Power of photography to see and to suggest
Photography / “The Corner of My Eye” by David Hempenstall and Mark Van Veen. At M16 Artspace until November 6. Reviewed by CON BOEKEL.
THE exhibition title hints at the shared intent – to provide viewers a glimpse and then to invite them to imagine beyond that glimpse.
Hempenstall deploys a sophisticated visual vocabulary. Many of the individual images have an incomplete feel about them. How does this happen?
Children are caught in mid-action or in half shade, half sunlight. They are often cropped either by being partly hidden by other elements in the picture or because of the cropping of the image itself. There are truncated feet and legs. Some images feature motion blur or light painting blur. The children, when given a participatory voice, seem to delight in perplexing the viewer.
Shapes, lines, shade and light may start at almost random edges of the print and disappear off the opposing edge.
There is a paradox to the incompleteness. There are connections within and between the prints that close the imaginative circle. There are patterns in the choice of subjects: children, legs, urban furniture, suburban houses, light poles, fences, conifers and palms.
The curation is superb. Subjects, shapes, shadows and patches of light recur, echo and reverberate along the hanging. The pace varies from the abrupt to the minutely gradual.
Another connecting element is the overt photographer’s presence. Here, the viewer sees the photographer’s shadow superimposed on a child. There, the photographer’s arm reaches out to steady a child’s swing. Even the shadow of his camera gets a look in.
Hempenstall’s work amply illustrates Friedlanders’ view, quoted in the exhibition notes, “Photography is a generous medium”.
Van Veen focuses on headstones, graves and, at times, their immediate surroundings. There are tensions between close viewpoint and apparent distance, as well as between the materiality of the marble and the ethereal nature of the reflected skyscapes. Moisture on the graves sometimes allows a view of the marble underneath and sometimes reflects light and even, at times, both.
As with Hempenstall, there is a starting point of incompleteness. The powerful verticals, horizontals and diagonals generate planes that move beyond the edges, off to infinity.
It is not always immediately clear whether we are looking down at a grave or looking horizontally at a grave stone. Are we looking at our feet or into the distance?
The materiality of the grain in the marble is, in some images, complemented by hyper-real renditions of lichen, leaves of grass, oak leaves and pine needles. By way of contrast, the reflected branches lack sharpness and the reflected skies are amorphous. The visual and emotional range moves, therefore, from the immediately tactile to beyond the horizon. Again, a paradox. None of the images features a “real” horizon.
The generally serious intent is leavened by humour. Hempenstall’s “white pooch” is a visual reference to Friedlander’s Beau Jack peeing on a fence. Van Veen riffs off the graveyard meme by naming one of his prints “Leaves Here Branches There”.
Part of the pleasure of viewing this exhibition is comparing the way in which the two artists have used different printing styles to deploy sharp detail and nebulous shapes. Some of Hempenstall’s toned silver gelatin prints are beautifully austere; some of Van Veen’s digital colour prints, printed by Rob Little, feature voluptuous colour.
The exhibition is personal rather than political. For example, the environmental cues are nearly all introduced: palms, conifers and deciduous trees. The sole Australian magpie is lost in flight.
The exhibition is about the power of photography to see and to suggest. It is not an easy exhibition. It requires work by the viewer. It carries the viewer from the corner of the eye to the mind’s eye.