This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – renowned architecture photographer John Gollings’ retrospective opens at MGA. Plus Mindaugas Kavaliauskas’ travel’AIR project SPOT and photojournalist Tim Page pens a missive on why he’s resorted to posting images on Instagram (or how an old dog can learn new tricks).
John Gollings – The History of the Built World
This expansive retrospective is the first major survey of Gollings work. When I interviewed Gollings back in 2014 he told me, “I often joke that every photographer takes one great picture in their life if they are lucky. Max Dupain’s Sunbather. Ansel Adams’ Moonrise. Cartier-Bresson’s man jumping over the puddle. That’s the harsh reading of it. I used to fear I had taken my best work by the time I was 30 and it’s been downhill ever since”. The words of a man who has made a career out of breaking boundaries and pushing architecture photography, as well as himself, to the limit.
It is unexpected to hear that Gollings ‘one great picture’ has nothing to do with the man-made structures on which he’s built an enviable reputation. “My one photo? The red bushfire aerial picture I shot after Black Saturday in 2009,” he reveals.
In the aftermath of one of the worst bushfire disasters in Australia, Gollings, who is renowned for his aerial photography, chartered a craft for a different perspective of the burned-out landscape. As they circled above Gollings caught sight of a patch of red earth. Flying in to gain a closer look he realised the red was ash. “In one acre of the pine forest there was a particular genus of pine tree that produced red ash,” he says still marveling at the discovery.
Gollings originally wanted to be an architect, but in the last year of his degree he took a summer job as a photographic assistant and his fate was sealed. But the constructed world has never been far from Gollings’ heart – his father was a builder – and it didn’t take him long to gravitate towards architectural photography.
“As my contemporaries started getting buildings up I was the only photographer they knew. Peter Corrigan, Maggie Edmond, John Denton and Daryl Jackson all that mob started calling me when they got buildings going. I was the go-to guy and I think they wanted to work with a contemporary, someone who had the same thinking, so that was an automatic in for me.” Today he still photographs for his former university comrades many of whom are established on the international stage.
Gollings came to architecture photography in a period he describes as “concrete brutalism. Then came postmodernism and I think that was a disaster for every architect in the world, although that was the time when I made my most notorious photographs and I’m embarrassed and thrilled by that period,” he laughs adding that Max Dupain, the black and white master, “hated my work at that time…I was the enfant terrible”.
“But I was using colour as a way of trying to put a narrative into architectural photography and explain what postmodernism was all about. My gauche attempts to be different did put me on the map as someone who was seriously out there doing stuff.” A wry smile creases his face. “I’ve since backed off to become the Max Dupain, with a very formal, considered, proper approach.”
The “enfant terrible” is now the elder statesman, although to think Gollings rests on past glories would be a mistake. Gollings still holds to the work ethic that has placed him at the top of his profession and he never says no to a client. “Right from the beginning I decided I would always be available for my clients and that’s still my approach. I also decided to keep a copy of every single picture I’ve ever taken”. That’s some archive!
Now+When – Venice Architecture Biennale
Gollings isn’t content with only photographing current skylines. In 2010 he created a futuristic view for the Venice Architecture Biennale with his 3D stereo projection Now+When featuring existing and future cities in Australia.
With the desire to stimulate thinking about the way cities might look in the future, and push thought far beyond what we can conceive of now, Gollings’ installation “disoriented the audience by sound and location in order to keep their mind open to the radical proposals for future cities”. The stereo images in the NOW section were shot at night from a helicopter over Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast in Queensland using a single camera system Gollings developed specifically for this project.
“I wanted to move away from ideas of how can we make trains go faster or how can we get smaller cars and bigger roads? I don’t think that’s the answer. We have to leap way beyond that, and that was my thinking with Now+When, which I pitched to be in the far distant future. The way cities are developing now is in the Chinese model where they just get bigger and bigger and the problems become exacerbated. Melbourne can’t continue to just keep growing with the same old town planning rules, but the solution is probably technologically beyond us at the moment.”
The History of the Built World
But Gollings has not only been interested in architecture and the modern urban landscape. He also has a deep fascination with the ancient temples of India, Indonesia, and Cambodia, as well as sacred rock art sites in Australia, and much of his free time is spent pursuing personal projects.
It is this combination of professional work and personal interests that make this collection a remarkable visual history.
Until 4 March, 2018
Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Rd, Wheelers Hill
Mindaugas Kavaliauskas – SPOT
Lithuanian photographer and the director of KAUNAS PHOTO festival Mindaugas Kavaliauskas has followed up his irreverent and highly engaging Travel’ AIR with a new series SPOT.
Whereas Travel’ AIR is a personal tale and documents Kavaliauskas’ experiences and observations made on the many flights he has taken in recent years, SPOT focuses on those on the ground, the plane watchers who long to take the place of travellers, imagining that life must be better when you’re flying somewhere.
Over two years, on his many trips, Kavaliauskas sought out locations where plane spotters were known to gaze longingly at the silver birds in the sky. This is their story.
Tim Page – Why Instagram?
“A HEARTFELT WHINGE
“Unfortunately, there is no money in the budget to pay for your pictures….”
“How often now does a professional photographer get the above response from a client who wants an image from their stock? The common plea somewhat expected from NGO’s and charities now seems to be the norm from film and documentary makers to book publishers and specialist print magazines. In between, there are educational bodies and institutions that put out both public and academic works. All claim to be penniless though some are supported by massive philanthropic contributions.
Parallel has been the demise of the printed journal and magazine. Long gone are the big weeklies LIFE, LOOK et al on virtually every continent. Newspapers are becoming a rarity, the market is simply shrinking. Even the old reliable stock sales flow has become a bit dodgy, the percentages and payments pathetic. Corbis and Getty have been snaffled up by a Chinese conglomerate. Here in Australia the TV networks and film folk don’t even pay flash fees for usage on screen. When you get lucky and can trade a frame as art, your dealer now expects a 50% cut. How to survive, especially at a time when photographers of an advanced age are not the first to get the dropping day rates and where every young wannabe has a smart device for the capturing of an imagined Pulitzer? Few even know the origins of film or its processing. Albeit they think it über cool.
So, how to survive, how to get by, how to maintain an edge as you age surrounded by folk the age of your grandchildren who are all tech savvy? How to profit from your years of archiving and preserving stuff shot way back last century? What titivates, what is in the view of others iconic or desirable? What appeals, what is saleable?
With the advent of social media, the internet, we now have a billboard as well as a method of distribution and a place that feeds back both a critique and appreciation. Via Facebook and Instagram, I can post images to an audience of millions – fans, friends and total strangers. Delving into the archive to find shots that have a back story that interests and captivates is at times as hard as editing for a paper or magazine. And somewhat surprisingly with the right frame, the orders come in.
These postings also serve to notify a new generation of editors unfamiliar with film and its qualities over digital, that certain look.
Why not postcards, posters, tastefully matted prints at an affordable price? Something edgy that Hallmark could barely conceive. Something that has a backstory and a provenance.
Ultimately you hope that the next echelon of gallerists, publishers and curators will glimpse some of the work and come hankering at your door or online. As my partner, Marianne is often want to say “send money – do not phone”.