Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Redefining The Momentary

An exhibition which is perennially one of Sydney's best opens at the Art Gallery of NSW http://www.artgallerynsw.gov.au/ on February 22. ARTEXPRESS will display works submitted for the 2011 NSW HSC Visual Arts Certificate examination and provides ample proof that Oscar Wilde was, for once, wrong when he wrote "Youth is wasted on the young." Past years have shown that the students have approached their various art genres (including photography and photo-media) with energy, invention and burgeoning talent. Not to be missed. Until April 22.
Melbourne's Queen of Darkness

Katrin Koenning http://www.katrinkoenning.com/ has established a unique form of street photography - observing human figures suspended within urban canyons - capturing her strolling subjects as random rays of light illuminate their paths through pools of darkness. "Once, while venturing through the city in search for faces and light," recalled Koenning, "I came across this place in the Melbourne CBD. Light reaches it directly for only 20 minutes a day, around lunchtime, when people rush away from work to get sandwiches and coffees. 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."  There is timelessness in Koenning's interpretation of these moments - with her subjects appearing preoccupied as they make their way across Melbourne's streets. Katrin Koenning is one of a number of Australian fine-art photographers finding inspiration in depicting city life (Trent Parke, Gary Cockburn and Narelle Autio are three others with similarly passionate concerns for "the street") Koenning also chooses moments in which her subjects often seem passionately internalised, as if slightly bruised by light's sudden intrusion on their journey. Koenning is currently exhibiting "Thirteen:Twenty Lacuna 2009-2011", a suite of colour images which remind us that the street remains one of the most timeless challenges photography can offer us - capturing any city's ancient aspect freshly, while paying homage to social arenas as defining as any found in cities as disparate as New York, or Pompeii. At Edmund Pearce Gallery http://edmundpearce.com.au/ Melbourne, until February 18.
The Language of Time
Conor O'Brien's http://www.conorobrien.com.au/info.htm recent exhibition at the Australian Centre for Photography http://www.acp.org.au/ was noticeable for this artist's continued prosecution of the most interesting, and deceptively simple of ideas. O'Brien's photography re-examines the moment, the most fundamental verb in photography's visual grammar, through pictures (almost all in colour, from memory) of the most simple, resonant kind. In this photograph (pictured, above) O'Brien has portrayed a graceful young woman with her back to camera, standing before another constant within visual art (especially Surrealism) - a door. The picture explicitly renders the young woman's form without further reference to either voyeurism or visible eroticism. And yet this picture suggests a decision is being taken and that the moment this photographer has captured is pregnant with possibilities. Many years ago MOMA photography curator John Szarkowski (1925-2007) said something very simple which somehow stayed in my mind. Having observed the rise of great picture magazines such as LIFE and LOOK which showcased the best of American photojournalism Szarkowski said, and from memory I must paraphrase: 'up til now photographers have excelled in photographing what happens - now I would hope they begin to address what exists.' (my emphasis) By saying this Szarkowsky seemed to allude that photographers look beyond the narrative - to go beneath what happens and photograph the other layers available to this remarkable medium. I would suggest that part of this hidden agenda is photography's own form of Surrealism - practised, ironically, by such supreme masters of observing what happens as Josef Koudelka, Sebastiao Salgado and the pioneering master himself, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Conor O'Brien  seems not to be a documentary photographer in the style of these exalted three, but he does capture qualities in a scene that are less than visible, at first glance. If that worn cliche 'a picture is worth a thousand words' is worth anything then pictures such as the two images (pictured) here suggest the photograph as a visual novella, so resonant with imagined, incomplete paths are they.
MAGNUM's Eve Arnold Dies at 99
It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of Eve Arnold, one of the most remarkable, talented members of Magnum Photos. Arnold's career coincided with Magnum's ascendancy as the world's premier photographic cooperative and amongst many memorable assignments was her perceptive, intimate essay on Marilyn Monroe (pictured, above left) on location during the 1961 filming in Nevada of John Huston's "The Misfits". This led to further, affectionate collaborations with Monroe, seen here (pictured, above right) during a photographic session in Los Angeles. Britain's Guardian newspaper carried the following obituary. http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=4793272593084821996&postID=1206163668872516091
Of Serpents and Marooned Maidens, at MOSSGREEN
The photographs of Rennie Ellis (1940-2003) are making a welcome return to their public, this time at MOSSGREEN Gallery in Melbourne on February 10th, with an exhibition mischievously named T.I.T.S. "This Is The Show" which references the dark days in Melbourne when nightclubs could only legally advertise adventurist strip shows by using initials only - which collectively might then suggest something else entirely. In this spirit MOSSGREEN, with the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive http://www.rennieellis.com.au/ are presenting a selection of Ellis's affectionate, unsentimental observations of a vibrant Australian subculture from four decades ago. It was my pleasure, as a friend and contemporary of Rennie Ellis, to contribute this short essay for the invitation to visit MOSSGREEN Gallery.
