Hendrik Kerstens at Monash

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-12-51-51-pm                                     Hendrik Kerstens, Paper Roll, August, 2008

The Monash Gallery of Art has an exhibition of portraits by Hendrik Kerstens that echoes the Eden project by Polixani Papapetrou showing in another room (see my previous post). Both artists include the photographers’ daughter in their portraits and use their age as part of the subject, and both dress them in symbolic costume.

Kerstens portraits evoke 17th century Dutch painting …                                            “A number are clearly reminiscent of Johannes Vermeer. The austerity of the photograph, its clarity, the serene expression on the young girl’s face, and not least, the characteristic “Dutch” light, all combine to create this impression.

However, Kerstens was not just imitating painting. As the series progressed, he became increasingly interested in the game of creating a conceptual and humorous dialog between past and present.” (danzigergallery.com)

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-6-17-19-pm                                    Hendrik Kerstens, Doily, March, 2011

Kerstens’ work is matched with a series of portraits also influenced by Dutch painting by the photographer, Erwin Olaf, also from the Netherlands. It’s a good time to go to Monash since there is also a large exhibition by Martin Parr, but they all close this Sunday December 4.

Eden at Monash

 08_polixeni_papapetrou_psyche_2016-821x1230                                            The Monash Gallery of Art is showing a new project by the Melbourne photographer Polixani Papapetrou. Eden is a series of ten intensely coloured photographs of young teenage girls posed in complex floral arrangements. The pictures are handsomely made and impress the eye largely because the pictorial space is flat and the colour packed tight in the all-over compositions.

The best of the series have models who can project some of the tentativeness of their age. They are embedded in gorgeousness, but somewhat weighed down by it. The images “focus on Papapetrou’s explorations of the transitional stages of life, particularly the loss (and persistence) of childhood.”

The art critic Robert Nelson (the photographer’s husband) writes …

A beautiful young female figure is immersed in a garden of flowers, a vertical garden that doesn’t recede into deep space but presses itself onto the surface of the photograph. The model has flowers behind her, in front of her, upon her, all around her. Her form is rhapsodized by stitches of blooms and leaves, engulfed by nature but not contained by the three levels of representation that compress figure and ground.  Robert Nelson, 2016


Eden is sympathetically matched with a twin exhibition by Dutch photographers Hendrik Kerstens and Erwin Olaf, and another large one by Martin Parr. It’s a good time to go to Monash but they all close on Sunday December 4.

Where Atget lived

atget-house-1                    Greg Neville, Atget’s home, 2016

There are many of us who consider Eugéne Atget to be the greatest of all photographers – Joel Meyerowitz called him “our Mozart.” So you can understand how moving it was to find the very place where he lived and worked.

For many years in the early 1900s Atget had an apartment in this building in Montparnasse, the Paris area so popular with artists. The street is Rue Campagne Prémiere where Man Ray and many other artists lived at various times – you can find details about it in my post Atget meets Godard.

Atget lived and worked in the same apartment which he shared with his life partner Valentine. Apparently he developed and printed his glass plate negatives, stored and indexed them and sold them to clients, all from the same small rooms. Down on the street entrance his plaque Documents pour Artistes advertised the business which eventually attracted the attention of Man Ray and later Berenice Abbott who rescued 6000 of his negatives following his death.


Atget and me

atget-pantheon                              Eugene Atget, Coin de la rue Valette et Panthéon, 1925                   gn-pantheon                               Greg Neville, Coin de la rue Valette et Panthéon, 2016

Atget’s streets, then and now. An exercise to locate some of the places where Eugene Atget had taken his photographs in the early 20th century.

Finding the locations was not hard, they are pretty much unchanged. But the  atmosphere of the 19th century streetscape has changed, it could not withstand the transformation brought on by the car which imposes its 20th century mechanical discord and turns every street into a carpark. 

Atget used a glass plate view camera with perspective-correcting movements, hence the vertical buildings are vertical. Also, he used a very wide angle lens, the normal apparatus of an architectural photographer, and was able to squeeze in the expanse of the street. My lens is a 35mm equivalent and does not take in as much. 

