Posts Tagged ‘The photographer’s shadow

26
Jul
17

Review: ‘Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition’ as part of the NGV Festival of Photography at NGV Australia, Melbourne Part 2

Exhibition dates: 31st March – 30th July 2017

Photographs are in the chronological room order of the exhibition.

 

Entrance

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Pairs (and the double)' (detail) 2016-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The entrants (detail)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising objects collected by the artist and works from the NGV Collection
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

 

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E

 

 

This polymorphic, inflated album of an exhibition by Patrick Pound at NGV Australia, Melbourne, is unfortunately stuck with a most ridiculous title.

The great “show and tell” consists of 6 large galleries which are crammed full of thousands of photographs from the artists collection and artefacts from the NGV collection which form a (according to the exhibition blurb) “diagrammatic network of intersections, and in that way shows one of the underlying ideas of the whole exhibition, which is to seek out patterns and similarities and connections across objects and works of art and ideas. In other words, one thing leads to another.” Not necessarily.

Pound is interested in the writing of Georges Perec (a member of the Oulipo group of writers and mathematicians which formed in France in 1960) and his use of “restrictions in his writing as a way of encouraging new patterns and structures.” Perec wrote a whole novel in 1969, A Void, translated from the original French La Disparition (literally, “The Disappearance”) entirely without using the letter e (except for the author’s name). Oulipo writers sought to produce a document that undermines its own reliability. Through structures – or constraints – on composition, Oulipo writers sought to produce new and interesting works.

In a similar vein Pound restricts his collections of photographs to restrictive themes, such as people falling, sleepers, holes, readers, the air, lamps, listening to music, hands, shadows, interventions, backs, possibly dead people, holding cameras, self-portraits, doubles, entrants, etc. He seeks to gather his thoughts through these collections, and proposes that collecting found photographs “is like taking cuttings from the world.” A form of collage.

For me the grouping of all these “found” photographs together in display cases is a form of conceptual conceit: the collection of such varied instances of the shadow of the photographer appearing in every image, for example, means very little. Unlike the restrictions that Perec proposes which lead to interesting outcomes, Pound’s restrictions do not enrich the individual photographs by placing them all together, in fact the opposite. The totality is less than the sum of the parts. Reductio ad absurdum.

As individual photographs (as seen below in this posting), the images have presence, they have an aura which emanates from the moment, and context, in which the photograph was taken. Different in each instance. But in this exhibition we are overwhelmed by thousands of images and cannot give them due attention; the photographic “trace” becomes specious. The aura of the singular image is denuded; the aura of the collective does not exist. The collections become the collective photograph (of space) as reassurance: that the interrupting time freeze of individual photographs is not unique and occurs again and again and again. Pound’s collections are a form of photographic cancer… a kind of photographic plate-spinning, where the artist tries to keep all topics rotating in mid-air.

Pound’s existential typologies and classifications are a form of superficial play, using one photo to beget another. The addition of artefacts from the NGV collection only highlights the folly, in which two ceramic parrots paired with a photograph of two parrots is almost the indulgent nadir. The typologies and collections can, however, be seen as an ironic comment on the nature of our image saturated society, where millions of photographs are uploaded and viewed on the www every day. They can also be seen as a comment on the way people view photography in contemporary culture, where every selfie or picture of what I had for breakfast is posted online for consumption. While I admire Pound’s pugnaciousness and the obsessiveness needed to collect all of these images (being a collector myself) and, further, the tenacity required to catalogue and arrange them all – I really wonder about the clinamen – a term coined by Lucretius to describe the unpredictable swerve of atoms in his version of physics. It was adopted by the Oulipo set as – quoting Paul Klee – ‘the error in the system’. By gathering all of these photographs together in groups, the periphery becomes the centre … AND LOSES ITS UNPREDICTABILITY – the collective photographs loose their punctum, their unpredicatability. The photographs loose their individual transcendence of time. Perec’s missing eeeeeeeeeeeeeee’s at the beginning of this text thus exclude chaos, randomness, the capital E.

Other statements and ideas also grate. “The camera reduces the world to a list of things to photograph. When I click BUY on eBay – for me that’s the equivalent of taking a photograph. The mouse is my camera.” Well, no actually. The camera never reduces the world, it just is, it’s a machine. It is the person who takes the photograph, the human, that reduces the world to what they want to photograph. And when you click BUY on eBay it is not the equivalent of taking a photograph. You have used your money, your capitalism, your CAPITAL, to purchase your DESIRE. You are taking someone else’s vernacular, their moment of deciding what to photograph, to purchase their desire so that you can possess it yourself. You are coveting time and space. “Eventually every photograph is a photograph of a dead person.” Well, no actually, because not every photograph is of a person. “The camera is an idling hearse.” Yes, and so is your body, and the motor car, and walking across the road. The effect of these oblique statements is to further dumb down the public understanding of photography.

The work in the exhibition starts to come alive in Room 2 The Museum of There / Not there, where all of the things in the room are asked to stand in for an absence, where everything is a remnant or a trace. “Each thing here is a reminder of something else, it can be seen a surrogate or a partial representation.” The dissociative associations challenge the viewer to create their own connections and narratives from the objects placed before them. They mentally challenge the viewer to imagine. This challenge is further heightened in some of the best work in the exhibition, the series Portmanteau – definition: a large travelling bag; a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others: podcast is a portmanteau, a made-up word coined from a combination of the words iPod and broadcast – in which visually disparate images (a cloud, a person blowing gum; a golf ball hovering over the cup, an eclipse) make unusual but sympathetic and intriguing connections across time and space. Photographs such as High wire act (2015) and The Fountainhead (2016, both below) are complex and creative examples of focused image making which reminded me of the Bauhaus collages of Josef Albers where Albers nowhere changes, “the rules of the game more profoundly than in his collages that feature a multitude of photographs. His collage of a bullfight in San Sebastian can be read as a short story or experimental film, where we as viewers recognise that we are being transported to a distant time and place, no less enchanting for its impossibility.” Randomness and synchronicity are back in the game.

Speaking of games, my favourite Pound objects in the exhibition were his Solander box series The game of things (2016, below). Their charm, wittiness, beauty, visual and mental acuity put paid to many other forced associations in the exhibition. He observes that, “Some things have little to do with each other until they come into contact.” But even when they do come into contact, they can still have very little to do with each other. Why The game of things series works so well is that Pound restricts himself (yes that Perec restriction that actually means something) in order/disorder to create something new and interesting, a document that undermines its own reliability (its a game!). The clinamen, the unpredictable swerve which, according to Lucretius occurs “at no fixed place or time” and which provides the “free will which living things throughout the world have” appears. Pound’s free will combines disparate elements in a pared down aesthetic, a playful game, where there is no need for thousands of photographs to focus his ideas.

While Pound’s description of multiplicities, repetitions and differences is engaging in a humorous and ironic way as “lines of escape from the generalities of society,” they create distance from laws and norms even while still re-enacting them. Much more interesting are Pound’s subversions of a singular reality through the overlapping of images – both mental and physical. While existing in a physical space, the “game of things” actually lives in my mind because humanness is the ultimate clinamen.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,372

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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.

