Friday, October 21, 2011

Video Transcending Difficulties of Its Making

A Tyrant's Departure - Democratically Observed

Happier Times - Qaddafi with France's President Sarkozy
Muammar el-Qaddafi’s death in Sirte on October 20th brought an instant glimpse into the world’s medieval past – with a death seen as initially sudden, then as grotesquely paraded as any execution centuries ago in Elizabethan Tudor England might have been. Being hung, drawn and quartered could have been a more formal way of dying than that finally experienced by Muammar el-Qaddafi, as witnessed in intricate, ghastly detail on the internet (and seen briefly on the New York Times before being withdrawn). Terrible images, jaggedly observed by phone video, somehow suggested, in one contradictory sequence, that Qaddafi was being cradled as any casualty of war, but with his death imminent, so serious were his visible head wounds. The former Libyan leader’s shining, profusely shed blood, lit by sunlight falling on the careening vehicle in which the Colonel was being transported, suggested the final assault on his life had occurred only minutes before. But as the chaotic, shuddering camerawork deteriorated to something below sub-competence, did the Libyan leader’s head then seem to move slightly to indicate he still lived? The camera then panned away to a meaningless, blurry traveling shot of rapidly receding sand accompanied by a sound track of crackling gunfire, heard against frequent Arabic cries proclaiming the greatness of Allah, apparently from an ecstatic young man with a pronounced gap between his front teeth, whom we later glimpse several more times. As the camera's angle swerved further away from  the vehicle, the youth’s cries were drowned out by more gunfire from automatic weapons. (Has anyone else noticed that insurgents, especially during the Arab Spring, seem to have inexhaustible supplies of bullets, so fond are they of firing triumphant volleys into thin air.) This phone video, shot with as much discrimination as the random aerial gunfire, now slowly panned back and addressed the stricken leader who raises and inspects his bloodstained hand. Attempting to pause this chaotic footage did not help in my understanding of the ex-President’s dire predicament, but the video did succeed, with its crude visual style, in making me realize I had witnessed a shift in history - a tyrant’s departure, rendered with none of the skill we have come to expect from renowned conflict photographers such as David Dare Parker , Don McCullin and Steve Dupont for example. There was, however, an impressionistic veracity that was difficult to question. Here was death, democratically rendered by phone video (as indeed it had been throughout the Arab Spring) with no concern for sentimentality, cinematic skill or even rudimentary composition. For more coverage of the video and the public's response see Even so, the sequence was still profoundly shocking, transcending any ‘compassion fatigue’ we may feel for arenas of global suffering in general - and this once seemingly intransigent conflict, in particular. This unvarnished footage conveyed the death of a leader, one of several Middle East rulers who have made a habit of publicly shooting their own dissident citizens - but this time killed by his own subjects. “Those who live by the sword …shall die by the sword … ”  wandered into my thoughts, for a moment. But in the rawness of its video witness, this unforgettable sequence amplified the reality of his passing and made an ongoing human tragedy more real. The savagery of  revenge meted out to Qaddafi also suggested that perhaps a dispassionate, painstakingly legal trial would have been more beneficial in the long run for Libya - instead of an impatient, brutal death delivered with such obvious relish by his opponents.
Text Copyright Robert McFarlane 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Brummels Lives! Planetary Views, Digital Silver Printing, McCullin's Words & Fujifilm's X10

The Spirit of Brummels - and Rennie Ellis - endures.
