Monthly Archives: January 2011

The last of our stuff from the AROB arrived this morning. Boxes everywhere as we figure out what to put where…

In the past I’ve written about how important Robert Adams is to me. His pictures and writing exist as separate ‘things’, but both exhibit a commitment and clarity that is lacking in much work.

While some people shy away from his use of language in relation to beauty, art and form, some of his essays cannot be ignored.

I rode the bus home this evening after pointing a camera at some silly things along the street. Adams’ 1981 book Beauty in Photography was tucked away in my bag, and sat in my hands for the short run across the lake.

I won’t be the bastard who types out an entire essay (my little fingers would be tired, let alone the question of ‘fair use’). Rather I’ll throw in this short exert from ‘Photographing Evil’, the forth essay in the small book, and urge all to ensure they have a copy sitting on a shelf somewhere in the house.

In response to juxtapositions like these there are critics who have asked for “concerned photography,” by which they mean photography that deals directly with social ills. Few photographers themselves have, however, supported the use of the adjective “concerned” as a way of distinguishing one artist from another; they know firsthand that all art is the product of concern. They believe as a consequence that it has social utility – it is designed to give us courage. Society is endangered to the extent that any of us loses faith in meaning, in consequence. Art that can convincingly speak through form for significance bears upon the problem of nihilism and is socially constructive. Restated, photography as art does address evil, but it does so broadly as it works to convince us of life’s value; the darkness that art combats is the ultimate one, the conclusion that life is without worth and finally better off ended. Which is to say that art addresses an inner struggle whereas journalism more often reports on the outward consequences of it. Perhaps this is what William Carlos Williams meant when he wrote that “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.” We have all had the sad opportunity to watch that. And though poems and pictures cannot by themselves save anyone – only people who care for each other face to face have a chance to do that – they can strengthen our resolve to agree to life.

To value photography as art is not however to denigrate photography in the service of different ends. We owe a debt to the cameramen who worked in Vietnam, for example. Photographs like theirs encourage us to resist what evil it may be in our power to correct. Without honest reporters it would be easier to give up and to deny the complex imperatives of tragic politics – the necessity of trying to make the world better even while we learn that we will mostly fail.

Whether a person is led by concern to become an artist or journalist or reformer or a combination of the three must depend on the nature of his gifts and on the place and time in which he works. Who can identify the person we could do without? There have been occasions, for instance, when the threat to society has been so immediate and total that art has seemed to some artists irrelevant and thus impermissible; in consequence, as citizens of the world first and artists second, they have turned to making propaganda. I admire David Smith, for instance, for trying to speak out in the late 1930s with his production of the small bronzes called “Medals for Dishonor”, even though it is impossible to locate a single event that he changed by them. The fact that he took time away from his regular work must have forced others to consider the source of his anguish; anyone who had admired what he had done before had to ask what was now more important.

So there we were rolling into the coast this afternoon to see the Piggies before they travel back to Cambodia (to show little Anna around and see some old friends)…

Looking forward to a swim, some stories and a catch up… and next thing I know the tow truck is pulling up next to the little Morris to send us back towards home. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!

Back on foot, no need for the motorised option (errrr, motorised option not available…).

An exciting few days for the Dorney/Smith household. Little Jacob arrived on 7 January 2011 and made it back home this morning with mum and dad. Anna and Matt are over the moon (and should be!).

He’s a little cutie, and somehow every time we’ve ducked in to visit he’s been the adorable version (not the howling banshee). These are the sort of things that we’ve missed while living away, and we’re making sure we don’t miss anymore (though we have weeks of apologising ahead with the Bishox!).

An exciting day as I rolled into a new gig here in the ACT. It is a wonderful opportunity to work on some important parts of the national collection and the crew I’ve joined will be a great team to work with.

Some fascinating things ahead… can’t wait.

Rocketing around the nation’s capital today in pursuit of (who knows what).

In a moment of sanity I stopped at the National Gallery of Australia and enjoyed the fantastic show of mid-20th Century glamour and advertising work that Anton Bruehl made. They also threw in a good cross-section of the Mexico work he did, some fantastic modern stuff there.

The photographs (and the stunning colour and tone palette of the early repro processes and the magic dye transfers) were fantastic. I walked around with a big grin plastered across my face, loving every minute. The dark blue walls were a great move from the curatorial team.

A lot of fashion and commissioned advertising work seems to make it to into galleries these days; at times these shows seem to try and capitalize on celebrity and ‘cool’ to mask the underlying lack of guts that the work has. Luckily Bruehl’s work stands the test and emerges as a wonderful show full of discoveries and strength.

Massive thumbs up for the NGA. It is a fun show to cruise around and get to check out some great commissioned work.

Last night I scooted across the city and caught up with Tim Cheung and his beautiful family. Cheungy is making a recovery from what was a serious scare, and has come through in decent shape. Great to see him upright and fighting on.

I was lucky enough to see some of the original prints from White, the show he did with Euan Macleod and Neil Frazer (see my entries about it in April 2010). Fantastic. I’m desperate to see more pictures that show the installation. I giggled away at the tubby little skau, eyes closed and puffed up.

The catalogue for the show is a thing of simplicity and beauty (so I stole a copy while Tim was distracted by food).

Just chucking up that famous Wino picture because it is going under the noses of the cool cats in class today.

This thing stirs so many howls of protest and debate as we all draw on our thinking and understanding of intention, perception, prejudice, racism, statement and ‘the absurd’.

Hopefully it might shake things up a little.

Scooted up the Hume yesterday morning before the sun with my father after we (‘we’ being the family) spent too much time indulging in good food and grog over the Christmas break.

There are an exciting few days ahead teaching at an international summer school (students are Aussie, tutors from all over the place). Photography is on the table, so we’ll be doing a little talking – but more importantly we’ll get the cameras up out of the bags and be snapping, exploring and surprising ourselves with how things look when photographed (thanks Garry W!).

Gaining a little control over the process while at the same time not strangling the beautiful medium.

Tim Cheung was the driving force behind this particular course, but has unfortunately been laid up recently by some shitty luck with his health. Everyone cross your fingers for the fella, “strong like bull”!

I’m happy to be keeping the chair warm for you Cheungy.

One of the last things I got done in 2010 was get over to Old Parliament House (now the Museum of Democracy) in Canberra for a quick look at a selection of the political cartoons that graced the national papers of Oz in 2010.

Walked around laughing my arse off at the savage commentary that these people are able to make with a few strokes of a pen… awesome.

I’ll be returning to have another look soon, can’t stay away!