 

 

A page from Georges Perec's book 'Species of Spaces (Espèces d'espaces) and Other Pieces' 1974

 

A page from Georges Perec’s book Species of Spaces (Espèces d’espaces) and Other Pieces 1974

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Entrance to the exhibition Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition with the work The photographer’s shadow (2000-17) right
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s work The photographer’s shadow (2000-17, detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s work The photographer’s shadow (2000-17, detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The photographer’s shadow
2000-17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'The photographer's shadow' (detail) 2000-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The photographer’s shadow (detail)
2000-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
People holding cameras
2007-17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Room 1

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation views of the exhibition Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography.
Photos: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation views of Patrick Pound’s work Damaged 2008-17 (detail)
Photos: Wayne Taylor

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Damaged' (detail) 2008-17

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Damaged' (detail) 2008-17

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Damaged' (detail) 2008-17

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Damaged' (detail) 2008-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Damaged (details)
2008-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s work People holding cameras 2007-17 (detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s work Listen to the music 2016-17 (detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s work Self portraits 2007-17 (detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'The hand of the photographer' (detail) 2007-17

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'The hand of the photographer' (detail) 2007-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The hand of the photographer (details)
2007-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The readers (installation view details)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist and works from the NGV Collection
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Photography and air (installation view details)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist and works from the NGV Collection
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Room 2

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation views of The Museum of there / Not there 2016-17 (detail) with (above) John Brack’s Self-portrait (1955), David Potts Cat show, London (1953), Eugène Atget’s Eclipse (1911, top right), Lee Friedlander’s Mount Rushmore (1969, middle right) and Erich Salomon’s Banquet at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, August 1931 (bottom right).
Photos: Wayne Taylor

 

Erich Salomon (Germany 1886-1944) 'Banquet at the Quai d'Orsay, Paris, August 1931. 'A le voilà, le roi des indiscrets!'' 1931, printed 1970

 

Erich Salomon (Germany 1886-1944)
Banquet at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, August 1931. ‘A le voilà, le roi des indiscrets!’
1931, printed 1970
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 3/100
Purchased, 1971

 

 

Here are some examples of how
The Museum of There / Not there works:

From Rodin’s marble head
without its helmet …

to a sculpture that’s lost its head
yet remains holding onto its hair …

and from a broken comb found in
an Egyptian tomb to a novelty wig …

it is full of missing parts,
surrogates and substitutions,
apparitions and disappearing acts.

Every representation is, after all,
something of a conjurer’s trick.

Patrick Pound

 

The Museum of There / Not there is a collection of my things, and the NGV’s things. All of the things in this room are asked to stand in for an absence. To make its presence shimmer.

From a ventriloquist’s dummy to a copy of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness; from a photo of an empty shell to a nineteenth-century bustle; from an American toy border patrol car to a painting of an immigrant – everything in this room is a remnant or a trace. They speak of being there or not being all there.

Each thing here is a reminder of something else, it can be seen a surrogate or a partial representation. There are things that are unfinished or incomplete; there are ghosts and traces; things that are missing parts or that are simply missing. Meanings too might have changed, or become fluid, with the passing of time. In effect, this is a giant collage where things are asked to stand in for other things. They are material realisations of ephemeral and ethereal states.

There is also a soundtrack, featuring music ranging from Tom Petty’s “Refugee” to Aretha Franklin’s “I Wonder (Where You Are Tonight)”.

Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound's 'The Museum of there / Not there' 2016-17 (detail)

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The Museum of There / Not there (installation view details)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising objects collected by the artist, a selection of works by the artist, and works from the NGV Collection
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Passageway

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The game of things (installation view detail)
2016
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

“Photographs and things reflect on each other as if in a game or a puzzle.” ~ Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The game of things (installation view detail)
2016
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The game of things (installation view detail)
2016
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The game of things (installation view detail)
2016
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The game of things (installation view detail)
2016
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

 

“To collect is to gather your thoughts through things.”

“When I began collecting photographs I was thinking of the way the camera reduces the world to a list of things to photograph. I thought that to photograph was to collect the world in the form of pictures… As writer Susan Sontag said, photography is not so much a representation of the world but a piece of it. Collecting found photos is like taking cuttings from the world. For me it is a form of collage.”

“I did suggest the call the show ‘Enough Already’ but they went with ‘The Great Exhibition’. Perhaps the best thing about that is that even people who really don’t like it will still have to call it ‘The Great Exhibition’.”

“The camera reduces the world to a list of things to photograph. When I click BUY on eBay – for me that’s the equivalent of taking a photograph. The mouse is my camera.”

“As Honoré de Balzac said, “A hobby, a mania, is pleasure transformed into the shape of an idea!””

“Some things have little to do with each other until  they come into contact.”

“To collect is to look for like-minded things. One thing inevitably leads to another. When you pair one thing with another, some things start to make sense – or not. In the
end, every collection is, after all, a reflecting pool.”

“Every representation is, after all, something of a conjurer’s trick.”

“Art traditionally becalms her sitters.”

“Photography stops people in their tracks. Eventually every photograph is a photograph of a dead person. The camera is an idling hearse.”

.
Patrick Pound

 

 

Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition is the first comprehensive exhibition of the New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist. An avid collector, Patrick Pound is equally interested in systems and the ordering of objects: an attempt, perhaps, to make things coherent. As Pound says, ‘to collect is to gather your thoughts through things’.

Through complex arrangements and installations of objects drawn from the artist’s expansive archives, Pound’s work playfully and poetically explores the art of collecting, and the ways in which things can hold and project ideas. For this exhibition Pound has created several vast new collections, which he describes as ‘museums of things’. Objects that are seemingly redundant or overlooked are meticulously collected by the artist and put back into ‘use’ in these museums. There are museums of falling, sleepers, and of holes.

The Museum of there / not there houses objects ranging from a souvenir spoon to a mask, a mourning locket to a painted ruin – one thing standing in for another. Within each museum a new logic or narrative is created for the viewer to unravel or identify. In several of Pound’s museums, works from the NGV Collection are grouped into their own categories or sit alongside his ‘things’, with the artist inviting us to rethink these works and consider what it means to collect.

Text from the NGV

 

Room 3

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Pairs (and the double)' (detail) 2016-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Pairs (and the double) (detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

 

“This room started with my collection of photos of reflections, and of photos of pairs of things; of twins and double exposures. I then began researching the NGV Collection and found an abundance of “pairs and doubles”, assembled within paintings, decorative arts objects, prints and photographs.

To collect is to look for like-minded things. One thing inevitably leads to another. When you pair one thing with another, some things start to make sense – or not. In the end, every collection is, after all, a reflecting pool.”

