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Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

What is this thing called art photography?

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Visiting the 2012 Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award

2012 Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award

What is this thing called art photography? Can it be nailed down and quantified? Each year across the country institutions and the judges they select attempt to do just that. Do they succeed? And is everyone happy about these events? A comment in the visitors book of 2012 Josephine Ulrich and Win Schubert Photographic Award at the Gold Coast Art Gallery makes the observation, something like “How high was the judge when he made that selection?” Well you can’t please everyone, and these awards with their huge prize purses do ultimately end up making one person ecstatic at winning and a few others happy by having their work purchased.

I for one am thoroughly excited by the depth and breadth of art photography that this award unearths each year. Although not an entrant for a few years my work, and collaborative works with Victoria Cooper have been displayed as finalists on 4 or 5 occasions, the exhibition continues to be a motivation for pushing our own work forward.

This year’s judge was Kon Gouriotis – Director, Australian Centre for Photography and the winner was Vestiges #3 by Sydney based artist Eugenia Raskopoulos. A press release about the award can be accessed HERE

‘Vestiges #3’ by Eugenia Raskopoulos – with gallery visitor Tamekka

Over the years the Ulrich Award has gradually moved into increasingly large sized, huge framed or pinned to the wall works. This year 75 works were selected and this created what must have been an installation challenge. Double hanging of many photographs shoe-horned them into the space although due to this strategy some photographs suffer viewability problems.

The gallery space

A new sophistication in artist’s statements on didactic panels heralds an increasing reliance from artists to attempt to direct the viewer into seeing the meaning of a work through a narrow, and perhaps confusingly worded sometimes pseudo-intellectual window. Robert Adams writes in his book Why people photograph that said that artists should not attempt to describe their work. He states that, ‘Words are proof that the vision they [the photographer] had is not … fully there in the picture.’

Anyway, be that as it may, one artist not only out does everyone else in square metres of wallspace but also presents an insightful statement that addresses the current photographic art scene. Hedy Ritterman’s Bollard 2011, for me was the standout conceptual piece for the show – the artist’s statement is well worth reading:

I abandon the idea of a photograph as a “window to the world” – instead I embrace the materiality of the surface itself. The highgloss, large scale photographic paper, with its fragility exposed, acts as a distorting mirror capturing the changing surrounds and highlighting its sculptural form. The distinction between the image in the photograph and the object of the photograph is underscored here. The subject of the photograph, a huge analogue negative of the museums’ people barrier, stands in direct opposition to the seductive invitation of the surface.

My work explores the complex relationship between the contemporary photo-artist, the collecting institution and the viewer. As photography shifts away from the print to the screen its status as object is being challenged. As photography shifts into the realm of the museum its object status is being valued.

Hedy Ritterman’s ‘Bollard’ 2011

As a viewer what I like about the exhibition is the intellectual and visual calisthenics that I’m engaged in while walking through the space. Whether I, or you, agree with the judge’s decision or not, the exhibition still remains a celebration of contemporary photographic art that continues to challenge and reward the photographic and broader arts communities.

Doug Spowart

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2 Responses

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  1. Hi Doug, I chanced upon your site today which is so timely as I am in the throes of writing yet another artist statement for my new exhibition, ‘to know a veil’ opening next Thursday, 7th June @ Colour factory Gallery, Melbourne,. Your feedback has guided me to keep the language simple and keep my ideas on track. Many thanks, Hedy Ritterman
    ( love your installation shot )

    Hedy Ritterman

    June 1, 2012 at 6:34 am

    • G’Day Hedy,
      Thank you for your comment about my blog post. It is interesting how artist’s statements sometimes are problematical – I remember a quote from photographer Robert Adams who said something like ‘artists should never explain their work – if they do they admit failure’. That is certainly not what I get from your ‘Bollard’ text – in fact what I think is that the artist’s statement AND the work IS the art. The power of the combination of the two is perhaps, as indicated by your case, a future direction for the presentation of powerfully communicative art … getting beyond the limits of the visual content and value-adding by the introduction of the abstract concept.


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