How Eryk Fitkau started

How do photographers get their start? The late Eryk Fitkau was one of this country’s most successful advertising & fashion photographers. He told a story about how he and his partner Tomyk Sikora got their break, after migrating from Poland. It’s a lesson to us all …

“One day we got a call to come into the agency. I knew that meant we had our first job. The art director asked us to give him a quote. Now, thinking about how much money I was getting in construction (as a labourer) and adding money we would need for film and developing, I estimated we should quote $150.

When we were about to give this quote to the art director, I had a feeling we should not tell him what we thought. I said to him that we are new to this country and we do not know how much is the going rate here, so could he please give us some idea of a budget.

He replied that it was a small budget of about $1600. I kept a poker face and told him that this price would be acceptable to us.”

Fitkau’s life story is told in his own words on the website: It is an archive of his dynamic, raunchy and technically brilliant photography.


Kanazawa Study

Rohan Hutchinson, from Kanazawa Study

Kanazawa Study is a series of large digital collages by Rohan Hutchinson. He uses a 10×8 inch view camera to capture details and textures of architectural surfaces in a historic locality in Japan. The images have a Zen quality, very cool and detached. They are assembled with great precision to contrast texture, colour and space creating ‘virtual architectural realms.’ I can imagine them looking at home in some Minimalist interior.

Hutchinson explores how the difference in architectural design and materials has changed throughout diverse time frames and class systems in the Kanazawa region of Japan, giving a 500-year overview of architectural practice within the region.

The exhibition is at the Colour Factory Gallery in Fitzroy

Kelli Connell’s proof

Kelli Connell, paste-up for The Valley, 2006

Kelli Connell‘s intimate portraits of a loving couple have made a strong impact over recent years. They appear to chronicle the relationship of a lesbian couple until you realise that both women are the same person. The photographs have been Photoshopped to create two characters out of one, with technique that is both discrete and flawless. An exhibition of photographers’ contact sheets at Catherine Edelman Gallery gives us a glimpse of Connell’s working method.

She shoots on film in 6×4.5 medium format using Kodak 400 ISO colour negative film and she brackets the exposures. The paste-up image above shows a woman from one print leaning over a woman from another print, but they are both the same woman. Look below at the first frames of the proof sheet and you’ll a different woman in the upper pose, a stand-in, and not Connell herself. In the lower frames, their positions have reversed, the stand-in is now lying down.’

Kelli Connell, proofsheet for The Valley, 2006

Connell prints the best poses, cuts and pastes them together to indicate the join – see the top image – and then Photoshops the images together (presumably from the negatives).

Kelli Connell, The Valley, 2006

The Astor saved

Great news today that The Astor cinema in St Kilda has been saved by white knight Ralph Taranto, who plans to restore and preserve the wonderful Art Deco theatre.

The Astor is the last single-screen picture palace left in Melbourne, and one of the few in the southern hemisphere. It is without question the best venue for seeing big films. The atmosphere in the 1936 auditorium, size of the screen and the quality of projection are unique. The Astor has the most advanced projection, with the only 70mm film projector in Melbourne and a Barco 4K 32B digital projectorthe 4K means four times the resolution of the industry accepted standard of 2K (4096 x 2160 pixels versus 2048 x 1556).

There is a unique thrill in experiencing the gigantic screen which is three-to-four storeys high, surrounded by the 1930s architecture. This is especially true when the movie itself is a spectacle. Big films like Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly can be seen as they were intended to be seen, in a grand communal space, with the image so large you are immersed in it.

Lawrence of Arabia, dir. David Lean, 1963

2001: A Space Odyssey, dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1968

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, dir. Sergio Leone, 1966

Cyr’s trays

John Cyr, Sally Mann’s Developing Tray, 2011

John Cyr is a New York photographer who runs a darkroom printing service, making black & white prints with traditional silver-based materials. In his unique exhibition project called Developer Trays, he has photographed dozens of darkroom trays used by well known photographers.

I am photographing available developer trays so that the photography community will remember specific, tangible printing tools that have been a seminal part of the photographic experience for the past hundred years.

