Costigan / Lots of photos, but first find them

Columnist PAUL COSTIGAN goes looking for photographs on display in the national galleries and the news isn’t all bad.

The 100 photographs from “After the War” curated by Magda Keaney.

CURIOUSLY, our national and state art galleries resist having dedicated exhibition spaces for the popular medium of photography.

Paul Costigan.

I have given up trying to figure out why this continues given the size and dedication of the audience attached to this great medium.

But for those in or visiting Canberra this summer there is good news.
While the National Portrait Gallery has many photographs among its permanent exhibitions, the real gem is a fantastic exhibition of cartes de visite – carte-o-mania!

These small, mid-19th century photographs were the first opportunity for many to have their picture taken and to share their portraits or photos of their houses and properties. It is a beautifully laid out exhibition – recommended.

At the War Memorial is a thought-provoking exhibition titled “After the War”. The curators have delivered a fantastic exhibition that explores the legacy of World War I – with the emphasis on the people killed and their families more than a century since.

The exhibition includes a spread of photography – including an impressive panel of 100 portraits, vernacular photographs and a selection taken by known photographers, Cazneaux, May & Mina Moore, David Moore, John F Williams and more.

Pick a quiet day as the exhibition is very sombre and does what the institution was meant to do; to be a memorial to the people involved in these horrible wars.

Christian Thompson’s photographs at the NGA.

Which brings me to the National Gallery of Australia.

If you look at its website for any hint of photography exhibitions; nothing. Despite this, for the dedicated photography viewer, there is a lot to see.

The problem for lovers of photography as an artform is that the artworks are scattered throughout the building; so hunting is the order of the day

Last Sunday morning I took myself through the whole gallery and took note of all photographs. Along with a stop in front of the gallery’s wondrous medieval triptych and a sit down in front of its Rothko, it took me an hour and a half of dedicated walking and searching.

Except for the two stops mentioned, I did not stop at any other artworks except photographs. Each time I paused I took notes and then enjoyed what was on the wall.

Over summer the NGA has more than 200 photographs on exhibition with maybe about a third being by women.

There are too many to fully list here, but by way of a sample; there’s an impressive collection of Hoppe’s of the Ballet Russes dances, Bill Henson from several eras in a couple of locations, a small wall of Julia Margaret Cameron, Sue Ford portraits, several Max Dupains, a collection of Jungjin Lee, Matt Kelso’s record of the Joseph Beuys installation, Rosemary Laing, Cherine Fahd, Christian Thompson, Anne Ferran, Ruth Hollick, John F Williams, Michael Cook, Rose Farrell and George Parkin, and a host of others in the “California Cool” exhibition, including Graham Howe, Judy Dater, Jo Ann Callis and Edward Ruscha.

There’s heaps more photographic works to be enjoyed. It is highly recommended that you take the time and make that long walk around the gallery – a nice way to stay fit.

While mentioning the lack of a dedicated photography gallery will probably not make this happen, here’s one suggestion to assist this dedicated and overlooked audience.

Could the NGA web managers identify the works on exhibition and place a link to them on the exhibition listings on the main website so that it would be equivalent to an exhibition to be seen. Much better than saying nothing about what’s on exhibition.

The request is to let people know that the NGA has a great collection of photographs from many eras and in many styles on exhibition – just that it is not in one place.

Meanwhile, we wait to see which national/state gallery will be the only one with a permanent dedicated photography gallery. That would be something to boast about.

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