Richard Hamilton’s justly famous 1956 work Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? still has the power to surprise and delight, despite countless reproductions and its elevation to the status of “pop icon”, to say nothing of the artist’s own 1992 “remake” and 2004 “upgrade” – perhaps his way of preventing the image from being taken too seriously by the art history industry. Replace the word “homes” of the title with the word “art” and it’s a good question to keep asking, especially today when art production is so diverse and voluminous. But it’s a question asked and answered by artists rather than art historians.
The very recent publication of Julian Ward’s fourth book suggests there may be some merit in rejigging Hamilton’s title a little further: take out that “homes” and “art” and shove in “photography” and suddenly Ward’s images take on a new potency. They might be “about” life on the Capital’s streets, but they’re just as much about photography: just what is it that makes the medium so different, so appealing?
John B. Turner’s Photography Blog, dated 16 December 2014:
The New Zealand contribution to the 2014 Pingyao International Photography Festival included three exhibitions, six floor talks, a three-hour seminar, several television interviews, posing with Chinese strangers, and making new friends from all over the world. The vocabulary of PIP volunteer translators, who were mostly students of the dynamic Amy Liu of Taiyuan Technical University, was seriously tested with our odd Kiwi accents and vernacular speech. Julia Durkin, Director of the Auckland Festival of Photography, somehow found time from intense networking to join the portfolio review team, while I, as a guest curator, was free to network after helping “my” photographers, Craig Potton (Nelson), Ian Macdonald, (Auckland), and the environmental sculpture couple, Martin Hill and Philippa Jones (Wanaka), whom I had not met before, to settle in. They were joined by Jenny Tomlin, from Auckland, who had a solo exhibition. To cap the NZ presence, Martin Hill won an ‘Excellent Photographer Award’ and 4,000 people were given a free copy of the 32-page A6 bilingual catalogue of To Save a Forest… Photographs by leading New Zealand conservationists: Martin Hill, Ian Macdonald and Craig Potton.
As usual, there were pluses and minuses to the PIP Festival, with the positives dominating, and apart from the extraordinary array of photographs on display, it was the genuine warmth of their welcome, and the generous help from the volunteers that made a huge impression. Ian Macdonald summed up the exhibitions when after his initial foray he returned to exclaim that he had seen more outstanding photographs in two hours at PIP than he had seen during his recent exploration of London’s photography scene over a four week period. Ian and Elise Macdonald are legendary hosts, and Ian did as much as any official tourist bureau could to entice their new Chinese friends to get to enjoy a New Zealand visit and visit them at home in Matakana.’
Compared to her first PIP exhibition, featuring four Aucklanders, Chris Corson-Scott, Geoffrey Heath, Anita Jacobsen, and Vicky Thomas, last year, Elaine Smith’s 2014 selection was undermined by including the work of Qiane Matata-Sipu, who despite showing some promise, has simply not yet reached the level of technical competence or confidence shown by the other exhibitors: Tano Gago, Solomon Mortimer, and Tim Veling. To make matters worse, the exemplary work of Gago and Veling was displayed on the heavily shaded walls, while Matata-Sipu’s (and Mortimer’s) weaker prints received the limelight. Allocated what should have been a good space in the revamped Diesel Factory B7, the Auckland Festival was stuck between a rock and a hard place because of inadequate lighting for the best (and largest) works in their show. What’s the point of showing fine images under pathetically uneven lighting conditions? So I have to ask of the people responsible, Why wasn’t the same care taken downstairs, as that taken for the proper and more versatile lighting on the floor above where PIP’s permanent collection was newly installed? It shouldn’t be a big deal to provide reasonably even lighting on both sides of all display panels? It was galling to see, just around the corner, empty display spaces with beautiful natural light begging to be filled, and another filled with a display of backpacks for sale. (Julia Durkin informs me that restrictions on the use of nails or screws forced them to change Elaine’s planned layout for all of the work. “The lighting correction was requested,” Julia said, but like curator Alasdair Foster with his exhibition, she had no luck in getting the lighting fixed.)