Monash Gallery of Art are mounting a survey of the content and enduring influence of Brummels photography gallery (arguably Australia's first - the Australian Centre for Photography would open a year later, in 1973 ) Brummels paved the way for the current wave of excellent commercial exhibiting spaces throughout Australia now showing photography as fine-art. The late Rennie Ellis (1940-2003), that compulsive diarist and charismatic observer of the Australian way of life, foresaw photography's coming prominence as a dynamic art form and founded Brummels, sited above a restaurant of the same name, in Toorak Road, South Yarra, Melbourne in 1972. Ellis maintained that photography had long been neglected in Australia as a form of artistic expression and Brummels would, he said "continue a trend that is widely accepted in London, New York, San Francisco and Amsterdam where photography galleries had been popular for several years." Brummels, under Ellis and Assistant Director, fellow photographer Robert Ashton, quickly became a social arena in which many now legendary Australian photographers showed their work for the first time. The late Carol Jerrems (pictured, above right) appears at her exhibition at Brummels in 1975 ( in a photograph taken by Ellis) as a stylish, confident young woman wearing a loosely tied blouse, black leather boots, frayed denim shorts - caught returning the photographer's gaze with her characteristic aura of opacity and charm. Indeed Ellis's observations of Brummels at MGA capture the gallery's Seventies social ambience and suggest strongly  their exhibiting photographers took their work seriously, but not themselves. Ellis's eye for the bizarre captures three very diverse photographers - Jerrems, the late Athol Shmith and Rob Imhoff (wearing a set of clearly faux front teeth) locked in an awkward embrace at the gallery. Brummels Gallery was eventually compelled to seek sponsorship from Pentax, becoming the Pentax Brummels Gallery before finally closing its doors in 1980. If you want to see ample visual evidence of a new wave of Australian photography that then included artists such as Jon Rhodes, Wesley Stacey, Sue Ford, George Gittoes, Ponch Hawkes, Ian Dodd with seminal works by other established figures such as David Moore (his "Landscape Nude 1" is pictured, above, left) and Henry Talbot, the comfortable drive to Monash Gallery of Art at Wheeler's Hill is a must. In an appropriate coincidence, noted film-maker and photographer  Paul Cox (who opened Brummels first show in 1972) will also open the MGA exhibition on October 22. Until January 22nd, 2012.
Late News:
Gordon Undy opens at Point Light
"Sundown, North Stradbroke Island 2011" By Gordon Undy
Well, why wouldn't he be at Point Light Gallery? As a card-carrying, traditional analogue photographer and co-founder (with wife Lyndell) of this influential, welcoming Sydney space Undy has championed the virtues of photography drawn from it's distant origins - Albumen, Salt prints, POP paper, and of course classic fibre-based Silver printing. Mention digital photography to Undy and it's a little like asking the Devil to afternoon tea. (though ironically the veteran gallerist recently delighted in revealing to me the fine photographic performance of his Apple iPhone.) When I looked at the first pictures sent to me from the gallery I thought one (pictured, above) was of the underbelly of some vast sea creature, witnessed far too intimately by Undy. Such are the illusionist tendencies of photography - but I soon reconciled it to be a landscape, transformed by the simplest, most abbreviated of compositions. Until November 13 
Larcombe's "Beneath The Square Mile" opens in Adelaide
Accomplished Adelaide documentary and corporate photographer Randy Larcombe is drawn to revealing the hidden skeins of energy that flow beneath our city streets and make 21st century life possible."Beneath the Square Mile" at AP BOND Gallery documents the network of subterranean electricity power stations that, says Larcombe, "we walk over every day. There are sixty substations in the (Adelaide) city square mile. I am fascinated by this and want to reveal the unseen, the hidden infrastructure our lives are reliant on." Larcombe's photographs (pictured, above and right) immaculately render, in colour, these hidden, labyrinthine refuges of seemingly opaque technology where one false, uninformed step might lead to disaster. They also reminded me a little of the melancholy documentation of the remaining control rooms at Chernobyl and their basic use of blatantly 20th century technology. Until October 29th.
The Nikon AIPP Caravan Comes to Adelaide
Photojournalist Michael Coyne on location with his Fujifilm X100
As a part of the comprehensive Nikon AIPP Fringe Event  in Adelaide, there will be a screening on Saturday, October 22nd at the Mercury Theatre, Morphett Street, Adelaide of two very different, important films on photography - Annie Leibovitz' "Life Through A Lens" and Edward Burtynsky's "Manufactured Landscapes." This will be followed by talks given by four photographers - David Dare Parker Michael Coyne, (pictured, above) Randy Larcombe and Robert McFarlane Parker will discuss the growing importance of photofestivals, such as Ballarat (BIFFO) FOTOFREO and HeadOn The remaining three will discuss projects they have or are currently, working on. Bookings can only be made through Milton Wordley at and the cost includes a fine lunch. Full details of the AIPP's many other speakers - including David Burnett and Jenny Brockie can be obtained from the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers (AIPP) website (above)
Two Important Sydney Gatherings this week.
Mary Meyer and Sandy Edwards are inviting photographers and their associates to an urgent meeting this coming Thursday, October 20th at 6.30 pm at Syndicate, 2 Danks Street, Waterloo hosting an open discussion on "Photography's Place in Australian Culture", which will be chaired by prominent documentary photographers Juno Gemes and Dean Sewell. "It's time," they say, "to talk about the big picture and set in place a strategic framework as a response to (Federal Minister for the Arts)  Simon Crean's proposals on creating a National Cultural Policy.", as outlined in the discussion paper at  What makes this meeting especially urgent is that ten weeks ago the Government has set a deadline for submissions to be in by midnight this Friday, October 21st. Sadly, I was unaware of this, which makes any submissions both urgent and important. Full details of how and where to make submissions can be found at the Government Website (above)and it is expected the meeting will create an agreed proposal to be put to government.
