Andrew Merry’s photographs in the recent Boomburbs exhibition look hyper-real. From a distance they look computer generated or coloured-in – which is what makes them so fascinating. On closer examination it’s clear these images haven’t been manipulated on Photoshop. Instead, the collision of the blazing Australian sunshine with man-made materials (all photographed from above) make Sydney’s suburbs appear rendered in plastic.
There is a growing body of work being made today by artist/photographers who are constructing miniature worlds from models, before taking meticulously arranged photographs of them. Andrew Merry has achieved an analogous look – but by photographing the real thing and making it look like a model. The project developed after one of his neighbours took him for a spin in his helicopter and I’m guessing that part of the ‘look’ of the photos was helped by flying quite low-level. The images are far-away enough to show sections of the ‘burb, but close enough to create a creepy, voyeuristic view not too dissimilar from surveillance cameras. (see the bottom of this post for some examples of constructed photography)
The original project ‘Edgewood’ (named after the neighbourhood Andrew Merry photographed) was renamed Boomburb’s for the Museum of Sydney exhibition. The Australian suburban sprawl, with its McMansions and bedroom communities, looks identical to greenfield developments in the States: the far-west suburbs of Chicago, Northern Virginia, and just about all of Los Angeles. It seems the developed world can’t help itself from catching whatever trend America sets.
In Australia they have the space to follow in America’s footsteps and carve up farmland to provide bloated, oversized homes with postage stamp sized gardens.
The images are beautifully executed and the show itself was a first-class installation. All credit to the curators at the museum for showing an exhibition that gave a harsh critique of contemporary Sydney life.
The Museum of Sydney is a lovely building with intriguing permanent exhibits. To compliment Andrew Merry’s contemporary work the museum had an exhibition of historical photographs by Arthur Wigram Allen called An Edwardian Summer, which gave a fascinating insight to turn-of-the-century life in Sydney.
I was previously unaware of Polixeni Papapetrou’s work, but I was really excited to be able to attend the opening of her retrospective at the Australian Centre for Photography during a recent trip to Sydney.
It is a remarkable collection of work, with a cohesive conceptual thread that runs through each distinct series of images. One of its greatest successes is the collaboration between the artist and her daughter Olympia (and more recently her son Solomon and their friends) who are centre-stage throughout the work.
In recent years there have been several artist/children collaborations in the art/photography world that have either raised questions about exploitation, or (and I know I’m being a bit harsh here) have just been a bit dull. In my experience only Grandparents have a limitless capacity for hearing about their Grandkids every move – but some artists and photographers seem to think we should all feel the same way about their progeny. In contrast Papapetrou’s work has a fresh take on family collaboration and her work bursts with original ideas.
In its most basic form, the photographs are make-believe pictures where Olympia dresses up in a variety of scenes that look fairy-tale or dream-like. The work heavily references work by Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, but while the starting points are familiar stories, the combined imaginations of mother and daughter have taken them into a new worlds with their own distinct, visual language.
There is a set of images with beautiful painted backdrops created by Papapetrou’s husband Robert Nelson. At a time where manipulated digital images are ubiquitous these hand-made works add a layer of visual complexity that a blue-screen could never achieve, and also deepen the artistic family collaboration.
Technically, the images are realised with a precision and mastery and each one is perfectly composed and lit. The work has been printed on a large, painterly scale and while the reproductions in the catalogue give an indication of the work’s quality, seeing them in a gallery setting made them come to life.
The images taken outside in the Australian landscape under an unforgiving sun are stunning and contain Australian cultural references about children missing in the wilderness. While I recognised the nod to Picnic at Hanging Rock I was unaware of the other references. When you live in an arts center like London it’s easy to be deceived that you know-it-all, when in fact much of the international work that gets shown is merely a highlight: to really understand a country’s arts and culture there’s no replacement for experiencing it first-hand.
Something else that was very impressive about the opening, which also featured a remarkable series of work by Carie Nelson and a collection of Images from Adland, was the brief introductions and speeches.
ACP curator Alasdair Foster spoke about about Carie Nelson’s work and introduced Daniel Leesong from The Communications Council to discuss the Images from Adland. Gael Newton, Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia introduced Polixeni Papapetrou’s work. The whole presentation lasted 10-15 minutes but gave a focal point to the evening.
