April 18, 2014

Friday Round Up - 18 April, 2014

On this Easter weekend Friday Round Up features exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney, an interview with the Art Gallery of NSW about photography, as well as photographs from Gerd Ludwig's amazing 20 year photo essay The Long Shadow of Chernobyl.

Exhibition: Melbourne
Sue Ford Retrospective

Sue Ford Self-Portrait

Sue Ford (1943-1966) is considered a significant figure in the history of Australian photography. She began her career in the 1960s when few women were working in photography and even fewer as photographic artists. An early feminist, Ford navigated the male dominated photography scene to forge a career that today signals the trajectory of Australian photography over the past fifty years.

Ford was the first photographer to be given a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1974, and this Melbourne institution has once again come to the fore to showcase the first comprehensive retrospective of her work, which opened this week at the Ian Potter Centre. (Click here to read Alison Stieven-Taylor’s feature article on Sue Ford which appeared in The Australian Review 12 April, 2014). 

All images (C) Sue Ford Archive

Sue Ford Retrospective
Until 24 August, 2014
The Ian Potter Centre
NGV Australia at Federation Square
Free Entry

Exhibition: Melbourne
Khem – Group Show

“Khem; a possible derivative of the word alchemy, the native name of Egypt, is thought to mean black. Some scholars maintain that Khem is derived from a root meaning wise.”

This group show, curated by Strange Neighbour’s Linsey Gosper, features a range of black and white photographs and photographic art from a diverse group of photographers.

Held in conjunction with Strange Neighbour’s opening of its darkroom facility, Khem celebrates the black and white photograph in all its forms. For those of us who trained in film photography, and are intimate with the sensory pleasure of working in the darkroom, the works on show here reaffirm the contemplative nature of black and white imagery.

For those digital natives, this exhibition allows an insight into the creative space of the darkroom, where anything is possible, where mistakes become experiments that can create something new and exciting and where there is not a mouse or a computer in sight. The anticipation of developing a roll of film that may have been shot months earlier or the revelation of the image in the swirl of a chemical bath, are experiences that are absent in the immediacy of digital.

Many photographers tell me that black and white photography, and the darkroom experience, allows them to slow down. Here the haste of the digital age is lessened and senses that are often overloaded are allowed to pause, reflect and reconnect. While both forms certainly have their own pros and cons, bringing your film to life in the darkroom can be very seductive.

Khem features works by:

(C) Jane Brown

(C) Ponch Hawkes

(C) Siri Hayes

(C) Ruth Maddison

(C) Lloyd Stubber

(C) David Tatnall

(C) Claudia Terstappen

Until 3 May
Strange Neighbour
395 Gore Street
Fitzroy (Melbourne)

Gerd Ludwig – The Long Shadow of Chernobyl
Essay by Mikhail Gorbachev

It’s almost 28 years to the day that the name of Chernobyl was etched into the annals of history. Many can recall where they were when they heard the news that there had been a reactor accident at an atomic power plant in Russia, although few at the time really understood what that meant including officials. In the months that followed people around the world reeled as we learned in more detail the devastating effects of the failure, which had been caused by human error. The fallout continued long after the headlines had faded. 

National Geographic photographer Gerd Ludwig made nine visits to Chernobyl, the Exclusion Zone and the abandoned city of Pripyat over 20 years to record not only the physical devastation, but the ongoing impact of the disaster on the people of this region. Hundreds of thousands were displaced, and since the disaster thousands have died from radiation poisoning and thousands more have ongoing physical and mental ailments. And there is a new generation afflicted with chronic disabilities. It is a disaster of catastrophic proportions as evidenced in this incredible collection of photographs.

All images (C) Gerd Ludwig

Ludwig says, “As engaged photographers we often report about human tragedies in the face of disaster and take our cameras to uncharted areas with the understanding that our explorations are not without personal risk. We do this out of a deep commitment to important stories told on behalf of otherwise voiceless victims”.

These are powerful photographs that are a pertinent reminder, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, that in nuclear energy humankind has unleashed a power it cannot control. 

Gerd suiting up

This project has now exceeded its goal on Kickstarter. Visit the site here for more information and to pre-order the book.  

