Every year the director of Adelaide’s Centre for Creative Photography, Gavin Blake, runs an exhibition course for students who’ve got solid bodies of work. He guides them through the process of organising, promoting, and setting up an exhibition, as well as pushing them to refine the work they’ve chosen to show. It’s kind of a culmination of studies for these students. This year’s show is called Harvest, and it’s quite a bounty of pictures, a show that is a mix of work and styles that reflects the students’ diversity of projects and approaches.
Note: I teach at the CCP and have had some of these artists in my classes.
Stephen Hunt‘s still lifes are rich and lush and generous with its bouquets that spill out of their vases and onto the table. He calls his series ‘A pastiche of still life’ and makes it as a reference to rococo and impressionist painters like Manet and Bosschaert. The elaborate frames do that too. Some are individual flower studies, some more complex bunches of flowers. I’m not sure what a florist would make of these arrangements but these are gorgeous pictures here, softly lit, colourful but not overpowering, the ones at the back receding into the darkness. The odd stray flower that’s fallen away from the bunch is a bit of disarray; something rushed, something not perfect. Then I discover that Hunt served in a team who went over to manage the bodies after the 2004 tsunami. The pictures are an acknowledgment of, but a moving past, what must have been something horrible.
Bec Joannu’s fantasy tableaus are a self-contained fantasy world of kids, paper boats, and night skies of sleep and dreams. It’s a sheeny Where the Wild Things Are without the danger and with an Australian flavour. In one image they’re all in a circle with rabbits and magpies. In another the kids, with fur hats, float in a lake that they share with pelicans. The darkness is around them but they aren’t huddling from it; they’re pointing and looking outward, telescope aimed beyond the frame towards some enthralling discovery. In another image they’re round a campfire, in another in a hot-air balloon, in all of them a world of adventure, and of being unafraid of the night.
There are more flowers with Pamela Ann Brangwen-Jones, who’s made photograms with black-and-white and colour paper, and scanograms, images constructed from laying flowers on a scanner. There are a couple of images where the elements seem disconnected and the image unresolved, but then there are some others that are captivating, comprising feathers and other textures. The scanner lights things in a soft and even way. There aren’t really any hard shadows, and this, with the diffused feather strands, make an inviting bed of soft textures for our eyes to fall into, mostly whites and greys with some hints of colour here and there. We might see stray feathers as we wander around, but Brangwen-Jones picks them up and incorporates them into her pictures, paying attention to the fragments we’d otherwise ignore.
Renāte Smitham’s film photos are set up as they they are documents of an artist (or at least an enquirer) looking at flowers, playing the piano, puzzling together a wall of pictures. I mention that they are shot in film because that’s part of her aesthetic; with some pieces she prints a strip of negatives, frame numbers and all. One has her at the piano; she tells the viewer that she is relearning to play ‘Für Elise’ as a way of remembering her father and grandfather. From left to right, each frame getting lighter and lighter until she almost disappears as the last frame is overexposed. Getting lost in the music, or in the effort of practice? It’s another tribute too, to Duane Michals and his multiple frames and in-camera special effects. Her other pieces—some multiple negative frames, others multiple mirrors or montages—also place her as inheritor of artistic and family tradition.
Ida Sophia also places herself as an inheritor of tradition with a series of self-portraits that refer to artists like Marina Abramovic, Florence Henri, Laurie Simmons, Cindy Sherman. Her pictures start out as small Instax instant prints, and as large prints they maintain a subdued colour palette carry an unmissable . By using self-portraits she claims her part in a lineage that comprises artists who are makers of personality as much as they are of artworks: Marina Abramovic, for example, or Man Ray. Sophia’s colour tribute to Florence Henri is a recreation of Henri’s ‘Autoportrait’, where Henri sits in front of a mirror with two silver balls rolled up against it. Instead of the ambiguous balls, Sophia has some glasses or candle holders, it’s unclear which. In any case, the pair of objects is less a literal copy and more an homage or a toast to the woman in the original black-and-white mirror, from the woman in the new colour mirror. It look almost like a seance, a call to the spirits for guidance, but Sophia’s active participation in making these images make it clear that she’s creating her own oeuvre, spirit, persona and presence.
Victor Marillanca’s street photographs are shot with Holga plastic cameras, using medium-format film. The contrasty prints seem almost made from the bitumen streets that look at so closely. What Marillanca does is turn the pictures upside down, so that you’re looking at reflections in water puddles as if they are fractures in the sky. It’s a simple twist on reality (and a literal twist on the the picture), but isn’t that how the cracks in the universe that we tell stories about usually appear—as rifts almost unnoticed in some alley? In some of them there’s a solitary figure in silhouette, in the distance. Maybe it’s a traveller about to step into a portal to elsewhere. Maybe it’s a visitor who’s slipped into our timeline. Are they here to watch? Or warn? Take it how you will, but Adelaide’s getting more rainy these days, and more of these portals are opening up. Watch where you step, and know that we are not alone.
The prints in an exhibition are objects to go look at and be in the room with, obviously, but John Hopkinson’s prints, of objects, are also the most object-like of the show. They’re made up of a couple of transparent sheets, mylar maybe, where one sheet is fairly straight rendering of the object (tin can, grater), that is backlit with a light panel. The second sheet is a glitchy copy, and together they look like they are floating and glowing and three-dimensional. They’re pictures of the most mundane things, but theyr’e vibrant and almost alive, and made me want to keep looking.
The image above is intriguing in the way the vase looks like it’s floating, but it’s only a hint of the luminous object on the wall. The piece isn’t just asking you to consider the ambiguity of something, it is an ambiguous thing in itself. My kitchen benchtop isn’t as pristine as this background, but I’ll be taking an extra moment to look at my cheese grated when I make my dinner tonight.
The good thing about this show and this class is that it brings together a disparate group of people and pushes them to develop an idea or existing work into a stronger series. There’s no interpretation of a single theme, which can sometimes feel forced, but each participant’s been encouraged to find their own way and give us a look into what catches their eye. And by extension, they ask us to consider what catches ours.
Harvest was at Studio Bowden from 12 April to 3 May 2019, and is at The Light Gallery at the Centre for Creative Photography from 13 May to 21 June 2019. There will be an artists’ talk there on Tuesday 28 May 2019 at 6pm.