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ROBERT McFARLANE - Photographer and Writer
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The last three weeks have been unusually dense with travel by air and land.
Clockwise from top left - The austere beauty of the Flinders Ranges - on the road up to Marree - Windfarm overlooking canola fields at Lochiel, South Australia - The remains of a simple Mosque built by Afghan camel drivers, Marree, South Australia - Our new flag (?) at community hall, Lyndhurst, South Australia - Photographs by Robert McFarlane
Back to August/September 2008 Blog
Not only was I in Sydney for a challenging round of exhibitions but the week before I left I was invited by the Dieri Aboriginal
Corporation to witness and document an historic handover of territory at Marree in the far north of South Australia.
Marree Main Street - Photograph by Robert McFarlane
This was to take place at dawn on September 20th at Frome Creek, a few kilometers outside Marree, near the start of the Birdsville Track. We arrived the day before, stopping for lunch at the Marree Hotel with my sister Anne Learmonth, who works as an
administrative assistant with the Dieri community.
Anne Learmonth (L) and Jeffery Naylon (R) at Marree Hotel - Photograph by Robert McFarlane
Speaking to Dieri man Jeffrey Naylon reminded me immediately that Australian humour has a huge debt to indigenous laughter. Jeffrey,
who was just leaving the hotel, chuckled and said it was not good to spend too much time there as "it could give you wobbly shoes."
Shane Kemp - Chairman Dieri Aboriginal Corporation at Dawn at Frome Creek, Marree - Photograph by Robert McFarlane
The actual handover was low key and dignified with occasional bursts of indigenous humour from Edward (Eddie) Lander who was to receive the documents from Noel Fraser, representing the previous owners.
Perhaps because it was a cold, clear dawn and we were all trying to keep warm, there was a noticeable buzz to everyone's mood. Eddie sang songs to himself while we waited - mostly country and western.
Marree Handover - Photographs by Robert McFarlane
"Give me a good old feed of damper and spuds," sang Eddie quietly, almost to himself as he waited for the ceremony to begin. He had once met Slim Dusty in Broken Hill and, like most Aboriginal people, loved his music. The mood was up and expectant.
This had been Dieri land prior to white settlement and the handover, negotiated by their native title lawyer Steve Kenny, had been funded
by production payments from Beach and Stuart petroleum companies on land traditionally occupied by the Dieri.
Dieri Native Title Lawyer Steve Kenny (R) with Edward (Eddie) Lander (L) at Marree Handover - Photograph by Robert McFarlane
Kenny spoke during the handover saying, "this is one of the most significant days in recent Dieri history - this is the first time any Dieri person owned any land since white settlement. Not one inch of Dieri land had been owned (before) under European law." said Kenny, adding, "they are the descendants of the original, traditional owners. Now for the first time they have been able to purchase a small
piece back - 92 square miles."
Handover of Marree Station (L to R) Sylvie Stuart, Irene Kemp, Noel Fraser (former owner), Edward Lander, Ruby Lander Photograph by Robert McFarlane
Mr. Lander, an Elder of the Dieri community also said, "years ago we decided to save the production payments we received from the petroleum companies so ... we could use it for the good of all the people rather than give cash handouts - which do nothing for the people. It's great to see that we are able now to purchase some of our own land."
(Left to Right) Shane Kemp Chairman Dieri Aboriginal Corporation, Steve Kenny and Edward (Eddie) Lander (Elder Dieri)
Photograph by Robert McFarlane
The Dieri Aboriginal Corporation, through Chairman Shane Kemp, announced simply, "Marree Station was purchased to be used as a training and education property for Dieri people. Its an opportunity for the Dieri people to be able advance themselves. So they can gain proper employment."
Later, Kemp told me, "the things that really stands out with Aboriginal people is that the majority are over-trained and underqualified. We want to get them their right machinery tickets so if they want to get work in the mines they've got it. Graders, scrapers, 'dozers, excavators, whatever. Were going to match employment to the mining because over at The Hill they are trying to employ people. (Our) people didn't get employed because they weren't qualified. We'll be working on better education - even setting up after school programs. The internet
will (also) play a big part with the Dieri people and the govt subsidy with computers. If we can get a computer in every Dieri household
in the whole community will be connected. We will do our own shopping online. That all relies on the government's big speech about supplying household computers and keeping their promise."
Marree celebration of Handover to Dieri Aboriginal Corporation - (Bottom left) Singer Chris Dodd - Photographs by Robert McFarlane
The Handover was followed by a sausage sizzle and a dance with live music back at Marree, featuring, amongst other singers, Christopher Dodd, who sang achingly honest country and western songs to an appreciative audience. His songs reflected the sense of yearning felt before, and the relief after the actual handover occurred.
