Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Visual Abundance on Earth and Beyond

VISUAL ABUNDANCE- Claudia Terstappen
Abundance is the first word that comes to mind when describing photography on show in Australia in September. Sydney, as usual, pulses with exhibitions. Sandy Edwards is as busy as a bee in a bottle with shows opening with Peter Elliston and Pete Longworth. Conny Dietzschold’s MultipleBox Gallery in Danks Street, Waterloo is the kind of gallery that believes its strength lies in diversity. Connie is currently showing Claudia Terstappen/Place and Spirit colour photographs until September 23. You’re likely to find anything from works on paper to painting, books and small sculpture in the Danks Street gallery. Connie has also maintained a presence in showing fine art photography, both in this Sydney space and the sister Dietzschold gallery in Cologne, Germany. I remember vividly a thoughtful exhibition a couple of years ago of Australian expatriate Steven Roach's photographs. Roach is now comfortably marooned in Tuscany with his Italian wife Fabrizia and their children. (The Australian expatriate was showing emotionally complex triptych works, one of which had recently been published in the New Yorker - as an illustration for a short story) Claudia Terstappen looks for the connections between religion, superstition and technology in deceptively simple, highly detailed images that make a virtue of repetition - either of objects or textures. I have long believed that art that uses repetition as a visual device exploits our deep seated instinct that multiple imagery reflects abundance - and therefore assured survival. It would appear no accident that Terstappen studied with Andreas Gursky, another photographic artist to find visual poetry within the immense symbols, and rituals, of Western consumerism.

The Best Years of Our Lives opens at the Bett Gallery 369 Elizabeth Street, North Hobart on September 11 and continues until the end of October. Koska is yet another artist who manufactures his realities before photographing them. His tableaux are almost inevitably domestic - bleak, highly detailed and yet with hidden elements suggesting change may be about to occur. Koska frequently uses the universal ritual of a family evening meal as his heartland. In the key image for this exhibition the generations of a family are clearly divided. Only the parents engage with each other while the male youth and young girl (brother and sister?) are divided by differing dress and attitude. Capturing detail as precisely as a Dutch Master, Koska’s view of the world is rich in evidence of life, but frozen emotionally. As such his view of society is honest to the point of discomfort. Compositional elegance (and evidence of wit carefully concealed within his decor) saves Brozka from sliding beneath emotional bleakness.

Elliston has been an enduring presence in Australian photography for decades, especially in landscape imagery. Originally his work shone with the classic virtues of poetic black and white observation of the landscape. I remember particularly his subtly composed sandscapes from Nadgee and shards of shimmering ice observed within rivers. More recently Elliston has been absorbed by the presence of humanity and the marks left behind. These recent, highly detailed observations from the Indian subcontinent invite the viewer to submerge themselves in the intense detail Elliston provides. Interestingly, Elliston has been to Chandigarh (scene of some of Cartier-Bresson’s most memorable pictures from the subcontinent) and photographed the sculptural forms of its famous observatory with a restrained, almost staid vision, compared to that left to us by the late French master. Until September 19 at the STORM GALLERY, 65-67 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills,

IRON and ICON - Mike Ware
Of all galleries in Sydney, with the possible exception of Point Light, the Meyer Gallery consistently shows the alternative photographic processes that have evolved over the three differing centuries in which photography has flourished. Far from disappearing beneath a digital tsunami, these elegant techniques are finding new and discerning audiences. Photographer Dr. Mike Ware has studied these techniques and revised the iron-based printing methods that were originally signposted in 1842 by that scientific giant of the 19th century, Sir John Herschel. Herschel discovered that light-sensitive salts of iron could be used to make prints in the pigment Prussian blue, gold (chrysotype), and silver (argentotype) The results are still with us to bring new pleasure and may be viewed amongst the Mary Meyer Gallery’s extensive holdings.

In the meantime Mary Meyer is very excited about her new display of American photographer Karl P. Koenig’s work at her gallery. Koenig is clearly an artist as much attracted to making pictures as to the printing process used. Koenig possesses a coherent, subtly coloured photographic vision. Meyer is showing an interesting selection of images made by Koenig - using the classic photogravure process (right)- as well as Gumoil prints (at left), a technique especially developed by this American fine-art photographer. Until October 4.

Tali Udovich continues her love affair with rock and roll at Paddington’s Blender Gallery with a new exhibition opening on September 17 celebrating the importance of Gibson and Epiphone guitars to popular music. Think of the rumbling, soaring riff from Jimi Hendrix (at left), launching into “All Along The Watchtower”, and his favourite instrument was a 'Flying V' guitar from Gibson. “Gibson Through The Lens” features some of the world’s most accomplished, prolific rock photographers such as the legendary Jim Marshall, Mick Rock, Ross Halfin, Neal Preston,, Bob Gruen, Baron Wolman and Robert Knight.