Although his images are in colour, the trays are used for black & white printing; the various grey hues you see are caused by the silver deposit during the developing process. As ordinary working tools, darkroom trays are not beautiful things but Cyr’s photographs transform them into memorials for the analogue tradition. The developing tray is where the image magically appears on the paper, a chemical event that digital photography has no answer to.

Nix pix & boox

Lori Nix, Circulation Desk, 2012

Lori Nix imagines the future collapse of civilization. She builds small models of disaster scenes out of cardboard, foam and glue, then photographs them using a large 8×10 camera. The intricate dioramas have astonishing detail and convincingly depict scenes of urban collapse after some future apocalypse. At first sight, they seem to be documentary photographs, like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And she knows what she’s doing – growing up in the Tornado belt of Kansas, she witnessed the same sort of destruction she creates in her studio.

Nix exhibits with the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago and has also produced a Blurb book of The City which you can look through and purchase online (for as little as $41.00, a bargain).

On Robert Hughes

Tom and Chrissie Hughes during Malcolm Turnbull’s speech

Isn’t this priceless? Like emperors at the Coliseum. Following the recent death of the art critic Robert Hughes, his brother Tom and wife listen to the tribute in Federal parliament.

Malcolm Turnbull gave a remarkable speech on Hughes, deeply felt, funny, and in it’s way worthy of Hughes’ own rhetorical style. have posted the speech at

Robert Hughes was the Orson Welles of art criticism, brilliant, charismatic, larger-than-life, but with a fatal edge. He was a great educator, erudite but driven to make art popular and available to a mass audience. I think this is a noble cause, far worthier than the efforts of gloomy theorists in their academic cabals. Of these he said, ” To write direct prose, lucid and open to comprehension, using common language, is to lose face. You do not make your mark unless you add something to the lake of jargon to whose marshy verge the bleating flocks of post-structuralists go each night to drink…”

Hughes didn’t have much to say about photography. In his great surveys of art history, Shock of the New and American Visions, there are only a few passages, and you feel that he was not really convinced of the medium’s validity for making art. His references in American Visions to photographs by Alfred Stieglitz and Lewis Hine even contain factual errors. And yet he was still able to sum up a photograph’s impact with vivid phrases.

“Some of the finest photographs of Lewis Hine, the recording angel of American labour in the 1920s and 1930s, were taken to document the construction of the Empire State Building, and one in particular became an icon: the rangy young man in overalls, swinging on the hook of a crane, a thousand feet above Manhattan’s sidewalks, like some Icarus of skill and risk.”

Note the twin imagery of angel and Icarus (both fly with wings) and thus the conjoining of Hine himself with his ascending figure of the worker.


Dan in the sky

Greg Neville, Dan falling from the sky, 1982

When my son Dan was born, it seemed like he had fallen from heaven. One day as he crawled along the carpet below me, he reached up as I took a Polaroid of him. Later, I cut the print open and removed some of the carpet, then sandwiched it with another Polaroid of the sky.

I could’ve done that #1

Greg Neville: Donald Judd, untitled (1975), Art Gallery of NSW

There is a T-shirt going around that takes the old philistine exclamation about modern art “I could have done that” and answers it with “Yeah but you didn’t”. The sentiment might apply to these images I took recently in Sydney. Above, the orderly row of Minimalist boxes by Donald Judd, seen in the art museum. Below the coincidental find the next day of similar crates in an empty shop. Well, what is the difference?

Greg Neville: empty shop, Oxford St Paddington, NSW

Judd didn’t actually make his boxes, he commissioned them from fabricators under careful direction, so there’s no actual craftmanship from the artist. The materials are fairly common pine ply, so there’s no precious ‘aura’ there. The boxes sit mutely on the wall…

“… presented neutrally so as to refute any symbolic connotation. In some cases a number of boxes were attached to the wall in the form of a stack of alternating solids and voids of equal size. Many of the works embodied seriality, either as a simple mathematical progression or as a repetition of a standard unit. He used unpolished laminated wood and had his works made in a factory in order to obtain a perfect finish.”  –

Catherine Nelson’s planets

The Gallerysmith stall at the Melbourne Art Fair featured the work of photo media artist Catherine Nelson. Her large images of planet-like globes are very striking, as you can see. Nelson trained as a painter before working for years as visual effects designer for films such as Moulin Rouge and Harry Potter.

