FRONT COVER TOP:
‘Rose Soady on Horseback’ Photograph by Norman Lindsay
BOTTOM: ‘Lush’ Photograph by Donna Bailey
List of Works:
DONNA BAILEY, all works chromogenic prints:
Violet. 2007 Sunny Sedgwick.2005 Zoë and the big Harcourt sky. 2007 Pale girls & red babies. 2003 Once a lake. 2007 Mulberry Lips. 2004 Lush. 2002 Zoë. 2004 Baby Jack. 2003 Rebeka. 2006 ABOVE:
Photograph by Donna Bailey
We must search out the figures in Donna Bailey’s long shots, consequently they work to develop the landscape as a presence. Visibly ravaged by drought in Once a lake and Violet (both 2007) the land is shown bearing up the human subjects not solely for our attention to them, but for their symbiotic relationship with it. In Sunny Sedgwick (2005) is an abandoned stage, used some years ago for outdoor music festivals. Bailey compositionally aligns it to create a deep frame. The severe form sutures open and tunnels into the exhausted hillside. Tilted eccentrically, it authenticates the facts of sun-bleached stubble, of colour oppressively reinforced by the discordant azure sky. On the porch of this skeleton ‘house’, on a ladder, rests a figure; a young girl. The porch and the drought conjure Walker Evans’ documentation of poor American Mid-West sharecroppers, but here the relationship between figure and terrain exceeds the recording of social and environmental concerns, as significant as they may be to the artist. At a distance quite beyond that of the convention for a portrait, the girl becomes a cipher, visually aligned with the structure. Her consciousness, and ours, are absorbed into the surroundings. Bailey’s established practice is not to direct but to collaborate and converse with her subjects12. The girl’s melancholy is embodied in her posture. A state of holistic receptiveness, assumed by the viewer can be traced evidentially out of the image. In contrast is Lindsay’s imposition of a projected figuration. Is it gender which accounts for the difference between the two artists’ vision of the landscape? (James McArdle is a photographer and Head of the School of Visual Arts and Design, La Trobe University.)
NORMAN LINDSAY, all works posthumous.
Silver gelatin fibre-based photographic prints:
Rose Soady on Horse c. 1905 Rose Soady, Northwood I 1903 Rose Soady, Northwood II 1903 ‘Rose photographed beside Cave in Lane Cove. The cave was used as a hideout by kids’ (Rose Soady, right) c.1905 Blue Mountains Nymph I (after 1910) Blue Mountains Nymph II (after 1910) unidentified model in studio, Springwood, c.1914 NOTES:
Embodied: Representations of land and gender in the photography of Donna Bailey and Norman Lindsay
1 James McArdle, ‘Shifting Ground in some Australian Photography’, In: Frameworks, artworks, place: the space of perception in the modern world. Tim Mehigan (ed.) (Rodolpi; Kenilworth, NY, 2008), pp. 67-82. 2 M. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (Routledge and Kegan Paul; London, 1962). 3 Isobel Crombie, Loti Smorgon Fund. and National Gallery of Victoria., Light sensitive: contemporary Australian photography from the Loti Smorgon Fund (National Gallery of Victoria; Melbourne, 2006). 4 Donna Bailey, ‘Zoe, her friends and me: reflections of a mother/photographer’, 2001), pp. viii, 71 leaves. 5 Kyla McFarlane and Monash University. Museum of Art., The line between us: the material relation in contemporary photography (Monash University Museum of Art; [Clayton, Vic.], 2004). 6 Norman Lindsay, Lin Bloomfield and Josef Lebovic Gallery., The complete etchings of Norman Lindsay (Odana Editions; Sydney, 1998). 7 Rose Lindsay, Model wife: my life with Norman Lindsay (Ure Smith; Sydney, London, 1967). 8 Joanna Mendelssohn, Letters & liars: Norman Lindsay and the Lindsay family (Angus & Robertson; Pymble, N.S.W, 1996). 9 Norman Lindsay, ‘Hyperborea’, In: Vision: a literary quarterly. (The Vision press; Sydney, N.S.W., 1923). 10 Norman Lindsay and Keith Adam, ‘Norman Lindsay interviewed by Keith Adam in the Hazel de Berg collection’, 1965). 11 Lindsay, Bloomfield, Lebovic. Op.cit. 12 Donna Bailey and Centre for Contemporary Photography., Just a girl: Donna Bailey (Centre for Contemporary Photography; Fitzroy, Vic., 2003).
