Feature Article

Here & Now17: New Photography

Using camera-less images, cyanotypes, iPhones and traditional cameras, outstanding early-career artists working in Perth ‘Here and Now’ explore new ways of thinking about photography.

Artist Dan McCabe with his work in Here&Now: New Photography at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, curator Chelsea Hopper and Ted Snell, Chief Cultural Officer at the University of WA. Photo Lyn DiCiero.

Just what are young contemporary artists in WA exploring today? Here&Now17 at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery provides a worthy answer. University of WA Chief Cultural Officer Professor Ted Snell says every year UWA engages an emerging curator to showcase the most exciting, innovative new work from outstanding artists working in contemporary visual arts practice. “The whole idea is to have a young curator work with professional staff at the gallery to understand all of the complexities of putting an exhibition together, the number of people you need to work with, how to work with artists, and making sure everything comes in on time. Unless you’ve actually done it, you really don’t know how much work is involved.”

Following expressions of interest, 27-year-old Chelsea Hopper was selected for the role. “She’s worked really hard on the show, and she’s been very thorough in developing every aspect of it. So we’re absolutely delighted,” says Snell.

This year the exhibition turns an eye towards photography. Hopper nailed it in suggesting Here&Now17: New Photography is “not a photography exhibition, but an exhibition about opening up a space for new ways of thinking about photography. The advent of new technologies requires a profound rethinking of what photography is, does, and means.”

Native Wisteria - Hardenbergia comptoniana -Family Papilionaceae, 2016, cyanotype on paper by Lucy Griggs.

Indeed, participating artist Dan McCabe’s abstract blocks of acrylic sheeting seem far removed from photography as we traditionally know it. McCabe - in a rejection of the dominance of the camera and technology - distilled his own memories of landscapes in WA in highly-saturated blocks of acrylic colour, instead of using a camera to capture images. The title of each work is its geographic coordinates, a series of numbers pinpointing its exact location, easily accessed through the internet. McCabe says he’s drawing attention to the obsessive-compulsive cycle of using the internet. “On the internet and social media we only ever see representations of nature at its best and most desirable. My concern is there’s a bias towards idyllic representations, clouding the very real environmental change happening.” In a nod to the ‘selfie,’ visitors’ features are reflected in McCabe’s shiny, acrylic shapes - his artificial, pared-down version of nature.

Lucy Griggs took camera in hand to capture images of lone, vulnerable characters encountered on the streets. Using the photographic images as reference, Griggs produced small-scale exquisitely-delicate watercolours, pairing the images with equally-exquisite botanical studies - with similarities in shape to the figures. Griggs is also responsible for a group of cyanotypes, or blueprints, an early form of camera-less photography. Hopper says Griggs collected wildflowers and hand-pressed them, then placed them on chemically-treated paper, and put them in the sun. “The UV light reacts with the chemicals to create blueprints. The result is a positive image tracing the outline of the pressed flowers.”

Not all works in the show are noticeably camera-less. The painterly photographs of Lydia Threthewey (front cover) result from an interest in daydreaming and travel. Trethewey takes photos from car windows and uses a solvent wash on the images printed on photographic paper, warping and moving the image on the surface. Georgia Kaw has taken an iPhone image and enlarged it to an extreme degree. An otherwise everyday image of an Op-shop window is blown up to 2.5 x 3 metres, with intended pixelation, draping from the wall and flowing onto the floor. Jacqueline Ball used five different cameras to shoot a series of 28 large-scale images, tracing a time of recalibration in her life. Scott Burton, influenced by his studies in architecture, captures lines, angles and shapes in the urban landscape. In what could be described as photography by subterfuge, Burton takes iPhone images in public wearing a hat, headphones and sunglasses as a disguise, capturing his images under the pretext of taking a call.

Snell says the exhibition is paired with a Kevin Ballantine exhibition in the neighbouring gallery, showing more traditional photographs taken from 1986-2001 - including images of Fremantle during the America’s Cup. “The two exhibitions work beautifully to open up a dialogue about photography in the 21st century,” he says.

Here & Now17: New Photography is on show with Kevin Ballantine Photographs 1986-2001 until 8 July.

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