Posts Tagged ‘Loretta Lux

23
Feb
13

Review: ‘Confounding: Contemporary Photography’ at NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 5th October 2012 – 3rd March 2013

 

Thomas Demand (Germany, b. 1964) 'Public housing' 2003

 

Thomas Demand (Germany, b. 1964)
Public housing
2003
Type C photograph
100.1 x 157.0cm (image and sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by the Bowness Family Fund for Contemporary Photography, 2010
© Thomas Demand/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney

 

 

Thinking contemporary photography

At its birth in the 19th century, photography was seen as the ultimate tool for the representation and classification of the visual world.1 Photography recorded reality; a photograph was seen as a visual and literal truth of something that existed in the world. It re-presented the world to the viewer, telling something of the world, reflecting the world. A photograph provided a freeze frame – the snap of the shutter – of one point in time and space. People were astounded that their likeness and that of the world around them could be captured for all to see.

Technological advancements in the early twentieth century, such as faster exposure times and more portable cameras, transformed the potential of the medium to not only show things that escaped the eye but new ways of seeing them as well.2 The photograph began to reveal the personal dimensions of reality. It began to explore the intangible spaces that define our physical and spiritual relationship with reality. “Photographers and artists attempted to depict via photographic means that which is not so easily photographed: dreams, ghosts, god, thought, time” (Jeffrey Fraenkel The Unphotographable Fraenkel Gallery Books 2013). With the advent of modernism, they sought to capture fragments, details and blurred boundaries of personal experience.3 The indexical link photograph and referent, between the camera, the object being photographed and the photograph itself was being stretched to breaking point.

Think of it like this. Think of a photograph of an apple that a camera has taken. There is a link between the photograph and its referent, the photograph of the apple and the object itself (in reality, in the lived world). As a viewer of the photograph of the apple we are secondary witness to the fact that, at some point in time, someone took a photograph of this apple in real life. We bear witness to the eyewitness. Now what if I rip up the photograph of the apple and reassemble it in a different order? Is this still not an apple, only my subjective interpretation of how I see an apple existing in the world? Is it no less valid than the “real” photograph of the apple? What kinds of visual “truth” can exist in images?

Presently, contemporary photography is able to reveal intangible, constructed vistas that live outside the realm of the scientific. A photograph becomes a perspective on the world, an orientation to the world based on human agency. An image-maker takes resources for meaning (a visual language, how the image is made and what it is about), undertakes a design process (the process of image-making), and in so doing re-images the world in a way that it has never quite been seen before.

These ideas are what a fascinating exhibition titled Confounding: Contemporary Photography, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne investigates. In the confounding of contemporary photography we are no longer witnessing a lived reality but a break down of binaries such as sacred and profane, public and private, natural and artificial, real and dreamed environments as artists present their subjective visions of imagined, created worlds. Each image presents the viewer with a conundrum that investigates the relationship between photographs and the “real” world they supposedly record. How do these photographs make you feel about this constructed, confounding world? These fields of existence?

Thomas Demand’s Public Housing (2003, above) plays with the real and the fictional, presenting the viewer with an idealised vision of a public housing complex illustrated on a Singapore $10 note. Demand makes large models out of paper and cardboard in his studio and then photographs the result before destroying the basis of his performance, the model, leaving only the photograph as evidence of their existence, an existence that emanated from the imagination of the artist. This particular Demand is unusual in that it depicts the totality of an outdoor structure, for the artist usually focuses on details of buildings, plants and environments in mid to close up view. The flattened perspective, limited colour palette and absence of detail adds to the utopian nature of the work (almost like a photographic Jeffrey Smart), aping the aesthetic and social ideals of Le Courbusier. As John Meades notes, “From early in its history, photography was adopted by architects as a means of idealising their buildings. As beautiful and heroic, as tokens of their ingenuity and mankind’s progress, etc. This debased tradition continues to thrive. At its core lies the imperative to show the building out of context, as a monument, separate from streetscape, from awkward neighbours, from untidiness.”4

