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critical writing

architecture, critical writing, urban, Wellington

critical writing about photography

December 17, 2015

I have been digging around  the web looking for more contemporary Wellington-based photographers,   other than those I mentioned in an earlier post here and here  on this blog.  In doing so I came across  the work of Mark MarriottHans Weston, Tracey Kearns  —art photographers who have both an online presence and who exhibit regularly. Wellington has a number of  good active photographers and  small artist-run spaces.  The scene appears lively and the work interesting and diverse.

A good example  is Mary Macpherson’s Old New World, a  book of her photographs made over seven years  about change in New Zealand society as seen in the small regional/rural towns throughout the country.   The narrative is one of a shift from a traditional New Zealand, to places of prosperity and development that look very different to the 1960s and 70s. Presumably, the background reference  is to the way that the neo-liberal mode of capitalism has systematically  shaped New Zealand’s economy and society,  so deeply affected aspects of everyday life as the process of  commodification permeates all segments of society including art.  A book is an appropriate form of expression  for this kind of  photographic work about our historical experiences about what is passing away.

In  reworking  of the photographic approaches of  Walker Evans, Steven Shore and Joel  Steinfield Old New World  is against forgetting the past by proposing to remember the poetry of  place in the landscapes and urbanscapes  of the backroads of New Zealand. In doing so the text puts the  past and recent works of New Zealand art photography into a different light,  and opens them to different  meanings inside and outside the art institution.

 Macpherson, who is a poet as well as  a photographer,    says that this body of work is part of trying to understand her world and where she fits in it–ie., a trying to make sense of the changes.  In that sense photography, as meaningful, sensuous, particular works of art  is a form of thinking and self-discovery. What this suggests is that though artworks are indeed objects, the truth-content of art is of the world while also offering critical reflections upon it. This is a stance that is quite different from the contemporary adherents of the Romantic notion that art must establish itself as the antithesis of reason.
tree, Wellington CBD

tree, Wellington CBD

Whilst  reflecting on  Macpherson’s  Old New World  work  I  became curious about the breadth and depth  of the critical writing about photography and the visual arts in Wellington. I wondered if the situation in Wellington was the same as Adelaide. Both are provincial cities with the  mainstream newspapers getting smaller,  the resources devoted to journalism and editorship dropping, and the space for the visual art continuing to shrink.   So where to for critical writing on photography?

Mark Amery, speaking in relation to Wellington,  says that the closure of his fortnightly visual arts column with the Dominion Post newspaper in 2014  leaves Wellington without any visual arts commentary. The story is a familiar one: the mainstream media are increasingly treating the visual arts as irrelevant. The consequence is that Wellington’s visual artists are  left with the  critical writing about their work having a marginal existence in niche online publications, just like Adelaide with the  Adelaide Review.  Emery, who runs  public art programme Letting Space, mentions  the Pantograph PunchThe Lumière Reader,  Eyecontact and The Big Idea  in relation to New Zealand.  Continue Reading…

Adelaide, architecture, critical writing

on photographic criticism in Australia

May 24, 2018

One of the more noticeable characteristics of the contemporary photographic culture in  Australia is the dearth of independent critical-writing or public criticism  that endeavours to convince the wider public of the worth of art photography through the process of  explicating, encouraging, elevating, supporting, critiquing.  There is next to nothing icy way of photo criticism in Adelaide:—the Broadsheet Journal has closed down, whilst The Adelaide Review,   Artlink  and Tulpa basically overlook/ignore photographic exhibitions   The consequence of this lack of  cultural building blocks is  that art photographers working on long term projects live in a critical vacuum, despite the shift  online to a networked  digital world.

Many traditional photographers would not be concerned about this vacuum in photography’s critical discourse as they have no real love for art criticism,  but it is a depressing situation that we find ourselves in.   Criticism is a crucial part of making and enabling  a photographic culture,  and  photography has been at the centre of critical debates and themes throughout late twentieth and 21st century art photography’s and it  has  had a crucial   impact on contemporary art in this period.

Royal Adelaide Hospital

This lack of a critical impulse and discourse about contemporary  photography is reinforced by  the lack of value around the arts in mainstream media and among the public more generally. The entire journalism industry has been  going through a major phase of disruption,  and arts coverage has been  the first  to go in the mainstream media.  It has been decimated over the last decade, which makes the newspapers irrelevant.

The primary  reason  for this is that the arts are  no longer a priority for  the mainstream media that is still dependent on advertising and sales revenue.  The shift to  digital means that the emphasis   is now  all  about what rates online in terms of the most clicks from readers.  Since the reviews of exhibitions are not being read,  other than by  those immediately connected to them,  so  the media publishers stop publishing art reviews.   As his well known, the advertising model is broken and  people do not want to subscribe to  the mainstream media.  Arts coverage in the mainstream media is directly commensurate with the advertising dollars it brings in re  the page’s profitability.   This means that arts coverage is in its own silo – it survives off the strength of art-related advertisers only.   Continue Reading…

Adelaide, architecture, photography, publishing, walking

Walking Adelaide

April 29, 2022

In the light of the recent attacks to, and hacks of, two of my WordPress websites –ie., Thoughtfactory and Mallee Routes — I have been looking at Square Space for the Walking Adelaide project. The project has basically outgrown Posthaven’s  simple  blog format that I have been using up to now. Outgrown in the sense that the Walking Adelaide project  needs galleries, a blog and text in the form of some critical writing about the city, modernity and photography.

