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the photographer made visible

sandy edwards: heidrun löhr, parallax

Kate Champion, About Face, 2001 Kate Champion, About Face, 2001
photo Heidrun Löhr

Foster, as the longest serving director at the ACP (at 14 years) curated many vibrant and broadly inclusive exhibitions. Aware of Löhr’s work due to his role on the Board of Performance Space, interim director Tim Wilson instigated Parallax which was developed in a short time period, making its achievement all the more impressive.

Curated in a collaboration between Löhr and ACP staff, images were selected from an archive of approximately 300,000 photographs. In a museum style exhibition, images are confidently installed at different scales and mounted on dark charcoal and grey walls. Approximately half the images are colour and the other half black and white, covering a timespan from 1989 to the present.

It is a bold and stylish exhibition. Rather than taking an historical approach to selection the curators have embraced Löhr’s own identification of her creative strengths in photographing performance and more specifically the human body in expressive movement.

Immediately obvious is Lohr’s decision not to be bound by the photographic conventions of sharp focus. This represents the confidence of an extremely experienced photographer and a philosophical choice to move away from the expectations of realism.

Talking to her, Löhr tells me her style developed on the job. Her assignments evolved from theatre to dance to performance, commonly requiring photographic skills to deal with challengingly dark spaces. Her camera aperture was of necessity open and she experimented with shutter speeds. Always at odds with the print media’s requirement for a moment of acute clarity, she says this is not the point in this exhibition. Over time her interest in the sequencing of movement grew as did her collaboration with the artists she was photographing. She increasingly pushed boundaries and experimented, trying anything and everything with the camera.

Martin del Amo, A Severe Insult to the Body, 2003 (detail) Martin del Amo, A Severe Insult to the Body, 2003 (detail)
photo Heidrun Löhr

“I see my work as a collaborative process. Sometimes in exquisite moments, photographing becomes a duet between performer and photographer, both accomplices in the creation of images”. (Heidrun Löhr, Parallax, Room Notes)

There are two main values to this exhibition. Firstly, as indicated in Löhr’s own words and as evidenced on the walls of the gallery, there is an outsanding ability to record movement within the single image that has then transformed over time into an expression of the stages of movement through the use of sequences. With this strong style Löhr establishes a bridge between the stillness of a single image and the motion of cinema.

As Merce Cunningham has said, “No stillness exists without movement and no movement is fully expressed without stillness.” In a long sequence of small images featuring dancer Martin del Amo at the Omeo Dance Studio in Sydney (A Severe Insult to the Body, 2003) we are reminded of Muybridge’s famous studies of movement in humans and animals. In another bold series from the same performance with del Amo wearing high heeled shoes, the large scale is that of contemporary art photography.

There are many entrancing sequences that reinforce the relationship of cinema to movement and the inadequacy of the single image to fully express it. My favourite is from a pre-production publicity shoot of choreographer Kate Champion (in About Face at Scots Church and performed at the Studio, Sydney Opera House, 2001). In four images (three small, one large) Champion’s partly clothed body, impossibly flying through space, appears about to drop to a ground of concrete and rubble in exquisite images of part strength, part vulnerability.

Julie-Anne Long, Miss XL, 2002 Julie-Anne Long, Miss XL, 2002
photo Heidrun Löhr

In the ACP entrance corridor a sequence of Julie-Anne Long swirling like a whirling dervish (Miss XL, Seymour Centre, 2002) is mounted directly onto the wall at non-symmetric angles uniting the wall’s horizon line. In these sequences and other single images (Yael Stone and Geoffrey Rush in Belvoir’s 2010 production Diary of a Madman) the sense of photography as art in homage to painting makes this work by Löhr look highly collectable.

Within the context of the photography I was most excited by a 13-minute video work constructed from 2,500 still images which Löhr edited and sequenced collaboratively with Peter Oldham and with an evocative soundscape by Gail Priest. Recapturing the Vertical is an exciting extension of the experimental sequencing that Löhr has been developing. She is working on a further animation with Martin del Amo called Shallow Water. I hope she continues this project, a true hybrid between stills and film.

In an improvisation staged solely for Löhr’s camera, performer Nikki Heywood enacted a work about her mother’s bouts of dizziness and falling in the now empty Edgecliffe apartment where she had lived. Captured in five days by Löhr’s camera and edited into a stunning animation, we see Heywood embodying her mother’s vulnerability. The pacing of the editing speeds up and slows down to emphasise the emotionality of the relationship.

The second significant achievement of the exhibition is the historical mapping of the performers and performances that have collaborated with Löhr’s camera. There is one cluster wall covered with images that elicits an enjoyable game of name spotting of well-known Australian actors. This is in effective contrast to the more fascinating documentation of extraordinary performers and companies seen in multiple alternative arts venues around Sydney.

Heidrun Löhr has exhibited her work as art before. She has participated in group exhibitions and in 2007 at Critical Path she showed 700 images as projections, using four projectors and one digital slideshow, again with a score by Gail Priest. This event, developed as a result of a Fellowship from the Australia Council for 2007–2009, was focused more on historical documentation but within an experimental presentation.

Photographers like Heidrun Löhr who specialise in their work and who have had exposure to significant histories are often caught within a kind of invisibility. I therefore congratulate the ACP for creating this exhibition to honour one of the important working photographers in Sydney. Löhr’s images of the human body in spaces and in space, on chairs, on the floor, against black or white walls, freefalling, deal with human expression, emotion and spirit. Her contribution is unique. Moving through the large exhibition space at the ACP one has a sense of being at a theatrical performance of the body at its most heightened capacity, in all forms of expression, alive and revealing of emotion, pure human expression.

Heidrun Lohr, Parallax, The Performance Paradigm in Photography, Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, March 3- April 15

RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. 42-43

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

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