Monday, December 6, 2010

Sydney and its Photographic Tribes

Sydney is always rewarding to visit - to see friends and enjoy the sense of community that now exists among photographers in that city. In November I returned to Sydney, following that bleak avenue of warehouses, vacant lots and late night service stations in Waterloo (pictured, below) to where I was staying in Redfern. I had come to Sydney primarily to open the "Black and Light" exhibition mounted by the industrious and talented Primrose Park Photographic Group at the Don Bank Museum in North Sydney. This modest house/museum/gallery is the oldest wooden dwelling on Sydney's North Shore and proved an appropriate setting for the photography of Jill Lacina, Tony Peri and Graham Butler. Lacina had previous exhibited a series of Cyanotypes at Primrose Park but this time showed an essay using primarily silver gelatin prints and photogravures illustrating those ghastly calibrations of human corruption - World War 2's death camps. (pictured, below right) "I wanted to remind people of our humanity," Lacina (pictured, left, leaving the Don Bank Museum) remarked simply at the opening. Peri showed a series of prints made using his now familiar antique Bromoil process (pictured, below left) derived from photographs taken on a recent trip to Italy and Hungary (Peri's late father Otto was Hungarian) Graham Butler's immaculate traditional black and white prints explored the British seashore with simple economy. "Black and Light" finishes on January 30. (There will be an artists' talk on Sunday, January 16th) While I was in Sydney I also travelled to Cowra for the opening of my exhibition "Received Moments"(pictured. left) I quickly discovered it is no longer easy to go directly to significant regional centres such as Cowra and was forced to travel by train from Sydney to Blayney where I was met at the station and driven on to the town. On the way to Blayney, I saw vivid symptoms of the breaking of the drought. Instead of the desiccated landscape we have become used to, what I viewed through the window of the XPT train as it passed beyond Lithgow was a luxuriant green land, with flowing watercourses, contented cattle and punctuated by trees (which I could not identify) shedding their blossoms on the land like cornflour on baize. It also occurred to me while on the XPT that having once experienced elite European train travel (In 1969 I travelled on the original Orient Express from Istanbul to London with my first wife, the artist Kate Burness) Australia could benefit from a massive upgrading of our adequate, but slow and unremarkable rail system. In Cowra, regional gallery Director Brian Langer had, with his enthusiastic staff and their many motivated volunteers, mounted Curator Sarah Johnson's work from Manly Gallery & Museum handsomely. The opening was well attended and on the following day, a Saturday, I gave a floor-talk for Cowra citizens that was supposed to last twenty minutes. Country people seemed both curious and courteous and the dialogue we established (their questions were thoughtful and abundant) lasted two hours after which I was driven back through the freezing landscape to wait for the XPT at Blayney, and travel on to Sydney. "Received Moments" opens next at the Gold Coast Art Gallery on January 15th.
Photographing Aboriginal Artistry in Motion
One of the ongoing joys of Australian sport is the contribution, at the highest level, of Aboriginal athletes - from Eddie Gilbert (the Cherbourg man who bowled Bradman, and was subsequently vilified as a 'chucker' for such heresy) to Lionel Rose and today's startlingly gifted Wallaby Kurtley Beale - a superstar in the making. Sydney documentary photographer Amanda James has gone back to the heartland of Aboriginal sport and photographed Rugby League in the local competitions that nurture future champions - through such celebrated teams as the Redfern All Blacks (their team slogan: "Keep The Ball In Motion!") I once had the privilege of photographing this remarkable group playing at Redfern Oval against a North Shore team. A man from the Redfern team proudly told me that the ages of their players ranged from 17 to 54 - and that four had played professionally for Australia! Amanda James' photographs, curated by Arthur Chan, can be seen at Customs House, Circular Quay, opening on December 9 and continuing until January 30. Her pictures can also be seen online at from December 11.
Staying In A House Littered With Still Life Images
While in Sydney I stayed at the home of a friend, Louise Havekes, widow of that remarkable portraitist and theatre photographer, Robert Walker. With her artistic heritage (her aunt Elsa Russell, was a pioneering Australian painter of real talent) and three talented daughters, of which the eldest, Saskia, runs the elite Potts Point florist Grandiflora the Redfern house is always filled with art, flowers and beautifully arranged fruit. Subsequently I found it difficult to resist taking pictures of roses that may come from Ecuador, exotic orchids and fruit thoughtfully arranged (pictured, left) throughout the house. While staying in Redfern I also had a surprise visit from photographer Belinda Mason (pictured, right) who came to show me a lenticular 3D image of a portrait she had made of me previously. Not used to seeing myself in three dimensions and many times life size (pictured, right) I was rendered speechless.
