The Weltraum exhibition at Magpie Springs for the 2016 Shimmer Photographic Biennale was finally hung this morning. All those who are participating int he exhibition chipped in. A big thanks to Jeff Moorfoot, whose expertise gained from running the Ballarat International Foto Biennale as creative director (he’s now the editor of Beta Developments in Photography), helped me put the finishing touches to the exhibition.
Seeing some of the silo images hung at Weltraum allowed to me to assess whether to continue to photograph the silos in black and white or colour in the future. This is an early colour image of a silo at Linga that I made with the 5×7 Cambo monorail.
I’ve decided to go with black and white with the colour as a supplement since the colour doesn’t add that much to the project.
The 2016 Shimmer Photographic Biennale opened on Friday night. It is a small Biennale, with 14 core venues and no Fringe events; the result of the Onkaparinga Council cutting its funding of the Biennale. It is better to be small and surviving through a DIY effort by local photographers, rather than closing down from lack of public funding, which is what happened to Photo Freo in Perth. The Shimmer Biennale offers us an insight into the South Australian photographic culture, and what it shows from the work on display is that this culture is largely one of commercial photographers doing personal work and ex-art school photographic artists.
One insight can be seen in the judging of the AIPP’s national Contemporary Photographic Art Prize, where the focus shifts from the single print to an exhibition series of images coupled to an artist statement. The AIPP’s traditional stance is the old modernist one of the image/print standing on its own and so there is no need for text and the judges still have to defend the importance of the text as a clarification of the artist’s intent. The work exhibited was worth engaging with–in terms of quality and intellectual content, and what surprised me was the judges’s disconnect to an academic culture. Going from the judging that I saw the judges discussed the work without making connections between the exhibited work and the humanities, art history or aesthetics, or to the wider Australian culture. Though the inclusion of contemporary and art aligns or situates this type of photography within contemporary art, the inference from the judging is that in this culture photographs exist in a vacuum, and that judgements about the work are made solely in terms of the subjective responses to the images.
In his opening speech Mark Kimber stepped outside this culture by highlighting the importance of photographic festivals though linking photography to our personal (and cultural) memories (i.e.,the particular recollection of something in the past) and history. Without photographic prints, he argued, our memories would be very impoverished in that without the photos in the shoebox under the bed we wouldn’t remember that much of our past. Photographs, when used as memories, give us something in the past to hold on to.
The Biennale’s central rhizome is the Arts Centre in Port Noarlunga. There is the body painting work of Emma Hack in Chinoiserie and light painting work in Luminous Flux by Sam Oster and Sara Huffen that compliments the work of Peter Solness, who is the artist in residence during the Biennale. The phrase luminous flux refers to the quantity of the energy of the light emitted per second in all directions and the photographs in the exhibition are premised on the technique of painting various objects in the dark, or placing different types of lighting in the landscape.
If light is next in importance to content and composition in a photograph, then the key becomes what are the photographers saying about the landscape in Australia using the technique of light painting. The immediate response is that this kind of sculpting with light using digital technology is a way to enhance, reveal and celebrate certain aspects of subjects that weren’t visible under normal lighting conditions. It can be used to enhance shape, dimension or texture so that the landscape takes on a surreal quality. At least that is what I interpreted the use of light painting in the Luminous Flux exhibition to be trying to create.
Another rhizome of the Shimmer Biennale is the Alchemical Traces: Contemporary South Australian Handcraft Photographers exhibition showing at The Red Poles Gallery. This is based around the ex-Art School photographers who have turned to alternative processing—-Tintypes, Ambrotypes, Daguerreotypes, Cyanotypes, Salt Prints and other hand-made photographs– in reaction to a hegemonic digital photographic culture. Alternative processing, such as wet plate, is a technique and, like light painting, it’s significance depends on what the photographers say using this particular technique. Many of the exhibitors appeared as if they were experimenting or playing around with these techniques, rather than creating a body of work in a project.