Lee Grant – Photography Blog

Archive for the ‘Picture Ponderings’ Category

Dead Calm…

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OK well maybe not so much. I know I’m not posting anything these days and partially this is because I’m a bit over it, too busy and I think the blog was really aimed at tracking my own progress with my studies, which now thankfully is finished, approved and done. Also, I want to spend less time blogging and writing about photography and actually make them instead! And like most people I have to earn a living so making work is (out of necessity) squeezed in between everything else that is going on. Anyway, I do have a future online project being planned so keep an eye out and I shall make a final post here later in the year to notify everyone, before finally putting this blog to sleep.

In the meantime there are a few things worth blogging about. Firstly, my friend Andy Adams over at Flak Photo is running a promotion month for Hijacked 2 which is currently touring Australia as an exhibition. You can also buy the book which I can highly recommend – it will be money well spent, rest assured. You can check it out at Andy’s website or on Facebook here. Or better go see the exhibition or attend a launch party. Dates and venues are:

Australian National University – School of Art Gallery, Canberra
8 September – 2 October 2010

Monash Gallery of Art – Melbourne
29 October 2010 – 16 January 2011

Queensland College of Art Gallery Griffith University – Brisbane
19 February – 24 April 2011

Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum University of South Australia – Adelaide
13 May – 1 July 2011

John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University – Perth
21 July – 11 September 2011 .

Also, I’m heading down to Melbourne tomorrow to attend the opening of the Bowness Photography Prize at the MGA, in which I am a finalist with the following image. So attention Melbournites, make it out to the Gallery for a beer and some great photography!

Another little gem discovered recently is the work of Ketaki Sheth, an Indian photographer who is currently showing work at the Photo Ink gallery in New Delhi, India. Her series “Twinspotting” is terrific and definitely worth a look. If you can spare the very low price of $20, you can buy the book at The Book Depository here.

Lastly, please help support a very worthwhile project over at Kickstarter by Marc McAndrews. I posted about Marc’s new series Nevada Rose a little while back and he is now working on publishing the book  for release next year. But as we all know, the world of self-publishing is still expensive (especially if you want to do it well) and Marc is looking for backers to help him with the scanning costs. Every dollar will help and he only has till October to raise the funds. So get your altruistic hat on and support a fellow photographer. It’ll come back to you eventually and if you commit to $125, you’ll actually get a signed copy of a first edition book, definitely a good investment and a quick turnaround on a good deed.

Stay tuned for more good things happening…….

Still Life: Nostalgia and Domesticity

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Had the pleasure of having coffee with Marion Drew today thanks to Anne O’Hehir. It was brief – I stole away for half an hour from work to meet them – but great. Interesting to talk to Marion about her still life series particularly as I’ve been obsessing over this genre in the last few weeks. I’m chuffed to say that we exhibited together in the Josephine Ulrick Award up at the Gold Coast Art Gallery. Marion showed this work:

Rainbow_lorikeet_on_Queensland_needleworkRainbow Lorikeet on Queensland Needlework (courtesy Marion Drew)

She told us that the needlework had been made by her mother many years ago which I thought was a really lovely connection. Which then made me think more about some of my own intentions with the still-life genre, namely to use the trinkets and objects I’d inherited from my grandmother as a way to stay connected to her. My Gran, Judaline, was quite a formidable presence in our lives – we spent most of our summers in the one-horse town where she lived in Northern NSW. It was without fail, hot, dusty and often (to a precocious suburban kid) boring, but we always managed to occupy ourselves; exploring the farm (when she lived out of town) and imagining ourselves as wild cowgirls (I was Calamity Jane!) taming the wild beasts of the bush… and when she moved into town, spending all hours of the day (and sometimes night) at the local pool across the road. When trips to the local milkbar wore us down we always had her fabulously retro TV to watch all those fantastically wrong American 80s shows. Ah, it was the good life. My fondest memory though was always the kitchen and the dining table setting. Vintage tablecloths with a variety of crockery (the blue Willow china only coming out for Sunday lunch) and a mish-mash of bone-handled cutlery as well as the ubiquitous salt and pepper shakers cast in a variety of animal shapes! The picture of that table is still clear in my mind and I know for my own still-life work, that I want to recreate the memory of that, to somehow hold on to that distinctly Australian vernacular aesthetic. Distracted by other things in life, I wasn’t really photographing at the time my Gran died, a regret I still feel deeply. She was always very houseproud and her home was very much a reflection of her consummate collection of things. I suppose I would have liked to have some kind of tangible memory of that domestic space in which I spent a large part of my childhood, photographs then as momento mori. Instead I find myself recreating that nostalgia though images like this one, using inherited and thus precious objects:

_MG_9856…still-life from a work-in-progress

Written by Lee Grant

June 30, 2009 at 10:32 pm

“Slay Normalcy and Save the World”: LARPing and Monster Camp

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NOT having TV can have its downsides, like missing out on a screening of the following documentary Monster Camp on ABC 😦  I love everything about re-enactment and role-playing cultures and it looks like this is a quirky look at some of the characters known as LARPers (Live Action Role Playing) that inhabit the peculiar World of Warcraft.