Interview: Australian Vernacular
Alison Stieven-Taylor talks to Eleanor Weber, Assistant Curator, Photographs Art Gallery of NSW

The Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney (AGNSW) has been collecting Australian photography since the 1970s and its commitment to the medium is unwavering. One of the first institutions in this country to view photography as a genuine art form rather than being the ‘poor cousin’ to other visual art pursuits, the AGNSW is the only state museum or art gallery to have a dedicated Photography gallery. Its collection comprises a large archive of Australian works numbering around 3800 as well as international works, and new acquisitions are part of its charter.

Each year the AGNSW mounts three photography exhibitions from its collection. This year the thematic show is Australian Vernacular, an exhibition showcasing sixteen photographers with works spanning five decades. Included are notable Australian photographers who were prolific in the second half of the 20th Century such as Sue Ford, Robert McFarlane, Fiona Hall and Jeff Carter, as well as contemporary artists Anne Zahalka, Trent Parke and Glenn Sloggett, demonstrating the diversity of thought around the depiction of modern Australian life.

Eleanor Weber, Assistant Curator, Photographs AGNSW says that in curating the show, which was a group effort led by senior curator Judy Annear, the aim was to achieve a “relatively even arc over the last 50 years of photography in this country.” While this is not a definitive exhibition, and is very east coast centric, there are themes within the exhibition that speak to the idea of the vernacular in Australian culture.

Weber agrees the term ‘Australian culture’ is somewhat of an oxymoron given the multiplicity of experiences and views that inform the concept of culture in this country. “While we have used the word Australia and that has given us a mandate, the focus for this exhibition is to look at the way photography is being used to explore aspects of Australian life,” she says.

In Australian Vernacular there are photographs that draw on tropes of Australian imagery – sun, surf and sand are recurrent themes, for example, that are associated with Australian beach culture. Although the relationship to these themes differs widely depending on whether you are living in the southern states or the country’s more tropical climes. There are also images that could have been taken anywhere, banal suburban themes seen in works by Sue Ford, Glen Sloggett and Trent Parke, save for one defining factor; the uniqueness of the Australian light and how the use of light is very particular to photography from this country.

While older works give insight into historical values and carry with them the nostalgia of their time, many of the more recent photographs add to conversations around technology and its impact not only on the artistic practice, but also on how the viewer consumes images. 

© Gerrit Fokkema - Blacktown man (1983)

© John F Williams - The Rocks Sydney (1973) 

© Jeff Carter -The Sunbather (1966)

© Fiona Hall - Bondi Beach (1975)

Weber believes it is an exhilarating time for photography despite its ubiquity. “Photography surrounds us, we are so used to having images on screens or phones or tablets that I think few consider what it means to make an image, or why an artist will make a particular image…what you can do with the medium now is powerful and a lot of contemporary artists are working in new ways that are possible because of technological developments. The ‘decisive moment’ now may be created in post or in the printed image, or the installation. So in that regard the way photography is being used by contemporary artists is very exciting”.

To the question of whether the wealth of images available today, due digital communications technologies, has elevated visual literacy Weber says, “That’s a really interesting question. There is this assumption that seeing more equals understanding more, but I wonder if people see things or if it washes over them? I feel that the way we are viewing photographs isn’t just a visual experience, it is more a neural stimulation. You are interacting with them, using a different faculty…people don’t spend a lot of time looking, we have an ability to filter through images in a way we didn’t have before and flicking through sites like Instagram or Tumblr you make very quick decisions on what is interesting”.

She continues. “With the Photography gallery we consider quite deeply which photographs we will put on the walls as we are saying ‘pay attention to this’. In a gallery setting people may spend a bit more time in front of a photograph and think about it as an object that is unique, has substance and is not just an immaterial thing on a screen”.

With the vast repository of images now living in cyberspace editing of work has become even more critical says Weber. “The distillation process is something that perhaps we can aspire to share with people and I think that links back to your question of visual literacy. With so many images being taken, and often multiple images of the same thing, visual discernment is definitely something to think about”.

This exhibition invites the viewer to contemplate their own notion of Australian culture through the juxtaposition of what could be considered stereotypical visualizations and more contemporary themes. In a broader context, and within its limited scope – there are 25 images on show from a reserve of thousands – Australian Vernacular also adds to the discourse around national identity and its relevance to the Australia of the 21st Century. Rich in complexity, yet accessible and aesthetically engaging, Australian Vernacular weaves a story of old and new, known and unknown, fact and fiction encapsulating the contradictory nature of the medium.

Until 18 May
Australian Vernacular
Art Gallery of NSW