Photography, maybe more than other art forms, is always reliant on the world around it for representation and subject. While this should not equate to photography being any more real than another art form, it has its own concerns with how to refract the world that it captures into an image. Questioning this relationship is a new exhibition from the Australian Centre for Photography entitled Oceans From Here, curated by Allison Holland who assumed the role of curator at ACP in November last year.
“Oceans from Here is my first group exhibition so I'm very excited about this selection of artists and I think they're quite diverse,” said Holland. “They have a lot of different approaches to very loose theme which is about how we respond to water on our planet while also engaging aesthetically with it, as well as physiologically and emotionally.”
The selection of artists that Holland has brought together show the diversity of approaches that form the current breadth of photography as a practice. In the Prelude to Oceans From Here, which runs at the ACP Gallery from July 26 to September 15, exhibiting artists include multimedia artist Julia Davis whose immersive video and soundscape work takes the viewer to a perspective outside of themselves.
Subsequently, from August 24 to October 20 at an undisclosed location, the full exhibition will be revealed. Kai Wasikowski, one of the artists showing in the second instalment, starts from a point of familiarization with earth’s impending environmental catastrophe and has compressed the images that inform us of these daily changes into tiny LCD screens driven by miniature Raspberry Pi computers. In using these multimedia materials, both Wasikowski and Davis continue to respond to how images are altered and reformatted at various scales, and in doing so they challenge the relationship between technical representation and our ability to comprehend the very real crises facing humanity.
As Holland noted, “how we mediate so much of our visual experience is through our phones, through our iPads, which is basically reducing what we used to see on big cinematic screens or in the real world and compresses it. So we're actually becoming quite used to this introversion that comes from making big things really, really small.”
While the presence of the photographer has always been an abiding concern, as visual images become more prominent in everyday communication, the circumstances of their production will become increasingly important. Artists included in the Oceans From Here roster position the human form in the centre of the photographed image. The work of Honey Long + Prue Stent emblematic of this method with shrouded human forms emerge from watery environs. This approach represents a break from other styles of photography such as documentary photography, which privilege those that the photographer has chosen to depict, rather than the photographer themselves. The previous exhibition at ACP, Glenn Lockitch – Exposed: Human Rights and The Environment, displayed the work of a photographer who takes this approach to representing reality. Bringing together such divergent methodologies is part of the diversity of practice within photography, and something that the ACP seeks to highlight.
Holland describes the two approaches as “in a way Oceans from Here in contrast to Glenn Lockitch's exhibition is about the poetry of the ocean and our existence and how we relate to the world wheras Glenn is much about presenting the reality of some people's lives in different parts of the world at particular times in history.”
Increasingly, however, an understanding that the reality of what is presented in the frame of an image is only partial can be seen through the work of artists that work within the photographic medium, something that Holland recognises, “the idea that the photographer is never present or doesn't have any subjective framing of what we're looking at is kind of a misnomer because we assume that something that's presented to us as documentary is objective but it actually isn't. We don't know what's outside the frame, we don't know what happened the moment before, the moment after and why they chose this particular moment or subject.”
Bringing together the works of a diversity of artists, under a thematic exhibition such as Oceans From Here, allows for photography to continue to develop as an art form in conversation with other methods of representation. Still in the early stages of her curatorial tenure at ACP, this is a conversation that Holland is keen to continue.
“I think it's a really liberating time because most artists don't work in one medium anymore, they may use multiple mediums but they may also try and push the medium beyond the boundaries of what we're used to, so for us to kind of confine ourselves to the two dimensional photograph is really limiting what we could show because artists are exploring so much more than that.”
Doing this in a time of limited funding, both governmental and philanthropic, and a move to primarily online methods of displaying images, leaves ACP in a liminal position. As a bricks and mortar gallery, however, a recognition of the material nature of some works provides a place for ACP to continue to remain engaging.
“Just to put up images of [artists’] final work won't really have the same impact as seeing the work in the flesh,” argued Holland, “because of a lot of the works we put in are not 2D now they're much more 3D experiential works.”
In addition to highlighting the tactile qualities of works, galleries such as ACP are turning towards a role of facilitating interatctions between artists and audiences, as Holland noted, “a lot of the artists that we joined with this year have tried to develop works in the space and used the engagement with the audiences that come in to get gather more material to use in their work.” For example, Gerwyn Davies, whose exhibition Fur was shown as part of the Mardi Gras celebrations earlier this year, used the gallery space as a way to workshop ideas about his work with the public, while Cherine Fahd during her exhibition A Portrait is a Puzzle, collected images of attendees.
Existing as a not-for-profit gallery in-between artist run initiatives and larger state-supported institutions, ACP relies on a limited pool of funding, particularly after losing Australia Council funding in the cuts of 2016, yet continues to be a driving force in the conversations that surround photography as a medium for understanding, and questioning, reality and daily life.