Man in the Street explained

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My new solo exhibition Man in the Street opens next Wednesday, June 10, at Tacit gallery, 312 Johnston St Abbotsford. This is the catalogue essay I wrote:

The human figures in this exhibition are details enlarged from Edwardian travel postcards. Over a century ago, from rooftops and high vantage points, photographers aimed their large plate cameras down at the street to capture urban scenes of pictorial interest.
By accident individuals passed into view and gave the buildings scale. They have few individual features, but a century ago they were real people and were preserved for ever at the moment of exposure.

The tiny scale of the figures in the postcards, only a few milimetres in size, combined with the ink dots that print- ed them to abstract their shape to the last degree of recognition. Scaled up in the exhibition the figures are beginning to dissolve into anonymity and formlessness.

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Man in the Street is part of my continuing exploration of entropy and disorder in representations of male identity. Working through a series of related projects over several years, I have been exploring the subject of masculine alienation and doubt. Using appropriated imagery taken from books, advertisements and even toys, photo-based techniques are used to process the imagery into new visual artefacts.

This project uses small details from my collection of early 20th century postcards. Its subject is the solitary male figure in public places and explores the commonplace idea that the individual is alone even in a crowd. This separateness extends to the interior world of consciousness, and the images in the exhibition seem to capture these anonymous figures deep in thought.

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The postcards used for these pictures are of London, Hamburg and other bursting cities of the new century. The rapid urban growth at that time meant there were new wonders to behold and new sights to capture. In New York and Chicago the skyscraper was born and a whole industry of postcards followed their upward progress.

Tourism and business travel provided a market for keepsakes, and as emigration flourished, families separated by vast distances were held together tenuously by photos and by postcards such as these, with their brief and, for us today, melancholy messages of love and attachment.

Since the photographs were made in the first years of the twentieth century, the people in these pictures are long dead; they have entered the oblivion suggested by their disintegrating forms in the pictures. But the cam- era can bring them back to life, at least provisionally, and they reach out to us across the intervening century. Photography is a time machine: when the shutter opens and closes, a thin slice of time is captured. That mo- ment is preserved while time moves on remorselessly.

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The anonymous men in these pictures are going about their busy work or are stopped in apparent contemplation. We can’t know what world of feelings they inhabited but they appear alone in their thoughts and caught up in the drama of their daily life. Perhaps the camera has captured them sulking over some perceived slight, or plotting a secret business advantage, or daydreaming about some romantic attraction. Whatever the case, they are frozen forever in that unknown moment.

Greg Neville 2015

 

Man in the Street

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Greg Neville, Man in the Street 1, 2015

My new solo exhibition, Man in the Street, opens at Tacit gallery on June 10.

The source of these images is my collection of Edwardian travel postcards, views of New York, London and other cities at the start of the 20th century.

These postcards show big city streets and tall buildings, but in the details you can find tiny human figures, a few millimetres in size, who happened to be captured by the camera. Enlarged to make gallery-size prints, the figures are fragmented by the printers dots and have an elemental quality, bordering on abstraction.

These anonymous individuals are caught up in their busy work, or stand motionless, seemingly lost in thought. Since they were photographed more than a century ago, they are long dead, but the camera brings them back to life, at least provisionally.

The exhibition opens at Tacit Contemporary Art, 312 Johnston St Abbotsford, on June 10, from 6.30 to 8pm. It runs until June 21.

Neville-card

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Direct Positive

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Greg Neville, Prahran abstract, 2014

This photograph was made in a 5×4 pinhole camera loaded with Harmann Direct Positive paper. The subject is a sunlit wall seen through a window.

Harmann Direct Positive is a fibre-based paper that gives you a positive print without the negative stage. Development is in normal print chemicals. The paper is rated at 3 ISO, so the f128 aperture needed a four minute exposure. A curious feature is that longer exposure time results in lighter images rather than darker, as habit would tell you. The extreme contrast is typical when using darkroom papers exposed in daylight. And being an image from the camera, it’s mirror-reversed.

Unfortunately the paper is currently unavailable from Ilford. Legal difficulties with the defunct Harmann Switzerland mean supplies are unlikely in “the medium term.” Let’s hope it’s resolved.

To demonstrate the potential of this paper, Serbian photographer Braca Nadezdic has made a series of portraits on Harmann paper, rated at 1.5 ISO.

 


Momentary exhibition

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Greg Neville, installation view, Momentary, Tacit Contemporary Art, 2014

Momentary is a group exhibition at Tacit Contemporary Art in Johnston St Abbotsford. It’s open until Sunday December 21. I share the gallery with colleagues (and former students) Bernadette Boundy, Sue Lock, Margot Sharman, Sally D’Orsogna and Cathy Hayward. The theme is the word Momentary, a suitable hook for a photomedia exhibition. My work is a small series of faded portraits:

John Greenleaf Whittier was a 19th century American poet and anti-slavery campaigner. Such was his fame that towns were named after him, and yet today he is largely forgotten. These images are taken from the portraits of Whittier in the six-volume complete works published in 1888, the printed engravings show him at different ages, from young to old. The dis-coloured paper and fading likenesses show the dissolving effects of age and decay, the arrow of time.

