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 ?