Wise Words Indeed #4 - George Bernard Shaw

11th May, 2011
 Many photographers are as equally eloquent of thought as they are in capturing the most mesmerizing of street images. One who's witty written word insight somewhat dwarfed his efforts with camera in hand (or more likely on tripod) was master Irish playwright, 
George Bernard Shaw

Shaw was an enthusiastic amateur photographer during the earliest years of the twentieth century and counted master lensmen Alvin Coburn and Frederick Evans as close friends. 

In a letter to the photographer and historian Helmet Gernsheim, Shaw explained how he'd come to photography - 

"I always wanted to draw and paint. I had no literary ambition: I aspired to be a Michael Angelo, not a Shakespeare. But I could not draw well enough to satisfy myself; and the instruction I could get was worse than useless. So when dry plates and push buttons came into the market I bought a box camera and began pushing the button ..."  

Shaw collected over 16000 photographs in his lifetime and wrote extensively on the medium, unfurling the following  
Wise Words Indeed…  

"A fashion is nothing but an induced epidemic" 
- George Bernard Shaw

Self Portrait - George Bernard Shaw

"The photographer is like the cod, which lays a million eggs in order that one may be hatched"     - George Bernard Shaw.

Sidney and Beatrice Webb - by George Bernard Shaw

"....there is still far too much of the sort of work that can be seen for nothing in the shop-window, not to mention one or two examples of "retouching" which can only be compared to the pipes and moustaches with which portraits of the sovereigns of England get decorated in school histories.... Retouching claims to be an art within an art; and doubtless it is so in much the same way that conjuring as applied to table-turning is an art within an art. All the more reason for it to be artistically done. It ought, however, to be excluded from a photographic exhibition, on the simple grounds that it is not photography..."   - George Bernard Shaw

Self Portrait - George Bernard Shaw
 "Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will" 
  - George Bernard Shaw 

Photograph by George Bernard Shaw

"A fool's brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education." - George Bernard Shaw

Arabic Child - by George Bernard Shaw

"I would trade all the paintings of Jesus for one photograph" - George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw in Rotorua, New Zealand.

Photography & Place

3rd May, 2011
Photography & Place ... Australian Landscape Photography, 1970s Until Now
Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) until 24th May, 2011.

Truth be known I shuffled around this display like a plain clothes Taoist Monk craving spiritual succour at the power tools end of Balgowlah Bunnings

For without wishing to sound aggressively unkind, Photography & Place is uninspiring; weighed down by the usual AGNSW millstones of politics and the incongruous brief. 

The exhibit blurb opens boldly, stating that “The work of the 18 artists included in the exhibition represents a shift from more than a century’s thinking about the depiction of landscape in Australian photography.” And so you can just imagine, poor poor me bounds in like a labrapup sniffing out a fruity sandshoe – I guess I was expecting a kind of Ken Duncan meets the revolution vibe – you know red dirt under well chewed toe nails dragging across the wide brown linoleum to a clicking of shears and the dulcet tones of warbling Wowness. 

The punters peruse Photography & Place ... Photo - Andrew Stark
A visual experience set to pick me up and fill my heaving chest cavity with the physical vista of a deeply insightful Australianess. But nah … didn’t happen. This is after all the AGNSW. Instead I got Maralinga, post modernism, indigenous self indulgence and of course, Bill Henson.

…has there been a group exhibition of photography at the Art Gallery of NSW post 1979 that hasn’t featured Bill Henson? Think not. You know, I even have a vague recollection of this institution including Mr H, along with Tracey Moffatt in a street themed exhibit back in the 1990s. 

Wesley Stacey's series was a highlight
 This sandstone encased doyen of all things conceptual has treated the pointy end of realist photography with an intolerable contempt for well over a quarter of a century now. Remembering, this is the public gallery that represents the home state of Trent Parke – an internationally fated artist for whom (at time of writing) has had but the single work collected for inclusion in the AGNSW permanent collection (a pic of a backyard swing set taken in Queensland during 2003).

