Heide Smith Photography Catalogue

One of Australia’s great portrait photographers has been honoured by one of Australia’s great photography and works on paper galleries – Josef Lebovic Gallery.  Heide Smith should be well known to anyone following quality Australian photography over the past 40+ years.

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Dupain and Poole; © Heide Smith, 1985

Just being featured in the catalogue (Collectors’ List No. 188, 2017) was indeed a pleasure, but to find myself side-by-side with the late, great Max Dupain was equally exciting.  I am unworthy of such a comparison!

The Lebovic catalogues are legendary in their recording of Australian works on paper and photography.  As a reference point for costings and valuations it is the “go-to” document for anyone trying to place a dollar figure on photographs.  The photos of Dupain and myself is part of a much larger body of work that was sponsored by Ilford Australia recording photographers from around Australia and subsequently as an exhibition which toured Australia-wide in the mid 1980s.

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Mal Meninga; © Heide Smith, 1991.

The variety of subjects photographed by Smith places her in the company of many great Australians.  As I have only photographed Mal Meninga from the sidelines of some State of Origin matches, it is intriguing to see him “buffed” up in a hand coloured dressing room shot.

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Robert Hawke AC GCL; © Heide Smith

And just to prove the depth of Smith’s portrait collection is one of the many images she took of Australian Prime Ministers.  A privilege that comes from living for such a long period in Canberra.

Reference to the catalogue will give details of her extensive work with the Tiwi people of Bathurst and Melville Islands and the results of being resident photographer for the Canberra Press Club from 1984 to 1996.

The catalogue also showcases some early work in Germany (her birth place) from 1956 onwards as Smith formalised her photographic training and skills.


 

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Contemporary Poole; © Gary Cranitch, Brisbane Mater Hospital, 2017.

 

The Photograph and Australia

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Ian Poole vs The Photograph and Australia; © Gary Cranitch, Brisbane, 2015.

At the Official Opening of The Photograph and Australia, I should have been concerned when the speakers spent more time defending the curatorial policy rather than lauding the (mostly) fabulous collection of photographs gathered from around the country.

Major photographic exhibitions at the Queensland Art Gallery are few and far between, so this survey production prepared by the Art Gallery of New South Wales is a not to be missed opportunity.  The exhibition’s curator (Judy Annear, Senior Curator Photographs at The Art Gallery of NSW) has an enviable CV from the Australian photographic world.  With the imprimatur of the AGNSW behind her it was a given that collecting this body of work was so successful.

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Tracey Moffatt’s work sits high above historic images of aboriginal Australia. Photo ArtsHub

No, my problem with the show is the layout.

In her catalogue introduction Annear describes the show as taking a conceptual rather than strictly chronological approach to the medium.   This leads to the placement of three photographs, (Beauties, variously 1994/97) by Tracy Moffatt above a case of albums and c1860/80s photographs.  Moffatt’s found photographs have been reprinted in slight colour variations, after the style of Andy Warhol.  Despite a half column of supporting description in the exhibition catalogue it is still difficult to correlate their importance within the show.

The small room full of cartes de visite probably will display more examples of the genre than most viewers will ever see in a lifetime.  Certainly interesting, but obviously AGNSW has a huge enviable collection from which to select.

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Only to Taste the Warmth, the Light, the Wind; Olive Cotton, c1939.  (Major promotional image)

In the absence of Australia possessing a domiciled Julia Margaret Cameron, it was always going to be an historical fact that white Anglo-saxon men would feature in early Australian photographic history.  The placement of 40+ variable quality self portraits by Sue Ford along a single wall is an amazing piece of revisionist feminist photographic history.  Ford has clearly earned her place in Australian photographic history with critically acclaimed output going back to the 1970s, but this token filler in a room containing some solitary iconic images by Max Dupain, Olive Cotton, David Moore, Axel Poignant and Mervyn Bishop beggars belief.

The 1883 astronomy photographs of Joseph Turner illustrated an historical moment for Australia, but the inclusion of the additional later images did nothing for the survey.  Similarly the amazing Charles Bayliss illustrations of the world famous Australian inventor Lawrence Hargrave‘s plane models was of a first time interest to me; but their relevance in Australia’s photographic history is drawing a long bow.

