Monday, September 26, 2011

Andrew Chapman's Shearer project

One of our favourite documentary photographers Andrew Chapman was featured on this week's Landline program (ABC) with his ongoing work on Australian shearers and shearing sheds. This now decade long project has seen Andrew travel across Australian documenting the arduous work of the country's shearers and also the sheds in which they do their work. As Andrew hints in the Landline feature, shearing sheds are surely among the most significant examples of vernacular Australian architecture and surely in need of photographic documentation.

Andrew's project is now quite vast in scale and increasingly highly regarded: the NGA in Canberra recently acquired photographs and a second book drawing on the series is about to come out. But this aside, the most striking aspect of the Landline story is its dramatic account of Andrew's battle with a life-threatening condition and recent liver transplant. It makes for a compelling portrait of an Australian photographer dedicated to and sustained by their practice. MGA exhibited 40 of Andrew's photographs of shearers in 2004.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Our billboard currently features a work by Claudia Terstappen, from her recent series Roadside memorials. Claudia has written a beautiful statement about the origins and intention of this series:

A photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence. Susan Sontag

My recent photographic series Roadside memorials focused on grief and loss, which was addressed through personal shrines created for loved ones that had been killed on the road. It was whilst working on this series that I also came across many other victims, dead animals that festooned many of our roads.

Over the last few decades the number of our roads has grown and with it the traffic. Consequently many animals’ habitats have been reduced to small corridors of natural forest or bush and their daily routines have become more dangerous. Also, roadsides are attractive to animals due to water in ditches, freshly slashed vegetation or food thrown from cars. In addition dead animals act as a food source and attract others. All of these factors have lead to an increase in the number of fatal accidents for animals as well as for humans.

About three years ago I began to collect images of roadkill, photographing the animals as they were, squashed on the road; sometimes flattened, sometimes reshaped in their moment of death. In their stillness I could look at them unhurried, observing closely their size, pattern and beauty (or what was left of it). It’s not often you have the opportunity to examine closely a wild animal because they either move fast or are too far away to be looked at properly. Their appearance was often surprising, making me question their identity and behavior.

In my images I sought to create a death mask – as used for identification during the 18th and 19th centuries – to permanently record the characteristics and distortions of the animals, like a true portrait. I therefore isolated the animal from the road, thus removing anything that could distract our attention. I also enlarged the image so that the animal’s presence becomes overpowering and can’t be overlooked.

It saddened me to imagine their suffering and loss. Several times I witnessed that one of a pair had been killed and its mate was still lurking, puzzled by the accident, returning to the dead body, touching it but not understanding what had happened: an almost heartbreaking observation.

People create roadside memorials in order to express their grief and perhaps also communicate their sorrow to a wider public than they could with a conventional grave. Handwritten notes and personal belongings that symbolise the deceased are carefully positioned on site. The majority of these memorials also show a photograph of the deceased. The photograph plays a crucial role: It makes the deceased a noninterchangable character and brings them back to life by showing us their face.

My roadkill portraits function in a similar way. They are witnesses to the animals’ existence and death and make them part of our life. Absence is reversed to presence.

Facing ongoing changes in our environment and a growing population with further demands on shrinking habitats, one wonders how long we will be surrounded by these animals – will they soon be history? Some people would argue that the presence of roadkill is a positive indication of the existence of animals. Their very presence means that there are animals around and an environment healthy enough to support them. What if there was no roadkill? What would that say about our environment?

My photographs are a place for safekeeping, they keep the visual mementos available and alive as much as they confront us with loss. Memory is coagulated and preserved in the images that refer to the animal itself, representative of nature and its fragility. Photography not only becomes a stabiliser of our memory but also recreates memory. It freezes time and helps us to both observe with precision and look back. It builds an interesting link between the past and the present, the living and the dead, us and our environment.

Claudia Terstappen 2010

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An exhibition opening soon at RMIT's First Site Gallery features the work of students of RMIT’s traditional and historic photography program who have or are in the process of establishing “fine art” careers. RMIT’s BA Photography program continues to train many of our leading young commercial, fashion and scientific photographers. But as This is Not Fine Art will show, graduates also use the strong the strong technical training provided by the program as the basis for a fine art practice.

Among the eight exhibiting artists is Warwick Baker, whose Rocklea, QLD from the series After the flood (2011) is currently on display at MGA as part of the 2011 Bowness Photography Prize.

THIS IS NOT FINE ART: contemporary practice from the BA Photography

Warwick Baker, Phillipa Grenda, Ken Hughes-Parry, Kobie Nel, Damien Rudd, Hannah Spence, Lia Steele, Thomas Dallas Watson; curated by Daniel Stephen Miller

Opening night drinks: Tuesday 4 October 2011, 5:30–7:30pm

Exhibition continues 5-15 October
Artist talks: Thursday 13 October, 1pm
First Site Gallery, 344 Swanston St, Melbourne

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Janina Green's 1993 photographic series Vacuum will be shown at MARGARET LAWRENCE GALLERY from 20 May-11 June 2011.

Vacuum is a set of 14 vintage chromogenic prints made in 1993 and originally shown at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts.

It has been suggested that the middle class white house-wife is the dominant model of femininity and her role has been constructed around domestic cleanliness. Her home has been the setting for her performance as virtuous wife and mother. But housework also taints the character of the woman, linking femininity with dirtiness and linking dirtiness to the "abject" and to those things we are constantly spitting out and wiping away.

This twin notion of the feminine as simultaneously pure yet intrinsically soiled is at the heart of Janina Green's densely collaged layered photographs with their richly retro modernist colour schemes of an idealistic era and a lone silhouetted figure in many of the works, drawing us into the present.


To be opened by: Naomi Cass,
Director Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
6.00 pm, Thursday 19th May 2011

40 Dodds Street
Southbank Victoria 3006
T: +61 3 9685 9400
Gallery Hours: Tues - Sat, 12pm - 5pm
Saturday 1.00 - 4.00pm.

Exhibition dates: 20 May - 11 June 2011

Janina is represented by M.33

image:Janina Green
from the series Vacuum 1993
chromogenic print
courtesy of the artist and M.33