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