Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stephen Dupont's Epic Afghanistan Odyssey

Afghanistan: The Perils of Freedom 1993 - 2009
This extraordinary exhibition may be one of the most intricately constructed displays ever seen at the Australian Centre for Photography Not only has photojournalist Stephen Dupont sought to encompass fifteen years of working in Afghanistan’s historically conflicted land, he has managed to display his photography in literally, a floor to ceiling, wall to wall tapestry of pictures. Reminiscent of another legendary exhibition (which I didn’t see personally, but saw much of its documentation) - by acclaimed French war photographer - Raymond Depardon) Dupont seeks to populate his exhibition with cast members of this ancient, ongoing drama - Afghan citizens, both armed and members of the public - and of course, the soldiers - as ever, from elsewhere. In this, Dupont departs from the traditions of previous war photographers who simply amplify the drama of war. Dupont clearly wishes to reveal which forces are in play and to understand, as much as possible, reasons for and possible resolutions to the conflict. To achieve this the Australian photographer employs an unusually varied visual grammar - from telling, almost 19th century style portraits of Afghan citizens (pictured, below left) using a medium format Polaroid camera to panoramic observations (pictured, above) made with a Hasselblad camera that are remarkably cinematic in their sweep. Dupont's observations belong more to the tradition of the late Philip Jones-Griffith’s epic book “Vietnam Inc.” than even Don McCullin’s highly charged, epic war observations. “I am a great fan of Jones-Griffiths,” says Dupont, “he went beyond the bang-bang - going behind closed doors - and also into combat to uncover the soul of the U.S. military machine ... and (finally) show what it was like to be a US soldier - giving a humanistic edge to something inhuman. Not just the power and the glory ... he (also) uncovered the grit and the filth of what was going on the villages. Jones-Griffiths was an activist who didn’t hold back ... he was an inspiration (to me).” Dupont (pictured, right, at the ACP) had followed conflict in Afghanistan since that country's war with the Russians. “After the revolution of the Mujahideen, I was inspired to go and see for myself,” says Dupont, “the (country’s) history had an impact (on me) even through Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” - but I had no idea (photographing) Afghanistan would affect me so much. There was nowhere in the world like it. Something ... got into my soul. (And) I was achieving something historical that was not being recorded. I was photographing ... history and doing it for the people - who did not have a voice.” Even the U.S. Marines were given their voice by Dupont who asked individual soldiers to write in a small moleskin journal their answer to the simple question: “Why am I a Marine?” The pages of this journal occupy a large part of one wall at the ACP with Dupont adding that the original journal has now been acquired by the U.S. Library of Congress.
Afghanistan: The Perils of Freedom 1993 - 2009 is not an exhibition to simply walk through. It demands the visitor arrive, and take the time to meditate on fifteen years of hard, remarkable work by this talented, tenacious photographer - pictures illuminating the timeless ability humanity has to seek the last option of government - war - as a solution to political differences. “You have this incredibly beautiful country that could be opened (up) if it was peaceful. (But) I don’t see there being a resolution soon ... it seems that Afghanistan has never known anything but war. And it’s not just about Afghanistan anymore ...” Until November 20
Co-incidentally there is a major display of the finalists for the Nikon/Walkley Press Photography Awards also on view at the Australian Centre for Photography. It was noticeable the ongoing evolution of newspaper photographers into photojournalists with the presence of an agile, searching photo-essay (pictured, above) on Julia Gillard's ascent to power by the Daily Telegraph's Phil Hillyard. "I wanted to record the private moments as they happened," said Hillyard. While this kind of intimate photojournalistic coverage is common in U.S. Presidential politics, it was a revelation in Australia for the manner in which Hillyard's camera captured an abundance of seemingly trivial details in strong black and white images - such as the way the incoming Prime Minister cast aside her shoes in one picture. The increasingly visible role of our armed forces was also poignantly captured in Brendan McCarthy's award-winning regional observations. (pictured, right)
New Sydney Art space for Photography Opens Soon