She now works as a solo artist building up her fisheye landscapes out of hundreds of separate photographs. They are expertly composed, even up close there is no sign of stitching. And despite the distortions, they are visions of convincing natural locales. They combine the intimacy of the foreground habitat with the illusion that you’re looking at a planet floating in space, like the NASA photos of planet earth. And yet, seen in another way, they might be illustrations of biological cells. I hate to utter these words, but yes, it’s the macro and the micro.

The Living and the Dead

Andrew Hazewinkel, Portrait of the Living and the Dead #2, 2010.

The Centre for Contemporary Photography stall at the Melbourne Art Fair featured some very un-photographic work by Andrew Hazewinkel. Composed of aluminium leaf on sandpaper, they are ghostly phantasms of the human face, very primitive and strange.

Hazewinkel is a Melbourne artists who works between the mediums of sculpture, photography and video, although this work is none of those. I was probably struck by these because they are like some of my own work, although I’ve certainly never thought of laying down aluminium leaf onto huge sheets of sandpaper – well who would think of that?

William Kentridge’s Nose

William Kentridge, ensemble (Variation) Costume maquettes for The Nose, 2011

When I approached the William Kentridge stand at the Melbourne Art Fair, I thought “he’s merchandising. Maybe I can afford one of these maquettes!” No such luck, it’s a complete set of 34 for $88000.

Kentridge routinely thrills me, it’s almost boring. It is hard to name the reasons. Saying it has soul is lame, but maybe it is something like that. It’s also the fun of watching a vivid, original mind in the body of an ordinary looking middle-aged man – there is something reassuring in that.

The maquettes are part of the extensive project called The Nose, about the early Soviet era. They are made of wood, cotton paper, steel, wood stain, crayon, the most ordinary materials, but how magic they are.

The Wave

Sarah Vanagt & Katrien VermeireThe Wave, 2012

In 2011, Belgian artists Sarah Vanagt & Katrien Vermeirea photographed the opening of a mass grave from the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). Nine victims had been buried after their execution by Franco’s supporters in June 1939. After a machine had removed the topsoil, archaeologists came across a skull with a bullet hole.

These photographs, taken at the Sydney Biennale in July, show the archaeologists’ work, sorting the bones on sheets of newspaper, a practical way of distinguishing one from another. It’s a ghoulish sight. But apart from the awful tragedy they recall, the potency of these images is the peculiar encounter between the 1939 bones and the 2011 newspapers.

It’s as if a time machine had brought these dead individuals forward to the present time, reading the stories of present day Spain. What would they make of it? Spain has economic problems today but it’s a country with a thriving democracy. I have witnessed the recent public demonstrations in Madrid and saw an admirable public involvement in the nation’s affairs. It would have shocked Franco’s Nationalists who ultimately executed hundreds of thousands of Spaniards and took the country into a relative dark age for decades.

The headline above the photo states  ‘I am Jack Sparrow by pure instinct’. It’s an article about Johnny Depp promoting Pirates of the Carribean 3.


Binh Danh’s Immortality

Binh Danh: Immortality: The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War’

The Sydney Biennale is showing a series by the artist Binh Danh, chlorophyll prints made on leaves from Vietnam. Photographs from the Vietnam War were placed on tropical leaves and left in the sun, which creates an image on the leaf through photosynthesis. Later the leaves are cast in resin, like scientific specimens.

“This process deals with the idea of elemental transmigration: the decomposition and composition of matter into other forms. The images of war are part of the leaves, and live inside and outside of them. The leaves express the continuum of war. They contain the residue of the Vietnam War: bombs, blood, sweat, tears, and metals. The dead have been incorporated into the landscape of Vietnam.”

I was raised in a traditional Vietnamese household, where many of the family’s Buddhist rituals focussed on the worship of ancestors, thus meditating on death and its influence on the living. The themes of mortality, memory and spirituality became a lifelong inspiration.