Friday, October 21, 2011

Video Transcending Difficulties of Its Making

A Tyrant's Departure - Democratically Observed

Happier Times - Qaddafi with France's President Sarkozy
Muammar el-Qaddafi’s death in Sirte on October 20th brought an instant glimpse into the world’s medieval past – with a death seen as initially sudden, then as grotesquely paraded as any execution centuries ago in Elizabethan Tudor England might have been. Being hung, drawn and quartered could have been a more formal way of dying than that finally experienced by Muammar el-Qaddafi, as witnessed in intricate, ghastly detail on the internet (and seen briefly on the New York Times before being withdrawn). Terrible images, jaggedly observed by phone video, somehow suggested, in one contradictory sequence, that Qaddafi was being cradled as any casualty of war, but with his death imminent, so serious were his visible head wounds. The former Libyan leader’s shining, profusely shed blood, lit by sunlight falling on the careening vehicle in which the Colonel was being transported, suggested the final assault on his life had occurred only minutes before. But as the chaotic, shuddering camerawork deteriorated to something below sub-competence, did the Libyan leader’s head then seem to move slightly to indicate he still lived? The camera then panned away to a meaningless, blurry traveling shot of rapidly receding sand accompanied by a sound track of crackling gunfire, heard against frequent Arabic cries proclaiming the greatness of Allah, apparently from an ecstatic young man with a pronounced gap between his front teeth, whom we later glimpse several more times. As the camera's angle swerved further away from  the vehicle, the youth’s cries were drowned out by more gunfire from automatic weapons. (Has anyone else noticed that insurgents, especially during the Arab Spring, seem to have inexhaustible supplies of bullets, so fond are they of firing triumphant volleys into thin air.) This phone video, shot with as much discrimination as the random aerial gunfire, now slowly panned back and addressed the stricken leader who raises and inspects his bloodstained hand. Attempting to pause this chaotic footage did not help in my understanding of the ex-President’s dire predicament, but the video did succeed, with its crude visual style, in making me realize I had witnessed a shift in history - a tyrant’s departure, rendered with none of the skill we have come to expect from renowned conflict photographers such as David Dare Parker , Don McCullin and Steve Dupont for example. There was, however, an impressionistic veracity that was difficult to question. Here was death, democratically rendered by phone video (as indeed it had been throughout the Arab Spring) with no concern for sentimentality, cinematic skill or even rudimentary composition. For more coverage of the video and the public's response see Even so, the sequence was still profoundly shocking, transcending any ‘compassion fatigue’ we may feel for arenas of global suffering in general - and this once seemingly intransigent conflict, in particular. This unvarnished footage conveyed the death of a leader, one of several Middle East rulers who have made a habit of publicly shooting their own dissident citizens - but this time killed by his own subjects. “Those who live by the sword …shall die by the sword … ”  wandered into my thoughts, for a moment. But in the rawness of its video witness, this unforgettable sequence amplified the reality of his passing and made an ongoing human tragedy more real. The savagery of  revenge meted out to Qaddafi also suggested that perhaps a dispassionate, painstakingly legal trial would have been more beneficial in the long run for Libya - instead of an impatient, brutal death delivered with such obvious relish by his opponents.
Text Copyright Robert McFarlane 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Brummels Lives! Planetary Views, Digital Silver Printing, McCullin's Words & Fujifilm's X10

The Spirit of Brummels - and Rennie Ellis - endures.
