Uncovering The Shadowy Art Agenda

31st January, 2011. 

"Please Walk All Over The Art"
Photograph by Andrew Stark

Now there’s this question that has gnawed away at my comprehension like a famished gnome at the Short Stool Steakhouse – it’s hovered just out and above my psyche like a menacing shadow projecting down upon my hapless aura - Specifically, and to be precise,

“Who the hell decides what photographic style is hot and what style is rot at any given point in history?”

I mean who imparts the yeah or the nay on this, our creative, camera pointing caper? 

Louvre, Paris 1975
Photograph by John F Williams
Down here in the ochre dirt and fly colony, a land known in early19th century atlases as Terra Australis, the Nowhere Man grew up in total awe of local street photographers: Roger Scott, John F Williams, Phil Quirk and Ingeborg Tyssen. Throughout the 1970s these traditional HCB style streeties were the darlings of the gallery set; they sat at the cutting edge of art photography, their work purchased voraciously by all the public collections. And then in the blinking of a conjunctive pupil, it was as if a grand piano had slid catastrophically from the rear of a speeding removalists van.  Inexplicably and without reason it would seem that ‘The Shadowy Figure Who Decides’ (TSFWD) grew restless and smashed street style cred into jagged fragments of splintered firewood, mid intersection carnage interspersed by twisted wire and a forlorn past tense tune. During the early hours of August 17th, 1983 the decree was executed and Aussies awoke to the hushed, sub textual whisper that, “the conceptual feminists were now ‘it’”. The street photographers of course hadn’t seen any of this coming and reacted initially as one would imagine, with a chuckle and that cocky elevated eyebrow of bushy disbelief that all sidewalk loiterers so ably employ whenever the big bad world places them under any semblance of threat. Sadly however, despite the ‘she’ll be right’ bravado unfurled by our D76 splashers, the Jatz and Cheddar cubed bubble of altered reality had been universally briefed and the streeties quickly found that all the locks had been changed and their head office files had been crudely branded with a dismissive “So Yesterday”, scrawled in the fluoro highlighter ink of a most mockingly verdant hue.

"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs ... you'll be a Man, my son"
Photograph by Andrew Stark

Art & left wing politics had suddenly morphed into one, coupling like a bio degradable Allen-key thrust into a chiaroscuro style hexagonal hole on the head float of the famous Dulwich Hill May Day March. And before the revisionists could settle the choppy swell, buffeting pale and spindly limbs atop their King sized, burgundy tinted watery beds, this IKEA like ideal had very much claimed the decade and extraordinarily, much of the next. Australian history had been hit by two ‘ckkkkk’ sounding days of explosive alliteration and high drama, all inside eight curiously long haired and exceedingly humourless years…
Kerr’s Cur – the sacking of the Whitlam Government, an outrage to democracy on the 11th November, 1975 was joined in the annals of incredulity by, The Contemporary Coup – the dismissal of street photography on the 17th August, 1983.

And to fully appreciate the stark ramifications of this overstepped popping crease of change, we need look no further than the public gallery that oversees this countries largest city, Sydney. For the Art Gallery of NSW has not found the need to collect a single street photograph since “The Change”, claiming dismissively that the genre has already been well represented in its vast and diverse collection. A clearly gentrified way of saying that the bloodied and cold body of street photography was found curled up at the end of a no through road on the morning of August 17th, 1983. (Perhaps someone needs let the AGNSW crew know that Elvis: Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Michael Jackson all released chart topping hits - post death). 

Cahill Expressway
Painting by Jeffrey Smart

Heading into the new millennia it didn’t get a whole lot better. We found a further shift as politics became passé and it suddenly fell to sterility and the pristine, almost people-less city scape. Imperfection was eliminated in a Boys from Brazil type pimple purge, and this, the latest TSFWD anointed style mimicked a kind of digitally enhanced Jeffrey Smart retrospective. Size overpowered substance and the photographic experience aped a banal Hollywood flick – awash with monosyllabic scripts and a cursory non-story; all propped up by the endless stream of special effects and blitzkrieg marketing.       

