Posts Tagged ‘photography


Day 318: Untitled, from Beneath the Roses, by Gregory Crewdson


Day 318: Untitled, from Beneath the Roses, by Gregory Crewdson

This is my second post on Gregory Crewdson’s photography, whose exhibition at the CCP has left such an indelible impression on me. His Beneath the Roses series has a second strain that, unlike the previous interior mise-en-scènes, concentrates on the exterior of the middle-class suburbia.

Once again we are presented with an alternate, dystopian vision. We are witnessing an aftermath of an apocalyptic nightmare that left a lot of people destitute and wandering around the deserted streets with their meagre belongings in a nonchalant, almost zombie-like state.

But not everyone seems to have been affected equally by whatever ills may have befallen the community. The same street that has houses reduced to rubble, or that are windowless, boarded up, with huge gaping gashes in the walls and roofs, at times with fiery infernos raging on the inside, has other dwellings that are perfectly preserved, with green manicured lawns and elegant flower beds.

As usual, no clues are given by Crewdson as to what may have been the cause of this catastrophe that had so selectively affected these small communities. We are left to join the dots with the power of our own imagination…

One cannot go past Crewdson’s photographs without commenting upon the sheer excellence of his management of the photographic medium. These works are of truly vast size, but despite the physical dimensions and the amount of visual information they contain, each detail appears in an incredibly sharp focus.

There is no doubt that careful choreography, lengthy stage setting processes, costly equipment, large lenses, and perhaps a certain amount of digital enhancement and manipulation would have gone into the creation of each image, but the narrative power and the psychological depth of each of the resulting works serves to justify again and again the relevance of photography as an art form, for within these images, the artist creates the proverbial “paintings with light”.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


Day 317: Untitled, from Beneath the Roses, by Gregory Crewdson


Day 317: Untitled, from Beneath the Roses, by Gregory Crewdson

Untitled (2007) is among the most striking, challenging, and psychologically complex works from Crewdson’s Beneath the Roses series. At first glance, there is nothing amiss about the old man sitting in his lounge room, lit by the glare of the TV set on which his stare is transfixed. The apartment is worse for wear, but so is the old chap. The closet door opens up to reveal smart jackets and travelling suitcases suggesting that in the past he may have been a travelling businessman or a well-to-do man. But the bottles of pills and ointments on the trestle-table tell us that this is all in the past, and today he is but a sickly old man who hardly bothers putting clothes on, let along emerging from the cosy comfort of his shabby apartment.

Bright light picks out a reasonably well-appointed kitchen in the background. A simple meal of pasta and vegetables is being prepared by a lady in humble clothes and sensible flat shoes; her hair gathered in a tight bun. At first the woman appears as a ubiquitous maid, the luxury of the suburban middle-classes. But when the eye pans to the right, towards the dining table, one notices dinner setting for two. An unsettling thought occurs – as always in Crewdson’s pictures: are we indeed looking at an old man who requires constant care, but who has good heart and therefore insists that his maid dines with him. Or is there a more menacing undertone in this narrative: is this his daughter, who has become a voluntary slave to her father’s ailments? Or is his purple bathrobe carelessly thrown over the near-naked body that still suggests virility points towards much darker undertones to the relationship between the two?

Gregory Crewdson’s Untitled, from Beneath the Roses series, was included in the photographer’s solo exhibition, In a Lonely Place, at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


Day 316: Portrait of Cate Blanchett, by David Rosetzky

David Rosetzky Cate Blanchett 1


David Rosetzky Cate Blanchett 2


David Rosetzky Cate Blanchett 3

Day 316: Portrait of Cate Blanchett, by David Rosetzky

David Rosetzky challenges the notion of portraiture and extends the possibilities of the genre in the new digital age.

His HD video Portrait of Cate Blanchett moves beyond being a static, two-dimensional image that we usually associate with the genre, and instead captures the actress’s movements, gestures, and voice.

The portrait appears as an inner monologue where Blanchett, in a voiceover, considers her approach to acting and choosing roles. She moves around the stage as if predominantly unaware of our gaze, at times pausing in silent contemplation, or breaking into a seemingly impromptu dance routine. The eye contact with her audience is rare. As the result we become the voyeur, the spectator, and the confessor.

