Saturday, November 5, 2022

The Corner of My Eye

Photography | Brian Rope

The Corner of My Eye | Mark Van Veen & David Hempenstall

M16 Artspace Gallery 1 | 21 October - 6 November

Mark Van Veen - Edge Pool Branches, 2020.


Mark Van Veen - Grey Stone Branches

The term The Corner of My Eye might refer to things one sees quickly and briefly, rather than clearly. Using that phrase as its title, this exhibition explores the work of two photographers reflecting on easily overlooked details that, when studied, can reveal hidden meaning in the everyday. Both artists use photographic imagery as points of departure from actuality or truth, and as instances of lucidity.

Davis Hempenstall’s “familiar” family life photographs each show one view of the state of things as they actually exist, in which individuals in his family inhabit the places where he has chosen to photograph them. No doubt this illustrates fondness for his subjects. Perhaps he is even investigating the meaning of life. But it is left to us to interpret them for ourselves. Apart from a location – Narrabundah, Etty Bay, Lake Wivenhoe – or a name – Neville, Rafi, Fred – we have only what we are looking at to use in discern his meanings.

In the room sheet, Hempenstall quotes the famous American photographer Lee Friedlander “I only wanted Uncle Vern standing in front of his new car (a Hudson) on a clear day. I got him and the car. I also got a bit of Aunt Mary’s laundry and Beau Jack, the dog, peeing on the fence, a row of potted tuberous begonias on the porch and seventy-eight trees and a million pebbles in the driveway anymore. It’s a generous medium photography”.

Hempenstall’s black and white images include a lot of shadows – in one case partially obscuring a child such that a touch of mystery is added, often adding an additional shape to a geometric image.

David Hempenstall - Untitled, 2015

There are two photographs displayed alongside each other which are essentially identical in most respects. However, the face of the young child portrayed in them is a little more visible in one than the other. This is a delightful touch, illustrating how quick photographers need to be to capture particular postures or expressions adopted by people – especially youngsters. Whilst each separate image reveals a different moment, the two together provide a hint of how the child was responding to Hempenstall. 

Mark Van Veen’s series “Cease to Exist” reveals a fascination with the reflections in cemetery headstones and graves, how they hold images of the surrounding branches, leaves, skies, that sets one’s eyes focusing beyond the polished stone surface. In that moment it's as if we can see into a world beyond the engraved memorial as the hard materiality seemingly dissolves and a portal opens.

His quote in the room sheet is from another famous American, Minor White, “No matter what role we are in - photographer, beholder, critic - inducing silence for the seeing in ourselves, we are given to see from a sacred place. From that place the sacredness of everything can be seen.”

Van Veen’s works are all colour photographs, although it is difficult to see much colour in a small number of them. The titles of his works are generally sufficient to reveal the stories he saw and is sharing with us – Barriers are Imagined, Veiled Landscape, Deep Space.

Mark Van Veen - Memorial Stone Garden

Mark Van Veen, Puddle Forest

There are a number of excellent images relating to horizons – not what we traditionally consider to be a horizon, perhaps a set of strata with particular characteristics, or even simply his perception that what he saw when he looked was a horizon.

Mark Van Veen - Lichen Stone Sky

Appropriately, since photography is painting with light, the word light appears in four separate titles where Van Veen has seen it dividing time, being hard breaking, or even sacred.

This is a substantial exhibition – both in terms of quantity and quality.

This review was first published online by The Canberra Times here on 31/10/22. It is also available on the author's blog here.