Sunday, April 18, 2010

Landscape Photography

I have just been reminded that there is still time for Australian photographers to enter one of this country's most accessible, beautifully presented and rewarding photographic competitions - "Sydney Life". (submissions close 5pm Tuesday, May 25) As part of the City of Sydney's free public arts festival "Art & About", this annual event is remarkable for three things - displaying works chosen in beautifully reproduced, bedsheet sized images along the length of the central walkway (pictured in 2009 in photograph by Sharon Hickey, above) bisecting Sydney's Hyde Park North - from the Archibald Fountain to Park Street. The second is the quality of the images themselves. I have never been bored by judges' choices in past competitions with the quality of entries being consistently high. This year I would hope to assist in continuing this tradition as I have been invited to join judges - Arthere producer and Stills Gallery curator Sandy Edwards, artist and curator Ace Bourke and the City of Sydney's Director of City Engagement, Alastair Walton. The third tier of this competition is the generousity of the "Sydney Life Prize", for the most outstanding entry - $10,000. Entrants whose works are chosen for display also receive a $400 appearance fee. Judges are looking for original, non-stereotypical ways of portraying life in Australia's great harbour city. All is explained in the "Sydney Life" artist's brief and entry form at
The founding Director of Fotofreo, Bob Hewitt, credits me with re-naming this remarkable biennial photography celebration, Fotofreo-athon because of this event's complexity and the sheer endurance needed to celebrate the medium, as so comprehensively presented in Fremantle. That photography maintains it artistic primacy despite the emergence of new media - HD video, 3D Motion Pictures and the viral, fast-growing social networks on the internet - reflects its power. As both a conveyance for the often appalling business of the planet, as well as a dynamic fine-art medium - photography continues to grow, unabated. It is now equally at home as a documentary medium as well as the conceptual, constructivist way of making photographs. This year's Fotofreo, however, strongly orientated to what Bob Hewitt described to me as 'conflict photography', perhaps too much so, he casually confided on my final, rushed trip to Perth airport after everything was over. However, the answer to this enduring question is elusive. Unpalatable as it is, news of tragic events is important and needs such remarkable, courageous talents as David Dare Parker, Martine Perret and Philip Blenkinsop (all present and exhibiting at Fotofreo) to bring it to us. Would we rather the alternative be (photographic) silence?
Fremantle in Extremis
On reflection, Fotofreo appears perfectly suited to a city such as Fremantle - a relaxed, unpretentious community where living comfortably appears the norm. Except for the explosive moment which occurred during my floor talk for "Received Moments" at the Fremantle Art Centre. After generous introductions by Bob Hewitt and Graham Howe of Curatorial Assistance the heavens opened and the most severe electrical storm to hit Fremantle (and Perth) for decades, descended upon us. For a moment we were deafened by thunder and mounted pictures began to swing alarmingly away from the walls - especially my 1963 portrait of Charlie Perkins. "Is that you, Charlie?" I adlibbed to faint amusement. The storm continued for hours, causing the cancellation of several Fotofreo openings and leaving the city bruised by hail and briefly flooded (pictured, above). Several days later we gathered in the late afternoon at Bob and Helen Hewitt's home for a relaxed Indian dinner. Here, as in previous Fotofreos, were some of the reasons why this well organised, inclusive gathering of photography lovers grows so naturally. Blenkinsop (pictured above) brushed shoulders with Sandy Edwards just arrived from Sydney - and Peter Eve recently back from documenting the genius inherent in indigenous Aussie Rules, as played by Tiwi islanders. Laura Beilby, formerly from Magnum in Paris, administered Fotofreo (with Amelia Twiss) without any panic, taking much of the load from overworked Fotofreo stalwarts such as Dare Parker and Hewitt. Dean Sewell and Tamara Dean were also present - both as eloquent as ever about the blurring lines between narrative and conceptual photography. Fotofreo also seems to have taken a leaf from Adelaide's Arts Festival know-how by including a flourishing series of Fringe events. Dean Dampney NSW had an unsentimental, delightfully honest exhibition of B&W pictures, on show until April 11 "From Innocence and Back" mostly of the world of children (pictured, above) at Early Work Gallery run by