The documentary take

Page 1

The documentary take Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser, Simryn Gill, Ponch Hawkes, Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Louis Porter, Patrick Pound, Charlie Sofo and David Wadelton curated by Naomi Cass Centre for Contemporary Photography Melbourne Festival 1 October–13 November 2016



The documentary take

She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera.i Documentary photography and contemporary art are existentially quite distinct practices. Occasionally, with the passing of time, great documentary lifts from the contact sheet, the magazine page or the small print run book and finds its way onto the walls of museums as art.ii When documentary jumps category, long held divisions between the meaning and circulation of documentary and that of art are confounded. The documentary take sits alongside a magnificent example, the magazine work of Walker Evans.iii The man in the gabardine suit could well have been Walker Evans. The documentary take invites the question, what aspects of documentary practice are seeping into contemporary art now? Conversely we might ask, how does documentary maintain its claim to authenticity in the digital world, against the avalanche of circulating images and rise of the citizen journalist? In his commentary and practice, Evans distinguished between documentary as a forensic practice and the ‘documentary style’, which he saw as art making. For conceptual artists of the 20th century, documentary offered a vessel — rich in formal devices such as the gritty black and white image, repetition, a quasi-scientific tone — one strangely open to the randomness and cerebral ends of conceptualism. With the exception of work by Ponch Hawkes and David Wadelton, the artists represented here are far from documentarians, yet each benefits from proximity to the foundational practice of Walker Evans. Over the past decade, contemporary art has positioned itself in a more obvious and robust engagement with the world, from relational aesthetics to performance, as well as those practices that interrogate the archive. As the medium of record, both still and moving image has been taken into the rubric of contemporary art. Accessibility and ubiquity of

i. Simon and Garfunkel, America, 1968.

ii. Participating artist and historian, Patrick Pound, cautions me here: Walker Evans was an exception to the rule. His documentary was the first to gain entry to a museum as art in 1938, well before art photography managed a solo show in a public gallery. The resistance, Pound reminds me, was to the medium rather than the style. Photography was slow to be considered art in the museum context despite huge international efforts and Pictorialism’s dominance outside the museum. Evans’ works were immediately acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, while Atget’s were only in retrospect. iii. Walker Evans: The Magazine Work exhibition curated by David Campany, Galleries 1 and 2: Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2016. 3

iv. Sonia Leber in conversation with the author, 27 September 2016.

v. Kyla McFarlane, “Attending to the Real: Documentary Photography Now”, 2005 Leica/CCP Documentary Photography Award, exh. cat., Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, 2005.

vi. Patrick Pound in correspondence with the author, 28 September 2016.


hand-held recording devices has meant that when in the street, the artist is still within the studio.iv While Walker Evans may or may not be directly influential for these artists, his work forms a language that is now background knowledge for the making of both images and meaning. In his prodigious ability to use his eye/the camera to gather the world in a purposeful manner; to arrange images where the sum is greater than the parts; in his mix of gentle respect and critical comment, Evans renders documentary an expressive tool. Perhaps documentary photography and video enable contemporary art to “attend to the real”,v without binding it to an evidential or utilitarian intention. Sonia Leber and David Chesworth’s two video works reveal industrial and public spaces in which time appears to have come to a standstill. However, these cinematic images and soundscapes reveal that time is still lived where temporality is embodied in rituals, remnant technologies and in the process of viewing time-based media itself. These video works share a parallel interest with Walker Evans in lost technologies, the colour-way of abandoned workplaces, the passing of time. Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser use photography to give form and context to ideas, rather than as an end in itself. Performative, staged and documentary modes of photography riotously co-exist within their installations, where documenting the world is at once political, profound, experimental and farcical. Here, a monumental black and white print of the housing commission flats on Gertrude Street is embellished with what might, or might not be going on behind its brutal facade. Vignettes of family life in still and moving image sit alongside unheimlich portraits of brown skinned and gollywog dolls. Simryn Gill places the camera on tables in street cafes, taking photographs without permission and without the ability to frame her image. Reminiscent of Evans’ candid and surreptitious photographs, Gill’s process is conceptual in its near randomness. It is a quest to see what the camera sees. And yet these small, hand printed, black and white photographs are tender and revel in the camera’s largely unheralded, mournful ability to hold that which is now lost. For Gill the camera is a subtle instrument taking in the world and yet flouting the rules of good photography. Patrick Pound works with found photographic images, making miraculously interwoven references to type and difference, to time and its recording, similarity and happenstance. Pound lifts photographs from the obscurity of personal archives via the internet, testing the veracity and instrumentality of the documentary record, and in his own words, “making trouble for photography”.vi Influential for Pound is Evans’ idea of the documentary style and his quasi-narrative editing style, where his own and found images are juxtaposed to bring a level of expressive complexity and irony not inherent within the single document, but rather in it’s gestalt. Widely known for her feminist and social documentation practice, in this early series Ponch Hawkes works within the cornerstones of documentary:

