Thursday, December 1, 2022

Picture Yourself, and Woodlands, Forests, Life

Photography | Brian Rope

Picture Yourself | Gerry Orkin

Woodlands, Forests, Life by David Wong

Photo Access | 18 Nov 2022 - 17 Dec 2022

Gerry Orkin and David Wong are Canberra locals, and each of their exhibitions  here celebrates and explores aspects of life in the nation's capital.

Orkin was a founding member of Photo Access. He helped develop and deliver documentary and participatory photography projects so communities could tell their own stories.

With Picture Yourself, Orkin moved away from the traditional documentary approach, handing image making and storytelling to the subjects themselves.

Comprising images captured during Summer 1985, the exhibition is seventy-four unconventional, yet uncomplicated, artworks showing Canberra’s community.

Orkin set up a tripod-mounted camera in temporary structures at public events and invited passers-by to take “selfies” by squeezing a hand-held bulb to trigger the shutter.

The photographs include individuals, plus small and large groups. Orkin was investigating the idea that something interesting might happen when he asked people “who are you?” - to make it possible to show (not just tell) stories about themselves, in one photograph, at that moment.

The results are delightful and quirky. If you went to Sunday in the Park events or Canberra Day parades in that 1985 Summer, you may well have gone into the booth with some family or friends and posed for the camera. Whether you did or not, this is an exhibition every then resident of Canberra should visit to explore this wonderful collection and see if you recognise anyone. Indeed, even if you didn’t live in Canberra at that time, you will love looking at these people shots. So, do yourself a favour and visit this exhibition.

Prints of images are available for purchase in various sizes and can be viewed at Orkin also seeks our assistance to identify the people pictured and you can do that on the catalogue website. There is also a book containing all 74 images which can be purchased from Photo Access.

Gerry Orkin - Picture Yourself, 1985

And whilst visiting, you will also very much enjoy the companion exhibition. From an early age, Wong has loved nature and explored the bushland areas close to his home. The high-quality prints of his imagery on show are a beautiful collection of photos of those places - and what he has found and seen in them.

These Woodlands, Forests, Life artworks span around a decade and explore the different aspects of eucalypt ecosystems within local nature reserves – their variety and quality, their safeguarding. And also explores people seeking to understand, restore and protect them. Woodlands, Forests, Life is also part of a broader 2022 Eucalypt Australia Dahl Fellowship project.

The strength of this exhibition lies in its broad coverage. There are wonderful woodland landscapes, but also much more.

David Wong - Bruce Ridge, 2021

There are the elements of those woodlands, including a beetle, a gum hopper, a bull ant, moss capsules, a gecko, and fungi.

David Wong - Eastern Stone Gecko

There are images relating to the threats to woodlands and about the good folk who are involved in various ways seeking to protect them - a fence, a sculpture, a sign.


David Wong - Little Eagle, Ginninderry, 2022

There are even polaroid prints of the woodlands cascading from a wall onto the floor with an invitation for visitors to take a piece of the landscape.

All this is accompanied by an excellent catalogue essay by Canberra photographer Chris Holly and two great pieces of Wong’s own writing on top of two pedestals in the gallery. Here’s just a snippet from The Helpers: 

When the morning news

tells of apocalypse

They get to work


Writing letters

Chipping weeds

Teaching kids

Testing hypotheses

All the images and accompanying words in this quality exhibition should result in visitors getting out into the woodlands to, as Holly says, stand among eucalypts and recognise who you are.

This review was first published online by The Canberra Times on 28/11/22 here then in the print version on page 10 of Panorama on 3.12.22. It is also available on the author's blog here,