In Roger Ballen’s photograph Terminus (2004, below), one the more moody works in the exhibition, a heavy wooden board with a deflated leather bladder on top presses down on a human face. Although it is not a human face (it confounds!), it is the painted face of a mannequin which the viewer can only acknowledge after a jolt of recognition. There is a feeling of entombment, a palpable feeling of claustrophobia, as the meta / physical “weight” of the bladder (like the weight of a heavy meteorite) presses down on the half obscured, thin lipped, black eyed face. Similarly confounding are the two photographs by Eliza Hutchison called The ancestors (2004, below). Shot from the waist up, these photographs remind you of those old black and white Photo Booth snapshots that you used to get for passports (there are still two of those machines outside the Elizabeth Street entrance to Flinders Street railway station, standing there like forlorn sentinels of a by gone age), complete with nondescript curtain that you used to pull behind you. There is something “not quite right” about the people in the photographs but you can’t put your finger on it until the text panel, a little gleefully, informs you that the portraits had been shot upside down. Now you realise what is out of kilter: more cheek and jowl rather than cheek by jowl.

The exhibition makes a powerful point as Robert Nelson in his review of the exhibition in The Age newspaper observes: photography doesn’t necessarily have to be confounding to be art, to become enduring, it just has to have a decent idea behind it.

“I would say that being confounding is not a necessary property of art photography; and even when it’s present, it isn’t in itself a sufficient ingredient to guarantee enduringly valuable art. Photography doesn’t have to confound in order to be art, but it does have to have an idea in it. The idea is always the issue, whether it works by confounding us or not.”5

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The idea has always been the issue. Collectively, it is the ideas contained within the images in this exhibition that unsettle the relationship between the photograph and the world in the mind of the viewer, not their confounding. I don’t find any of these images contain much emotion (except possibly the Ballen) but the images are transformational because they fire up our imagination. Images speak not just of the world, but to the world; they challenge our beliefs, our politics and our daily practices. The camera’s single viewpoint, our single viewpoint, our field of existence has changed. People find themselves somehow, somewhere, not in a lived reality but in an imagined one.

Much is staged, scaled and variations in perspective are paramount. This affects the relationship between the viewer and the viewed for we can no longer take anything at face value. In a media saturated world full of images we begin to question every image that we see: has it been digitally manipulated, does it, did it actually exist in the world? These days “truth” in photography is an elusive notion and that might not be such a bad thing as people question the nature of images that surround them, their authenticity and their aura. In a media saturated world, in a world no longer of our making, seeing is no longer believing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  • 1. Anon. “Flatlands: photography and everyday space,” press release from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website posted on Art Blart [Online] Cited 19/02/2013
  • 2. Ibid.,
  • 3. Ibid.,
  • 4. Meades, Jonathan. “Architects are the last people who should shape our cities,” on The Guardian website, Tuesday 18 September 2012 [Online] Cited 19/02/2013
  • 5. “First, do all confounded photographic images qualify as art? Or does a photograph have to be founding in a special way? And second, can a photograph be art without being confounding?Bundling these questions together, I would say that being confounding is not a necessary property of art photography; and even when it’s present, it isn’t in itself a sufficient ingredient to guarantee enduringly valuable art. Photography doesn’t have to confound in order to be art, but it does have to have an idea in it. The idea is always the issue, whether it works by confounding us or not.”Nelson, Robert. “Getting the picture can be confounding,” in The Age newspaper, Wednesday January 2nd, 2013, p. 11.

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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.

 

 

Peter Peryer (New Zealand, 1941-2018) 'Home' 1991

 

Peter Peryer (New Zealand, 1941-2018)
Home
1991
Gelatin silver photograph
35.6 x 53.8cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1996
© Peter Peryer

 

Loretta Lux (Germany, b. 1969) 'The drummer' 2004

 

Loretta Lux (Germany, b. 1969)
The drummer
2004
Cibachrome photograph
45.0 x 37.7cm (image) 56.0 x 49.0cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, NGV Foundation, 2006
© Loretta Lux/VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

 

 

On 5 October, the National Gallery of Victoria will present Confounding: Contemporary Photography, an exploration of the uncanny worlds created by human imagination, dreams and memories.

Drawn from the NGV’s collection, the fourteen works on display transform the strange, uncomfortable and awkward into plausible realities. Visitors will discover the gaze of unnerving children in the hyper-real work of Loretta Lux; be jolted upon realising the hidden reality of Wang Qingsong’s monumental tableaux; and wonder at the strange beauty in the carefully constructed cardboard world of Thomas Demand.

