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Tamara Voninski, Untitled, 2001, R3 Prin Tamara Voninski, Untitled, 2001, R3 Prin
In my lecture at this year’s Leica/CCP Documentary Photography Exhibition+Awards, rather than lingering on the troublesome divide between documentary photographers and other contemporary artists, I took the position that all sorts of photography should find room under documentary’s umbrella. This year’s Leica exhibition offered plenty of positive evidence.

Rather than a single defining image, entrants were asked to submit a series of up to 7 recent photographs “demonstrating or developing an original and considered appreciation of the chosen subject.” The exhibition contained examples of documentary forms which the genre has always handled well, such as the capacity for strong political statement evident in Simon O’Dwyer’s S11—striking colour images of the protest outside the World Economic Forum at Melbourne’s Crown Casino. There’s Sam McQuillan’s shots of grieving relatives of independence supporters in East Timor. Political intent was also close to the surface in Sandra Walker’s Institution and Stephen Rooke’s Kensington Housing Estate (a pity they didn’t draw on Australian subject matter) and in Matthew Sleeth’s Tour of Duty and Ashley Gilbertson’s Melbourne: Whispers and Shadows—in other words, half the finalists.

The medium is also great at charting unique phenomena as in Dean Sewell’s shots of the fascinating “Cave Clan”, a network of more than 100 members of Australia’s unofficial association of urban explorers of stormwater drains, reservoirs, train tunnels, abandoned buildings, bridge structures and bunkers, who communicate via the internet. Documentary also comes into its own in recording changing events. Steven Siewert’s series The Sulphur Miners of Kawahijen follows the daily journeys of 20 men in East Java as they work on an acid lake inside the crater of the Ijen Volcano. Agnes T Earl’s series Untitled (63 Signs) was the most methodical record. Displayed grid-like, it focused on people lining the route to the War Memorial in Canberra on Anzac Day, 2000. Similarly, Alex Cyreszko’s Abandoned Car Series 2000 is all shot from the same viewpoint. Interesting to compare these with others and wonder what gives the latter works their “conceptual” feel.

Tamara Voninski’s Hen’s Nights series featured some of the most physical and confronting images of women I’ve seen for a while. The photographer says “On my first evening in Sydney as a new immigrant I saw a young woman at Town Hall train station wearing a veil and a sign saying “It’s my hens night. KISS ME PLEASE…Thus began my fascination with this Australian ritual.”

Rejecting the yoke of objectivity with which documentary (and all photography) has been associated, others like Steven Lojewski, Narelle Autio, Trent Parke, Marzena Wazikowska, make more personal statements. In Not from this Earth, Autio observes from above, the intimate patterns of the everyday in a great series of inkjet prints on canvas of picnickers under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Wasikowska’s Fragrant Sweat features the photographer’s 16 year old daughter and her friends. Marzena talks about the impossibility of distancing herself from her subject and the dilemma is there in her pictures which give you the feeling that the photographer is almost on top of these kids, almost in their bodies.

The judges Isobel Crombie (Curator of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria), artist Rosemary Laing and photographer Emmanuel Santos chose Steven Lojewski’s Urban Dreams as this year’s winner of the Leica camera with Sam McQuillan, Tamara Voninski and Dean Sewell highly commended. Lojewski creates stylishly subtle Antonioni-like images in which the human is occasionally present but never crucial. His laconic still-lifes remind us how barren Australian cities can appear.

The Leica/CCP Documentary Photography Exhibition + Award, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, Aug 9-Sept 8; Stills Gallery, Sydney, Dec 12-22, Jan 16-Feb 9. The exhibition tours nationally into 2003, and is accompanied by a substantial education program and an online component.

RealTime issue #45 Oct-Nov 2001 pg. web

© Sandy Edwards; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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