Evening’s Empire

In 1977 an exhibition came to the Adelaide Festival Centre entitled “The Bent Show”, it lasted just two days before being closed down due to complaints from the cleaning staff who were offended by the nudity in parts of the show.

The term “Bent’ was not a reference to the sexual content, though rather it referred to the concept of “pre visualisation” and “post visualisation”. The former term relating to photographers such as Ansel Adams and the tradition of photographers who pre visualised their images (deciding exactly what their photos would look like before they even released the shutter) and in the case of the latter those who chose to, either by the way they worked the image later on or used the vision of the camera to capture something the eye does not see. It was photographers like Richard Misrach who worked with time exposures and flash that had the most resonance for me. In his work he makes images that while taken in the real landscape have all the appearance of a film or stage set, the backgrounds reduced to graphic and carefully lit cut-out forms. His images evoked a powerful sense of theatricality for me and truly encapsulated the idea of “bending” the more traditional approaches to photography in interesting ways.

Evening’s Empire #2

I certainly admired the sheer mastery of technique in Ansel Adams’ work and his efforts to portray the power of nature, but my interest lay more in the fabrication of reality and the abstraction that underpins theatre and cinema and our willing participation in the suspension of disbelief. Although photography is itself of course, a representation of reality artists like Adams worked hard at their craft to make the physical photograph disappear, compelling us as viewers to look through the photograph itself and beyond into the “life-like” reality of the representation.

So for me the challenge lay in creating a piece of theatre that wore its’ heart and its artificiality on its sleeve. Constructing a physical and photographic world that readily acknowledged its fabrication but still strove through its stylised elements to achieve a level of believability that allowed the viewer to participate in the fantasy.

With two works by Adams “Grand Titons” and “Moon and Half Dome” as an inspirational starting point I approached a model maker whose usual work is in television and film (i.e. The dogs from the “Dogalogue” hardware ads and “Louey the Fly”) and asked him to build two small-scale models that I would then photograph. His skill in model making is quite remarkable but I also really appreciated the fact that he worked in the world of make believe that is TV advertising.

These works play with the tradition of landscape in both a respectful but also subversive manner, the arched frames refer back to the first Daguerreotypes and a 19th Century allusion toward the Proscenium Arch of theatre. I hope they inspire speculation and invoke a sense of child-like apprehension of the “real”.

One of the fundamental issues of concern to the artists in the pre-digital age of the “Bent Show” was the assault on the mythology of the “truth’ of Photography, the notion that the photograph never lies. Since it’s invention Photography has lied outrageously and now in the midst of our post-digital age that belief in the veracity of the photographic image is all but destroyed, or is it? Strangely enough be it the photographic collages of gossip magazines, the stage managed and stylised portraits of Studio 2000 (where the average Joe or Jane is transformed into a movie star), or more overtly politicised images of prisoner of war abuse, there still lingers the need to either believe in the photographic image or to very willingly suspend our disbelief. There is something about Photography and its relationship to the real that we continue to need. That particular need fascinates me. Even when we know that we are looking at a fiction what intrigues us is our ability or perhaps compulsion to believe in it, in spite of ourselves we can dismiss something intellectually but still embrace it emotionally.

The relationship between artists in the Mentored project is a symbiotic one, the flux of the influence is a two way street as both Aurelia and I share an interest (obsession) with the fabricated image. Listening to her ideas informs my work just as much as I imagine mine informs Aurelia’s. Shared obsessions have a tendency to multiply and expand beyond the boundaries of our own inventions. Although my realm is based in the illusions of 19th Century theatre, Aurelia’s hovers within the random world of Manga.

Considering Aurelia’s interest in Japanese comics it might be fitting to end with a Zen quote “It is the role of the student to surpass the teacher”.

Mark Kimber 2006