Monday, March 30, 2020


Imogen Wall: Burnout
Belconnen Community Gallery

Was scheduled to run until 3 April, but the gallery has been closed because of the imposed COVID-19 restrictions. Not the same, but next best, Wall’s images can be viewed online at

Reviewed by Brian Rope

This vibrantly colourful exhibition is in the modest light-filled gallery space inside Belconnen Community Service. Often using bright colours in my own photography, I was immediately drawn in. Studying the works and starting to consider what they were saying to me only added to my enjoyment of the show.

Imogen Wall is a long-term Belconnen resident who creates in many mediums in addition to photography. Song, dance, poetry, collage, painting and drawing are also part of her explorations. She exhibited at Belconnen Community Gallery in 2018 (‘Journeys’ for Reconciliation Week) and 2009 (‘Dreamscapes’) and has designed many sets for local theatre. She is currently completing a multi-disciplinary Master’s degree at ANU.

Skyline II © Imogen Wall

The concept for this show started with the rather unglamorous story of a stolen car dumped at suburban McKellar oval and then incinerated. Before the car’s remains were towed away, Wall captured a series of photographs of the colours and textures that had emerged during the burning. She felt these represented a sort of beauty rising out of the destructive act, salvaging something of what the car had been. In many ways she was responding to a personal feeling of burnout.

Murano III © Imogen WalI

By happy chance, a neighbour, Jack Crittle, had photographed the car before it was burnt, providing a ‘before/after’ narrative anchor for the exhibition’s themes of burnout and resurrection. Since then, our summer bushfires have given the show – with its focus on the miracle of regeneration that can appear after burning – an additional resonance.

Pintara © Imogen WalI

Words on promotional material for the show provide an excellent starting point for our response to what we see: Beauty can rise from ashes just as hearts can regenerate after burnout. The exhibition handout tells us “The burnt car was an alien presence, sparking conversation among locals walking their dogs, making it a portal between worlds of crime and civility. In the summer sunsets the burnt duco was iridescent. Exotic colours and textures emerged from paint and metal alchemically transformed by burning – rusted, charred and oxidised – the patterns evoking points of transition (sunrises, shorelines) and strange worlds (industrial dystopias, gleaming estuaries). This beauty, rising mysteriously from destruction suggests the potential for life that is latent in burnout.”

Terra © Imogen WalI

Wall considers the heart to be central to our physical and spiritual being, the seat of life, emotion and spirit. That has long been a focus in her work. She likes to play with interactions between conceptual, intuitive, and emotive layers, aiming to evoke a feeling or mood and capture that passage of time which enables us to move beyond the present.

Titan II © Imogen WalI

Burnout brings together a stimulating variety of artistic reflections on that title’s many aspects of meaning: photographs, mixed media paintings and a range of sculptural pieces made from car parts, animal skin and found objects. The photographic works are the central core, but the additional artworks by Fabio Fabbo and Rena Swamy express a dynamism and boldness, add to and help bind the entire show together. The depth of colour and directness of statement throughout is resurrecting. It renews our spirits.

Titan IV © Imogen WalI

Canberra film expert, Andrew Pike, was to have added even more, lending further coherence to this conceptually harmonised show - by speaking at the cancelled opening, on post-traumatic growth.

Whilst not the same as visiting the exhibition in the gallery to see the photos printed on metal (thus enhancing the effect), as a next best option Wall’s images can be viewed online a

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


Photo Access.

Was scheduled to run until 4 April, but the gallery had to be closed because of the imposed COVID-19 restrictions. Photo Access has now created an online version of the exhibition which can be seen at until 16 May 2020.

Reviewed by Brian Rope

Loud & Luminous is an annual celebration of Australian women photographers. It includes a symposium, this exhibition, the launch of the Loud & Luminous book for 2020 and artist talks.