Kate Lindsay (pictured above R) Jennifer Schulz took her "Finding Places" exhibition of landscapes to University of Western Australia, with some scenes quite prosaic - others distinctly illusionist. Schulz, (pictured above L) transformed a section of W.A.'s famous Wave Rock, making it seem more liquid than stone) And in an all too brief conversation with the ever acute Blenkinsop he lamented the increasing need for speed in media - especially photography. Still shooting film for assignments but carrying a Nikon D90 SLR ("it's for the [HD] video", he explained) this remarkable 'conflict' photographer did not appear even close to succumbing to digital image-making. Another fine photographer still shooting film, this time colour, was Brad Rimmer (pictured L) who had instead returned to the rural Western Australian wheat belt where he grew up, to photograph for his book SILENCE. Rimmer's photographs were distinguished by capturing his subjects during long, revealing moments - and seemingly trivial pictures such as extravagant skid marks on country roads - the dangerous calligraphy left by boredom in the bush.
Fotofreo continues in Fremantle until April 18
Jim Marshall (1936-2010) has also now left the building.
Jim Marshall, one of Rock and Jazz music's finest photographers has died in his sleep in New York at the age of 74. Famous for his documentation of the explosive music counter-culture in the U.S. during the 1960's and 70's, Marshall, perhaps best known for his work for Rolling Stone magazine, captured a generation of musicians with affection, insight and above all, intimacy. Capable of containing a 1968 performance by the Grateful Dead (pictured above) in Haight Street, San Franscisco for over 100,000 fans into a single, intimate photojournalistic observation, taken from the stage on which the band was performing, Marshall has left us a priceless archive from a turbulent era. Marshall's photography of rock and jazz was most recently exhibited in Australia last October by Blender Gallery in Sydney's Paddington. "I am planning to mount a retrospective (exhibition) to commemorate Jim's life's work as soon as possible," said Blender Gallery director Tali Udovich.
Bromoils of Ancient Italia
Just as I headed East after an exhausting but rewarding six days at Fotofreo, an interesting range of exhibitions are on view in Sydney and Melbourne. Rather than focus on one exhibition, I will simply draw your attention to shows you might find rewarding - or perhaps challenging. In Sydney Tony Peri swimming harder than ever against the digital tide - to spectactular effect. Recently returned from an image odyssey through Italy and venturing as far North East as Hungary (Peri's late father Otto was Hungarian) the Sydney photographer has mounted an exhibition (at Chatswood's Mezze Cafe of bromoil prints (Ancient Roman Forum, pictured above) made back in Sydney from photographs originally taken abroad - using a 35mm Voigtlander Bessa R with five lenses (75, 35, 21, 15 and a venerable, collapsible 50 Elmar.) When I asked him why he pursued a printmaking technique that reached its peak in the 19th century, Peri's answer was disarmingly simple. "I want to be different from everyone else ... they (Bromoils) lend their style to my vision. There is a real beauty and archival permanence about them. Bromoils bring out a mood of the photograph and (when) you control the inking process ... photographs really come alive. There is 150 year of history (in photography) that I don't want to throw away." After seeing Peri's images, it seemed to me that making Bromoil prints (a difficult and time consuming process) is well suited to interpreting the historic vistas that this dedicated photographer discovered in Italy, some aged in millenia. Until April 14
Mayu Kanamori Looks Deeply at Life - Again
In Sydney, documentary photographer Mayu Kanamori again examines mortality in a thoughtful exhibition, and performance, at the Japan Foundation in Chifley Square. Her series of gently iconic photographs address the conundrum of what it means to be Japanese - to die and be buried far from home. As a Japanese woman who has lived in Australia for many years, Kanamori seems philosophically resigned to the fact that Australia will be her last resting place. "This work is very important to my soul ... through burial, I too will be part of this Australian landscape one day ..." Mortality is not a new subject to this photographer - having once collaborated with her distinguished journalist partner Ben Hills, and creating pictures for their 2009 book "The Island of the Ancients" on the centenarian citizens of Sardinia. Kanamori, however, has found new graphic subtlety in these latest photographs - fusing sand, stone, flesh and earth into restrained, resonant colour photographs.