As well as artist talks, one of the other innovative events the ACP organised was a talk hosted by Olympia and Solomon , where they talked to other children about their collaborative experience working with their mother. This obviously wasn’t an event for adults – but if it had been I’d have liked to know more about the day-to-day life in the Papapetrou/Nelson household. When I was growing up my brother was often relieved of washing up duties if he practiced the piano for an extra 20 minutes. I’d be curious to know if Olympia and Solomon have been able to exchange their domestic chores for being photographic models!
I sent Poli a link to this blog and she was able to answer my question about chores…
In relation to the day-to-day life in the Papapetrou/Nelson household. Olympia avoids any form of housework by saying that she is practising piano, violin, French or Italian. In reality she is on her computer for social networking purposes! When I was growing up I seem to remember that I had to do lots of chores as well as do my school work. In return for being photographic models, I pay them and they are more than happy with this arrangement and don’t especially mind my mistakes which may involve a re-shoot.
The exhibition Beach, Bush + Battlers at the State Library of New South Wales is a tribute to Australian photographer Jeff Carter. He worked as a photojournalist from the mid-1950s and his work was published in national and international magazines. However, it hasn’t been until relatively recently that his work has been shown in gallery spaces.
Jeff Carter’s photographs exude an empathy with his subjects – some of whom became life-long friends. As I progressed through the exhibition, and read the detailed notes accompanying each photo, other reasons for his easy, intimate style emerged – on some occasions he was actually doing the job he was photographing!
Some of the images are beautiful, candid portraits. Others record a time and way of life that has already departed. Within this collection also reside images that are strikingly iconic like the surfers on Bondi beach. Sadly, Jeff Carter died last year so didn’t get to see this exhibit, but I hope galleries in other countries decide to bring this work to audiences outside Australia.
Something I’m personally interested in is photographers that are able to create great images while working in their own backyard – which is something Jeff Carter quite clearly achieved during his many years of dedicated work, telling the story of his homeland.
Until I arrived in Australia for the first time, all the images that came to mind of this hard and sun-bleached country were in colour. Now, after seeing Jeff Carter’s work many of the images I carry with me will be in black-and-white.
The Museum of Brisbane’s latest exhibition ‘The Stoke’ traces the history of skateboarding in the city. It’s a brilliantly conceived and executed show, which includes a purpose-built skate bowl in central gallery space. At weekends the gallery resounds with wheel-on-wood as skaters demonstrate their skills to fascinated onlookers.
The exhibition includes some superb photos. Many have a wonderfully evocative feel – a favourite of mine was a shot of three teenage girls tentatively balancing on very early skateboards, as they wheel through a 1970’s car park. These historical photos are accompanied by a contemporary collection of images taken by documentary photographer Isaac Brown, which showcase favourite skating locations in Brisbane.
The exhibition also incorporates a collection of skateboards, tracing their evolution. Beginning in the 1960’s with home-made examples cobbled together out of old roller-skates and pieces of rough-and-ready wood. These rudimentary boards become ever more sophisticated, concluding with today’s crafted, colourful and much larger designs.
One board was very similar to the one I used circa 1986-89. It recently saw active service in 2006 when one of my best friends decided to renew his skateboarding career. For a brief few days he impressed at the local skate park where he showcased his long-forgotten skills. Unfortunately his knee gave way and he finally had to admit his skating days were over. But as they say skateboarders never die – they just suffer ligament damage.
The Stoke did a fantastic job of communicating what skateboarding feels like and the sense of freedom it gives. It brought back memories of carefree summer days, carving along London’s streets, making friends and watching people describe the scale of their wipe-out before proudly showing the six inch scar along their arm, or leg, or back, or head…
Accompanying the exhibition are a variety of activities including a ‘zine workshop to help skaters create their own magazines and tell their own stories. I know how much satisfaction my friends Andy and Jem got from producing their own skater ‘zine back in the day (called ‘The Street Plant Liberation Army.’)
As well as the ‘zine workshop there are film viewings, talks and design workshops. The exhibition truly is an all-access show and in my opinion the result of a moment of curatorial inspiration. It brings an unlikely subject into a gallery space, making the museum relevant to a community that might never normally visit. The show also acknowledges the cultural impact that skateboarding has had on the city though its design, creativity and enthusiasm.
For more information on the show, including some short videos click here