Tedeschi to speak on Illusion & Allusion at AGNSW
"Apotheosis" by Mark Tedeschi
Differences between truth and fiction occupy much of Mark Tedeschi's time during his daily work as a Crown Prosecutor in NSW Law Courts. But Tedeschi is also literate in truths of a more elusive, visual kind. As an accomplished photographer, represented by the Josef Lebovic Gallery at Tedeschi has consistently been exploring allegory and metaphor in his pictures and regards "photography is an exceptionally versatile art-form for conveying emotional subject matter, subtle meanings and profound, underlying connections between elements." Tedeschi will be speaking at 6.30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 19th in the Centenary Auditorium at the Art Gallery of NSW and bookings (on 02 9225 1878) are essential. Refreshments will be served.
Seeing Beyond Infinity - Fredericks' SALT Project at ACP
Murray Fredericks' tent and bicycle base-camp at Lake Eyre
The suite of pictures (pictured, above) created by Murray Fredericks during seven years of visiting Lake Eyre dislocates most orthodox expectations about landscape photography. No single dynamic visual element intrudes into the foreground - indeed there is little sense of separation between foreground and background in many pictures. Fredericks pays seamless homage to space and light in these photographs and departs markedly from any familiar landscape photography influences. The three common elements in the SALT Project 1993-2010, on display at the Australian Centre for Photography  from October 14th are space, light and of course colour. In addressing these constants, Murray Fredericks (pictured, right)  goes beyond conventional artistic aspirations to produce spectacular imagery emanating a curious mix of splendour and humility. How can you not look at this photographer's picture of star trails arcing across the heavens above a seemingly alien, arid plain - and not sense our fragile standing within this planetary home - as well as humanity's unique ability to know its tiny place in the Universe? In the SALT Project 1993-2010, and its companion body of work HECTOR, on exhibition at
Sydney's Annandale Galleries  Murray Fredericks  transcends most fundamental verities of landscape photography - while addressing a common ambition of visual artists - to depict the skin that light gives to their subjects. If SALT is about limitless plains and skies, then HECTOR reveals the sky's incomparable power, when convulsed by  weather.(pictured, above) Using black and white photography's unique luminousity and tonality, instead of SALT's subtle colour, Fredericks again addresses vistas far greater than ourselves - the legendary storms that rage through skies above Northern Australia."HECTOR draws its title from an affectionately named atmospheric phenomenon that produces (some of) the world's biggest thunderstorms over the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin," explains Fredericks. In HECTOR, this photographer shows us, as eloquently as in SALT, a very different, voluble  sky -  caught raging above distant, northern seas. At the Australian Centre for Photography until November 19th and Annandale Galleries until their Summer Closing in December.
Blanco Negro introduces Digital Silver Printing
For those of us who have embraced the digital revolution and thought any silver printing we might do in future would be from our archive of old, familiar black and white negatives - not so! Sydney's fine B&W processing lab Blanco Negro are introducing archival, fibre-based silver gelatin printing from digital files. Blanco Negro's director and master printer Chris Reid recently announced that they have acquired a De Vere 504DS Digital Enlarger. "Put simply," says Reid, "this enlarger replaces a conventional negative carrier with a high resolution Liquid Crystal Display that simulates a negative. The enlarger's computer then converts digital files into a virtual negative on the LCD panel, through which light is  projected." Reid adds reassuringly that "the De Vere enlarger can then project the image on to the base-board in the same way a film enlarger projects a negative. The image to be printed can be  focused, sized and cropped in the same way as in a conventional enlarger, with contrast being controlled both in Photoshop and the enlarger's dichroic filters."  
POSTSCRIPT: As good and truly archivally lasting as today's current generation of prints made by digital inkjet printers are (check if you need reassuring) there is an unmistakable feel, (patina if you will) about silver gelatin prints - and some art galleries and museums simply prefer "silver" because familiarity with this now-ancient print-making process has brought not contempt, but respect. I would imagine (and I have not yet consigned any of my digital B&W images to this printing process) it could prove to be a very seductive exercise. Blanco Negro's Carisse Flanagan adds "now the desktop and darkroom can be as one."  
