Saturday, May 22, 2021

Avalanche. Black Summer 2020: the Aftermath.

 Photography | Brian Rope

Avalanche | Sari Sutton

Black Summer 2020: the Aftermath | Ben Kopilow

Photo Access | Until 5 June 2021

These exhibitions tackle climate transformation issues. Sari Sutton looks at seasonal variations producing snow. Ben Kopilow explores landscape after 2020’s Black Summer. A concurrent Photo Access members’ exhibition complements those by Kopilow and Sutton.

In Avalanche, Sutton shows us seasonal variations producing snow. In Black Summer 2020, Kopilow shows the aftermath of fire. Both are about climate transformations. Both display vivid extended landscape photography, relating to this time of extremes.

Set amidst the dramatic Mt Kosciuszko region, Sutton’s work explores the unfamiliar psychological features of our world’s landscape as altered by the pandemic and global warming. The rapid changes to climate along with COVID-related events, coming to a head in 2020, have forced a rethink of how we live with the natural environment. These images reflect on the fragility and transience of what we may have taken for granted.


Coconut triple choc-chip © Sari Sutton

Dr. Kirsten Wehner, PhotoAccess Director, says: "one of our most exciting early-mid career ACT photo-media artists, turns traditional landscape photography on its head, contesting the separation of viewer from scene and presenting a challenging feminist perspective on the raw, unforgiving country of the Australian Alps."

Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of white and black in these images; but a number of them include significant splashes of colour, particularly yellow. Interestingly, in her catalogue essay Surviving an Avalanche, Ellis Hutch says “Each time I drive up into the high country I have a bodily reaction at the point the road markings change from white to yellow. I take a breath, we are here, at the place where the snow will cover the road, where we need the yellow to mark the way.”

A simple image of a black and yellow sign before a snow-covered landscape and titled Hazard powerfully conveys just that.

Hazard © Sari Sutton

A shot of a red pole covered with lichen against a dark sky and titled Stop. Don’t. Come back. is equally strong.


Stop. Don't. Come back. © Sari Sutton

Master AIPP Photographer Ben Kopilow has explored environmental damage resulting from the 2020 bushfire season in ACT/NSW. He has focused on the disturbing beauty resulting from fires and beautiful signs of hope in the way the bush recovers.


Blackened sentinels © Ben Kopilow

For Kopilow, "The only thing constant is change. The landscape of our treasured national parks and our connection to them seems so fixed, permanent, and immutable, yet it is constantly changing ever so slowly." He highlights the starkness of newly revealed vistas, plus the physical and environmental damage done to native flora. His works serve to remind us that out of ashes comes new growth, renewal, and even beauty. He believes – and I agree - that no matter how bad things get, nature has a way of recovering, and so, in turn, does the human spirit.


Scorched earth near Gibraltar Falls © Ben Kopilow

In his catalogue essay, Doug Spowart reveals that he “wondered whether we were emotionally ready to relive THAT inferno through more documentary photographs?” After considering the question and the work, he was reminded of the role of photography to witness and share a story. He notes that this exhibition is the story of transient moments captured just after the fires. And that, even as we view the exhibition, the landscape has changed yet further.

I too had wondered whether I needed to see yet another exhibition about fire and drought – or the impact of the pandemic. But, before reading the titles or the catalogue or the words on the gallery wall, as I first looked into the gallery space I simply saw, and was impressed by, stunning colourful landscapes. They just happened to have been taken in the aftermath of the savage fires.


Autumn rebirth at Blowering Dam © Ben Kopilow

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 22/5/21 here. It is also published on the author's blog here.