rainfall, even transcendent in their purity. They are concerned with beauty, but they are beyond debates about beauty. They are indifferent and in this they are transcendent.

Chapman, Christopher. “Scott Redford’s urinals,” in Redford, Scott et.al. Bricks are Heavy (exhibition catalogue). Brisbane: Institute of Modern Art, pp. 6-7.

 

 

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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

 

 

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23
Feb
11

Vale Dr John Cato (1926-2011)

February 2011

 

It is with much sadness that I note the death of respected Australian photographer and teacher Dr John Cato (1926-2011). Son of Australian photographer Jack Cato, who wrote one of the first histories of Australian photography (The Story of the Camera in Australia (1955)), John was apprentice to his father before setting up a commercial studio with Athol Shmith that ran from 1950-1971. Dr Cato then joined Shmith at the fledgling Prahran College of Advanced Education photography course in 1974, becoming head of the course when Shmith retired in 1979, a position he held until John retired in 1991.

I was fortunate enough to get to know John and his vivacious wife Dawn. I worked with him and co-curatored his retrospective with William Heimerman, ‘…and his forms were without number’ at The Photographers’ Gallery, South Yarra, in 2002. My catalogue essay from this exhibition is reproduced below.

John was always generous with his time and advice. His photographs are sensitive, lyrical renditions of the Australian landscape. He had a wonderful ear for the land and for the word, a musical lyricism that was unusual in Australian photographers of the early 1970s. He understood how a person from European background could have connection to this land, this Australia, without being afraid to express this sense of belonging; he also imaged an Aboriginal philosophy (that all spirits have a physical presence and everything physical has a spiritual presence) tapping into one of the major themes of his personal work: the mirror held up to reveal an’other’ world – the language of ambiguity and ambivalence (the dichotomy of opposites e.g. black / white, masculine / feminine) speaking through the photographic print.

His contribution to the art of photography in Australia is outstanding. What are the precedents for a visual essay in Australian photography before John Cato? I ask the reader to consider this question.

It would be fantastic if the National Gallery of Victoria could organise a large exhibition and publication of his work, gathering photographs from collections across the land, much like the successful retrospective of the work of John Davis held in 2010. Cato’s work needs a greater appreciation throughout Australia because of it’s seminal nature, containing as it does the seeds of later development for Australian photographers. His educational contribution to the development of photography as an art form within Australia should also be acknowledged in separate essays for his influence was immense. His life, his teaching and his work deserves nothing less.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

‘… and his forms were without number’

John Cato: A Retrospective of the Photographic Work 1971-1991

This writing on the photographic work of Dr John Cato from 1971-1991 is the catalogue essay to a retrospective of his work held at The Photographers’ Gallery in Prahran, Melbourne in 2002. Dr Cato forged his voice as a photographic artist in the early 1970s when photography was just starting to be taken seriously as an art form in Australia. He was a pioneer in the field, and became an educator in art photography. He is respected as one of Australia’s preeminent photographers of the last century.

 

With the arrival of ‘The New Photography’1 from Europe in the early 1930’s, the formalist style of Modernism was increasingly adopted by photographers who sought to express through photography the new spirit of the age. In the formal construction of the images, the abstract geometry, the unusual camera angles and the use of strong lighting, the representation ‘of the thing in itself’2 was of prime importance. Subject matter often emphasised the monumentality of the factory, machine or body/landscape. The connection of the photographer with the object photographed was usually one of sensitivity and awareness to an external relationship that resulted in a formalist beauty.

Following the upheaval and devastation of the Second World War, photography in Australia was influenced by the ‘Documentary’ style. This “came to be understood as involved chiefly with creating aesthetic experiences … associated with investigation of the social and political environment.”3 This new movement of social realism, “… a human record intimately bound with a moment of perception,”4 was not dissimilar to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’ (images a la sauvette) where existence and essence are in balance.5

The culmination of the ‘Documentary’ style of photography was The Family of Man exhibition curated by Edward Steichen that toured Australia in 1959.6 This exhibition, seen many times by John Cato,7 had a theme of optimism in the unity and dignity of man. The structure of the images in ‘Documentary’ photography echoed those of the earlier ‘New Photography’.