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Out in the blizzard at Cape Denison; © Frank Hurley, 1912 (National Gallery of Australia).

On a positive note!  Following three visits to the exhibition, the purchase of the catalogue, research of many online reviews (positive and negative), and the purchase of Photofile, vol 96, I did manage to maneuver my way through the display space and find many old and new favourites to delight, educate and excite me.  Frank Hurley’s depiction of an Antarctic blizzard has probably never been bettered.  Ignoring the degree of difficulty factor, the composition and emotion contained in this relatively small photo was enhanced on discovering through research, that it was one of Hurley’s personal favorites.

As opposed to the image used for the catalogue cover (Beauties, Moffatt), the use of Olive Cotton’s Only to Taste the Warmth, the Light, the Wind was a master stroke.  It brought to light a photo which was sadly unfamiliar to me.  It has a strong aesthetic, but my long distant commercial background noted that the grain structure held up well in the large format illustrations featured in and around the Gallery.

I was very familiar with the JW Lindt image of the body of Joe Byrne hung on a wall to be photographed, but had never seen an original print.  In what is arguably Australia’s first news photograph it neatly illustrates the then preferred newspaper technique of an artist drawing being superseded by photography.  We see in the left hand bottom corner the bowler hatted artist (drawing pad under arm) walking away from his nemesis JW Lindt.  Lindt also features in a personal favourite – Coontajandra and Sanginguble, 1893.  The tall narrow crop of this carbon print (61×30.5cm) indicates that Lindt recognised an aesthetic contained within the photograph, as well as the strong detail shown in the body scarification.  I compliment Annear for including the most subversive images on show – a series of small postcards making a political statement in 1900 regarding the policy of Federation.  The photos of Thomas Hinton may or may not illustrate someone of an unsound mind, but they probably come close to being the first known Australian “selfies”.

Viewing a good version of Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, 1937; dark, rich, moody and all about the body not the face, was a joy.  Not the pale copies we often see in printed versions.  But where o where are the sporting photographs.  One would assume that the 1956 Olympics recognised a growth spurt and turning point in Australia.  With small exceptions press photographers don’t exist in Annear’s world.  The inclusion of Mervyn Bishop smacks of tokenism in this survey.  Which is sad as Bishop deserves and owns his place in Australian photography, but there are so many other great documentary photographers from Frank Hurley onwards.  Where is a “surf culture” illustrated? (with the exception of Dupain).

I think this leads me to my main criticism.  The Photograph and Australia was too grand a project and of course had a difficulty from its inception.  As someone who has spent a lifetime trying to demystify photography and make it accessible to an everyday viewer, this exhibition is the antithesis of approachable, accessible photography.  It relies heavily on academia and a convoluted rationale so loved by post-graduate students.

Much of the exhibition is wonderful, much of it is valuable beyond words.

It is a must view moment, but in an attempt to display photography as high art it missed a great opportunity.


Richard Stringer

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Richard Stringer, Brisbane; © Heide Smith, 1985.

Pleasure of Place, an exhibition of photographs by Brisbane based photographer Richard Stringer, opened at the Queensland Art Gallery on 26 October 2013. This comprehensive survey of Stringer’s photographs will hang in Gallery 14 of QAG until March 2014.

Melbourne born Stringer moved to Brisbane in the 1960s following his graduation from Melbourne University with a degree in architecture.  He quickly moved to architectural photography –  a career he has maintained in Brisbane to this day.  This exhibition of mostly monochromatic photographs contains many never before exhibited.

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New Zealand Insurance Building; 1971, printed 1987; © Richard Stringer, courtesy Queensland Art Gallery Collection.

Of even greater significance is the fact that twenty-five of the displayed prints will be generously gifted to the people of Queensland via the QAGOMA Foundation. This is a great addition to a Gallery with not enough high quality photographs.

Sadly many of the buildings featured in this Exhibition no longer exist.  It is testament to Stringer’s foresight and doggedness that his photographs are the only memory of some very fine buildings.  New Zealand Insurance Building is a good example.

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Andrew Petrie stonemasons; 1980, printed 1987, © Richard Stringer, courtesy Queensland Art Gallery Collection.

For me, it is the sense of place and memory that comes through in these photographs.  Stringer’s recording of deserted urban locations seems to transcend the emptiness and imbue the environment with activity.

