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photoforum 69 December 2003
Selected works from the Carol Franc Buck Collection of the Nevada Museum of Art, shown at the Sarjeant Gallery, Wanganui, December 2001 - March 2002. Reviewed by John B. Turner.
But there was an even more varied company in this outstanding thematic show, with whom one could directly compare one’s own standard of work. They included Barbara Bosworth, Drex Brooks, Jeff Brouws, Ed Burtynsky, Robert Dawson, Peter de Lory, Robert Del Tredici, Terry Evans, Peter Goin, Wanda Hammerbeck, Timothy Hearsum, Avi Holzman, Len Jenshel, Sant Khalsa, Greg MacGregor, Lawrence McFarland. Joan Myers, Patrick Nagatani, Timothy H O’Sullivan (the 19th Century pioneer – here paired with Mark Klett, from the Rephotographic Survey project), Eric Paddock, Mark Ruwedel, Jim Sanborn, Sharon Stewart, Martin Stupich, Michelle Van Parys. My American friend, Dawn Starr Crowther, who was a fellow student at Arizona State University, Tempe, in 1991, and introduced my family to The Simpsons and other local delicacies, was also represented.
However, the downside of Wanganui’s inspired parochialism was that the majority of New Zealand photographers who would have benefited from seeing this exhibition, did not, because no other venue could be found during the several months before it was due to be shipped to Scandinavia. This sorry story is all too familiar to those who follow the history of relative non-cooperation between the major Auckland and Wellington public galleries, for example, and looks like it might be repeated if the Auckland Art Gallery does not take Fiona Clark’s Govett-Brewster show, ‘Go Girl’, which was based on her documentation of the gay, lesbian and transsexual scene in Auckland from the 1970s. I’ve said it before, but it is now necessary to put Wanganui on your itinerary if you are serious about seeing what’s going on in photography in this country.
One purpose of this thematic exhibition was to advance the newish notion, for art, that Man is part of, rather than separate from, Nature. (Photographers, I would have thought, usually know that they are privileging the ideal over the real, when they strive to eliminate the signs of civilised progress – the road, motor car, telegraph pole, disturbed earth, and so on. But this notion doesn’t seem to have occurred to some art writers until recently.) And, of course, another aim was to draw attention to the Nevada Museum of Art’s Altered Landscape Collection, which was started in the early 1990s, as an attempt to counteract popular collections of representations of the pristine ideal landscape, with the intention of providing a ‘critical and theoretical edge’. They have collected contemporary landscape photographs from the past three decades focussing on diverse subject matter within the landscape, including earthworks, environmental crises or natural disasters and land development.’
‘When I view [Mundy’s] work’,Barrar explained, ‘it is apparent that he moved through an expanding colonial landscape which was being converted from a largely ‘unknown’ to a ‘humanised’ space. While his images locate early sites (sights) of importance, they may equally surprise with their generalising of a landscape that was both unsettlingly expansive and still potentially productive and controllable….
‘Mundy’s work parallels that of a number of American photographers in both approach and period. Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan and Andrew Russell all produced vital bodies of work that documented the development of the Western United States – a record that allows us not only to see what was there, but also to consider what made it important enough to hold the photographer’s gaze.
‘Two decades later I am still very comfortable with this work. But like many others I quickly abandoned any notions of objectivity in its production. All land in New Zealand is a contestable space. The production of the photographic image advances this political dimension, and always involves a conscious act of ascribing importance to the site.’ 3
Barrar’s comment pretty much sums up the theme of this exhibition, and our illustrations are an attempt to indicate the exciting variety of approaches that were included, in works that ranged from standard black and white 8x10s up to large impressive colour prints. We would like to thank Richard Wotton and the Sarjeant Gallery, Wanganui, for making available the illustrations for this item.