Walker Evans, ‘Rapid Transport’, i.e. The Cambridge Review, Winter 1956.

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Time Mirror 2016 (video still). Courtesy the artists.

Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser, Snap out of it 2014 (detail). 6Courtesy the artists and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.

in serial form and with traditional black and white, gelatin silver prints. Present at the 1982 Melbourne Marathon and armed with an interest in community engagement and debates surrounding the exclusion of women from the Olympic marathon, Hawkes photographed women as they crossed the finish line. This series demonstrates a faith in documentary to shoulder both a purposeful representation of the world and to make art. Documentary is a significant thread within Louis Porter’s practice, however his is a wry and sophisticated document. Porter dismantles a photographic archive and in doing so he constructs as much as he responds to the world. In his judicious placement of images, it is unclear which are de-contextualised elements from a 1980s financial newspaper and which have been taken by the artist in Melbourne. In both subject matter and craft, Charlie Sofo’s video is humble and familiar. With the economy and elegance of haiku, he constructs profound observations about the urban world. Surprisingly formalist and rhythmical, Sofo’s work for the Night Projection Window attends to Fitzroy’s vernacular architecture, finding unintentional symmetry, playfully foregrounding the camera’s ability to record loss. David Wadelton is perhaps a direct inheritor of the documentary style, and in a contemporary take on documentary’s origin in magazines, Wadelton has ‘published’ his photographs dating back to the 70s in the contemporary platform of our age: via the internet and social media. In a playful twist, Wadelton’s Northcote Hysterical Society has been returned to the page for this exhibition, in the form of a tabloid, replete with Facebook comments. The documentary take — which is after all my construct — finds a haunting and flowing presence of Walker Evans within the work of these contemporary artists. From a respect for the patina and values embodied in material culture, perhaps teetering on the nostalgic, through to an intelligent eye and ear for the real world and the candid photograph, Evans is present. In attending to the real, the quest for the documentarian is to record and reveal something of the world, while that of the contemporary artist is to make meaning, in and of the world. Naomi Cass Exhibition Curator and CCP Director September 2016


Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser Snap out of it 2014 wallpaper, video and Hahnemuhle Photo Rag dimensions variable

Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser, Snap out of it 2014 (detail). Courtesy the artists and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. Photo by Jessica Maurer.

artist statement


Snap out of it is the most recent of a series of room-sized installations we’ve made in the last decade. It’s the second using black and white photographic wallpaper as the enclosing element. We’ve digitally compressed and compiled images of the brutalist public housing towers in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy — ten minutes walk from this gallery — fictionalising them and turning them inside out. The actors in our dramas here are human relatives, dolls, concrete figures, a fake fur rug and some jelly filled balloons. The artists gratefully appreciate the support of Michael and Silvia Kantor, Colour Factory, Ilford and City of Yarra.

Virginia Fraser and Destiny Deacon have worked together in various ways for nearly 25 years, they also have their own independent art practices. Their collaborative video and installation projects have been exhibited around Australia and overseas, and are held in various public and private collections including the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. They have participated in major group exhibitions, including Whisper in My Mask, Tarrawarra Biennial (2015); Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2014); Land, Sea and Sky, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2011) and many others.


Simryn Gill Selfcontainer 2009–2016 black and white photographs 20.3 x 25.4cm each (selection of 78 from 100 images)

artist statement

The camera is sat on the table, its lens uncapped, looking outward, somewhat absentminded, maybe. At least that’s what I hope — that the camera seems to be simply in a careless-ish frame of mind, inattentive to itself. Off duty (so that it hasn’t even noticed that its lens cap has slipped off). At rest. I drink my coffee, read my book. Occasionally I look up, draw it out of itself, press the trigger.



