November 6th, 2016
I gave a summary of the install and opening of the Pingyao International Photography Festival (PIP) a few weeks ago. Time has passed and it’s taken a while to be able to report on the running and conclusion, partly because of the need to clear my head of the crazy China experience which included a trip to Beijing with John Turner as host.
In Beijing I saw the follow-on from the initial interest in “Tom Hutchins – Seen in China 1956”. This included stronger interest in a new show that John is curating with Phoebe Li (“Recollection of A Distant Shore: A Photographic Introduction to the History of the Chinese in New Zealand”) which opened on 21 Oct at the Overseas Chinese History Museum of China. The Chinese Photographers Association filmed him talking about Tom Hutchins for a film documenting their 60-year history, as part of a teaching curriculum.
Some of this was the result of the high level of interest in “Tom Hutchins – Seen In China” at PIP. The installation pictures show that we were given a very prominent position with a huge poster image and text in English and Chinese facing the front door of Diesel Factory A2. We also found that we had a rich red wall which really made the black and white images ‘ping’ and even with the crowding of the 89 images the show looked stunning. This came courtesy of Zhang Guotian, the director of the festival who seemed to have taken a personal and professional interest in the show, emphasising the importance to Chinese at a number of levels.
On the first day, a communist party contingent came to view the show, and the entourage flew through so quickly that we missed documenting it. John and I spent some considerable time talking with the many visitors on the first two days and we saw a large audience from young to old, with the elderly often taking an especial interest. One of John’s hopes is that an adult visitor recognises themselves as a child in or near a picture that Tom took, and can recall the ‘lao wai’ – foreigner with the camera who came through in 1956 – this person would obviously be older than 60 now.
We also had a visit from Shangxi province TV reporters. The reporter seemed to have (mostly) done her homework and came prepared for a good length interview. She followed up with clarifying questions and produced a good segment that can be seen here:
The site has a transcript in Chinese but a translate app like Google Translate (unavailable if you are in China without a VPN) will give an approximate version.
One result of the level of interest in the show is that the NZ embassy has got behind the Chinese in NZ show and it is hoped that they may help with further stages of the Tom Hutchins project that John is working on. The history of the Chinese in NZ show is scheduled to open at the Auckland Museum in February 2017.
After the hard work and excitement of the first couple of days we managed to venture further afield to see some of the many other exhibitions.
Despite the variety and quality of the work on show, one of my personal concerns was that Pingyao is very much about traditional photography as opposed to ‘lens based art’ and because of this there seems to be a pinch on experimentation. A lot of the work that was trying to be challenging seemed to apply self imposed bounds. One work that showed promise was 4 framed ‘pictures’ that turned out to be video projections of torsos that were just perceptibly breathing but at a quick glance appeared to be straight photos.
Another, that sought to bring in political content and used multimedia, was ‘Since Then, No One Has Talked With You’ by He Bo. Based around recent terrorist bombings, the large full face portraits of attackers were built from small images of varying density, then overlayed with very tiny red faces of victims that built up a morse code message across the surface of the pictures. Small boxes on the wall, when opened, held typed messages.
There was perhaps too much layered meaning for me to work through (having to decode the morse was just a bit much) but I applaud the attempt to try and make personal meaning and public statement about political terror acts that impact many of us as individuals and as a society.
As well as a lot of commercially oriented work, there was some wonderful student work in the 7 huge buildings set aside for universities, and probing work in the Group Exhibition of Female Photographers. One in particular, by Chan Oi-Yan was inspiring to see. It looked at a Hong Kong wetlands area ‘beautified’ into a tourist hotspot. Her text started “Land use can hardly stop its pace due to the intense population…” Her pictures contrast the fog-covered beauty of the area with the disorganised look of a native wetland. “The nature faked a natural scene, humans? do it well too”.
The tall and striking character of Xu Hao held also a critical intellect that gave her images (in a series called ‘Home’) an ability to question consumerism and its power to manipulate human needs. The mundanity of Ikea store interiors, with a price tag on everything, was where she set up a camera and captured people treating the mock Ikea home displays as their own. Families lounging as if at home, in-store but looking out as if wondering whether something was lost “… where people seemed to forget their beating hearts”.
The photographs of Tu Chun, whilst superficially similar to Xu Hou because of the interiors in artificial light, were very different in intent. I sat with Chun for a long while enjoying his infectious smile in his own makeshift ‘home’ for the time of the festival, while he told me how he photographed immigrant families living in China. These interiors were real homes, styled by the owners themselves, the pictures considered and full of respect for the participants.