WONDERLAND - Misadventures with a plastic camera - Pete Longworth
Pete Longworth’s naive, soft focus images made with simple plastic cameras are currently showing at Connie Dietzschold second Danks Street gallery MULTIPLEBOX Along with alternate (and arcane) processes, there seems to be a revival in interest in pictures made using rudimentary cameras - such as the plastic Holga or Diana. Far from limiting photographers, simple technology seems to challenge artists to transcend their camera's sometimes primitive virtues. Longworth is one such artist and his images at MULTIPLEBOX capture moments of innocent pleasure. (see right) At 2 Danks Street, Waterloo, Sydney. Until September 23

BREATHE - Chris Ireland
This surprisingly elegant visual protest by Sydney photographer Chris Ireland is against the excesses of asbestos pollution, and has opened at the Latrobe Regional Valley Gallery in 138 Commercial Road, Morwell, Victoria. In a series of gently moving environmental portraits, Ireland photographs the surviving widows of asbestosis victims in quiet, open compositions. Ireland’s empathy with his subjects is both remarkable and unsentimental. “Breathe” will move to NSW after which it will tour to the U.S.

AUSTRALIAN PHOTOGRAPHY 1858-2009 - Josef Lebovic Gallery
This exhibition covers such a wide range - from the 1850's to this year,” says Josef Lebovic proudly of his latest show. “It’s a microcosm of Australian photography over three centuries - an overview ... that (hopefully) entertains." Australian Photography includes familiar masterpieces such as a 1920's Life Class by Harold Cazneaux, David Moore’s enduring “Redfern Interior 2, 1949" and Wolfgang Sievers’epic 1967 depiction of technology, “Gears for Mining Industry, Vickers Ruwolt ". On a lighter side, there is also Philip Quirk’s colour image of a rainbow elegantly bisecting fertile Mallee landscape in 1983. Perhaps the biggest surprises within Lebovic’s scholarly display were seven rare diarist images made by Max Dupain in 1937 on a camping expedition to Culburra Beach on the NSW south coast - during which he would take his most famous photograph “The Sunbaker”(below left). These seven photographs document the holiday that would become famous. The face of Harold Salvage, friend of Max Dupain and subject for the Sunbaker, is finally revealed, as well as his athletic torso, as he is seen shouldering an axe.(below right) Dupain’s first wife, Olive Cotton, also appears in another diarist Dupain observation, sitting in the shade amongst a group (above centre) that includes Salvage, his future wife, Gladys Harrison and an unnamed woman. These are not merely portraits showing the formative years of the grand old man of Australian photography. Dupain's pictures instead tell the story of seven young men and women, enjoying what were probably their last carefree days in the Australian landscape - two years before global war would change everything. Until September 19.

POINT LIGHT GALLERY- the first thirteen years
The first of three exhibitions celebrating the thirteen years of Point Light’s existence as a gallery specializing in fine international and Australian B&W photography begins on September 5. Point Light is unique in Sydney in that it not only shows photographs, but also teaches fine, silver-based black and white technique (and Platinum-Palladium) in a state of the art traditional 'wet' darkroom. In their first celebratory show, images as widely differing as George Tice’s “Two Amish Boys” (left) share gallery space with Anne Lynam’s graphic “Central Park, NY” and Richard O’Farrell’s “Savitri”, which recently won the Olive Cotton portrait prize. Until October 11.

BEYOND VISIBILITY: light and dust
Coincidentally during the same month the refurbished Hubble Telescope is sending new images from outer space that quite literally astonish us, there is a provocative exhibition in Sydney that echoes these discoveries. Three artists, astronomer David Malin, indigenous artist Gulumbu Yunupingu and Felicity Spear each attempt to address the infinite within the clean spaces of the UTS Gallery. As Malin says, “to reveal part of the natural world ... beyond unaided vision ...” The astronomer argues that studying the cosmos is relevant to our existence because “... we ourselves are made from stardust. If ... stars had not existed, neither would we.”
What is engrossing in this exhibition, curated by Spear and Malin, is the commonality shared by all three artists. Each, with differing ways and artistic means, deal with limitless vistas - beyond simple understanding. Yunupingu’s painted hollow logs are pearlescent with Pointillist colour that mirrors the northern Nhulunbuy night sky. Spear’s reconstructed shards of light and colour also suggest a skyscape with no clear point of visual anchoring. “Deep Field” by Spear, shows the physical world to be as soundly fractured as portraiture was by Cubism. Malin’s astronomical photographs, some of the last to be made using orthodox non-digital photography, are both exhilarating and humbling. One particular image reminded me of the mud opals found in the landscape of Arkeringa, in northern South Australia, where, coincidentally, ELDO launched their somewhat primitive rockets into space in 1969. Once, on the way to Uluru with artist Kate Burness, I saw one of these rockets lose its bearings and giddily wander across the high South Australian sky. Malin’s “Light Echo from a Super Nova, 1987" deals with much greater moments, encompassing events we may only pretend to digest, rather like listening to the way physicists airily chat about the Big Bang (without a word about what may have existed before). I gave up deciphering the rich ochres of this image and simply revelled in the Malin picture’s resemblance to the opals I once saw, so long ago, near Woomera. Until October 9.