Simryn Gill lives in Port Dickson, Malaysia and in Sydney, Australia. Her methods include photography, drawing, making collections, and making books. Some recent solo exhibitions include Sweet Chariot, Griffith University Art Museum, Brisbane (2016), The (Hemi)Cycle of Paper and Leaves, Gent Fine Art Museum, Gent (2016), Hugging the Shore, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, Singapore (2015).

Simryn Gill, Self-containers 2009-2016 (detail). Courtesy the artist.


Ponch Hawkes These women have just run twenty-six miles 1982 gelatin silver prints 18.8 x 12.6cm each Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection Acquired with assistance from the Robert Salzer Foundation 2013

artist statement

These women have just run twenty-six miles is from another time: A time in history when sporting authorities thought women were not strong enough for a 42 kilometre (26 mile) event. A time when there was no Women’s Marathon in the Olympic Games. A time when there seemed to be a great number of activities that women weren't supposed to either attempt or enjoy.



Ponch Hawkes is a Melbourne-based photographic artist whose work has been widely exhibited and published in Australia. A significant part of Hawkes’ output is documentary, and a commentary on Australian society and cultural life since the 1970s. In her work she considers topics such as: the body and movement; sport; circus and theatre; the environment and community; and relationships — with a feminist purpose. She is represented in major collections including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; State Library of Victoria, Melbourne; and Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne as well as in regional and local galleries and private collections.

Ponch Hawkes, ‘Untitled 1982’ from the series These women have just run twenty-six miles, 1982 (deatils). Courtesy the artist and Monash Gallery of Art.

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth Time Mirror, 2016 HD video, silent, 5 minutes

artist statement

Time Mirror presents a scene of cinematic consciousness. Framed by the stairway entrance to the underground railway, the daily flow of city commuters is unexpectedly halted, revealing an arrangement of arrested people experiencing pure duration. The fleeting encounter is repeated over and over with variations and interventions that are hardly noticeable, subtly affecting our own viewing of the image.

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Time Mirror 2016 (video still). Courtesy the artists.



Sonia Leber and David Chesworth work across video, photography, sound and installation art. Solo exhibitions include Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne (2014); Detached/MONA FOMA, Hobart (2012); Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Perth (2011); and Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2007). Group exhibitions include Borders, Barriers, Walls, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne (2016); Substation Contemporary Art Prize, Melbourne (winner, 2016); 56th Venice Biennale: All the World’s Futures, Venice (2015), 19th Biennale of Sydney: You Imagine What You Desire, Sydney (2014), Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2013-14); Gold Coast Art Prize, Gold Coast (winner, 2014); and Stealing the Senses, Govett-Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth (2011).

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth We Are Printers Too, 2013 HD video, 5.1 audio, 16 minutes

artist statement

We Are Printers Too is a large-scale high-definition video set in the former Age newspaper headquarters in Melbourne. Speculative and archaeological, the work emerges from this vacant, purpose-built building that once produced the daily news, from its pre-digital technologies and lost modes of communication. Exploring the material and sonic byproducts of communication, Leber and Chesworth punctuate the work with typesetting, telex, relay mechanisms of a pre-digital telephone exchange, Morse code and the sound of a voice struggling to speak. Performers: Leah Scholes, Zela Papageorgiou, Matthew Horsley, Alice HuiSheng Chang, Sven Topp and Dennis Witcombe. The artists gratefully appreciate the support of Industry Super Property Trust, Knight Frank, Melbourne Museum of Printing, Telstra Museum, John Riddett and the Morsecodians.

15 Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, We Are Printers Too 2013 (video still). Courtesy the artists.

