Archive for June 2007
Received an email yesterday about the finalists for this rather prestigious award. An interesting bunch some of whom were already familiar names. Here is the list of finalists:
Michael Amendolia, James Brickwood, Cara Bowerman, Anthony Dawton, Stephen Dupont (2), Sean Hobbs, Jesse Marlow, Natalie McComas, Laki Sideris, Steven Siewert, Doug Spowart+Victoria Cooper, Emma Thompson, Tamara Voninski, Tom Williams, Matthew Newton (not to be confused with Bert’s son) and Lisa Wiltse.
This year two different series by one artist were selected for the show – Stephen Dupont step up please. A fine photographer there is no doubt, I like his work, though I do think he adheres strongly to the great romantic tradition of manly war photographer with big heart (to be frank, what male photojournalist doesn’t?).
Apparently, the work is selected by the panel of judges anonymously. It’s interesting – if this is indeed the case – that the same photographers keep appearing as finalists. Which makes me wonder, are the judges already cognisant – perhaps unconsciously – of the photographer’s work and/or style? Or are they looking for a particular kind of work that can be defined as representative of their expectations of documentary photography in Australia today? And if so, does this mean that there is little room (at least in these such comps) for something else?
I also thought it interesting that four of the finalists belong to Oculi, an Australian collective of photographers based on principles not dissimilar to that of Magnum. Indeed, one of its founding members is Australia’s only Magnum member, Trent Parke. When I look at the images on their site, I am a little underwhelmed. And I say this with difficulty because I am very supportive of agencies or collectives that support emerging or recently established artists, especially in Australia as there seems to be very few. To back up my opinion, my instinctual thoughts are that some of the photographers have obviously influenced others within the cooperative, which is not to say that this is a bad thing in and of itself, however I do think that this bubble effect can stimy individual perspectives and ways in which their worlds might otherwise be observed. In the end some (certainly not all) of the results are disturbingly the same, which unfortunately just becomes boring rather than inviting.
Anyway, I have checked the websites of those Leica finalists who have them and I here are some of my picks (BTW, I have no idea if these were the images actually submitted to the comp – unlikely, but I like them anyway… )
- Natalie McComas with the series Birthday Wishes (this really surprised me in a good way… an original take on a banal and bizarre subject – trust me, I know).
- Michael Amendolia with his series Kangaroo Harvest and Preventable Blindness in North Korea . I really like his strong sense of narrative and choice of subject matter and even though some of them are dictated by the client, he knows how to tell a story visually:
Michael Amendolia from the series Kangaroo Harvest.
Didn’t really see much else that wowed me overly much. I mean it’s all strong work, no doubt about it, but as a viewer and someone who also photographs the Australian context I want to see more. More insight into this country of ours or at least our perspective of being an Australian somewhere else (to be fair I don’t even know if this is possible? I like to think that it is) and more work that doesn’t feel like I’ve already seen it 500 times. More psychology perhaps and less cliches? I dunno, but that’s how it feels….
And lastly, I did like some of the work of Sean Hobbs particularly the series Uganda- the Lord’s Nightmare (despite some of the images’ obvious links to Avedon, a plain white background with interesting ‘subject-matter’ always works), not to mention the fact that the brutal nature of the story itself is also compelling. And Ethiopia – the Ancient Walled City of Harar was also poetic. Square format is truly my favourite! I think he has some work showing at the Australian War Memorial having being selected as one of their official war artists earlier this year. I’ll check it out soon.
The grand winner will be announced on September 6th at the opening at CCP in Melbourne. I just hope it’s someone new, since many of these photographers have already been feted. Time for some newbies!
Well, the review went well and I’m frankly pleased with we’re I’m at – though I’m not going to get complacent any time soon. Helen was good in reminding the rest of the panel (Nigel and Martyn) that I still have a good amount of time to go… two and a half years to be precise and I must say it was good to hear it as sometimes I pressure myself into thinking that I’m finishing at the end of the year! Art school deadlines are pretty different to the ones I’ve been used to in the past, but like I said… no room for complacency.