Susan van Wyk, Curator, Photography, NGV, said: “Like the recollection of a dream, the photographs displayed in Confounding seem to make sense, but do not sit comfortably in the world. There are subtle, slightly sinister elements within the images that suggest a mystifying alternative reality… Through a selection of works by Australian and international artists, including two new acquisitions by Thomas Demand and Roger Ballen, Confounding explores the unexpected with images that bridge the divide between real and fictional.”

Confounding will present works by contemporary photographers including Roger Ballen, Pat Brassington, Thomas Demand, Eliza Hutchison, Rosemary Laing, Loretta Lux, Patricia Piccinini, Peter Peryer, Wang Qingsong and Ronnie van Hout.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria website

 

Roger Ballen. 'Terminus' 2004

 

Roger Ballen (American 1950-, worked in South Africa 1982- )
Terminus
2004
Carbon print
45.2 x 44.9cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Bill Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gift’s Program, 2012
© courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'Protein lattice – subset blue, portrait' 1997

 

Patricia Piccinini (b. Sierra Leone 1965, lived in Italy 1968-72, arrived Australia 1972)
Protein lattice – subset blue, portrait
1997
From the Protein lattice series 1997
Type C photograph
80.5 x 80.3cm irreg. (image); 90.0 x 126.9cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Optus Communications Pty Limited, Member, 1998
© Patricia Piccinini

 

Ronnie van Hout (New Zealand, b. 1962) 'Mephitis' 1995

 

Ronnie van Hout (New Zealand, b. 1962)
Mephitis
1995
Gelatin silver photograph
47.2 x 32.6cm (image), 50.5 x 40.9cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1996
© Courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney

 

Eliza Hutchison (Australian, b. 1965) 'The ancestors' 2004

 

Eliza Hutchison (Australian, b. 1965)
The ancestors
2004
Light-jet print
95.4 x 72.9cm (image), 105.4 x 82.9cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2005
© Eliza Hutchison, courtesy Murray White Room

 

Eliza Hutchison (Australian, b. 1965) 'The ancestors' 2004

 

Eliza Hutchison (Australian, b. 1965)
The ancestors
2004
Light-jet print
95.3 x 73.0cm (image),105.3 x 83.0cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2005
© Eliza Hutchison, courtesy Murray White Room

 

 

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01
Feb
12

Exhibition: ‘What’s in a face? aspects of portrait photography’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 24th September 2011 – 5th February 2012

 

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

 

 

Glaister studio (Australia 1855-1870) 'Untitled (portrait of a man and three girls)' 1855-1870

 

Glaister studio (Australia 1855-1870)
Untitled (portrait of a man and three girls)
1855-1870
Ambrotype, colour dyes
6.5 x 9 cm sight; 9.3 x 11.9 cm case
Purchased 1989

 

 

This charming ambrotype was thought to have been produced by one of Australia’s most important early photographers, Thomas Glaister, owning to the presence of the Glaister stamp on the case. However, superb varnish was one of Glaister’s hallmarks and this ambrotype is not varnished. In addition, the hand-colouring is not considered to be to Glaister’s standard. As such, it is possible that the ambrotype was inserted into this case at a later date, not least because there is no form of blackening behind the image. This was standard practice to prevent the viewer seeing through to the inside of the case. The Eichmeyer ‘book’ case, patented in 1855 by Henry A Eichmeyer of Philadelphia, were made of fine leather and beautifully put together. Glaister certainly used these but the ambrotype is probably not his specifically and could have been made by one of his sons in the 1860s when they worked as travelling photographers. Regardless of who took the image, it is a charming colonial portrait which in size is typical of the period – it can easily be held in the hand.

Ambrotypes were developed in the 1850s. They were faster and cheaper to make than daguerreotypes, yet were still unique objects.

1. 1989, ‘Masterpieces of Australian photography’, Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney p. 25

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' c. 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
33.2 x 30.0 cm image/sheet
Purchased with funds provided by John Armati 2006
Art Gallery of NSW Collection

 

 

Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind appears to have been the only print Cotton made of this image. It was found in the late 1990s and has been shown only once, in an exhibition at the AGNSW in 2000 where it was also used on the catalogue cover. It was unusual for Cotton to print so large, yet it is entirely fitting that this monumental head and shoulder shot of a beautiful young woman should be presented in this way. The subject was a model on a fashion shoot at which Cotton was probably assisting. Cotton often took her own photographs while on such shoots and used them for her private portfolio. The photograph transcends portraiture, fashion and time to become a remarkable image of harmony with the elements.