Monash Gallery of Art are mounting a survey of the content and enduring influence of Brummels photography gallery (arguably Australia's first - the Australian Centre for Photography would open a year later, in 1973 ) Brummels paved the way for the current wave of excellent commercial exhibiting spaces throughout Australia now showing photography as fine-art. The late Rennie Ellis (1940-2003), that compulsive diarist and charismatic observer of the Australian way of life, foresaw photography's coming prominence as a dynamic art form and founded Brummels, sited above a restaurant of the same name, in Toorak Road, South Yarra, Melbourne in 1972. Ellis maintained that photography had long been neglected in Australia as a form of artistic expression and Brummels would, he said "continue a trend that is widely accepted in London, New York, San Francisco and Amsterdam where photography galleries had been popular for several years." Brummels, under Ellis and Assistant Director, fellow photographer Robert Ashton, quickly became a social arena in which many now legendary Australian photographers showed their work for the first time. The late Carol Jerrems (pictured, above right) appears at her exhibition at Brummels in 1975 ( in a photograph taken by Ellis) as a stylish, confident young woman wearing a loosely tied blouse, black leather boots, frayed denim shorts - caught returning the photographer's gaze with her characteristic aura of opacity and charm. Indeed Ellis's observations of Brummels at MGA capture the gallery's Seventies social ambience and suggest strongly  their exhibiting photographers took their work seriously, but not themselves. Ellis's eye for the bizarre captures three very diverse photographers - Jerrems, the late Athol Shmith and Rob Imhoff (wearing a set of clearly faux front teeth) locked in an awkward embrace at the gallery. Brummels Gallery was eventually compelled to seek sponsorship from Pentax, becoming the Pentax Brummels Gallery before finally closing its doors in 1980. If you want to see ample visual evidence of a new wave of Australian photography that then included artists such as Jon Rhodes, Wesley Stacey, Sue Ford, George Gittoes, Ponch Hawkes, Ian Dodd with seminal works by other established figures such as David Moore (his "Landscape Nude 1" is pictured, above, left) and Henry Talbot, the comfortable drive to Monash Gallery of Art at Wheeler's Hill is a must. In an appropriate coincidence, noted film-maker and photographer  Paul Cox (who opened Brummels first show in 1972) will also open the MGA exhibition on October 22. Until January 22nd, 2012.
Late News:
Gordon Undy opens at Point Light
"Sundown, North Stradbroke Island 2011" By Gordon Undy
Well, why wouldn't he be at Point Light Gallery? As a card-carrying, traditional analogue photographer and co-founder (with wife Lyndell) of this influential, welcoming Sydney space Undy has championed the virtues of photography drawn from it's distant origins - Albumen, Salt prints, POP paper, and of course classic fibre-based Silver printing. Mention digital photography to Undy and it's a little like asking the Devil to afternoon tea. (though ironically the veteran gallerist recently delighted in revealing to me the fine photographic performance of his Apple iPhone.) When I looked at the first pictures sent to me from the gallery I thought one (pictured, above) was of the underbelly of some vast sea creature, witnessed far too intimately by Undy. Such are the illusionist tendencies of photography - but I soon reconciled it to be a landscape, transformed by the simplest, most abbreviated of compositions. Until November 13 
Larcombe's "Beneath The Square Mile" opens in Adelaide
Accomplished Adelaide documentary and corporate photographer Randy Larcombe is drawn to revealing the hidden skeins of energy that flow beneath our city streets and make 21st century life possible."Beneath the Square Mile" at AP BOND Gallery documents the network of subterranean electricity power stations that, says Larcombe, "we walk over every day. There are sixty substations in the (Adelaide) city square mile. I am fascinated by this and want to reveal the unseen, the hidden infrastructure our lives are reliant on." Larcombe's photographs (pictured, above and right) immaculately render, in colour, these hidden, labyrinthine refuges of seemingly opaque technology where one false, uninformed step might lead to disaster. They also reminded me a little of the melancholy documentation of the remaining control rooms at Chernobyl and their basic use of blatantly 20th century technology. Until October 29th.