Blanco Negro will be exhibiting examples of digital images printed on silver gelatin by some of Australia’s finest photographers including Stephen Dupont, Andrew Quilty and Benjamin Ong. From October 13
Digital Gets Serious With The Street
Fujifilm's recently announced X10
Nikon Vi System 1 camera
In creating cameras such as the Canon Powershot G12, Nikon's P7100 and more recently, Fujfilm's X100, camera manufacturers are finally acknowledging that photographers who want to document life as inconspicuously as possible need compact, high quality cameras with wide, fast lenses - and most importantly viewfinders. Nikon  have just announced their "1 System", notably, the Nikon V1 with built-in viewfinder (pictured, right) as part of their new, remarkable mirrorless interchangeable lens system. Equally recently, Fujifilm have introduced a new camera - the X10 - with great similarities to the X100, but which now features an even wider, fast lens (28f2) which zooms to medium telephoto.For anyone who grew up photographing with rangefinder cameras such as the Leica M series, the Canon 7 and Nikon's SP, cameras such as the Fujifilm X100 exude a certain familiarity - possessing a fast, exquisitely sharp lens (at every aperture) and classic rangefinder responsiveness - but with digital's imaging facility. These may turn out to be the good old days - it is, after all, the image that counts and these new cameras improve picture-making.
Don McCullin Unloads
Don McCullin, London, 1969  
In a revealing interview sent to me by fine-art still-life photographer Anna-Maryke Grey, CNN's Mairi Mackay interviews celebrated war photographer Don McCullin who speaks candidly, at length, of his experiences as one of the great survivors of documenting armed conflict in the 20th Century. McCullin, whom I photographed in 1969 ( pictured left) when we were both covering British Heavyweight boxer Henry Cooper's last fight for different London newspapers, remains mystified about the reasons for man's in humanity to man, but as committed as ever to passionately exploring his photography. In the CNN interview he also discussed  his recent, poetic and seemingly atypical documentation of the last architectural traces of the ancient Roman Empire in his book, Southern Frontiers. As McCullin enters his eighth decade, it is also worth noting that if French doctor Bernard Kouchner (who worked for the Red Cross during the Biafran War) had not been so moved after seeing an achingly sad McCullin 1969 picture of starving African albino children in Biafra (pictured) we perhaps would not have had the incomparable (but necessarily apolitical) humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Text Copyright Robert McFarlane 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Divinity Is In The Detail

To paraphrase legendary U.S. showbiz newspaper, VARIETY, the Ballarat International Photo Biennale's program is "Boffo", according to BIFFO, as the Biennale
 appears to want to be called. The core program appears to have something for everyone - from the melancholy, richly ochred, erotic images of Czech masters Jan and Sarah Saudek to an influential British photographer from the 1960's Brian Duffy (1933-2010) who I thought had been forgotten. During my five years in London in the early 1970's, I quickly discovered Duffy was a key figure in British editorial photography but all too often pigeonholed as solely a fashion photographer. This display at BIFFO reveals Duffy as a man who seemed to effortlessly inform his fashion photography with the visual grammar of photojournalism but could also turn either to documentary observation (witness his resonant B&W picture of one of the notorious Kray twins) or startling, stylised portraiture - as this image (pictured, above) of David Bowie shows. Australia is also well served by the talented images present by John Gollings, Frances Mocnik, Heather Dinas (pictured, right) and Jack Picone (pictured, left, an observation from Picone's Nuba essay). There was also work by a photographer whose pictures arrested me for their perfect expression of perhaps the most difficult form of adventurism of all - mountaineering. Alfred Gregory's timeless image of a distant line of climbers bypassing a vast crevasse (pictured, above right) is surely one of most definitive images drawn from this challenging vocation. Frances Mocnik also challenges viewers in a different way with her visual essay exploring death and rituals associated with dying in her remarkable suite of B&W images "The Night That Follows Day". And this is only the core program at BIFFO. Another 70 photographers are showing their work in this Biennale. Clearly, a journey to Ballarat will prove rewarding and should not  be missed. Until September 18
William Yang: A Perfect Witness for Pina Bausch
During the 1982 Adelaide Festival of Arts  William Yang documented two performances by the dance company of the late Pina Bausch (1940-2009) , capturing the elusive and enigmatic camera-shy choreographer's "Kontakthof" and "1980". (pictured, above and right) Yang's extensive experience in documentary and theatre photography enabled him to capture intimate and inspiring moments between Bausch and the performers as she directed two of her greatest works. Yang commented "In an interview she was asked how she chose her dancers, and her reply, as I remember was – if I could somehow love them. Her work had a huge impact on me. It was the first time I fully engaged with a dance work, albeit dance theatre, on a level of feeling, emotion and intellect.” Yang has also created an unsurpassed archive of photographs documenting Sydney social life with a strong emphasis on Sydney's artistic and gay community - as well as the Chinese presence in Australia. In the last two decades he has also made photography as a performance on stage his own, with his best known work "Sadness" (1992) being made into a film by Tony Ayres in 1999. The Sydney Opera House are exhibiting Yang's photographs in the Western Foyer during its astonishingly diverse Spring Dance 2011 Season. William Yang will give a talk on September 3 following Pina Bausch: A Celebration.