~ Patrick Pound

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Pairs (and the double)' (detail) 2016-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Pairs (and the double) (detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Pairs (and the double)' (detail) 2016-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Pairs (and the double) (detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

William De Morgan (designer, England 1839-1917) 'Startled tigers, dish' c. 1880

 

William De Morgan & Co., London (manufacturer, England 1872-1911)
William De Morgan (designer, England 1839-1917)
Startled tigers, dish
c. 1880
Earthenware
Felton Bequest, 1980

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Man Ray (born United States 1890, lived in France 1921-39, 1951-76, died France 1976)
Solarised double portrait
1930s
Gelatin silver photograph
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Miss F. MacDonald Anderson and Mrs E. E. O. Lumsden, Founder Benefactors, 1983

Guercino (Italy 1591-1666)
Study for Esther before Ahasuerus
c. 1639
Red chalk
Felton Bequest, 1923

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Pairs (and the double) (installation view details)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Room 4

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The collection of shelves (installation view)
1999-2017
Circles 1999-2015
28 (screwed) 2004
Knife blocks 1999-2017
Things Change 2015
The Collector 2000-17
Some French things 2014
Museum darts 1989-2017
Twenty six and one books 2010
Tangled 2012-15
Blade magazine 2014
Criminal records 2012
Index cards 2012
Lost birds 1999-2014
Index photos 2013
The names 2007
Small arms 2000-17
Soldiers 2009
Lockets 1989-2016
26 brown things 2002
Site specific installation comprising objects collected by the artist
Photos: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s work Twenty six and one books 2010 (detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Twenty six and one books (installation view detail)
2010
Museum darts (detail)
1989-2017
From the work Twenty six and one books 2010
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

 

These shelves house a range of collections which Pound has been gathering over many years: they demonstrate how collections of things gradually evolved into works of art. These collections tend to be smaller than others seen throughout this exhibition, and each one operates according to a very specific constraint. Their organisational technique derives from Pound’s interest in the Oulipo group of writers and mathematicians which formed in France in 1960 and, specifically, in the writing of key member Georges Perec. Pound is fascinated by Perec’s use of restrictions in his writing as a way of encouraging new patterns and structures, and has translated some of those ideas into the formation of these collections.

In Pound’s work Twenty six and one books, 2010, each book has a number in the title, starting with Ground Zero, all the way through to Maxim Gorky’s story collection
Twenty-Six and One. The entire 26 brown things, 2002, collection was found and purchased by the artist in one shop, on the same day, with everything being – you guessed it – brown.

Like some vast novel cycle, collections reflect the world. The use of such constraints when organising the collections allows for surprising and poetic responses. If we look closely enough, things are found to reflect, to hold and to project ideas.

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Tangled' 2012-15

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Tangled' 2012-15

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Tangled (details)
2012-15
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of the exhibition Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition at NGV Australia with the work Portmanteau (2015-17) at middle centre. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography.
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Portmanteau' 2015-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Portmanteau (detail)
2015-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Portmanteau (installation view detail)
2015-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Portmanteau (installation view detail)
2015-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Portmanteau (installation view detail)
2015-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Portmanteau (installation view detail)
2015-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Portmanteau (installation view detail)
2015-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
High wire act (installation view)
2015
Collage of photographs
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The Fountainhead (installation view)
2016
Collage of photographs
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

 

Photographs, objects and curios sourced from the internet and op shops will be organised alongside artworks from the NGV Collection in a wondrous series of encyclopaedic displays for Patrick Pound’s major exhibition Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition.

An avid collector, the New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist is fascinated by the categorisation and ordering of objects. Irreverently titled The Great Exhibition, with a knowing nod to the epic ambitions of the famous London exposition of 1851, in his largest ever presentation Pound will showcase more than 50 collections, which he describes as ‘museums of things’, featuring hundreds of items from the artist’s expansive archives.

Pound has also extensively researched the scope of the NGV Collection, identifying more than 300 works from across all of the NGV collecting departments to incorporate into his ‘museums of things’. The connections that Pound draws between objects will allow audiences to see the NGV’s diverse holdings in surprising new contexts.

Among the ‘museums’, viewers will encounter vast displays of found photographs which, at closer glance, reveal their common thread, such as The hand of the photographer, a display in which the eclipsing thumb of the photographer is ever-present, and Damaged, a huge display of photographs which have been defaced by their original owners; faces marred by cigarette burns, marker or ripped out of the photo entirely.

Other ‘museums’ incorporate seemingly disparate items, like The Museum of there / Not there, which explores the idea of absence and presence, illustrated by a curated selection of objects such as an obsolete Australian $2 banknote and a mourning locket alongside a milk jug produced to commemorate the forthcoming coronation of King Edward VIII, who abdicated before he was crowned.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, commented, “Through complex arrangements of items drawn from the artist’s archives alongside works from the NGV Collection, Pound’s installations playfully explore the art of collecting, and the ways in which things can hold and project ideas. Within each museum a new logic or exciting narrative is created for the viewer to unravel or identify.”

Pound last exhibited at the NGV in the 2013 exhibition Melbourne Now with his popular “Gallery of Air”, a wunderkammer of diverse artworks and objects that held the idea of air, drawn from the NGV Collection and the artist’s archives.

Press release from the NGV

 

Room 5

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation views of the exhibition Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography.
Photos: Wayne Taylor

 

 

This room contains several of Pound’s collections which intersect with each other in various ways, revealing what the artist describes as a ‘matrix of connections’. Occasionally the collections also connect to works of art in the NGV Collection, and vice versa. The room is a vast diagrammatic network of intersections, and in that way shows one of the underlying ideas of the whole exhibition, which is to seek out patterns and similarities and connections across objects and works of art and ideas. In other words, one thing leads to another.

This installation also reflects the way in which Pound searches on the internet, and the ways in which the internet leads us from one thing to another via algorithms. The room is a visual representation of what Pound describes as ‘thinking through things’.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
In tears (installation view)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Man Ray. 'Eye and tears' 1930s, printed 1972

 

Man Ray (born United States 1890, lived in France 1921-39, 1951-76, died France 1976)
Eye and tears
1930s, printed 1972
Gelatin silver photograph
Purchased, 1973

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
With arms outstretched (installation view detail)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Drive by (en passant)' (detail) 2016-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Drive by (en passant) (detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Drive by (en passant) (installation view detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Drive by (en passant) (installation view detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Drive by (en passant) (installation view detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

 

The photographs collected by Patrick Pound include masses of family and vernacular snapshots, as well as newspaper archives and movie stills, which he describes as being ‘unhinged’ from their original sources. Pound does not create photographs in the traditional sense; rather, he spends hours searching for, sorting and buying prints on the internet. He describes this process as a form of ‘retaking’ the photograph.

The images are then organised according to an idea or theme or pattern, such as: ‘readers’, ‘the air’, ‘lamps’ or ‘listening to music’. Pound says he likes the idea of photographing something you cannot otherwise see. Unexpected connections, repetitions and coincidences emerge when the images are placed together in this way. Looking through these images reminds the viewer of the dramatic changes that have occurred in photography – not only in terms of the evolving technology of cameras and prints, but also in terms of what people photograph, why, and how these photographs are shared.

“When I began collecting photographs I was thinking of the way the camera reduces the world to a list of things to photograph. I thought that to photograph was to collect the world in the form of pictures. I love the way photography is so directly connected with the world. It has a remarkable familiarity. We all think we can understand it immediately. As writer Susan Sontag said, photography is not so much a representation of the world but a piece of it. Collecting found photos is like taking cuttings from the world. For me it is a form of collage.