David Rosetzky’s Portrait of Cate Blanchett is on view in the exhibition Ourselves, at the ACCA, until November 25.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


Day 315: The Russian Project, by Laresa Kosloff

Laresa Kosloff Russian Project

Day 315: The Russian Project, by Laresa Kosloff

At first glance, Laresa Kosloff’s Chita Monument (2012) appears as a large-scale static photographic image rather than a continuous video. Everything is absolutely still in front of the imposing monument in the centre of an empty civic square. The low angle at which it is shot heightens the feeling of the pathos and significance of this unmistakeable Soviet-era monument, displaying all the vestiges of the Social-Realist art movement favoured by the former Communist regime. The bleakness of the square over which the monument reigns supreme, and the dreary ordinariness of the brutalist-style apartment blocks in the background make the image look so stereotypically “Soviet-era” as if was taken twenty, thirty, or forty years ago.

However, after a while, a girl walks past it; then another; then a mother carrying a child, all dressed in contemporary fashion, in denim, high heels, or sporting fashionable shoulder bags and sun glasses. Their Western-style attire seems almost dystopian against the background sculpture and architecture.

It is in this way that Kosloff carefully weighs into the controversial subject of cultural relevance. While the essence of the monument, which commemorates soldiers and civilians of the City of Chita who died during the Civil War, is as valuable as even the most humble cenotaph in rural Australia, the bombastic Communist propaganda which imbues and overwhelms the statue seems to invalidate its commemorative message. In the former times, a monument like this would have been adorned with fresh flowers and surrounded with beribboned wreaths. Today, those walking past the monument hardly give it a second glance.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


Day 305: Them and Us, by Abdul Abdullah

Abdul Abdullah 2011

Day 305: Them and Us, by Abdul Abdullah

Last night I attended a lecture by Rosemary Crumlin, OAM, on the history of the Blake Prize for Religious Art, held in conjunction with the recent publication of Crumlin’s The Blake Book: Art, Religion, and Spirituality in Australia [Melbourne: Macmillan, 2010]. The Blake Prize holds a special significance for Crumlin, who is an ordained nun, with a personal interest in religious art that has expressed itself over the years in books and articles on the subject, as well as a number of exhibitions, the most monumental of which is arguably Beyond Belief, staged at the NGV in 1998. Furthermore, Crumlin had attended almost all Blake Prize exhibitions; was a finalist in a number of them; and dedicated her earlier thesis to the history of the first 25 years of the Prize. The book, which surveys 60 years of the Blake Prize history, is therefore very much a continuation and culmination of her life-long interest and association with the Prize.

The lecture was interesting inasmuch as it contained innumerable personal insights into Crumlin’s own impressions of the Prize; her thoughts on its various winners and runners-up; as well as personal relationships that had developed between the writer and the artists both during her involvement in the Prize and in the course of her research of the earlier thesis and the current volume.

The book itself is a treat to behold. Crumlin has taken an almost encyclopaedic approach to this publication in her aim to illustrate and provide authoritative insights to the sixty winning works from 1951 to 2010 by such artists as Justin O’Brien, Frank Hinder, Donald Friend, Eric Smith, Stan Rapotec, Leonard French, Roger Kemp, Ken Whisson, Alan Oldfield, Warren Breninger, Rosemary Valadon, George Gittoes, John Davis, Hilarie Mais, Euan Macleod, Leonard Brown, and numerous others. The images of winning pieces are frequently accompanied within the pages of the book by related works within the oeuvre of the respective artists, showing the depth of interest and involvement in their exploration of religious subject matter.