It was also good to have re-affirmed that my approach to photographing (that is, working from my instinct) is working! I know there’s a bit to hash out however I’m feeling positive about being on track (with an eye to some cool new projects), and it seemed that everyone else was too! Finally I feel like I’m being understood!
So, what else did I walk away with?
- more reading and research to do with Australian documentary (I really know very little compared to the American and European experiences);
- finding more Australian women photographers – which the panel enthusiastically spewed forth a number of names, which again I’d never heard of (which leads me to think that women photographers are indeed left at home holding the babies!);
- keep shooting by following my instincts (which I definitely feel more comfortable doing);
- keep blogging and writing;
- and reading and looking I guess.
I know that I want to maintain an Australian sensibility to my work. I guess in the way that Trent Parke or Max Dupain and Olive Cotton’s work feels. I like to explore the awkwardness that often displays itself between the photographer and the photographed, but I want still to convey a sense of familiarity. As Australians, I think we’re still learning to define ourselves – both to the world but also to ourselves. We’re a bit like a teenager whose parents are divorcing – unsure, gangly, angry, in denial yet somehow hopeful and defiant. We’re losing our innocence but in the process gaining a new sense of purpose and feeling of being comfortable in many skins. I dunno, maybe this metaphor doesn’t work but that’s how it feels to me to be Australian in these strange times. And I suppose that it’s this very thing that I’m trying to convey too. So my journey into the Land of Oz begins! We shall see what comes of it hey?
Finally, one last observation. A number of the images in my top 12 (see post below) are of people sitting or lying on their beds. A number of my own images are of people on their beds. I only realised this last night as I was reading through my blog and preparing for my review. Interestingly, the panel all noticed this as well, with Nigel commenting on the fact that of all the spaces to photograph someone, a bed is one of the most private. Mmmm, certainly it’s been a sub-conscious approach (I’d hate to hear what Freudians think of this!) but interesting nonetheless. I guess if I had to intellectualise it, a bed is the last refuge, representing alternatively, the end of a day; an alternative to the womb (?); somewhere we are safe (or should be) and somewhere we can relax and assume a truer sense of who we are? Babies, teenagers and old people all know this. And lying down…. well we don’t do enough of it in this crazy world do we? Perhaps if we did, we might look up more?
And with this thought, I shall bid thee farewell!
I’m posting a link (HERE and scroll to the bottom of page) to an interesting interview about Photographing Conflict with two Magnum photographers whose work I admire, Alec Soth and Jonas Bendiksen from the Leonard Lopate Show in NY, USandA. (Sorry folks, tried to figure out how to embed an mp3 but alas, my ability to understand martian or geek is at an all time low…..zero!). Seems a little odd to me that they titled the show as such, given that Soth is mostly an art photographer and not a lot of what Bendiksen shoots is conflict – at least in the tradition of Capa, Nachtwey, McCullin et al. Nevertheless it’s an interesting listen and the female radio host does bring up the issue of gender balance (or lack thereof) within the collective. The responses by the Magnum members are embarrassed at best and let’s face it, it’s pretty ridiculous. There is hardly a lack of brilliant women photographers out there who work both within and out of the Magnum tradition! To be fair though, it isn’t just Magnum. The majority of agencies whose sites I visit online have a tendency to be male-centric. Is it because women are partial to working independently and therefore don’t get the profiling/marketing that photographers with agencies or collectives do? Or is it simply as parochial a point as being left at home to tend to the domestic demands of family and home? What are some other reasons?I’m not sure, but if anyone out there has any thoughts I’d love to hear them. Despite the heated debate this issue seems to inspire (read this thread on the Magnum site to see what I mean), I don’t think it’s one that should go away. At the end of the day, it seems strange that when ‘hiring the best person for the job’ the majority seem to be male. The split is simply so unbalanced that it almost defies belief. Mmmmm……
Just for a moment think about this photograph by James Nachtwey (previously a Magnum member but now a founding member of VII); the impact that an image can have on it’s audience and the power to persuade it’s viewers into action. Photojournalism at it’s most powerful:
Rwanda, 1994 – Survivor of Hutu death camp.
