Hijacked Artsource, Fremantle April 5 May 4
FotoFreo 2008 was another inspiring photo immersion, spreading way beyond the Fremantle boundary this year. Amongst the thirty odd exhibitions, major shows by big shots Roger Ballen (South Africa) and Edward Burtynsky (Canada) sat harmoniously alongside wonderful surprises like Fig (by young London artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin) and San Xia (by Chen Yong, staged images of those made homeless by, but required to work upon, China's Three Gorges Dam project). Of the Australian content, a number of solo shows attracted enthusiastic responses (especially Brook Andrew, Marian Drew and Stephen Dupont) and Megan Lewis' Conversations With The Mob oozed authenticity. However it was a group show of Australian and American talent that caught my eye amongst the abundance of evocative imagery that bombarded us, over the month of May.
Hijacked is an exhibition and a book, put together by local photographer/curator/publisher Mark McPherson and his mentor Max Pam, (who is an inspiration for the realisation of Fotofreo this international festival of photography that graces the village Fremantle biennially). The venue for Hijacked was the cramped and labyrinth-like hallways and office walls of Artsource, the representative body for visual artists in WA and the site of our largest clutch of artists' studios. Not a great venue (despite the great work that goes on in this building), yet the crush of other viewers and prints nudging each other added sympathy to the sense of unease that came across so strongly in the work.
It is good to be close up and personal with a photograph. These modest images in frames are personal, often unassuming. They work very well as a collection, almost as a narrative. The project developed from a history of zine production and the 44 photographers are mostly emerging, although that is stretching it for some. The converging perspectives of a bleak vision from both the American and Australian contributors is no surprise but the tenderness and humour that comes through the images leaves me with a sense of hope. Pictures of a sad mother and daughter in a car, piles of dirt, scarred and unsightly naked bodies, a girl wearing a bunny head and holding a gun, another with a rifle aiming at something from her idyllic perch in a perfect jungle garden setting (unspoiled nature), lead to lots of images of strange human/animal friendships, odd pets, odd pairings, crumbling rooms, crumbling nature, disturbing suburbia, the Mall, wild parties, innocents in their school uniforms, tattooed bulges, lots of breasts, a girl urinating, a boy sleeping, the desolation goes on and it feels like it is seen through the eyes of the young, slightly damaged, fascinated, appalled, accepting. It's a celebration of freaky normal people and I can feel the breath of Diane Arbus caressing my shoulder.
The wild is tamed or tolerated; the elements work hard to deconstruct the constructed world. But the people are the focus and so many of them have an up-front attitude that it pervades the show. Perhaps the minimal viewing distance dictated by Artsource's corridors makes for an extra intimacy. I am hoping it was just as good to view in a more salubrious venue such as the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney where it was on show in July. The book (available online from www.keithandlottie.com/view/Hijacked+Vol.1/1110/) maintains this integrity as books do, since you sit with them and give them your attention, in a kind of bubble.
I see a lot of value in exhibitions which place works by outstanding Perth artists in a bigger arena with like-minded souls from other parts of the world. I like these young fellows who stick their necks out to publish a book on borrowed money and even more I like the images selected and the way they sit together to remind us of the universality and joy of our experiences of growing up, of our bodies, our homes, our public selves, of street culture and more than one coyote eking out a kind of life on the edge of ours, where coyotes don't belong.