Harry Nankin’s workshops

Of-Great-Western-Tears-2-diptych-2006                         Harry Nankin, The Rain/Quadrat 1, 2005

The esteemed Melbourne photo media artist Harry Nankin will be running photography workshops  from his studio and darkroom in Montmorency next year. They will cover introductory analogue (traditional) photography through to advanced sessions on the philosophy of environmental art. They will range from one to four day sessions.

 Harry has long experience as a photographer and environmental artist. He started in the 1980s as a realist photographer of the natural environment, inspired in part by Peter Dombrovskis who’s wilderness photography played such a part in saving Tasmania’s Franklin River. Harry’s pristine large format photography can be seen here on his website.
Harry once told me that he moved on to his giant immersive photograms of forests and waves because he wanted to have pictures made by nature not of nature. These ambitious projects require planning and special funding plus  teams of assistants but they result in artworks of great beauty and strangeness. They have have been exhibited extensively both here and overseas.
The workshops, which are explained here, will run from April to May 2016 on the following topics:
The Camera and the Darkroom, introducing traditional gelatin silver camera and darkroom craft.
The Plasticity of Silver, on the traditional art of development controls, toning, reduction and intensification of silver materials.
The Remarkable View Camera, on large format ‘view camera’ craft.
Art and Ecology, on thinking and making environmental art.
Harry teaching at Kinglake


Harry Nankin


Melbourne photo media artist Harry Nankin has a new exhibition, briefly. It’s his PhD exhibition which will run for four days, closing this Friday.

“Harry Nankin is an Australian photographer and environmental artist. He often uses the camera-less ‘photogram’ or ‘shadowgram’ to record ecological phenomena: employing processes that are partly land art, partly performance and partly photography, he endeavours to turn the landscape itself into a camera.”

Harry’s website harrynankin.com shows the ambition of his large scale projects. Many of them employ giant sheets of photographic paper exposed directly to the landscape at night. He doesn’t take photographs of nature, nature itself makes the photograph.


Photographic Abstractions

David Moore, Blue Collage, 1983

Abstract photography is a complicated idea. The medium is so closely identified with visual reality that any attempt to move away from it seems contrary to it’s innate purpose.

It’s featured in the exhibition Photographic Abstractions at the Monash Gallery. Different ways into abstraction are presented, and it’s a useful map of the territory as practiced in Australia.

A dictionary definition describes abstract as “having no reference to material objects or specific examples”. That would seem to make it difficult for photography, but the word’s Latin root means “drawing away from” or “removed”.  Abstract art “drew away” from figurative art in the early 20th century when Kandinsky, Delauney and others painted more and more abstractly, arriving at pure abstraction in 1910. But their abstract art developed out of their figurative art.

On that basis, a lot of photography can be described as abstract because it moves away from straight recording of the visual world, into pattern, line, blur etc. The David Moore collage above is comprised of sliced up colour prints of a road surface and sky, but it’s the elegant geometric composition that you see.

Harry Nankin, Cathexis/Fragments 11, 1993

Harry Nankin and Susan Purdey have photograms on display, but surely this technique is the opposite of abstract? An object makes an image of itself on photographic paper without the mediation of a lens or film. It’s a 1:1 relationship in scale and touch, and that sounds like realism to me. Indeed, Harry once told me the reason he moved away from lens-based photography of nature was to get nature itself to make the pictures. But the images are not realistic in the way a colour photograph is, they are more like charcoal drawings.

Robert Owen‘s Endings are perhaps closer to the abstract ideal as they are pure material with no indexical links to an object. They are Kodachrome film ends enlarged into colour prints that are just fields of colour. One of them was from a roll of film (coincidentally) shot on the day Mark Rothko died, and the image has a distinct resemblance to a Rothko abstract painting.

Perhaps there’s a problem in classing this image as abstract – purely abstract. If it was chosen for its resemblance to a Rothko painting then there is a degree of representation in it after all, even if accidental. It is certainly abstract visually, but in resembling something out in the world doesn’t it fulfill photography’s descriptive purpose?

Left: Robert Owen, Endings (Rothko died today) – Kodachrome 64, No 21. 26/02/1970. 2009

Right: Mark Rothko painting, title & date unknown