Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

Posts Tagged ‘John Berger

THOMAS OLIVER’s ‘Disconnection’ exhibition & essay

leave a comment »

Thomas Oliver - image from the series 'Disconnection'

Thomas Oliver – image from the series Disconnection

Thomas Oliver - image from the series Disconnection

Thomas Oliver – image from the series Disconnection

Thomas Oliver - image from the series 'Disconnection'

Thomas Oliver – image from the series Disconnection

Thomas Oliver - image from the series 'Disconnection'

Thomas Oliver – image from the series Disconnection


Disconnection is a solo show by Brisbane photographer Thomas Oliver. The series consists of work that has been captured in London, New York, Toronto, Paris and (of course) Brisbane. The exhibition is accompanied with a catalogue essay written by Dr. Doug Spowart.

Artist’s Talk: Interview with Dr. Heather Faulkner, 11am-1pm Saturday 25th February

Full Exhibition Dates: Tuesday 13th – Saturday 25th February

Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am – 4pm

Address: Project Gallery – QCA South Bank Campus, 226 Grey Street


OLIVER’s Artist Statement

Experiencing the ebb and flow of life in a capital city, it is easy to become consumed by the gurgling hum of activity. It sparks and pulses like an amped-up generator. We slip from one task to the next, leaving ourselves behind in the process. The lights flicker and the air vibrates warmly around us. And like a mad hive, our cities swarm with ghostly forms, smoothly transparent and faceless.




My Words for Thomas …

What makes photography a strange invention – with unforeseeable consequences – is that its primary raw materials are light and time.[1]

John Berger died last week. But his work will continue to reveal insights on how we perceive photographic communications. Even now I continue to hear his words in my head as I write. Most of the time his voice inhabits my writing, saying the words that I have just typed. His writing and critical thinking offered new ‘ways of seeing and looking at photographs’ – as ‘quotes’ from appearances, photos and memory. The photograph presents to us information that has connections to a reality as in Berger’s assertion, ‘A photograph arrests the flow of time in which the event photographed once existed’.[2]


But what happens when the photographic moment is slurred by slow shutter-speeds, movement of subject and camera panning? In this approach Thomas Oliver creates visual documents that could never have been seen by the photographer or an observer of the scene. These are documents of not a moment but of time passing. They transcend the instantaneous moment and suggest a visual concept of the subject’s spirit seemingly extracted by the act of photography–a tear in temporality ‘arrested’.

Francis Bacon: Three studies for a portrait of Lucian Freud 1969

Francis Bacon: Three studies for a portrait of Lucian Freud 1969

Oliver’s images also have a resonance with Gilles Deleuze’s discussion on Francis Bacon’s[3] work in his 1981 book Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Deleuze highlights how ‘chance’ and the expressiveness of the random and indiscriminate effects of vigorous brush strokes inform Bacon’s painting. Deleuze proposes that: ‘there is no chance except “manipulated” chance, no accident except a “utilized” accident.’[4] In making his photographs Oliver has no way of knowing what each slow shutter release will reveal. He relies on his understanding of technique during the process of exposure to realize the potential for an evocative outcome.

For me Oliver’s photographs are based on the ‘manipulated chance’. He is ready to respond with the tools photography to capture the phenomenon of light and time in everyday places frequented by people. His work seems to also rely on his acceptance of ‘utilized accidents’. It is from this principle that his moments of strange and powerful visual poetry come into being.

But are they his photographs? My favourite Berger quote also relates to Oliver’s spontaneous street images. That there are things beyond us, I’m not talking about God or Gods, but rather more about the involvement of the ‘other’ in the making of art. Berger said it beautifully for me – his voice echoes in my mind:

The modern illusion concerning painting [I read photography here]. . . is that the artist is a creator. Rather he is a receiver. What seems like creation is the act of giving form to what he has received.[5]

I respectfully present to you – Thomas Oliver’s Disconnection photographs of simulacra from the street.


Doug Spowart PhD


[1] Berger, John. “Appearances/the Ambiguity of the Photograph.” In Another Way of Telling: A Possible Theory of Photography, 47-52. Malden, MA, USA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2002.
[2] Ibid
[3] I refer also to Francis Bacon’s paintings based on Diego Velázquez’s Pope, Portrait of Innocent X (1650) and his portraits of friends, for example Three studies for a portrait of Lucien Freund (1964).
[4] Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Translated by Continuum. Continuum Edition ed. London: Continuum Books, 1981. Editions de la Difference.
[5] Berger, John. The Shape of a Pocket. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2001.


Written by Cooper+Spowart

February 18, 2017 at 9:04 pm


with 5 comments

Ruby Spowart  Photo: Doug Spowart

Ruby Spowart Photo: Doug Spowart

I visited my mother last month just after the family birthday celebration given by her three sons and their families. 85 is a big number when it comes to years lived on this planet and one of Ruby’s recent projects gave me an opportunity to reflect on the life that she has witnessed. Ruby just finished an Apple iPhotobook entitled Meet my ancestors which contains family portraits, group photographs, texts and personal visual ephemera from the last 170 years of her, and mine–Ancestors. This is the third book she has made of this genre, the first being an artists book made from collected images of each year of her life from 1 to 21, and the second, a photobook entitled Bringing home the grain in which she describes the agricultural processes of grain growing and harvesting she encountered in her childhood on a farm in Northern Victoria.

Ruby's 'Meet my ancestors' book

Ruby’s Meet my ancestors book

The Meet my ancestors project brought me in contact with the value of the family photograph, either professionally made or made at home as a box Brownie snapshot, in its ability to provide proof of existence and the aging process encountered by a subject over many successive portraits. Another feature of Ruby’s assemblage and ordering of these family photographs is that they all have a connected linage. This is distinctly different to family photos encountered in junk shops, antique shops and car boot sales. In these circumstances the photographs are separated from their meaning, they become isolated examples of someone and not ‘a’ specific ‘known’ individual—a kind of image orphan.

Ruby's 'Meet my ancestors' book inside

Ruby’s Meet my ancestors book inside

These family portraits are not just photos as she has added a text as well and linked it to other records like personal correspondence and newspaper reports—usually of obituaries. A picture may be worth the proverbial 1000 words but a picture and an appropriate amount of text can place it within a context, a time and ancestral linage. John Berger wrote about this necessary liaison of photo and text in his book Another way of telling1. He says: ‘In the relation between a photograph and words, the photograph begs for an interpretation, and the words usually supply it. The photograph, irrefutable as evidence but weak in meaning, is given a meaning by the words.’

In contemporary society with the popularity of TV programs like Who do you think you are and the online availability of genealogical information there is a heightened interest in our family trees and ancestry. And, as Ruby has lived half of the time covered by her book it is important for her to be engaged in such a project. What is equally exciting for me is that she sits before a computer, sending and receiving communiqués and images from the extended family, she orders, optimizes and designs the pages of the book (with a little help from me): when she was 3 could she have ever dreamed of such a thing…

Ruby Spowart aged about3

Ruby Spowart aged about 3

SEE earlier post about Ruby and her work

Ruby can be contacted through LINKEDIN

Happy Birthday Ruby,

Son Doug, and Vicky


1. Berger, J 1982, ‘Appearances’, in Another way of telling, Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative Society Ltd., London, UK.

Written by Cooper+Spowart

December 28, 2012 at 6:44 pm

%d bloggers like this: