Bathed in light and waters of nostalgia
Nostalgia is a curious emotion. Dangling dangerously close to cloying sentimentality, affectionate longing for a bygone era has informed artistic practice across time and media, and will no doubt continue to do so for many years to come. Nostalgia is the quality which ties together the two exhibitions currently showing at photoaccess: Kerry Baylor's Saturday morning bathers swim in the oversaturated waters of photographs consciously inscribed with vintage effects; Alison Spence's abandoned milk bars stand silent testament to a simpler, happier, more innocent time not-so-long ago.
Saturday Morning Water is a series of images made at Newcastle's Merewether Baths over a number of years. Public beaches and baths are melting pots of the young and the old, the beautiful and the plain, the rich and poor embracing the democratising anonymity of donning swimmers and enjoying the water and waves. Baylor's camera captures a wide array of patrons from quirky angles. Many of the works are printed in a colour palette which recalls the sun-bleached pictures of surfing films of the '70s and '80s, lending the works an aura of wistful reverie.
This collection of photographs demonstrates impressive progress for Baylor since her last solo show here in 2008. The framing and surface effects show developing skills in the technical realisation of theme. In her artist's statement, Baylor describes a deep emotional connection to her subject. These baths frame many of her memories - happy, sad, frightened and safe - and it is through this lens that she depicts the people who now populate the pool.
Moving away from the sand and sun of Baylor's Saturdays, Alison Spence takes the viewer on a wander through the streets of our cities and towns, recording for posterity the fading facades of abandoned corner stores.
Spence's work is a chronicle of a seemingly disappearing icon of Australian culture. As the dominance of supermarket chains has subsumed the role of these small establishments, many have closed. The peeling paint and ageing advertisements speak of a time when popping down to the corner store was a rite of passage for local children, armed with small change for milk, bread and mixed lollies. Spence makes a plea for the survival of the milk bar; however, her images carry a weight of resignation about the inevitable demise of these former staples of Australian lifestyle.
Neither of these exhibitions explores motifs from a bygone era, but rather they meander through memories from a time recently receding. Perhaps it is a tribute to the brevity of Australia's popular culture, or simply resistance to the rapidly disappearing pre-information-age sense of a distinctive Australian identity, but both of these exhibitions tap into sadness at the seeping away of the innocent, the childlike, the uninterrupted days of a sun-drenched land of icy poles and ocean baths.