Saturday, July 30, 2011

Masterworks From Three Centuries

An August full of Nuance, Whimsy  - and Menace.
STILLS Gallery have entered the new month with an exhibition"Artificial Spacial Systems" by Paul Adair, inspired by his 2009 residency in Los Angeles. This might suggest Adair has returned to Australia filled with the joy of art theory, and with the pictures to grimly prove it. Fortunately  there is an innate desire in Adair's deceptively simple pictures to entertain and sometimes confound the
viewer's perceptions, as in his earlier work, "Basketball 2008" (pictured, right). A.S.S. (as Stills Gallery has called Adair's new show) promises to reveal a further evolution of this photographer's vision. Until September 3 STILLS Gallery are also showing "Plant Life" and "Precarious", an exhibition and film by artist Merilyn Fairskye that explore the aftermath, a quarter of a century later, of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. After recent events in Japan, this exhibition will have special significance. Also until September 3.
At Point Light Gallery, Enrico Scotece has curated "Shadow Play", featuring the black and white photographs by eleven photographers (all traditionally printed on fibre-based paper) that explore moments more inferred than spelled out. Looking at Tony Sillavan's "Dark Wind" (pictured, left) with its corrugated waves of wind blown grass, I thought immediately (though I admit somewhat laterally) of French writer Francois Mauriac's description of bleak rural France in his 1927 novel, "Therese Desqueyroux"  Until August 21
Australian & International Photography in Sydney
Photograph by Carol Jerrems