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Whittier 3

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Momentary

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My last exhibition for 2014 is a group show called Momentary, opening next week at Tacit. This is the third annual exhibition with this group of friends who are former students of mine. The theme is the word momentary, chosen for its allusion to the photographic process but open to wide interpretation.

My work is a series of prints taken from the engraved portraits of the 19th century poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Each of his six-volume complete works published in 1888 contains a portrait made at a different stage of his life, from young to old. The discolouring and fading makes a beautiful and melancholy image.

Momentary opens at Tacit Contemporary Art, 312 Johnston Street, Abbotsford at 6.30pm on Wednesday December 3.

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Greg Neville, Whittier 1, 2014

Carbon Black Snapshot

Snapshot

My next exhibition is called Snapshot: Contemporary Photography, a group show at Carbon Black gallery in Prahran. The gallery is at 239 High St, just near Chapel St. It opens this Thursday, September 25, and runs until 5 October.

Carbon Black gallery is run by Tim Bruce who is also co-director of Edmund Pearce gallery, where my recent solo exhibition, Burn, was held. Snapshot includes the work of some prominent photographers including Jacqueline Felstead, Chris Budgeon and Michael Corridore who have also shown at Edmund Pearce.

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Sean’s Gooog

Dan-Sean-Gooog

This is the catalogue essay Sean Payne wrote for my current exhibition Gooog, which is showing at Tacit Contemporary Art. Design by Daniel Neville.

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The word-fragment ‘Gooog’ stamps Greg Neville’s works derived from the virtual globe as emblems of their time. It appears in several of his pictures, a found palindrome, the number of vowels determined by the size of the segment he clips, duplicates and mirrors from the world-sized image in which it originally appeared.

 He is one of many contemporary artists whose primary material is Google Earth, an internet-based snapshot of geological, sociological, and architectural time; a matrix of images stitched to make a virtual world.

 He treats the images as found objects, stitching them together, upending the usual orientations around a central point. The repetition of the technique is another step in Neville’s long-held interest in found images and in automatic processes of generating imagery, whose outcome is only partly directed or predictable.

 The matrix irresistibly evokes Persian carpets, and like a magic carpet, we use it to fly above the world through a virtual sky. Looking down, human concerns blur into abstraction, another detail in the landscape.

 Roads carry associations in our culture with the promise of the future, the sense that things might be better somewhere else. But Neville’s roads lead nowhere, in endless loops, ironically denying the possibility of progress. In conversation, he links this with information decay, of things running down, energy distributed toward a state of equilibrium, entropy. When applied to human endeavours, as it is here, the image is terrifying.

 From the ground, towers thrust, but reversing the viewpoint strips them of their value as propaganda. The view from above diminishes all it surveys. The satellite is an eye without discrimination, pitiless. Even the turgid aspirations of billionaires to claim possession of the sky, like frontier real estate, are reduced to Babel-like hubris; they are futile, flaccid. ‘In Praise of Folly’ might be this exhibition’s subtitle. In this, Neville’s work reveals kinship with Andreas Gursky, an artist similarly inclined to view human concerns from a distance, subject to forces beyond our control.

 The digital artefacts heightened by the artist emphasise a reading of the world as image, an incomplete one. The best maps, even global positioning systems, describe the landscape imperfectly, as words describe the phenomenal world, with uncertainty. The image breaks when looked at closely enough. The disruptions technically indicate a failure of resolution. In a digital image, this has associations of clarity or sharpness, and when applied to human intentionality, it has the positive echo of resolve. But the double meaning is sourly ironic here. There might be resolve, but the insufficient resolution of the image shows the cracks where reality is imperfectly rendered.

 In the light of recent revelations of domestic surveillance programs of unimaginable size and breadth, the notion that we are all being recorded from the sky feels more sinister than it once did. Lethal use of drones is now frequently reported, and the corporations that make them advertise their photographic and media potential. Certainly, there is a malevolent background frequency to Neville’s often-beautiful images that we can detect when listening hard enough. There is less distinction now between the lens and the gun than ever.

 Sean Payne, Deakin University

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My Gooog

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Greg Neville, Gooog installation, Tacit Contemporary Art, 2014

My exhibition Gooog opened at Tacit last Wednesday. This is my biggest solo exhibition for many years, based on images from Google Earth. It has something to say about photography in the new digital online environment. Google Earth/Google Street View is the largest photographic project in history and it merits attention from photographers and artists.

Tacit Contemporary Art is at 312 Johnston St Abbotsford, and is open Wednesday-Friday 11-6, Saturday-Sunday 11-5.

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