La Trobe University Visual Arts Centre School of Visual Arts and Design 121 View Street, Bendigo, Victoria t. (03) 5441 8724 e. email@example.com w. www.latrobe.edu.au/vacentre/ Acting Managing Curator: Paul Northam Gallery hours: Thur-Sun 11am – 5pm
LA TROBE UNIVERSITY VISUAL ARTS CENTRE 121 VIEW STREET BENDIGO 5 JUNE—13 JULY 2008
Embodied: Representations of land and gender in the photography of Donna Bailey and Norman Lindsay
‘The Crucified Venus’
Reproduced in ‘Norman Lindsay’s Pen Drawings’, published by ‘Art in Australia Limited’, 1923 Collection: Geoff Hocking
Dr James McArdle, 2008s
‘Blue Mountains Nymph’
‘Rose Soady, Northwood’
Photographs by Norman Lindsay
Reproduced with kind permission of Barbara Mobbs
‘Pale Girls & Red Babies’ BELOW RIGHT:
Photographs by Donna Bailey
BEING IN THE LANDSCAPE is the classic instance of the
figure/ground dichotomy. The landscape itself may not register us, but we animate it in the language we use to describe ‘sheltering’ rock, grassy bed, or scratching thorns. The creation of this ‘animus’ presumes purpose in the landscape, but close analysis of our words reveals what is expressed is actually our purpose and our being. The word mountain contains our act of climbing it, and gorge doubles as part of the human body. These words and phrases index the human mind’s interaction with the forms of the earth. It is an overlay imposed because we have to experience with thought and sensation that which is outside us, something for which we are of no consequence but which has great consequence for us1. These are the terms of the figure-ground, in which the self becomes the ‘third term’, as phenomenologist Marcel Merlau-Ponty2 reminds us in his situationist, as opposed to geometric/scientific, mapping of this spatiality. Donna Bailey’s ‘Lush’ (2002)3 was her first substantial foray into colour from a prior practice in monochrome image-making. Set in one corner of this frame is a beach ball in primary colours. It provides a register for the image in more than one sense. Like ‘Kodak Color Control Patches’ which help a professional photographer compare the color of the subject with known printing colors, the ball might provide a colour index for the scene, but it sets up other inescapable comparisons to subvert the association of ball and paddle with childhood holidays when we realise that these are not children. Its roundness immediately is in sympathy with the fecund forms of the figures in the image. We scan these faces; the self-conscious half smile of the girl in profile, the equivocal sucked-in lip of the heavily pregnant young woman and glum distraction of her companion. The symmetrical central figures of this image uncannily improvise, in a found setting, a poignant reprise of the moral divergences in Oscar Rejlander’s laboriously montaged ‘The Two Ways of Life’ (1857). Like repercussions, ripples in the muddy water respond, spreading into the humid summer, but in the background the bush sinks back
dun-coloured, behind the relative luxuriance of bullrushes, and so still that it suspends our breath. A tough poetry and the rough justice of Bendigo’s suburban fringes resonate in these images. A transference penetrates the surface, drawing us into the conversation with these young women, gradually to form an idea of who it is our presence now embodies; not neutral observer, but the maternal persona of someone else’s mother, the one behind the camera4. Empathetic, and sometimes puzzled or bemused, Bailey responds to these girls with the solicitude borne of her own early motherhood, but tempered with a little morose delight. It is with Bailey’s strong persona that the viewer affiliates, as they engage with the eyes, poses and gestures of her subjects. The effect of her maternalist gaze is not to be defined tritely in terms of protectiveness, nurture and comfort as we watch what it returns in the way her subjects constitute themselves in collaboration with5 the photographer. In another body of water a century earlier, opposite Norman Lindsay’s camera, stands the figure of Rose Soady, later Lindsay’s second wife, and soon to be model for the notorious The Crucified Venus 19126, around which raged the
furore of censorship and scandal peculiar to Australia’s response to the arts. Here, in 1902, she is sixteen, the age of the girls in Bailey’s Lush. Two known prints come from the same modeling session, and in one Rose, with hands on hips, poses in a manner more appropriate to the drawing studio (these quite sustained, static poses are common throughout Lindsay’s photographs made even in daylight). In the other, hard sunlight projects her figure into the rippled surface, carrying between model and artist an unmistakable signal of mutual magnetic attraction which accumulates in her complicit grin and the animal mobility of this pose. The location may be along Gore Creek or Lane Cove River in Northwood, Sydney where the couple lived in the then bushy North Shore suburb7. Coincidentally, Lindsay and his brothers, born in Creswick, Central Victoria, experimented prodigiously with outdoor photographic tableaux in that location8 not far from, and quite like, Bailey’s environment. But his imagination and the finished works take us elsewhere; roving through Hyperborea, the mythical world of the Greek pastoral poets, Jean Antoine Watteau’s Cythera, and the dank gothic woods of PreRaphaelite Frederick Sandys. On a couch the model languidly turns her gaze from the dandified cavorting figures in the fêtes galantes print propped against the wall of the studio. For
Lindsay, photographing the figure in the landscape is preparation for other work, not an end in itself. Gauzy costume, paste brooches, headband and fake pearls sported on pointed toe and tilted head by an unidentified model in the Blue Mountains Nymph series (after 1910), are all the stuff of repertory wardrobe. From this workaday relationship, into the etchings, this Lindsay model is transfigured, bursting into a burlesque pageant around which a backdrop is constructed to serve the mythical narrative: Whenever it is necessary to break a line, or fill a space ... an urn or statue sprouts in the spot instantly ... there were girls everywhere in the landscape, some vanishing into light, and some discreetly settling into the dark tones, but most of them well in the foreground and taking up all the central positions.9 The rocks, riverbanks and lissome mountain gums of Lindsay’s New South Wales location photographs may, for all his interest in them, be painted plaster and concrete, like the sculptural confections of his Springwood gardens. In Lindsay’s photography, his male gaze petrifies the figure into mythic symbol: Well, I love the beauty of women, and my faith in women is this, that they are the continuity of life. Man is only the instrument. Well, although the women of my early period didn’t realise it, I was fighting their battle by freeing the feminine image.10 Among these Lindsay photographs, one which features Rose riding bareback within a small grassed gully is the most conscious of the location. It is an incongruous image intended obviously for particular reference for a print or painting. However it is much closer to being a portrait. The impression in this setting is of Rose’s confident physicality and ease inherited from a rural childhood, and it is her strength both of temperament and physique that is recognised here, the attributes which clearly attracted Lindsay and which literally sustained him11. Apart from these rare instances the psyche of his photographed female subjects is disregarded. His looking imposes his chimerical fantasies through a projection that effectively dissolves the real landscape. Another shot from this session (not available for this exhibition) that appears in Rose’s autobiography11 is a much darker, angled image in which she arches ecstatically across the horse’s back.
a catalogue essay for a current Exhibition Embodied: Representations of land and gender in the photography of Donna Bailey and Norman Lindsa...