Shifting focus, and other ambitions

Shifting focus, and other ambitions

And so another week has fled the scene and left May in its wake. How did that happen??

I’m glad you liked my big reveal and I’m even more glad that no-one gave me a hard time about my cross obsession. One dear friend commented that she is the opposite to me – she cannot have a cross anywhere near her. Now if you didn’t know this lovely friend of mine, you might wonder if she was a vampire – or is it garlic vampires hate?

vampire

A bet both ways

Either way, I totally respect a contrary view to mine and I love love love it when people do feel inclined to comment.
It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Thank you gorgeous Jane and others who sent me messages!

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now closing the door on the cross conversation. Amen.

On the subject of warm and fuzzy, I want to broach the delicate topic of technology as a way in to this week’s post. That’s because there is an exhibition on right now at the Art Gallery of NSW that you shouldn’t miss – The Photograph and Australia.
For people like me, it’s very reassuring that the bulk of the exhibition is made up of shots taken over a one hundred and fifty year span, with often nothing grander than a simple box brownie.

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Tracey Moffat, Beauties (in mulberry). 1997

Why is it reassuring, you may ask…

Well, because it’s nice to know that old technology is still viable. It means I am still viable. I may not know how to take a daguerrotype, but neither will any of my children and at least I know what one is and how to spell it.

Trump.

NHM.ambrotype.12

19th century Instagram selfie

Problem is, I wasn’t very viable last friday when I visited the MCA.

I love nothing more than going to a gallery by myself, which is something I think I have mentioned previously. I love the silence of being a lone spectator – no-one to ask ‘how much longer are we here for’, no one to embarrass me with loud comments like, ‘Picasso must have been on drugs’ (true or false, he’s still Picasso), and no-one to do heavy breathing beside me, feigning interest but exuding deep, deep boredom.

light show
So there I am, in my element. I have a chai latte in the cafe (still caffeine free – and still not on the most-wanted list of criminals – trump again), then I move off downstairs to enter the new exhibition, Light Show.

Here is where I don’t trump.

As I move through the doors, I feel the thrill of the gallery space open up to me. That never fails to make me tingle with anticipation. I glance around – no mob of bored school kids, no family members, no ticking clock, no ticking family members. Just me and the art – and just a few fellow art nuts.

I soon spy a docent, which if you didn’t know, is a technical term for a person, a volunteer more often, whose job it is to answer the many questions you may or may not have about the art, depending on whether you are one of my off-spring, in which case there are more than enough questions that next to never, btw, relate to the art…

The docent looks back at me, and I detect a certain sharpness in that look.

Perhaps she is having a bad day.

Confident that I have done no wrong, I tell myself that a fear of authority from which I often suffer, must relate to a past life. Perhaps I was an art thief – a reincarnated Vincenzo Peruggia,the guy who stole the Mona Lisa in 1911. He was caught after a couple of years, but the story survives to this day. As does the painting, in case you didn’t know…

mona lisa

Are you concentrating?

Anyway, I’m just there, amusing myself, feeling privately criminal and loving it, when another person gives me the same sharp look.

Well, what?

I walk away, thinking I’ll just go and see the works – you know, get on with it.

I thought I might go first and find the one with the sound track I can hear. Al Green – I love Al Green.

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What a dude

A third hairy eyeball is thrown by yet another person passing. And I can see out of the corner of my own eye, the docent is watching me intently…

Then it dawns. It’s my Al Green.

O.M.G.

I fumble and snatch at my bag, open it, root around madly for the offending TECHNOLOGY – AKA my phone, and finally, desperately, locate the bastard.

If I thought that took an age, hell literally froze over before I knew A. by what magic the darn thing had managed to turn itself on and B, more urgently, how to turn it off.

Now holding the phone, Al screaming out ‘Here I Am’ like we didn’t know that already, the volume fills the gallery space as a mob of now not-so-bored high school kids appear around the corner.

I am in a pitched battle with the phone. I’m so mortified at the volume, and the damn SONG that my memory fails me – deserts me – I have no idea how to stop it. The docent, silly bitch, is scowling at me and has hefted her ass off her stool and is making her way towards me.

I feel like throwing the phone at her – like it’s her freaking poltergeist iPhone 6 – don’t-you-wish-you-had-one – NOT!

Sniggering school kids ground me. I know about them and as soon as I focus on them and their ARROGANCE on all things technological, the fuzzy clears. Cool calm anger assumes its familiar mantle.

I then turn the phone on its side, locate the correct key, and turn the volume down. To mute.

The world is then mute.

I place the phone back in my bag, not before I have squeezed it quite hard as punishment, then I proceed.

I leave the MCA. I leave the Light Show… very darkly.

I can tell you not a thing about the show – I remember nothing but the horror of technology that ripped from me my dignity. It could have been fatal.

But you can’t keep a good woman down – I’m having lunch with a friend there next week so that I can – quietly and with greatly restored dignity – see the exhibition.

I’m just wondering which wig I’ll wear and whether I need Goucho Mark’s glasses and mo’ combo as well.

groucho marks

But I’d need to shave I think, otherwise it’s a giveaway

Standby for any updates.

At least I’m not as bad as my dear mother, who was so confronted when asked by my daughter trying to fix her phone, ‘What’s your Apple ID Gran?’ She firmly replied, ‘I don’t have an Apple account’. She has an iPhone and an iPad. On another mercy call to try to help her solve her techno problems, Allegra said, ‘Gran, press the lock button’ to which my mother adamantly replied, ‘I don’t have one of those on my phone’.

