Presence, perception and existence: Three new exhibitions at PhotoAccess

Penelope Grist opened three new exhibitions at PhotoAccess on Thursday 8 September 2016: In the Landscape by Annika Harding and Amy Dunn, River by Peter Ranyard and NEW PAINTINGS by Oscar Capezio. Penelope’s insightful speech beautifully described the connections between these diverse shows, and she was kind enough to let us share her speech on our blog:

sml-for-web(Images left to right: Annika Harding, The way I walked #1 (detail), 2016, inkjet print and acrylic on paper, 21.0cm x 29.0 cm. Amy Dunn, Moving through colour (detail), 2016, inkjet print, coloured pencil and watercolour paint on paper, 14.0 x 21.0 cm)

Good evening everyone and special welcome to our guests, New Zealand Deputy High Commissioner and cultural attaché. First warm thanks to PhotoAccess for inviting me to open these exhibitions and congratulations to all the artists: Amy Dunn and Annika Harding, Peter Raynard, and Oscar Capezio. Thank you also to the three excellent catalogue essay writers – Ellen Wignell, Hardy Lohse and Grace Blakeley-Carroll – I commend their reflections to you and hope they will forgive me for quoting liberally from their well-formed words this evening.

The exhibitions tonight are testament to the imaginative breadth with which PhotoAccess regards its brief – enriching the cultural life of this community. I want to begin with a very short poem – one of my favourites:

The Shepherd’s Hut by Andrew Young:

The smear of blue peat smoke

That staggered on the wind and broke,

The only sign of life,

Where was the shepherd’s wife,

Who left those flapping clothes to dry,

Taking no thought for her family?

For, as they bellied out

And limbs took shape and waved about,

I thought, She little knows

That ghosts are trying on her children’s clothes.1

While this may seem utterly irrelevant to the shows that surround you … bear with me. Each of these exhibitions deals with presence, perception and existence. They confront the ungraspable realities of being there and not being there. They have the ability to see a familiar situation in a way that touches our sense of humanity and awareness of our own existence.

The works of Amy Dunn and Annika Harding in In the Landscape see two painters who are friends of longstanding and who both work with the landscape as their starting points. In their works the veracity of photography combines with the imaginative flight of painting.

In these works Annika brings colour, metallic and interference paint into photographic landscapes – ‘directing the viewer’ as Ellen Wignell writes, ‘to what she observed, touched and thought about, during her walks. She invites the viewer to experience her relationship with the landscape’2. Intervening in, marking, re-traipsing through the photographs in this way, Annika remains part of these landscapes long after she has walked home through the forest and the mist. She is present and not present.

Amy Dunn’s handcolourings belong less to the 19th century tradition and more to its 1970s revival, exhibited recently at the NGA, where it brought ‘intimacy, warmth and fallibility.’3 Ellen writes that Amy’s works ‘speak as much about light and the surface, as they do about the figure and a relationship with her surrounds’4. They also bring a psychological and temporal realism to what is missed in the reality perceived within a photograph.

Anais Nin, whose work I’ve been reading on the bus recently – said that ‘the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see.’5

peterranyardriver99-editImage: Peter Ranyard, River and hills, Poronui New Zealand, 2016, inkjet print on archival cotton rag, 24.0 x 16.0 cm

Ranyard’s River was edited down to 28 prints out of thousands of negatives – an extraordinary feat in itself, Peter presents Poronui, an area outside Taupo, New Zealand that runs into Maori lands and that he visited over a period of ten years for commercial work with the lodge there. When the lodge was sold a few years ago, a box of negatives arrived – with all his images of this remote, stunning, timeless place that he’d shot within and outside the brief!

What is so extraordinary about these images, a testament to the art of Peter’s rhythm in editing and hanging the show as much as his care with the contrast and soft grain, is that they are not gothic. Black and white images of isolated places, old sheds, forest, whispering grasslands – all the ingredients are there. But no – they are gentle, human, inhabited and uninhabited, respectful and welcoming. How could they not be, with the inclusion of characters like Flick, the lodge dog who just turned up one day and stayed. The other thing these works are not, is Lord of the Rings – they are not what is now recognised and has become almost a stereotype of the New Zealand landscape. They are just as beautiful but more complex, universal, poignant and, as Peter put it to me – ‘more like a place in your memory.’ Hardy Lohse writes that ‘Peter Ranyard’s images create a space where we can revel in the joy of feeling small in the world, satisfying an urge to be elsewhere and to explore, matching our imaginations with reality.’6

Great American photographer of black and white landscape, Ansel Adams said that ‘There are worlds of experience beyond the world of the aggressive man, beyond history, and beyond science. The moods and qualities of nature and the revelations of great art are equally difficult to define; we can grasp them only in the depths of our perceptive spirit.’7

14222201_1208321755899092_6672808539163272269_nImage: Visitors at the exhibition opening looking at Oscar Capezio’s work [NEW PAINTINGS (a Catalogue), 2016. Premium Magazine, 40pp, edition of 10 Signed Artist’s Proofs]

This brings us finally to Oscar Capezio’s conceptual exhibition NEW PAINTINGS. My favourite part of Oscar’s artist’s statement for his exhibition is this: ‘NEW PAINTINGS is perfect for professional couples or families who appreciate a beautifully communicated art practice which allows more time to enjoy the better things in life!’8 You must leaf through the glossy mags to see the work, the green paint is the stuff green screens are made from – the ever-present, never perceived, backdrop from the news to the movies, it is a room in a gallery and not a room in a gallery. In her catalogue essay Grace Blakely-Carrol writes of Oscar’s work: ‘Beneath his playful façade lies a deep awareness of the role of art and the power of commercial images in the contemporary world … In this exhibition, nothing is as it seems (which is precisely the point)!’9 NEW PAINTINGS is a conceptual hybrid of painting, photography and performance, confronting the themes of perception, presence and existence that run through all three shows. It is the perfect place for the ghosts to try on the children’s clothes.

Congratulations to all the artists on the terrific shows.

14292446_1208323002565634_6557161268662437050_n-1Image: Penelope Grist opening the exhibitions at PhotoAccess, 8 September 2016

Penelope Grist is an Assistant Curator at the National Portrait Gallery and Chair of the Megalo Print Studio + Gallery board.

Penelope Grist gave this opening speech at the PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery on Thursday 8 September 2016. The exhibitions continue until 2 October 2016, more information including online catalogues available here.


  1. “The Shepherd’s Hut”, Andrew Young, 1998. Andrew Young: Selected Poems (Poetry Pleiade). Edition. Carcanet Press Ltd. p. 78.
  2. Ellen Wignell, In the Landscape: Amy Dunn and Annika Harding, exhibition catalogue, 8 September – 2 October 2016, PhotoAccess: Canberra, p. 1-2.
  3. Colour my world: handcoloured Australian photography exhibition introduction, 3 April – 20 September 2015, National Gallery of Australia (Project Gallery):
  4. Ellen Wignell, Op Cit, p. 2.
  5. Anaïs Nin,
  6. Hardy Lohse, River: Peyer Ranyard, exhibition catalogue, 8 September – 2 October 2016, PhotoAccess: Canberra, p. 2.
  7. Ansel Adams,
  8. Oscar Capezio, NEW PAINTINGS: Osacar Capezio, exhibition catalogue, 8 September – 2 October 2016, PhotoAccess: Canberra, p. 3.
  9. Grace Blakely-Carrol, NEW PAINTINGS: Osacar Capezio, exhibition catalogue, 8 September – 2 October 2016, PhotoAccess: Canberra, p. 1-2.

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