Re-Generations, curated by Canberra’s Hilary Wardhaugh, features five contemporary female artist photographers. It is about experiences of personal growth and change. It exposes inherited trauma, family relationships and the stories to be learned from inter-generational memories. It reveals some subtle shades of meaning relating to the possibilities of female lives today.

Addressing issues relating to women’s opportunities for personal growth and to the traumas associated with domestic violence through quality photographic art adds greatly to the messages to which we all must respond. Like many women before them, these photographers have recognised a deep responsibility to influence the conversation and make impact. All of us, but particularly men, must take note.

Helga Salwe tells us that time spent in the mountains and deserts of Morocco during a period of radical change in her personal life allowed her painful feelings to emerge and heal. We are blessed to be able to view her fine monochrome prints and reflect on how we might have felt in the same place with similar feelings. Her image Sandstorm particularly speaks to me, telling about a person’s life in this desert place. Equally, Home of the Earth is remarkable for how the depicted home seemingly merges into the earth around it.

Helga Salwe, Sandstorm, 2019, archival pigment ink on portfolio rag, 30x 42cm

Tamara Whyte, an indigenous artist from far North Queensland, has contributed three short documentary video works, extending her photographic and video practice. They focus on the survival of Aboriginal people; their resilience and resistance whilst adapting to change. Buffalo Horns with its insistent but gentle tap, tap, tap sound is at once both mesmerising and educational.

Tamara Whyte, Bonescape, 2020, single channel digital video, 16.5 seconds

Suellen Cook describes herself as “a photographer of the imagination” who likes “to tell stories through images that mysteriously bubble into my consciousness”. Her stunning conceptual images shown here reveal emotions she has experienced during her life journey, when adversity or life-changing events have initially knocked her down. Reading the words accompanying each print we can follow how Cook responded, rose from the ashes and made her choices to become more resilient and stronger. Whilst the set of powerful prints together tells a fuller story, each large print successfully stands on its own.

Suellen Cook, THE PHOENIX, 2020, photographic inkjet print, 75 x 75cm

Elise Searson, who works as a photojournalist in Batemans Bay, also draws on her personal narrative, sharing with us some of her own intense experience of motherhood. In the exhibition catalogue, she tells us that becoming a mother makes one imagine their past and, especially, how we all begin life; and that it can trigger questions because of generational trauma. The words written directly on the gallery wall to accompany her image After Innocence made me smile as well as think.

Elise Searson, Mother One, 2020, multimedia digital scan and inkjet print, 61cm x 91cm

Tricia King’s contribution explores the importance of memories as a place where identity and meaning can be rediscovered and shared. Each piece is a pair of closely associated portraits of an older woman living in aged care facilities, with the two images used to offset one another. On the left of each is an early portrait of the woman, on the right a new portrait. Having myself created a memory book of words and family images when my mother went into aged care, these works reminded me again how photographs enable an older person to share memories with others, particularly younger family. King’s juxtapositions of the now and then in these women’s lives are fabulous. The story of Margerie is especially well portrayed.

Tricia King, The Photographs of Home; Margerie, 2019,
photographic inkjet print, 80 x 40cm

This excellent exhibition is a credit to all involved.

This review was also published in the Canberra Times and in Brian Rope Photography's blog at, both on  on 25 March 2020.

Monday, March 23, 2020

ATTILA - Opera Australia

Diego Torre (Forresto)_ - Taras Berezhansky (Attila) - Gennadi Dubinsky (Pope Leo 1) .
in Opera Australia's production of   "Attila"

Composed by Giuseppe Verdi – Libretto by Temistocle Solera
Conducted by Andrea Licata – Directed by Davide Livermore
Set designed by Gio Forma – Costumes designed by Gianluca Falaschi
Lighting designed by Antonio Castro – Digital content designed by D-wok
A Co-production presented by Opera Australia and Teatro alla Scala
Joan Sutherland theatre, Sydney Opera House on 12th and 14th March, 2020.