Peng Xiangjie showed some arresting, rich, black and white images of a dwarf community that appears to be both exploited and given a liveable job and lifestyle in a commercial theme park. I learnt this by talking to Peng for an hour through a translator. He sees Arbus as a strong influence but his approach with subjects seems much more long term and considered. Intense in his consideration of his own work and able to talk about the social politics, nevertheless, like many photographers he is mindful of his career, and this could influence the scope of his work.
As mentioned previously, the New Zealand show from the Auckland Photography Festival, curated by Rosanna Raymond, gave space for Maori and Pacific Island photographers who look at their place in New Zealand in quite a different way to the Pakeha view that we often get. Many of the images can be seen at the link and some of the standouts for me were the constructed psycho sexual scenarios by Russ Flatt and the edgy and potentially conflicted work of Emily Mafile’o.
The quality and interest value of the international shows was high, with known photographers such as Bruno Barbey, Claudia Fährenkemper and Marcus Lyon and many other equally interesting people and work. Even with the days I had, I didn’t get through nearly enough. Visitor numbers just seemed unlimited, and it appears all the forums and talks were very well attended. Chinese photographers value the opportunity to meet and question overseas photographers.
Seeing Marcus Lyon’s work ‘in the flesh’ was inspiring, although it took until I got home and read about his intent that I really came into his work. This is a thing I despair over with galleried shows and festivals. They generally still treat the single image as ‘a work that communicates without language’. My personal viewpoint rejects that as outdated and untrue. I’m interested in the individual motivation and the politics that invade even a non-political picture. I might get hints of this from an image and some more from a series or curated show. But so much more can come out, inspire and move me if I can connect image with words and go back and forth.
I didn’t know, for instance, that Lyon creates his single images with digital manipulation, e.g his iconic “Exodus II, Dubai, UAE, 2010” – 750 cars filling the 12 lane Sheikh Zayed Road in a perfect grid, is in fact a composite of 1000 images. Lyon: “I think an image taken at 125th of a second is kind of a lie” … He works up a final image with a goal of having the viewer ask “Is that really the world we live in?” This is the thing that really gets me buzzing and going back into the picture, but I had to come home to find it.
A group show themed on the Three Gorges Dam was shown in a rundown area of the Cotton Mill buildings where you had to almost crouch down to enter a layered and dilapidated series of gloomy spaces. A variety of photographers presented work related to the dam and the forced migration of more than a million people in a variety of ways from straight documentary through to conceptual.
There were flaws to be sure, and it did give the impression that activism around the dam and the continuing social and ecological impact is a fait-accompli but nevertheless it was exciting to see the topic so strongly raised and it would be great to see Pingyao continue raising such topics.
So political intent was apparent at Pingyao in more than one way, but maybe the biggest political event was created by the local Communist Party representatives who seemed to be on orders from Beijing to do just the opposite.
‘Jean-Pierre Laffont Legendary Photographer’ was a top-billed show with Laffont speaking at the opening ceremony. His work covered major political events through recent American history, yet the work was not immune from the flimsy and fickle hand of Chinese censorship. Twenty two images were removed from the large show with no warning.
Rumours circulated about which images and why, but the best and damning summary comes from Jean Loh in this article:
and commented on by John Turner: “…it is time the Communist Party actually listened to its art experts and stopped insulting them with petty, dense and foolish censorship”.
The pictures removed included fairly mild nudity, some images of Rajneesh or Hare Krishna community members having a good time and others documenting Mexican migrants. One can speculate about why – Western access to extreme nudity and the concurrent ‘moral decline’ in the first case; China’s concern with large religious minorities and the potential power they can wield (e.g. Falun Dafa). In the Mexican case it was suggested that there is a political link with Mexico that is sensitive.
China, from my short visit, seemed incredibly safe and friendly, characteristics that arguably come in part from a naive but heavily policed state. For instance, after the awards ceremony, I was asked by fellow New Zealanders why the police had bailed me up and had been searching my bag. In fact, myself and two Chinese photographers had been photographing and showing our images to the military and police, leaving lenses on the ground . The ‘search’ was actually a policeman kindly zipping up my unzipped bag and making sure I didn’t lose anything.
So, nice for foreigners, but not so nice if you need to express an opinion about your very livelihood after your farm land has been confiscated by corrupt businessmen and compensation isn’t forthcoming.
How China deals with its complex transition is hard to know but heavy-handed and inconsistent censorship especially in the arts just creates ridicule, both inside and outside the country.