Dancer Daria and her diamond python Mustapha at Customs House - Photograph by Robert McFarlane
In Sydney, Alexia Sinclair showed a selection of computer-manipulated portraits from her regal women of history series (previously shown in full at the Australian Centre for Photography) on the ground floor gallery at Customs House - rapidly becoming an inclusive, art friendly precinct of harbourside Sydney. Sinclair is about to embark on her most challenging project so far - creating a companion set of images based on the regal men of history - starting with Genghis Khan. The opening of this exhibition featured a belly dancer named Daria www.daria.com.au and her pet diamond python Mustapha - an appropriate choice, said Customs House Manager Jennifer Kwok, "Since Alexander the Great's mother Olympias was portrayed by Alexia with a snake. We thought a real one would add to the event."
Alexia Sinclair's "Regals" is on exhibition at Customs House, Circular Quay, until January 2009.
Clockwise from top left - Alexia Sinclair (L) and Daria (R) - Visiting Psychologist Michelle Sexton meets Mustapha the Diamond Python -
Jennifer Kwok Manager of Customs House (R) with friends - Artist's Model Violet Boyson - Photographs by Robert McFarlane
Portraits were also in vogue at two very different galleries. In Casula Powerhouse's vast converted space Jim Rolon www.jimrolon.com showed his "Local Portraits" project, documenting the citizens of Robertson and Liverpool in New South Wales.
Clockwise from top left - Curator Brianna Munting opening "Local Portraits" by Jim Rolon at Casula Powerhouse - Kon Gouriotis, Executive Director of Casula Powerhouse speaking at "Local Portraits" - Photographer Jim Rolon at Casula Powerhouse - Composer Andrew Ford at Casula Powerhouse
Photographs by Robert McFarlane
Rolon captured the spirit of two very Australian places through young and old, male and female. His direct, empathetic portraits were
each accompanied by short, perceptive interviews by composer Andrew Ford, and made available to exhibition visitors on MP3 players. Each of Rolon's subjects selected their favorite music and gave Ford reasons for their choice.
Detail of Jim Rolon portrait of Olivia Calver - Photograph by Robert McFarlane
This display was very much a community project with many of Rolon's subjects present in the gallery at the opening. Curator Brianna Munting and Casula's Executive Director Kon Gouriotis passionately endorsed the project. "What's come out of it is how we construct communities," said curator Brianna Munting, "... the sound track forces us to examine our personal paradigms and to re-examine identity. There were these tender moments ... created to articulate the personal."
Portraits of a different kind and perhaps more intimate scale were on show at the Mary Meyer Gallery www.meyergallery.com.au in Darlinghurst. Kate Baker www.earthviolets.com.au documented the disadvantaged, homeless youth that are regular visitors to the Oasis Youth Support Network at Surry Hills. "Unseen - Hopes and Dreams" will be on exhibition throughout October and includes a remarkable series of intimate portraits, mostly taken on a Friday, of young men and women who gravitate to the supportive environment
of Oasis. On any given day, over fifty homeless young men and women are accommodated by Oasis.
Kate Baker preparing to hang her exhibition at Mary Meyer Gallery, Darlinghurst - Photograph by Robert McFarlane
Baker's portraits were made using black and white film, using both 35mm and 5"x4" cameras, on location at Oasis. Technically the portraits are simple with subjects varying their gazes - some to camera and others off to one side.
What is remarkable is the mood Baker establishes in each picture. The rapport Baker creates allows for moments of genuine candour between photographer and subject. I found the honesty with which her subjects faced the camera often moving - from an eighteen year old girl struggling to get her trust back in humanity to a shy eighteen year old who had never seen himself in a photograph before. Kate Baker has produced a book of her portraits entitled "Fridays at Oasis" of which all profits go to Oasis.
Anthony Browell with his partner Jan Howlin at Birchgrove with the Valiant Star in the background - Photograph by Robert McFarlane
A genuine sense of community exists within Sydney's photographers - enhanced over the past few years by a series of lunches held on a small tug boat at Lavender Bay, owned by editorial and corporate photographer Anthony Browell www.anthonybrowell.com . These "Tuglunches" as Browell called them, have now come to an end with his reluctant sale of The Valiant Star. Browell, however, with the culinary talents of Roger Scott and desserts donated by veteran photojournalist David Potts, has revived and renamed these occasions as "Tugless Lunches". Photographers are required to bring a recent work about which they can say a few words, and offer their pictures for the group's pleasure and criticism. The first of these new lunches took place in Birchgrove Park on Friday, September 26th.
