Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up 16 November 2018

This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – it’s all about the Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney) with my reviews on the David Goldblatt retrospective and Primavera 2018.


David Goldblatt: Photographs 1948-2018

Going home: Marabastad-Waterval route: for most of the people in this bus, the cycle will start again tomorrow at between 2 and 3 am  1984
Image courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town © The David Goldblatt Legacy Trust

I had the joy of spending two days at the MCA last weekend to review this expansive exhibition. What a treat! I rarely get that kind of time to immerse myself in a body of work. My review on David Goldblatt: Photographs 1948-2014 was published on Australian Book Review: Arts on Tuesday and a condensed version will be in the December magazine. It’s one of my favourite commissions this year.

Here are a few snippets. You can read the full review here.

“Particularly captivating are the pictures of the ‘shaft-sinkers’, one of the most perilous jobs in mining, where explosives and brute force are used to create subterranean shafts. Goldblatt was fascinated by these teams, which comprised around seventy black workers and two white ‘bosses’ who toiled in the heat, dust, and wet deep below the earth’s surface. He wrote: ‘to thrust so hugely and so deeply and yet so precisely into the density and blackness of the earth is surely an act of supreme audacity’. Even the miners thought the shaft-sinkers ‘mad’, so dangerous was the job. Goldblatt’s grainy and diffused pictures capture the constant movement of men, rock, and earth. They evince the immensity of the mineshaft soaring above workers who are, in comparison, but specks clad in white overalls and hardhats, toiling in the pit of the beast…

The sidewall: treacherous shale at this stage. As the shaft deepens, so the stage will be lowered and its crew will line the side wall with concrete, so covering the shale with its tendency to fracture.  1969
Image courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town © The David Goldblatt Legacy Trust
Shaftsinking: the cactus grab has dumped the last load of big rocks in the kibble, now the men clear the smaller rocks from the bottom, lashing the kibble with shovels. President Steyn No. 4 Shaft, Welkom, Orange Free State  1969
Image courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town © The David Goldblatt Legacy Trust

“His photographs of South Africa during apartheid lay bare the cruelty inflicted by this regime. In Goldblatt’s gaze the individual’s experience becomes the collective, a conduit to the pain and suffering of the country and, more broadly, of humanity. Consider the body of work The Transported of KwaNdebele, which documents the daily bus journeys of black South Africans. Segregated by the government into tribal Bantustans, black South Africans were sent to live in underdeveloped regional ‘homelands’ that were over-populated and economically unviable. In order to survive, many Bantustans commuted to Pretoria for work. Some travelled up to eight hours a day, leaving home at 2.45 am and returning at 10 pm, leaving little time for family, friends, lovers – for life.

Goldblatt took the first pictures of what he called this ‘half-life’ in 1983. The scenes of people crammed into buses trying to sleep are sobering. For Goldblatt riding those buses was ‘a profound experience.’”

Going to work: Wolwekraal-Marabastad bus at 4 am: more than an hour and a half still to go. This bus took on its first passenger at about 2:50 am and will reach its destination in Pretoria at 5:35 am  1983
Image courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town © The David Goldblatt Legacy Trust

David Goldblatt: Photographs 1948–2018 at MCA until 3 March 2019.


Primavera 2018: Young Australian Artists

Now in its 27th year, the 2018 Primavera showcase features eight Australian artists under 35 years. This year’s theme considers “why is identity important today?”

Curated by Megan Robson the show features the work of Hoda Afshar, Caroline Garcia, Spence Messih, Hayley Millar-Baker, Phuong Ngo, Jason Phu, Ryan Presley and Andrew Tenison. Using various mediums, the Primavera artists “highlight how social, political and cultural factors contribute to the ways in which people are defined, as individuals and as groups”.

While each of the bodies of work have their merits, there are four that I found really captivating: Gunditjmara artist Hayley Millar-Baker’s A Series of Unwarranted Events, Phuong Ngo’s The Vietnam Archive Project, Andrew Tenison’s Let Me Imagine You and Hoda Afshar’s Remain, which featured on Photojournalism Now last week.

Hayley Millar-Baker – A Series of Unwarranted Events

Hayley Millar-Baker, Untitled ((The Circumstances Are That a Whale Had Come on Shore), 2018

This series comprises photo assemblages that feature hundreds of individual images that come together to create a single, cohesive photograph – a process that is fascinating. The end result is an intriguing collection that tells an oblique tale of the Eumeralla War. Waged between 1834 and 1849 in south-western Victoria, these pictures talk to the cruelty of British colonisation and the strength of the Gunditjmara people.

Hayley Millar-Baker, Untitled (The Best Means, of Caring for, and Dealing with Them in the Future), 2018 

Phuong Ngo – The Vietnam Archive Project

Phuong Ngo, Colony (detail), 2017, found photographs, perspex, postage stamps, terylene, steel, image courtesy and © the artist, photograph: Matthew Stanton

This ongoing project features more than 20,000 objects “including slides, photographs, film reels, trench art, postcards, letters, official records and furniture, that relate primarily to the Vietnam War.” The objects have been collected by Ngo since 2010 and have become a “living repository” representative of the Vietnamese diaspora in Australia. Ngo, the son of Vietnamese refugees, says these objects represent “moments in history that have determined my existence”, their historicity important in the current debates on refugees and identity.

Phuong Ngo, Colony, 2017, installation view, The Substation, Melbourne, found, photographs, perspex, postage stamps, terylene, steel, image courtesy and © the artist, photograph: Matthew Stanton
(C) Alison Stieven-Taylor

Andrew Tenison – Let Me Imagine You

Andrew Tenison, Let Me Imagine You (Untitled 4), 2017

This series of photographs was inspired by a picture Tenison found of a German Luftwaffe serviceman from World War II. Using this image as his starting point, Tenison reimagined the life of this unknown soldier. Displaced after the war, the soldier  travelled from his homeland to Australia, part of the mass exodus of European refugees.

Each photograph involves a process that takes months with Tenison scouting locations, building sets, sourcing costumes, props and finding the right actors.

Let Me Imagine You really resonates with me. Tenison grew up in Albury/Wodonga where the Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre is located, the camp where many European migrants came after WWII. I worked on the 50th Anniversary Bonegilla project, and Tenison’s work references the historical practices of targeted migration which echoes what is going on today in Australia.

Andrew Tenison, Let Me Imagine You (Untitled 4), 2017
Andrew Tenison, Let Me Imagine You (Untitled 2), 2017




  1. Congratulations on your review in ABR…will get a copy! It’s good to remember that Jennie Boddington gave Goldblatt his second international show at the NGV in 1975, the year after a show at The Photographers Gallery, London. His tough, but quiet and parabolic work made a huge impression not only on me, but on a whole generation of photographers. The show came to Australia not long after the union bans and protests during over the all-white Springbok tour (which went ahead with McMahon’s blessing) and Whitlam, elected in December 1972, placing a ban on sporting tours involving South African teams, which even continued under the Liberal govts Malcolm Fraser (1975–83) and Bob Hawke (1983–91). However, had he lived in Australia, he would no doubt have made us justifiably uncomfortable – witness his parallel documentation of South African and Australian asbestos mining – but especially about our treatment of indigenous people, had he the opportunity.

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