A series of of three new independent photo-books examine the social, cultural and political significance of Canberra. Each explores the personal relationships of their photographers to the capital, and looks at its wider, public meaning.
Canberra Re-Seen, by 16 artists, curated by Wouter Van de Voorde, was an exhibition in 2021 that explored the idea of the city as a community of people, a built environment, and a physical landscape, and the book selects and interweaves works from the project. Developed in collaboration with Canberra Museum and Gallery, the project brought together these artists to create new work responding to three of Canberra's landmark photographers - Marzena Wasikowska, Edward (Ted) Richards and Ian North - all part of the gallery's collection.
The book's words provide historical background about Canberra, the project and the three landmark photographers; the 16 artists provide information about their individual approaches and images.
Led by Wasikowska and inspired by her interest in capturing Canberra's human qualities, one group explored the idea that a city is best understood through its people. Images from this group include Andrea Bryant's marvellous portrait of her neighbour Maria, Eva Schroeder's superb "Metamorphosis" - a triptych portrayal of a Canberran transitioning from one gender to another, and Louise Maurer's extraordinary "Weetangera II" - a composite speaking to the importance of diminishing green spaces and native ecosystems across Canberra.
A second collective, led by Van de Voorde, investigated Richards' interest in documenting the character of Canberra's little-known places. Their creations include Annette Fisher's delightful "Abstracts", and Tessa Ivison's strong "Pastoral cityscapes". Sari Sutton, inspired by the playful use of lines and geometry in Richard's "Dancing in the Mall", 1964 found and used geometry effectively in Civic Stripes.
Working with documentary photographer David Hempenstall, the third group explored the ideas of North's bleak yet beautiful vistas of Canberra suburbs. Peter Larmour took 3D images of landscapes. Sadly, his Southern Anaglyph can only be represented here in two dimensions.
Beata Tworek's excellent collages respond to North's innovative colour treatment of deserted streetscapes via austere monochromes. Grant Winkler's "That Sinking Feeling" is very much about the bush landscape disappearing, replaced by buildings sitting heavily on what remains of nature being "moulded and manicured".
Translated into this book, Canberra Re-Seen draws together digital and darkroom works to generate a simultaneously affectionate and challenging look at what it means to live in Canberra today. Caitlin Seymour-King has done an excellent job of designing the book. It is much more than a catalogue of the 2021 exhibition, but one to return to regularly.
Life-Time Book 1. Coming of age by Greg Dickins catalogues his life in Canberra between 1967 and 1973, focusing on experiences of childhood, school, university student revelry and family intimacy - against a backdrop of significant protests and rallies. Dickins has spent his working life as a journalist and media consultant but has always had a passion for photography. He picked up a 35mm SLR camera as a teenager in that late 1960s time of major social, political and cultural change. Since then he has maintained a permanent darkroom, working mostly in black and white.
A record of Canberra as it looked and felt 50 years ago, this volume reveals something of how the city has evolved and changed. In his introduction, Dickins identifies his first dilemma as author of a book of photographs - What do I have to say? He determined to narrate a story linking pictures and explaining their inclusion. He hopes we will see what his images meant when taken.
The childhood section includes delightful images of youngsters doing things children do - playing with something home-made, rolling about on the ground, and painting at kindergarten. They gesture, they laugh - they even look like Winston Churchill. Some adults also make appearances with them. We see a clear representation of what childhood meant for the majority of kids in Canberra.
Moving on to school years, Dickins shows children playing in the Cotter, waiting for the school bus, in marching girl outfits, on a sandy beach, and enjoying Canberra Day. Perhaps of greatest interest are strong 1970 images of schoolchildren participating in an anti-Vietnam War march and rally. Are today's child protestors aware their counterparts also marched and rallied?
Then Dickins explores his university years - speakers' corner, rugby, drama, the first on-campus condom vending machine, Bush Week and conscription notice burning. Plus a march to establish the Aboriginal Embassy and another anti-Vietnam War rally. Well-known people appear, including two political leaders - great historical shots. Three family images neatly close the book - Dickins has successfully narrated his story.
EDGE, by Kayla Adams, looks at the urban and built environment of the Woden town centre through the idea of Edge City. The term, popularised by the 1991 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier by Joel Garreau, refers to a concentration of business, shopping and entertainment, in what had previously been a suburban residential or rural area.
So, is Woden town centre an urban planning phenomenon where a new, separate city has sprung up around an older, established one? Adams says, rather than it "springing up", Canberra chose the edge city form consciously. Certainly Woden has been changing in recent years and continues to do so.
Adams approached her exploration by focusing on the Lovett Tower, that 93-metre-tall building which once was the city's tallest building. Current redevelopment plans would see it again become the tallest. Another developer's plans could see a similar height building nearby. Whatever happens, this photobook is timely. The views featured in it inevitably will change or be completely lost. The iconic tower may no longer be easily noticed from surrounding suburbs.
All the images in EDGE were shot between 2018 and 2021. Around half show the Lovett Tower - glimpsed through trees, through the mesh of a structure in a decaying parcel of land, and above the rooftops of suburbia during both day and night. Other images show views from Mount Taylor, demolition of the Lyons apartments near the Town Centre, and an assortment of pieces of surrounding suburbia. Pitch'n'Putt, also closed, is also featured.
People are not seen, but the author's presence is evident. Time should be taken to examine and consider each image, looking at compositions and thinking about the choices of locations and contents. Viewers will notice details revealing changes during the few years in which they were taken. Through distinctive use of viewpoints, Adams draws the viewer irresistibly into her process, creating an intimate complicity between artist, image and audience.
As years pass, this book will become akin to a time capsule. Who knows what changes will happen, what buildings will be demolished or remade? Youngsters now starting life journeys visiting the town centre may be intrigued when this book shows them what their part of the city once looked like.
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