"Spring Lunch 1992" Copyright Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive
For the last four decades of the Twentieth Century, Rennie Ellis (1940-2003) was a deeply influential figure in Australian photography, sometimes impolitely but always affectionately drawing our attention to the dreams and fables revealed in his observation of everyday lives. Ellis was an unsentimental ‘eye’ watching profound changes flowing through Australian society – and nothing drew his gaze more potently than the emergence of eroticism, or sometimes simply nudity – in public. Rennie Ellis didn’t only photograph women nude – sometimes men appeared in his pictures, impressive in their musculature - but never with the mythic power he would reveal in the unclad forms of women. There is one photograph in this suite of images that suggests, beyond its considerable narrative documentary strength, what women may have meant as subjects for the elegant, genial and always acutely observant presence that was Rennie Ellis. In “Spring Luncheon 1992” thirteen men stand around a circular restaurant dinner table. (pictured, above) Dressed conservatively in business suits and ties, all gaze, except one, toward an almost totally nude blonde woman sitting on a white table cloth in the middle of their beer bottle-strewn table. They seem bemused by the good luck that has propelled this beautiful young woman out of the kind of mythology that once created Botticelli’s “Venus” - onto their table – leaving her smiling at Ellis like a mischievous mermaid found trapped in a fishing net. Ellis instinctively contrasts the perfection of the young woman’s form with the mundanity – even impotence – of the men’s’ stances as they seem helpless to do little more than marvel at her beauty – and its close proximity with the province of dreams.
The mythic alliance between women and serpents is also strongly implied in “Snake Woman, Kings Cross 1970-71”, (pictured, left) the only photograph in which Ellis’s focus is capable of being deflected from sharply rendering female nudity, as his camera instead focuses on the flat, malevolent head of a python as the serpent tries to pull away from the dancer. Rennie Ellis also finds a casual counterpoint to women’s roles as erotic dancers in observations such as “Backstage Dressing Room, The Ritz, St Kilda 1977” where nudity, and by inference eroticism, are only incidental to this beautifully observed moment expressing the close fellowship women find when working together. Ellis’s pictures are present in this exhibition almost exclusively in black and white, a documentary medium that suits his direct, sometimes pungent observations well. There is, however, one impressive exception.  By observing “My Bare Lady, The Ritz, St Kilda 1977” in colour, Ellis achieves an almost Degas-like delicacy, momentarily dismantling any preference I might have felt for his black and white images. In showing  T.I.T.S.“This is the show … by Rennie Ellis”, Mossgreen Gallery offer a vivid, revealing segment of the extraordinary archive created by Rennie Ellis, of which the National Gallery of Australia’s Senior Curator of Photography Gael Newton once said, “the record will speak for itself over time … as it (the archive) ages it will surprise us with its depth and significance.” ©Robert McFarlane 2012 www.ozphotoreview.com Until March 3
One Door Opens ... Another Closes
"Native", an exhibition featuring four different artists, each with complementary visions, is coming to the end of its run and will sadly close at Syndicate, 2 Danks Street, Waterloo this Saturday. "Native" is curated by Sandy Edwards of ARTHEREhttp://www.arthere.com.au/ and features works by Tim Hixson, Sally McInerney, Anthony Amos and Peter Solness. All are presenting colour landscapes which seem linked by both strength and delicacy of colour, an affection, indeed, love of landscape and four noticeably individual visual signatures. Seeing work with this degree of evolved vision underlines how varied and unpredictable Australian landscape photographers are. Far from merely transferring the seductive U.S. West Coast visions of photographic legends such as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, Australian landscape photographers are establishing their own dialogue with the very different vistas they face on this continent. Until February 11
There is a word in Japanese for constant improvement and it seems that despite suffering three major catastrophes that would have crippled less diligent nations, Japan's commitment to constantly bettering their renowned cameras and lenses continues unabated. As U.S. songwriter Paul Simon once wrote - of the astounding era in which we now live - "These are days of miracle and wonder ..." A small press release filtered into my inbox announcing that Nikon www.nikon.com.au/ were bringing out their D800E DSLR (pictured, left) featuring a sensor of 36 Megapixels. Another release, this time from Canon, http://www.canon.com.au/ heralded a new Powershot 12.1 megapixel pocket camera, their SX260 with a 20x zoom (giving effectively a remarkable 25-500mm range) and the now obligatory ability to shoot 1080p Full HD video. Canon have coupled the new high sensitivity CMOS sensor with DIGIC 5 image processing within the camera. There is now no plausible excuse for not adequately recording the lives of our families - with built in GPS-tagging allowing for no excuses as to where the picture was taken. As events deteriorate in what distinguished Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam http://www.shahidulnews.com/ correctly calls "The Majority World", such small, capable, unobtrusive cameras are less conspicuous, as indeed are the now ubiquitous smart cameraphones used to document appalling events unfolding daily in the latest chapter of the Arab Spring - Syria.
Canon also announced that the fine workhorse of a lens for their full frame EOS DSLR's, the 24-70f2.8L lens, has been redesigned and areas of its already high performance improved. Canon have added the suffix II to the lens to indicate the latest generation of will now be known as 24-70mmf2.8LII.
Text Copyright Robert McFarlane 2012 http://www.robertmcfarlanephotos.com/