Typically, the analogue photograph stopped life in its tracks. It couldn’t stop time, of course, but it could hold it up to a mirror. The vernacular snap reminds us that the camera is both a portal and a mirror. Photographers used to put photographs in albums and in boxes to be viewed and reviewed at will. Photographs were never made to be scanned and redistributed on eBay. Whether they are analogue or digital, printed photographs have an afterlife that no one saw coming. Photography used to be the medium of record. Now it is equally the medium of transmission.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Room 6

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of the exhibition Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition at NGV Australia with at left, People from behind 2016-17; at centre, People who look dead but (probably) aren’t 2011-14; and at right, The sleepers 2007-17. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography.
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

 

The exhibition ends as it began, with figures whose backs are turned to us. Alongside are images of people who are asleep for the moment, and some forever; this gallery houses images of people who are all somehow removed from us. They are absorbed in their actions; they are unconscious, or not conscious, of us as they look away. There is a peculiar aspect of voyeurism that is afforded by the camera; the people in these photographs cannot see us looking at them. The camera also has a long association with the idea of stopping time – of freezing, or embalming, fleeting moments.

As Pound says, “Photography stops people in their tracks. Eventually every photograph is a photograph of a dead person. The camera is an idling hearse.”

 

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
People who look dead but (probably) aren’t
2011-14
Gelatin silver photographs and type C photographs
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Patrick Pound
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s People who look dead but (probably) aren’t 2011-14 (installation view detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
People who look dead but (probably) aren’t (installation view detail)
2011-14
Gelatin silver photographs and type C photographs
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s The sleepers 2007-17 (installation view)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The sleepers (installation view detail)
2007–17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s People from behind 2016-17 (installation view)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
People from behind (installation view details)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising works from the NGV Collection
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Bondi' 1939, printed c. 1975

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Bondi
1939, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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12
Jul
16

Review: ‘Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31st May – 24th July 2016

National Gallery of Australia touring exhibition

Curator: Shaune Lakin

 

 

An independent vision

 

Pictorialism, Surrealism and Modernism: Light, geometry and atmosphere

This is the quintessential hung “on the line” exhibition from the National Gallery of Australia which features the work of two well respected Australian photographers, Max Dupain and Olive Cotton, showing over three gallery spaces at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. Of its type, it is a superb exhibition which rewards repeated viewing and contemplation of the many superb photographs it contains.

While Dupain may be the more illustrious of the two featured artists – notable for taking the most famous photograph in Australian photographic history (Sunbaker, 1937, below); for being the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism; and for bringing a distinctly Australian style to photography (sun, sea, sand) – it is the artist Olive Cotton’s work that steals almost every facet of this exhibition through her atmospheric images.

Dupain’s importance in the history of Australian photography cannot be underestimated. He dragged Australian photography from Pictorialism to Modernism in a few short years and met fierce resistance from the conservative camera clubs, stuck in the age of Pictorialism, because of it. He was the first to understand what Modernism meant for the medium in Australia, and how photographers would in future picture the country. He wanted to see the world through ‘modern’ eyes. As he observed, ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’ Dupain’s awareness of the ‘zeitgeist’ of modernity was coupled with a keen eye for composition, light and form (what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’), and an understanding of photography’s expressive potential. Over the next 50 years he captured many memorable images, some of the most famous images ever taken of this sun burnt country.

Dupain started to hit his straps with his early cross-over images which contained elements of both Pictorialism and Modernism. His 1930s series of three photographs of Fire Stairs at Bond Street Studio (one of which is feature in the exhibition), and images such as Design – suburbia (1933, below) and Still life (1935, below) still possess that soft, raking light that was so beloved by Pictorialists, coupled with an implicit understanding of form, geometry and light. As fellow photographer David Moore observes, by the time of photographs such as Pyrmont silos (1935, below) and Through the Windscreen (1935), ‘any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’. That sense of the European avant-garde, the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, the strength of industrial forms, imbues Dupain’s photographs with a crisp, clean decisiveness, that ‘symphony of forms and textures’. Whether it be the monumentalism of silos, or the monumentalism of bodies (such as in the classic Bondi, 1939), Dupain relished the opportunity to merge aesthetics with representation, pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible within the medium, believing that both representation and aesthetics could exist within the same frame. Evidence of this merging of can be seen in photographs such as Untitled [Factory chimney stacks] (1940, below) and Backyard, Forster, New South Wales (1940, below). These images are silent in their formalism… they are very quiet, and still, and rather haunting, beautiful in their tonality (with lots of yellow in the 8 x 10 and perhaps even small prints).

Dupain and Cotton both revel “in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present,” and evidence “a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.” But as the press release insightfully observes, “Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.” And this is where the photographs of Olive Cotton are so much more engaging, and alive, than those of Max Dupain.

While Dupain was busy running a commercial studio (with Cotton his assistant and for a couple of years his wife), Olive seems to have had more freedom to experiment, to express herself in a less structured way than her erstwhile husband. Walking around this exhibition my initial thoughts were wow, Olive Cotton, you are an absolute star. Photographs such as The way through the trees (1938, below), while not possessing the technical brilliance of a Dupain, possess something inherently more appealing – a sensitivity and feeling for subject that nearly overwhelms the senses. Truly here is a symphony of texture, light and form. The composition is a subtle paean, a song of praise to the natural and modern world – a world of geometry, textures, light and form. The rendition of this image, a performance of interpretation, is simply magnificent in its sensitivity to subject matter. The print is also glorious in its delicacy and colour. For me, this is what is so appealing about the work of Olive Cotton, an innate sensitivity that all of her photographs seem to possess – in composition, in proportion, in printing and in colour. Cotton maintained an independent vision forged out of experimentation, creating spaces for erotic imaginings, spaces for action and spaces for quiet contemplation. Her use of light and shade, of body and shadow, of classical and modernist motifs …. is superlative. While Dupain’s photographs are more structured and more dazzling in a technical sense, Cotton’s photographs possess more “atmosphere”, a complex and insightful way of seeing and imaging the world which has few equals in the annals of Australian photography.

Below is a short transcription of a voice memo I made on my phone as I toured around the exhibition for the third time:

“What a great show this is, the photographs of Max Dupain and Olive Cotton. But it is the photographs of Olive Cotton that are the wonder of this exhibition. Photographs such as Orchestration in light (1937, below), Sky submerged (c. 1937) and especially The way through the trees (1938, below) are just masterpieces of complex seeing. A sort of… mmmm … an intimate previsualisation where there are hints of Pictorialism – dappled light, moss on the trees – and yet there is a geometric form to the composition that marks it as definitively Modernist. As the wall text states, “this exceptional landscape appears at first glance like a classic Pictorialist view of the Australian bush but typical of Cotton’s best pictures, this landscape merges Pictorialism’s stylistic and formal codes  with those of a cosmopolitan modernist sensibility. Cotton pays particular attention to the similarly angled tree trunks, as well as the all over pattern of the spotted gums and the dapples of light, not bound or hemmed in dogma, Cotton created a view of being completely immersed in the landscape.” The colour of the print, there are hints of pinks and greens and beiges. When was it taken and printed, it must have been an early one, 1938 … and then again the beautiful tonality of it. Wow!