Photograph by David Potts

Now fully resettled in a former bank building in Anzac Parade, Kensington, the Josef Lebovic Gallery are currently showing an extensive selection of Australian and International photography from the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries. Josef Lebovic has long had a penchant for photography's first century and this exhibition is no exception, with extensive portfolios depicting life in Australia, especially, during photography's absolute infancy. It is the 20th century work, however, that shows a series of strong calibrations of the muscular new art form in this country - with works by David Potts (pictured, right) David Moore, Max Dupain, Roger Scott, William Yang, Josef Vissel and a photographer with a distinctive way of seeing and style of printing - Melbourne's enigmatic Robert Besanko. (pictured, below left) This photographer has a unique visual signature, especially when portraying the female form and once an image of Besanko's is seen, it lodges stubbornly in memory - ever sculptural and alluring. Another Melbourne enigma, the late Carol Jerrems, is represented by one of her, and Australian photography's finest portraits, especially of a woman - "Lynn" (pictured, above left) I confess this picture of a confident, intense young Australian woman resonated with me so strongly that in 1994 I selected it as the catalogue cover image for "Critic's Choice", a personal survey of the Art Gallery of NSW Photography Collection that I curated at the time.It's wonderful to see it again in Josef Lebovic's gallery. (in the spirit of full disclosure I should also declare that as a photographer, I am represented by the Josef Lebovic Gallery) Until August 13.
Australian Talent Flowered in Manhattan, Long Ago.
Swimsuit advt, 1951 Photograph: Anton Bruehl 
Anton Bruehl was born to immigrant German parents in Naracoorte, South Australia in 1900, and emigrated to the United States nineteen years later. Coming from a country where his German father, a skilled Physician, Surgeon and Opthalmologist, effectively lived and practiced his profession under the political cloud of being a possible German sympathizer, it is perhaps not surprising that Bruehl, with his brother Martin, travelled to the United States to find a new life, and eventually, a new home for their parents. However, within a decade Bruehl had transformed his own life, turning a hobbyist interest in photography into a profession where he pioneered an elegant, graphic and for the times, erotic use of colour photography in magazines. After initially getting work as as an electrical engineer, Bruehl saw an exhibition by the students of legendary U.S. photographer Clarence H. White at the NY Art Centre that would change his life. "My hobby had (also) emigrated and I read ... books and attended exhibitions," he recalled in Gael Newton's book 'In The Spotlight'"I found it (White's Student Exhibition) very impressive." Bruehl sought out White and persuaded the eminent photographer to teach him privately. Nothing if not decisive, the next day Bruehl took six month's leave from his employers, Western Electric, and determined "to try for a full time career in photography". He never went back. How brilliantly the young Australian succeeded is on exhibition in the National Gallery of Australia  touring exhibition "Anton Bruehl - Into The Spotlight", at Melbourne's elegant Monash Gallery of Art until September 11. Bruehl would master not only the technical demands of large format colour photography for reproduction (he would work extensively for pioneering magazine publisher Conde Nast) but would develop a style of photo illustration for advertising, that in hindsight, shows some kinship for the affectionate portrayal of Americal life employed by illustrator Norman Rockwell. The difference with Bruehl was in his portrayal of women. Using elegant, sometimes surprisingly explicit nudity, the charming young Australian produced subtly coloured images that eschewed sentimentality and, at their best, gave their subjects unmistakable erotic appeal. When one photograph (pictured, above left) of model Ruth Corlett, quite obviously nude and wearing only a bright red, circular hat, was deemed too risque for the US Postal Service and moved from the cover of U.S. VOGUE to inside the magazine, Corlett drily protested, defending its tastefulness, as Gael Newton noted, saying, "(but) I was adequately clad in Mr. Bruehl's best shadows."
Beneath Bruehl's elegant colour fantasies and his complex theatrical tableaux, there was also yet another photographer waiting - capable of mastering austere, beautifully exposed and printed observations of society - specifically, a series of images which Bruehl made in Mexico, and which he then published in luxuriant, finely reproduced book form. Photographs of Anton Bruehl at the peak of his career reveal a handsome young man apparently enjoying life by taking playful, yet professional delight in the elegance and beauty of his subjects. This exhibition is not to be missed. Until September 11 and afterwards in January 2012 at the Queensland University of Technology Art Museum.
TAKE - A Fine New Avenue for Australian Photography
Austalian photographers now have a new, well reproduced and designed magazine in which to showcase their photography. TAKE magazine. Part of a stable of magazines which also includes the excellent, provocative  art magazine EMPTY, TAKE will be published twice a year and offers a series of portfolios of fine, contemporary Australian and International photography. Once again, seen en masse, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that photography in this country produces some remarkably individual visions - such as those of Adam Ferguson, Lisa Wiltse, Martin Mischkulnig, Jessica Tremp and David Flanagan.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Two remarkable exhibitions that have since closed but which should not be forgotten are Prudence Murphy's "Boys with Guns", an exploration of boys and their traditional obsession with playing games featuring guns, (pictured, above) and seen recently at the Monash Gallery of Art and Ella Dreyfus's remarkable colourist visions "To See Beyond What Seems To Be", recently shown at Articulate Project Space (pictured, above right) in Sydney. Both artists are difficults to categorise, with Murphy showing her series of droll observations of young boys playing with weapons - while Dreyfus, well known for her portraits and unsentimental, brutally honest nudes, showed a series of seductive images suffused with colour, but little defining detail. Looking at her photographs I thought immediately of two artists from  very different centuries - J.M.W. Turner with his vistas overwhelmed by colour and suppressed definition; and Lloyd Rees, whom I photographed in 1982.(pictured, right) With his fading eyesight, Rees (1895-1988) was reduced, as he diligently rolled his sleeves up to paint every day, to creating a wan Impressionism.
POST SCRIPT for "Boys With Guns"
When looking at the seemingly trivial domestic vistas in which Prudence Murphy's young subjects play out their fantasies, I was drawn to thoughts of the recent ghastly mass atrocity in Oslo, and reminded myself that it was perpetrated by an open-faced, handsome young man, nourished, we are told, by fear, prejudice, a love of guns and the explicit, mimetic games he played incessantly on his computer.
Text Copyright 2011 Robert McFarlane

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How Far Have We Come?

 Mick Rock - Exposed, and Extended at Blender

Singer Debbie Harry of Blondie Photograph by Mick Rock

David Bowie Photograph by Mick Rock

Photographs by Mick Rock, known as "The Man Who Shot the 70's", are on display at Blender Gallery for another three weeks in Paddington Sydney. The exhibition was to finish this weekend but because of public interest, Director Tali Udovich has extended the show until August 20th. Mick Rock is perhaps the most stylised and conceptual of rock photographers, but still capable of simple, honest reportage when required. Blender Gallery appear to have happily gone over to the 'dark side' and now describe their gallery as "Specialists in Music Photography & Rock 'n' Roll Prints". This would appear to be a good thing as Rock and Roll's pervasive presence in youth (and not so young) culture deserves passionate, critical exposure. In the past Blender Gallery have done this regularly through exhibitions including photographs by Ethan Russell, Henry Diltz and Australia's Tony Mott, Philip Morris and Bob King.
With this exhibition, Blender Gallery also launched Mick Rock's latest publication, "MICK ROCK - EXPOSED - The Faces of Rock 'N' Roll". Everyone from rock culture's past four decades are here - Queen and its melancholic leader, the late Freddy MercurySyd Barrett, Lou Reed, Blondie, Iggy Pop, right up to the current Queen of Art Rock, Lady Gaga. (I recently caught her latest television performance by chance, on Saturday Night Live. Suitably extravagantly clad, Lady Gaga sang brilliantly, proving she is much more than just her amazing visuals.) In his book, Mick Rock contributes a revealing introduction, offers detailed captions for each picture but also includes an essay by eminent British playwright Tom Stoppard. (The book is on sale at Blender Gallery at its recommended retail price of $50.00)
Fast, Digital Compact Cameras continue to surprise
Nikon SP camera with 35mmf1.8 Nikkor