Where we head next is clearly not up to the Nowhere Man, however I do feel a certain ‘Woodward and that other bloke’ kind of vibe taking hold and will strive to saunter wildside to suss the shimmering late night cobblestoned word of my snitches and fences and bootlegging beauties, out there on the extreme edge of those dark avenues, deep in the bowels of East Killara, Pymble Heights, Turrramurra Mews and beyond … and I guess if they don’t know anything, I’ll Google some stuff and get back to you.  

So just who is The Shadowy Figure Who Decides (TSFWD)?  Is he or she an all encompassing autocrat or conversely perhaps nothing more than a figure-headed lackey masking a backroom of megalo-mincers and fattish financiers? But then if he is a mere mannequin, who is he and from whence does this curious entities counsel derive? (i.e. who’s feeding the bugger?). Is it all fostered by the reviewers & critics, or perhaps the art colleges, the academics, or is it driven solely by the auction houses and their exclusive chateau of clinking clientele?

Rest assured good readers - The Nowhere Man will dig. For we, the royal we are hell bent on uncovering this silhouetted puppet master – TSFWD, as our cryptically clever code has labelled him; he on whose flippant whim we all fulminate and furrow like obedient little moped perchers pottering along the hideously expensive tollway to Gore Hill. He, must be exposed.  And if by some stroke of very impressive investigative journalism we actually do manage to uncover him or her … I fully expect a Pulitzer or two, a complimentary case of full strength beer, and the rebel yell kind of notoriety Julian Assange is now being afforded internationally – well, OK, maybe not that last thing!

Stay tuned fellow snappers …

and by way of an early list of possible suspects, here is a quintet of individuals the Nowhere Man feels may be able to help with our most immediate inquiries.  

Parties of Interest 

Charles Saatchi -
he may know a thing or two.

Oprah Winfrey -
 word on the street is that "Girlfriend runs the World".

Stephen Fry -
probably not involved, but he is both highly cultured and nauseatingly connected.

Andy Warhol -
Mortality goes POP! Is Andy really dead???

Arthur Daley -
overheard during the winter of 87, describing art as
"a nice little earner"

Any information regarding this matter should be sent to Nowhere Man at n.man@gmx.com
Rest assured all corespondence will be treated with the utmost confidentiality (unless of course it's funny and/or pertinent, in which case it'll probably end up in a future post with your name plastered all over it) 

For We Are Young And Free

26th January, 2011.

From as faraway as Kalgoorlie, to as nearby as Coogee, January 26th is the annual day known to all dinky di Trevor’s and Sharon’s as ‘Good Ole Australia Day’. It’s the day when lots of little blue flags are waved by zinc cream embellished kiddies, much high powered beverage is consumed and the magical words, ‘Public Holiday’ are stamped across Aussie desk calendars like a glittering green and gold winners sash on Oaks Day.

Andrew Stark
Nowhere Man will spend the momentous occasion nibbling cream filled lamington before venturing in and around Sydney to wave his camera about and no doubt give the impression to all discerning onlookers that, ‘yes, this is a purposeful photographer’...Of course we all know better.

And so, as this nationalistic, ‘down under’ fervour sweeps the immediate neighbourhood, I thought I might take the opportunity to post a bunch of special Aussie images, taken by a bunch of special Aussie photographers …

Harold Cazneau

Max Dupain

Olive Cotton

David Moore

David Potts

John F Williams

Jeff Carter

Robert McFarlane

Ingeborg Tyssen

Phillip Quirk

Rennie Ellis

Carol Jerrems

Roger Scott

Gerrit Fokkema

Max Pam

Trent Parke

Narelle Autio

Katrin Koenning

Garry Trinh

Jesse Marlow

Under the southern cross I stand
a little camera in my hand,
the streets they lie before me - strewth,
this wide n sepia land uncouth,
from Caz to Jess
via Max n Ms Cotton,
Australians real busy
on the planet's bottom !

With apologies to Henry Lawson, Rod Marsh and the other thousand Aussie photographers who should have been included but weren't (this time) ...

White Wall Fever...Carter & Leibovitz

 24th January, 2011.