The Nikon AIPP Caravan Comes to Adelaide
Photojournalist Michael Coyne on location with his Fujifilm X100
As a part of the comprehensive Nikon AIPP Fringe Event  in Adelaide, there will be a screening on Saturday, October 22nd at the Mercury Theatre, Morphett Street, Adelaide of two very different, important films on photography - Annie Leibovitz' "Life Through A Lens" and Edward Burtynsky's "Manufactured Landscapes." This will be followed by talks given by four photographers - David Dare Parker Michael Coyne, (pictured, above) Randy Larcombe and Robert McFarlane Parker will discuss the growing importance of photofestivals, such as Ballarat (BIFFO) FOTOFREO and HeadOn The remaining three will discuss projects they have or are currently, working on. Bookings can only be made through Milton Wordley at and the cost includes a fine lunch. Full details of the AIPP's many other speakers - including David Burnett and Jenny Brockie can be obtained from the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers (AIPP) website (above)
Two Important Sydney Gatherings this week.
Mary Meyer and Sandy Edwards are inviting photographers and their associates to an urgent meeting this coming Thursday, October 20th at 6.30 pm at Syndicate, 2 Danks Street, Waterloo hosting an open discussion on "Photography's Place in Australian Culture", which will be chaired by prominent documentary photographers Juno Gemes and Dean Sewell. "It's time," they say, "to talk about the big picture and set in place a strategic framework as a response to (Federal Minister for the Arts)  Simon Crean's proposals on creating a National Cultural Policy.", as outlined in the discussion paper at  What makes this meeting especially urgent is that ten weeks ago the Government has set a deadline for submissions to be in by midnight this Friday, October 21st. Sadly, I was unaware of this, which makes any submissions both urgent and important. Full details of how and where to make submissions can be found at the Government Website (above)and it is expected the meeting will create an agreed proposal to be put to government.
Tedeschi to speak on Illusion & Allusion at AGNSW
"Apotheosis" by Mark Tedeschi
Differences between truth and fiction occupy much of Mark Tedeschi's time during his daily work as a Crown Prosecutor in NSW Law Courts. But Tedeschi is also literate in truths of a more elusive, visual kind. As an accomplished photographer, represented by the Josef Lebovic Gallery at Tedeschi has consistently been exploring allegory and metaphor in his pictures and regards "photography is an exceptionally versatile art-form for conveying emotional subject matter, subtle meanings and profound, underlying connections between elements." Tedeschi will be speaking at 6.30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 19th in the Centenary Auditorium at the Art Gallery of NSW and bookings (on 02 9225 1878) are essential. Refreshments will be served.
Seeing Beyond Infinity - Fredericks' SALT Project at ACP
Murray Fredericks' tent and bicycle base-camp at Lake Eyre
The suite of pictures (pictured, above) created by Murray Fredericks during seven years of visiting Lake Eyre dislocates most orthodox expectations about landscape photography. No single dynamic visual element intrudes into the foreground - indeed there is little sense of separation between foreground and background in many pictures. Fredericks pays seamless homage to space and light in these photographs and departs markedly from any familiar landscape photography influences. The three common elements in the SALT Project 1993-2010, on display at the Australian Centre for Photography  from October 14th are space, light and of course colour. In addressing these constants, Murray Fredericks (pictured, right)  goes beyond conventional artistic aspirations to produce spectacular imagery emanating a curious mix of splendour and humility. How can you not look at this photographer's picture of star trails arcing across the heavens above a seemingly alien, arid plain - and not sense our fragile standing within this planetary home - as well as humanity's unique ability to know its tiny place in the Universe? In the SALT Project 1993-2010, and its companion body of work HECTOR, on exhibition at
Sydney's Annandale Galleries  Murray Fredericks  transcends most fundamental verities of landscape photography - while addressing a common ambition of visual artists - to depict the skin that light gives to their subjects. If SALT is about limitless plains and skies, then HECTOR reveals the sky's incomparable power, when convulsed by  weather.(pictured, above) Using black and white photography's unique luminousity and tonality, instead of SALT's subtle colour, Fredericks again addresses vistas far greater than ourselves - the legendary storms that rage through skies above Northern Australia."HECTOR draws its title from an affectionately named atmospheric phenomenon that produces (some of) the world's biggest thunderstorms over the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin," explains Fredericks. In HECTOR, this photographer shows us, as eloquently as in SALT, a very different, voluble  sky -  caught raging above distant, northern seas. At the Australian Centre for Photography until November 19th and Annandale Galleries until their Summer Closing in December.