Philip Quirk Sees The Big Picture
By photographing the opposing northern and southern facades of Oxford Street, Paddington, Philip Quirk is addressing that broadest common denominator of civic life - the street. One only has to look at the remains of life in Pompeii or the avenues of great lost cities recently documented by famed war photographer Don McCullin in his book "Southern Frontiers", to realise the street - either now or two thousand years ago - defines our daily existence. 
"Oxford Street, Crossing William St, Paddington" by Philip Quirk

''People use the street for their specific needs," Quirk told the Sydney Morning Herald's Linda Morris recently, "whether (it is) for business, pleasure, shopping or traversing the suburbs.They become familiar with the street and presume it will remain the same but change is inevitable and ongoing. The more we use our streets, the less we see them as they are.'' In "Oxford Street Profile", the accomplished Sydney photojournalist presents
the popular Sydney avenue in amazing detail. (eschewing digital, Quirk recorded his scenes using a 5"x4" sheet film-fuelled view camera) "I was amazed by how much information a 5"x4" negative contained" says Quirk. This photographer also avoided the current trend (whether using scanned film images or digitally shot files) of using software to neatly stitch together his progressively taken street scenes (pictured, above) The results have an unlikely spontaneity and are printed as a sequential strip of images which are available as a single, concertina-folded book. In creating this project, Quirk acknowledges inspiration from Ed Ruscha's 1966 documentation of every building on Sunset Strip, West Hollywood, California Quirk's take on Oxford Street is now on view, appropriately, at the Barometer Gallery,13 Gurner Street, Paddington and can also be seen online at This exhibition has been produced in conjunction with the Josef Lebovic Gallery Until September 5. 
Photographic Books Are Changing
In producing his recent book, "PORTRAITS FROM THE EDGE - PUTTING A FACE TO CLIMATE CHANGE", photographer Jon Lewis continues his long committment to photographing some of the crucial social and environmental issues of our time. (Lewis was involved with the early years of Greenpeace in their campaign against whaling, for example) The new book is interesting for a number of reasons - it shows that Lewis has extended his documentary vision to exploring more fluid, spontaneous observations as well as producing his characteristic, confronting portraiture in which  subjects address the lens very directly. This approach works well with the citizens of Kiribati, one of the first Pacific island communities to be affected negatively by global warming. In this book, with beautiful reproduction and production by Momento (details from two double page spreads, pictured) Lewis presents Kiribati's citizens unvarnished and unstereotyped - working, playing and leaving the viewer with a sense of the unique rhythm and nature of islander life. This book is also an example of the new publishing and printing techniques being currently pioneered by organisations such as Momento and Blurb where the cost and practicality of publishing a book are managed by digital publishing - i.e., cutting your cloth by simply producing one, a hundred or a thousand books - whatever the budget allows. Lewis's book was one of several prize-winning books acknowledged during the recent Head On Festival. Details of the winners can be found at
The Sue Ford Archive is Online
I recently received a note from Ben Ford, the son of Sue Ford (1943-2009) to let me know that her photographic archive was now online at The Melbourne woman (pictured, right) was a force in Australian photography for several decades and her untimely death robbed our photographic community of a passionate artist who possessed a vivid, poetic vision. Ford's elapsed portraits, showing the changes in a subject's face after as little as a decade, form an important element within the history of Australian fine-art photography. For those wishing to explore her remarkable life's work, including her film-making and photo-media, this evolving website is most welcome.
The Occasional, Irresistable Photograph
David Flanagan is one of the quiet achievers of Australian photography - dedicated to landscape photography during the era in which Richard Woldendorp has set the standard for all. However Flanagan follows his own vision, establishing a way of seeing that I first encountered and reviewed at Marrickville's Addison Road Community Art Gallery in Sydney. Like Woldendorp, Flanagan is sensitive to the anthropomorphic, sculptural forms within the Australian landscape (pictured, right) but the vision he explores is expressed in subtle black and white, whereas Woldendorp's vision seems mostly committed to colour. Flanagan's elegant way of seeing also seems fraternal with pioneer U.S. aerial master photographer William Garnett (1916-2006) whose B&W photographs revealed the sensual forms that can emerge from the planet's surface when seen at altitude.
