Let Me Imagine You. By Andrew Tenison. Community Honour. By Fiona Amundsen. All Killer. By Jess Taylor. Huw Davies Gallery, PhotoAccess at the Manuka Arts Centre Until August 13.
The premise for Andrew Tenison's Let Me Imagine You is his response to a negative depicting a World War II member of the Luftwaffe found in a second-hand shop in Berlin in 2014.
The image shows a becapped soldier wearing steel-rimmed spectacles squarely facing the viewer. The gaze is direct, and in its directness poses uniterated questions. For the artist, the image sets off a narrative that searches for the story behind the "unknown soldier" in the negative.
In eight images (all gelatin silver photographs) arranged non-sequentially on the long wall of the gallery (along with the single image of the Luftwaffe soldier on the end wall)) in the gallery space, Tenison builds a narrative that offers glimpses into the protagonist's (supposed) life. There is no explication, however. The images seem random, and any connectedness remains with the viewer.
The artist is concerned with building a persona for the figure in the negative and placing that persona in an historical context. He does this through inserting images of places and interiors. The "places" are misty, and impressed with a deal of 19th-century German Romanticism that acts as a visual and conceptual foil to the overt military flavour of other images.
The example of Caspar David Friedrich's atmospheric landscapes is particularly apposite, as are his views of figures looking out of windows. In these, the figure's back is towards the viewer so identity is not delivered. Tenison, however, has a protagonist whose face is directed at the viewer. Identity, though, is intimated rather than delivered through the amalgam of images that constitute the exhibition.
This is a clever exhibition. It poses questions about how we view history; about how individual stories contribute to the wider sweep of history; and about how we can understand the past through understanding an individual's role in the formation of "a past".
It is very much concerned with the mediating role of the artist in positing a way of viewing history through the medium of photography, and photography as arguably the most appropriate medium for this particular form of contemplation. Tenison's tight selection is as much about what is not on the walls as with what is there.
Fiona Amundsen's Community Honour is her meditation on the place where the famous "Cowra Breakout" took place in 1944. It consists of four large inkjet photographs (each 95.6cm x 111.9cm) and a 14-minute looped video.
The images are about silence and absence. They resonate with an emptiness that speaks of the Japanese men who were once imprisoned in the prisoner-of-war camp. The emptiness is characterised by an eloquent poignancy underscored by the depredations of time that have marked the unused areas depicted.
Like Tenison, Amundsen is concerned with memory and history and in both instances, the horror of humanity at war with itself. For me, the most articulate and evocative image is Memorialising Stone (for Ebina san), Japanese Memorial Garden, Cowra (here). The rock is a mute sentinel, a solid reminder of what happened, and in its lithic presence a powerful and elegant force.
The accompanying video loop is unnecessary and interrupts the silence that accompanies the images.
All Killer by Jess Taylor is apparently about "horror" and the depiction of women in the "horror" genre. The protagonist in most of the images is the artist, who blackens her eyes in a style that reminds me of the villain's make-up in silent films rather more than any figure of "horror".
The images as presented needed more than they offered to give any cogency to the exhibition. I felt that I was viewing illustrations to a text that wasn't there. I am sorry to say that I was underwhelmed by this exhibition.