Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Lorna Sim, Dance/Art Photographer

Lorna Sim in conversation with Canberra Critics' Circle
Canberra Critics’ Circle 2017 Winter Conversations 1, at Gorman Arts Centre, July 10.

Guest: Lorna Sim, Dance/Art Photographer

by Frank McKone

Facing the artist herself for a conversation is a very different experience for a critic compared with viewing finished work for analysis and judgement.  Imagining this seemingly modest, even self-effacing woman spread-eagled on the ground photographing people jumping, often apparently as if much higher in the sky than anyone could think possible, projects me into a different space where conventional critical perspective just doesn’t operate.

It’s a bit like taking a quantum leap and visiting a parallel universe.  And, indeed, nowadays at least, Lorna Sim focusses much of her work on the QL2 dance program for young people aged 8 – 26 (where the next presentation will be This Poisoned Sea July 27-29, 2017).  Working closely with QL2 Director, Ruth Osborne, Sim is fascinated by the progress – as dancers and as committed young people – she sees, as they explore this work created by “celebrated West Australian choreographer Claudia Alessi; ex-Expressions Dance Company Jack Ziesing; and Eliza Sanders, a new voice to contemporary dance and theatre.” [www.ql2.org.au]   Here, Sim’s photos of the dancers in action are more than mere publicity for the program, but an important part of the process of encouraging their sense of artistry.

QL2 in action
With Sanders, Lorna has made an exhibition entitled Enigma, now on for an extra month in the Photography Room in the Kingston Bus Depot Markets.  The idea of Enigma took hold in our discussion of Sim’s purpose in creating still photos of movement.  I thought there were two aspects in her replies to our questions: each picture tells a story, yet is open to the viewer’s interpretation; and for her there is the mystery of not knowing as she clicks the shutter what exactly the camera will produce.

Enigma by Lorna Sim at Kingston Bus Depot Markets, Canberra

She made an important point that if she can see the picture in the viewfinder, then it’s already too late.  Just as our brains have to be able to incorporate the delay in our perception (caused by our neural signals travelling at only about 100 metres per second) so that we don’t notice the lag time, Lorna has to intuitively take the shot before the camera does the processing, so that she ends up with the shot she wants.

This, to me, was the stunning part of our conversation.  Not only does she often have to squirm on the floor, but then compose the scene and take the shot of someone jumping or dancing before they get to the point that she wants to record.  That’s a kind of artistry which I can’t imagine succeeding.  She explained that she had found, while working with dancers for example, that she had to relax and not listen to any external factors, such as the dance-director counting, while also seeking the moment when the people being photographed are genuinely relaxed.  Posed photos can never work, except in one sense where expert dancers and actors can do both at once.

Lorna Sim in conversation, photo Len Power

The evidence for remarkable success is in her prints, not only of work done in a studio with experienced performers like Eliza Sanders, but equally with the young dancers in QL2 and even more amazing with all sorts of people in public places.  Among many shots, I loved the couple in mid-jump, clearly in love and enjoying themselves, moving away from the camera apparently at least a metre up in the air.  Such a grand feeling of togetherness and exuberance, such a positive view of life!

That was the mood of our conversation with Lorna Sim, dance/art photographer.