Pingyao will be in its 17th year next year and the links with New Zealand continue to be strong. PhotoForum and the Auckland Festival of Photography have helped curate and manage a number of shows over the years and independent photographers such as Harvey Benge and Jenny Tomlin have brought their own work, so the potential for New Zealand work to be shown should only grow.
I want to acknowledge the hanging helpers that we had: Zhang Weihuan, Wang Shengyuan and Fu Haocheng, and our de-hanger and transportation support Hedyah Song. Along with translation from Chin Jay, and friends who helped get me lost and found around town Linda Zhang, Kaidi Huang and Yang Lu.
All of the accompanying photographs were made by Stuart Sontier unless otherwise noted.
Shortlisted along with books by Allen Curnow, Dennis McEldowney, Margaret Mahy (with Jill McDonald), and Gordon H Brown, Gregory O’Brien give the thumbs up to Haru Sameshima’s Bold Centuries in his list of five New Zealand classic books worthy of more attention.
‘Bold Centuries (2009) by photographer Haruhiko Sameshima, O’Brien wrote on ‘Unbound’, the New Zealand Book Council’s web page, ‘ is a thought-provoking, fascinating, exemplary publication. Fizzing with visual and intellectual energy, the book asks all sorts of questions while offering all sorts of pleasures to the committed viewer/reader. It is a notable highpoint in Sameshima’s audacious, uncompromising project as both a photographer and the publisher of Rim Books.’
Bold Centuries: A Photographic History Album, was published by the photographer himself, with assistance from Creative New Zealand and also PhotoForum.
As Andy Palmer wrote, ‘Bold Centuries is not merely an artist survey book, nor just a collection of loosely related images; it is a curated exhibition placing the artist in context with his forebears and his contemporaries.’
This remarkable book, packed with a huge variety of images relating to ecotourism, the subject of Sameshima’s university study, also included essays by Kyra Macfarlane, Ingrid Horrocks, John Wilson, Tim Corbalis, Aaron Lister, Damian Skinner, Fiona Amundsen and Claudia Bell.
A pdf showing a few pages from the 196 page book can be seen here.
Copies are still available from Rim Books, www.rimbooks.com at $60 plus post and packaging in NZ.
February 20th, 2015
Survey Update: 15 February 2015
The PhotoForum website survey is now closed and a huge thank-you to everyone who completed it. We got a great response rate, including 37% from the PhotoForum mailing list, plus a significant number from the wider arts community. This solid response and the many useful comments and suggestions mean that we can be confident of where to put our efforts in the website renewal.
A quick results headline shows that:
- The majority who completed the survey were PhotoForum current or past members, but pleasingly there were also a good number of people from the wider arts community.
- The large majority of you get news about PhotoForum from our newsletter, with the website and Facebook in second equal place. People get their news about photography generally from a huge array of mostly online sources, mixed with friends, groups and magazines.
- In terms of suggested improvements for the site, calls for better design ranked high, better integration between the web and social media, better display of images and use/curation of portfolios. There were also many suggestions for improved content.
- The top new features that people most wanted were:
- News about the latest photography exhibitions, events and opportunities
- Reviews and critical commentary of NZ photography books/shows/art fairs
- Interviews with significant NZ photographers
- Reviews of international photography books/shows/art fairs
- Over 70 people offered to provide content for the new site
- Over 85% of people want MoMento to remain as a paper-based magazine, but there was acknowledgement of the greater reach of an online resource. There are also many useful comments about MoMento for us to study
- Nearly 90% of respondents thought the new PhotoForum site should be ‘A leading resource about New Zealand art photography.’
There is much for us to analyse in the survey results and our volunteer committee will be working steadily on the project in the coming months and will give you more updates as progress is made.
Thank you all again for this fantastic response – we are really looking forward to building the new, updated and upgraded PhotoForum website.
Geoffrey H. Short
Director, PhotoForum Inc.
Our congratulations to Mark Berger (Wellington)
Survey prize draw winner of a year’s free membership of PhotoForum
Initial Survey communication: 27 January 2015:
PhotoForum’s website began in 1996 has been going in its current form for about seven years – it’s now time for a major upgrade.
We want to revitalise the PhotoForum website and make it a dynamic engaging site that photographers and the wider arts community visit regularly.
We’ve got some ideas for exciting new content and features, but we’d love your help to identify what would be most relevant to you as a photographer or an arts practitioner. We’re also looking for people to contribute interesting new content to the site.
Please help us by completing this brief online survey. [ https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PhotoForum-NZ ]
Everyone who completes the survey will have the opportunity to go into a draw to win a year’s free membership of PhotoForum (for an existing member this would apply to next year’s membership).