Closer to earth, documentary photographer Jon Lewis has ‘put a human face to climate change” by photographing the citizens of Kiribati, a tiny Pacific island nation
facing the rising sea levels caused by global warming. Lewis has had a long involvement with environmental issues and their political effects, being at the birth of Greenpeace
during their first, dangerous confrontations with the whaling industry decades ago. More recently his concerns have found him photographing the effects of seismic political change in Bougainville and East Timor. These new photographs, on display at the UTS Level 4 Exhibition space, have Lewis’ familiar visual signature, capturing islanders’ sand-strewn faces both in close-up and razor sharp, wide-angle environmental observation. There are no neat photojournalistic signatures in these portraits, showing how close rising sea levels may be. Instead Lewis shows Kiribati’s men, women and children, the sun-drenched beaches they share, with the strong inferrence of their imminent disappearance. “Kiribati will cease to exist as a country in 30 years,” states Lewis bluntly, “Every child I photographed will not see adulthood in their homeland and (eventually) a hundred thousand people from Kiribati will have to be absorbed by a host country, (where) as yet undecided. It’s irreversible. It’s gone too far. (Even) if we went to zero emissions tomorrow, Kiribati would still be finished.”
Lewis’s black and white pictures are drenched with light and reveal the sculptural physicality of the islanders (at Left and Above). The clear invitation in these pictures is to recognize their (and our) changing future. “It was a Kiribati man that taught me that climate change is about people. Until now our understanding has been about polar bears and glaciers ... this Kiribati project is about people.” Until October 8

CROOKS LIKE US - Peter Doyle
Peter Doyle’s new book of anonymous Police photographs of criminals (ISBN 9781876991340 $49.95 Published by Historic House Trust ) is drawn from images held in Sydney’s Justice & Police Museum. These Australian citizens from the nation’s most prosperous city personally chart the counterpoint to success in Post-Federation Australia. Doyle has assembled a haunting suite of photographs that reveals the faces of men and women pursuing lust and larceny amongst Sydney’s meaner streets in the early 20th century. As I looked at these accurately observed portraits by the Police photographers of the time - my thoughts strayed to Scottish & American photographer Alexander Gardner’s disturbing 1865 portrait (above right) of Lincoln assassination co-conspirator Lewis Payne. (I have always been seduced by equivalence in art) Doyle has unearthed Sydney citizens with similar looks of social dislocation, clearly at sea with society - a half century later and a world away from Payne - though nobody in this book carries the weight of having conspired to murder a President. “Crooks Like Us” is resonant with men and women’s faces, out of their depth, and besieged by the consequences of crimes great and small. As Luc Sante, author of Evidence and Kill All Your Darlings, eloquently writes in CROOKS LIKE US, “In their richness, the pictures and the text, set against the banality of the circumstances, declare that everyone is interesting and beautiful, and that every story is worth telling.” Photographs from the book are on display at the Police & Justice Museum following the book’s launch on September 15.

EMPIRE LINE - Robyn Stacey
Australian fine art photography is blessed with photographers who embrace the static virtues and beauty of the still life image - but not merely for the elegant arranging of pleasing visual elements. Artists such as Marian Drew and Anna-Maryke find visual joy in placing their humble subjects in unusual contexts before their cameras. While Anna-Maryke celebrates the perishable, transient virtues of food, among other subjects, Drew uses the approaching menace of mortality as an enduring, darker flavour within her work. Robyn Stacey shares this virtue but adds the subtler resonances of history. A story is always suspended, often hidden, within her elegant compositions, cemented by fine photographic craft.(above) Empire Line at STILLS Gallery is no exception. As Craig Judd writes in the catalogue, “... works in this exhibition are made as echoes and resonances ... “Empire Line” not only talks about role of desire in the transport of taste and knowledge systems, but also reveals once again the ongoing fascination with and strength of the still life tradition.” Until October 24.

