Gary Sauer-Thompson: May 2009 Archives

The current  exhibition at  Stills Gallery in  Sydney, Australia, is entitled Thirteen   and  it provides a selection of work from a wide range of photographic artists. Thirteen refers to the number of artists some of whom I do not know. Since there is no  online exhibition catalogue  that explores this body of work,  it is a matter of dipping in and having a look.

One photographer whose work I do know, and  for whom I have a lot of respect, is Mark Kimber. His base is in Adelaide, and his most recent series  is Edgeland:

KimberMSupermarketedgeland.jpg
Mark Kimber, Supermarket, from Edgeland, 2008

Kimber is able to use colour as a part of the design of the image and as a mode of expression and so works in the tradition initiated by William Eggelston, whose mature work was characterized by the splashes and blocks of colour amidst ordinary subject-matter, and which has its roots in the photorealists.
Fabiono Busdraghi  on his  Camera Obscura blog recently made a call to deepen the discourse on photography. Unfortunately,  the post was in Italian and, as  I cannot read Italian, I do not know what the phrase "deepening the discourse on photography " means. On Camera Obscura it appears to mean photographers submitting photos and text  that then become a post on the weblog.

I interpret the phrase "the discourse on photography"  to refer to writing about photography whilst the  "deepening" would refer to more theoretically informed and better writing on photography on a variety of issues --eg.,  the objective appearance of things in the photograph and  photography's capacity to  express something beyond the surface appearance of things. Or the way that the discipline of Art History frames photography in the context of the commodification of visual culture and the rise of modernism and its utopian longing  in the art institution with an evaluation system based on masterpieces and masters, originality and innovation, and so on.  Or the ways that artists challenge photographic conventions.

At another level it could be a grater linking to other weblogs written by photographers  so as to create more of a sense of an  ongoing  conversation between, and by,  photographers and those writing about photography as in the year long project entitled Words Without Pictures by  the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
One of the different tributories or anabranches in Australian modernist photography is the work of Wolfgang Sievers; different because this German-Australian's photographic roots were in the Bauhaus and New Objectivity photography of the 1920s.

German photography in the 1920's and 1930's (ie., New Photography) evolved through two highly articulated but divergent approaches: the school of objectivity (Albert Renger-Patzsch, Werner Mantz; Karl Blossfeldt; and August Sander) and the New Vision school of experimental possibilities (Laszlo Moholy-Nagy) that strongly emphasized the unity of all applied arts.
SieversWDampier.jpg Wolfgang Sievers, Aerial view of solar salt fields near Dampier, Western Australia 1971, National Library of Australia

The Neue Sachlichkeit" (New Objectivity) movement was an outgrowth of, and an opposition to, expressionism, and it avoided painterly effects of pictorialism which lead photographers to abandon the unique qualities of the medium. This machine aesthetic bought a sharply focused, documentary quality and a matter-of-fact style to art photography and was focused on form and design. It concentrated on the exact appearance of objects -- their form, material, and surface and rejected any kind of artistic claim for the photographer since the photographer should strive to capture the "essence of the object".

In an earlier post I raised the idea of nationality in photography, with respect to an Australian photography. Most would immediately reject the idea of an Australian or British photography and immediately move on without further consideration.

To post that I offer the example of Robert Frank's classic text The Americans, which is universally seen as a book that shows you what photographs are supposed to look like. This tragic poem defines the very visual language of photography.

FrankRAmericans.jpg
Robert Frank, untitled from The Americans

Isn't this a book about American photography? W.J.T. Mitchell in an essay on Frank in his essay entitled "The Ends of American Photography" in his book What Do Pictures Want? says that the phrase American photography does not refer to photography made in or about the United States.

The first issue  of the Haphazart magazine  is out---- it is produced by self-entitled FREAKS, FOOLS AND PRANKSTERS! It looks good in terms of  the magazine reflecting the origin of this Flickr group.  There is more  about the magazine on pa gillet's blog. You can buy the book from Blurb

Haphazartmagazine.jpg The featured artists are PA Gillet (pa gillet), Krystina Stimakovits (casually, krystina),  Dom Ciancibelli, Mike Lusk (finsmal), Christian Kinzler  (tossthecam).

An interview with pa gillet kicks things off. gillet, who set  the Hapazart group up  two years ago,  describes his work in terms of pictorial meaning, which  refers to painting,  as being interested in the object not the photographic project. The work, primarily of walls and roads,  is  informed by Nicolas de StaĆ«l and Serge Poliakoff and Lewis Baltz, and  it moves as far away from looking like a photograph as possible. The work operates in terms of chance and explores the wear and tear on  these surfaces of the city.

Can we talk about an Australian photography, as we once used to talk about an Australian art or Australian culture? Does it make any sense to talk about an Australian photography in the globalised world of the 21st century? Should we do so?

Gayle+IBare.jpg Gayle and I, bare and exposed

Between the 1940s and 1960s Bernard Smith published three books that established paradigms for the interpretation of Australian art, albeit in European art historical terms. These shaped the emerging discipline of Australian art history onto a trajectory that would not be shaken for another two decades, a direction that continued in the 1980s' and then 1990s' emphasis on the postmodernist strategy of appropriation.

In the first, Place, Taste, Tradition Smith argued that vision had a history in that the English colonists saw the Australian landscape with English eyes and they endowed that landscape with the formal qualities of landscapes to which they were aesthetically accustomed in England. The flora, fauna, landscape and indigenous people were all It was the other. constructed as exotic, repugnant and grotesque. It was the other, but also an imaginary fantasia full of wonders and monsters. Smith's claim was that art and identity result from the negotiations of traditions and locations, and not of the soil.

In Through a glass, darkly: photography and cultural memory Alan Trachtenberg states that whether we say that photographs are merely surface descriptions or interpretations analogous to written history comes down to how we look at the image:
as a general rule we choose to see a photograph either as a mechanical transcription of a field of light with randomly disposed objects, or as an intentional reordering of that field into a deliberate meaning. We can look at the picture as the world, or the maker's mind or imagination playing upon the world.
We desire and need more information than the image alone. Uncaptioned, a photograph can seem a mote floating in space, unmoored, unattached. Or a cryptic hieroglyph. Hieroglyphs hide the codes, the secret knowledge they require for decipherment.

NorthropH.cluster.jpg Holly Northrop,

He adds that for all their apparent transparency and ease of identification, photographs often seem hieroglyphic, obscure, ambiguous, elusive, the more so the more transparently window-like they seem.

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Gary Sauer-Thompson in May 2009.

Gary Sauer-Thompson: April 2009 is the previous archive.

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