This requires the viewer to contemplate and observe what is placed in front of us.  This is best seen in Andrew Petrie stonemasons and Dinmore Pottery.

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Dinmore Pottery; 1984, printed 1987, © Richard Stringer, courtesy of Queensland Art Gallery Collection.

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Boatshed, Ripponlea; 1975, printed 1985, © Richard Stringer, courtesy of Queensland Art Gallery Collection.

Stringer acknowledges that his craft has been influenced by the Australian photographic greats of Harold Cazneaux and Max Dupain.  It is possible that there is no coincidence in the fact that Ed Ruscha is also being shown at QAG at this time.  Stringer is Ruscha’s contemporary and there are many parallels to be drawn between the two artists.  Yet another reason to visit QAG.

There are some nicely seen landscapes within this show – none more so than View of Brisbane, bicentenary year 1988.  You will have to visit the Gallery to see this one, as my reproduction will not do it justice.  It is the tourists’ banal view of Brisbane from the Mount Cootha lookout.  This viewpoint has been documented hundreds of thousands of times (yours truly included) but never have the details of the city, the humidity of Brisbane nor the architectural clarity of the central business district been delivered with such clarity and skill.

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Anne Wallace; 2004, printed 2013, © Richard Stringer.

A further inclusion in the Exhibition is a series of portraits.  Of particular interest are Luke Roberts, Bellas Gallery, and Anne Wallace.  The raison d’être to these images is Stringer’s connection with the contemporary art scene in Brisbane via The Institute of Modern Art; where he has been documenting exhibitions, artists and performance for most of his career.  I use the portrait of Anne Wallace self-indulgently, because I had the privilege of taking her portrait very early in her career and it is interesting to contrast my interpretation with that of Stringer.  His image portrays Wallace as though she is within one of her paintings – an incisive interpretation.

Pleasure of Place, Photographs by Richard Stringer is this year’s must see photographic exhibition.  A joy on every level and a tribute to one of Queensland’s photographic greats.

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Anne Wallace; © Ian Poole, Brisbane 1992.

 

White Gloves Day at the Library

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Dianne Byrne explaining details of the Max Dupain images; © Doug Spowart 2013.

One of the undiscovered treasures in my town is the John Oxley Library of the State Library of Queensland.  Yesterday members of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) had a wonderful and interesting excursion behind the scenes, and we were able to not only view some rare treasures, but actually pick up and closely view some of the photographs in the collection (using white gloves of course!).

Dianne Byrne (Curator Original Materials) and her Manager, Gavin Bannerman, were generous with their time and expertise.  Not only did Dianne extract images, albums and negatives from their Collection, but also arranged for our party to inspect the conservation area and the collections sorting areas.  These spaces were a rare opportunity to go “behind the scenes” and be briefed on the activities there.  The Library has a history stretching back to 1896, and is the repository, amongst many other items, of historic photographs and photographic material pertaining to Queensland.

Globe Hotel, Toowoomba 1946 – Max Dupain; courtesy of John Oxley Library.

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William Jolly Bridge, Rose Simmons; courtesy John Oxley Library.

Of particular interest was a series of images by the great Sydney based photographer, Max Dupain (1911-92), who had been commissioned at various times to document many areas of Queensland.  The Library has a number of images, printed personally by Dupain, of the Toowoomba and Brisbane areas.  We also viewed images by Richard Daintree (1832-78) being conserved by the Library’s skilled team.  Daintree was not only Queensland’s first official geologist, but a photographer of some note, and his record of far north Queensland is a valuable visual reportage of this territory.  Some gentle landscapes by Rose Simmons were shown, as well as the original glass mounted projection images used by Romeo Lahey M.B.E, (1887 – 1968) in his lobbying to create the National Park system that we now enjoy in Queensland.

Our visit was aided by the technical knowledge of Dr Doug Spowart and Gary Cranitch (Photographer – Queensland Museum), who were able to comment with information gained from previous research.  From my point of view it was satisfying to see my donation of a life’s commercial photography work starting to be unbundled prior to the cataloguing process prior to being placed into the collection.

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AIPP Members viewing John Oxley material; © Doug Spowart, 2013.