Posts Tagged ‘looking

09
Mar
12

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

Date: 8th March 2012

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

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

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On self-doubt as an artist
“At four in the morning there are no lack of branches for the crow of doubt to land upon.”

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

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On Play
“We absolutely want to make sense of the world in that way. That’s one of the principles of play – that however much you distort and break things apart, in the end we will try to reconstruct them in some way to make sense of the world. I think that every child does it. It’s fundamental.”
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On Looking
“It’s the capacity for recognition that makes a difference between order and disorder in looking at visual images. And it’s the vocabulary of recognizable images that we have inside us, which is completely vital to what it is to see. I don’t really buy the idea that order and disorder are the same.”

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William Kentridge

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

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First History of the Cinema

Performances of Transformation

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

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

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George Méliès starring in The Living Playing Cards (1904)

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Second History of the Cinema

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

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

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

YOU MUST GIVE YOURSELF OVER TO PLAY!

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

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Four elements

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

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How is this achieved?
Rehearsal, repetition

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

The physical action as the starting point not the concept. 

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Six different degrees of tension

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

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What the body suggests is the construction of an image.

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

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Third History of Cinema

Technologies of Looking

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

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Stereoscope

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

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William Kentridge
Drawing for the film Stereoscope
1998 – 99
Charcoal, pastel, and colored pencil on paper
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2008 William Kentridge

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Zoetrope by William George Horner, 1834

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Zoetrope

An illusion of movement not depth. Double revelation:

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

THIS IS CRITICAL – THE ACTION OF REPETITION IS IMPORTANT!

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

[Marcus: the cleft in time]

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The Etching Press

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

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Claude Glass

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

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

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

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Anamorphic Mirror

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

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

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Anamorphic drawing and cone shaped mirror

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William Kentridge studio
Photo by John Hodgkiss
Art Tatler

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The Studio

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

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

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

THIS IS THE SPACE OF THE STUDIO.

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

William Kentridge: Five Themes

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

ACMI website

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23
Feb
12

Review: ‘Looking at Looking’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 30th September 2011 – 4th March 2012

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

Marcus Bunyan 2011

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This is a delightful, intimate exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria that examines how looking through a camera directs and structures the way we see the world. The exhibition mines the same ground as one of my top exhibitions from last year, In camera and in public that was presented at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy.

Numerous artists use photography to examine the ways in which gender, race and sexuality have been ‘looked at’ in visual culture, including the politics of looking in relation to Indigenous cultures and identities. In I split your gaze (1997) by Brook Andrew, the artist has split the face of an Aboriginal man down the middle, and reassembled the face ear to ear. No longer can we look on the man as a whole because our gaze is split. Andrew is said to have “reclaimed” the image from colonial scientific, anthropological documentation but this presupposes some holistic whole existed a priori to white intervention. The split photograph does alter perception but to what extent it promotes a different reading, a postcolonial gaze that is understood as such by the viewer, is debatable.

Chi Peng poses more interesting gender reversals and masquerades. In Consubstantiality (2004, below) misaligned pairs of people, of androgynous face and hard to distinguish gender, are “reflected” in a pseudo mirror. Consubstantiality references the Christian principle describing the intertwined relationship of the Trinity (God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) as being of one essence, one being.

“Chi Peng uses digital technologies to manipulate photographic surfaces and often uses his own body and identity as a homosexual man living in China as a means of creating new ways of looking at himself and at the construction of identity… With powdered faces and bodies, the naked ‘reflections’ press the palms of their hands together across a pane of glass. At first glance, it is as though the photographer is intruding on a private scene, a moment of self-scrutiny in a mirror. However the hands do not quite align and the gazes diverge…”1

This self-reflexivity and its relation to the Lacan’s mirror stage in the development of male and female identity – in which the mirror can be looked at and looks back in return – lends these ethereal images real beauty and presence as they explore the psychology of identity and gender reversal.