Opening night performance on 12th March reviewed by Bill Stephens

Simone Piazzola (Ezio) - Natalie Aroyan (Odabella) - Diego Torre (Forresto)
in Opera Australia's production of "Attila"

Big, bold and exhilarating, visually stunning and aurally magnificent, this epic production by Opera Australia of one of Verdi’s early operas, performed in Australia for the first time, tragically, received only two of its scheduled seven Sydney performances before being closed down, an early victim of the Covid -19 pandemic restrictions, which sadly also led to all its Melbourne performances being abandoned.

The storyline for Verdi’s ninth opera focuses on the character of Odabella (Natalie Oroyan), who as a child, witnessed her father being slain by Attila (Taras Berezhansky). When the opera commences she’s an adult, captured by Attila’s army when it overruns her city.  Impressed by her defiance of his soldiers, Attila courts Odabella presenting her with his dagger, which she secretly vows to use to kill him in vengeance for her father and her lover, Foresto (Diego Torre) whom she believes to be dead.

However, being opera, Foresto returns, accuses Odabella of unfaithfulness, and despite her protests that she only stays with Attila for the opportunity to kill him, also hatches his own plot to murder Attila who has managed to earn the wrath of Roman General Ezio (Simone Piazzola) by rejecting Ezio’s  proposal to divide the empire.

Taras Berezhansky (Attila) - Natalie Aroyan (Odabella) 

But despite this interesting quartet of characters and their compact story, Verdi was more concerned with using the opera as a demonstration of Italian patriotism, which was very much to the fore at the time the opera was written.

“Attila” calls for huge resources, both visual and vocal, to do justice to Verdi’s grand vision, with its succession of glorious arias and massive choruses. Director Davide Livermore has a flair for spectacle, and with this co- production, shared with Teatro alla Scala, he doesn’t stint.

Setting the production in the war-ravished Italy of the 1940’s he’s shoe-horned massive set pieces of bombed bridges and ballrooms, even a couple of live horses, on to stage of the Joan Sutherland theatre, augmented with spectacular digital images.

Natalie Aroyan (Odabella) in Opera Australia's production of "Attila". 

His use of LED screens in this production is more subtle than in his controversial production of “Aida”, in this instance, complimenting rather than dominating. However his propensity for repetition, particularly with the filmed sequence of the murder of Odabella’s father’s, tended to irritate more than enlighten.

Reflecting the period when the opera was written, he’s incorporated a series of spectacular tableau, complimented by freeze-frame sequences, particularly effective in the harrowing opening scenes when prisoners are lined up and shot.

Making her role debut in this production, Natalie Oroyan, as Odabella, was nothing less than magnificent. Her confident bearing, compelling acting, and creamy smooth soprano which effortlessly conquered the vocal complexities of demanding  acrobatic runs  through the full soprano range, and particularly impressive  when soaring above the massive choruses, her performance in this role confirms her as a singer of International stature and a jewel among Opera Australia’s current roster.

Diego Torre (Forresto) - Natalie Aroyan (Odabella) 

No less impressive was Diego Torre, also making his role debut as Foresto. His ravishing tenor and passionate acting elevated an otherwise pedestrian tenor role into a highlight.

The sonorous voices of bass, Taras Berezhansky (Attila) and baritone, Simone Piazzola (Ezio),  also provided a memorable highlight early in the opera with their duet “You may have the universe, but let Italy remain mine”, while Virgilio Marino as Attila’s  confidante, Uldino,  and Gennadi Dubinsky as Pope Leo 1, provided additional lustre to the line-up of particularly fine  male voices.

Taras Berezhansky (Attila) - Natalie Aroyan (Odabella) - Diego Torre (Forresto)
on Opera Australia's production of "Attila"

Combined with the pleasure of thrilling sound produced by the massive ensemble and orchestra confidently conducted by Verdi specialist, Andrea Licata, this stunning production of “Attila” was a night of grand opera that few who experienced it is likely to forget.

                                           Images by Prudence Upton

This review also published in Australian Arts Review.