I was also tormented by the fact that no extra lighting would be provided to brighten the shaded side of the panels for our ‘To Save a Forest…’ show. The effect was to compromise viewing of most of Craig Potton’s work until late afternoon when the small floodlights unevenly illuminated his glowing prints and shaded Ian’s and Martin’s.
That PIP suffers from serious underfunding is pretty obvious. The Shanxi government’s decision to make PIP more of a fair, with a new avenue of overhead lanterns lined with numerous small stalls offering tourist trinkets, demonstrates an inability to understand the uniqueness and the real needs of such a festival, with so much potential for increasing the number of informed foreign and Chinese visitors with a particular interest in photography. Equally, the razzle dazzle of the Awards event, designed exactly like a commercial television presentation, is another lost opportunity to seriously celebrate photographers and photography. Not least because when something went seriously wrong with the electronics this year, the small intended slide show of work on exhibition was not seen.
Coming back to the issue of display lighting, it was, ironically, very noticeable in B7, how beautifully lit the delightful and impressive cellphone exhibition, ‘My Bed & One Day in China’ was. Subtitled ‘The First China’s Top Ten Mobile Phone Photographers’ a kpkpw show curated by Fu Yongjun. When I asked why their lighting was superior the answer was that exhibitors could reposition the lights for their work. However that might be, the lighting system elsewhere, high in the ceiling, did not look that sufficient or flexible.
In last year’s PIP blog I had expressed my hope that the Auckland Festival and any other contributions would present significant work from south of the Bombay hills, to better represent photography in New Zealand, so it was good to see Veling, Hill and Potton included in this year’s offerings. A three-hour seminar by Hill, Potton, and Macdonald was attended by over 70 people, mainly in the younger age group, with several expressing their hope of visiting and studying in New Zealand.
It is interesting, but by no means comforting, to see that some of the finest work featured at PIP is often displayed in the labyrinth of makeshift and often leaking spaces that PIP is renowned for. Thus Jenny Tomlin found her pinhole work displayed opposite that of Ed Kashi, the VII agency photographer, in equally dismal lighting in Diesel Factory A5, where my ‘Tint’ exhibition was held in 2013. For Jenny, who is an expert analogue printer, the main consolation and trade off was likely the huge number of people who “saw” her work and took an interest in her mysterious low tech images. “Glimpsed,” however, would be a more accurate description of the interaction from the great majority of onlookers who have not learned the rewards of paying adequate attention to pictures and their meaning. Some smart ones used the light from their cell phones to take a closer look in the shadows. Kashi, billed as a star attraction, and a PIP award winner, didn’t visit Pingyao to see where his three essays were displayed, but his work can best be seen in publications and on the web. Jenny’s best prints, with their nuances of tone, detail and colour need to be seen in decent lighting.
Nina Seja ANZAC: Photographs by Laurence Aberhart, with an introduction by Jock Phillips (Victoria University Press, 2014), 108 pp., $60
What are the implications of cultural remembrance? As theorist Marita Sturken points out in her book Tangled Memories, the ‘process of cultural memory is bound up in complex political stakes and meanings.’ The output of publications devoted to one cataclysmic conflict in cultural memory increased substantially this year as we entered into a period of centennial commemoration for the Great War of 1914–18. As a nation New Zealand suffered tremendous losses on the frontline, and the impact of war was felt almost equally strongly back at home, psychologically, economically, physically. One hundred years offers distance to reflect on the War’s legacy, but also an opportunity to see what types of official narratives have emerged, persisted, been revised. And beyond these historic or bureaucratic interpretations, how might artists reframe a culture remembering? Esteemed photographer Laurence Aberhart’s body of work entitled ANZAC offers one artist’s nuanced view of the event called ‘World War One’ that is at once personal and universal in its quiet critique of war and in its depiction of how memorials construct, or are invested with, the sanctity of the past.