“Photographers Ashley Gilbertson and John Imming, and collaborative artists Lyndell Brown and Charles Green have all used cameras to document war, and their works off three distinct views.The common link appears to be an engagement with ideas of the observer and the observed and questioning who is looking at whom, and why?”2 Attempting an apolitical view of the war in Iraq, Gilbertson was embedded with different US military outfits on numerous visits to the country between 2002-08, reliant on them for his safety. Many of his “objective” photographs deal with representations of surveillance and covert looking from ‘within the ranks’. But not from within enemy ranks. The very fact of his embedding, his lying down within a disciplinary system of control and power, to shoot from one point of view, politicises his gaze.

Brown and Green’s painterly photograph features a tightly choreographed scene, “a market within a military camp in which traders were invited to sell their wares. The scene is indicative, however, of the ‘strained atmosphere’ prevalent when different cultures interact in military situations – seemingly harmonious but concealing the ‘control that was exerted in the selection of traders’.”3 This traditional tableau vivant sees the traders become actors on a stage, their gaze directed towards the female officer at the centre of the group holding a piece of clothing which is blocked from our view. We the viewer are excluded from the circle of gazes; we become other, looking at the looking of the traders. Their gaze and our gaze are at cross-purpose; we wish to become a player on the stage but are denied access and can only observe the spectacle from a distance. Excluded, the viewer feels disempowered, the photographic mise en scène leaving me unmoved.

John Imming’s photographs use found images from the Vietnam war, the first war in which photographers had unrestricted access and were given absolute freedom to record what they saw. Vietnam was a stage for intense exploration, photographers bombarding the public with images of extreme violence. Imming rephotographs images from the television screen using a Leica camera, abstracting them into darkly hued creatures, the borders miming the shape of early television screens. “The images become abstracted and our gaze is ‘reduced’ into blurred shapes of contrasting tones … His photographs force us to slow down the memories of the somewhat ephemeral television imagery and look deeply at what is being portrayed, and how.”4 These photographs fail in that task for they are very surface photographs. The photographs do not have the structure to support such a vision nor the support of beauty to prick the consciousness of the gaze. They are ugly images because war is ugly and abstracting them in order to ask the viewer to look deeply and have an incredible insight into the condition ‘war’ and how it is portrayed simply did not work for me.

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The two standout works in the exhibition are Thomas Struth’s luminous photograph Pergamon Museum IV, Berlin (2001, below) and Bill Henson’s seminal (perhaps even ubiquitous) series Untitled 1980/82 (1980-82, see above) – these photographs seem to be everywhere at the moment, perhaps a change is as good as a rest!

Struth’s magnificent large colour photograph is an investigation into the theatre of seeing. In the photograph Struth directs his cast and choreographs the visitors, the arrangement of the spectators re-assembling the open-ended narrative of the 2nd century Telephos frieze behind. “Similarities between the poses of the audience members and the poses of the carve relief figures gradually emerge, suggesting an unconscious dialogue between the viewers and the objects they regard. The result of Struth’s directorial mode of working is the creation of a type of theatre based on intersecting viewpoints, raising questions about the gaze of the spectator and the process of looking at works of art and each other.”5

Beholders observe beholders and the subjects of vision become historical, according to art historian Wold-Dieter Heilmeyer.

The suffused light that falls from the skylight leaves no shadow.
A man who casts no shadow has no soul.
The shadow according to Jung is the seat of creativity.
Here there is no depth of field, the sculptures and the figures feel like they are almost on one plane.
None of the viewers looks at the camera, they avoid its probing gaze, passively becoming the feminine aspect – like the central raised figure, robbed of head and arms, being gazed upon from all sides. We, the viewer, are looking at the spectacle of the viewers looking at the frieze. Looking at looking the observer becomes the observed (surveillance camera where are you?)
Consider the freeze frame of the models as they posed for the sculptor all those years ago; the freeze frame of the sculptures themselves; the freeze frame of the spectators posing for the camera; the freeze frame of the photograph itself; and then consider the freeze frame of time and space as we stand before the photograph looking at it. Then notice the women in the photograph videotaping the scene, another excoriating layer that tears at the fabric of time and looking, that causes lacrimation for our absent soul. What a photograph!