Moshe Rosenzveig, the director of Head On and Peter Solness are opening a new gallery space sited within the handsome, Superintendent's Residence in Sydney's historic Centennial Park. "Because of the success of our last venture in May this year, during the Head On Photo Festival, the management of Centennial Park have invited us to create an exhibition program for this unique space," stated Rosenzveig. The new program will begin on Saturday, October 23rd with 23 images on show from Solness's impressive "Illuminated Landscape" series (pictured, left and right) Solness promises that "at least a third of these will be new works, created within the last three months" (Drinks will be offered on Sunday between 3-6pm)

David Roberts Faces His Mysteries At Point Light
is nothing if it doesn't confront our mysteries. Think of Surrealist painter Rene Magritte's lovers about to kiss, while their heads remain shrouded in fabric. Or Diane Arbus and her elliptical response to a question on what her photographs meant. "Why ... they're about recognizing what I've never seen!" And Edward Weston's famous (and sensuous) photograph of a capsicum that conveyed a Rodin torso as much as mere nutrition. There is a hidden calligraphy of form in David Roberts' photographs at Point Light (pictured) that suggests that this talented photographer is mining a familiar lode in photography - by exploring the camera's hidden vocabulary, abstraction. Robert's vision discerns portals in bleak facades, compositional rhythms in the human form (pictured, above) and our inevitable, ongoing fascination with mortality. His portrait of distinguished humanitarian lawyer (pictured, right) Julian Burnside, Hamlet-like in his contemplation of a skull - appears bleak at first - until we notice the fearless, granite disposition of the lawyer's gaze. My only reservation with this photographer's vision lies in the first artistic decisions Roberts makes. Sometimes they seem more urgent than considered, leaving the viewer to make a conscious effort to embrace his vision. Until November 14
Text Copyright Robert McFarlane 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Visions of Steel, Flesh, Fire and Ice

Nicholas May's almost Mythic look at Australia Day
"Sydney Life" has one of the most perfect venues in which to display the people's photographic view of the Harbour City. From the Archibald Fountain to Park Street a stroll along the central walkway of Hyde Park, (pictured, right) viewing well-printed, evocative, bedsheet size photographs taken of Sydney life, has now become a subtle, inner city Sydney pleasure. Even as my fellow judges - prolific photographer/curator Edwards and curator, distinguished author and environmental blogger Ace Bourke were making our deliberations - it was, as always, a difficult choice) the walkway was full of life with families with young children, a talented busker singing a medley of Neil Young songs and a man blowing huge, colourful bubbles, some as long as a park bench. Watched over through the trees by the golden helmet of Centre Point tower (pictured) we ultimate chose Nicholas May's timeless observation of last year's Australia Day at Bondi Beach. (pictured) By common consent this picture almost chose itself with all three judges agreeing May had taken "a sculptural, deeply unsentimental look at Australians at play (showing) the cultural ambiguities found on Sydney's most famous beach." and earned his generous $10,000 prize and one of Sony's newest digital cameras - the NEX5. (pictured) "Sydney Life is a signature event of Art&About Until October 24
An Occasional Picture - Could This Be The Eye of God?
"There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy"
Act 1,
Scene 5. "Hamlet"
by William Shakespeare

When I first saw this picture in the New York Times it reminded me, once again, of the divinity to be found within nature - whether viewing living coral under a microsco
pe at 100X magnification, as I once did at Heron Island when I was half a century younger, and then having the magnification suddenly increased - revealing a completely different marine garden. Or contemplating how faint the skeins of electricity are that we know must control a tiny insect's locomotion. Film footage of sunspots unleashing almost incomprehensible power always gets my attention but this recent (July 1,2, 2010) colour photograph - the sharpest yet made using visible light - employing a 'deformable mirror' and 'adaptive' optics, by Professor Philip R. Goode and his Big Bear Solar Observatory team at the New Jersey Institute of Technology - had an intimate, different kind of mystery. I thought simultaneously of flower petals, the eye's iris or, more ominously, a dark portal to another dimension. It also occurred to me that despite its golden aura, this picture seemed as much about the power the sun was concealing beneath the sunspot; and that ultimately there was no real scale that could be applied to this image (even knowing NJIT's camera can cover 50 miles of the sun's surface) The meaning of this picture then eluded further poetic thought, whether summoned up through art - or science - or even Shakespeare. My thanks to Peter Jensen, lover of the Bard, for remembering the perfect quote to affix to this picture.