These photos of mine show Atget’s artistry. You can see what he’s made of the subject, compared to what I have not. Granted it’s Paris, but he still had to find the location and its best viewpoint. His photographs are indelible to the memory, they have a unique atmosphere and poignancy; he brings out a character in the street that is not there to the eye. Atget was writing poetry.

At certain moments, this little exercise was a thrill. Standing in that doorway in the Rue de Seine to line up my camera, I realised I was in the exact spot  the great photographer had stood with his camera in 1924. I was occupying the same space as Eugene Atget had done almost a century before.

243430816_be36ba3238_b                                                           Eugene Atget, Rue Domat                                            gn-rue-domat                                                  Greg Neville, Rue Domat, 2016

eugene_atget_coin_rue_de_seine                                               Eugene Atget, Rue de Seine, 1924gn-rue-de-seine                                                          Greg Neville, Rue de Seine, 2016

atget-quaid-anjou-1924                         Eugene Atget, Quai d’Anjou, 1924atget-quai-danjou

gn-quai-danjou                                    Greg Neville, Quai d’Anjou, 2016


isabelle-le-minh-objectivIsabelle Le Minh, Objektiv, after Bernd & Hilla Becher, 2015

Isabelle Le Minh is a French artist who works on conceptual projects that engage with the history and meaning of photography. Her 2015 work ‘Objektiv, after Bernd & Hilla Becher’ featured in the recent curated exhibition Déconstruction Photographique at the Paris gallery Topographie de l’Art.

Objektiv  is an hommage to the Bechers who refined the mode of photographic typology with their well-known grids of industrial structures. Le Minh substitutes the Bechers’ water towers and blast furnaces with a collection of antique Petzval lenses from the 19th century. Like the Bechers subjects, her lenses, once advanced products of industry, are now historical artefacts, and are studied through their typological variations.

Her pictures resemble the Bechers’ images both in composition and print quality – her individual prints are as beautiful as black & white can be. The overall similarity is striking and, after you smile, you begin to pay close attention.

The title, Objektiv, is a clever choice as it’s loaded with meanings. First, it is the German word for lens, the subject-matter of the series. Further, these photographs are close ups of things, like still lifes – the lenses are objects.

The word also refers to the objectivity with which a lens transmits light. It is in the DNA of photography that the image is captured ‘impartially’ as a phenomenon of physics, not art. Unlike, for example, in a painting where the artist’s interpretation is unavoidable a photographic image is recorded automatically by light. This is the teasing ambiguity at the heart of the  medium – photographs are recorded by a machine and always seem to be artefacts of the real, visual world.

So what is the objective of Le Minh’s project? It is so much more than a mere echo of the Bechers’ work. Objektiv is a solipsistic work. It copies the methodology and style of a project from photographic history, the Bechers’  work, and reminds you that a photograph is always about photography and always about the history of photography.

It uses a lens to record lenses, a machine to record machines and so is about the thingness of photography, As her gallery’s statement asks, “Aren’t photography’s technical objects more singular than the images they can produce ?”



Shooting a president

a_edmonds_reaganRon Edmunds, 1981

Now that Donald Trump has been elected, my thoughts naturally turn to the shooting of a Republican president.

The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981 came back into the news recently when the perpetrator John Hinckley was released from the mental asylum where he had been ever since since his arrest.

The shooting was a photographic event as much as an attempted murder, and several notable photographers were on hand. They were there to capture the president walking a few steps from a hotel back door across a footpath to his limousine. That fact illustrates two points: the profound triviality of much press photography, and the bizarre luck of the photographers who were there.

Thirty years ago, Ron Edmonds was on his second day as a White House photographer for Associated Press. That day he had photographed the president giving a speech inside the Washington Hilton Hotel, and afterwards rushed outside to get an image of the President waving to the crowd.

Edmonds had the camera to his eye when the President started to wave and as Hinckley fired his gun. He made the famous sequence of images that would be published around the world.

As an AP staff photographer, Edmonds did not own the negatives or the copyright. So unlike freelance photographers at the scene he did not make much extra money from his employers. “I got a $50 a week merit raise,” he says.

Look closely at the photo. It shows staffers looking in the direction of the shots while Reagan himself appears to flinch from the impact of a bullet. It’s a curious slice of photographic time that some may wish is repeated with the new president.