The Posthaven blog replaced an early poodlewalks blog on a free WordPress blog –that I used when I was living in Adelaide’s CBD That old WordPress blog was deleted when poodlewalks was upgraded into its own website, after we’d shifted to living in Encounter Bay on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. The poodlewalks in Adelaide’s CBD stopped and they only took place in the Fleurieu Peninsula. Turning to Posthaven plugged the gap.

Sony A7 R111
Sky City Casino

Rather than building another WordPress website to develop the Walking Adelaide project I am considering Square Space.  Considering in the sense of playing around with a demo template to see whether it would be suitable for the project. The upside of Square Space is that they have the responsibility for blocking the hacks, rather than me. The downside is that they charge $16 per month for the template and hosting when I already hosting my own websites.

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architecture, digital, New Zealand, Wellington

Photoforum Members Show 2018

April 2, 2018

I am participating in the Photoforum Members Show at Studio 541, Mt Eden, Auckland,  New Zealand. I rejoined Photoforum when I was at Photobook-NZ in Wellington after several years absence.   I submitted 3 images (medium format,  colour negative film)  for inclusion in the Members Show, which were made when I was   walking Wellington on a recent visit. The exhibition was oversubscribed,  so  the  curators/organizers  reduced the three images to two. However, it was only due to the stirling work at very short notice  by the team at Atkins Photo Lab in Adelaide that I was able to get the images printed, framed and couriered to Auckland.  We had a week to do it.

All  the images in the Photoforum exhibition are posted on  Studio 541’s website along with  the bio’s and artist statements.    These show a diverse range  of work that stands in opposition to, and digs beneath,  the NZ is beautiful or a paradise  school of photography.

 

 

Photo Forum Members’ Show 2018.

Photoforum  was co-founded in  1973 by John B Turner,  Tom Hutchins and Max Oettli to promote photography as an artistic and expressive medium, to encourage co-operation and collaboration amongst the photographic community, and  to provide mentoring  for photographers.  A secondary, but crucial  aim,   was  to encourage photographers to actively engage in the public risk-taking of critical writing and curatorial practice, outside of the universities and polytechnics.

Over its 40 years history Photoforum  has also helped to  nurture a critical environment, but there is still a lack of  critics and historians to better cover the field of photography in New Zealand. My memories of the early years when I was a member was that documentary photography has been  the dominant  language of PhotoForum photography.There is nothing like this  community-orientated non-profit organisation, which   has made valuable contributions to New Zealand art and art history,  amongst the art photographers in Australia.  We independent Australian art photographers are much poorer as a result of not having a similar DIY community of expressive photographers.       Continue Reading…

Art, colour, critical writing, digital

photographic gatekeeping’s framing

June 18, 2016

One of the  notable tendencies in contemporary photography is a closing of the ranks in responses to the digital revolution  that has transformed  photography’s technology,  seen digital photography  undeniably become  the pre-eminent means of imaging and photographers as a profession feeling beleaguered. Yhje response is the deployment of the frame  that separates the inside from the outside.John Szarkowski, past director of photography at MOMA, defines the photographic frame as “the central act of photography”–the line that separates in from out. Framing, according to this reading, delimits, controls, and encases meaning.

 Today the internet is filled with photos,  the internet is the realm of every person. Photography is now a means of expression common to everyone and exclusive to no one,   and we  mostly view images on a computer screen. Self-printing (eg., Blurb) has become more viable,   but it hits the mass distribution problem in getting the book  available in  the brick and mortar retail bookstores and on Amazon. The profession/industry is smaller and poorer.bThe photographic industry is beleaguered.

What emerges  from feeling beleaguered is a tacit form of  photographic gatekeeping in the form of  a  closing  of  ranks and the deployment of frames.  This  framing is most noticeable in the way the the art gallery encloses and displays. It cuts an inside from an outside, closing that inside on itself as pure interiority and surrounding it with value of art. The art Gallery—a museum?—  as frame is thus the constitution of the space that constitutes art by excluding what remains as other, its heterogeneity reduced to the status of nonart. The canonicity of the art gallery’s   collection is therefore haunted by a loss of  what is excluded –the trace of its other. Art history is built on these exclusions.

 However, what I also have in mind is a visual frame that takes the form of photographers  keeping their cards and contacts close to their chest,  and avoid sharing information with friends and colleagues for fear that someone else’s success might somehow come at their own expense.  By doing  this they are acting as gatekeepers within  the diffuse and informal distribution of power of  the networked and distributed nature of the photographic industry.

along Hall Creek Rd

along Hall Creek Rd

You can see this gatekeeping around photographic festivals,  as these are premised on inner and outer, core and fringe of photography as an art form.   The  competition is based on being on the inner or in the core. The means you have made it. You are successful. It’s good for your CV. Your career is on the up.  The outer or the fringe is for the hacks and amateurs. This gatekeeping  is understandable in the sense that art is a business and it has career potential.  So you must maximise your profile and marketing brings in commissions. Gatekeeping is necessary to stay ahead of one’s competitors.   Continue Reading…

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