No sooner had I posted this blog about the extraordinary sunspot photographs by Prof. Philip R. Goode and the Big Bear Solar Observatory, than that professor has written a generous note and sent another, equally remarkable sunspot image (pictured, above) with a comment that Shakespeare's words "bring to my mind another image of the same sunspot, but off-centre and somewhat more in the 'heavens' of the solar atmosphere," according to the Professor, adding, "the black hair-like strands are about 50 km across and are jets arising from the bright magnetic features at the edge of the spot."
Art and the Bush at Point Light
Landscape photographer David Tatnall treads lightly on the land he photographs. By allowing his pictures to be used for environmental campaigns Tatnall clearly practises what he preaches. In "Field of View" Tatnall's first exhibition at Point Light Gallery a seductive photographic aesthetic emerges. This photographer's black and white pictures are well composed and use such now familiar camera grammar as shutter speeds so low the flow of water against a rocky shoreline is reduced to snow-white, fluffy plasma.(pictured, below) But definitely seductive to the eye. Tatnall essentially presents a personal artistic dialogue with the Australian landscape. His camera doesn't intrude beyond seeking strong compositional coherence of what lies before him - artistic appreciation for merely being present on the land. As such they are rewarding to the viewer and follow a well known artistic path, but one quite different to a bushwalker/photographer's pictures I recently saw. As I read the journal, in words and pictures, of a group of quite senior South Australian men and women who had just completed the 1200 km "Heysen Trail" walk from Cape Jervis to Parachilna Gorge, I came across two colour pictures which greatly interested me. One showed a small clearing beyond which a tight copse of curved gum trees obscured the horizon. In the foreground, almost tonally invisible against the red earth, was a small, vigilant kangaroo. Immediately I felt part of this scene. The second picture was even more pedestrian, (an appalling pun considering both pictures were taken by one of the bushwalkers, Helen Thomas) and showed an upward slope intermittently populated by small, thin trees, rocks and tiny yellow wildflowers. (pictured, left) I was entranced by this picture's undiluted rendering of the Australian landscape without needing to reference more elegant (and established) ways of seeing. "I had stopped walking for a moment and suddenly realised I was in a garden," remembered the bushwalker, Helen Thomas. This picture suggested that there are moments when the Australian landscape demands to be met on more basic terms and not necessarily translated comfortably into art. From September 23 to October 17
Street Photography Abides - Ever Drawing the Lens

Photographer Katrin Koenning recently noticed there was a strange space in a Melbourne street. "I came across this place in the (Melbourne) CBD where light reaches it directly for only twenty minutes a day, around lunchtime. During these few minutes a transformation happens - faces are illuminated, dust twirls through rays of sun, cigarette smoke becomes an almost glistening silver blue against dark buildings." This was Koenning's cue to begin a series of observations that explored the merging of private and public personae. "It's a 'mis en scene', a theatre stage on which people become my protagonists for an instant. Here, every minute detail counts ... everything ordinary turns into something extraordinary, begging me to have my eyes wide open." Her spontaneous, graphic observations have become part of an exhibition on street life THIRTEEN:TWENTY LACUNA with two other photographers, opening in London next month as part of Right Here Right Now - Exposures in the Public Realm - at the Front Room Gallery in Clerkenwell, London. More information on this exhibition can be found at
The Plywood Violin Returns
What is it about the melancholy songs sung by Leonard Cohen? If they were judged on the range of his voice - minimal - success would have been elusive. However, Cohen's words carry poetic resonances, that, like other song-poets such as Neil Young, endure. Peter McMahon has created a disparate exhibition celebrating Cohen's influence which is on display at 88 George Street, Redfern. The Plywood Violin uses everything from photography to collage to pay homage to Cohen. "We have commandeered some Cohen-esque themes," says McMahon, "Saints and Sinners, Love, Longing and Loss." Paul Mallam's photograph "Hallelujah", (pictured) named after one of Cohen's most recorded songs, seemed particular appropriate. In this sombre picture, Mallam has cast a nude female figure - surely Cohen's familiar muse - into the darkness that lies beyond two luminous columns. Artists contributing to Plywood Violin include Lewis Morley, Therese Kenyon, Jan Fieldsend, Jack Frawley, Marie McMahon, , Peter McMahon (pictured) Sue Pedley and Jeff Stewart.