Jeff Carter - State Library of NSW

In between prowling those rutted inner city back lanes in search of emotive imagery (or something) I took time out on Saturday afternoon to squiz at a couple of Sydney exhibitions. And I must conclude that the contrast between the two was both meaty and quite noticeable. For let’s face it, Jeff Carter and Annie Leibovitz have very little in common …

Annie Leibovitz - MCA

Jeff passed away recently; Annie didn’t.
Jeff was a bloke; Annie isn’t.
Jeff has never hung in the Museum of Contemporary Art; Annie currently is.
Annie’s somewhat of an international celebrity; Jeff isn’t & wasn’t.
Jeff’s images are earthy and soulful and I enjoyed his State Library of NSW exhibition immensely; Annie’s exhibition is showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art and last Saturday the powerful air conditioning in the adjoining bookshop was faultlessly sublime. 

State Library of NSW
Photo - Andrew Stark

Footnote – Got hassled by security at the State Library for taking photo’s – and as the walkie talkie dude unfurled his best ‘this is really serious sir’ kind of look I could feel the spirit of Jeff Carter slapping his thigh and dancing to the ludicrous irony of banning photography at a photographic celebration.

Further Footnote – Little note to the MCA … Nowhere Man would need to be wined, dined and granted a one on one chat with Ms Leibovitz herself before forking out $15 – Anyhow, I  got a fair handle on the show by thumbing the catalogue in the browsy bookshop  (where I was curiously asked to wear my backpack on my front – presumably because suicide bombers don’t’ like to see it coming ???).          

Jeff Carter - 
"Beach Bush + Battlers" - State Library of NSW until February 20th... entry free

Annie Leibovitz -
"A Photographers Life 1990-2005" - MCA (Sydney) until March 27th ... $15 entry fee

Discourse and Cheap Patisserie with L.M. Hemsworth

20th January, 2011

L.M.Hemsworth - from the Daybreak series

Last Tuesday morning, Nowhere Man caught up with acclaimed street photographer Lucas Hemsworth for a quick chat and a pineapple donut down at the Pennant Hills shopping mall. The young photographer’s star is very much on the rise having wowed all comers at the Revesby Biennale last June and has been described in Australian art dispatches most favourably as, “the literal street photographer” – this seemed an appropriate place to start…

N.M …
So Lucas, what do you make of the ‘literal street photographer’ tag ?
Mate I quite like it. I’m a true street photographer and feel a distinction needs be made between the purity of straight forwardly photographing the streets as opposed to all these photographers flying under the street photography banner who aren’t actually shooting the streets at all, they’re shooting the sidewalks, the parks, the beaches, and more often than not – they’re shooting the people.  

So tell us just how a humble road digger suddenly becomes a celebrated street photographer?

There was nothing sudden about it mate. I’d left school at 14 and was lucky enough to receive a traineeship with the DMR (Dept of Main Roads) – and for a young kid who knew nothing about anything, hell all that blue stone, bitumen and double yellow lines … I tell you, it was bloody intoxicating.
Anyway after a few years working solely on the shovel I earned the extra responsibility of taking the project photo’s for the gang. And on one particularly wet and windy Wednesday up the
Bobbin Head Road from Asquith, Tran Veganbauer driving a Nissan Bluebird ran right into me. It was my own fault as I’d set the tripod up in the centre of a hairpin bend and Tran actually did brilliantly not to kill me. Anyway, after that we became mates and Tran liked some of my images and suggested I should show them.

Yes, for anyone not au fait – Tran Veganbauer’s contribution to Australian photography has been immense. A huge early supporter of the likes of  Bill Henson, Tracy Moffatt, Barry Pascoe and now LM Hemsworth, just to name a few. Tran’s Padstow Gallery is pivotal in the twitching fulcrum of Aussie image making.

Yeah, that’s one way of putting it.

L.M.Hemsworth - from the Daybreak series

N.M …
Just think, you might have been run over by Russell Crowe and today your thing could be thespianism.

Russell Crowe doesn’t drive a Nissan Bluebird.

Fair point.
Now Lucas, would it be overstating the truth if I were to suggest that you had a genuine passion for the streets?