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The Henson photographs are presented in a wonderfully musical installation, mimicking the movement of the crowds portrayed. I republish below my comments on this series from the review of the In camera and in public exhibition.

“A selection of photographs from the Crowd Series (1980 – 82) by Bill Henson. Snapped in secret these black and white journalistic surveillance photographs (‘taken’ in an around Flinders Street railway station in Melbourne) have a brooding intensity and melancholic beauty. Henson uses a flattened perspective that is opposed to the principles of linear perspective in these photographs. Known as The Art of Describing6 and much used in Dutch still life painting of the 17th century to give equal weight to objects within the image plane, here Henson uses the technique to emphasise the mass and jostle of the crowd with their “waiting, solemn and compliant” people.

“When exhibiting the full series, Henson arranges the works into small groupings that create an overall effect of aberrant movement and fragmentation. From within these bustling clusters of images, individual faces emerge like spectres of humanity that will once again dissolve into the crowd … all apparently adrift in the flow of urban life. The people in these images have an anonymity that allows them to represent universal human experiences of alienation, mortality and fatigue.”7

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Henson states, “The great beauty in the subject comes, for me, from the haunted space, that unbridgeable gap – which separates the profound intimacy and solitude of our interior world from the ‘other’… The business of how a child’s small hand appearing between two adults at a street crossing can suggest both a vulnerability, great tenderness, and yet also contain within it all of the power that beauty commands, is endlessly fascinating to me.”8 His observation is astute but for me it is the un/awareness of the people in these photographs that are their beauty, their insertion into the crowd but their isolation from the crowd and from themselves. As Maggie Finch observes, it is “that feeling of being both alone and private in a crowd, thus free but also exposed.”9

In the sociologist Erving Goffman’s terms the photographs can be seen as examples of what he calls “civil inattention”10 which is a carefully monitored demonstration of what might be called polite estrangement, the “facework” as we glance at people in the crowd, holding the gaze of the other only briefly, then looking ahead as each passes the other.

“Civil inattention is the most basic type of facework commitment involved in encounters with strangers in circumstances of modernity. It involves not just the use of the face itself, but the subtle employment of bodily posture and positioning which gives off the message “you may trust me to be without hostile intent” – in the street, public buildings, trains or buses, or at ceremonial gatherings, parties, or other assemblies. Civil inattention is TRUST as ‘background noise’ – not as a random collection of sounds, but as carefully restrained and controlled social rhythms. It is characteristic of what Goffman calls “unfocused interaction.””11

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

As Susan Stewart insightfully observes,

“To walk in the city is to experience the disjuncture of partial vision/partial consciousness … The walkers of the city travel at different speeds, their steps like handwriting of a personal mobility. In the milling of the crowd is the choking of class relations, the interruption of speed, and the machine.”12″

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to 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.

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Bill Henson
Australian 1955-
Untitled 1980/82
1980-82
from the Untitled 1980/82 series 1980-82
gelatin silver photograph
43.0 x 38.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Anonymous gift, 1993
© Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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Bill Henson
Australian 1955-
Untitled 1980/82
1980-82
from the Untitled 1980/82 series 1980-82
gelatin silver photograph
43.0 x 38.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Anonymous gift, 1993
© Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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Bill Henson
Australian 1955-
Untitled 1980/82
1980-82
from the Untitled 1980/82 series 1980-82
gelatin silver photograph
29.2 x 47.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Anonymous gift, 1993
© Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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“On 30 September the National Gallery of Victoria will present Looking at Looking: The Photographic Gaze, a unique exhibition exploring how photography can construct particular ways of looking. Looking at Looking will feature works by 10 Australian and international photographers including 20 photographs from Bill Henson’s Untitled 1980-82 series.