Until September 26 at 88 George Street, Redfern
Up Close at Heide & Wolfgang Sievers at UniSA
The middle of September has seen an explosion of important exhibitions around Australia. From the four Australian and International artists featured in Up Close, at Heide Museum of Modern Art Melbourne, to a soon to open, posthumous look at the muscular vision of industrial documentary photographer Wolfgang Sievers (1913-2007) (pictured, above, his iconic Vickers Gears image) at the University of SA in Adelaide.(works are for sale to raise funds for the Graham F. Smith Peace Trust Inc., a humanist organisation which Sievers supported) Other exhibitions, like Up Close at Heide, are necessarily more massive, featuring the combined visual output of photographers Carol Jerrems, Larry Clark, Nan Goldin and William Yang. This selection of pictures, sensitively curated by Natalie King, explores social landscapes of flesh and emotion to which each photographer has courageously (or perhaps, helplessly) addressed their deepest feelings. If sentimentality is the Achilles Heel of art then these four photographers banish such thoughts forever. Looking over the tragically short life, and career of Carol Jerrems (1949-1980) it is clear there was never a soft aesthetic to her art. From her beginnings (a telling self portrait on the endpapers of the substantial Up Close catalogue shows a vigilant, confident young woman with a wide mouth and large, soft eyes wearing a badge stating "you're among equals") Jerrems well understood the changing nature of her times. During her life, suggests Up Close's editor and curator, Natalie King, Jerrems became "the impassioned photographer of social relationships in an era of free love, youth, beauty, violence and intoxication," capturing, adds King, "tender connections ... enacted before her camera." The most famous of these, "Vale Street, 1975" (pictured, right) shows a partially nude young woman standing before two bare-chested youths. The woman's direct gaze to camera seems as opaque as the Mona Lisa - and measurably cooler emotionally. The two youths present very differently from each other, with the heavily tattooed young man on the right of the picture staring with rough intimacy, deep into the lens of Jerrems' humble Pentax Spotmatic SLR. On the left, his companion's body language seems less assured as the youth rests a hand on his hip and lowers his gaze. I always saw "Vale Street 1975" as essentially a documentary image but curator King tempers this thought by showing revealing sequences from Jerrems' proof sheet of the shoot. It soon becomes clear this was a subtly managed event in which each of the three subjects were complicit with Jerrems in ways of offering themselves up to her lens, culminating in the iconic, eighth to last frame Jerrems took. Carol Jerrems also produced, during this period, another remarkable portrait which personified the changing nature of Australian women. In her composed, light-dappled 1976 observation of film-maker and unionist Lynn Gailey, (pictured, left) Jerrems effortlessly reflected her subject's intelligence, confidence and beauty. Up Close also features prominently signature works by American photographers Larry Clark and Nan Goldin. No one has photographed the young with more intimacy than Clark (pictured, above left) and Goldin's celebrated documentation of being personally abused (The Ballad of Sexual Dependency) remains as bleak and eloquent as ever. Australia's William Yang contributes a series of unblinking observations of another sexual revolution, from an equally turbulent era, (pictured, right) but which chronicled what King calls "the intimate world of his particular social milieu, Sydney's gay and inner city culture : drag queens and flamboyant parties." Up Close, says King, mines "the emotional depths of friends, lovers and family ... (providing) an empathetic close-up glimpse into semi-private worlds (amplifying) the emotional tenor of their times." If one ever needed a reason to visit that most inclusive of Australian cities, Melbourne - Up Close is it. Not to be missed.