Max Dupain “stressed the objective, impersonal and scientific character of the camera; the photographer could reveal truth by his prerogative of selection.”8 This may have been an objective truth, an external vocalising of a vision that concerned itself more with exterior influences rather than an internal meditation upon the subject matter.

 

John Cato. 'Untitled' from the series 'Essay I, Landscapes in a Figure' 1971-1979

 

John Cato (Australian, 1926-2011)
Untitled from the series Essay I, Landscapes in a Figure
1971-1979
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

In 1971, John Cato’s personal photographic work was exhibited for the first time as part of the group show Frontiers at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.9 Earth Song emerged into an environment of social upheaval inflamed by Australian involvement in the Vietnam War. It provided a group of enthusiastic people who were beginning to be interested in photography as art, an opportunity to see the world, and photography, through a different lens. The 52 colour photographic prints in Earth Song, were shown in a sequence that used melodic line and symphonic form as its metaphoric basis, standing both as individual photographs and as part of a total concept.10

In the intensity of the holistic vision, in the connection to the subconscious, the images elucidate the photographers’ search for a perception of the world. This involved an attainment of a receptive state that allowed the cracks, creases and angles inherent in the blank slate of creation to become meaningful. The sequence contained images that can be seen as ‘acts of revelation’,11confirmed and expanded by supporting photographs, and they unearthed a new vocabulary for the discussion of spiritual and political issues by the viewer. They may be seen as a metaphor for life.

The use of sequence, internal meditation and ‘revelation’, although not revolutionary in world terms,12 were perhaps unique in the history of Australian photography at that time. During the production of Earth Song, John Cato was still running a commercial studio in partnership with the photographer Athol Shmith and much of his early personal work was undertaken during holidays and spare time away from the studio. Eventually he abandoned being a commercial photographer in favour of a new career as an educator, but found this left him with even less time to pursue his personal work.13

Earth Song (1970-1971) was followed by the black and white sequences:

 

Tree – A Journey 18 images 1971-1973
Petroglyphs 14 images 1971-1973
Seawind 14 images 1971-1975
Proteus 18 images 1974-1977
Waterway 16 images 1974-1979

 

Together they form the extensive series Essay I, Landscapes in a Figure, parts of which are held in the permanent photography collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.14

 

John Cato. 'Untitled' from the series 'Essay I, Landscapes in a Figure' 1971-1979

 

John Cato (Australian, 1926-2011)
Untitled from the series Essay I, Landscapes in a Figure
1971-1979
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

The inspiration for Essay I and later personal work came from many sources. An indebtedness to his father, the photographer Jack Cato, is gratefully acknowledged. Cato also acknowledges the influence of literature: William Shakespeare (especially the Sonnets, and As You Like It), William Blake, Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass), Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking Glass), the Bible; and of music (symphonic form), the mythology of the Dreamtime and Aboriginal rock paintings.15 Each body of work in Essay I was based on an expression of nature, the elements and the Creation. They can be seen as Equivalents16 of his most profound life experiences, his life philosophy illuminated in physical form.

John Cato was able to develop the vocabulary of his own inner landscape while leaving the interpretation of this landscape open to the imagination of the viewer. Seeing himself as a photographer rather than an artist, he used the camera as a tool to mediate between what he saw in his mind’s eye, the subjects he photographed and the surface of the photographic negative.17 Photographing ‘in attention’, much as recommended by the teacher and philosopher Krishnamurti,18 he hoped for a circular connection between the photographer and the subject photographed. He then looked for verification of this connection in the negative and, eventually, in the final print.

Essay II, Figures in a Landscape, had already been started before the completion of Essay I and it consists of three black and white sequences:

 

Alcheringa 11 images 1978-1981
Broken Spears 11 images 1978-1983
Mantracks 22 images in pairs 1978-1983

 

The photographs in Essay II seem to express “the sublimation of Aboriginal culture by Europeans”19 and, as such, are of a more political nature. Although this is not obvious in the photographs of Alcheringa, the images in this sequence celebrating the duality of reality and reflection, substance and shadow, it is more insistent in the symbology of Broken Spears and Mantracks. Using the metaphor of the fence post (white man / black man in Broken Spears) and contrasting Aboriginal and European ‘sacred’ sites (in pairs of images in Mantracks), John Cato comments on the destruction of a culture and spirit that had existed for thousands of years living in harmony with the land.

