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Personal View: Photographs 1978 – 1986

PERSONAL VIEW

Janine Burke

In 1978, when I began my research on Joy Hester, I bought a second-hand Pentax to document her work. I’d had no training in photography. As I became used to carrying the camera around with me, I grew comfortable photographing friends at social gatherings – such as Carlton Party I: Michael Carman, Christine Johnston and Karen Marks (1978) – on a gallery visit – At Heide: Paul Taylor (1982) – at home – Frances and Robert Lindsay (1985) or on holidays – At Merimbula: Peter Kennedy, Suzy Pinchen, Geoff Hogg and Andrew Scollo (1981). I used the camera indoors and out, shooting only with natural light. I didn’t ‘pose’ my subjects and many photographs happened spontaneously. At Albert Tucker’s home in Blessington Street St Kilda, where Tucker showed me Hester’s drawings, I snapped him as he chatted to me in the afternoon sun.

In 1998, I curated The Eye of the Beholder: Albert Tucker’s Photographs for Heide Museum of Modern Art. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work intensively with Tucker on the project. With him, I selected, dated and titled photographs from a vast archive dating back to 1939. The process made a deep impression teaching me that while a photograph can happen in an instant, deciding its aesthetic or historic value, its ‘worth’ or ‘resonance’, as well as its compositional elements, requires long and judicious contemplation.

Tucker insisted he was ‘an accidental historian’, with no program of chronicling his milieu.1 As Julia Hirsch has noted, ‘like slips of the tongue, candid photography speaks to us of hidden meanings, of intentions we did not know we had, of emotions we had not recognised’.2 Walter Benjamin has memorably likened photography’s ‘unconscious optics’ to psychoanalysis with its fecund, unpredictable results.3 Tucker’s evocative photographs of Hester, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Sunday Reed, reveal how the people at the centre of his creative and emotional life inspired him as a man and an artist. In the catalogue essay, I wrote, ‘Each generation creates its autobiography in images. They are memories inscribed in life’s ordinary celebrations to which the camera is the privileged witness.’4 I now ponder those words in relation to Personal View.

In 2004, when I was asked to give a lecture on Tucker and discuss my research from a personal angle, I recalled the photograph of Bert I’d taken at Blessington Street. Searching for it, I came across hundreds of others that I had taken over the years and crammed in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet in my study. Slowly, I began to sift through them, caught by nets of nostalgia and curiosity. From an archive of around 2000 negatives, prints and slides, I’ve selected these images.

Personal View records aspects of Melbourne cultural life during the 1970s and ’80s when, centred in and around Carlton, a generation of artists, critics, curators and writers collaborated in networks that lead to fresh approaches to artmaking, curating, publishing and research.

Personal View is a visual memoir of some of those networks. Their loci included the University of Melbourne, the Ewing and George Paton Galleries, the Victorian College of the Arts and Music, Art Projects, the National Gallery of Victoria, LIP: A Journal of Women in the Visual Arts, Art&Text and the Women’s Art Register. A previous Carlton-based generation came to prominence via the Australian Performing Group, better known as the Pram Factory, and Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip. Personal View chronicles members of the next generation with its focus on visual art.

Living in Carlton share houses meant proximity reinforced the developing networks – meeting for coffee at Tamani’s or Genevieve’s, dinners at El Gambero or Jamaica House, drinks at the Albion on Friday nights or Vera’s sly-grog joint when the pubs closed, and late night pool at Johnny’s Green Room. Then there were movies at the ‘Bughouse’ or theatre at La Mama. Screenings at Melbourne University Film Society introduced many to the work of Godard, Bergman, Truffaut and Chabrol.