Nevermind, I’ll have to catch it on DVD, thanks to my lil’ sis Nattie for telling me about it and thinking of me! Funny how people now seem to have an idea of the kinds of stuff I like to photograph. I’ve got a pretty good stream of ideas coming from various friends and relos. Keep em rolling in folks.

There are a number of photographers (interestingly many of them women) who have looked at re-enactment. Here are a few examples:


An My Le from Small Wars

25friendxlarge1Elena Dorfman from the series Fandomania

greta-prattGreta Pratt from the series Nineteen Lincolns

And lastly one from my own series, The Medievalists:


Lee Grant from the series The Medievalists

Web-forums and collectives: helping each other to help ourselves

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Well, I think the journey is well and truly underway with PhotoForum NZ posting an article about Light Journeys. Thanks to Abby Storey for the write-up and for the support from everyone so far. We are still in the process of designing the site and are looking to launch it late March/early April. So keep those submissions rolling in ladies!

On another note, the kids and I have been crook these last few days (don’t worry, I’ll spare you the details!), which has meant a lot of sleep but also a bit more web-surfing than usual. It was good to check out sites that I haven’t had a chance to for a while and also to discover some new ones.

What was most interesting – I think I’m noticing more since starting out the new venture with Light Journeys – was seeing how other photographers around the place (OK, mostly the States) are pooling their resources and talents to promote their work in a collaborative but mutually supportive setting. The Exposure Project is one such website that I was pleased to find along with the We Can’t Paint Network and it’s affiliate magazine Wassenaar, Pause to Begin and Ahorn Magazine.

Check them out. The lesson I take from these initiatives, is that there’s strength in numbers. C’mon fellow Antipodeans, shouldn’t we just ditch the stupid tall poppy syndrome and just help each other out? I could only find one local example of a similar collective and that’s the Melbourne based, the f2.8 group. My only issue with the latter is the fee requested for membership and whilst I get it (it takes time and money to put these sites together), my preference is to see a voluntary contribution button rather than having your visitors feel excluded because of a fee imposed membership requirement. It smacks a little of the fee-based photo-comps that are all around…. Outrageous! How the hell does an artist NOT have to pay their way to be noticed? But hey, that’s just my opinion.

Do let me know of other Australian (even New Zealand) based, grass-roots collectives that support emerging photographers, that you might know about…. Unfortunately my web-surfing time allocation is much reduced these days…. unless of course I’m sick!

Anyways…. here are a few Holga snaps from my ongoing series about Australia, “Where the Heart is”:


Bronte, Stony Creek


Bloody Possum! Bristol Point


Skippy the Roo, Bristol Point

Big Ambitions

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So, I’ve bit the bullet and invested in a new camera…. And boy do I love it… I think almost more than my Hassleblad! So what the hell is it you ask? Well, here is a picture:

Shen-Hao 4×5 Field Camera

A Shen-Hao field camera. To be honest I’d never heard of it until I saw it for sale on Ebay. I researched (god I love the net!) and found that there wasn’t a single bad review for this camera and the fact that it was pretty much a knock-off of the camera I really wanted (Ebony 45S) which I cannot afford due to it’s cool pricetag of AUD$5000, well…. this one seemed like a good alternative. And after running a few Fuijoroids through it to test everything out (RIP Polaroid, I had to use Fuji’s Instant 100 F), I’m completely excited and rearing to go large format. Everyone thinks I’m mad, but those of you who get it, know that I’m not at all…..

Anyway, here are my first shots taken with this contraption of genius!



And whilst I’m yet to work out how to work the camera like a genius (OK, so I forgot to close the shutter here, but it’s kind cool still, no?), I’m cooking up all manner of new ideas…. Part of the reason to use this camera, was to really slow down. Everything else in my life is harried and rushed and crazy… (modern life can really suck sometimes). Photography is one of the things in my life – other than my kids – that makes me feel right, so I figured, why not slow this down… at least then something in my life will be slow and quiet and more contemplative… cos the kids sure as hell aren’t! 😉 And in a world that’s filled with instant everything, maybe going backwards and reclaiming the analogue is a worthy excercise in itself? So stay tuned folks for Lee’s large format adventures….

The Road to Nowhere….

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One of the things about familial responsibility is that you don’t tend to travel as much – not sure why this has been in my case but I’d venture to say it’s mostly a lack of the proverbial dough that helps make travel and adventure possible. Before kids, my life was pretty footloose and fancy free… in fact it was quite nomadic until bubba #2 came along (an adventure of a different kind!). So since then, though I’ve managed to squeeze in a few overseas trips – sans enfants I might add – I’ve lived vicariously through friends and now it seems through other photographers’ blogs.

A recent unearthing came via Pause To Begin‘s blog of a New Yorker (sheesh, who isn’t these days!?) called Timothy Briner. His series called Boonville is amazing – at least what I’ve actually seen of it so far, and I love that he has shot the series in B&W, kinda refreshing in this colour saturated world. Reading about his travels criss-crossing the continent over 10 months, both solo and with his girlfriend made me green with envy (and yeah I know travelling ain’t easy! But try living in the one town for more than 8 years when you’ve got gypsy blood! It’s almost the stuff of curses!).