Nikon Coolpix P300 digital camera

The new generation of compact digital cameras with fast wide angle zoom lenses started with Samsung's EX-1 and continued with new models from Olympus and Canon. (ozphotoreview has already favourably reviewed Canon's fine S95) This trend continues with Nikon's outwardly modest Coolpix P300. (pictured, left) However, this simply styled camera has a number of surprises in store. I quickly found it remarkable for both versatility and image quality. After travelling with this camera to Sydney and using it under a wide variety of lighting conditions I came to the conclusion that fast digital compacts, having roughly the same dimensions as a pack of playing cards, were capable of equalling (perhaps surpassing) the versatility of the great 35mm rangefinder workhorses from a half century ago - such as Canon's VIT and the Nikon SP.(pictured, above right) If this seems an ambitious claim, consider the fact that the Coolpix contains essentially the same focal lengths within its zoom lens as a Nikon SP with 25, 50, 85 and 105 lenses, but also shoots HD video. However the SP, favoured by many LIFE and LOOK photojournalists in the late 1950's and early 1960's, was equal to any picture-taking situation in its era. With its fast 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses, this camera represented the pinnacle of Japanese coupled-rangefinder camera design. (Nikon S rangefinder cameras began their life as picture-taking instruments clearly derived from pre-war Zeiss Contax cameras. Constant improvements at Nippon Kogaku quickly transcended the original German design) But after the Nikon SP reached its peak, there would be no more Nikon rangefinder
 Martin Sharp at "Wirian" Photograph by Robert McFarlane
rangefinder cameras with interchangeable lenses.
Tiny Tim, Luna Park 1979 Photograph by Robert McFarlane

Psychologist Michelle Sexton

This would mark the beginning of another tradition: the introduction in 1959 of a new camera that would quickly become famous for its extreme durability - the Nikon "F" 35mm SLR (but that's another story) Using its advanced viewfinder, the Nikon SP could accomodate lenses 
Jade, taken with Nikon P300
from 28mm wide-angle to 105mm telephoto-and longer using a mirror box. And between 35mm and 85mm, lens speeds commonly ranged from 1.4 for the 50mm, to f1.5 for the fastest 85mm medium telephoto.(there was even a rare 50mm f1.1 Nikkor) Photojournalists loved the speed and quality of these lenses, and the ability to accurately frame and focus using the SP's excellent rangefinder. Much of the turbulent political history of the United States in the 1960's would be recorded by men and women using this camera. I thought about the Nikon SP, surely one of the most elegant camera designs ever, and its remarkable capabilities when I picked up the diminuitive Nikon Coolpix P300. The zoom ratio of the P300's Nikkor lens was modest (4.2X) but the speed and angle of view at its widest setting was not - f1.8 and the equivalent of 24mm. Neither was the len's sharpness. When I visited an old friend, artist Martin Sharp, while in Sydney, I made a few simple portraits of this remarkable painter, printmaker, film director and writer at his Bellevue Hill home - the sprawling mansion "Wirian" - filled with a half-century of Sharp's remarkable artistic output. (I had enjoyed the privilege, in January 1979, of being one of the photographers invited by Sharp to document the presence in Sydney of U.S. singer Tiny Tim.) Sharp was directing "Street of Dreams"  a definitive documentary film of Tiny Tim (1932-1996) in performance at Sydney's Luna  Park showing the remarkable troubadour breaking the World's Non-Stop Singing Record. (pictured, above) As I photographed Sharp, I periodically checked the sharpness of the Coolpix P300 pictures on the very fine resolution LED monitor, I was surprised and delighted by their sharpness, colour balance and appropriate contrast. Clearly this camera, with its 12 megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, was capable of making pictures of professional publication quality. I would later make a series of spontaneous portraits of a lawyer friend, Jade, in the bright, contrasty light of Sydney's Redfern streets (and also a close-up portrait of Adelaide psychologist Michelle Sexton taken indoors under more subdued light) that illustrated this camera's qualities well. Sharpness, contrast and colour balance all proved exemplary. Enthusiastic amateurs and professionals alike can take confidence in this latest member of the new generation of pocketable cameras - while also noting the Coolpix P300 shoots full 1080 HD video. (the Coolpix sports a built-in stereo mike and includes the increasingly popular panoramic mode) Picture-taking menus were simple and I found myself only occasionally drawn to the User's Manual.
"Pope Alice" Returns to the ACP.
"Pope Alice" at Lake Galilee, Qld. Photograph by Luke Roberts
The Australian Centre for Photography is currently showing two exhibitions which encompass important perimeters of current art practice: Luke Roberts is presenting AlphaStation/Alphaville, yet another courageous, unsentimental exploration into personal identity, as well as revisiting one of his most potent creations - the elusive, mythic and slightly ominous presence of Pope Alice. (pictured, above) Inspired, and perhaps provoked by his strict Catholic upbringing in Queensland, Australia (and Roberts' reaction to the Catholic Church's abhorrence of homosexuality) Pope Alice now has a wandering life of her own in the hands of this dedicated artist. Typically, Roberts has added an extra, ironic touch to his panoramic evocation of the celestial Pontiff - by photographing her at Lake Galilee. Not the same body of water as in the Holy Land, but in a remote, waterless part of Queensland. Until July 23 Practising What You Preach, and also Show.
Photograph by Steve Lock