The Carlton arts feminist network was part of cultural change. During International Women’s Year 1975, New York-based feminist critic Lucy R. Lippard visited Australia. While Lippard gave a public lecture at the University of Melbourne, she also held a women’s-only talk at the Ewing and George Paton Galleries.5 Stimulated by Lippard’s views, Lesley Dumbrell approached Kiffy Rubbo, EGPG’s director, with the idea of starting a feminist art group.6 The first meeting of the Women’s Art Register took place at the EGPG later that year. Rubbo had invited me to curate Australian Women Artists, One Hundred Years: 1840–1940 which, on display at that meeting, provided an historical context for contemporary change. Meetings were gregarious occasions that often took place at artists’ homes: photographer and filmmaker Sue Ford welcomed us to her Eltham property while multi-media artist Isabel Davies and painters Lesley Dumbrell and Chris Berkman invited us to their urban studios. Rae Marks’ home in a lush green pocket of open land and forest near
St Andrews was a welcome destination for the city-dwellers. It provided an opportunity for the artists to discuss their work with a sympathetic audience while for budding critics and curators it was a humbling and inspiring experience to directly engage with an
artist’s work.

Early in 1976, Suzanne Spunner, co-ordinator of the Melbourne Women’s Film Festival, called a meeting to discuss launching a feminist arts magazine. LIP: A Journal of Women in the Visual Arts was written, designed and (largely) funded by a collective that included Judy Annear, Isabel Davies, Suzanne Davies, Lesley Dumbrell, Elizabeth Gower, Christine Johnston, Lyndal Jones and Meredith Rogers. The combination of artists, curators and critics helped give LIP its edge. Emphasising Australian culture, LIP foregrounded contemporary women, reassessed those whose achievements had been neglected and queried the boundaries between art and craft.

While the Women’s Art Register or LIP assisted connectivity, there were informal gatherings such as regular lunches that included Betty Churcher, Christine Abrahams and Julie Copeland. Kiffy Rubbo often instigated the events: selecting the restaurant, choosing the guests, subtly keeping the contacts flowing. At that time, Churcher was lecturing in art history at Philip Institute of Technology before taking on roles as director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the National Gallery of Australia. Christine Abrahams Gallery played a vital role in the Australian art world and those who showed with her included Dumbrell, Gower and Jenny Watson. Warm, generous and stylish, Abrahams brought a frisson of European glamour to the gallery scene. Copeland, an assistant to radio personality Claudia Wright, took an interest in the arts feminist activities, documenting exhibitions and publications via radio interviews. Copeland joined the ABC where, for many years, she ran national arts programs. While not directly involved with LIP or the Women’s Art Register, Churcher, Abrahams and Copeland were important participants in and promoters of feminist networks.

Personal View also records male artists and critics who supported the burgeoning feminist activities: Peter Kennedy, Geoff Hogg, John Nixon, Paul Taylor and Norbert Loeffler. Their contribution has remained elusive due to their role as husbands, lovers or friends. It is ironic that they have been overlooked for the same reasons that women in cultural milieux have been traditionally neglected.

In the late ’70s, Peter Kennedy, who co-founded the artist-run, experimental Inhibodress Gallery, moved to Melbourne where he began a collaborative, multi-media project titled November Eleven. Based on the events of 1975 when governor-general Sir John Kerr sacked the Whitlam government, November Eleven has been shown extensively including at the EGPG in 1981 and at Kennedy’s retrospective at the Ian Potter Museum of Art in 2002.

Geoff Hogg, a close friend of Kennedy’s, initiated the Melbourne public art movement. On his return from Mexico, where he studied the murals of Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros, Hogg completed his first public mural in Lygon Street, North Carlton. As Bernard Smith notes, ‘In 1975, Geoff Hogg pioneered a new kind of mural that did not seek to reinforce ruling conventions but was addressed to the expression of local, regional, community, public and working people’s values’.7 Today Hogg coordinates an international public art program at Royal Melbourne Intitute of Technology. Hogg and Kennedy were associated with members of the Women’s Art Register and the LIP collective.

In 1982, John Nixon, dissatisfied with the gallery system, decided to start Art Projects. Reached by many flights of stairs in a rambling city building, it was an austere environment. Nixon’s minimalist, abstract aesthetic is influenced by the utopian art and politics of Kasimir Malevich. To support the venture, Watson, then Nixon’s wife, left Christine Abrahams Gallery to exhibit there. Nixon, reserved but friendly, provided the foil for Watson’s frank, outgoing personality. In the early ’80s, Watson’s meticulous, photorealist painting style loosened as she increasingly focused on autobiographical content.

