Francis Bacon and George Smiley

                                   Bill Brandt, Francis Bacon, Primrose Hill, 1963

Francis Bacon didn’t like this portrait of him by Bill Brandt. I can’t think why, it’s one of the Brandt’s best and he was a very good editorial portraitist. It does capture some of the bleakness of Bacon’s painting style.

The photograph was taken on Primrose Hill in London, apparently on a wintry day, with Brandt’s harsh tonality making it look like a charcoal drawing. The location can be found on Google Street View – this screenshot shows where the two greats stood to make the picture. Isn’t it odd that the cloud formation is so similar?

Fifteen years later, another notable artist was captured in the same spot, but this time it was an actor. In the television series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, from the book by John Le Carré, the great English actor Alec Guiness was filmed in a scene with the actor Terence Rigby. They are both senior spies discussing the political intrigues of the ‘circus,’ their nickname for the MI6 branch at Cambridge Circus in Central London.

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HA Money

                   Vienna, Virginia, circa 1920. “H.A. Money.” The undertaker Howard A. Money (1859-1931). National Photo Company Collection glass negative.

This strange photograph appeared on the vintage photo website Shorpy.com, always an entertaining way to waste some time. It records a Virginian undertaker in the early 20th century. 

The frontal and symmetric composition has all the grace of a passport photo and it’s something you instinctively avoid in portraits as it looks gauche. The subject is dumped in the centre of the frame and stares back dumbly with no protective cover. It’s a style without rhetoric – there’s no posing from the sitter and no artistic flourish from the photographer.

Still, it has the advantage of a certain honesty. The subject is unguarded and  more open, and the transaction with the photographer is more straightforward – just capture the likeness.

August Sander, the most august of all portrait photographers, occasionally employed this frontal pose, notably in the two examples below.

                                         August Sander, The painter Anton Räderscheidt, Cologne, 1927

                                         August Sander, Soldier, 1940

Behind the Gare Saint Lazare in 2016

                                                Henri Cartier-Bresson, Behind the Gare Saint Lazare, 1932

In late 2016 I made a pilgrimage to the Gare St Lazare, the Paris train station where Henri Cartier-Bresson made his fateful snap in 1932.

This was the first photograph that hit me with the potential of photography, that “light bulb moment”. Seeing it as a teenager at the old National Gallery of Victoria I thought to myself “Oh, so you can do this with photography.”

              About where that man is walking, 24 year old Henri held his camera up against the fence and pressed the shutter just as an unknown man leapt across the puddle. It is a trivial moment captured for ever, with all the elements caught in a perfect equilibrium. 

Ross Coulter at the NGV

Ross Coulter’s Audience is an installation of 400 black & white prints mounted in an orderly grid around the walls of the NGV’s small photography gallery. It’s part of the Festival of Photography. The arrangement makes you smile as you enter, it’s implausibly busy and abundant, until you realise the photographs all show one thing. Each 10×8 (darkroom) print shows visitors standing around in galleries, apparently staring at off-screen artworks. It’s really one subject multiplied four hundred times, although the artist shot in over seventy galleries.

Your own stance while looking at the prints mirrors the content of the photos, so there’s not much to see. The figures in the photos are standing around like you are, but the ‘joke’ is that the visitors in the prints are looking at nothing, they are staring at absent performance art that Coulter has asked them to imagine. They are in empty galleries.

Observing the visitors to the NGV itself, you can see the confusion and disappointment, there is not much to reward their attention, since the photos are echoes of themselves. They read the wall label then go back to try some more. All they see are people just like them, doing no more than they are. It’s a curious hall of mirrors.

A review of Justin Art House Museum

I’ve been mentioned in a review of the exhibition Digital: The World of Alternative Realities. This is at the new Justin Art House Museum in Prahran,

The review is in Artlink magazine, which covers contemporary art and ideas from the Asia-Pacific. Click here to read the full article, written by Emily Cormack. Here’s the part where my work is mentioned:

Greg Neville in his work GoooOg (2012) uses satellite images sourced from Google Earth and reconfigured as mirrored, symmetrical compositions. These configurations treat the terrain as raw material, offering a new order completely unrelated to the towns and cities represented in the sourced images. 

In both Neville and Haley’s works the terrain depicted is irrelevant, the material reality of the stock or Google Earth image is discarded in favour of the artist’s creative schema. This is not appropriation, it is more like Baudrillard’s retelling of Borge’s fable of the cartographers who drew up a map so detailed that it covered the land represented so that the “territory no longer precedes the map.

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I’m at the Justin Art House Museum

jahm

The Justin Art House Museum is opening tonight with this exhibition, Digital: the World of Alternative Realities. I’m one of the artists in this exhibition of contemporary digital art from the collection of Leah and Charles Justin. The galleries where the collection is on display share space in their extraordinary Prahran home. The museum is open to the public on Sundays and Wednesdays, click here for details.

“The works are predominantly non-figurative and abstract. The collection includes a diverse spectrum of art practice including painting, sculpture, works on and from paper, and photography.”

“This exhibition will explore the virtual worlds constructed by the artists, examining the notions of alternate universes, dystopian visions, through to providing social commentary on our existing world.”

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The work I have in the show is from my Gooog series of a couple of years ago: 

“The online software programme Google Earth is a vast mapping and surveillance project. Combined with Google Street View, it is the most ambitious photographic project in history. Through a simple mirroring process, the endless twisting and looping highways that criss-cross the planet become beautiful decorative designs, like tapestries or Persian carpets.”

gooog

That description leaves out a dystopian element to the work, because I wanted to create a beautiful representation of pointlessness. The images in Gooog are screen-captures of looping highways from Google Earth. The patterend effect was intended to create an image of futile, circling journeys like the pattern of ant paths seen from above.

The Gooog image sits well in the company on the gallery walls, as other works in the show share the same unsettling vision of the planet. Yang Yongliang, Gregory Bennett, Stephen Haley and others envision the world in vast repeating patterns of human settlement and behaviour. But not all of it is threatening. In his opening address, Charles Justin talked about the dilemma of taking a pessimistic or optimistic view of the earth’s future, joking that “a pessimist is an optimist who is a realist!”

In his opening speech, the acclaimed scientist professor Tim Flannery, linked the digital art processes in the show to the body’s own digitally encoded DNA, which produces the body’s protein. He made poetic observations about DNA, a digital system, producing the analogue protein and fat of the human brain, which in turn devises its own digital calculations for producing art.

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Festival of Photography at the NGV

pieter-hugo-ngv                         Pieter Hugo, Green Point Common, Cape Town 2013

This is a big deal: the National Gallery of Victoria will be presenting a series contemporary photography exhibitions for its Festival of Photography from March to August. It will take over a number of galleries across the NGV, presenting new acquisitions of Australian and international works acquired over recent years.

Four Australian photo-artists are featured, with solo shows by Bill Henson, Patrick Pound, Zoë Croggon and Ross Coulter. In addition there will be a major exhibition of William Eggleston’s portraits, recently shown London’s National Portrait Gallery.

Other displays will include work by Sophie Calle, Pieter Hugo, Polly Borland, Adam Fuss, Thomas Demand and many others.

“The NGV Festival of Photography provides an opportunity to be immersed in exciting new works of photography, digitally produced prints as well as film based projects by both established and emerging artists.”

The Festival of Photography is a very impressive event on the calendar and will run between March and August. Check the NGV website for details of individual shows and events.