ANZAC is both a touring exhibition and a publication supported by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Victoria University Press. The printed version consists of seventy exquisite photographs of ANZAC memorials from Aberhart’s wanderings through New Zealand and Australia between 1980 and 2013. While war memorials are diverse – obelisks, cupolas, windows – here it is the digger that Aberhart privileges. While these soldier figures represent only 8 per cent of all memorials, they offer the most human depiction of the cost of war.
Posted online at Public Address / Capture photoblog is this comprehensive article by Jonathan Ganley, about the publication PhotoForum at 4o.
Cover image: Shrouds. Photograph by Barney Brewster
PhotoForum at 40 by Jonathan Ganley
The forthcoming Rim Books publication of PhotoForum at 40: Counterculture, Clusters, and Debate in New Zealand will mark forty years since PhotoForum was founded. Perhaps the society no longer has the profile it enjoyed in its first ten years, when it published a bi-monthly magazine, but PhotoForum is still going strong. There is a comprehensive website, and frequent exhibitions. Books and periodicals continue to be produced with the highest possible production values, a goal that was aimed for but not always achieved when the magazine was in its 1970s heyday.
The quality will be evident when the printed copies of PhotoForum at 40 become available in late June. The 300-page book contains an impressive mix of history, photographs, documents, correspondence, interviews and cultural commentary. It also includes a chronology of New Zealand photography from 1950 to 2014, corresponding with a chronology of PhotoForum publications, exhibitions and activities.
With these forthcoming events, the time seemed right to examine the legacy of the society, its present activities and future plans, with Nina Seja, the book’s author, and Geoffrey H. Short, the current director of PhotoForum and co-curator with Seja of the exhibition. Read the full article HERE
The Land of The Long White Cloud – New Zealand through Chinese Lens.
Editors: Kenneth Wang, Hong Lin Xu, Leo Guan, Xue Wei He, and Heidi Xue. United Chinese Photography Association of New Zealand Inc., Auckland, 2012. A4 landscape format, hardbound 80pp, 78 photographs, no contact address nor recommended price.
On the one hand this self-published book, organised by leaders in the United Chinese Photography Association of New Zealand, is hardly distinguishable from the commercial “Beautiful New Zealand” books that dominate airport bookshops and supplement the suntans and happy memories of most visitors. As such, it is at the higher level in regard to photographic skills. On the other hand, however, it does not question New Zealand propaganda of the 100% pure green kind that hides deep seated problems with dealing with urban and rural pollution, and non-sustainable practices, let alone social inequalities.
Rather, it extols the virtues of the known – that an unpolluted “natural” environment, from the coastline to the tip of a mountain, is sublime subject matter that can open the heart and mind to feast on. Such exulting and breathtaking vistas, we know, can bring out the best of even a land agent when they discover that not every piece of real estate should be bought or sold at any cost without an environmental audit.
These mostly amateur and Chinese-born photographers appreciate what is left of New Zealand’s more pristine scenic spots, because they come from crowded, noisy, places like Beijing, Guangzhou, and centres of even more industrial and commercial pollution. Thus, Xue Wei He, in Auckland, can title his preface to this book, ‘Within the Heavenly Shores of New Zealand,’ because his sentiments are genuinely heartfelt. Xue Wei He and the other photographers in this book, have found in New Zealand ‘A Paradise on Earth’ (his words) because it represents for them a ‘pure and sublime paradise [which is] always the ultimate dream of mankind.’
Compared to the devastating turmoil of China’s recent history, and what some of New Zealand’s Chinese photographers went through to get to New Zealand in the first place, their idealism might be justified. Their rosy view of New Zealand as a paradise, however, is still a long way from the reality of the country of my birth, that I see. Just as it is for my friend Ans Westra, whose latest book, Nga Tau ki Muri – Our Future (Suite, Wellington, 2013) is a wake-up call for taking stock of what is actually being done to our land. Read the full review HERE.