Cindy Sherman Tops The Bill.
A 1981 Colour Copier Print by Cindy Sherman, "Untitled 96" (pictured, above) has established the highest price - $USD 3,890,500 - ever paid for a photograph at auction, eclipsing Andreas Gursky's "99 Cents II, 2001" which sold for $USD 3,346,456 at Sotheby's in London in 2007. Sherman's photograph was sold at Christies to prominent New York art dealer Phillipe Segalot. The picture's former owners had bought the Sherman print as one of an edition of ten in 1981, when the American artist's career was in its infancy. As an artist, Sherman plays an intriguing game with her audience - presenting herself as the central archetype in tableaux meant to illuminate and parody the transience of fame - the kind of notoriety so efficiently purveyed by American media, especially Hollywood. But look carefully at a Sherman image and the joke she is playing with the viewer can be seen, shimmering just beneath the surface. I confess to first being underwhelmed and singularly unimpressed by this artist's imagery until I saw a relatively unkown work of hers at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay. Instead of drawing from her more familiar faux Hollywood film stills imagery, Sherman presented herself as no less the mother of the Messiah, seen firmly balancing her infant in her arms - the chosen one. This photograph heavily referenced religious art but her meaning seemed clear: there was, in this essentially unremarkable looking woman, always the possibility of divinity - and in this image Sherman firmly pricked fame's bubble.
Helpless In The Presence of Beauty
Wal Richards led a blameless,  simple life in historic Maryborough in Victoria. Physically and mentally disabled from birth, he was remembered by residents fondly as a lonely character who always dressed neatly and could often be seen standing beside his bike at a place in the town known as Moore's Corner. Richards was also a perennial presence at local weddings."He was part of the town. Wal used to deliver messages ... simple things ... (because) he couldn't read or write. He was a man of very few words but who (still) understood money." remembers Betty Osborn, the secretary of the town's historical society."He used to visit old Mrs Chadwick and get the names of who were getting married. She would (also) tell Wal how to get to the churches and he often cycled over thirty kilometers to Avoca and places like that. There wasn't a wedding around Maryborough unless Wal was there." But the secretary of the Maryborough Historical Society also recalled the surprise, when Richards died in 1996, of discovering thousands of wedding photos, spanning five decades, as no one in Maryborough (ever) thought he had film in his camera. "Everyone put up with Wal ... he was at one of my daughter's weddings and I remember him shaking quite a lot ... when I knew him in the 70's, 80's and 90's Wal shook so badly we just did not think he (could have had) a film in his camera. But when his photos were discovered, after he died, in packing cases in a shed in his backyard, we were amazed. Everyone had seen Wal at the weddings, and (we found) most of his photos were quite interesting, because people didn't realise they were being photographed. So they were more natural." No one, not even his relatives, knew why Richards photographed so many weddings. "I think he just loved the occasion," suggested Osborn, "perhaps the girl all dressed for the event mesmerized him. But he never spoke to anyone. And after a while the wedding photographers that were there realised Wal had to have his turn, too, and they were very good (about it). But no one took him really seriously." Osborn added that only yesterday a woman visited the Historial Society who had been married in Maryborough in 1963. Knowing Wal had been at the wedding, she asked, 'do you have a photo?' "I told her we had over 20,000 pictures," said the secretary, "and only some had been identified. I handed her one album and believe it or not, she found her wedding photo. And it's the only photo she has of her wedding! The beauty of Wal Richards' shots was that he just caught it ... " Wal Richards was 67 when he died in 1996.
The photographs of Wal Richards (pictured, left, in Betty's Osborn's photograph) are perhaps the perfect expression of an obsessive, intuitive, photographer who possessed little technical skill, but was still able to divine a woman's beauty on that most symbolic of days. There is also an almost autistic feeling of "otherness"within these pictures - that Richards is compulsively observing a world he senses he may never enter, but whose emotional importance he feels he must acknowledge with his camera.
The Poetry Found Within Decay.
