10 Aug 2011

The Australian Centre for Photography

Oxford Street might seem to be a strange place to find the Australian Centre for Photography but when the Oxford Street in question is in Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, it become understandable.  The Centre is an education establishment that offers photographic courses as well as presenting exhibitions for public viewing.

There were 3 exhibitions on display when I visited and the first covered the wall of the entrance hall, '100 Portraits', a selection from the Flakphoto.com archive.  This is the first physical exhibition from Flakphoto, an online art space aimed at promoting photographers, book projects and exhibitions, developed by Andy Adams.  The collection was curated by both Andy Adams and Larissa Leclair, a photographic writer, curator and creator of Indie Photobook Library.  The aim of the exhibition is to feature 100 dynamic portraits from an exciting group of photographers in all stages of their careers and celebrate the role that a thriving online photo community plays in the discovery and dissemination of work produced by artists in the Internet Era.  The result is described as a tapestry of global exploration in portraiture and a fresh, exciting and engaging portrait of the current state of contemporary photography.  

The choice of photographs was diverse, from skinny old men sun tanning on the beach to girl and boy friends, family shots and the usual expected content of the average iPhone photo library.  Some had historic value, a photo of a photo showing a surfer with his Malibu surf board from the '50s and a group of people with white hoods like the Ku Klux Klan.  All looked rather amateurish and had no explanation as to their significance which was frustrating as pictures of Arab women wielding AK47s, a washing line strung with pencil drawings and a guy in a balaclava were shown amid family pictures... all a bit odd.  However, in the oddness was perhaps the point.  Every day pictures that have little merit, except to the people involved are the stuff of photography everywhere and just as the eye starts to become tired with them it catches a strange and inexplicable image that sparks interest.

The second exhibition I looked at was the 'Disappeared but Remained', a selection from the Korean photographers Ween-Gu Kang, Ki-Chan Kim and Gap-Chul Lee and curated by the Museum of Photography, Seoul.

 The common thread between these photographers is their attempt to demonstrate the changes that have occurred during the modernization of Korea.  Based on B&W gelatin silver prints, the work of many Korean photographs isn't seen as particularly relevant from a global point of view.  However, the medium is a good one to link the modern aspects of the images with their older archival versions.

Some of the photos were symbolic, rather than literal comparisons, the 'Solidly Built Pagoda' 1 and 2 being a pair that showed a broken picture of a traditional pagoda in the debris on the edge of a modern concrete road.  Others were images with a nostalgic point of view of old Korea before urban redevelopment, followed by their modern equivalent.  Despite the laudable objective of these images, I felt that their execution rather missed the point a bit and lacked the visual and emotional punch of other, more skilled, photographers.  Certainly, the 'exploration of evil spirits, souls and insane energy of Korean sharmanism', is a subject that must live more in the mind of the photographer than on his prints!  Overall, not a collection that either inspired or challenged me intellectually.

More to my liking was the third collection Entropy by environmental photographer, Lloyd Godman.  

Entropy is an examination of the results of a disastrous bush fire suffered by the areas of St Andrews and Kinglake in Victoria.  The images show the effects of the inferno and then the process of regeneration that the bush goes through as new life emerges from the ashes.  Godman uses several visual effects to show his images, triptychs, randomized computer projection and complex mosaics (very much my favourite).

Apart from a few large single prints, the images are shown in strips, mainly triptychs,  often looking as if they were contact prints.  The majority showed the ash covered ground and charred limbs of trees with a minority displaying the fire and the remainder demonstrating the stages of greening as new growth emerged.  Having said my favourite were the mosaics I don't think it would be hard to understand why.  Printed on glossy black the small contact print sized images were clustered in patterns with the background black aiding the construction of the mosaic.  The images were impressive on a few levels, the first being the distant impression that the pattern of images gave.  The second was the clusters of colours that each part of the cycle produced, from the swirling orange of the fire to the dull ash gray through the bright and darker greens of growth.  All beautifully coordinated to give the images a path through the mosaic.  Finally, having moved close to the pictures I could revel in the detail of the individual frames.

All in all this chance to see Godman's work in the flesh was most valuable and I came away with inspiration and ideas that, I am sure, will help my work in the future.  

This will be somewhere I will visit again on my next trip to Sydney.