Cotton took the title for this photograph from an 1895 poem by English poet Laurence Binyon, ‘O summer sun’:

O summer sun, O moving trees!
O cheerful human noise, O busy glittering street!
What hour shall Fate in all the future find,
Or what delights, ever to equal these:
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind,
Only to be alive, and feel that life is sweet?1

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A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

1. 1915, ‘Poems of today’, English Association, London p. 96.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku / Erub, Australia b. 1957) 'Portrait: Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley, Artists' 1998

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku / Erub, Australia b. 1957)
Portrait: Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley, Artists
1998
Colour bubble jet print from Polaroid photograph
57.9 x 71 cm
Purchased 1998
© Destiny Deacon. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

 

Deacon is widely recognised for her staged photographs which employ various props, including souvenirs and kitsch, in satirical tableaus that critique notions of Aboriginality. Initially, in 1991, she employed dolls and since then they have become a signature motif. This use of non-living models informed her practice when she began to photograph people. As Deacon states, ‘I’ve never been one for “live action” shots…I’ve got to rule the roost. It’s no different dealing with inanimate objects or people, except with people I’m more terrified.’1

This method can be seen in Deacon’s Portrait: Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley, artists 1998. Burchill and McCamley, Melbourne and Mildura based collaborative artists, have been arranged in a re-enactment of Henri Matisse’s Conversation 1908-12. The photograph echoes the deep blue background of the original painting. The two artists hold the stiff positions of Matisse and his seated wife gazing across at each other. This is one of a number of Deacon’s works that feature Australian writers, artists and other notable figures re-enacting iconic paintings. Other examples include artist Fiona Hall in a 2004 retake of Grace Cossington-Smith’s The sock knitter 1915 and a portrait of Gary Foley inspired by William Dobell’s The boy at the basin 1932.

1. Destiny Deacon, ‘Interview with Virginia Fraser’ in Destiny Deacon: walk & don’t look blak, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2004, p. 109.

 

Ilse Bing (United States of America, Germany 1899-1998) 'Self portrait with Leica' 1931 printed 1941

 

Ilse Bing (United States of America, Germany 1899-1998)
Self portrait with Leica
1931 printed 1941
Gelatin silver photograph
26.7 x 31.2 cm
Alistair McAlpine Photography Fund 2005
© Ilse Bing Estate. Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

Self portrait with Leica is a complex image in which the artist has photographed herself and her trademark Leica in one mirror, while the profile of both is reflected in another. The large button on her cuff disturbs the play between full face and profile, while the objects at the bottom of the frame lend a certain informality to an otherwise highly contrived set-up. The soft velvety curtain behind introduces a further element of rich tactility. The play between black, white and shades of grey softens and enriches the overall image.

Although Bing avoided becoming part of any specific movement of the 1920s or 1930s – for example, constructivism, the Bauhaus or surrealism, describing herself as being ‘on the edge of the periphery of the Bauhaus’ only – she was fully cognisant of the range of experimentation which was taking place across Europe. She forged her own path, combining an abiding belief in the importance of intuition and poetry with rigorous composition and superb technical skills.

Inspired by the work of Florence Henri, and with increasing confidence in her ability to marry naturalism with geometric formalism, Bing worked extensively as a press, fashion, portrait and documentary photographer in Paris until she was interned as an enemy alien in 1940. Late in her life Bing wrote:

‘I didn’t choose photography; it chose me. I didn’t know it at the time. An artist doesn’t think first and then do it, he [sic] is driven. Now over fifty years later, I can look back and explain it. In a way, it was the trend of the time; it was the time when you started to see differently … And the camera, that was, in a way, the beginning of the mechanical device penetrating into the field of art.’1

1. Barrett N C 1985, Ilse Bing: three decades of photography, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans pp. 13-14.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Robert Rooney (Australia, b. 1937) 'Portrait of Maria Kozic and Philip Brophy II' 1981

 

Robert Rooney (Australia, b. 1937)
Portrait of Maria Kozic and Philip Brophy II
1981
Cibachrome photograph
20.1 x 30 cm image/sheet
Purchased 1996
© Robert Rooney

 

 

The four portraits in the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection reflect a particular period in Australian art, when the now established artists were beginning their careers. They depict members of the contemporary art scene of the late 1970s to mid 1980s associated with Art + Text, an Australian art magazine published from 1981-2000.