The late Ingeborg Tyssen was a wonderful street photographer and her images of the undergrowth included in this show are kind of pretty, yet the sparse highlights of Photography & Place are Wesley Stacey’s long line of pharmacy processed road pic’s and Ian North’s Canberra burb-scapes. Both these contributions strip away the call for overt pretence – they are subtle yet fresh … sprigs of wattle in a paddock brim full of bleating show ponies (or should that be neighing billy goats?).  
Rosemary Laing's "after Heysen"
Rosemary Laing’s “after Heysen” was so traditional it brought into direct play the nepotistic Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome that so haunts worthwhile appraisal. A large take on the work of German/Australian landscape painter Hans Heysen; this image is included seemingly for no other reason than it is a work by Rosemary Laing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite lovely and yes pictorially presents like a 19th century watercolour yet there is certainly  no “shift away from more than a century’s thinking about the depiction of landscape” here, in fact if anything it offers an old school embrace. This photograph could be seamlessly coupled alongside works by postcard darlings Steve Parish and the afore mentioned Ken Duncan without jolting anyone’s stylistic rhythm. And yet Parish or Duncan with their capitalistic sensibilities shall never be permitted to wander across the Domain toward the rarefied ambience of this castle of whispered wisdom – no matter how relevant to the topic their snaps may become.   

Ken Duncan
Steven Parish
        The front wall blurb goes on to say that, “In the 1970s a more politically and conceptually informed approach emerged” … aint that the truth I grumbled, as I horseshoed my way down the staircase toward fresh air and home. Perhaps however someone should acknowledge that within the AGNSW this same approach has hog tied their photographic perspective to a kind of narrow, Marrickville Greens branch meeting predictability; left wing jingoism that recycles to a grooved mantra of fleshy, upper middle class self flagellation … or something !  

Why no Narelle Autio ?
Photography & Place is a theme that should have ignited the richest tapestry of Australian art. And whilst pyromaniacal vandalism is to be universally frowned upon, I ask - where was the curatorial spark of ingenuity that might have included …
Peter Dombrovskis' Tasmanian wilderness series, or Trent Parkes epic Minutes to Midnight. How about Marco Bok's Bondi Beach grabs or Narrelle Autio’s birds eye view from Sydney’s iconic grey arch. Tim Hixson’s Holga view of the northern beaches, Rob McFarlanes Seven Up style jetty pic’s from Brighton or even LM Hemsworths much acclaimed, Lonely Thoroughfare  series would have livened this presentation markedly (these are not all landscapes I here you scream - well I'm just trying to shift from more than a century’s thinking about the depiction of landscape in Australian photography.  .

Sadly this display is tired and uninspiring.
It has a thrown together from the downstairs vault feel.
Yes, I think that’s a fair summation.  
Kathy on Brighton Pier 1964 & 1973
    Why no Robert McFarlane ?


Old Man's Valley

Photo - Andrew Stark

28th April, 2011

 …and then I happened upon Old Man’s Valley.

Who’d have known it was tucked away in suburban West Hornsby, you know just down from the Chinese takeaway on Dural Street.

Down, down, down … I staggered, soon arthritic knees grinding toward dust; in search I guess, of the much heralded Old Man River… which one might assume would be found flowing through the Old Man’s Valley.

 Ol' man river,
Dat ol' man river
He mus'know sumpin'
But don't say nuthin',
He jes'keeps rollin'
He keeps on rollin' along.

And yet, like the fly sitting on the tongue of the Venus – I realized too late. It was the eleventh hour of all belated cognisance and this was a strictly ‘No Return’ trail. The rutted spiral thoroughfare grooved into Mother Earth like a shiny black stallion, nostrils flaring, earning his keep at that wet n wild thoroughbred stud up near Stroud. Remnants of grumpiness lined the corkscrewed track as hirsute ear canals flourished within the otherwise decaying corpses of baby boomers who’d never quite made it out.