EyeContact is a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. Below are two excerpts from Peter Ireland’s review of the publication Pictures They Want to Make: Recent Auckland Photography.
‘There is no doubt that PTWTM has superb production values. But then, so did the Nuremberg rallies. We’re back to the old Scholastic distinction between appearance and substance, but if anyone’s talking about any kind of excellence, it’s still a distinction with currency. Getting a stamp on your hand for achievement might work in Year One, but post-Year Thirteen in a culture with any depth it seems reasonable to expect a little more than just taking part.’
‘Apart from offering the various photographers a platform it’s hard to know what PTWTM is about. As the authors admit, the “Auckland” net is more holes than string, and why should some sort of regionalist focus matter anyway, taking heed of Jackson Pollock’s remarking on the absurdity of an “American mathematics”. Of course, there’s probably more photography produced in the Auckland region, but if we’re talking sheer volume it might be more to the point discussing hydro-electricity along the Waikato River. And, oddly, PTWTM‘s content isn’t about variety either – the more modest Open the Shutter: Auckland Photographers Now demonstrated a much more diverse range of practice, which in the two decades since has expanded rather than contracting. Upon repeated examination it becomes clearer that what this book is about is the persistence of an amateur outlook formed – however inescapably – in the 1970s, but which has very little reason to exist in the second decade of the 21st century.’ Read the full reviewHERE.
Elaine Smith, volunteer Lisa Lee, foreign guests coordinator Amy Liu,and Julia Durkin at PIP Pingyao September 2013
Following on from the first Auckland Festival of Photography’s exhibition last year and my two-person show with Julian Ward, which followed PhotoForum’s six Auckland photographers show in 2011, the profile of New Zealand photographers is gradually being lifted in mainland China.
Credit goes to Julia Durkin for hosting PIP artistic director, Zhang Guotian during the Auckland Festival of Photography in June, as part of the effort to coordinate and exchange work from the growing number of photography festivals worldwide. Zhang said he enjoyed his visit and the welcome given him in recognition of Pingyao’s aims and achievements. He saw a wide range of New Zealand work at the Festival and visited local archives to study historical collections and curatorial practices.
Zhang Guotian, Artistic Director of PIP, 2013
Durkin’s right hand woman at the AFP, Elaine Smith, selected work by four Aucklanders to show at PIP this year: Chris Corson-Scott (5 images), Geoffrey Heath (5), Anita Jacobsen (4), and Vicky Thomas (5). It was a modest beginning for presenting the work of people who have earned this exposure, when compared to the more ambitious solo presentations of PIP old hands, like Don Penny (USA) and Bronek Kozka (Australia), just a dozen metres away. It is a pity that they were unable to attend in person to experience the cacophony if images of all subjects, sizes, and levels of competence that surrounded their work in the old cotton mill and most other spaces.
Geoffrey Heath’s work at PIP 2013
Vicky Thomas’s work at PIP 2013
For me, Heath, Jacobsen and Thomas’s work was very competent but they are still in the process of finding their full voice. Unlike them, Corson-Scott avoided the art schools, with their growing conservatism, and struck out on his own. Consequently, he seemed to pop out of nowhere with a mature vision, when I first saw his work in the show at Northart that he curated with Edward Hanfling for this year’s AFP, and their meticulous preparation for that show convinced PhotoForum and Rim Books to publish their Pictures They Want to Make: Recent Auckland Photography. PhotoForum, Auckland, 2013).