Witty, charming and exasperating, Paul Taylor was an enfant terrible of the Australian art world. Influenced by French post-structuralist theory, he started Art&Text. At that time, Taylor was close to Nixon, Watson and Annear. Art&Text marked a schism. By boldly promoting the magazine Taylor scored funding that LIP had never received. Though Taylor’s pop culture theories dismissed feminism and art/politics as retrograde, his supportive friendships with women artists, critics and curators linked him with feminist networks.

Norbert Loeffler has been an unacknowledged force in the Melbourne art world for three decades. At that time, Loeffler lectured in art history at Prahran College. His support for many represented in Personal View, together with his ability to articulate the art and theoretical issues that galvanised cultural debates made him a quiet though significant contributor. Others in the Carlton scene included Shane Maloney and Ian Grey. Prior to writing his acclaimed Murray Whelan detective series, Maloney managed bands and worked at Arts Victoria. Ian Grey, married to Suzanne Spunner, is now Victoria’s Chief Magistrate.

The Victorian College of the Arts, once the National Gallery School and now part of the University of Melbourne, was another site of interconnection. Between 1977 and 1982, when I worked there, my colleagues included Frances Lindsay, Allan Mitelman, Elizabeth Gower, Graham Fransella, Gareth Sansom and John Davis. Later, Andrea Hull became the VCA’s longest serving director. Alumni from the early ’70s included Watson, Nixon, Hogg and ceramicist Stephen Benwell. With a tradition reaching back to the Heidelberg School, it was a small, elite, studio-based enterprise with an air of endearingly raffish individualism.

Robert Lindsay, then curator of contemporary Australian art at the National Gallery of Victoria, initiated a series of exhibitions showcasing major mid-career artists, including John Davis. Lindsay was a regular visitor to the VCA where Frances was gallery director. Andrew Scollo, a video-maker at Fitzroy’s Open Channel Video Collective, who was my partner, produced videos to accompany Lindsay’s shows. He also contributed to Peter Kennedy’s projects.

In a casual, intimate and diaristic way, Personal View records elective affinities, a family of choice, an inner urban tribe, the young bohemians. Inevitably, it is lit by nostalgia’s melancholic glow. Like Tucker, I had no ‘project’ in mind: I photographed who was close to me. If Tucker was an accidental historian, then I was certainly an accidental photographer. By the mid-1980s, due to shifts in career and locale, to parenthood as well as to disagreements and separations, our bonds were loosened. Some alliances ended bitterly but many remain powerfully alive and continue to shape Australian culture.

In the span of the exhibition, my life changed. I resigned from the VCA to become a fulltime writer, a long cherished ambition. After completing Joy Hester, I left Australia, staying in Paris and Tuscany, and writing fiction, before returning to Melbourne to live in 1986. With Tucker’s encouragement, I edited the correspondence between Hester and Sunday Reed and, later, wrote his biography. Personal View also recalls those like Kiffy Rubbo and Paul Taylor whose lives ended either tragically or too soon. It is dedicated to Sue Ford, great photographer, good friend, free spirit.

Endnotes (Janine Burke)

1. Albert Tucker. Interviewed by Stephen Feneley. On Express. July 1998. www.abc.net.au/arts/express/stories/tucker.htm (accessed 21 May 2010).

2. Julia Hirsch, Family Photographs, Content, Meaning and Effect, Oxford University Press, New York: Oxford, 1981, p.105.

3. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Illuminations, William Collins and Sons: Glasgow, 1979, p.239.

4. Janine Burke, The Eye of the Beholder: Albert Tucker’s Photographs, Heide Museum of Modern Art: Bulleen, 1998, p.22.

5. Janine Burke, “A home for the revolution: the Ewing and George Paton Galleries and the first phase of the women’s art movement, 1975–1980,” in Helen Vivian (ed.) When you think about Art: The Ewing And George Paton Galleries 1971–2008, Pan Macmillan: Melbourne, 2008, p.182.