The first tugless lunch. From Left: Frances Mocnik, Louise Walker, Peter Solness, (standing) Tamara Dean, Roger Scott, Gerrit Fokkema, David Potts, Philip Quirk, Tim Hixson and Steven Siewert (both standing) Michael Amendolia (foreground, nursing Tuomo Solness) Robert McFarlane, Anthony Browell (also present but not photographed Tamara Voninski, Colin Beard and Ian Dodd) - Photograph courtesy Peter Solness www.solness.com.au
Steven Siewert under a black cloth looking at multimedia on his laptop - Photograph by Robert McFarlane
A new gallery space is opening in Warren Macris's digital printing workshop www.gicleeaustralia.com at Mascot with a portrait exhibition, under the ARTHERE banner, by two very different Australian photographers - Stephen Dupont and Greg Weight. Airport North is in a large, airy gallery space directly north of Sydney Airport. "I had the space available," says Macris, adding that "Airport North will provide
a good synergy for artists whose work we print. I (also) like having Stephen (Dupont) and Greg (Weight) working from here."
Dinny Nolan Tjampitjinpa - Photograph by © Greg Weight Axe Me Biggie Series #12 - Photograph by © Stephen Dupont
Celebrations begin quietly for the Marree Handover - Photograph by Robert McFarlane
Ultra zooms are rapidly becoming the camera you carry when you don't feel like lugging a DSLR and a couple of lenses around. They are also the kind of cameras photographic magazines once wrote about when describing the picture making machines of the future - at about the same time futurists were predicting everyone would soon drive a flying car. Now we worry more about paying for fuel for our grounded metal beasts.
But while the flying car is still not a reality, the camera of the future has actually come to pass, in many ways. Who would have ever thought we would have inexpensive cameras, smaller than an SLR that would provide perspectives from an equivalent of 28mm to nearly 500mm - with selectable ISO speeds up to 1600 and 3200. Ultrazooms (digital cameras with built-in zoom lenses of 12X and over ratios) are now
a key item for every major camera manufacturer.
They are amazingly flexible picture taking devices and, with modern optics and sensor technology, provide a realistic alternative when versatile, compact cameras are needed - when travelling, for example. I had intended to look at the Sony H7 when I first began this article but was delayed by moving from Sydney to Adelaide. It is a sign of the times that in this relatively short period the H7 was suddenly discontinued from Sony's website and replaced by the far more versatile H50 (9.1 megapixels against 8.) The H50 also had a larger,
hinged LCD screen for low angle shooting. There also seemed to be noticeably better low light performance. Significantly Sony retained
the excellent 15X Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar f2.7-4.5 5.2-78mm Zoom lens and most of the same controls. Amazingly, the new camera,
with several clear improvements, was almost $50 cheaper - another revealing sign of how competitive this division of cameras is becoming. It should be stated immediately that this is not a scientific camera test. I am simply interested in whether the Sony H50 can be used to make interesting, technically well resolved pictures under a wide variety of settings. And how the
camera handles for the average user. Both the H7 and H50 feature what I regard as an
essential metering mode for a camera with such a wide zoom - spot metering.
The H50 does not rely on spot metering being set from within menus. There is a simple
button positioned just behind the shutter release to provide the setting. The hinged LCD
screen also proved useful and I made a simple picture of a dandelion in my back garden
late in the afternoon that I would have found difficult, had I not been able to place the
H50 on the ground and still see what I was photographing from above.
Dandelion in my back garden - Macro setting on Sony H50 ISO 200 - Photograph by Robert McFarlane
I was invited to the launch of a companion gallery to Ray Hughes Gallery in Surry Hills, Sydney, run by the very different identity of Evan Hughes, Ray's son. Just for fun I took the Sony H50 and made a simple visual essay of the event, recording the ample goodwill present towards the veteran Sydney gallery owner and his son. www.rayhughesgallery.com
Clockwise from top left - Gallery director Ray Hughes - Evan Hughes at his opening - Nina Berrell of the Hogarth Gallery
at Evan Hughes opening - Opening at the Evan Hughes Gallery - Photographs by Robert McFarlane
I was encouraged by the presence of fine-art photographs by Martin Mischkulnig in an art precinct more accustomed to painting and sculpture. Mischkulnig's large colour prints effectively explored eerie scenes of houses marooned at night in frozen landscapes.
Photographs by © Martin Mischkulnig
Later, I briefly caught up with British actor, writer and director Steven Berkoff when he and his charming wife Clara invited a psychologist friend, Michelle Sexton, and I to his last Australian performance of "One Man" at Her Majesty's Theatre, Adelaide. I had the privilege of documenting several productions of Steven's during the 1970's. It was good to see this volcanic, unique performer still maintained his passion for performing at seventy one - with the final performance of "One Man" closing to a standing ovation.
