Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stephen Dupont's Epic Afghanistan Odyssey

Afghanistan: The Perils of Freedom 1993 - 2009
This extraordinary exhibition may be one of the most intricately constructed displays ever seen at the Australian Centre for Photography Not only has photojournalist Stephen Dupont sought to encompass fifteen years of working in Afghanistan’s historically conflicted land, he has managed to display his photography in literally, a floor to ceiling, wall to wall tapestry of pictures. Reminiscent of another legendary exhibition (which I didn’t see personally, but saw much of its documentation) - by acclaimed French war photographer - Raymond Depardon) Dupont seeks to populate his exhibition with cast members of this ancient, ongoing drama - Afghan citizens, both armed and members of the public - and of course, the soldiers - as ever, from elsewhere. In this, Dupont departs from the traditions of previous war photographers who simply amplify the drama of war. Dupont clearly wishes to reveal which forces are in play and to understand, as much as possible, reasons for and possible resolutions to the conflict. To achieve this the Australian photographer employs an unusually varied visual grammar - from telling, almost 19th century style portraits of Afghan citizens (pictured, below left) using a medium format Polaroid camera to panoramic observations (pictured, above) made with a Hasselblad camera that are remarkably cinematic in their sweep. Dupont's observations belong more to the tradition of the late Philip Jones-Griffith’s epic book “Vietnam Inc.” than even Don McCullin’s highly charged, epic war observations. “I am a great fan of Jones-Griffiths,” says Dupont, “he went beyond the bang-bang - going behind closed doors - and also into combat to uncover the soul of the U.S. military machine ... and (finally) show what it was like to be a US soldier - giving a humanistic edge to something inhuman. Not just the power and the glory ... he (also) uncovered the grit and the filth of what was going on the villages. Jones-Griffiths was an activist who didn’t hold back ... he was an inspiration (to me).” Dupont (pictured, right, at the ACP) had followed conflict in Afghanistan since that country's war with the Russians. “After the revolution of the Mujahideen, I was inspired to go and see for myself,” says Dupont, “the (country’s) history had an impact (on me) even through Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” - but I had no idea (photographing) Afghanistan would affect me so much. There was nowhere in the world like it. Something ... got into my soul. (And) I was achieving something historical that was not being recorded. I was photographing ... history and doing it for the people - who did not have a voice.” Even the U.S. Marines were given their voice by Dupont who asked individual soldiers to write in a small moleskin journal their answer to the simple question: “Why am I a Marine?” The pages of this journal occupy a large part of one wall at the ACP with Dupont adding that the original journal has now been acquired by the U.S. Library of Congress.
Afghanistan: The Perils of Freedom 1993 - 2009 is not an exhibition to simply walk through. It demands the visitor arrive, and take the time to meditate on fifteen years of hard, remarkable work by this talented, tenacious photographer - pictures illuminating the timeless ability humanity has to seek the last option of government - war - as a solution to political differences. “You have this incredibly beautiful country that could be opened (up) if it was peaceful. (But) I don’t see there being a resolution soon ... it seems that Afghanistan has never known anything but war. And it’s not just about Afghanistan anymore ...” Until November 20
Co-incidentally there is a major display of the finalists for the Nikon/Walkley Press Photography Awards also on view at the Australian Centre for Photography. It was noticeable the ongoing evolution of newspaper photographers into photojournalists with the presence of an agile, searching photo-essay (pictured, above) on Julia Gillard's ascent to power by the Daily Telegraph's Phil Hillyard. "I wanted to record the private moments as they happened," said Hillyard. While this kind of intimate photojournalistic coverage is common in U.S. Presidential politics, it was a revelation in Australia for the manner in which Hillyard's camera captured an abundance of seemingly trivial details in strong black and white images - such as the way the incoming Prime Minister cast aside her shoes in one picture. The increasingly visible role of our armed forces was also poignantly captured in Brendan McCarthy's award-winning regional observations. (pictured, right)
New Sydney Art space for Photography Opens Soon

Moshe Rosenzveig, the director of Head On and Peter Solness are opening a new gallery space sited within the handsome, Superintendent's Residence in Sydney's historic Centennial Park. "Because of the success of our last venture in May this year, during the Head On Photo Festival, the management of Centennial Park have invited us to create an exhibition program for this unique space," stated Rosenzveig. The new program will begin on Saturday, October 23rd with 23 images on show from Solness's impressive "Illuminated Landscape" series (pictured, left and right) Solness promises that "at least a third of these will be new works, created within the last three months" (Drinks will be offered on Sunday between 3-6pm)

David Roberts Faces His Mysteries At Point Light
is nothing if it doesn't confront our mysteries. Think of Surrealist painter Rene Magritte's lovers about to kiss, while their heads remain shrouded in fabric. Or Diane Arbus and her elliptical response to a question on what her photographs meant. "Why ... they're about recognizing what I've never seen!" And Edward Weston's famous (and sensuous) photograph of a capsicum that conveyed a Rodin torso as much as mere nutrition. There is a hidden calligraphy of form in David Roberts' photographs at Point Light (pictured) that suggests that this talented photographer is mining a familiar lode in photography - by exploring the camera's hidden vocabulary, abstraction. Robert's vision discerns portals in bleak facades, compositional rhythms in the human form (pictured, above) and our inevitable, ongoing fascination with mortality. His portrait of distinguished humanitarian lawyer (pictured, right) Julian Burnside, Hamlet-like in his contemplation of a skull - appears bleak at first - until we notice the fearless, granite disposition of the lawyer's gaze. My only reservation with this photographer's vision lies in the first artistic decisions Roberts makes. Sometimes they seem more urgent than considered, leaving the viewer to make a conscious effort to embrace his vision. Until November 14
Text Copyright Robert McFarlane 2010


  1. Dupont is such a fine photographer. Thanks for sharing. See what happens when you move to the bush? You miss all the good exhibitions.