We value your response and will keep you updated on progress with the site upgrade. Please forward the survey to anyone else you think would be interested.
The deadline for responses is Thursday 5 February 2015.
Geoffrey H. Short
Director, PhotoForum Inc.
January 12th, 2015
John B. Turner’s Photography Blog, dated 16 December 2014:
The New Zealand contribution to the 2014 Pingyao International Photography Festival included three exhibitions, six floor talks, a three-hour seminar, several television interviews, posing with Chinese strangers, and making new friends from all over the world. The vocabulary of PIP volunteer translators, who were mostly students of the dynamic Amy Liu of Taiyuan Technical University, was seriously tested with our odd Kiwi accents and vernacular speech. Julia Durkin, Director of the Auckland Festival of Photography, somehow found time from intense networking to join the portfolio review team, while I, as a guest curator, was free to network after helping “my” photographers, Craig Potton (Nelson), Ian Macdonald, (Auckland), and the environmental sculpture couple, Martin Hill and Philippa Jones (Wanaka), whom I had not met before, to settle in. They were joined by Jenny Tomlin, from Auckland, who had a solo exhibition. To cap the NZ presence, Martin Hill won an ‘Excellent Photographer Award’ and 4,000 people were given a free copy of the 32-page A6 bilingual catalogue of To Save a Forest… Photographs by leading New Zealand conservationists: Martin Hill, Ian Macdonald and Craig Potton.
As usual, there were pluses and minuses to the PIP Festival, with the positives dominating, and apart from the extraordinary array of photographs on display, it was the genuine warmth of their welcome, and the generous help from the volunteers that made a huge impression. Ian Macdonald summed up the exhibitions when after his initial foray he returned to exclaim that he had seen more outstanding photographs in two hours at PIP than he had seen during his recent exploration of London’s photography scene over a four week period. Ian and Elise Macdonald are legendary hosts, and Ian did as much as any official tourist bureau could to entice their new Chinese friends to get to enjoy a New Zealand visit and visit them at home in Matakana.’
Compared to her first PIP exhibition, featuring four Aucklanders, Chris Corson-Scott, Geoffrey Heath, Anita Jacobsen, and Vicky Thomas, last year, Elaine Smith’s 2014 selection was undermined by including the work of Qiane Matata-Sipu, who despite showing some promise, has simply not yet reached the level of technical competence or confidence shown by the other exhibitors: Tano Gago, Solomon Mortimer, and Tim Veling. To make matters worse, the exemplary work of Gago and Veling was displayed on the heavily shaded walls, while Matata-Sipu’s (and Mortimer’s) weaker prints received the limelight. Allocated what should have been a good space in the revamped Diesel Factory B7, the Auckland Festival was stuck between a rock and a hard place because of inadequate lighting for the best (and largest) works in their show. What’s the point of showing fine images under pathetically uneven lighting conditions? So I have to ask of the people responsible, Why wasn’t the same care taken downstairs, as that taken for the proper and more versatile lighting on the floor above where PIP’s permanent collection was newly installed? It shouldn’t be a big deal to provide reasonably even lighting on both sides of all display panels? It was galling to see, just around the corner, empty display spaces with beautiful natural light begging to be filled, and another filled with a display of backpacks for sale. (Julia Durkin informs me that restrictions on the use of nails or screws forced them to change Elaine’s planned layout for all of the work. “The lighting correction was requested,” Julia said, but like curator Alasdair Foster with his exhibition, she had no luck in getting the lighting fixed.)
I was also tormented by the fact that no extra lighting would be provided to brighten the shaded side of the panels for our ‘To Save a Forest…’ show. The effect was to compromise viewing of most of Craig Potton’s work until late afternoon when the small floodlights unevenly illuminated his glowing prints and shaded Ian’s and Martin’s.
That PIP suffers from serious underfunding is pretty obvious. The Shanxi government’s decision to make PIP more of a fair, with a new avenue of overhead lanterns lined with numerous small stalls offering tourist trinkets, demonstrates an inability to understand the uniqueness and the real needs of such a festival, with so much potential for increasing the number of informed foreign and Chinese visitors with a particular interest in photography. Equally, the razzle dazzle of the Awards event, designed exactly like a commercial television presentation, is another lost opportunity to seriously celebrate photographers and photography. Not least because when something went seriously wrong with the electronics this year, the small intended slide show of work on exhibition was not seen.