Actor director and writer Steven Berkoff in Adelaide - Photograph by Robert McFarlane
Reportage 2008 - featuring cinema-size projections of fine photojournalism - selected by guest Curator Stephen Dupont - had a successful season from October 8-17 Part of Reportage continues with Giorgia Fiorio's "Human Figure" framed prints on exhibition at the Australian Centre for Photography, 257 Oxford Street, Paddington until October 26th.
Temptation of the Angel. La Mixteca, Oaxaca, Mexico 1991. © photograph by Pedro Meyer
The Australian Centre for Photography are currently showing "Heresies", a retrospective of one of the world's most provocative and innovative photo-artists - Mexico's Pedro Meyer. Meyer combines manipulated imagery with disturbing, seemingly 'straight' photographs that mimic reportage. As such he belongs to a long line of visual innovators from Mexico, including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Manuel Alvarez Bravo and more recently fine contemporary photographers such as Graciela Iturbide. Meyer consistently provokes the deepest resonances with his unique imagery.
Until November 15th. Meyer is exhibiting at ACP with Giorgia Fiori's "Human Figure", part of Reportage 2008.
All my images are about documentary experiences - not fabricating them. The experience in a traditional photographic representation has been limited (though in truth the camera sees more than we do, and therefore is not limited at all) to those elements the lens was able to capture. To the silver halides or dyes, I now can add my own memory. - Pedro Meyer, 1995
"Robyn - waiting for Wanda Jackson" - Photograph by © Steven Siewert
It was announced on October 14th that accomplished Sydney Morning Herald photojournalist Steven Siewert 44, (mentioned earlier in the story about Tuglunches) has just won the Nikon/Walkley Portrait of the Year Award for his photograph "Robyn -Waiting for Wanda Jackson", part of Siewert's ongoing commitment to documenting distinct subcultures in Australia - such as devoted followers of Rockabilly music. "It was a rainy night and this girl, Robyn, was sitting in her boyfriend Georgio's 1957 Cadillac waiting for the legendary US singer Wanda Jackson, who's like the godmother... an icon of Rockabilly (she once dated Elvis). She was to give her a lift back to the hotel. It was in the back lane behind the Gaelic Club and Robyn was lit by (just) the interior light of the car; the picture was taken at 15th sec. It's just about hanging around and waiting."
Basic underwater training, Germany 1999 - © Giorgia Fiorio French Foreign Legion Paratroopers, Malibétrack 1995 - © Giorgia Fiorio
Note the Sony H50's hinged LCD screen and compact size against a cafe latte at the Jetty Cafe, Brighton
NZ photographer Bruce Connew www.bruceconnew.com has just informed me that, on September 6th, Australian photojournalist Philip Blenkinsop and member of the new Noor Photo Agency, www.noorimages.com was awarded the Visa d'Or News awards at Perpignan's photojournalism festival for his coverage of the China earthquake. The announcement had to be made, owing to the official ceremony being rained out, in chaotic scenes in the street near where Blenkinsop and his partner were dining at the Le Divine restaurant. In an emotional scene reminiscent of the triumphant aviator in Jean Renoir's 1939 film : "The Rules of the Game" (La Règle du jeu) an overwhelmed Blenkinsop responded when told of the award, "But the woman I love is not here!" He was then united with his partner. To witness the emotional interchange between Blenkinsop and Jean-Francois Leroy, Visa Pour l'Image's director, go to www.pdnpulse.com/2008/09/video-dramatic.html
Sandy Edwards is fairly bombarding the Sydney photography community with ARTHERE exhibitions. She has just announced that her next exhibition will be by her colleague (and friend) Lisa Sharkey who, as Edwards rightly says, "quietly works away supporting other people's artwork most of the time."
Sharkey's LAUGHING BUDDHA will be exhibited at MAYAN COFFEE & XOCOLAT - corner of Danks Street and South Dowling Street Freeway, Waterloo - commencing on October 23rd. Strangely, the opening will take place a week later on October 30th, 6 - 8pm.
Bob Davis is one of the finest observers of people in Australian photography today. I worked with him in London thirty five years ago before he moved to Japan in the early Seventies. Japan proved an epiphany for Davis and his book "Faces of Japan" (Kodansha 1978) was, in many ways, a later, Japanese equivalent of Robert Frank's "The Americans" (Robert Delpire 1958, Aperture 1976, Steidl 2007). Davis captured a Japan that many did not want to see but few could deny existed.
Davis now lives in Hong Kong www.bobdavisphotographer.com and continues his passion for photographing on the street. He has just sent me these videos of interesting New York street photography.
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