Catherine Laudenbach opens two new exhibitions at PhotoAccess celebrating the materiality of photography: Cihuateotl’s Myth by Canberra-based Mexican born emerging artist Octavio Garcia Alvarado, and An Endless Horizon by Sydney-based emerging photographer Matthew James.
Matthew James, An Endless Horizon, exhibition opening May 2016, PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery
I thank Octavio and Matthew for inviting me to open their exhibitions. In introducing their shows, I draw your attention to the catalogue essays that were commissioned by PhotoAccess about the works in the exhibitions. Canberra freelance arts writer Jessica Oliver has written for Matthew’s work (here) and Dr Martyn Jolly from the Australian National University School of Art has written about the work of his former student, Octavio (here).
Both essays offer information on the working methods and conceptual interests of each artist, which for both artists involves a deconstruction of traditional photographic processes. In this, they are similar to many contemporary photographers who are returning to analogue cameras, chemicals and physically working with photographic papers: modifying processes from pre digital photography. Processes that are more tactile than digital photography.
As Martyn states, these photographers appear interested in “seeking a connection to larger forces, often environment or historical – not a feeling of connection or an image of connection, but an actual connection”. 1
Octavio Garcia Alvarado, Cihuateotl’s Myth, exhibition opening May 2016, PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery
Matthew is using a traditional 6×9 inch medium format camera, but he does not use the camera in the traditional way but instead manually cranks film through a constant position and exposure. He creates a panorama vista that produces on positive film what he wants, an endless and placeless landscape. This becomes his print. No other process is needed.
Octavio works with traditional photographic liquids in his laundry in daylight to force a slow chemical disintegration in his image. This disintegration can take days and is finished when Octavio sees his pre-visualised vision emerging. Sometimes the process leaves unexpected marks, indicating the slow manual working method.
Both artists have also rejected the idea of the photographic multiple, making one off images that are not reproducible. This, Walter Benjamin2 noted years ago, will retain the auratic quality of the original. Both artists only have the original artwork.
In considering how these two artists have developed their individual methodologies to make their images it is also interesting how they are both using time in a way that is integral to their process but is in variance with each other and with traditional methods of photography.
In Camera Lucida philosopher Roland Barthes writes about the relationship between time and the camera: “For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches – and I recall that at first photographic implements were related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision: cameras, in short were clocks for seeing.”
In using his medium format camera Matthew, both an artist and a musician, uses a metronome to count out regular intervals of time – four counts – then he cranks his film again, through the back of the camera to make the complete exposure.
Sometimes this counting becomes unintentionally inconsistent causing slight marks to appear on the film. These marks can indicate time and also indicate a gap in time. The resulting images, presented in light boxes, contain these small shadows etched onto the film.
Matthew James, South Curl Curl March 2015 (detail), 2015, Velvia 120 slide film housed in wooden light box, 22 x 93 x 4 cm
Octavio is also concerned with time in his images. His initial images come from statues in museums in Mexico: statues of women who died in childbirth (cihuateteo). Octavio took the photographs when he returned to his country of birth: looking for what he said was his DNA. He wanted to explore his Mexican heritage.
After making paper images of the statues, they are put into the chemical bath – but not before Octavio seals the image. A process that can be thought of as symbolically sealing in the past – Octavio’s own past.
Over time, up to three days, the image lifts and peels to reveal another image – one that now can be considered as containing both the past and the present.
Octavio García Alvarado, Cihuateotl #10 (detail), 2016, Chemigram, resin coated black-and-white photographic paper, 30.5 x 40.6 cm
Time, always important to photography, is integral to the creative exploration of both these artists. They use photography both as a clock for seeing the world and to mediate their experiences, through their photographic images. And through their own “clocks for seeing” they offer us a different way to experience the world.
We congratulate both artists and in opening the exhibitions invite you all to wish them well in their future artistic endeavours.
Catherine Laudenbach gave this opening speech at Octavio Garcia Alvarado’s exhibition ‘Cihuateotl’s Myth’ and Matthew James’ exhibition ‘An Endless Horizon’ at the PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery on Thursday 26 May 2016. Both exhibitions continue until 19 June 2016.
Catherine (Cathy) Laudenbach is a Canberra-based mid-career photo-based artist who works with various forms of the photographic medium including film, digital and video. Cathy has exhibited widely in Australia, and internationally in Japan, Germany and New Zealand. She won the Olive Cotton Portrait Prize in 2000, and her work is included in numerous public collections in Australia. Cathy is a current PhD candidate at Charles Sturt University.
1 Dr Martyn Jolly, Cihuateotl’s Myth Octavio Garcia Alvarado, PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery exhibition catalogue, May 2016
2 Walter Benjamin, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Penguin, New York
3 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, Vintage, London, 1993, Pg.15