6. Erica McGilchrist also participated in the initial discussions.

7. Bernard Smith. www.rmit.edu.au/staff/geoffhogg (accessed 20 May 2010).



ARCHIVES AND PEOPLE

Anne Marsh

Photography has always had an intimate relationship with time. Roland Barthes writes about the camera as a clock for seeing and meditates on what it is to be photographed, as one poses for the camera, anticipating the click of the shutter.1 We might say that photography allows time to come into the visible. This is certainly apparent in the albums that we collect of friends and families and it is alive in the archives of street photography held in museums and libraries, and published in books.

Thierry de Duve argues that time exposure and snap shot photography alternately capture time and freeze it thus contributing a life/death paradox to the dialogue around the photograph.2 In photographing someone we capture how they were, right then
at that moment, in present time, but as soon as
the shutter closes that moment in time is over, already dead.

Walter Benjamin writes about photography and an optical unconscious – a type of collective cultural memory, which he compares to the unconscious and psychoanalysis.3 Benjamin was interested in the flâneur who would stroll through the streets and absorb the spectacle of everyday life. There is a retrospective romanticism in this interpretation, which is, perhaps, encouraged in street photography where the individual photographer enters into the mundane as social witness or existential scribe.

Janine Burke’s photographs of friends and colleagues represent an archive of people she knew from a particular time (from the 1970s and 1980s) and in a particular location – inner city Melbourne and its artistic haunts. The photographs are moments from an era and they capture, in an intimate way, the people who contributed to Melbourne’s artistic milieu. But it’s a particular clan: a left-leaning bohemia, a politically committed tribe. As such, the archive of people acts to personalise a political space. Here we see the faces and the people who drove alternative networks for cultural change.

It was a challenging time for the art world. A time when mainstream agendas were toppled by small group activism. A time when feminism and the arts were undergoing seismic shifts as cultural – equal rights feminism – gave way to structuralist Marxist feminism and eventually embraced Freud and psychoanalysis. I wonder how many of these people were involved in the Melbourne lobby (1977–78) that eventually shifted the policy for the inclusion of women and Australian artists in the Biennale of Sydney.4 There are pivotal people in these photographs. Kiffy Rubbo, Director of the Ewing and George Paton Galleries, acted as a conduit between people and organisations and established a vibrant arts hub at the University of Melbourne. Lyndal Jones spent some formative years in London when structuralist Marxist feminism was emerging. Although she may never have been a spokesperson for theoretical positions, her work demonstrated a new approach to performance art: one which was already engaged in a deconstruction of representation. Paul Taylor, the founding editor of Art&Text, brought semiotic and post-structuralist theory into art discourse in Australia. He was a stylist of sorts and managed to create a nexus of art and theory on the pages of the early editions of the journal. His exhibition POPISM (1982) would set the agenda for a decade.5

In Janine Burke’s archive there is an energy of change. There is also a reverence for the past, for radical mainstream figures such as Albert Tucker. Tucker acts as a kind of mentor – Burke learns about his ‘accidental’ role as an historian and reflects on this, considering that she became an accidental photographer – a photo-archivist. This archival enterprise is eclectic and perhaps driven by chance. The camera is everywhere but no where in particular, to adapt Geoffrey Batchen’s phrase.6 Burke photographs where she is, the events she attends, the parties and holidays she enjoys, and she presents us with a series of portraits: one way or another, the people who populate her photographs become portraits of a time.

Susan Sontag famously said that to photograph people is to violate them – a sort of soft murder.7 But intimate portraits, which capture a sisterhood, a fraternity or an activist scene – where the accidental photographer happens to be part of the extended family – seem removed from Sontag’s aggressive analysis. Burke’s archive is somewhere between the family album (with all its Freudian conceptions probably intact) and street photography (where voyeurism is certainly an element).