Luckily my bush skills align a natural flair for well perforated philately*, and I’d soon mulched myself up a small compote of myrtaceous genus gum leaves inside the pouch of an unsuspecting rock wallaby. Whistling ‘Breakfast at Sweethearts’ in an unfamiliar key to keep the marsupial from bounding, I equally bided my time encouraging the marauding North West Sydney bull ants to nibble my temporarily earth bound knees in an attempt to both heighten my level of Myrmecia toxin levels and also to sharpen concentration. Once the Eucalypt concoction had fully festered I buried my face deep into the hirsutely hallucinogenic mix … and before the blowies had any chance to settle upon the conjunctive corners of a madly spinning middle eye, I was up and away, flying off out of that dark and sinister valley like a Ken Done plumed lorikeet atop the chiaroscuro’d chasm of a pallidly mortal chill.

Twas a close call; an experience many trumpet as ‘near death’. And it has awoken in me a realization that time is of the essence, you know in a fleeting kind of, can’t rely on tomorrow vibe. So yes, I must stop pontificating; find myself a new camera … and work.

*For years I went under the misapprehension that stamp collecting was called philanthropy and not philately. And you know back in the autumn of 1992 it got to ridiculous levels when I actually joined a local philanthropic organization; craving a bit of first day cover action. I quickly became frustrated however when despite my best efforts at sparking up a bit of Penny Black, 1840s revelry  my fellow members only ever wanted to chat about poor people and who to make the cheque out to …

Aussie Street - Heroes Just For One Day

21st April, 2011

"I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, for ever and ever
Oh we can be heroes, just for one day"

                       - Bowie

Street Reverb Magazine has a curious little feature about Australian Street Photography and the Dolphin Effect.

Thanks to Phill Hunt, Bryan F and some dude called Stark.

Konica Heads For Shady Pines

16th April, 2011

One of Konica's most popular efforts
Photo -Andrew Stark (and Konica)

Me and Konica, well, we've been a street duo now for close on 30 years. Everything I've seen out there on the crumbling bitumen she's seen too and occasionally, just every now and then you understand, we've combined to nab a half decent image or two. Now Konica, or TC as she's colloquially known has no fancy airs and graces, you know there's no motor wind, the light metering consists of a moistened finger held up to the breeze, a whole bunch of electrical tape has sutured up a cracked base for neigh on a decade now - yeah, it's fair to say we've faced our challenges ... but lately good readers it saddens me to report that things have deteriorated markedly. TC has got so gunged up she now struggles to see the light. And lets face it, an SLR who don't suck up light is gunna have to have a hell of a personality to survive. In recent months I've had to uprate TRI X to 2 stops just to get a bright sunny day response and yeah, we're talking about Aussie light here, the harshest most melanomic sunshine anywhere on the globe.
Show some compassion man and use a flash I hear you shout, well yes, despite hating flash photography almost as much as I despise State Rail Transit Officers, I would gladly countenance that option if it were not for the busted hot shoe and the dead as Dickens side socket.  

TC looking sprightly in her youth
This is a most difficult time and yet I need to glance, perhaps a little selfishly toward the future.
I'm going to need a ----, oh, this is hard to write.
I'm going to need a replacement.

Having no real finances and even less idea, I'm asking you knowledgeable folk out there, what do you suggest ? It needs be a film camera and if I do decide to go with the flow and steal a Leica - which model would you suggest ? Or perhaps a Contax is preferable, I don't know ... but at this difficult time, I do know with all my heart, that you're feedback would be greatly appreciated.      

Street Photography - Trailer Style

John Chiara

7th April, 2011

 Whilst leaping Lee Friedlander shoots famously from the well cushioned drivers seat of his car, there's this Californian chapee called Chiara who does it from just in behind his own cumbersome conveyance (take photo's that is).

Using a camera big enough to house a family of four, John Chiara exposes directly onto mural sized Cibachrome positive paper, dodges and burns during the picture taking process and develops in an old sewage pipe. The end result is purely aesthetic in nature - you know, big, limited edition of one, moody vistas fit for the discerning inner city feature wall.

I would probably love JC's work however haven't had a drink now in 53 hours and the head, well it's just a tad too unfuddled to swoon. See I reckon work like this needs accoutrement - and without, well it's like spag bowl without Parmesan - the magic I think lies in the coupling. So the next time I tumble from the wagon I'll head straight for Chiaras monoliths and experience the holistic hubris in it's heightened hentirety.

