Saturday, May 20, 2023

Windows - Looking in & looking out

Brian Rope | Photography

Windows - Looking in & looking out | Susan Henderson

Manning Clark House | 13 May to 8 June

Opening hours: Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays 11.00 am to 2.00pm

Canberra photographer Susan Henderson is exhibiting a selection of her work over the last two decades. It follows her interest in light and the camera’s capacity to capture a composition moment in time where light reflected or refracted, or a subject through a window creates a mood or memory. The selection of work comes from a wide geography. Some places are iconic and immediately identifiable, others recall the spirit of the moment.

What is a window? Is it that transparent panel on an envelope containing a bill? Is it a framed area on a display screen? Is it an opening in our home or office wall or our car? Are windows necessarily fitted with glass so we can see through them? Or should they be open so that we can hear sounds through them or feel the breeze? What difference, if any, does it make if there is a curtain or some other covering?

In her explorations here, Henderson is sometimes looking out through the glass of a window and other times showing us reflections. Some images are quite composed, others emphasise the shattering effect COVID had. A couple of double exposures record the atmosphere in Canberra City during COVID lockdown, emphasising chaos and disruption.

Some of the locations portrayed are immediately recognisable - the entrance to the National Gallery of Victoria, and New York’s One World Trade Center. Others are less recognisable, depending how well the viewer knows cities such as Paris and Madrid. You may not even recognise some Canberra locations because what is included provides no real clues.

This a modest selection of Henderson’s large body work during the years from 2006 to 2022. Early works are, perhaps, more straight forward. Later ones reveal that her interest has evolved from the directly representational to exploration of how the camera can capture unique moments in time.

In 2012, she visited Madrid and captured an image through a window of its citizens in the central area.  Bus shelters wait for passengers. Some pedestrians cross a road whilst others just stand around. The colours are subdued – in large part almost sepia. There is much to ponder.

5 p.m. Paseo del Prado – 2012 © Susan Henderson 

In 2018, the window was closer – Melbourne’s much-loved glass panel where water flows over its surface creating a magnet for children (and many adults) to touch and peer into – and, of course, to photograph. Observing a young child passing the other side of the window, Henderson saw a metaphor for fleeting youth.

Fleeting Youth – 2016 © Susan Henderson

In 2018, she was again overseas. She visited the memorial plaza in Lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center twin towers once stood. The new tower, One World Trade, had just been completed and soared majestically above the precinct. Looking at the reflections in the glass towers she saw a haunting vision of New York. 

New York, New York – 2018 © Susan Henderson

Then came COVID. Like various other photographers, me included, Henderson wandered through deserted streets and shuttered businesses seeing and creating images. Finding some inverted stools in a closed business, she saw them as emblematic - a traditional distress signal in a flag and representational of the deserted restaurant. This is what photography is about – not just looking but seeing.

Lockdown - Canberra City 2020 © Susan Henderson

As Sydney emerged from its final COVID lockdown, Henderson was there and saw, in some “unbalanced” reflections, a symbolic representation of the impact the lockdown had had on that city. Looking at her capture later, she realised there was no human presence whatsoever.

Beyond Covid , Sydney 2022 © Susan Henderson

Henderson says she likes her images to speak for themselves and also to leave details that the viewer can explore and return to over time. That they most certainly do, so she is delivering what she has said.

This review was first published by The Canberra Times on page 11 of Panorama on 20/5/23. It is also available on the author's blog here.