The streets don’t lie man: they don’t cheat, they don’t run off with your best mates brother – Nah, the streets stand up. They are totally solid; I respect the streets immensely.     

L.M.Hemsworth - from the Daybreak series

I read recently where “Review” described you as one of the great non artists of contemporary art. And let me quote, “Hemsworth’s street photographs strip bare the previously held dictum that art need be arty”.

Geez this donuts good: texture, stickiness, full flavour – perfect.  Did we invent the pineapple donut? Seems like a really Aussie concept to me. I’m sure we invented it.

No I think that was the Hills Hoist.

As well as mate… we’re allowed to have invented two things yeah ?

N.M …
I suppose. But tell me what you think of art, and why your photographs aren’t … art I mean.

L.M.Hemsworth - from the Daybreak series
I’m a realist. I photograph the streets for the streets alone. I’m not out there to be some flowery bloody smart assed aesthetic junky …
If I see even the barest hint of artiness through my view finder I pull back, you know recoil – I just won’t release that shutter.

That’s interesting, and I imagine very difficult to achieve – a little like calling misere during a hand of whist. It cuts against the natural instinct.

Mmm. Not mine.

You were embroiled in some light hearted controversy back in 2009 when it was pointed out that a number of your “literal street photographs” may not have actually been shots of streets, but instead roads. What is your position on all this ?  

Nothing f**king light hearted about it mate, I got very upset about all that nonsense. All, and I repeat ALL my photographs are street photographs … no roads, avenues, places, ways or any of the other minor thoroughfare descriptors. This whole beat up came about because of far off cross roads. I mean shit, there is a pigeon in the background of one of Atget’s Paris pictures does that suddenly make him a wildlife photographer?

L.M.Hemsworth - from the Daybreak series

No, of course not. I totally agree. Pedantry is a curse and tragically, light hearted tom foolery can sometimes take an eye out …

OK, well, my bus to Hornsby is due shortly so can I just finish up by asking why you’re Web presence is so scant, almost non existent – I mean what’s the big secret why can’t people find your photographs?

Ha Ha! - No secret mate. I’m just a bit of a luddite when it comes to that stuff and I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t mention that I don’t really trust it that much either. I just feel once an image has been stuck up to float around in them computers memory’s it’s lost much of its soul. And funnily enough that’s exactly why I’ve only given you some of my totally average photo’s to use with this interview.

LM Hemsworth – thanks for your time.

Nowhere Man - thanks for the pineapple donut.

End Game #1

 17th January, 2011.

Here’s a little something one never encounters in that pristine world of pixelated RAW files …

Photograph - Andrew Stark

Welcome to the dreaded, and paradoxically quite often glorious, chopped off final frame.

Tis a phenomena born out of, ‘no more’: signalled post-fact by the unease of the half wind, greeted with an ad hoc wall of blank … and if you’re really blessed, spool fastening sticky tape blotches rain down your runt exposure like fat tyred burn out marks upon a sweltering Carramar cul de sac.

Join with me and rejoice the gnawing imperfection – of the end game.
Here are a few recent examples -

Photograph - Andrew Stark

 Photograph - Andrew Stark

Photograph - Andrew Stark

Photograph - Andrew Stark

Photograph - Andrew Stark

“They were always going to be the best frame on the roll; sadly, some still are.”   - Andrew Stark.

iN-STore Book Review #2 - Sergio Larrain – London 1958-59.

13th January, 2011

Like most serious minded thoroughfare trundlers -
I do so love a good monograph.
Sadly however my perilous fiscal foreshortedness forces me to fondle such visually lush trinkets on a purely temporary basis, and always from well within the three walls and big glass window of some austere, clinically air conditioned inner city bookshop… under the watchful gaze of CCTV and his ever vigilant, knuckle cracking soldiers on foot … Welcome to the Nowhere Man’s ongoing series of badgered and quite a bit harassed Book Reviews… Book Reviews done in store in which the period of time estimated between first choosing a book off the shelves, and whence my notepad and biro are ultimately kicked violently from my person is on average … a hard boiled  90 seconds. This week I had a rushed look at … "London 1958-59" by Sergio Larrain
London - Sergio Larrain