In his imaging of an Aboriginal philosophy (that all spirits have a physical presence and everything physical has a spiritual presence) he again tapped one of the major themes of his personal work: the mirror held up to reveal an’other’ world. Cato saw that even as they are part of the whole, the duality of positive / negative, black / white, masculine / feminine are always in conflict.20 In the exploration of the conceptual richness buried within the dichotomy of opposites, Cato sought to enunciate the language of ambiguity and ambivalence,21 speaking through the photographic print.

The theme of duality was further expanded in his last main body of work, Double Concerto: An Essay in Fiction:

 

Double Concerto (Pat Noone) 30 images 1984-1990
Double Concerto (Chris Noone) 19 images 1985-1991

 

Double Concerto may be seen as a critique of the power of witness and John Cato created two ‘other’ personas, Pat Noone and Chris Noone, to visualise alternative conditions within himself. The Essay explored the idea that if you send two people to the same location they will take photographs that are completely different from each other, that tell a distinct story about the location and their self:

“For the truth of the matter is that people have mixed feelings and confused opinions and are subject to contradictory expectations and outcomes, in every sphere of experience.”22

This slightly schizophrenic confusion between the two witnesses is further highlighted by Pat Noone using single black and white images in sequence. Chris Noone, on the other hand, uses multiple colour images joined together to form panoramic landscapes that feature two opposing horizons. The use of colour imagery in Double Concerto, with its link to the colour work of Earth Song, can be seen to mark the closing of the circle in terms of John Cato’s personal work. In Another Way of Telling, John Berger states that …

“Photography, unlike drawing, does not possess a language. The photographic image is produced instantaneously by the reflection of light; its figuration is not impregnated by experience or consciousness.”23

.
But in the personal work of John Cato it is a reflection of the psyche, not of light, that allows a consciousness to be present in the figuration of the photographic prints. The personal work is an expression of his self, his experience, his story and t(his) language, is our language, if we allow our imagination to speak.

Dr Marcus Bunyan 2002

 

Footnotes

1 @ Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Sydney: Australian National Gallery, William Collins, 1988, p. 109.
2 @ Newton, Gael. Max Dupain. Sydney: David Ell Press,1980, p. 34.
3 @ Ibid., p. 32.
4 @ Greenough, Sarah (et al). On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: 150 Years of Photography. Boston: National Gallery of Art, Bullfinch Press, 1989, p. 256.
5 @ Ibid., p. 256.
6 @ Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Sydney: Australian National Gallery, William Collins, 1988, p. 131.
7 @ Ibid., p. 131.
8 @ Newton, Gael. Max Dupain. Sydney: David Ell Press, 1980, p. 32.
9 @ Only the second exhibition by Australian photographers at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
10 @ Shmith, Athol. Light Vision No.1. Melbourne: Jean-Marc Le Pechoux (editor and publisher), Sept 1977, p. 21.
11 @ Berger, John and Mohr, Jean. Another Way of Telling. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982, p. 118.
12 @ Hall, James Baker. Minor White: Rites and Passages. New York: Aperture, 1978.
13 @ Conversation with the photographer 29/01/1997, Melbourne, Victoria.
14 @ Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Sydney: Australian National Gallery, William Collins, 1988, p. 135, Footnote 7; p. 149.
15 @ Conversation with the photographer 22/01/1997, Melbourne, Victoria.
16 @ Norman, Dorothy. Alfred Stieglitz. New York: Aperture, 1976, p. 5.
17 @ Ibid.,
18 @ Krishnamurti. Beginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p. 131.
19 @ Strong, Geoff. Review. The Age. Melbourne, 28/04/1982.
20 @ Conversation with the photographer 22/01/1997, Melbourne, Victoria.
21 @ The principal definition for ambiguity in Websters Third New International Dictionary is:

“admitting of two or more meanings … referring to two or more things at the same time.” That for ambivalence is “contradictory and oscillating subjective states.”

Quoted in Davis, Fred. Fashion, Culture and Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, p. 21.

22 @ Levine, Donald. The Flight From Ambiguity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.
23 @ Berger, John and Mohr, Jean. Another Way of Telling. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982, p. 95.

 

 

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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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