Talking about Magnum, the collective celebrated it’s 60th birthday recently (which one would presume involved quaffing copious magnums of champers!). The NY office also held it’s first Portfolio Review. It was a first in best dressed affair where a number of the collective’s photographers advised and reviewed people’s work. Alec Soth discusses the process and links to some of the websites of those he reviewed. I found it an interesting exercise to visit these photographers’ sites to see what kind of work is being presented to an agency like Magnum (one of the heavies of the industry). I was frankly quite surprised at how eclectic the mix was. It was also interesting to check out the blogs of those reviewed who also had their own takes on the review process. I had to giggle at the thoughts of one photographer when she mentioned Trent Parke‘s reaction to her work (I could just imagine his sardonic Australian response!). To be fair, I think I had to side with Trent on this one. It seemed a strange submission to be making to an agency known for it’s serious reportage, including war photography. But hey, different strokes for different folks hey!?
In keeping with my ongoing studies and an exercise that one of my supervisors Helen Ennis had me do, here are 12 of my favourite portraits by 11 different photographers (simply had to include two by Diane Arbus. Too many to choose from because she was, quite simply, a genius, but these ones I am quite enamoured with):
Alec Soth - Liverpool Portrait
Weegee – Ballerina
Martin Mischkulnig – Yusef
Rene Burri – Che
Larry Sultan – Dad
Greg Crewdson – from the ‘Twilight’ series
Liu Zheng – from ‘The Chinese’ series
Shen Wei - Gary Debbs
Elvis Richardson – Self Portrait from the ‘Slideshow Land’ series.
It’s my 5th day in a row at home wih sick kiddies…. Sheesh, a little stir-crazy but actually getting some work done for a change.
Anyway, have spent a very grey day blog-trotting around the internet. Quite an entertaining way to see what’s going on in the world of photographers, editors, foundations, agencies, wannabes etc…. My pick of the bunch would have to be Alec Soth’s blog who it seems to me to be very generous about his musings on photography in general but also towards those out there who are plugging away at their art. Perhaps this has something to do with being from Minnesota?? Maybe… I dunno, but I suspect it to be so. It seems to me to be a ‘truer’ sort of place than say perhaps NY or LA or even Paris. I mean let’s face it, despite the fact that I’ve never been there, it’s Fargo territory so already it’s a winner!
It’s always fun when online, to follow the links through… sort of a choose your own adventure, web-surfing safari. One thing that does become apparent however is the monopoly that Americans seem to have on the web… Perhaps it’s just the content that I am looking for and at? But in terms of documentary/art photography there sure is an over-proliferation! Which led me to think a bit about the impact of American culture, more specifically on other Western countries such as Australia. We’re pretty much bombarded by all things American: on TV, in our magazines, on the web, via fashion etc…. And comparatively they somehow always manage to make us (Australians that is) seem infinitely daggy. Like we’re trying a bit too hard. It’s a cringe-factor feeling really, but by the same token, there’s something immensely brilliant and visually attractive about that dagginess…. a little bit up-yours, a little bit island mentality. Part of my photographic work is to pursue this Antipodean sensibility: the way we interpret and re-fashion other Western contemporary cultures where old world behaviours and norms morph into shiny, new world ones. And yet that ubiquitous sense of being Australian is never really lost. Maybe it’s simply our inherent dagginess? Or the fact that quite simply, we’re just a bunch of bogans?!
I have a review at Uni on Wednesday which should be interesting in that I’ll further discuss this concept and hopefully walk away with some more references. I’m pretty appalled at my own illiteracy with regards to artists from my own culture, particularly as I have been referencing photographers from abroad (and in particular, the USandA). A bit of an indictment of my generation perhaps. Blame it on Disney!
