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LOOKING AT PHOTOs IN THE GALLERY: a talk by Doug Spowart

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Doug Spowart in The Museum Project exhibition at Lismore Regional Gallery .…..PHOTO: Victoria Cooper

 

I’ve a lifetime of connection with art galleries from exhibitor to director and curator to reviewer. I’ve often pondered on how the gallery space connects with those who visit it and what insights they may take-away from that interaction.

Viewing an exhibition can be a very superficial activity or it can be one that can create the opportunity for a meaningful and personal experience.

I have often been interested in observing people in the gallery space and wondered whether they were: (1) an interested and attentive participant, (2) using the space for social interaction – with friends/partners/children, (3) there as a flâneur to be seen in the gallery or possibly (4) a person accompanying 1, 2 or 3.

Floor talks are a necessary part of the educative process carried out in an art gallery. It can transform the way art is introduced to a new audience and enlighten those wanting to know more.

 

At the end of last year I was invited to present a floor talk about an exhibition of photography at the Lismore Regional Gallery in northern NSW. The talk was to coincide with the gallery’s showing of The Museum Project a collection of American photography work from the 1970-2010. The project represents a selection of works from 7 photographers that cover a diverse range of approaches to photography. The photographers, and genre of their works are:

 

The Museum Project at the Lismore Regional Gallery

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I considered the invitation and proposed that the talk would be based upon the idea of ‘Looking at photos in the gallery’. Rather than a direct translation of curator’s didactics I decided that I would use my gallery and photography experiences to suggest a number of steps and questions for the visitor in their engagement in the gallery space so they may derive more from the experience. I also acknowledged that attendees would be interested in a commentary about interesting aspects of the works including the conceptual and technical approaches taken by the photographers. The works presented an excellent opportunity to also talk about different approaches to photography as a visual art form.

In my preparation for the talk I visited the gallery and made notes on the works as well as carried out online research about the photographer’s backgrounds, manifestos and techniques.

I thought further about the proposition of looking at photographs in the gallery and prepared a script for the talk. To make the talk more interactive and personal, I decided to hand make a little booklet for each attendee to refer to during the talk and as take-home information source. In the 2015 Artists’ Book Brisbane Event, I did a similar process where I made a booklet of my talk for each of the 60 attendees of the conference and rather than an electronic presentation, I performed the book …

The gallery staff member assisting me for the day, Claudie Frock, had printed up 25 A3 sheets of my 8-page fold booklet the evening before so that Joanna Kambourian, Vicky and I could make up the books.

 

The Looking at Photos in the Gallery booklet

The Looking at Photos in the Gallery booklet

 

Overnight before the talk Lismore, and South-East Queensland and North-East New South Wales were drenched with flash-flooding rains so I was pleasantly surprised in the morning when 25 people came along to the talk. There was also a small group of deaf people attending the talk and I was supported in my presentation by AUSLAN interpreter Bronwyn. After the acknowledgement of country and an introduction by Claudie we began the talk.

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Participant involvement is a necessary part of my presentation style and the question/answer format gave ample opportunities for attendees to interact in the talk. One of the gallery’s curators that attended, Fiona, added special insights about gallery installation, copyright and image conservation. The booklet process worked well and we managed to cover a diverse range of topics within the 1-hour time allotted.

 

You can download a PDF of the little A5 booklet LRG-Booklet

 

Vicky and I stayed on after the talk to connect with attendees who wanted to chat further and also to re-connect with two local photographers Jacklyn Wagner and Peter Derrett OAM who were associated with workshops that we had presented in Lismore at the Gasworks Art Centre and the Southern Cross University in the early 1990s. They presented us with a copy of the catalogue for a documentary project called Heart & Soul that featured people from around the region.

On leaving the gallery the rain had cleared to a sunny day…

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Vicky + Doug with the catalogue for the Heart&Soul exhibition by Jacklyn and Peter PHOTO: Peter Derret

Vicky + Doug with the catalogue for the Heart&Soul exhibition by Jacklyn and Peter PHOTO: Peter Derrett OAM

 

Doug with Jacklyn Wagner + Peter Derrett PHOTO: Dr Ros Derrett OAM

 

 

 

Please note the Booklet and the lecture are a work in progress to be added to in future versions – and it’s ©2020 Doug Spowart.

 

 

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