For the opening of Lismore’s new Art Space (1 Norris Street, off Hunter Street) Ted Harvey is showing his “Fotographs from Brazil” and selected photographs taken at Led Zeppelin’s 1972 Sydney concert. Harvey is hoping that revenue raised from the sale of the Led Zeppelin images - and his poignant, unsentimental observations of Brazilian children - will change the lives of these underprivileged souls. “All proceeds ... go to sponsoring children to be part of a Compassion Australia Project in northern Brazil,” says Harvey, adding “the Federal Government offers generous tax breaks for businesses purchasing art works costing more than $1000. This will encourage small business owners to buy and display a photograph (which will) help the children of Forteleza. Art work(s) bought before December 31 and displayed on ... premises for a year, earn an extra tax deduction of 50%." (These tax breaks are available for businesses with a turnover of less than $2 million.) Harvey hopes funds raised will enable 100 children to be sponsored in Fortaleza in northern Brazil. A moving film showing the difficult lives children lead among the rubbish at Brazil’s Netaroi tip is also be part of this exhibition.
“As well as providing a place to work, Lismore Art Space will see a group of artists working in a hub, allowing networks and collaborations to flourish,” Harvey added.
‘Fotographs from Brazil’ will also be open on Saturday and Sunday September 19 and 20 from 9am to 4pm.

ARTISTIC PERSONALITIES - Various Photographers
As a result of recent acquisitions, the Art Gallery of South Australia are exhibiting portraits of Australia’s artistic personalities - including Charles P. Mountford’s picture of indigenous painter Albert Namatjira, an impossibly youthful art critic Robert Hughes (left) photographed by David Potts in 1954 and David Simpson’s observation of actor and dancer David Gulpilil. I should add that there are also images taken by myself in this display - featuring performers Judy Davis, Robyn Archer and Geoffrey Rush. From July 31.

As I left the Charles Hewitt Gallery after seeing Tamara Dean’s “The Bride” exhibition, I crossed a lane outside their carpark and saw a tiny mobile phone apparently lying on the pavement. I looked closer and saw that around it had been painted a lurid blue, to offset the footpath into which it had been pressed. Where once were numerals and words, LIES had been spelt in large, raised capital letters. I thought immediately of Arthur Stace, a strange nocturnal presence in the Sydney of the 1930's who was obsessed with words in streets - moving by night and writing the word ‘Eternity’ with chalk, in immaculate script on footpaths throughout the city. Stace’s inspiration had came in St Barnabas’s Church on Broadway where evangelist John Ridley was delivering a sermon. “He was a powerful preacher,” recalled Stace, “shouting, 'I wish I could shout Eternity through the streets of Sydney.' He repeated himself and kept shouting, 'Eternity, Eternity', and his words were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write 'Eternity'. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket, and I bent down right there and wrote it. I've been writing it at least 50 times a day ever since, and that's 30 years ago. The funny thing is that before I wrote it I could hardly write my own name. I had no schooling and I couldn't have spelled 'Eternity' for a hundred quid. But it came out smoothly, in a beautiful copperplate script. I couldn't understand it, and I still can't. I've tried and tried, but 'Eternity' is the only word that comes out in copperplate. I think Eternity gets the message across, makes people stop and think.” (above right: Arthur Stace writing Eternity. Photograph by FairfaxPhotos)
Looking down at the mobile phone, almost pressed flat into the bitumen, the word LIES seemed more like a silenced scream - quite the opposite of Stace’s humble reminder of the ultimate destination we all face.

IMAGE/TECH - why so few Digital Coupled Rangefinder cameras?
I was looking with some affection at my battered, black Voigtlander Bessa R2 the other day - a camera I depended on when photographing either social issues, or theatrical performance, in difficult light. While I relied on SLR's and high speed medium telephoto lenses (such as Canon's pioneering, aspherical 85mm f1.2) for close-ups and reaching across difficult foregrounds, I found the Bessa R2 and its fine 35mmf1.2 M-Nokton to be dependable when I absolutely had to get it sharp, under adverse lighting. Why, I thought, hadn't the imaginative, adventurous CEO of Cosina Inc. Mr. Kobayashi brought out a full frame digital coupled rangefinder camera (perhaps of 10-15 megapixels) to exploit the number of excellent Voigtlander, Zeiss and Leica lenses now available. This thought also surfaced as I read of the U.S. launch of the new Leica M9 full frame digital coupled rangefinder camera - albeit at a stellar price. Surely there was a growing digital CRF camera market to set against a declining market share for film-based cameras (though I, and others, periodically still shoot film with M- mount CRF cameras.) I include a picture here that I think demonstrates the strength of these cameras in capturing a moment at the technical limit (the lens was wide open at f1.2 and 1/60th second) during the 2004 performance given by talented Sydney singer and actress, Pippa Grandison, in a play called "Tragedy a Tragedy", staged by Hair of The Dog Theatre Company. Time will tell.

Text Copyright 2009 Robert McFarlane