Now before I begin this short course review I must fess up to the fact that Sergio Larrain has been a personal favourite of mine, ever since I first laid eyes on his mesmeric image, “Valparaiso, Chile, 1957” back in the heady days of sometime last century. And so you see, when I spotted this little book shadowed, dwarfed and generally hidden between pylons of hard covered coffee table pap, down there on the bottom shelf of an unnamed and yet nicely air conditioned Sydney bookstore – I just couldn’t resist. And yet a further admission must shamefacedly be unfurled, an owning up that does make somewhat of a mockery of this segments main premise …ie. that I review a book cold, in a book store from just a cursory glance.

Valparaiso, Chile. 1957 - Sergio Larrain

For in this instance I must admit that I have a copy of this publication at home in the Woy Woy shack having picked it up in 2006 for just a few dollars from a shaggy simpleton dealing monographs in the back bar of the Great Southern Hotel down near China Town. He needed his bus fare home and I was desperate to score – orky orky heat the spoon n grip me hard around the bicep for hell, what a rush … I drooled and nodded big time. For this is a slim, stylish volume chockers full of blur, grain and just this absolutely magical feel. It was first published in 1998 by Dewi Lewis, with some sources claiming the work to have been shot during the winter of 1958, whilst others offer 1959 – either way, you get the gist of the era we’re looking at … of course London is in the northern hemisphere, so yeah, winter goes through Christmas … guess he started in late 58 and finished in 59 … hence the title… OK, you can come back now, Nowhere Man has caught up.

London - Sergio Larrain
Sergio Larrain was a Chilean, and probably still is. He received a British Council Grant; spending 8 months shooting the English capital before 1959 heralded an invitation to join the Magnum Photo Agency by none other than Henri Cartier-Bresson. And interestingly British master David Hurn talks of first meeting Larrain in
Trafalgar Square
during this period after the South American wandered over unannounced to say ‘hi’. A young Hurn had never heard of the friendly stranger, adding, “Sergio had this theory that he could tell good photographers by watching them work”, and it was Larrain who was responsible for first suggesting David Hurn to Magnum.

In his introduction to the book, the urban landscaper Mike Seaborne alludes to Larrain’s capturing of London during the transition from old to new, before offering, “It is not only the subject matter of Larrain’s photographs which make them so compelling, but also their candid nature and their strong sense of what an earlier documentary photographer of London, Bill Brandt, once referred to as ‘atmosphere’”.  And yes, much as with Robert Frank’s London pictures of 1951-53: top hats and tails weave in and out of the mist, the embryonic zest and vibrancy of an approaching Carnaby Street swinging subtly into the books latter pages by way of clairvoyantly tipping us all to an impending future.

Adding further to the mystique of the work comes the man’s subsequent life story.  For Sergio Larrain walked away from it all during the 1970s, off to study Zen Buddhism, living as somewhat of a recluse, in a Chilean village high up in the Andes Mountains. His incongruous ability to fly under the radar during a brilliant two decades of image making, perfectly illustrated by his staggering omission from the 1983 publication, "Macmillan Biographical Encyclopaedia of Photographic Artists and Innovators”, a meaty tome that includes over 7000 photographers from right across the mediums history...and yet no Sergio Larrain. Not so surprising however is his ‘no-show’ in amongst the pages of Viv Farnsworth’s, “A to Z of Rugby League Legends”, for whilst possessing a neat shimmy and left foot step with the ball in hand, the diminutive Larrain is said to have been an absolute revolving door in defence.       

London - Sergio Larrain

A further interesting tit bit for photo aficionados is that one of the two editors of  London 1958-59 is the brilliant English and Magnum snapper Martin Parr.

Needless to say, I absolutely adore this moody meander and must concede to being all a gush as I tap furtively upon slightly moistened keys …Photographers like Sergio Larrain are rarer than poise at a Kingswood fat farm (that’s with or without sauce). They exist on an all together higher plain (that’s with or without clothing), and I for one bow to the man’s tremendously poetic contribution.