In a post-internet, post-everything world, a growing number of artists are challenging some of our basic preconceptions about photographic representation. Resisting the need to Instagram the minutiae of their daily lives, they’re more interested in interrogating what a photograph is than simply what it depicts. “They are preoccupied with the material properties of the photograph,” says curator Isobel Parker Philip. “Resisting the category of the purely representational, these artists thwart our tendency to look through a photograph and force us to look at it.”
Parker Philip’s latest exhibition, New matter: recent forms of photography at Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales, challenges the audience to look hard at the photograph itself. “In a context during which we encounter hundreds of photographs on a daily basis, without pausing to interrogate their material status, this is a radical gesture,” she says.
Here are five of the most experimental photographers from the exhibition…
Zoë Croggon’s minimalist collages are constructed from images found in thrift shops, primarily photography manuals, interior design guides and dance catalogues. “Each image oscillates between analogue and digital throughout my process; beginning as printed material, being scanned into a digital format and then being reprinted and assembled manually,” says Croggon.
Through the amalgamation of photography, Croggon explores the psycho-geography of living in a predominantly built and artificial environment. “My work considers the relationship between the kinetic body and its surroundings; questioning the role we play in our environment and how deeply our surroundings inform the cadence of our lives.” Croggon has two solo exhibitions in Melbourne in March 2017 at the NGV and Gertrude Contemporary.
Inspired by film directors John Carpenter, Terence Malik and Céline Sciamma, Melbourne-based artist Christopher Day makes photographs and collages that are deliberately ambiguous, compressed images.
“Each image is a composite of splintered forms where vaguely recognisable features are immersed in a field of partial abstractions – a small face, a cartoon mouth or the corner of a warped brick wall float atop the photographic surface,” says Parker Philip.
The overall effect is of disorientation. “It is as if these scenes are being played out in our peripheral vision. They are mutable and unsettled and it is this elasticity that seduces the viewer.” Day is working on a new commission for the Australian Centre for Photography that will be exhibited in Sydney and Melbourne in 2017.
“My working process complicates both the act of looking and the experience of time,” explains Justine Varga. “The photographs that result are therefore documents of transformation and remembering, being simultaneously situational and autobiographical.”
Desklamp is a durational cameraless work, where a large format film negative was left next to a lamp to over-expose for a year. The resulting photograph is sublime and painterly in its effect. “For me, Desklamp can be read as a moving image – it is time stretched out and collapsed again into a single frame,” says Varga.
“As with all her work, this photograph is a perceptive and penetrative study of the medium itself,” says Parker Philip. “One that treats the very ‘event’ of photographic inscription as its subject.” The Australian Centre for Photography is hosting an exhibition of Varga’s work in 2017.
Informed by his Aboriginal, Māori and European ancestry, James Tylor examines concepts around cultural identity in Australian society and social history. His work directly references the critical role photography played in the representation of Indigenous people in the 19th century, and the effect this still has today.
“The trauma of the European colonisation has really hindered Non-Indigenous Australians from connecting with Indigenous people, culture and history,” says Tylor. “It is important for us as a nation to acknowledge this contested history of the Australian landscape because it is standing in the way of Australians fully understanding our 60,000+ year old human history.”
Parker Philip describes Todd McMillan’s practice as “an ongoing investigation of failure and endurance laced with both melancholy and self-deprecating humour… poetic in tone and philosophical in reach.” The Sydney-based artist undertakes endurance projects, often relating to the sea, that are documented and presented as photographs, time lapse films and videos.
In Self portrait (Bayard study i) McMillan pays homage to Hippolyte Bayard’s infamous work from 1840, Self Portrait of a Drowned Man. Bayard staged his own fake suicide and made this provocative image after his photographic inventions were ridiculed by his contemporaries. “By re-staging this fictitious photograph, McMillan reminds us that artifice and deception are intrinsic to photographic representation and that the photographic image is an elusive signifier,” says Parker Philip.
New matter: recent forms of photography is at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until 19 February 2017.