The lavishly illustrated fold-out pages feature works by some of the finalists from various years. Together with the winning pieces, they provide a most valuable insight into the gradually changing face of the Blake Prize for Religious Art, resulting from the timely, fitting, and increasingly visible presence of works by artists from diverse religious backgrounds (such as Abdul Abdullah’s Them and Us, winner of the MUA Human Justice Prize of the 2011 Blake Prize exhibition). /

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]


Controversy @ Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery

Max Dupain Doom of YouthTuesday, 26 June 2012

Controversy @ Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery

Controversy: The Power of Art at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery unites over a hundred works that reflect, inspire, or engage in a public debate and / or a controversial issue. The breadth and variety of works on display is quite astounding, and includes paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photography, installation, multimedia, and even fashion. Although by its very nature and the fact that most of the works come from Australian public and private collections, the exhibition is heavily weighted towards contemporary Australian art, it does encompass art from the sixteenth century to the present day, and includes works by Hans Baldung, Francisco Goya, Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, William Dobell, Ron Robertson-Swann, Steve Cox, Kristin Headlam, Tom Alberts, Brook Andrew, Huan Zhang, Juan Davila, Patricia Piccinini, Damian Hirst, and many, many others.

Norman Lindsay Pollice VersoAmong the works that drew my attention was an unusual photograph by Max Dupain, Doom of Youth (1937) featuring a male nude. While nude males are quite rare in Dupain’s photographs, they are usually engaged in a sporting feat. This image features a crucified beefcake, a very prescient image for 1937. Next to it is a rarely seen Norman Lindsay’s Pollice Verso (1907), a pen drawing of extraordinary dexterity. It shows a group of Greek and Roman deities turning their thumbs down at a scene of Crucifixion. The drawing laconically illustrates Norman Lindsay’s criticism of the restrictions imposed by the Church and State on cultural and intellectual freedom. The section devoted to female nudes include another Norman Lindsay; the monumental La Cigale by Jules Lefebvre; Bertram MacKennal’s Circe; and a full-length studio nude by Freda Robertshaw, which I never knew was a self-portrait, a quite astounding and liberating act for the era.

Angela Ellsworth’s Seer BonnetThere is a startling and revealing photographic double-portrait of topless Mike Parr and his wife – his with amputated arm; hers with drastic mastectomy. Lisa Roet is represented with one of the most touching and original works I had seen by this artist, Mother and Child, that combines her characteristic sculpture of a baby chimp resting in palms of its mother’s hands, situated against a stained glass window decorated with chimps and traditional religious motives, inveighing onto the Creation versus Evolution debate.

The recent controversy over childhood nudity in art is addressed through works by Sandy Edwards, Polixeni Papapetrou, Peter Kingston, and the most effervescent and joyous painting by Amie Swynterton, and obscure but most fitting find for this exhibition. Trans / sexuality is examined through the works by Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe; the inclusion of Barry Humphries’ alter ego, Dame Edna Everage, complete with a full-size gladioli gown, is most fitting within the context of this exhibition.

Anne Zahalka Girls II Cronula BeachHauntingly evocative Angela Ellsworth’s Seer Bonnet, which is decorated with pearls on the outside and pins on the inside is a embodiment of the oppression faced by women not only within the Mormon community, which it directly addresses, but, to me, is also illustrative of women’s oppression throughout history. The though-provoking photograph by Anne Zahalka, The Girls II, Cronula Beach makes one rethink the changing face of Australia’s beach culture. It is interesting to juxtapose it with Emma Phillips’s most striking photograph of Pauline Hanson, imagined as a 1950s house wife, an Australian Marianne, a national icon, a tough country woman, hand-washing a load of Australian flags…

Ex de MediciLast but not least I was arrested by a most detailed drawing from the talented pen of ex de Medici, the details of which become apparent once the eye sight becomes accustomed to the intricacies of her design. The work represents the intertwined Swastika and the Star of David, bringing forth multifarious, uncomfortable, problematic, and emotionally conflicting connotations.

The strength of the exhibition lies in the fact that the curator, Vivien Gaston, did not go down an easy route and populate the gallery with images of pornography or gratuitous violence, but rather with works that much more strongly reflect the subtitle of the exhibition: THE POWER OF ART. The sheer breadth and variety of works on display show an almost omniscient approach, which bears evidence of Gaston’s long-standing interest in the subject, breadth of knowledge, and painstaking research. Despite the wide heterogeneity of works on display, the exhibition keeps the momentum going, for each image is a revelation that evokes a memory of the associated event and / or provokes a fresh reaction from the viewer. As the result, Controversy: The Power of Art is erudite, visually challenging, memorable, and thought-provoking.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]