As with all of her best work Cotton is constructing her environment – through music, through geometry, through light. Over the city (1940, below), the light over the city, the shadow of the city, the silhouette of the city in outline, followed by Grass at sundown (1939, below) shooting contre jour, into the light. In Max after surfing (1937, below) there is evidence of Cotton’s understanding of the play of form, of light, of shadow and the composition of the pictorial plane into triangles, horizontals and verticals. This creates a sense of mystery within the four walls of the photograph. As art historian Tim Bonyhady observes, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. The sensuality and atmosphere of the Cotton’s are just gorgeous. Olive Cotton just has such a marvellous grasp of the construction of the picture plane using form, texture and shadow… and feeling. If had a choice I would take away most of the Cotton’s (laughs), because I think they are just amazing…”

There are so many great images in this exhibition, from both Cotton and Dupain, that is hard to know where to start. I haven’t even mentioned images such as Dupain’s sensual but commercial Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935, below), his seminal Street at Central (1939, below) with its raking light and abstraction, or Cotton’s most famous image Teacup ballet (1935, below). I could go on and on. The only disappointment with the exhibition is that, for the uninitiated, there is little to place both photographers works in the context of their time and place, other than a few The Home magazines in a couple of display cases and the wall text. There is little sense of what a tumultuous period this was in Australian history – between two world wars, during a depression, with the advent of modernity, freedom of movement through cars, White Australia policy in full swing, meat and four veg on the table, women’s place in the home, the rise of vitalism and the cult of the bronzed Aussie body and the worship of nature and the outdoors, mateship and the beach as a place of socialisation. But that is the nature of such a classic, hung “on the line” exhibition. It would have been great to see some large photographs, floor to ceiling, of the environment from which all these nearly contextless (as in a particular time and place) images emerged but this is a minor quibble. In the end, I restate that this is a stunning exhibition that is a must see for any aficionado of great Australian photography. Go see it before it closes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,685

.
Many thankx to The Ian Potter Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I like few people … to go into a room of strangers is a chore for me … I can effect a relationship, but afterwards, I think: was it worth it?”

.
Max Dupain

 

“Looking at the work of these two great Australian photographers together is enlightening; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Rarely do we get to see two great Australian artists working side-by-side in this way. And while Max Dupain’s reputation might now stand well above most other Australian photographers, this exhibition shows that Olive Cotton had a significant role to play in his development as a photographer, and was in many ways his equal.”

.
Shaune Lakin

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Gallery one

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

installation-g

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

At left, Max Dupain’s Bawley Point landscape (1938) and middle, Dupain’s Untitled [Factory chimney stacks], 1940

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s famous Sunbaker (1937) is second from the right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Olive Cotton’s most famous image, Teacup ballet (1935) at left

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935) at right

Gallery two

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Cabinet with view of The Home magazine (April 1st 1933 right) which feature the photographs of Max Dupain

Gallery three

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Street at Central (1939) left, followed by his Thin man (1936) and Olive Cotton’s Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model) (1937) at right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne
All images © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

 

Olive Cotton (1911-2003) and Max Dupain OBE (1911-1992) were pioneering modernist photographers. Cotton’s lifelong obsession with photography began at age eleven with the gift of a Kodak Box Brownie. She was a childhood friend of Dupain’s and in 1934 she joined his fledgling photographic studio, where she made her best-known work, Teacup Ballet, in about 1935. Throughout the 1930s, Dupain established his reputation with portraiture and advertising work and gained exposure in the lifestyle magazine The Home. Between 1939 and 1941, Dupain and Cotton were married and she photographed him often; her Max After Surfing is frequently cited as one of the most sensuous Australian portrait photographs. While Dupain was on service during World War II Cotton ran his studio, one of very few professional women photographers in Australia. Cotton remarried in 1944 and moved to her husband’s property near Cowra, New South Wales. Although busy with a farm, a family, and a teaching position at the local high school, Cotton continued to take photographs and opened a studio in Cowra in 1964. In the 1950s, Dupain turned increasingly to architectural photography, collaborating with architects and recording projects such as the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Dupain continued to operate his studio on Sydney’s Lower North Shore until he died at the age of 81. Cotton was in her seventies when her work again became the subject of attention. In 1983, she was awarded a Visual Arts Board grant to reprint negatives that she had taken over a period of forty years or more. The resulting retrospective exhibition in Sydney in 1985 drew critical acclaim and has since assured her reputation.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

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 photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

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

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

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max
c. 1935
gelatin silver photograph
14.8 x 14.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1998

 

 

In this highly abstracted portrait, Cotton seems to present Dupain as an athlete – perhaps, with his strangely extended arms, a hammer thrower, in an image that predates by at least two years Dupain’s own photographs of athletes outdoors. It is likely that Cotton photographed her friend in this way because of the graphic pictorial effect she wished to achieve. Cotton exploits the shape of the Rolleiflex camera’s square-format film: Dupain’s body cuts across the right-hand corner of the picture, from which his overstretched forearms (the shape and tone of which were the result of much dodging and burning in the darkroom) create a diagonal oblique angle that is classically modernist. A similar conflation of diagonal lines, which was common to the ways that modern life in Australia at the time was represented in advertising and architectural photography, can also be seen in pictures such as Surf’s edge and Teacup ballet.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

“Max Dupain put his lack of clannishness down to a temperament which inclined to the stoic and an early life as an only child. He relished the solitude of his darkroom, familiar places and routines and the early morning calm of Sydney Harbour, where he rowed his scull until prevented by ill health in the early 1990s. He was not a joiner or follower of teams; he was republican in politics and agnostic. Philosophically, Dupain mixed rationalism and a less defined alliance with the passionate exhortation to live directly in one’s environment, body and heart. This philosophy was espoused by poets and writers such as D.H Lawrence, from the movement known in the 1920s and 1930s as Vitalism.

Although he acknowledged that he was a bit of a loner by temperament, portraiture was a significant part of Max Dupain’s personal and professional work. He included some dozen or so portraits in his selection for his 1948 monograph, fifty plates showing ‘my best work since 1935’. Dupain’s images, including many portraits especially of the 1930s to 1960s, have stamped the public image of this era of rapid progress and increasing cultural sophistication in Australia. Portraiture was at the top stratum of Dupain’s first three decades of work but volume decreased markedly from the 1960s, when Max Dupain and Associates, his business, began to specialise in architectural and industrial commissions.”

‘Vintage Max’ by Gael Newton, 1 June 2003

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Sunbaker
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
37.7 x 43.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The photographer's shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The photographer’s shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
16.6 x 15.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The sleeper' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The sleeper
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
29.2 h x 25.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

The sleeper 1939, Olive Cotton’s graceful study of her friend Olga Sharp resting while on a bush picnic, made around the same time as Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, presents a different take upon the enjoyment of life in Australia. The woman is relaxed, nestled within the environment. The mood is one of secluded reverie.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]' Nd (probably late 1930s)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]
Nd (probably late 1930s)
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton shot this portrait of fellow Australian photographer, Max Dupain during their brief marriage at their home in Longueville on Sydney’s lower north shore. Dupain is captured affectionately in the portrait, represented as at once casual through pose and, as industrious on account of his rolled up sleeves and the Rolleiflex TLR camera which hangs from his neck. It is indicative of the combination of a working and personal relationship Cotton and Dupain shared during the late 1930s when they operated a commercial studio together. The couple separated in 1941 but Cotton went on to manage the Dupain Studio while Max was away serving as a camouflage officer during the Second World War 1.