from April 1 to May 14

Olivia Martin-McGuire documents our hidden lives - when we sleep
Sleep is nothing new to Sydney photographer Martin-McGuire. I reviewed an engaging show at Customs House, Circular Quay a couple of years ago called China Dreaming, made when this photographer was working in Shanghai. Now she has returned to a similar theme with "Sleepers" at the Australian Centre for Photography Paddington, Sydney. "Sleepers is my first series - conceptualised and highly produced" done as part of this artist's MFA (Master of Fine Art) Research Degree at Sydney's College of Fine Art (COFA) "It is still under the theme of Waking Dream States." says Martin Maguire. "I strapped a beautiful, top quality digital Hasselblad to the ceiling of a photography studio and photographed ... people and couples as they fell asleep. I was hoping to catch the psychology of the shell (body) once ... inhibitions of consciousness were gone. I was hoping to make it look like a dance across the walls." Martin-McGuire seduced by both the intimacy and unreachability of sleep, as a subject. "Those internal journeys remain private" she says, "no matter how much other people may desire know what lies inside. We can watch others, think we understand, but they may be dwelling in far away places we can never know."
Until April 11
Re_View - 170 years of photography at the NGV
Perhaps the most ambitious exhibition currently showing (for only a few days more) is Isobel Crombie's thoughtful assay of the international photography collection at the National Gallery of Victoria. Re_View is, one feels, like a meeting with old friends - witnessing Ansel Adams' planetary landscape "Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite Park 1944" (pictured above) and Andre Kertesz's wilting "Melancholic tulip, February 10, 1939" (pictured below L) and. going further into the past, seeing Eadweard Muybridge's amazingly candid (for its time) "Lifting cloth from the ground, placing it around shoulders and turning, 1887" in which a young, nude woman, with neither modesty nor artifice, performs this simplest of movements for Muybridge's sequential camera. The leap in perception required to achieve this pioneering photographer's understanding of human (and of course, Animal Locomotion) is, for the prudish times in which Muybridge lived, literally astonishing. There are other, more predictable masterpieces (Edward Weston, Julia Margaret Cameron, Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange) sprinkled through this display but I confess to being disappointed to see Robert Frank being represented by one of his merely adequate 1953 images made of Welsh miners in Britain - rather than anything from his epoch-defining 1958 work, The Americans - which, it could be argued, remains one of the most influential books of the last half century. The book's essay writer Jack Kerouac rightly described Frank as having "sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film." This book still resonates in its ability to see beneath American's fertile capacity for mythmaking. Perhaps the most magical image in this collection is the soaringly imaginative colour photograph Crombie chose for the lavish, well reproduced catalogue's cover image - Yee I-Lann's "Huminodun 2007". In this fine example of photographic magical reality (pictured, below), a pregnant woman's flowing black hair takes on a life of its own and soars away from the dreaming young woman, embracing fecund rice plants in the landscape and providing, explains Crombie, " a poignant reminder of how much the indigenous people of Malaysia are in danger of losing in the face of increasing consumerism and modernisation ... it is as the artist writes, her lament for Sabah."
Until April 4
Text copyright Robert McFarlane 2010
In my continuing testing of the Ricoh CX3, all the photographs made of events at Fotofreo in this blog, excepting the picture of Brad Rimmer, were taken with this capable, tiny camera.


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