You heard it here first folks – Apple have a secret stash of very different phones…

But back to the AGNSW..

The Photograph and Australia is an interesting, intricate collection recording broad dimensions of our early nationhood from colonial times through to the present day. Landscapes and street scapes of the public space alongside the private space of the family album, it’s a catalogue of more than 400 photographs by 120 photographers, curated by Judy Annear, that document a wholesome view of Australian life.

Paul Foelsche Adelaide River 1887 - marketing tool by rapidly dev colony to encourage immig and invest

Paul Foelsche, Adelaide River, 1887.

My particular interest is the indigenous aspect of the collection. Do you sense a rant coming? Where are my children??

I am confronted by the early representations of indigenous people, be it photographic or indeed, in paint. The European settler liked to convey a picture of domestic serenity, of a ‘tamed native’ that complimented a young nation forging ahead in development. Look closely at the Foelsche above. Photography was seen as objective and scientific, and therefore unreservedly believable and convincing. And as imagery was required that would bolster marketing attempts to attract further European immigration, not frighten off the timid, the photograph became a valuable tool.

The result was, with few exceptions, a completely edited, framed, subjective representation of an indigenous race that was actually in crisis. One big fake. About as authentic as Deb potato.

The truth is, it was generally held then that the Aboriginal race was dying out, and was therefore a popular focus for photographers wanting to record the last of the oldest culture on earth. Photographers like JW Lindt and Charles Bayliss made their names this way, and their legacy is an interesting reflection of attitudes held to this day about what sort of a deal our country’s first inhabitants really received. I’m talking delusions here.

Charles Bayliss 'Group of local Aboriginal people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia. 1886

Group of (unusually still) local Aboriginal people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia. 1886. Charles Bayliss.

The Charles Bayliss photograph above is rather beautiful, but it’s also a wee bit funny. The technology at the time meant that the photographic subjects needed to stay very still as exposure times were comparatively long, and moving whilst the shutter was open resulted in blurring. But what’s going on in this pic? The guy with the spear held aloft – if he was to spear a passing unlucky fish, what happens to the old fullas in the canoe with him?? I’m thinking more unluckiness.

Lindt No 37 Bushman and an Aboriginal man 1873

JW Lindt, No 37 Bushman and an Aboriginal man 1873. See what I mean?

And this one? I mean, really? Is that human being or a labrador at heel? Makes my blood boil.

Just so you don’t think I’m unbalanced (drum roll, canned laughter, whatever your preference), I’ve included this photo because this is a rare, poignant exception. These two people, Coontajandra and Sanginguble, are Workii clan members from the Mount Isa region who, along with many others, were rounded to form a troupe of players for the ‘Wild Australia Show’ that toured in early 1890s. Sort of like a circus aimed at entertaining the audience with ‘performances’ of culture, not animals. Yup…

Lindt

Coontajandra and Sanginguble, JW Lindt, early 1890s

 

What is so beautiful about this photo is firstly, that the photographer names the pair, in the bottom corner. This makes for a nice change, this acknowledgement that yes, they’re human. The woman looks directly into the camera, and her expression is reserved, guarded, but there’s strength and dignity there. The man, heavily scarred either by custom or by battle, looks defiant and protective of her – not resigned or beaten –  or ‘dying out’. This is actually a picture of endurance.

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Mervyn Bishop, 1975

This one too, is worth a mention. Taken by Mervyn Bishop, Australia’s first Aboriginal press photographer who at the time was working for the department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra. It captures an historic moment at Wattie Creek in 1975 when the PM Gough Whitlam poured soil into the hand of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari saying, ‘Vincent Lingiari I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands part of the earth itself as a sign that this land will be the possession of you and your children forever.’ Lingiari, having received the crown lease of his ancestral land, simply replied, ‘We are mates now’.

I’m not sure all indigenous people feel as cosy as that with politicians, but I would hope that they might feel that at least some progress has been made in black/white relations in this country in the intervening years since this landmark moment!

Australians have had a long love affair with photography from it’s early beginnings. Precisely who can be credited for its invention is a contentious issue, but it was introduced commercially in 1839 by Louis Daguerre – hence daguerrotype, the prototype of the modern day photograph. This new-fangled thing reached our distant shores shortly after, and it wasn’t long before techniques had improved and the cost of production became considerably cheaper. Every squatter and his dog was after a decent sort of a family portrait to hang on his wall, and he thereby set the trend for every other bugger. We all suddenly wanted our portrait hanging on our wall. A portrait of our family or a shot of our farm, our home – but at this stage in the game, probably not our dinner. That fascination had to wait a few decades…

So I think Judy Annear had plenty to choose from and although my perspective on the practices of photographers from those early years may or may not resound with you, I do think this exhibition is really worth going to see.  I especially love the feature photograph on this post. It’s by Rosemary Laing and it’s entitled, Eddie from the series Leak, 2010. It reminds me that I’m not the only person who can see the world upside down. But with technical skills like hers, I don’t suppose Laing battles with her iPhone…

I love photography, I’m pretty useless at it, but I love the lurking subjectiveness of it.

And most of all, I love that now with an iPhone I didn’t throw at a docent, I can snap happy and post on a blog and you’ll all forgive me and be glad that if a photo paints a thousand words, I can write a whole lot more!

 

 

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