Drawn entirely from the NGV Collection, this exhibition will bring together a fascinating selection of photographs inviting the viewer to consider the diverse nature of the photographic gaze and explore the complex relationships between the subject, the photographer and the audience. The displayed photographs will include observations of people in crowds, surveillance images from war zones and photographs that explore different ways of looking at gender, race and identity.

Maggie Finch, Assistant Curator, Photography, NGV said: “The act of photographing people involves a process of observation and scrutiny.  At times, photographers remain detached and anonymous while at other times they are complicit, directing their subjects and encouraging specific actions.”

Frances Lindsay, Deputy Director, NGV, said: “In the NGV’s 150th year this exhibition allows visitors to explore the dynamic relationship between the observer and the observed. This is a rare opportunity to view these photographs in a truly unique context.”

Looking at Looking will consider the anonymous photographer, one who is able to look without being looked at in return and consequently see more than otherwise possible. This idea is explored in Bill Henson’s series Untitled 1980-82, where the artist photographed people on city streets. Hung in a dense display, these photographs provide a psychological study of the nature of people when in a crowd.

Looking at Looking will feature works by Brook Andrew, Chi Peng, Anne Ferran, Ashley Gilbertson, Charles Green and Lyndell Brown, Bill Henson, John Immig, Thomas Struth and David Thomas.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

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Thomas Struth
German 1954-
Pergamon Museum IV, Berlin
2001
type C photograph
144.1 x 219.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased with the assistance of The Bowness Family Fund for Contemporary Photography, 2008
© 2011 Thomas Struth

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David Thomas
born Northern Ireland 1951, arrived Australia 1958
Amid history 2 (Large version)
2006
enamel paint on type C photograph on aluminium and plastic
100.0 x 145.0 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007 © the artist

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Ashley Gilbertson
Australian 1978-
A member of the Mahdi Army RPG team
2004
from the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot series 2004
digital type C print
66.5 x 99.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Ashley Gilbertson / VII Network

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John Immig
Dutch/Australian 1940-
No title (T.V. images)
1975-76
from the Vietnam series 1975-76
gelatin silver photograph
20.2 x 25.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1977 © John Immig

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Chi Peng
Chinese 1981-
Consubstantiality
2004
type C photograph
87.5 x 116.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the NGV Foundation, 2004 © Chi Peng, courtesy of Red Gate Gallery, Beijing

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Charles Green
Australian 1953-
Lyndell Brown
Australian 1961-
Afghan traders with soldiers, market, Taran Kowt Base Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan
2007 printed 2009
from The approaching storm series 2009
inkjet print
155.0 x 107.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Courtesy of the Artists and Arc One Gallery, Melbourne

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1. Finch, Maggie. Looking at Looking: The Photographic Gaze. Catalogue. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2011, p.10.

2. Ibid., p.16.

3. Ibid., p.21.

4. Ibid., p.24.

5. Ibid., p.7.

6. See Alpers, Svetlana. The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century. University Of Chicago Press, 1984.

7. AnonBILL HENSON: early work from the MGA collection. Education Resource. A Monash Gallery of Art Travelling Exhibition [Online] Cited 14/10/2011. www.unisa.edu.au/samstagmuseum/exhibitions/2011/docs/HENSON_edukit.PDF

8. Henson, Bill quoted in the exhibition catalogue. First published as a pdf for the exhibition In camera and in public Curated by Naomi Cass. Centre for Contemporary Photography, 16 September – 23 October 2011.

9. Stephens, Andrew. “Who’s watching you?” in The Saturday Age. 23rd September 2011 [Online] Cited 14/10/2011.
www.theage.com.au/entertainment/whos-watching-you-20110923-1kot7.html

10. See  Goffman, E. Behaviour in Public Places. New York: Free Press, 1963.

11. Giddens, Anthony. The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991, pp.82-83.

12. Stewart, Susan. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993, p.2. Prologue.

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NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours
10am – 5pm. Closed Tuesdays.

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: ‘Mask’ 1994

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