Sally McInerney's recent exhibition in Sydney, at Chippendale's Pine Street Gallery presented perhaps her most coherent, resonant series of observations of nature and industrial detritus. McInerney's images carry the notion that photographs can vividly convey a sense of industrial archeology. This accomplished photographer and writer's poetic eye homes in on the beauty that slowly emerges from everyday objects in terminal decay - from a discarded car steadily oxidising into a relic of primitive automotive technology in "AWY 087" (pictured, above) to the peeling walls and unread books she observes in "Local Scene, Koorawatha 2011", taken in the farmhouse (pictured, left) in which her late mother, eminent Australian photographer Olive Cotton (1911-2003) once lived with her husband, pioneering Environmentalist. Ross McInerney. This artist has a similarly unvarnished eye when she comes to looking at the Australian landscape - showing, in "The Quarry" cause and effect as seen in Nature, where a substantial boulder rests in an unlikely position on the side of a hill.(pictured, right) McInerney's picture suggests that it was not always quiet and pastoral in this place and that great forces had repositioned this stone, ages ago. Regrettably I only saw this exhibition in high resolution online (it concluded at Pine Street Gallery on August 22) but McInerney is represented by the Josef Lebovic Gallery - where these memorable images may now be accessed in archival print form.
Finalists announced for $25,000 MGA Bowness Prize
Australian photographers are blessed with a remarkable variety of  rewarding photography prizes - from the currently most lucrative $100,000 Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize to Head On Portrait Prize and of course the William and Winifred Bowness Prize, whose finalists are currently on view at Flickr and that consistent venue for fine photography - the Monash Gallery of Art Until October 16.  (pictured, above Natalie Grono's memorable evocation of childhood. From her series "Sea dreaming 2010") The William and Winifred Bowness Prize is an initiative of the MGA Foundation. (Errata: our apologies for a previous edition of this blog in which we inadvertently published Canberra photographer Lee Grant's  winning entry in the 2010 William and Winifred Bowness Prize)
Text Copyright 2011 Robert McFarlane

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Face, The Street and Henri Cartier-Bresson

ARENA magazine: "Photography and Public Space" 
"The Kiss, Bourke Street, 1978" Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

Photograph: Robert McFarlane
Issues facing photographers who work in the public domain (pictured) - creating visual histories of our times (such as Melbourne's remarkable diarist, the late Rennie Ellis (1940-2003) ) are not going away. (Distinguished photojournalist Michael Coyne explores this issue further on in this blog) Now, in the spirit of open debate ARENA magazine will host a discussion at their Project Space, 2 Kerr Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne, chaired by Melissa Miles, on Tuesday, August 16th, at 6 p.m. In a recent issue of ARENA Miles, together with Jessica Whyte, made this timely, acute observation: "In recent years everything from terrorism to paedophilia has been used to rationalise the restriction of photography in public while the social changes and anxieties that inform the restrictions, such as shifts between the public and the private, are obscured. Photography is uniquely suited to showing us un-encountered aspects of public life, and its power to make visible is central to the ways we structure, negotiate and experience the public and the private." Miles, a lecturer in Art, Design and Architecture at Monash University, will talk about this area of vital concern and Monash University's "Photography as a Crime" project. For further details, phone 03 9416 0232 or 0437 960 510 or go to ARENA magazine's website.
Just received this link from Hong Hong documentary photographer Bob Davis ("Faces of Japan" 1978 Kodansha International) via Robin Moyer  about a fascinating exercise carried out recently by six photographers acting on behalf of the London Street Photographers Festival. All were assigned to photograph, on the street, in public, in different parts of London as part of a LSPF project "STAND YOUR GROUND". Their filmed reactions, and those of police and officials, perfectly express the dilemmas faced by photographers working in public spaces today, worldwide. Caused partly by the paranoia created by recent terrorist acts in London, there was general confusion about what rights photographers have to document what is before their cameras. The London police, oddly, come out as the most reasonable of inquisitors into the world of photographing on the street - having, after all, to enforce the law - which clearly still allows the taking of photographs in public in Britain. Full details of this are included in the clip.