Coming back to the issue of display lighting, it was, ironically, very noticeable in B7, how beautifully lit the delightful and impressive cellphone exhibition, ‘My Bed & One Day in China’ was. Subtitled ‘The First China’s Top Ten Mobile Phone Photographers’ a kpkpw show curated by Fu Yongjun. When I asked why their lighting was superior the answer was that exhibitors could reposition the lights for their work. However that might be, the lighting system elsewhere, high in the ceiling, did not look that sufficient or flexible.
In last year’s PIP blog I had expressed my hope that the Auckland Festival and any other contributions would present significant work from south of the Bombay hills, to better represent photography in New Zealand, so it was good to see Veling, Hill and Potton included in this year’s offerings. A three-hour seminar by Hill, Potton, and Macdonald was attended by over 70 people, mainly in the younger age group, with several expressing their hope of visiting and studying in New Zealand.
It is interesting, but by no means comforting, to see that some of the finest work featured at PIP is often displayed in the labyrinth of makeshift and often leaking spaces that PIP is renowned for. Thus Jenny Tomlin found her pinhole work displayed opposite that of Ed Kashi, the VII agency photographer, in equally dismal lighting in Diesel Factory A5, where my ‘Tint’ exhibition was held in 2013. For Jenny, who is an expert analogue printer, the main consolation and trade off was likely the huge number of people who “saw” her work and took an interest in her mysterious low tech images. “Glimpsed,” however, would be a more accurate description of the interaction from the great majority of onlookers who have not learned the rewards of paying adequate attention to pictures and their meaning. Some smart ones used the light from their cell phones to take a closer look in the shadows. Kashi, billed as a star attraction, and a PIP award winner, didn’t visit Pingyao to see where his three essays were displayed, but his work can best be seen in publications and on the web. Jenny’s best prints, with their nuances of tone, detail and colour need to be seen in decent lighting.
Continue reading the full article HERE
December 16th, 2014
Do Jane Bown, William Eggleston and Diane Arbus not sing on a gallery wall?
Photography critic Sean O’Hagan hits back at Jonathan Jones’s damning claim that photographs cannot be considered fine art.
‘In November, our art critic Jonathan Jones went to see the wildlife photographer of the year show at the National History Museum and the Taylor Wessing prize at the National Portrait Gallery – an open submission award known for its eccentric shortlist, usually featuring people with their pets. Quite why he chose to visit these two shows eludes me. Did he think they were art photography exhibitions? He castigated both, as I, a photography critic, would probably have done had I the energy to kick a few dead horses.
I did not respond back then for two reasons: the “photography is not art” debate is so old it’s hardly worth revisiting, and the idea of using a wildlife award show as a yardstick just seemed bizarre. But, alas, he has repeated his claims this week, discussing a rather boring photograph by Peter Lik, which sold for £4.1m, becoming the most expensive photograph in the world. To which my response is … ‘
Read the full Sean O’Hagan article here
Source: The Guardian online, Thursday 11 December 2014
December 4th, 2014
The topic of Internationalism with regards to NZ photography, comes up for comment every so often. Below are notes compiled by Paul McNamara (McNamara Gallery Photography, Whanganui), as part of his 2011 presention at Art Lounge, Auckland Art Gallery highlighting aspects of Internationalism – the off-shore exhibition and collection of NZ photography. Our thanks to Paul for allowing us to share this information.
The Exhibition & Collection of NZ Photography Nationally & Internationally
Auckland Festival of Photography
Art Lounge Sessions
Sunday 5 June 2011 • 1pm
NZ PHOTOGRAPHERS EXHIBITING INTERNATIONALLY
COLLECTIONS HOLDING THEIR WORK
Looking at the experiences of 19 artists, 8 of whom have off-shore dealer representation and 14 have work in off-shore public collections in: Australia, New Caledonia, Taiwan, Macau, USA, UK, Holland, France & Spain
The selection ‘mechanisms’ involved in these exhibitions are no doubt many and varied, but one anticipates the work is subjected to robust critical debate; that it participates in the international discourse.
It appears that artists who work in tertiary institutions [artist as academic/teacher] are particularly well placed to exhibit internationally as their institutions liaise with off-shore curators and galleries [- including university galleries].
This factor may give some bias with regard to the type of work shown internationally [e.g. research –/project-based work]. As apposed to social documentary, street photography, architectural, staged etc.
However non-teaching artists Aberhart , Adams , Cauchi , Peryer  have also exhibited at university galleries.
I suspect most of these off-shore exhibitions are curated from outside NZ.