1. Ennis H 2005, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, p. 6

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max after surfing' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max after surfing
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This intimate study of Dupain, who Cotton was romantically involved with at the time, first appeared in the mid-1990s; Cotton did not include it in her reassessment of her oeuvre in the mid-1980s that involved making prints of her best images. For many commentators, this remains a radical image in the history of Australian photography. For the art historian Tim Bonyhady, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. This is the only known vintage print of the image, which inexplicably carries the signature and a message from the fashion photographer George Hoyningen‑Huene, who visited Sydney in December 1937 and spent time with Dupain. It suggests perhaps that Hoyningen-Huene was present when Cotton made the print.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max after surfing is a portrait of Dupain taken in 1939, around the time of their brief marriage. While the photograph was taken indoors, the sharply delineated contrast and the dramatic interplay between light and shade evoke harsh sunlight. The work is loaded with suggestion and emotional intimacy. As art historian and curator Helen Ennis noted in 2000, the close vantage point and the tension between visible form and dense shadow ‘creates a space for erotic imaginings’.

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’.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Jean with wire mesh' c. 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Jean with wire mesh
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
46.0 h x 34.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This portrait of Jean Lorraine, a close friend of Cotton, was one of many taken of her by Cotton and Dupain. This photograph is notable for its technical virtuosity – Dupain’s control of the variegated light across Jean’s body, beautifully lyrical and sensuous, is masterful. It also reflects Dupain’s active interest in the work of Man Ray, whose earlier Shadow patterns on Lee Miller’s torso (1930) was no doubt an influence. Like Man Ray’s image of his lover, Dupain’s portrait of Jean is also notable for its eroticism. While Dupain might have argued that this photograph was a study of light falling on surfaces, the light and shade take particular pleasure in the form of Jean’s naked torso. This eroticism has been underplayed throughout the history of the picture, not surprising given the nature of the relationships involved: when it was published in The Home in February 1936, Jean with wire mesh was known simply as a Photographic study. Dupain printed at least two versions of this shot, another with Jean’s eyes open.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Girl with mirror' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Girl with mirror
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 31.7 h x 29.9 w cm sheet 32.6 h x 30.6 w cm
Purchased 1987

 

 

The photographs Cotton took while attending Dupain’s fashion shoots often focussed on the graphic effects created by light rather than fashion or the dynamics of the shoot itself. Cotton’s role as assistant left her free to explore personal interests, without the imperative of getting a shot for the assignment. This image of a model attending to her make-up, seemingly absorbed in her own image, is primarily concerned with the patterns created by light falling on sand dunes and the way they contrast with the decorative print of her clothing. It is notable that the image we see in the mirror is not the model’s face, but the patterns created by light hitting the sand. As Cotton later remembered, ‘I took it mostly because I really liked the pattern in the sand and the contrasting pattern in the left-hand corner’, which includes a series of diagonal shadows cast by Dupain’s tripod.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'The floater' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
The floater
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia
Purchased 1976

 

 

Two versions of this image of a woman floating in water were printed by Dupain, so like Sunbaker it held particular interest for him. It acknowledges one of the great moments in avant-garde photography, André Kertész’s iconic study of underwater distortion Underwater swimmer (1917). As with Kertész, Dupain’s interest was with the visual effects created by light hitting the water and the impact of this on the contours of the swimmer. In his personal copy of the anthology Modern Photography (1931), Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’ (Wall text)

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)
1937
Cronulla, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 30.4 h x 38.5 w cm sheet 40.2 h x 48.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1988

 

As the studio assistant, Cotton accompanied Dupain on fashion shoots to attend to models, doing their make-up and helping with costume changes. She often used these opportunities to take her own photographs, including this wonderful image of Dupain photographing the model Noreen Hallard for David Jones. As well as producing a striking image of Dupain and Hallard at work, Cotton was interested in the landscape in which they operated, paying particular attention to the pattern created by their footsteps in the sand.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“Olive Cotton and Max Dupain are key figures in Australian visual culture. They shared a long and close personal and professional relationship. This exhibition looks at their work made between 1934 and 1945, the period of their professional association; this was an exciting period of experimentation and growth in Australian photography, and Cotton and Dupain were at the centre of these developments.

This is the first exhibition to look at the work of these two photographers as they shared their lives, studio and professional practice. Looking at their work together is instructive; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.

This exhibition focuses on the key period in each of their careers, when they made many of their most memorable images. Keenly aware of international developments in photography, Cotton and Dupain experimented with the forms and strategies of modernist photography, especially Surrealism and the Bauhaus, and drew upon the sophisticated lighting and compositions of contemporary advertising and Hollywood glamour photography.

They brought to these influences their own, close association with the rich context of Australian life and culture during the 1930s and ’40s. Their achievement can be characterised, borrowing terms they used in discussions of their work, as the development of a ‘contemporary Australian photography’: a modern photographic practice that reflected their own, very particular relationships to the world and to each other.

Lives

Cotton and Dupain’s friendship stretched back to childhood summers spent at Newport Beach, NSW, where their families spent summer holidays. They were both given their first cameras – Kodak Box Brownies – by relatives as young teenagers, and spent days together wandering around taking photographs. They shared a similar commitment to photography as teenagers and young adults: both made and published or exhibited photographs while at school, and in 1929 they became members of the Photographic Society of New South Wales. But their approach to achieving the ‘professional life’ of a photographer took different paths: Dupain undertook a formal apprenticeship with the pictorialist master Cecil Bostock between 1930-33, while Cotton studied arts at Sydney University with the idea of becoming a teacher and photographed after hours.

Cotton and Dupain became romantically involved in 1928 and married in 1939; they separated in 1941 and eventually divorced in 1944. In spite of these personal vicissitudes, Cotton and Dupain remained professionally connected. Cotton managed the Dupain studio from late 1941-45, while he worked with the Department of Home Security’s Camouflage Unit during the Second World War. On his return, Cotton left Sydney and spent the rest of her life in relative isolation near Cowra, NSW, where she raised her family of two with husband Ross McInerney and, between 1964 and 1983, operated a small studio. And while Dupain returned from the war to develop his reputation and significance as Australia’s most recognised twentieth-century photographer, his work was deeply affected by his experience of the war and took on a completely different complexion to his work from the previous decade.

Studio

In 1934, Dupain opened a studio in a rented room at 24 Bond Street, Sydney; Cotton joined him as his assistant soon after. By 1936, the Dupain studio’s business had expanded to the extent that it moved into larger premises in the same building, before relocating in early 1941 to a whole floor of a building at 49 Clarence Street.

Their positions at the Dupain studio were clearly defined – he was the photographer, she the studio assistant. Even so, Cotton and Dupain each maintained distinct but in some ways closely aligned practices, both in and out of the studio. Cotton did not tend to take photographs commercially until after she took over the management of the Dupain studio in late 1941, when photographs were circulated in her name. Before then, she made use of the studio’s equipment afterhours, including Dupain’s large Thornton Pickard camera; her work was exhibited and published on occasion, both locally and internationally.