Blanco Negro introduces Digital Silver Printing
For those of us who have embraced the digital revolution and thought any silver printing we might do in future would be from our archive of old, familiar black and white negatives - not so! Sydney's fine B&W processing lab Blanco Negro are introducing archival, fibre-based silver gelatin printing from digital files. Blanco Negro's director and master printer Chris Reid recently announced that they have acquired a De Vere 504DS Digital Enlarger. "Put simply," says Reid, "this enlarger replaces a conventional negative carrier with a high resolution Liquid Crystal Display that simulates a negative. The enlarger's computer then converts digital files into a virtual negative on the LCD panel, through which light is  projected." Reid adds reassuringly that "the De Vere enlarger can then project the image on to the base-board in the same way a film enlarger projects a negative. The image to be printed can be  focused, sized and cropped in the same way as in a conventional enlarger, with contrast being controlled both in Photoshop and the enlarger's dichroic filters."  
POSTSCRIPT: As good and truly archivally lasting as today's current generation of prints made by digital inkjet printers are (check if you need reassuring) there is an unmistakable feel, (patina if you will) about silver gelatin prints - and some art galleries and museums simply prefer "silver" because familiarity with this now-ancient print-making process has brought not contempt, but respect. I would imagine (and I have not yet consigned any of my digital B&W images to this printing process) it could prove to be a very seductive exercise. Blanco Negro's Carisse Flanagan adds "now the desktop and darkroom can be as one."  
Blanco Negro will be exhibiting examples of digital images printed on silver gelatin by some of Australia’s finest photographers including Stephen Dupont, Andrew Quilty and Benjamin Ong. From October 13
Digital Gets Serious With The Street
Fujifilm's recently announced X10
Nikon Vi System 1 camera
In creating cameras such as the Canon Powershot G12, Nikon's P7100 and more recently, Fujfilm's X100, camera manufacturers are finally acknowledging that photographers who want to document life as inconspicuously as possible need compact, high quality cameras with wide, fast lenses - and most importantly viewfinders. Nikon  have just announced their "1 System", notably, the Nikon V1 with built-in viewfinder (pictured, right) as part of their new, remarkable mirrorless interchangeable lens system. Equally recently, Fujifilm have introduced a new camera - the X10 - with great similarities to the X100, but which now features an even wider, fast lens (28f2) which zooms to medium telephoto.For anyone who grew up photographing with rangefinder cameras such as the Leica M series, the Canon 7 and Nikon's SP, cameras such as the Fujifilm X100 exude a certain familiarity - possessing a fast, exquisitely sharp lens (at every aperture) and classic rangefinder responsiveness - but with digital's imaging facility. These may turn out to be the good old days - it is, after all, the image that counts and these new cameras improve picture-making.
Don McCullin Unloads
Don McCullin, London, 1969  
In a revealing interview sent to me by fine-art still-life photographer Anna-Maryke Grey, CNN's Mairi Mackay interviews celebrated war photographer Don McCullin who speaks candidly, at length, of his experiences as one of the great survivors of documenting armed conflict in the 20th Century. McCullin, whom I photographed in 1969 ( pictured left) when we were both covering British Heavyweight boxer Henry Cooper's last fight for different London newspapers, remains mystified about the reasons for man's in humanity to man, but as committed as ever to passionately exploring his photography. In the CNN interview he also discussed  his recent, poetic and seemingly atypical documentation of the last architectural traces of the ancient Roman Empire in his book, Southern Frontiers. As McCullin enters his eighth decade, it is also worth noting that if French doctor Bernard Kouchner (who worked for the Red Cross during the Biafran War) had not been so moved after seeing an achingly sad McCullin 1969 picture of starving African albino children in Biafra (pictured) we perhaps would not have had the incomparable (but necessarily apolitical) humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Text Copyright Robert McFarlane 2011