Marian Drew continues to follow her elegant, dark path to exploring the nuances of bird life - and death (pictured, above) Artist are defined by their commitment to a vision, no matter where it may lead them. Marian Drew is just such a dedicated person and her work at Robin Gibson Gallery Sydney (which finishes this week) is remarkable for its poetic expression. One of several Australian photo-artists who concentrate on exploring still life (Robyn Stacey and Anna-Maryke are two notable others) Drew's elegant necrogenic tableaux should not to be missed.
The Passing of Jeff Carter and Peter Carrette
Two very different photographers have sadly left us. Jeff Carter, (pictured, left) whom I was pleased to say I knew for over forty years, died in October. He was 82. I wrote this obituary for Carter in Timelines for the Sydney Morning Herald. Peter Carrette (pictured, right) who I knew less well, died only weeks ago. He was 63. Carter loved the bush - and the city - and will be missed for his compassionate, honest vision of Australians everywhere. A retrospective exhibition "Beach, Bush and Battlers" drawn from Carter's remarkable archive (and curated by Sandra Byron) will open on January 4th at the State Library of NSW. Peter Carrette, known as "King of the Paps" (Paparazzi) was far more than the intrusive personality such professionals are generally taken for. Since his death, I have had a stream of calls from people Carrette had assisted, mentored - quietly and without any publicity. When I last saw him, I had just stepped off a flight to Sydney and was waiting outside the airport for a taxi. Carrette suddenly appeared with a camera and I knew he was on the prowl. "I can't stay and talk. (Brazilian supermodel) Giselle Bundchen has just arrived from London and I know which flight she's on." And then he was gone.
REPORTAGE is now 10!

While in Sydney, I also attended the screenings and exhibition associated with that great advocate for fine photojournalism, REPORTAGE. This year, their tenth anniversary, brought an unusually staged exhibition and several screenings of photographers' work, to the National Art School, in Darlinghurst. This institution has the feeling of an enclosed, colonial community with its sturdy walls and classic 19th century sandstone buildings. Photojournalist Glenn Lockitch, recently back from documenting the ramming of the radical catamaran Ady Gil by Japanese whalers in Antarctic waters, mentioned casually that the National Art School complex was originally a jail - and that they used to hang prisoners not far from where the photographers of REPORTAGE displayed their pictures. It is worth commenting on the way these prints were made and displayed. Printed using weatherproof inks and paper by by master fine art printer Warren Macris these photographs survived wind and rain to carry their message to enthusiastic patrons. One of the driving forces of REPORTAGE, Jacqui Vicario, then mentioned to me that the CEO of Contact Images in New York, Robert Pledge, had been delayed for an extra day in Beijing, and would I mind saying a few words to the eloquent Mr Pledge's expectant audience on opening night. Having contributed an essay to the book of the first 10 years of REPORTAGE, I couldn't refuse so I made some hurried notes on goals met and achievements hopefully to come, and with Christopher Stewart of the National Art School, opened the event.
The Occasional Image
This space is dedicated to images which deserve their own level of attention. This picture, by David Seymour, a talented photographer from Young, New South Wales, caught my attention when I was visiting Cowra's excellent regional gallery for "Received Moments". Seymour showed me a number of images he had made using Infrared film which I found interesting. This image, however, resonated with a book project I am currently working on in Perth which involves documenting mental illness. Seymour explained this picture's importance simply:"A couple of k's out of town is a lovely picnic area called Chinaman's Dam ... where the original photo was taken. It's an Infrared taken at 1pm on a beautiful day. The bubble and moon were added via my software and the moon and reflection in the bubble were given a yellow tinge to tie it all together. This image was created to share with people the path I have travelled with my depression over the past decade. I have been doing photography as a hobby for more than thirty years and it has been the one constant throughout my life which helps me to keep focussed and continue enjoying life."