Photograph by Angela Rose Woods
On display at the same time as the sadly soon to finish exhibition by Luke Roberts, is work by the students at the Australian Centre for Photography. This current exhibition reveals at least two of the extremes of modern photography - images which could only be produced in the age of Photoshop - and pictures so fluid, observational and brilliantly narrative, (pictured above left) that thoughts of artifice simply do not occur. And as the former husband of brilliant illustrator, Kate Burness (her remarkable 1973 Rolling Stones poster was featured in Get On Down (pictured, right - with the book using Martin Sharp's brilliant poster for Jimi Hendrix as the cover image I am aware of the skills possessed by talented, imaginative artists. But when I saw the wonderful photo-illustration created by Angela Rose Woods (pictured above) I had to acknowledge what may be dreamed, can now be made real through software such as Photoshop  challenging the traditional draftsmanship and classical colourist skills possessed by artists such as Burness.
But There's More! Coming Attractions at the ACP.
Photograph by Lloyd Godman

Starting on July 29th are two exhibitions that exploit  photography's traditional strengths. In Gallery 3, Lloyd Godman will present Entropy, a suite of colour photographs that illustrate how the Australian bush regenerated after the tragic Victorian bushfires of 2009. (pictured, left) Accompanying Godman will be Disappeared by Remained an exhibition of Korean photographers (one of retiring ACP Director Alasdair Foster's achievements has been to embrace the reality of Australia's presence in Asia and the Pacific) The artistry of the Korean people is often overlooked when considered in context with their phenomenal capacity for imaginative hard work (a contemporary Korean saying proclaims 'we are the only people who make the Japanese look lazy!) 
Photograph by Woon-Gu Kang

Photograph by Ki-Chan Kim

Disappeared but Remained offers the work of three distinguished Korean photographers: Woon-Gu Kang, Ki-Chan Kim, and Gap Chul Lee in an exhibition curated by the Museum of Photography, Seoul.

Each understands the idea that every photograph, in some way, is an elegy for a past experience or person. Defying global artistic trends, Korean photographers pursue what their spokesman called, "the essential characteristic of photography: the representation and preservation of reality. The photographers ... (and) focus on documenting disappearing moments, places or objects (within) the radical social change of South Korea’s rapid industrialization and westernization."
Just out: 2011 Compendium of Australian Photographers.

Just off the presses in China is a remarkable addition to Australian publishing - a beautifully designed and reproduced book which contains the work of the vast majority of photographers (over 130) who exhibited in recognised Australian art galleries during 2011. Each photographer supplied one photograph and accompanying text with their contact details. The Compendium(pictured, left and right) was created by Mary Meyer and Bob Kersey, founders of the Meyer Gallery and becomes, after the quickest reading (a copy arrived only hours ago) a uniquely valuable source of reference for the current (and annual) state of this dynamic Australian art. To obtain copies, please contact Mary Meyer on 0409 971 940 or visit to find out how to participate in future editions.
Text: Copyright Robert McFarlane 2011