It is evident that people pose for photographs and it is certainly true that much photography is performative.8 I’m particularly interested in the photograph of Peter Kennedy et al (At Merimbula, 1979). Primarily because I have followed Kennedy’s later career and seen him develop what I think of as a poetically informed political art. I look at this photograph taken in 1979 and remember some of the early images of him in performance documentation shot at Inhibodress artists’ space in Sydney. This photograph – shot by Burke when she was on vacation with the artists, one of whom was her partner (Andrew Scollo) and a friend and collaborator of Kennedy’s – shows Kennedy as a young, stylish man posing for the photograph. The full body shot captures the gaze and the viewer scans the bodies. Kennedy appears at home in his performance of gender, it’s almost too perfect – a clear signature of the performative act of gender construction that Judith Butler describes in her books Bodies that Matter and Gender Trouble.9

If I knew the people in these photographs better, I’m sure I could get inside their performances as well. Looking from the outside at these figures, I experience a feeling of nostalgia (something that Burke reflects upon from a more intimate understanding). My nostalgia is associated with a kind of cultural mourning for a time in which people believed that they could effect change through group action and process. Although I suspect this is a generational neurosis.

Endnotes (Anne Marsh)

1 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard, London: Fontana, 1984, p. 15

2 Thierry de Duve, ‘Time Exposure and Snapshot: The Photograph as Paradox’, October, no. 5, Summer 1978, pp. 113–125.

3 Walter Benjamin, ‘A Small History of Photography’, One-Way Street and Other Writings, trans. Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter, London: New Left Books, 1979, p. 243.

4 For thorough documentation see Sydney Biennale: White Elephant or Red Herring, Student Representative Council, Alexander Mackie C.A.E, Sydney, 1979.

5 Paul Taylor, POPISM, exh. cat., Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1982.

6 Geoffrey Batchen, Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997, p. 216.

7 Susan Sontag, On Photography, Penguin, 1979, pp. 13–15.

8 Anne Marsh, The Darkroom: Photography and the Theatre of Desire, South Yarra: Macmillan, 2003.

9 See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and hte Subversion of Identity, New York and London: Routledge, 1990 and Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’, New York: Routledge 1993.

 

 

Allan Mitelman and Graham Fransella. 1978.

 

The Painting Studio (Stephen McCarthy.) 1978.

 

Gareth Sansom’s Desk. 1978.

 

Elizabeth Gower. 1978.

 

Suzanne Davies and Kevin Mortensen. 1978.

 

Carlton Party I: Michael Carman, Christine Johnston and Karen Marks. 1978.

 

Carlton Party II: Suzanne Spunner and Ian Grey. 1978.

 

Lunch at The Clare Castle. From left: Kiffy Rubbo, Isabel Davies, Rae Marks, Lesley Dumbrell, Betty Churcher, Chris Berkman. 1979.

 

At Merimbula. From left: Peter Kennedy, Suzy Pinchen, Geoff Hogg and Andrew Scollo. 1979.

 

Meredith Rogers. 1980.

 

John Davis. 1981.

 

Graham Fransella and Deborah Walker. 1981.

 

Norbert Loeffler. 1981.

 

Lesley Dumbrell. 1981.

 

Merrill Dumbrell. 1981.

 

Rae Marks. 1981.

 

Andrew Scollo. 1981.

 

Judy Annear. 1982.

 

John Nixon and Peter Cripps. 1982.

 

John Nixon. 1982.

 

Lyndal Jones. 1982.

 

At Heide: Paul Taylor. 1982.

 

Brownie Higginbotham and Sue Ford. 1982.

 

Geoff Hogg. 1982.

 

Shane Maloney. 1982.

 

Elizabeth Gower and Jenny Watson. 1982.

 

Julie Copeland. 1983.

 

Albert Tucker. 1983.

 

William Mora. 1983.

 

Christine Abrahams. 1985.

 

Frances Lindsay (centre) with her children Amy (left) and Nat. 1983.

 

Frances and Robert Lindsay. 1985.

 

Frances and Robert Lindsay. 1985.

 

Jenny Watson. 1985.

 

Elizabeth Gower and Ivan. 1986.

 

Andrea Hull. 1985.

 

Stephen Benwell. 1986.

 

Sue Ford. 1986

 

Self-Portrait with Pentax. 1979.

 

Cite this book as: Burke, Janine. 2011. Personal View: Photographs 1978–1986. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing. 52 pp.

Personal View: Photographs 1978 – 1986

   by Janine Burke