Australian photography Centres have exhibited: Aberhart, Adams, Crowley, Henderson, Noble , Robertson, Shelton and Tocher.
As you will appreciate from the detail below, off-shore galleries acquire NZ work.
However, one suspects the reverse applies infrequently, namely the acquisition of international work by NZ public collections, apart from the Chartwell Trust. [A private trust collecting a diverse range of contemporary New Zealand and Australian art – Tracey Moffatt, Patricia Piccinini, Bill Henson]
Read more here: Paul McNamara LECTURE – Internationalism AFP 2011 (pdf)
McNamara Gallery Photography opened 25th January 2002, and exhibits New Zealand, selected Pacific Rim & International, photographically-based art. They are dedicated to exhibiting and promoting lens-based media, and exploring the range of practice, both materially and conceptually.
Visit their Exhibitions page where all exhibitions, including out-reach exhibitions [29 so far] in blue ink can be found. Denoted in the listing [via*] are various genres, and also aspects of materiality [photograph type].
190 Wicksteed St. WHANGANUI 4500
Tuesday / Wednesday – Saturday 11 – 3 [often open to 6] or by appointment
* Please check website INFORMATION page for occasional closed days due to travel commitments
06 348 7320 / 027 249 8059 firstname.lastname@example.org
July 28th, 2014
HOW I SEE IT
I don’t remember who said it but a mother sitting on the beach takes a snap of her child, this could be called the purest form of photography, recording a moment in time that can be looked back on, not only by her but anybody else concerned. War Correspondents did and do the same thing now.
Camera clubs must have started with a few keen ‘chemist types’saying “ let’s get together and share our knowledge and look at each other’s work”. A good place for anyone to learn the skills of making a photograph. Not so bad!! Until fast film interchangeable lens cameras and J B Turner hit the scene! Now we had John’s PhotoForum showing us the American greats who had developed still photography as an art form that could be sold for hard cash (how American). I bought a $70 Edward Weston print. We were made to rethink how to take our photos with more soul, meaning and quality. These were great times and John did show a lot of us a sense and purpose to our photography. No more Bank window displays, but target Art galleries and sell prints when we could (most of us swapped). I, to my embarrassment, wrote to Imogen Cunningham asking her to swap six of my prints for one of hers??
I believe this period perhaps ended with The Active Eye Exhibition. I must relate attending an Auckland workshop and seeing one new photographer arrive wearing a black beret, ‘ doctor who’ scarf and a very long coat, straight from Monmarte Paris but the next day dressing as the rest of us in jeans and T shirt. Had the beginning of the ‘art set’ photographer just arrived in Auckland NZ ?
I stopped taking photos for 20 years and started again in a completely new world of photography. A lot of things we used to dream of had happened. Digital cameras meant endless shots , colour, sharpness, instant review and no exposure meters and the computer gave us Photoshop, Wow! Forget all the old ways we had learned, this is space age stuff. The art set would surely go mad with the chance to make up anything and not even have to print it, but no, black and white stayed the thing, purposely out of focus, badly framed with explanations of why it was taken printed alongside. This is what I discovered when my wife Babs and I took the trouble to go to see the new update of The Active Eye Exhibition in Palmerston North. I expected some brilliant new Photoshop creations but no, same old or worse. A blurred black and white photograph doesn’t make it art.
I can’t lay claim to any greatness or originality in my love of this medium but if I took a photo of one of my kids on the beach it would just have to be something with an edge of humour involved, that’s me coming through in my photograph. I am not against artists, I do understand how the real ones push us all into new understanding, it’s the pseudo wannabe’s that grate with me.
New Zealand’s own Dennis Waugh says in the PhotoForum at 40 book “Photography at best is a specialised craft, not art”. Dorothea Lange has also made similar comments. I know the argument has been going for over a century but l enjoy photography for being the skilled craft it is.
Well, that’s how I see it, so rip into me!
I’m just out of focus
dreaming black on white
memories long forgotten
passing through the night
Editor’s note: Our thanks to Mac Miller for inviting further discussion on photography. Mac’s involvement with PhotoForum goes back to the beginnings of the society. In fact, one of his images featured on the cover of the first issue of Photo-Forum magazine (issue 18 – February/March 1974). You can view a portfolio of his more recent work via the PhotoForum Members online gallery here
August 9th, 2013
John B Turner reflects on a groundbreaking 1976 survey of institutional attitudes toward the collection and exhibition of photography in New Zealand and asks how much has changed.
The State of New Zealand Photography
In 1976, two years after PhotoForum was founded, and following The Active Eye survey of contemporary photography, Ted Quinn set out to document the state of photography as an art in New Zealand.