National Photographic Portrait Prize 2020

National Photographic Portrait Prize 2020
National Portrait Gallery. From 6 March until 10 May 2020.

(If the NPG closes because of the COVID-19 virus restrictions, all the finalists can be seen online at

Reviewed by Brian Rope

The National Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition is selected from a national field of entries, reflecting the distinctive vision of Australia's amateur and professional photographers and the unique nature of their subjects.

What constitutes a portrait is a question that has been discussed often; with diverse views being expressed. For me, these words come reasonably close “A portrait is an artwork that has been created about a person or persons which tells us something about them.” That doesn’t mean a portrait has to look like or clearly show the person’s face. For me, revealing information about the person is the key element.

48 entries were shortlisted for 2020. There are two works that are collaborations between two artists. Two artists each achieved two shortlisted works. And five of the works are by Canberrans:

Oxygen Thief, by Lori Ciccini, stands out for two reasons. It is framed differently to the other works (artistically) and is not about a named person but portrays “the contemporary human”. Arguably, it tells us more about the photographer herself. Nevertheless, it is an extraordinary, created image that made this viewer think.

Oxygen Thief © Lori Ciccini

Mike Bowers is Photographer-at-Large for Guardian Australia and also host of Talking Pictures on ABC TV. His image, Prime Minister, taken during a parliamentary vote, shows the PM sitting alone and looking uncertain, whilst other MPs stand in the background.

Prime Minister © Mike Bowers

Brothers, by Steven Lloyd, was captured when two brothers re-united at a family gathering. Lloyd has succeeded in showing the joyous emotions of the occasion, as well as revealing the physical likenesses shared by Nik and Rouli.

Brothers © Steven Lloyd

Brenda L Croft presents us with Matilda, a strong portrait of Canberran and Ngambri/ Ngunnawal Elder, Aunty Matilda House. It is best viewed from a distance. Incidentally, fully one third of the shortlisted works are portraits of people with indigenous heritage, not all having high public profiles.

Matilda (Ngambri-Ngunnawal) © Brenda L Croft

Jarrah, by Charles Tambiah, was a standout for me. It is about a mate and reveals numerous things about him; his chosen clothing, vehicle and dog immediately establish an Aussie context for us. The inclusion of a footy adds to our knowledge.

Jarrah © Charles Tambiah

Amongst the works by non-Canberrans, I particularly enjoyed Willie ‘Bomba’ King, by Jason McNamara. As with Tambiah’s work, this quickly reveals much about the person portrayed, whilst also inviting us to learn more.

Willie ‘Bomba’ King © Jason McNamara

Dr Christian Thompson’s Writing on the Wall is an elaborate and stunning self-portrait referencing the collective anxiety posed by climate change. Its vivid colours immediately attract attention.

Writing on the Wall © Dr Christian Thompson AO

1967, by Dave Laslett, invites us to consider what, if anything, has changed since the historic 1967 Referendum when we voted overwhelmingly to include Aboriginals in the Census.

1967 © Dave Laslett

One of the NPPP 2020 judges, Nici Cumpston, has described the task. With Aboriginal heritage herself, Cumpston has said it was refreshing to see so many images of and by Aboriginal people among this year’s finalists. “Importantly, the NPPP is a democratic view of our society at this particular time in history, and the final exhibition tours nationally, which is a great gift for the nation.” Perhaps that is a partial answer to Laslett’s question.

There are other images of great interest for a variety of reasons, such as their storytelling, dramatic effects, background choices, and great subjects. It is most interesting to compare Hugh Stewart’s Eileen Kramer is a dancer (which was highly commended) with the painting Elizabeth – winner of the Darling Portrait Prize - on display in the adjoining gallery space.

Eileen Kramer is a dancer © Hugh Stewart

Another fine work, The Mahi-Mahi by Ron Palmer, was announced as the prize winner, despite a certain virus derailing the planned gala announcement event.

The Mahi-Mahi © Ron Palmer

This review was also published in the Canberra Times and in Brian Rope Photography's blog at, both on  on 23 March 2020.