Until October 31
A Landscape Like No Other
British photographer Tim Rudman sees Iceland (pictured, above - under the Aurora Borealis) as a coiled spring. "Its volcanoes will erupt again (within) our lifetime. The whole fault-line running through the country is like a time bomb. The country has a strong, omnipresent "middle earth" feel to it." In Iceland - An Uneasy Calm at the Meyer Gallery Rudman explores the light and space of this delicately poised, remote 'end' of the earth. Using conventional, film-based photographic technique, Rudman conveys the eerie beauty of this northern European nation using only B&W, which he believes "removes possible distractions that colour can introduce - reducing landscapes to ... form, texture, light and tone."
From September 29 to October 24
Kerry Dundas 1931-2010
It is with sadness that I note the passing of photographer Kerry Dundas on August 10. (pictured, right with Sandy Edwards L, and Lewis Morley, at photographer Ian Dodd's 70th birthday at Faulconbridge, NSW in 2007) As a pioneer of documentary photography in Australia, Dundas was as much at home photographing massive steel structures (he once worked with Max Dupain, after all) as people. His portraits of Australian artists such as Godfrey Miller (pictured, left) were as remarkable for their subtle use of naturalistic lighting as their revelation of the subject's character. Born in Sydney, Kerry Dundas became interested in photography at school after which he joined Monte Luke's portrait studio, gaining experience in more commercial fields. Dundas was one of the Six Photographers who had their influential exhibition at David Jones Art Gallery in 1955. In 1958 Dundas travelled to Britain where he successfully worked as a photojournalist for the Sunday Times and Observer newspapers. He returned in 1967 and was appointed as the photographer for the Art Gallery of NSW. His photographs are represented in most state art galleries.
The Modest, Poetic Vision of Jill Crossley
I first encountered Jill Crossley in the early 1960's when she worked as an assistant to Sydney photographer Robert Walker (1922-2007) processing and printing the fine black and white photographs he took of his main two subjects: Australian Artists and performance in Sydney theatre. Crossley was a supremely competent printer and went about her work for Walker with great diligence. Now 81 and retired, this tenacious, talented photographer continues to pursue her photography by exploring the Australian landscape. As Crossley no longer has access to a darkroom in which to use her classic B&W technique, she now works in colour (pictured). Her latest pictures, entitled "Grounded", are on exhibition at the Kerrie Lowe Gallery Crossley's colour images are simple, affectionate homages to nature, devoid of any overt ambition to impress. Instead she uses her camera to marvel at nature's diversity - discovering what she refers to as "the wondrous manifestation we call the natural world" photographing everything from small insects suspended within the bush - to the more organic forms encountered within the stone boulders that lie scattered throughout remote areas of the Hunter Valley - where Crossley's pictures were made.
Until October 5
When I heard about this exhibition at the Gallery Cats Studios, Brookvale, I initially wondered whether my leg was being pulled. Not so. Tony Peri, a dedicated Primrose Park Photography member who enjoys exploring such arcane printing methods as making Bromoils(pictured, left) has mounted an exhibition - part of a group show - to raise money for OXFAM. 30% of print sales will be donated to buy appropriate animal stock (such as goats) for needy families in Malawi, Africa. Peri's familiar bromoils (pictured, left) will be shown together with his less well known, but powerful infra-red landscapes (pictured, right) made using an ancient Rolleiflex. For more information go to
Things are getting interesting in the digital ultrazoom camera category. Until now,Fujifilm's remarkable Finepix HS10 (pictured, left) held sway with its amazing 30X Zoom and a host of other features including a panorama mode and manual, yes, manual zoom control. The camera was, of course, also capable of shooting HD video. Ted's Cameras currently sell the Fuji Finepix HS10 for $579.95 Now Canon stepped up to the plate to challenge Fuji with their PowerShot SX30IS camera with a 35X Zoom, (pictured, right) which starts at its genuine wide-angle setting of 24mm(equivalent) and finishes at 840mm ultra telephoto. With a 14 megapixel sensor, image stabilization, HD video capacity and Ultrasonic autofocus, surely these cameras will provide universal picture-taking for many amateur and semi-pro photographers. More later on this trend. Canon's camera is so new they have not yet announced their RRP.
Copyright 2010 Robert McFarlane