What he found was ignorance, outright dismissal, and confusion. But there was also enthusiasm in the air and positive signs of a growing interest in the medium, among the quiet cries for help from organisations keen to do something but unsure about what to do or how to do it.
Private collectors were virtually nonexistent and almost nobody thought of buying a photograph.
One arts centre didn’t know if there was enough interest in photography to make it worthwhile holding shows, and more than one dealer claimed that photography was not an art and would not be shown by them.
The Auckland Art Gallery had only recently started its photography collection and our National Art Gallery said they had neither a photographic collection, nor intentions regarding photography.
The Govett-Brewster Gallery, now the foremost promoter of contemporary art, was thinking of collecting historical work, and the John Leech Gallery, now a leader in selling historical photography, said they only dealt with original works of art.
Almost hidden in PhotoForum’s web archive, Ted Quinn’s snapshot of the time is well worth revisiting as a reminder of how much has changed in the New Zealand art scene in regard to the acceptance of photography as art and social document. New Zealand’s universities and polytechnics, starting in the mid-1960s have nurtured influential teachers, who in turn spread their knowledge and enthusiasm throughout secondary and tertiary education.
PhotoForum, nearing its 40th birthday, had a role to play as an independent observer and catalyst for change relating to issues documented and discussed by Ted Quinn. Ted, like many PhotoForum activists was then a photography student at the Elam School of Fine Arts. His enthusiasm and prolific output as assistant editor of PhotoForum magazine and our tabloid PhotoForum Supplement’s warranted him the title of Research Secretary. And he carried out his job with imagination and prodigious energy. A peer of John Reynolds and George Baloghy, with whom he exhibited outside of Elam, he later became a photo therapist in England and editor of a magazine for the profession. Trying to contact him to contribute to our documentation of PhotoForum at 40, however, has so far been what Eric Lee-Johnson would call “a great unsuccess”. (Please tell us if you know how we can get in touch with Ted.)
Some of the public art galleries, museums, libraries and private galleries would have changed their name, been subsumed into another branch or organisation, or disappeared altogether. That is particularly so for the small, enthusiastic, underfunded photo galleries that flourished and for a brief time, helped to change the climate for taking photography more seriously than hitherto. We can’t say much for the 50% of canvassed organisations that did not respond to Ted’s survey, but we did know that raised some embarrassing questions about why photography was being neglected by those who should have known better.
What we can say, however, is that along with the advances that came when the National Art Gallery started collecting contemporary photography under Andrew Drummond, and it’s new Director, Luit Bieringa (who was instrumental in creating The Active Eye survey of contemporary NZ photography in 1975), there has been some backsliding from some prominent public institutions as well as great advances by others.
The Auckland Art Gallery, in particular, has seldom fulfilled its promise. And no New Zealand public gallery has established a permanent display space to highlight photography and provide students and teachers with a living resource of exemplary works from the histories of photography.
The absence of such an obvious educational service was pointed out in by the late Van Deren Coke, visiting Fulbright scholar in 1989, and later Director of Photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, but Auckland’s showcase gallery, now expanded and refurbished, still tends to sit on its hands in regard to properly showcasing New Zealand’s best photographers.
Ted Quinn’s survey is also a reminder of how much more can and should be done by those responsible for preserving and promoting New Zealand’s history, culture and heritage. And that should concern all New Zealanders.
Crucial decisions have to be made to properly resource our public institutions so they can carry out their duty of care. As John Miller and Reg Feuz have highlighted for PhotoForum, and I know from my own experience of trying to place major collections of photographs in safe hands, there is a huge log-jam of priceless private collections that now need the attention of curators, librarians and conservation specialists, if they are not to be lost. We need the people responsible for deciding which collections and how much of them must be preserved for the future to stand up and explain what they are doing, or need support to do?
Merely paying big money – the penalty for neglect – for a few star works that should have been collected before “the market” paid attention and upped the ante, is not enough.
They might not be perfect, but the curators we now have – and we could do with more of them – need to be given more freedom to roam and cogitate. Our dedicated private art dealers often provide exceptional service, but they can only do so much, and our public collectors need to rely less on them to seek significant work at its source, as early as possible.
That would be risky, of course, but freed from the dealer’s ring fencing, and institutional committees who too often don’t understand much about photography, the odds are very much in favour of a conscientious curator being able to acquire significant cultural artifacts wholesale from the many practitioners without a dealer, or discounted through collaboration with dealers.