Philip Brophy formed the experimental group Tsk Tsk Tsk in 1977. The group produced experimental music, films, videos, and live theatrical performances. Brophy involved his friends in the group, including partner Maria Kozic on synthesiser. Kozic was also producing her own multimedia work. In this photograph, Kozic and Brophy are standing in a suburban backyard complete with Hills Hoist. This is reflective of Tsk Tsk Tsk’s suburban beginnings, based as it was at Clifton Hill’s Community Music Centre. After the group’s dissolution in the early 1980s, Brophy made several experimental films and curated numerous programs for the Melbourne international film festival as well as exhibitions such as Tezuka: the marvel of manga for the National Gallery of Victoria. Kozic moved to New York where she continued her artistic career. Her work has been exhibited widely throughout Australia and overseas and been collected by many museums including the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

Loretta Lux (Germany b. 1969) 'The waiting girl' 2006

 

Loretta Lux (Germany, b. 1969)
The waiting girl
2006
Ilfochrome photograph
38 × 53 cm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2007
© Loretta Lux/Bild-Kunst. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

 

Lux’s portraits are by no means traditional, ‘I call them imaginary portraits. They are not really about the children that I photographed’, commented the artist in interview with Wim van Sinderen (Loretta Lux: new work 2004). In relation to The waiting girl, Lux has said: ‘It’s a picture about time, and timelessness. For me they are sitting on the sofa as if they are waiting for eternity.’ (The Guardian 23 November 06)

Through subtle digital manipulation of the body and facial features of her subjects, Lux creates eerie doll-like creatures with glazed eyes, porcelain smooth skin and subtly ill-proportioned forms. The resulting portraits contain an uncanny blend of mute childish innocence and the self-contained stoicism of adulthood.

Lux’s images of children recall those of the old masters, such as Veláquez, Runge and Bronzino whom she cites as main inspirations alongside German photographer August Sander. Lux has stated in an interview with Louise Baring for the Telegraph (UK) that she uses children ‘as a metaphor for a lost paradise’. Dressing her young models in past fashions (often of the era of her own childhood) suggests the child’s game of ‘dress ups’ in order to be an adult yet somehow played out in reverse. That is, Lux’s children do not seem like children at all, but rather like serious world-weary adults manifested in childish forms.

 

 

Spanning over a century, What’s in a face? aspects of portrait photography is an exhibition of 45 photographs from the Art Gallery of NSW collection. The exhibition focuses on crucial points in the history of photographic depictions of the human face ranging from studio portraiture in the late 19th century to contemporary practices today.

Works by Australian photographers, such as Paul Foelsche, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Carol Jerrems, Destiny Deacon, Patrina Hicks, Darren Sylvester and others, are placed in an international context, represented by Man Ray, Edward Weston, Iwao Yamawaki, Nan Goldin, Ben Cauchi and Loretta Lux, amongst others.

All portraits reveal something of the sitter, the photographer and also of us as viewers, but none reveal a whole and complete being. This is part of the enduring fascination with the photographic portrait which purports to be an exact likeness but operates more accurately as a metaphor for the self and how that self might exist in the world at a particular point in time.

Judy Annear, senior curator photographs, Art Gallery of NSW

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Using photography to depict the face and figure was initially a time-consuming and expensive business. However, the drive to document all things in the world, and rapid technological advances, meant that by the 1880s most people, willing or not and regardless of the photographer’s or their own desires, were documented in some way.

Spurious 19th century ideas to do with what a face could represent exploded in the early 20th century when identity came to be seen as a psychological rather than social phenomenon. Theatricality and performing for the camera, which had existed in photography since its inception, also became much more evident in this period.

In the post-WWII era representations of the face and the body quickly acquired a political and socially aware edge. More recently the face has tended to stand less as an expression of personal experience and more a statement that may signify a set of ideas, whether about the individual, the group or the society at large. Many of these highly constructed images acknowledge and play upon the problematics of the photographic portrait.”

Text from the AGNSW website

 

Petrina Hicks (Australian, b. 1972) 'Shenae and Jade' 2005

 

Petrina Hicks (Australian, b. 1972)
Shenae and Jade
2005
From the series Untitled 2005
Lightjet print
85.5 x 80.0 cm
Courtesy the artist and Michael Reid Gallery

 

 

Shenae and Jade is typical of Hicks’ unconventional portraits. The young model holds the budgie’s head in her mouth. It’s the kind of slightly dangerous behaviour which can be unnerving to observe. The freckled nose of the model is in tension with her smooth pale temples, heavily lashed closed eyes and soft white top. The luminescent background and generally pale colouration throw the headless body of the brightly coloured budgie into high relief.

