Arts on Friday
REVIEW: It is 37 years since the exhibition The Active Eye was staged by the then Manawatu Art Gallery. Fran Dibble reviews the photographic update Now & Then: Enduring and Developing Themes in Contemporary New Zealand Photography, at Te Manawa, until June 10.
Photography seems to be everywhere at the moment. Not just in our image-laden environment, but in art where there are numerous exhibitions, making up a significant part of auction sales and as established branches of collections.
It wasn't always like that. Te Manawa's exhibition Now & Then, the work of assistant curator Susanna Shadbolt, demonstrates the change.
It reflects on The Active Eye from 1975, which became something of a landmark. It was significant because it was the first New Zealand survey photography exhibition, with largely unknown photographers, and mostly black and white images.
Shadbolt has picked up on this exhibition and has mounted an updated survey. That things have changed is an understatement. Athol McCredie in his essay, one part of a nicely put-together catalogue that is a satisfying discussion of the show, makes the comment on the change in the span of outlook. The 1970s photographers worked in their own immediate environs, their private world, the domestic surrounds, their friends and family, the landscape around them. More contemporary work has a wider-reaching interest in a larger world.
The other difference that hits you like a brick is the vastness of technical trickery and variety that is available today. Photography now has so much variation. But this exhibition, however much the title Now & Then encourages comparisons, pulls it all in and delights in mixing it up.
I like it that Shadbolt has refrained from making too many side by side, overstated points. She has just looked at photography – from the inherited stuff from The Active Eye, work collected from Te Manawa in between and recent and well-known examples that she has managed to borrow. She's thought about what thematically links various pieces, grouping them into intelligent sections, such as architecture and landscape, portraiture, social groupings and objects.
Although the old and new are mixed, there is much that is different. That can perhaps be summed up in the way photography is now often used more as a tool, than solely for its own qualities. The variety enables different voices to make their point. There is the complex digital, the altered and modified, the use of multiple images, crude collage in the case of Ava Seymour, artificial setups and arrangements, and conceptually-based ideas where photography has become a method of recording. And, weirdly, some contemporary players have also picked up the strands of old technology – a daguerreotype by Joyce Campbell and Ben Cauchi's ambrotypes. There are few photographers who have travelled the whole time path with work from both the 70s and now; Laurence Aberhart is one, as well as Ans Westra and Peter Peryer.
So welcome to the new world, full of colour and make-believe, where more is possible, and much, much more of it is on display.
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