Saturday, March 21, 2020


Raw Sinatra. 

Created and performed by Richard Shelton. Accompanist Mark Ferguson. The Spiegel Zelt. Garden of Unearthly Delights. Adelaide Fringe . February 15 – March 15 2020

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

It’s 1971 and Ol’ Blue Eyes is wowing the crowd in the Purple Room in Palm Springs. Bill Miller accompanies the old favourites on the piano. This is the self-confessed saloon singer’s favourite spot and he croons the popular melodies with the svelte Sinatra sound. At the bar, Tony Curreri keeps the Jack Daniels coming.
Richard Shelton as Frank Sinatra in Raw Sinatra
Flash forward to 2020 and living personification of Sinatra, Richard Shelton wows a Fringe audience in the Spiegel Zelt at the Garden of Unearthly Delights. The night is growing chilly outside but inside Shelton’s appeal and friendly rapport soon warms  the hearts of the Sinatra fans. Shelton is Sinatra and Raw Sinatra is his tribute to a legendary entertainer for whom he obviously has enormous love and respect. His arrangements of such favourites as A Very Good Year, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, That’s Life and My Way reincarnate Sinatra’s seductive charm. The renditions glide and soar through the Spiegel Zelt, gathering momentum and power to the stirring rendition of  That’s Life and carrying the transfixed audience back to the intimate atmosphere of the Purple Room all those years ago. To watch the singer is to remember Sinatra in his mature years, self-possessed, assured, confident and in control, quick with a quip and fiery if fools should cross his path. Shelton’s one hour cabaret show is all of this and more. He is Sinatra here and now and every song opens the memory to a man who lit up the world of entertainment.
Raw Sinatra is not simply a song recital, a trip down memory lane through Sinatra’s popular repertoire.   Shelton intertwines the songs with anecdotes and accounts of Sinatra’s colourful and sometimes turbulent life from his first professional role in 1936 to his Purple Room concert of 1971. Shelton introduces himself as Sinatra at the same age and accomplished jazz pianist Mark Ferguson as his 1971 accompanist Bill Miller. The audience is in for a fascinating, entertaining and alluring biogig, and though some may have seemed surprised, none was disappointed. Shelton held them in his thrall.
 Right from the start, Shelton made his audience feel as if at home in Sinatra's beloved Purple Room. He welcomes Gina Lollobrigida and Carey Grant in the front row and launches into the rousing All or Nothing At All, Sinatra’s first 1939 recording with the Harry James Orchestra.  That’s all it took for the audience to be quietly humming away. Shelton is the seductive medium and Sinatra his spirit Muse.
The numbers keep coming as do the sips from the constantly filled glass of Jack Daniels  . The songs are accompanied by anecdotes of his escapades with the notorious Rat Pack, his battles with movie mogul Louis B Mayer, his fury at rumours of his association with the Mafia and most of all, his love affair with legendary screen goddess, Ava Gardner. Shelton captures the very essence of Sinatra’s aching heart in the a capella rendition of My Foolish Heart that Sinatra sang from his balcony at the Sunset Towers to Gardner’s bungalow below.
Shelton could not finish this captivating show without Sinatra’s signature tine, and the audience hung on every note of My Way, the inspirational song that will always be Sinatra’s life lesson to his adoring fans. Shelton has captured the life and songs of the great entertainer and has done it his way.
Raw Sinatra sung and spoken with such charm and style by Shelton is a cabaret gem. It was a little subdued by a quiet senior audience, a keyboard, rather than an upright or a grand and the smaller style Spiegel Zelt (Tent). This is a show that would be a hit at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, and I hope that Shelton may be lured back from LA to perform in the true setting of  cabaret.
As a parting gesture, Shelton aka Frank Sinatra invites any requests. “New York New York” some cry out. “I haven’t written that yet” Sinatra quickly replies. “It’s a good idea” And with that he leaves his audience wanting more, as every fine entertainer should.