 

Darren Sylvester (Australia, b. 1974) 'They return to you in song' 2001

 

Darren Sylvester (Australia, b. 1974)
They return to you in song
2001
Lambda print
100.0 x 100.0cm image/sheet
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2002
© Darren Sylvester

 

 

Informed by the slick stylistic conventions of high-end consumer images, Darren Sylvester’s body of work suggests the existential dilemma of living in an overtly consumerist society – one that promises fulfilment but fails to truly satisfy even the most ardent consumer. Perpetually tantalised with glossy images of affluence, ‘must-have’ products and brochure living, our ‘real’ lives can at times seem unfulfilling by comparison, sometimes painful and often a little pathetic. Sylvester’s work seems to suggest that even in our most personal heartfelt moments, our lives are just like everybody else’s, not so special or unique. Our lives could equally be a series of advertising moments.

Yet the nature of this work is resolutely ambiguous, alternately offering intimacy and emotion with cool detachment. Photo-shopped clean of incidental detail and anomaly, and featuring youthful agency models, Sylvester’s evenly lit, tightly focused images still tap a nerve despite their polished finish. Perhaps this is because they are precisely ‘generic’ (and emotive) experiences to which we can all relate. The same principles underpin a good pop song and in Sylvester’s work this is no coincidence – he strives to produce images that carry the same directness and lasting impact. Commenting on the music of the Carpenters, ‘their lyrics were always sad and about emotional relationships but sealed beneath glossy west coast melodies’, Sylvester reveals the pop-music strategies he employs in his work.1

Based on short stories written by the artist prior to composing the scene, his images carry their own inherent narrative. Yet we don’t need to read Sylvester’s story to understand the drama, nor do we need to hear the tune to recognise the song – it’s an old one, and a shared one, that each of us remembers well.

1. Colless E 2006, ‘Darren Sylvester: the right stuff’, Australian Art Collector, no 36, Apr-Jun p. 102.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Hans Hasenpflug (Australia, Germany 1907-1977) 'Untitled (head of a woman)' 1940-1941

 

Hans Hasenpflug (Australia, Germany 1907-1977)
Untitled (head of a woman)
1940-1941
Gelatin silver photograph
28.8 x 24.3cm image
Gift of Mr Christopher Hamilton, the artist’s son 1984

 

 

Hans Hasenpflug arrived in Australia in 1927 aged 20. He had been born into an educated Stuttgart family but it does not appear that he became involved in photography until 1932 when he was employed by Leica Photo Service, Sydney. Hasenpflug went on to work for prominent photographer Russell Roberts from 1935 to 1937 before moving to Melbourne and working with Athol Shmith and other Melbourne studios from 1937 to 1942. As an enemy alien Hasenpflug was not allowed to work on industrial assignments during World War Two but he was not interned and was naturalised in 1945. Hasenpflug exhibited in photography salons in the 1930s and his work appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Woman’s Weekly and the Sunday Telegraph.

Hasenpflug was a versatile advertising photographer. He specialised in fashion and product advertising and some portraiture. Despite his apparent lack of photographic training until the 1930s, he seems to be have been strongly influenced by the European avant-garde. Many of his photographs, regardless of genre or subject matter, depend on diagonals through the picture plane and on raking light.

This is true of Untitled. Strong light has created deep shadows across the subject, a closely cropped image of a woman’s face. This, combined with the oblique camera angle, creates a vivid and disconcerting image. The woman is staring directly into the camera, yet a band of strong shadow across the centre of the image creates a blank eyed effect. The pupil free eyes seem inhuman; mask-like or alien. This is in stark contrast to the woman’s open smile that dominates the bottom of the work. The strong, full light on this area highlights her lips, gums and teeth to an almost hyper real extent. These contradictions create an image that on the surface seems friendly and intimate, yet contains an undertone of threat. The inherent strangeness of the image makes it unlikely that this was a commissioned photograph, but rather the artist’s experiment with his medium, and indeed is probably a portrait of his fiancee, Elizabeth Hamilton Crouch.

