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 ?



Pierre BOYER said...

I particulary love the two last pictures...


Phill said...

Looks like a fairly traditional view of "landscape" although you would have thought Trent or Narelle would have made the cut. Nice to see Ingeborg Tyssen in the mix though.

Are you heading to Bendigo for the American Dreams exhibit?

More musical resonance; The Magnetic Fields. My personal favourite is "Chicken with its head cut off"

James Morris said...

Also no mention of Gordon Undy and co., I presume ?

Definitely worth dropping into Point Light for a chat & look through his work.

Andrew Stark said...

Pierre ... there's actually a third in this series Robert took in 1980 which I tried to include but the machinations of modern technology got the better of me.

Phill...No, not going to Bendigo. But hope to get to Auburn at some stage to see George V's exhibition.

James ... absolutely, I'd forgotten about Gordon Undy - how the hell wasn't he included. Didn't he reshoot the tree Cazneau made famous ... that'd be ticking an art world box wouldn't it, the use of a post modern device by way of contextualizing the contemporary narrative of fervent discourse ... or not ???

James Morris said...

Yep, he did reshoot that tree -- it was hanging on the wall last time I was there.