Louis Porter #1 Appendix I: Anatomy of a Businessman 2012 #2 Appendix I: Anatomy of a Businessman 2012 #4 Appendix I: Anatomy of a Businessman 2012 #8 Appendix I: Anatomy of a Businessman 2012 Each work: silkscreen print on Arches 88 cotton rag, archival tape mounted in Perspex box 66cm x 52cm

Louis Porter ABA_5 from The Anatomy of Business 2012 AB52_1 from The Anatomy of Business 2012 ABA_47 from The Anatomy of Business 2012 AB28_1 from The Anatomy of Business 2012 AB33_1 from The Anatomy of Business 2012 ABA_52 from The Anatomy of Business 2012 AB34_1 from The Anatomy of Business 2012 AB9_1 from The Anatomy of Business 2012 AB48_1 from The Anatomy of Business 2012 ABA_54 from The Anatomy of Business 2012 Each work: pigment print on Baryta paper mounted on 3mm Dibond 52cm x 40cm

artist statement


The Anatomy of Business examines the visual language of business through the appropriation of an archive of 1980s financial newspaper photographs, acquired by the artist in early 2008. The project breaks the archive down into a series of anonymous “gestures”, which — stripped of their original context and set against the inevitable backdrop of a world in financial turmoil — become both absurd and sinister. These fragments are juxtaposed with a series of photographs produced in response to the archive and in the business district of the same city that the original images were taken.

Louis Porter is a British born artist whose work examines the possibilities of photographic accumulation. His work has been exhibited widely throughout Australia and overseas including Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2013-14). Several international collections have acquired his work including: The Victoria and Albert Museum, United Kingdom; The Peabody Essex Museum, United States of America; the FRAC Centre Orléans, France; and the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Norway. In 2013 he established his own imprint, Twenty Shelves, its second book was selected for the 2013 International Fotobook Award, Kassel, Germany. He is a member of the international artists’ group The Artists’ Book Cooperative and a current Kaleid Editions fellow.


Louis Porter, AB33_1 from The Anatomy of Business 2012. Courtesy the Artist.


Patrick Pound drive by (en passant) 2009 ongoing found photographs dimensions variable

artist statement


To collect is to gather your thoughts through things. Amongst other things, I collect photographs in categories from photographer’s thumbs to photographer’s shadows. One collection is made up of hundreds of found photographs of people who look dead but (probably) aren’t. drive by (en passant) is an ongoing collection of found photographs of people in passing cars. It is a Muybridge-like cinematic parade of people, cars and photographs heading left and right. Rather than taking photographs, I buy them on eBay. These are documentary records that have been cast adrift. My work tests the limits of found photographs, and of sets of collected things, to hold ideas. Some coherence or meaning might be found in the accumulation of details. The collections are at once a reflecting pool and a portal. In the end it is a rather melancholy performance. My work treats the world as if were a puzzle to be solved. It seems to say: if only we could find all the pieces we might solve the puzzle, or at least work towards some sort of coherence. We might even find an occasional poetic alignment here and there. It is something of a folly of course. Like life, art is after all a tragi-comic affair.

In 2017 the National Gallery of Victoria will stage a major survey of Patrick Pound’s collection works, including several interventions with the collections of the NGV, across the entire ground floor at Federation Square. Pound’s work is held in numerous public gallery collections in Australia and New Zealand including: the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington; and Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland.


Patrick Pound, drive by (en passant) 2009 ongoing, (detail). Courtesy the artist, Stills Gallery, Station Gallery, Hamish McKay Gallery and Melanie Roger Gallery.


Charlie Sofo Split 2014 video, 3 minutes


Charlie Sofo is a visual artist, currently residing in Melbourne. He holds an MFA from the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, 2013. He completed a studio residency at Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne in 2014. Sofo has exhibited widely in Australia, his most recent solo show presented at Melbourne's Living Museum of the West in 2016. He is currently a board member for West Space, Melbourne and Artery Co-operative in Northcote, Melbourne. Sofo is currently artist in residence at Monash University, Prato in Italy.


Charlie Sofo, Split 2014 (video still). Courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery.

artist statement

Split is a slideshow of images taken at the thresholds of separate houses or apartments in Melbourne’s Northern Suburbs. These borders between living spaces are articulated by straight or wobbly lines of paint, or other forms of delineation (like new and old corrugated roofs).


David Wadelton The Northcote Hysterical Society 1976 – 2016 newspaper (edition of 1500) 40.5 x 28.9cm

artist statement


I moved to Northcote in 1975. Lacking money or a car, and inspired by documentary photography of Eugene Atget, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and the Bechers, I photographed my local area with an eye for the vernacular and quotidian. I favoured places I could easily access and shot several rolls of b&w film a month, right up to 1981, resulting in several thousand images. In 2007 I revisited my contact sheets and realised the photos captured a rapidly vanishing world. I established the Northcote Hysterical Society in 2008 and social media provided a convenient publishing platform. Something I couldn’t predict was the rich vein of anecdote and memory that the photos triggered. Comments made by members of “the Society” about images reveal their social history and add an invaluable dimension to the experience of viewing them.