Geoffrey Heath (left) and Chris Corson-Scott’s work at PIP Pingyao, 2013 . Photo courtesy Julia Durkin
Chris Corson-Scott’s work at PIP Pingyao. Photo courtesy Julia Durkin
Corson-Scott’s contemplative, intensely rendered images belie the fact that he is still at an early stage in his development. His thinking is remarkably advanced and more ambitious than most of his peers, partly, I think, because he shares with his late father, the painter Ian Scott, a high level of intellectual enquiry about the nature of form and content in relation to the vernacular. The lighting is always dicey at PIP but if anything, Corson-Scott’s prints could have been bigger to dominate the large panels they were on, as they did in Auckland. Read the full article HERE
Included in the current issue (No. 147/Spring 2013) of Art New Zealand magazine, is David Eggleton’s extensive (two and half page) book review of Pictures They Want to Make: Recent Auckland Photography.
Below are two extracts from his review:
“The book itself, containing the work of 12 photographers and more than 100 photographs mostly drawn from longer photo-essays, is an energetic, imaginative production, a splashy publication on an Auckland scale without being unwieldy.”
“In their Introduction, the editors suggest that their selected artists have ‘varying degrees of commitment to notions of “the real”. Ian Macdonald is one who flouts attempts to nail down the real, preferring artifice. He collages digital photographs to create rainforest facades. Here, the New Zealand landscape is presented as an ecological niche, pristine and primal, and through the lush foliage the primeval light beckons. He makes images that are green altars, monumental and hopeful.
Geoffrey H. Short is the anarchist of the bunch, a singular poet, exploding expectations with exhilarating photographs of controlled explosions at Bethells Beach Te Henga. These spectacular bomb-bursts, as the essay on him tells us, are a metaphor for the act of photography itself.”
Review by David Eggleton
Art New Zealand
147/Spring 2013 issue
Note: Pictures They Want to Make: Recent Auckland Photography is co-authored by Chris Corson-Scott and Edward Hanfling, with foreword by Ron Brownson. Further reviews and information relating to this PhotoForum Inc. publication can be found here.
‘This latest project from one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed photographers may come as a jolt to those familiar with her work. And that’s precisely the intention; Nga Tau ki Muri is a cry from one of the most esteemed observers of our culture to acknowledge the damaging changes being inflicted upon the landscape.’
‘Though shot with her trusty medium-format Rollieflex, these images do not have the inquisitive spirit of an outsider looking in sympathetically that has largely characterised Westra’s past work. This is the act of looking, through an overtly political lens, and pointing to the ugliness in our culture that we have now imprinted on our surrounds.
EyeContact is a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. Zara Sigglekow has just compiled this review of Recent Auckland Photography exhibition (20 May – 12 June 2013), which is now posted on their website. Below is an extract from her article.
Photography at North Art
Derek Henderson, Kevin Simmons, Leanne Hema and Troy Burton, Reid’s Farm, 2007.
‘Recent Auckland Photography at North Art gallery was part of the Auckland Festival of Photography. Set over two gallery spaces this large exhibition is accompanied with an extensive publication, which includes an introduction by the curators Chris Corson-Scott and Edward Hanfling, foreword by senior Auckland Art Gallery curator Ron Brownson, and brief essays on each photographer. Within the expanse of approaches represented in the festival the curators choose to focus on a particular style of photography. While somewhat narrow, this is necessary in order to create a survey of coherence and depth and prevent a mish-mash of styles and approaches.
The photographs chosen are what could be labelled ‘straight’ photography. There is no push to abstraction, overt manipulation or over conceptualisation. Yet – as stressed in the accompanying book’s introduction – they are not ‘snapshots’ or ‘documents’ taken with an impartial and objective eye. The photographers ‘make’ the pictures selecting with scene with intentionality, framing the image and sometimes staging its contents. All twelve photographers take photographs that are ‘scapes’ of the world around them: cityscapes; suburbanscapes; landscapes, and the details that lie within them. Some engage with identity and history while others scrutinise the present. The restriction of ‘Auckland’ is taken loosely: either photographs taken of Auckland or by Auckland photographers in international or Auckland regional locations.’ Read the full reviewHERE