Emma Phillips Pauline Hanson


Sue Ford @ MGA

Sue Ford SelfPortrait1969Thursday, 12 May 2011 

Sue Ford @ MGA

The exhibition of works by the late photographer Sue Ford spans a period of nearly forty years, and contains at a glance nearly 100 works by the artist, encompassing several periods, genres, and photographic streams within her oeuvre. The exhibition opens with a set of eight pairs of portraits taken by Sue of the same individuals (including herself), although several years and even decades apart. It is an interesting exercise, very much along the line of the Seven Up series. It is quite remarkable in the way it reflects the changes not only in fashions and aesthetics of the respective eras within which these photographs were taken, but also, very frequently, the changing personal and socio-political environment of her subjects.

The next section is solely devoted to an extensive display of Ford’s self-portraits. Ford pictures herself either alone, or with children and friends; at home, or within her studio environment. The photographs veer between artistic and documentary approaches, some of them no more than casual snapshots. It is an intriguing and intimate insight into her life, an illustrated biographical narrative that makes words virtually unnecessary. I was a bit perplexed to read the accompanying wall text, which basically posited that Ford’s interest in self-portraiture reflects the fact that she was a woman, wife, and mother; and as such, given her domestic commitments, was stuck for time and subjects, and therefore resorted to photographing herself.

SUE FORD SelfNot having known the photographer personally, I do not know whether the statement is true or false. However, when we consider this body of work against the background of current scholarship, which examined the genre of self-portraiture within psychological and psychoanalytical contexts, not to mention the stand-alone validity of the genre as profiled in numerous publications and exhibitions (including the recent one at the NGV), such simplistic dismissal of the intent behind Ford’s numerous self-portraits is baffling to say the least.

The wall text to the third section of the exhibition emphasises Sue Ford as the feminist photographer. I carefully looked at the images within this section, and came away baffled once again. The word ‘feminism’ emphasises a certain ideological, almost militant stance regarding gender inequality and women’s rights issues. As hard as I looked, I could not see an expression of feminist theories in her photographs. The women in her photographs enjoy shopping for dresses and nick-knacks; they expose their beautiful bodies; wear  fashionable clothes; and attend to their beauty routines; they raise children and grandchildren, and proudly display their pregnant bellies. I suggest that the curators confused the words feminist and feminine, for Sue Ford definitely focuses on femininity rather feminism.

Sue Ford hairdryerOf course, every exhibition, especially the one in a public gallery space, has to justify its curatorial choices. Unfortunately, in many cases, it seems that public galleries cannot leave the recognition of the importance of this or that artist or photographer to its visiting public, who might be able to make an informed judgement for themselves, based on the quality of the works on display. The point about the perceived importance has to be drilled with a verbal hammer-head. The MGA’s wall text boldly proclaims Sue Ford as “… one of Australia’s most important,… a leading feminist,… key role, … highly significant,… major legacy”, and so on and so forth.

Unfortunately, after such a bombastic marketing preamble, the exhibition falls rather short. I acknowledge the fact that it is the first important posthumous survey of Ford’s work (the photographer died in 2009), but it is by no means a block-buster type of exhibition, filled with iconic images. It eschews any of Ford’s colour photography; or anything completed within the last decade or so, when she produced a number of important bodies of work. The show is about quiet contemplation, an intimate dialogue between the photographer and the viewing public through the medium of her camera, rather than a challenging, ground-breaking, earth-moving experience, or a veritable call to arms for women’s rights the wall text would lead you to believe.

And this is what I have done in the end: stopped reading the marketing spin on the walls, and lost myself in Sue Ford’s silent images, the most magnificent of which to mind’s eye is Marlene at Cottes Bridge of 1964, a beautiful and soulful portrait of Clifton Pugh’s wife seated in profile in a chair in front of one of her husband’s (?) portraits. The image is beautifully composed. Marlene’s slim silhouette virtually blends with the darkened atmosphere of the picture. She is unaware of the camera, and faces away from the viewer. She is lost in contemplation of her thought, or perhaps of the featured portrait, the sinuous hands within which echo and interplay the outlines of her own limbs emerging from the darkened sweater.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

February 2019
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