Last Wednesday night (9 March 2016), I opened a new exhibition of photo documentary work at Maud Gallery in Brisbane’s Teneriffe. Curated by Doug Spowart, with assistance from Gillian Jones, this is a large and powerful array of photography from a group who were ’embedded’ with their subjects. It will be shown until 20 March 2016 & a link to the illustrated catalogue is below.
I am not an expert on photo documentary: my interest is in art and artist stories. I’m interested in the way in which we may tell and share these stories most effectively, and it is the many narratives, often those that are hidden unless you are part of that experience, or sub culture, that is at the heart of this exhibition of new photography.
Traditionally, in the Western tradition, documentary may have implied an impartial view, an arms length portrayal, a practice designed to fairly present all sides. Whether or not that was really possible has been long since been undone with post-modern readings: a worthy subject was itself a loaded instrument. And what we didn’t see–the lonely, the homeless, the Indigenous and otherwise dispossessed–was legion.
Commonly, however, in recent years, we tell stories from within. It has become more powerful to take the journey with the subject, and offer up that position, of partiality, as our credibility to be in the narrative. And this has only empowered the story, and evidence of that, the power of the embedded position, is visible in the work we see here today. This exhibition crystallises so many of those areas of the unseen.
What is most striking about these images are the insights that they offer, which will be read differently by each of us. What they have in common is the placement of the artist/photographer in the frame (visible or not), they are presenting their own view of the subject and the cumulative value of the embedded experiences–the artist and the subject–become more than the sum of their parts.
Writ large on the walls here are some hidden histories of contemporary society, the experiences we may not have had, or understand, if don’t share them, the opening up of dialogue of the bereaved, dispossessed, ill and sad.
But it is not all poignancy and heartache, although we do meet a powerful emotional register in those who are childless (through the work of Gillian Jones), and the realities of illness (in the embedding of Louis Lim in the Children’s Hospital and the journey that Elise Searson took with the Lyme Project).
There are also vignettes that crystallise what we may not know we know about contemporary life (with the disconnected blurriness of the human pulse arrested by Thomas Oliver’s imagery), the experience of Biophilia–the primal and forceful need humanity has for environmental connection with Cale Searston, the performative power of taking images themselves abstractly evoked by Chris Bowes.
There is the personal journey of place in Marc Pricop’s evocative images and a very gentle political exploration of humanity and the current environmental flashpoint in the work of David Mines. Richard Fraser’s exploration of a sexual subculture is gentle, humorous, and unbundles with strength the mainstream assumptions that may have been made about an edgy physical practice that includes bondage.
The power of this collection of works by a very talented group is simply summed up I think: Art may not be able to save the world, but it has an unparalleled ability to help us understand the individuals that comprise a community, a country, a continent = the world. And that may be sufficient.
9 March 2016