David Wadelton is a Melbourne-based artist. He holds a Diploma of Fine Art from Preston Institute, Melbourne, 1976 and Graduate Diploma of Fine Art from Phillip Institute of Technology, Melbourne 1982. Wadelton has had 27 solo exhibitions since 1984, including solo shows at Pinacoteca, Melbourne; Rex Irwin Gallery, Sydney; Robert Lindsay Gallery, Melbourne; and Lister Gallery, Perth. Wadelton has had two major career survey exhibitions; Pictorial Knowledge, Geelong Art Gallery, Geelong (1998); and Icons Of Suburbia, McClelland Gallery, Langwarrin (2011). Wadelton has participated in numerous group shows including: Vision and Disbelief, the 4th Biennale of Sydney (1982); and Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2013-14). His work is represented in collections including the Australian National Gallery, Canberra; National Gallery Of Victoria, Melbourne; and Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne.


23 David Wadelton, Elderly Greek lady’s house, Northcote 2015. Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries.


Walker Evans: The Magazine Work, curated by David Campany and The documentary take, which I have curated, are presented as part of the 2016 Melbourne Festival. I thank Jonathan Holloway, Artistic Director of the Festival and Festival staff for a successful collaboration. It has been a pleasure to work with the Festival in achieving both exhibitions. We are grateful to David Campany for lending his exhibition, Walker Evans: The Magazine Work, and I thank him for his engagement. To the artists who have lent their work and their observations, CCP is grateful, particularly those for whom documentary practice is not foremost in their mind. I thank lenders to the exhibition, Monash Gallery of Art and ACMI. Financial assistance from a range of supporters has been critical to realising these exhibitions and catalogue. I acknowledge and thank government, art sector and university supporters: The Melbourne Festival; the Australia Council through a Project Grant; the City of Yarra; Deakin Motion Lab Centre for Creative Arts Research, Deakin University; and MADA, Monash University. Corporate supporters are gratefully acknowledged: Lovell Chen; Michael and Silvia Kantor; Colour Factory; Ilford; Michaels Camera-Video-Digital; Tint Design; Art Series Hotels Group; Loom Towels; and International Art Services. CCP acknowledges the significant contribution of David Campany, keynote speaker for the symposium, Walker Evans: Reading the Magazine Work, presented by Deakin Motion Lab Centre for Creative Arts Research, Deakin University, MADA, Monash University and CCP as part of the Melbourne Festival. I thank the other valued speakers, Patrick Pound, Donna West Brett and Chair, Daniel Palmer. Patrick Pound, CCP Board member is to be acknowledged for his wide-ranging contributions. Patrick has miraculously contributed to The documentary take as exhibiting artist, valued advisor, grant writer, preparator extraordinaire and symposium co-organiser. CCP continues to benefit from the engagement and support of a number of individuals in the photography industry and I personally acknowledge Phil Virgo from Colour Factory and Marc Payet from Ilford, all wallpapers owe their superb production values to both gentlemen. CCP staff are recognised for their valued contributions: Anna Reid, Pippa Milne, Christina Apostolidis, Ellenie Zahariou and Adelina Onicas. Jack Loel is acknowledged for magnificently stepping into the exhibition graphic design on his first day with CCP. And with affection, I acknowledge and thank Michelle Mountain, Assistant Curator for her sterling work.

The documentary take is curated and published by Centre for Contemporary Photography 2016. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical (including photocopying, recording or any information retrieval system) without permission from the publisher. © the artists, writer and Centre for Contemporary Photography 2016. assistant curator

Michelle Mountain design

Jack Loel preparators

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the artists

Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser, Simryn Gill, Ponch Hawkes, Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Louis Porter, Patrick Pound, Charlie Sofo and David Wadelton Centre for Contemporary Photography is supported by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria and is assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its principal arts funding and advisory body. Centre for Contemporary Photography is supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian state and territory governments. CCP is a member of CAOs Contemporary Arts Organisations of Australia. federal and state government funding

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