Anyway, to celebrate some of the little cultural gems that we have received from the Yanks, here are a few pics made in America that I think are brilliant and a fantastic reflection of how I perceive American culture to be in all its glorious corn-dogness (and let it be known for the record, I am NOT being facetious!):
Brooklyn Xmas by Sarah Macel
My beautiful and loyal furry friend left this world last weekend after 12 fabulous years. Found on a whim at the RSPCA, Zoe (or Zozo as she has affectionately become known) actually looked like an overgrown chihuaha – big ears, swollen belly – but it was her personality that got me. She was with me throughout my relationship, survived countless moves across the country as well as other (naughty sheep-eating) pets; protected my little brood of bairns and never gave up on me – even when it might have seemed that I did her.
Thankyou Carl, our wonderful homeopathic vet, who helped make Zoe’s final transition a peaceful one.
Big girl, there’ll never be another dog like you. We will miss you and love you always…….. xxx
Zoe – Stick Fetcher
Zoe’s Last Day
Zozo’s resting place , where Zoe is now catching endless sticks with her pals Bulla, Maude and Jesse!
Life has been mental as anything, and I’m wondering how long it’ll keep going on like this! All I know is that I’m doing the right thing, living in my bubble and just staggering ahead on full steam (or more accurately, on the smell of an oil-rag!). Not making as many images as usual, however I have made a number of submissions recently into photo comps and other awards. It all makes for good practice and one hopes that getting your name bandied around might potentially pay-off? We shall see, I’m sure I am helping to pay for other peoples’ prize $$. It certainly isn’t a cheap exercise, especially on my ridiculous budget.
Nevertheless, life goes on…… I am due for a review next week which will be interesting to say the least. I’m not sure that I’ve progressed my writing much at all, though I will have some new images to show. Helen Ennis is now officially my new supervisor in Chaitanya’s absence, and I think will present some significant and much needed challenges for me. Our first meeting had me present her with a handful of my favourite photographs (a difficult task given how many brilliant ones there are out there) and from which I explained what it was I liked about them. Interestingly, a few themes emerged in terms of what I am attracted to visually. It’s not an approach I had thought of before in terms of tackling a beginning point in one’s writing but it certainly makes sense to begin with an image rather than a ‘topic’ as such. I’m hoping that this may cure me of my seemingly unending writer’s block! It truly is annoying……
Another good exhibition on at the moment at the NGA is Very Important Photographs (VIP) It’s an interesting collection from the NGA’s archives which I visited with a friend (followed by finger sandwiches and excellent coffee up in the well-positioned cafe! A must do for gallery visitors.) The one photographer who I didn’t know about before this show was the late 19th/early 20th century Melbourne based photographer J.W Lindt. There was something in his work that really struck me, despite their rather formal and stiff overtones, which was very much the mood of ethnographic inquiry at the time. Researching information about Lindt on the net yielded this interesting review of the South Australian artist Alan Cruickshank’s witty and insightful series called The Arcanum Museum (see composite below):
I also attended Martyn’s floortalk today at the VIP exhibit where he discussed one particular image of Lindt’s titled ‘The capture of Joe Byrne’ (??) An interesting departure for Lindt from his formal and posed portraits, nearly a snapshot, the image below is actually a cropped version. It was excellent to hear Martyn’s investigation into the images that he’d chosen to discuss and was a lesson for me to really look at photographs in order to analyse and/or interpret them.
Also on show was Weegee (Arthur Fellig) whose images confirm him as one of my all time favourite photographers. The ICP in NY has a section dedicated to him on their website called Weegee’s World: Life, Death and the Human Drama. Potent sub-heading… I mean what else is there in life??
So, I continue to be a busy bee and I shall leave you with a few images to ponder (see extras filed under the WIP page) taken where my mate Frank lives at the Bungendore Motel. The party with the South Americans did eventuate in the end and it was one very strange experience. It was brilliant to be there and photograph it….. with a little help from Frank and lest we forget…. Chofi (my new agent apparently!). Gracias cada uno, tenía un gran rato!!
Mascarlito and Johanna