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 Marriott, Hans 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’sOld 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.
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
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 theDominion Postnewspaper 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 thePantograph Punch, The Lumière Reader,Eyecontact and The Big Idea in relation to New Zealand. Continue Reading…
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…
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.
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.
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…
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
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…