The La Brea Matrix

Stephen Shore, Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21 1975

The Le Brea Matrix is a project based on Stephen Shore’s great photograph of Los Angeles. The image was one of Shore’s clearest achievements in establishing a way of using colour objectively, in the context of the so-called New Colour Photography movement of the 1970s and 80s. It’s nonchalance of viewpoint – seemingly a glance up a suburban street, plus the banality of the subject matter, disguise a tight and sophisticated composition.

A group of German photographers are paying hommage to this image through the La Brea Matrix, an exhibition, book and website project. Each of the six photographers has photographed in L.A. interpreting the messages contained in Shore’s 1975 image. The photographers are Jens Liebchen, Oliver Sieber, Olaf Unverzart, Robert Voit, Janko Woltersmann and Max Regenberg

Olaf Unverzart

Janko Waltersmann

Robert Voit

Jens Liebchen

Porter and Shore

Louis Porter, from Unknown Land, 2010

Is there something familiar to you about this image of dreary suburban corner? It was taken by the brilliant Melbourne photographer Louis Porter who has a line in wry visual humour of a uniquely Australian kind. He focusses on the banal corners of everyday life but injects them with wit and sophistication.

Porter’s image is a take on Stephen Shore’s great photograph of a street corner in Texas. That image (below) was part of the currency of the postmodern debates of the 1980s about Culture and Nature (remember Baudrillard?). Clearly, nature was losing.

That lonely, neutered tree was an echo of the lonely, neutered man on the corner, his slumped shoulders denoting the exhaustion of the western male hero that the location – El Paso – evoked.

Porter’s image even lacks the tree, replaced by a garbage bin, or by the traffic sign. The resigned body language is the same though, the shambolic figure is at one with the landscape of suburbia.

Stephen Shore, El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas, July 5, 1975


Tim Handfield’s Deep Skin

Tim Handfield, Tomatoes, Trenerry Crescent, Abbotsford, 2004-o6

Melbourne photographer Tim Handfield has a retrospective at Monash Gallery of Art, the first time a significant amount of his work has ever been shown. It’s called Deep Skin. Handfield has pursued his photography over the decades despite putting much of his energy into his photographic businesses, including the processing lab called The Colour Factory.

In an artist’s talk at the gallery he described his affinity to the New Colour Photography, an American movement which grew out of the pioneering work of William Eggleston and Stephen Shore in the seventies. New Colour photographers tended to focus on un-picturesque subjects, seeking to find some kind of beauty in the ordinary details of everyday life. It is an observational aesthetic, avoiding sentiment or ideology. Its key quality is a scrupulous detachment, although sometimes touched by irony and visual wit.

This could describe Handfield’s images, especially his early work of the 1970s and his late work of the 2000s. They have an incisive optical clarity, focussing on the colour relationships in his subjects. He is an expert in colour, finding luminous colour relationships in the ordinary world: suburban walls, industrial lanes, a pile of kids’ bikes. “He knows how to harvest the commonplace, and wring beauty from it,” Chris Wallace-Crabbe states in his catalogue essay.

You can see more work on Tim Handfield’s website.