architecture, Art, topographics


August 31, 2015

When I look back on my recent road trip to Ballarat, and viewing the various Core and Fringe exhibitions at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2015 (BIFB 15), what stands out for me is both my disappointment in a lot of the work exhibited in the Biennale’s Core, and my pleasure in beginning to scope the silo project.

I found that most of the work in the core programme, with a couple of exceptions (the work of Stephen DuPont and Jane Long’s Dancing with Costica) was over-produced in the sense of being overworked and almost candy like. Was it the heavy hand of commercial work that influenced the style of the work in the exhibitions? There were a large number of commercial photographers doing art photography at the Biennale –and the imagery was generally oversaturated, the colour hyped and the subject matter over-lit. An example of this over-processing is the Phillip Island: A Visual Memory’ by the Melbourne photographer Richard Millot. Surprisingly this work was done in the late 1980s using film technology.

Or is this hyper-reality a house-style of the contemporary photographic biennale’s these days? There is a growing trend in photography towards this kind of imagery. A good example was Pang Xiangliang’s Drilling Workers at the Daqing oilfield in China that was exhibited at the Trades Hall. The content was very powerful–some were stunning— but this was undercut by the way the images had been post processed. They were over-sharpened, and processed with what looked like HDR. The subject matter did not need this kind of post-processing, which sapped the life out of the images. Like others, I also found that the extra level of detail in tones that HDR creates for a digital visual file to be visually distracting. The overall effect this post-processing caused was that I bounced out of the images rather than went inside them. I just gave looking closely at all the images and looked at the photographic books instead.

The biennale is novel kind of cultural space, which has established itself beyond the university, but also largely outside of the art gallery. It presents itself as global, transnational and transcultural, thus claiming a universalist model of the exhibition and it gives the pivotal place to the curator for the exhibition. The Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB), is now a member of both the Asia-Pacific PhotoForum and the world-wide photography festival grouping, the Festival de la Luz (Festival of Light). However, I haven’t seen much analysis of exhibitions in Biennales in connection with other exhibitions in Biennales—each Biennale tends to be treated singularly, as I am doing here.

silo, Talem Bend

silo, Talem Bend

Prior to seeing the core programme of the Biennale I was tossing up whether to do the silo project in colour using a 5×7 monorail or in black and white using an 8×10 Cambo. My experience of viewing the Biennale’s exhibitions has persuaded me to decide to do the silo project in black and white rather than colour, as the silos in colour in the early morning or late afternoon would look too candy like (too picture post cardy).

Some of the strongest work I saw at BIFB 15 was in the Fringe–eg., the photogravures of Silvia Glattauer as well as her South American landscapes that was shown with those of Michelle Williams. The colour was muted and low key, and this allowed the viewer to enter into the picture.

Similarly with John Smallman’s Venice series–especially his studies of Burano architecture and Venice, night rain. And the historically informed South Australian topographics of Eric Algra; Jeff Moorfoot’s fascinating Legume’s Morts; Lawrence Winder’s Dancer at the Bean Bar.

The exception to photographing the silo project in black and white rather than colour would be to situate the silos in the landscape and to photograph them in the midday winter sun. Situating them this way would avoid the formal language of Modernism, in which the template inherent in Modernist architecture is to conceive of a building as an isolated object without any context. This kind of photographic representation turns buildings into strikingly abstract forms in that buildings were presented as objects in light, with stark shadows and rigorous symmetry:

silo in landscape

silo in landscape

This midday approach would also void the pretty picture/postcard look that can be found in the standard commercial, architectural photography that usually identifies the photograph with its subject and places limits, if not a taboo, on a critical, or self-reflexive enquiry into its pictorial conventions. This is the case even though architectural photographers recognise that the photograph is not ‘taken’, as in common parlance, but made: the camera’s subject, viewpoint and framing are those of the photographer and so photography offers a selective view of architecture and constructs its own narratives of it.

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