At the same time, Dupain’s photographs became increasingly widely-seen and influential. Sydney Ure Smith’s iconic monthly magazine The Home regularly published Dupain’s portraits, documentary work, social photographs (often actually taken by Cotton), and fashion and product photographs made for clients such as David Jones. When Dupain went to war, the studio continued to operate successfully under Cotton’s management. While some long-standing clients such as David Jones took their business elsewhere, Cotton took some of her most important pictures in the early 1940s, and her increasing confidence at this time can be identified across images of the city, industry and labour.

Dialogue

Cotton and Dupain were active members of Sydney’s network of young artists and photographers, of which the Dupain studio was a centre. Along with their contemporaries, including figures like Geoffrey Powell, Damien Parer and Lawrence Le Guay, they staked a claim for photography as a vital part of contemporary culture, exhibiting photographs alongside other artworks at venues like Sydney’s David Jones Gallery.

Their networks included members of Sydney’s progressive architectural, design, publishing and advertising communities, with whom they often collaborated. The threads of influence within this complex network of making, exhibiting, publishing and commissions were intricate. It is possible, for example, to see Dupain’s strong visual style affect those around him. His interest in surrealist style, which really took hold in 1935, can be identified in work by other, often lesser photographers working at the time, and indeed in the design of The Home, which published his work in editorial and advertisements. There were also times when Cotton indicated certain directions for Dupain. For example, her images of bodies outdoors, which cleverly pulled together classical and modernist motifs, predate similar images by Dupain.

It is clear also that Cotton and Dupain were engaging in dialogue within their own work. Their shared interest in photographing form, texture and shadow is seen across many pictures throughout the mid- to late 1930s. Their pictures also engage critically with photography as a medium, in images that draw attention to the photograph as a double of its subject, and in pictures that seem to play with photograph’s stillness. As Dupain later remembered, together they ‘shared the problems of photography’.

Contemporary Australian Photography

What were ‘the problems of photography’ that Dupain and Cotton sought to settle? In the most straightforward sense, they involved the assumption that Australian photographers were yet to completely embrace or realise the medium’s potential, which rested in careful attention to its aesthetic possibilities, recognition of its mechanical origins, and negotiation of the particular way the medium engaged notions of objectivity and subjectivity. Their solution to these problems involved a progressive photographic practice that intended to release photography from the shackles of history and orthodoxy, and to revel in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present.

Cotton’s and Dupain’s solution to ‘the problems of photography’ was to make work that made a feature of the medium’s modernity, and the strange way that mechanics, physics and aesthetics come together in modern photography to look at the world and to find beauty in it. They did this in a way that remained firmly footed in their own, very particular place in the world and history. In terms of style, their solution integrated legacies of Pictorialism – especially its interest in the atmospheric effects found in landscape – with a range of other, often competing modes and styles: a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.

It is possible that, for the first time, Australian photography found in the work of Cotton and Dupain a contemporary expression: a photographic practice that emerged from, responded to and expressed the mood, ambitions and sensibility of its time.”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Two different versions of this photograph. Notice the different cropping and colour of each image, and how it adds emphasis to the light and to the shadows of the people.

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Teacup ballet' 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Teacup ballet
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
37.5 x 29.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

‘This picture evolved after I had bought some inexpensive cups and saucers from Woolworths for our studio coffee breaks to replace our rather worn old mugs. The angular handles reminded me of arms akimbo, and that led to the idea of making a photograph to express a dance theme.

When the day’s work was over I tried several arrangements of the cups and saucers to convey this idea, without success, until I used a spotlight and realised how important the shadows were. Using the studio camera, which had a 6 ½ x 4 ½ inch ground glass focusing screen, I moved the cups about until they and their shadows made a ballet-like composition and then photographed them on a cut film negative. The title of the photograph suggested itself.

This was my first photograph to be shown overseas, being exhibited, to my delight, in the London Salon of Photography in 1935.’ Olive Cotton 1995 1

Olive Cotton and Max Dupain were childhood friends and, although she graduated in English and mathematics from the University of Sydney in 1934, her interest in photography led her to work in Dupain’s studio from this year. Cotton was employed as a photographer’s assistant in the studio, however she worked assiduously on her own work and continued to exhibit in photography salon exhibitions. Tea cup ballet is one of Cotton’s most well-known photographs and yet it is somewhat eccentric to her main practice, being at first glance typically modernist with its dramatic lighting and angular shapes. Her longstanding interest in organic forms provides a deeper reading. The abstraction of form by the lighting and the placement of the cups and saucers enables the relationship to dancers on a stage to become clear.

1. Ennis H 1995, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, Canberra p. 25

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Among Cotton’s most famous photographs, Teacup ballet has very humble origins. It was taken after hours in the Dupain studio and used a set of cheap cups and saucers Cotton had earlier bought from a Woolworths store for use around the studio. As she later recounted: ‘Their angular handles suggested to me the position of “arms akimbo” and that led to the idea of a dance pattern’. The picture uses a range of formal devices that became common to Cotton’s work, especially the strong backlighting used to create dramatic tonal contrasts and shadows. The picture achieved instant success, and was selected for exhibition in the London Salon of Photography for 1935.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Shasta daisies' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Shasta daisies
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

 

Celebrated Australian photographer Olive Cotton was given her first Box Brownie by her family for her eleventh birthday (1922) and continued to experiment with taking and developing pictures throughout the 1920s. By the early 1930s Cotton had mastered the Pictorialist style so popular at the time and was on her way to establishing her own approach which also incorporated Modernist principles. The recurrent themes of landscape and plant-life are important to the photographer’s approach, which photography scholar Helen Ennis describes as Cotton’s concern for the ‘potential for pattern-making’.