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1956) 'Guadalupe de Rivera, Mexico' 1924

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1956)
Guadalupe de Rivera, Mexico
1924, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
20.7 × 17.8 cm
Gift of Patsy W. Asch 2000
© Centre for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Edward Weston’s Mexican years were of great importance to him and allowed for the maturing of his vision in relation to photography. Accompanied by Tina Modotti, whose own work developed at this time, Weston experimented with pure form through monumental portraits (of which Guadalupe de Rivera, Mexico is a classic example), images of landscapes and buildings, still-lifes and nudes.

Weston’s portraits of those he encountered in Mexico are uniformly compelling. Often taken with a hand-held camera against a plain background and with strong lighting, these images emphasise individuality, modernity and dynamism.

Guadalupe de Rivera was Diego Rivera’s wife at the time and both were among the group of people Weston and Modotti associated with. Weston described Guadalupe in his ‘Daybooks’ as ‘tall, proud of bearing, almost haughty; her walk like a panther’s, her complexion almost green, with eyes to match’.1 As he worked on the portrait, Weston wrote: ‘I am finishing the portrait of Lupe. It is a heroic head, the best I have done in Mexico; with the Graflex, in direct sunlight I caught her, mouth open, talking, and what could be more characteristic of Lupe! Singing or talking I must always remember her’.2

This later print by Weston emphasises, through the dramatic effect of light and shade, the strong lines of the face. The shape of the open mouth is echoed by the shadowed eye above and the jawline below. The diagonal of jaw to ear which runs in parallel to the nose also adds to the dynamism of this image. Outdoors, with the sun shining on her hair, this is a portrait of a remarkable woman.

1. Newhall N ed 1981, ‘The daybooks of Edward Weston 1 Mexico’, Aperture, New York p. 26.
2. Ibid p. 42.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Vale Street' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems (Australian, 1949-1980)
Vale Street
1975
Gelatin silver print
20.1 x 30.4 cm
Purchased 1979
© Ken and Lance Jerrems

 

 

A quintessential image of the 1970s, Vale Street has lost none of its capacity to enchant and disturb in the intervening years. In one sense it can be read as a sociological document; in another as a wholly subjective work of art. Like the mediumistic spirit-photographs of the nineteenth century, Jerrems’s photo seems to disclose the very souls of its subjects. As they respond, each in their individual fashion, to the regarding presence of the camera lens, the figures compose themselves, without theatrics, into telling attitudes. The prominence and bodily confidence of the open-faced young woman is set against the reticence of her boyish companions. As a portrait of relationships as well as individuals, Vale Street speaks of gender relations, adolescent sexuality, suburban mores and the photographer’s own subtly partisan demeanour in regard to these themes.

Art Gallery Handbook, 1999

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Juliet Holding Vale Street' 1976

 

Carol Jerrems (Australian, 1949-1980)
Juliet Holding Vale Street
1976
Gelatin silver print
30.4 x 20.1 cm
Purchased 1979
© Ken and Lance Jerrems

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Lynn Gailey' 1976

 

Carol Jerrems (Australian, 1949-1980)
Lynn Gailey
1976
Gelatin silver print
30.3 x 20.1 cm
Purchased 1979
© Ken and Lance Jerrems

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-1992) 'Untitled (self portrait)' 1930s

 

Max Dupain (Australia, 1911-1992)
Untitled (self portrait)
1930s
Gelatin silver photograph
19.3 x 14 cm
Art Gallery of NSW Collection

 

 

This engaging self-portrait by Max Dupain was kept by the artist in an album of photographs from the 1930s. The album was possibly a workbook which would enable Dupain and his clients to review his career as a young modernist photographer. Dupain had opened his own studio in 1934 at the age of 23 having previously been apprenticed to Cecil Bostock and studying painting and drawing at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney. In his teens, through the Photographic Society of New South Wales, Dupain had also had contact with Harold Cazneaux whom he later described as ‘the father of modern Australian photography’.1 Both Cazneaux and Bostock provided Dupain with a solid technical and aesthetic base from which to work.

The young working photographer has chosen to depict himself in Untitled (self portrait) with rolled-up sleeves and a furrowed brow. The image is bisected into light in the upper half and dark below with the photographer’s right hand pressing the cable release. Looking away, in three-quarter profile, Dupain is engaged with something out of the frame. The dynamism of the image is further enhanced by the bent arms and the strong shadow of Dupain’s profile.