What most serious photographers need when they are getting into their stride, or approaching completion of a body of work, is sufficient funds to pay for their art and living expenses so they can get on with doing what they do best, or branch out into new territory if that’s what they need to do.
What wealthy art collectors do with their disposable income is their own business. But our public art servants could save money as well as spread support if they were freed to get ahead of the game and buy significant work when it is relatively fresh and unknown. That’s what the best collectors have always done.
Knowing they have representative highlights in the bag, as it were, would do much to remove the belated pressure that builds up after years of institutional neglect, or undervaluation of an artist’s work, and forces competition with private buyers and competing institutions also trying to catch up. Having already acquired significant works, our public institutions could free themselves from the guilt-laden pressure of seriously overdue purchases at indecently inflated prices.
The high prices paid at auction for some works are simply ridiculous, and the really big retrospective purchases do more to inflate ego or depression than swell the artist’s bank account. Exorbitant fees and increased insurance cover should be seen for what they usually are: a premium on neglect. The purchase of overpriced works by art stars like Andreas Gursky, is indicative of the cultural blue-chip cringe favoured by PR-focussed galleries, and further highlights the neglect of New Zealand photography by them.
It’s an old grizzle, but I still hear from some of New Zealand’s best artists that none of the people responsible for public acquisitions have ever visited them to see work before (and if) it is exhibited.
If our public art servants were empowered to do the rounds, and had discretionary funds to follow their intuitions, many a bargain of mutual benefit to practitioners and institutions could be struck and a better, more relevant public representation of our cultural and social history could be preserved.
John B Turner,
Beijing, China, July 2013.
Ted Quinn: ‘Results of a survey on the State of New Zealand Photography as regards Public and Private Art Galleries, Libraries and Museums’. Photo-Forum Research Supplement, April 1977.
This survey was begun in October 1976 with the stated aim of preparing “a brief analysis of the position of photography in New Zealand, and the local gallery interest.”
A list of questions relating to photographic collections, exhibitions, and intentions regarding photography, were sent to 150 public and private museums and galleries, as well as some libraries. View the survey (pdf) here.
In its June 1981 issue, PhotoForum published an update on Ted Quinn’s survey carried out by Diane Quin and Janneke Vandenberg: ‘On Collectors’, pp 20-23. It included responses from 19 art galleries, museums or libraries and three private collections, those of Hardwicke Knight, William Main and Ron Brownson.
August 3rd, 2013
The Pingyao Experience – Part I, Enjoy the Chaos
Pingyao International Photography Festival, Shanxi Province
China, 2010, 2011, 2012
by John B. Turner
co-editor PhotoForum (New Zealand)
John B Turner: Pingyao, September 2011. Remnants of previous year’s PIP linger until removed at the last moment.
It is not possible to list all of the fine work seen, or to mention all of the practitioners whose work impressed me: some because it was the best of its kind, and some for all the wrong reasons – because it seemed so superficial and misguided. In fact, I found that some of the award-winning exhibitions were weak or pretentious compared to some potent but overlooked work.
I am bemused by the Chinese propensity for grand gestures and the display of official certificates of approval for their work – by government agencies – as if the work can’t stand on its own or the audience is not smart enough to see through such humbug. It reminds me a lot of the old New Zealand camera club system which was fixated on gaining personal prestige at the expense of concentrating on honing the content and form of the work and its relevance to life in their times.
I am particularly interested in learning about Chinese photography and found that both young photographers and some of the more established exhibitors seemed hungry for informed critical feedback that is not being provided by their peers. It is not much fun when your work is ignored, so they might appreciate the observation that it is ok to make work that nobody seems to notice, as long as it is an honest expression of the things you value and want to share. That in the Western liberal art tradition, at least, it is expected that our work is made for ourselves, first and foremost.
Read the full article HERE.
June 19th, 2013
Two photographs from a 1974 gay liberation dance, featuring coarsley worded remarks beside the images, are causing public debate for Tauranga Art Gallery. The works by photographic artist Fiona Clark are included in Te Manawa’s exhibition Now & Then, which has been touring the country since March 2012.
Now & Then is on show in Tauranga, until this Sunday 23 June 2013. The exhibition encompasses a selection of more than 39 prominent and currently emerging photographers who continue to push the boundaries of fine art photography in New Zealand. Included in the exhibition are numerous works from the 1975 landmark survey The Active Eye, staged by the then Manawatu Art Gallery.
www.fionaclark.com – scroll down page for background information on Clark’s images, including historical news clippings relating to The Active Eye exhibition.