Shasta daisies is an interesting and rare combination of natural form and a highly-constructed scenario, the flowers having been photographed in Cotton’s studio and carefully arranged for the camera. Cotton, in the 1995 book, wrote of the photograph: “I chose to photograph these in the studio because out of doors I would have had less control of the lighting and background. I examined the composition very carefully through the studio camera’s large ground glass focussing screen and – the view from the camera’s position being slightly different to my own – made as many rearrangements to the flowers as seemed necessary. I then used (apart from a background light) one source of light to try and convey a feeling of outdoors.” Shasta daisies is important within Cotton’s oeuvre for uniting her interest in plants in their natural ‘outdoors’ environment with her enquiry into photographic form and space.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Homage to D.H. Lawrence' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Homage to D.H. Lawrence
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
45.8 x 33.9 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Dupain admired vitalist philosophies, which argued that modern identity had become fragmented and asserted the importance of the integration of body and emotion, of sensual and emotional experience. He was attracted to the work of British writer D.H. Lawrence, especially his insistence on the ‘thingness’ of things as a way of embodying a properly integrated mind and body. This photograph uses surrealist juxtaposition to draw together a copy of Lawrence’s Selected poems, a flywheel (representing the modern world) and a classical bust, recalling the idealised relationship of natural and sensual worlds in ancient Greece and Rome. Other images incorporating classical busts appeared in the pages of the Modern Photography annuals, but Dupain makes them his own, lifted above mere pastiche.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Orchestration in light' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Orchestration in light
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 24.1 h x 27.4 w cm sheet 25.4 h x 28.2 w cm
Purchased with assistance from the Helen Ennis Fund
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton took this landscape early one morning at Wullumbi Gorge in the New England tablelands, during a camping trip with Dupain. It is remarkable for both the way the light transforms the landscape into quivering energy and the way Cotton makes sense of that enigmatic experience in pictorial form. As its title suggests, the photograph recalled for Cotton – who trained as a musician as a girl – a musical composition, particularly ‘the beautiful graduation in tone going from a bass tone to a high treble at the top of the picture’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The patterned road' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The patterned road
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
24.6 h x 28.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Bawley Point landscape' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Bawley Point landscape
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29 x 26.6 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This landscape, one of many taken by Dupain on the south coast of New South Wales, was made in the same year as Cotton’s similar study of shadow and landscape, The patterned road (above). These two landscapes share an interest in what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’. Although Dupain rarely published or circulated his landscapes at this time, pictures such as Bawley Point landscape certainly relate to a broad range of other images, perhaps most notably still lifes and nudes, that articulated an Australian modernist photography through the interplay of light passing through openings. These images find monumental stillness in movement and strong shadows, which quite literally ‘double’ their subject.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Over the city' 1940

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Over the city
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
32.2 h x 30.3 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Grass at sundown' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Grass at sundown
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
Primary Insc: Signed and dated l.l. pencil, “Olive Cotton ’39”. Titled l.r. pencil, “Grass at sundown”.
Printed image 28.9 h x 30.8 w cm sheet 30.0 h x 31.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Design - suburbia' 1933

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 – 1992)
Design – suburbia
1933
Gelatin silver photograph
29.4 h x 23.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This early image proudly displays the influence of the work of pictorialist photographers that Dupain knew well, most notably the Sydney-based photographer, Harold Cazneaux. At the time Dupain made this image, he was serving an apprenticeship in the commercial studio of Cecil Bostock, a Pictorialist and founding member with Cazneaux of the Sydney Camera Circle in 1916. Dupain’s interest in the pictorial effects created by light passing through apertures (here, the posts and beams of a suburban fence) seems to remember similar images of light streaming through blinds and pergolas by Cazneaux, who Dupain called ‘the father of modern Australian photography’. The fascination with capturing light as it passes through openings will stay with Dupain throughout his life, though the focus will sharpen as he moves away from the diffused effects favoured by art photographers in the early decades of the century.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Still life' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 – 1992)
Still life
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 h x 20.8 w cm
Purchased 1982

 

 

While the subject of this photograph seems to be a simple, lidded pail (which featured in a number of Dupain’s still lifes) seen in morning light, it is actually an exercise in abstraction. Of most interest to Dupain is the complex network of diagonal lines created by light, shadow and timber boards. The picture reflects the pleasure Dupain took in the pictorial effects created by light (he was fond of quoting the Belgian photographer Léonard Misonne’s dictum, ‘the subject is nothing, light is everything’), and at the same time expresses the fundamental principle upon which his photographic practice was always based. While the image of light passing through apertures is an analogy for the way the camera operates, the still life also embodies photography’s expressive potential. As Dupain later stated, ‘with still-life you can arrange or rearrange or do what you like, it becomes a very, very personal exercise that you have total control over’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain. 'Pyrmont silos' 1933, printed later

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Pyrmont silos
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 25.2 h x 19.2 w cm sheet 31.2 h x 26.2 w cm mount 42.4 h x 32.0 w
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Max Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism, and took a number of photographs of Pyrmont silos in the 1930s. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power. Olive Cotton’s Drainpipes 1937 shows the precisely formed circles and curves of the pipes, interspersed with slivers of light and long shadows.

In almost text-book fashion, this image reflects Dupain’s assimilation of the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, which he encountered in publications such as the Das Deutsche Lichtbild [The German photograph] and Modern Photography annuals, the 1932 edition of which was edited by Man Ray. While Dupain’s relationship to the contemporary world was complicated, he nonetheless advocated for the latest photographic trends out of Europe and America, and for photographing modern, industrial subjects; as he asserted in 1938, ‘great art has always been contemporary in spirit’. Writing in 1975 about this image for Dupain’s retrospective at the Australian Centre for Photography, fellow photographer David Moore, who had worked with Dupain in the late 1940s, saw it as a turning point in Dupain’s career, believing that here ‘his awareness of the strength of industrial forms was confirmed with confident authority … From this moment any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Pyrmont silos is one of a number of photographs that Dupain took of these constructions in the 1930s. In all cases Dupain examined the silos from a modernist perspective, emphasising their monumentality from low viewpoints under a bright cloudless sky. Additionally, his use of strong shadows to emphasise the forms of the silos and the lack of human figures celebrates the built structure as well as providing no sense of scale. Another photograph by Dupain in the AGNSW collection was taken through a car windscreen so that the machinery of transport merges explicitly with industrialisation into a complex hard-edge image of views and mirror reflections. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power.

Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace modernism. One of his photographs of the silos was roundly criticised when shown to the New South Wales Photographic Society but Dupain forged on regardless with his reading, thinking and experimentation. Some Australian painting and writing had embraced modernist principles in the 1920s, but as late as 1938 Dupain was writing to the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Great art has always been contemporary in spirit. Today we feel the surge of aesthetic exploration along abstract lines, the social economic order impinging itself on art, the repudiation of the ‘truth to nature criterion’ … We sadly need the creative courage of Man Ray, the original thought of Moholy-Nagy, and the dynamic realism of Edouard [sic] Steichen.”1

1. Dupain, M 1938, “Letter to the editor,” in Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Backyard, Forster, New South Wales' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Backyard, Forster, New South Wales
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
30.5 h x 30.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

This highly formal view of the backyard of a hotel in the coastal town of Forster embodies Dupain’s sense of Australian modernist photography. The picture’s frontalism and overriding use of horizontals and verticals acknowledge that the camera faced its subject face-to-face and that the view has been consciously framed. But as the title of the photograph makes clear, it is also a record of a particular place. In his personal copy of G.H. Saxon Mills’ essay ‘Modern photography’, which greatly assisted Dupain to conceptualise his own sense of a contemporary photographic practice, Dupain highlighted and annotated with a question mark the following statement: ‘”modern” photography means photography whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary or representational.’ Dupain believed that both were possible within the same frame.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) '(Factory chimney stacks)' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
[Factory chimney stacks]
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
49.0 h x 38.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’

These factory chimney stacks are reduced to their most simple and direct form, which is shown free of any distraction. As Dupain noted, borrowing from the great American architectural historian Lewis Mumford, the ‘mission of the photograph is to clarify the subject’. The choice of subject matter was influenced by an essay by the English journalist, G.H. Saxon Mills, written in 1931 and read by Dupain soon after: ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The way through the trees' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The way through the trees
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.6 h x 29.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'An old country homestead, Western Australia' 1946

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
An old country homestead, Western Australia
1946
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 3 8344 5148

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The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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