I’m particularly interested in comparing the American experience of being on the road to the Australian one and how such experiences have been expressed through the use of photography. Two incredibly vast and diverse countries but with quite different histories…

A couple of Australian examples of photographic road trips that come immediately to mind are Trent Parke‘s Minutes to Midnight and Wes Stacey’s The Road series.

Caravan Park, Queensland, 2003 (Courtesy Stills Gallery)

Wes Stacey, The Road (Courtesy of Photo-Web)

They are quintessentially Australian images, almost mythical in quality. I often wonder whether or not this Australian-ness is only observable and perhaps understood by Australians? I figure probably not because when I see American ‘road’ photographs, I feel very much like that is how America feels and would be like (wonderlust as opposed to wanderlust!). But perhaps this is simply someone else’s mythology?

Anyway, whatever it is, it’s been fuel for me throughout my dry spell of no travel. Perhaps I should simply get that bubble caravan that my kids want, hook it up to Elvis our (not-so) trusty Holden and drive off into the sunset? On the other hand, in this age of highly inflated petrol prices and now seeming financial uncertainties, perhaps armchair travelling is the way to go? Besides, the idea of two kids bickering and fighting their way across Oz in a confined space doesn’t bear contemplating…. at least not right this minute!

Fancy being this bloke!?

Reality Gnaws

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So, my little lass Pia is sick at home for the fourth day running. I thought to photograph her in this surreal state because when she’s like this, she really isn’t the girl we know (not even her brother’s fart and bum jokes are helping, which is something because our family has a known history of the giggles when it comes to poo humour) 😦 Suffice to say that I couldn’t quite bring myself to take photos. It didn’t seem the right thing. Which then led me to thinking that some photographer I am! Wussing out on my own reality! (Somehow I don’t think I’d manage that well in shitholes like Iraq. Man, I hate confrontation!) Which then led me – in a strange off-kilter way – to further think about how we associate images of hardcore realities with the kind of people who make them. Does this mean then, that only tough photographers can shoot tough stories? That their stories are somehow edgier than others?

Obviously there continues to be photographers who trade in the Jesus complex by saving the world, one photograph at a time. Take James Nachtwey for instance, as a classic example. Not to diminish his work in any way, but there is little doubt that his style sits squarely in the tradition of early photojournalism as espoused by such agencies as Magnum or Blackstar (when they actually did shoot war) et al:

Chechnya, 1996 – Ruins of Central Grozny

Afghanistan, 1996 – Mourning a brother killed by a Taliban rocket

Now compare Natchwey’s work to that of British photography duo Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin:

Suicide bomb disguised as a watermelon (from “Chicago”)

These images are a selection from their book about the Israeli military’s training camp dubbed ‘Chicago’:

“With the obliteration of the centre of the Jenin refugee camp, the Israeli military realized that it had to push its engineering corps to improve its ‘art of destruction’. As a part of these efforts the military began to upgrade a small mock-up town it called Chicago (in homage to that other bullet-ridden city). Located in the Tze’elim base in the Negev desert, it was to become the world’s largest mock-up oriental city erected since the filming of Ben-Hur.” (from the article Ghost town by Eyal Weizman)

So, really, here are two ways of telling similar narratives of war. Personally, I’m drawn to the Broomberg-Chanarin images. Whilst they aren’t taken in the ‘thick of battle’ or at the ‘frontlines’, they speak more to me of the futility and weirdness of war. Sometimes when I’m faced with images like Natchwey’s, I feel powerless, even guilt and shame for not understanding the horror of another’s tragic experience, and I look away. But with the Chicago pictures (as an example), I feel angry and outraged but my focus is completely drawn in. Maybe it’s the daggy cut-out Muslim city? I don’t know. Then again, perhaps it’s simply the very human traces of misunderstanding and self-deceit that project themselves in these quite [quiet] extraordinary photographs?

So, I’m back facing my earlier musings about the edginess of reality (whatever this might prove to be). I’m not sure that the Broomberg-Chanarin pictures are edgy in the sense of heroic-edgy. Sinister and chilling perhaps. But is this edge? I’ve been trying to unravel this idea of an ‘edge’ in my own documentary practice, though I do not photograph war, violence or post-conflict. Whatever it’s called I can’t quite put my finger on it. Martyn – my supervisor – is pushing me for more than what I currently have (“I need more of an….. edge”), but he is only seeing the images I’ve laid out in front of him. What he hasn’t seen yet is the rest (I do tend to work in series) which is sitting in wait in my mind’s eye, and for the right moment…. in you guessed it, real-life.

I suppose I am wondering whether a work can be deemed irrelevant if it doesn’t have this so called ‘edge’? And if I can’t capture it in photographs, does this then mean that my gaze is edgeless?

Mmmm, reality doesn’t so much bite as gnaw……. at least in my world.

Written by Lee Grant

August 5, 2008 at 9:29 pm