And the big trailer camera thing did have a definite Crocodile Dundee correlation...

Pondering Chiara quite favorably, my train of thought, despite being on a bus was abruptly truncated. Two adolescent females boarded with full metal trinkets jangling and a collective swagger brazen enough to undo any baggy panted Italian Prime Minister. Sprawling themselves just in behind Nowhere like some public performance piece for the latest Lolita lounge pose, I instantaneously lost control and felt my 'big camera' thought bubble pop ... arrgghh teenage girls - the scourge of the mild mannered, middle aged contemporary male. You see I was traveling south from Manly on the 143 last Sunday morning when the pair of semi naked 'like' parrots began leaning aggressively into my curious head space. A tinny noise maker up on high began cranking it's aural outrage - spitting the usual misogynistic, African American bling rant from it's shameless cathodes, you know the stuff ...

"Bout my giiirlll and the dark streets of her inner boottee,
 Huh huh, hee hee, yaaarrr,
 Haven't smiled since grade skool,
 Huh huh, hee hee, yaaarrr,
 My momma was a user my dad a real tool,
 Huh huh, hee hee, yaaarrr,
 I'm cut like a God aint nobodies fool,
 Huh huh ... etc"

And as the bus crawled through the rapacious avenues of Neutral Bay, the hood looked kinda shiny, a mean 150K the word on the tree lined streets. The musical interlude was accompanied by continual convo's shouted into the non crooning phone ... "Yeah so like f**kin get to like Chatswood ya mole - you like banned from Chatswood ? Well like f**kin get there ya bitch !"

Nowhere Man gritted his splintered incisors knowing far better than to take issue. Gripping the arm rest I stared out towards an imaginary mogadon dispenser, my mind drifting to mass murder, Victor Meldrew and ultimately Dostoevsky's Idiot,     

"He was in a state of nervous excitement and perturbation; he noticed nothing and no one; and he felt a craving for solitude, to be alone with his thoughts and his emotions, and to give himself up to them passively. He loathed the idea of trying to answer the questions that would rise up in his heart and mind, 'I am not to blame for all this', he thought to himself, half unconsciously."

Hopping off up beyond the Crows Nest, the ordeal had finally pushed into the annals of the past tense. Naturally I headed straight for Facebook to vent my kidneys and the lower half of a somewhat addled pancreas, reasoning soundly, 'why should ones spleen be the only organ fully aerated ?'. Before sundown I'd joined the worthy Facebook groups -

"I can't stand teens who play music (no wait) noise at the back of the bus"
"The I can't stand teenagers playing music on mobile phones on the bus group!"

The latter of these included an insightful quote from Lidja Peel of Dorset who noted, "this week there were two chav girls playing the new Rhianna song over and over and over and over ... as well as talking really really loudly ... I wanted to slap them !" 

Photo - Andrew Stark

Des & Molly Jones Vote Conservative

30 March 2011
Ar-achna-dee, ar-achna-daa, life goes on, brah !...
Lala how the life goes on …

Well, to a certain extent I guess it does …

I haven’t found the enthusiasm nor the desire in recent weeks. Pulling Konica from the darkest reaches of the back pack seems about as nonsensical just at the moment as does being excited by the outcome of last Saturday’s democratic brouhaha, stoush, political mugging … you know, the weekend of the little red pencil and that bland chorus line of pleading boxes held about every four years to determine control of Australia’s most populous state…   OK, for anyone out of the loop, here’s the latest breakdown

2011 NSW State Election Results –

*Blue blooded right wingers who live in mansions with long crunchy sounding driveways   - 69 seats

*Power hungry right wingers who’ve been in control for 16 years yet didn’t bother returning from their 2006 summer hol’s     – 20 seats

*Left wingers  – a few crumbs

*Lunatics - tba

Photo - Andrew Stark
… I think the local schoolkids had it right – stick em all with funny eyes and pour BBQ sauce down their chins… yeah, I’ll vote for dat.