The 1930s was a period of intense experimentation for Dupain as he applied the lessons learned from Bostock and Cazneaux and absorbed the material in international publications. He mastered solarisation, montage, portraiture, interiors and advertising photography. His interest in form and composition matured. His dedication to his work is manifested in this image.

1. Dupain M 1978, Cazneaux: photographs by Harold Cazneaux 1878-1953, National Library of Australia, Canberra p. xi.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

 

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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07
Aug
10

Exhibition: ‘Present Tense: An Imagined Grammar of Portraiture in the New Media Age’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 22nd May – 22nd August 2010

 

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

 

 

Karen Sander. 'Herve Blechy 1:5' 2008

 

Karen Sander
Herve Blechy 1:5
2008
3D Bodyscans of the living person (3D coordinates and colour texture), MPT (Minitaturised Projection Technology), rapid prototyping, 3D Inkjet printer, plaster material, pigment
Courtesy of the artist, Berlin, and Galerie Nachst St. Stephan, Vienna, and Galerie Helga de Alvear, Madrid.

 

Osang Gwon. 'Metabo' 2009

 

Osang Gwon (Korean, b. 1974)
Metabo
2009
C-prints, mixed media
130.0 x 80.0 x 105.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Arario Gallery, Seoul

 

Robert Lazzarin. 'Skull' 2000

 

Robert Lazzarini (American, b. 1965)
Skull
2000
resin, bone, pigment
35.0 x 8.0 x 20.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Deitch Projects

 

 

Present Tense: An Imagined Grammar of Portraiture in the New Media Age is the principal exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery’s 2010 exhibition calendar. It will be displayed from 22 May to 22 August 2010. We are entering an exceptional time for portraiture and visual culture in general as the art world embraces the digital age. Traditional portraiture is responding to the application of new technologies and this imaging process is reshaping our interpretation and reading of the face.

Present Tense considers the alliance between portraiture and technology, showing how different ways of imaging in this contemporary, digital world reflect the way an individual is perceived and the various mechanisms of imaging that are used to manipulate that perception. The exhibition is comprised of works by Australian and international artists’ and includes examples of the informal and immediate images made on mobile phones, images recorded with sonograms that reveal faces that cannot be seen by the unaided eye, 2D and 3D portraits generated exclusively from binary code, as well as the more expected streaming digital works and manipulated photographs.

‘Some of the images in Present Tense are confronting and some are positively endearing’, said exhibition Curator Michael Desmond. ‘The exhibition surveys the possibilities of portraiture today, with the premise that the inhabitants’ of our digital society are pictured in a technological mirror’.

The use of digital technologies by artists is increasing, providing affordable alternatives to traditional media and offering a new tool set and the possibility of a new aesthetic. This is not to suggest that older media has been abandoned, or is associated only with conservative practice, rather that artists’ have greater choice in the materials that they use and the style that they wish to engage with. Chuck Close is one of artists’ in the exhibition who ignores the rising tide of digital imaging processes to favour old technology, creating powerful images with the archaic daguerreotype technique. Other artists’ in Present Tense include: Loretta Lux, Patrick Pound, Stelarc, Jonathon Nichols, Petrina Hicks, Ghostpatrol, Patricia Piccinini and more.

‘At one time, oil on canvas or bronze was the medium for portraits. The medium now is technology. In an inversion of one of Modernism’s classic aphorisms, digital technology allows function to follow form; the function of the portrait – to illustrate an individual’s character and physiognomy – is established by the stamp of the technology that created it’, said Michael Desmond.”

Press release from the National Portrait Gallery website [Online] Cited 06/08/2010

 

Chuck Close. 'Self portrait daguerreotype' 2000

 

Chuck Close (American, b. 1940)
Self portrait daguerreotype
2000
16.5 x 21.6 cm each
Courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'Psychogeography' 1996

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
Psychogeography
1996
From the series Psycho
type C colour photograph
120.0 x 247.0 cm
Courtesy of the Parliament House Art Collection, Department of Parliamentary Services, Canberra

 

Stelarc. 'Stretched skin' 2009

 

Stelarc (Australian, born Cyprus 1946)
Stretched skin
2009
type C photograph
120.0 x 180.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Scott Livesey Galleries

 

 

National Portrait Gallery
King Edward Terrace
Parkes, Canberra

Opening hours:
Open daily 10 am to 5 pm

National Portrait Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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