The Phenomenology of The Face
Actor and Photographer Stuart Campbell  (1951-2009) spent most of his life making faces - either as one of Australia's finest character actors, or in his less well known role as a photographer. Campbell never paraded his talent with the camera but his "eye" was highly sought after by fellow actors and 'showfolk'. Just how much delight Campbell took in the portrayal of his peers is currently on show at the mezzanine level of the Wharf Theatre of the Sydney Theatre Company. Recently seen on exhibition at Canberra's National Portrait Gallery, where one of his subjects, author and friend Lee Tulloch, commented "Stuart Campbell’s gifts as a photographer were many but what made him unique was his ability to disarm his subjects with outlandish wit, shocking them out of their self-consciousness so that they revealed more of themselves than they had ever intended." Campbell had the simplest of photographic techniques - lighting that gave each sitter's face a luminousity and compositions that gave sculptural form to each person's body language. It is hard to escape the view that his portraits became essentially a vibrant dialogue, with each sitter eventually offering up the most intimate aspects of their personalities to Campbell's camera. This photographer was also clearly a devotee of classic black and white analog photography, reinforced by rich, traditional darkroom printing. Campbell was equally at home photographing men or women, whether the manic King Lear like antics of celebrated stage actor Ron Haddrick,(pictured, above left) the unmistakable, defined planes of Belinda Giblin's face (pictured, left) or the stillness he captured in Wendy Hughes' extraordinary face, early in her career.(pictured, above left) One of his most memorable images is of legendary Australian performer, Little Nell, pressed against the rough texture of a wall.(pictured, right) This unforgettable picture, with its partial nudity, is as hard to categorise, and as unforgettable, as Little Nell herself. Campbell's working life also paralleled that of Mel Gibson's Australian career, and we see an impossibly young Gibson in an early Campbell photograph.(pictured, above right) I first heard of this exhibition through a call received from film director Gillian Armstrong, a close friend of Campbell. After Campbell's death in 2009, Armstrong was instrumental in presenting his archive to the National Portrait Gallery Considering that Campbell had photographed many of the key figures in the renaissance of Australian film and theatre from the 1970's onwards, they were delighted to offer an exhibition, "Between Light and Shadow", which only finished in July. A spokesperson for Sydney Theatre Company said there is no closing date planned for the Stuart Campbell exhibition, at this stage. On display on the Mezzanine at the Wharf Theatre, Pier 4-5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, Sydney. 
I last saw Stuart Campbell (pictured right, in a self portrait) while I was working as a stills photographer on the set of the 1996 film "Dating The Enemy", which starred Claudia Karvan and Guy Pearce. Stuart Campbell had a small role playing, ironically, a photographer pursuing Guy Pearce's television celebrity character, in the intrusive style of the Paparazzi. While the director, Megan Simpson Huberman, was preparing for the scene in which Campbell would secretly photograph Pearce in Sydney's Hyde Park, Pearce wandered up to Campbell as he was busily assembling his impressive camera outfit, adding a very long, expensive looking, fast lens, for the scene to come. Idly making conversation, Pearce asked Campbell whether the camera and lens belonged to him. "No," answered Campbell, a little shortly, "they were supplied by the film's producers." Looking at the impressive array of lens and camera, Pearce casually continued, "bet you wish you could take them home." Campbell, who never made a secret of his gay sexuality, looked up at Pearce and replied, "No, but I wish I could take you home." The conversation abruptly ended there and Pearce moved away to diligently prepare for his next scene.
Jesse Marlow L and Hannah White, R,  the  Event's Coordinator
No stranger himself to the photographing on the street, Adelaide photographer Gary Cockburn sent me this link from Edinburgh where he is pursuing his long term project of documenting their Fringe Festival (along with Adelaide) Jesse Marlow (pictured, above) has a growing reputation as one of Australia's finest younger photojournalists (Marlow was selected recently for the World Press Photo Masterclass and has been critically well received for his droll observations on the visibly injured in his book, "Wounded" and an earlier book, "Centre Bounce", which documented indigenous AFL football in Central Australia. Marlow has now been announced as the winner (with Phillip Cheung as Second Prize Winner) of London's 2011 Street Photography Festival. To see Marlow's winning portfolio, go to  (pictured, above, one of his award-winning selection) Ironically I also recently received a link to an eloquent article written by acclaimed Hong Kong-based Black Star photojournalist, Michael Coyne, on the increasingly difficult environment faced by photographers working in the street. The street is the environment that defines a society. Consider how visually (and historically) poor we would be without the astonishingly agile, accurate observations of photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Josef Koudelka and Robert Frank. A society is greatly defined by how we are seen to live and restrictions on recording urban human activity are nothing if not shortsighted, stupid and in some cases, sinister. How would the revolutions currently unfolding in the Middle East have fared, had people agreed to such suppression?
Coincidentally, photographs by arguably the greatest street photographer of them all, Henri Cartier-Bresson, will soon be seen in Brisbane with the mammoth exhibition, "The Man, The Image & The World" opening on August 27 at the Queensland Art Gallery. On exhibition for three months, this extraordinary display shows how Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) charted the currents of artistic, cultural and political change within the 20th Century and promises to be the most expansive display of the great photographer's work yet seen in this country. Combined with QAG's other shows of Surrealism and Matisse, a journey to Brisbane would seem to be essential within the near future.
Text Copyright 2011 by Robert McFarlane