There is an abundance of books to be recommended for the festive season. Not only have REPORTAGE published the best of their ten years of existence (through Momento but Thames & Hudson, historically one of the great publishers of photography, have brought out two contrasting books on the joys (and otherwise) of photographing on the street. Perhaps this photographic genre's greatest exponent is the centre of Peter Galassi's book, Henri Cartier-Bresson - The Modern Century while Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren's STREET PHOTOGRAPHY NOW shows how this timeless way of photographing has evolved. Australian photographers are well represented through Trent Parke, Narelle Autio and Jesse Marlow. Parke's abrasive use of light illuminates his street observations while Autio's classic, ironic image of an angel stepping into a taxi is also present. Marlow's droll observations of the physically damaged (from his acclaimed book "Wounded" are also here. Mimi Mollica produces a 2008 colour image taken in Dakar, Senegal which was instantly reminiscent of one of Henri Cartier-Bresson's timeless American images. In Mollica's image a man is glancing towards a young African woman from a flight of stairs. But the real revelation is the surreal humour consistently captured in the mostly colour images of this book. Time and again we are amazed at follies embraced publicly by humanity. This is a worthy addition to this increasingly threatened genre of photography. What are our political leaders afraid that we will discover and photograph on the street? The other book worth looking at is Focus on Australia, (pictured, left) a completely commercial venture, aimed squarely at promoting the cause of Panasonic's Lumix digital cameras. If you look past the sometimes garish landscapes and sentimental sunset images, there are some remarkable pictures showcasing the fine definition and colour rendition of digital photography. I enjoyed Bill Bachman's contrasting of opposites in a young girl and her pink poodle (pictured, below left) compared with the grit, grime and sweat of a shearing shed (pictured, right) That well known lover of panoramic imagery, Ken Duncan, is one of the forces behind this book in much more than a cosmetic way. His Walk a While charity, which benefits indigenous children, is a tangible beneficiary of sales of this sometimes lush look at Australia. Duncan adds an uncommon spontaneity to his photograph of two kangaroos bounding towards the coast in South Australia (pictured, right) His temporary waterfall cascading down the side of Uluru also surprises. This book is clearly an intelligent, practical way of promoting photography using digital cameras. Not only are well known professionals such as Bachman and Duncan present but also amateurs contribute. This seems eminently preferable to endlessly marketing cameras based purely on price, features and megapixel envy. Focus on Australia is available online at and at all Ken Duncan galleries for $59.95.
Shows Not to Miss before Christmas
In 1985 photographer Juno Gemes documented the handover of perhaps indigenous Australia's most visible sacred site - Uluru - to its original owners. Her black and white photo essay is currently on exhibition at the site of this historic event - Uluru. Entitled "Sacred Ground - Uluru Handback 1985", these historic photographs can be seen at the Uluru Kata Tjuta Culture Centre - Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, NT. Until 31st January 2011.

Tali Udovich, the energetic Director of Blender Gallery with its incorporated Just Shoot Lomo Camera shop, has again turned to the icons of rock for her latest exhibition. On Thursday, December 2nd, Udovich is opening Blender Gallery's Greatest Hits, featuring classic rock photography made on and off stage. If you could live with your own framed portrait of John Lennon or Queen looking over you, this is the show for you. There will also be a performance from the boy/girl duo The Falls, showcasing classic rock and their own compositions. At Mary Meyer Gallery, small is everything in her "Small Show" featuring such Meyer Gallery stalwarts as Ellie Young, Jill Lacina, Bob Kersey (his remarkable sea/landscape pictured, above right) Kate Baker and Renee French. This show will be open until December 24 "Earth, Air, Flower, Water" (pictured, left) is also opening at the Superintendent's Residence, Paddington Gates, Centennial Park venue featuring photographs by, among others, Peter Solness. This exhibition is associated with HeadOn Portrait Competition. Cam Neville perhaps better known as a fine-art digital printer, is showing his own work at Storm Gallery, 65-67 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills in an exhibition "The Nature Table". Neville presents tiny fragments of nature (pictured, right) at their most desiccated, but surprisingly monumental. There is a meditative quality to these images, made after Neville was severely injured in a car crash. Working on this project became, says Neville, "a matter of life and death. I cannot stress how important this process was to my recovery - and to my development as a photographer." Until December 17th.
At Point Light Gallery its co-founder Gordon Undy, that enduring Australian pioneer of traditional fine art photography is showing a series of natural and man-made landscapes, made in Australia and overseas. Anyone interested in the finesse involved in traditional forms of photography (pictured, left and right) should find this exhibition, Point Light's 100th, rewarding. At Point Light Gallery, 50 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills. Until December 19th. Finally don't miss Annie Leibovitz's sprawling retrospective, "A Photographer's Life" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Anton Bruehl's exhibition the National Gallery of Australia and Martin Schoeller's confronting "Close Up" exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery - both in Canberra.
Copyright Robert McFarlane 2010