Friday, June 16, 2023

Photography - Bushranger Blue by Rory King (Canberra)

Photography Review by Brian Rope

Bushranger Blue | Rory King

M16 Artspace | 9 June to 2 July

Rory King is a Canberra-based artist, whose work sits between documentary practice and personal narrative fleshed out through visual discourse. He is interested in unseen personalities living on the fringes of society and the tensions between nostalgia, melancholia, and the sublime. 

King received the National Gallery of Australia Summer Art Scholarship for photography in 2011, graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art majoring in Photomedia at National Art School in 2017, and was named one of the up-and-coming artists of 2018 by Vogue Australia. In 2022 he published his debut monograph Plumwood. He was recently awarded a Full Merit Scholarship by Charcoal Book Club to attend the 2023 Chico Hot Springs Portfolio Review in Montana, USA.

During his early career, King has been in various solo and group exhibitions, including at PhotoAccess (2018), Nishi Gallery (2019) and the Australian Photography Awards 'STORIES' Exhibition (2020).

An ongoing project, Bushranger Blue looks at those who live ‘outside the law.’ We know such outlaws as bushrangers, considering them to be both heroes and villains, champions of freedom who turned to violence and thievery to balance the scales. Bushrangers lived on the periphery of society, in the harsh countryside and outback.

What started as an investigation into these Australian outlaws quickly became a more personal exploration of isolation and grief. King travelled Australia in search of the spirit of these long lost, but far from forgotten men. In deserts, bush and mining towns, he tried to reconcile his own feelings and emotional responses to those remote and energised places. Living on the road for weeks, he began to imagine the isolation, silence, and spaciousness the outlawed convicts must have felt being exiled from regular life and needing to survive by any means possible.

The created imagery displayed in this exhibition does not paint an accurate narrative of the history of the Australian bushranger. Instead it explores loneliness, death, and longing. It reveals some of the isolation still experienced today in the more remote regions. The images speak of a yearning for deep connection in the face of isolation.

Twelve of the works are simply titled Bushranger #1 to #12. #2 is of a dog being washed in a wheelbarrow. #4 is of a dead tree root in which I see a face.

Rory King, Bushranger #4, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist

 #5 shows a man who looked to be gutting a ‘roo – a little research gave me the information “A man skins a roadkill kangaroo in a field of native wallaby grass for its pelt and meat. In the depths of the outback, self-reliance and industriousness is foundational.” #10 is of a hugging couple – more research provided additional information “a couple lovingly embrace after being separated during the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

A few works have titles that precisely describe the contents - Dog Tooth is one.

Rory King, Dog Tooth, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist

Nightscar shouted art to me but did not reveal a scar to my eyes. S.D. is an image of a rather forlorn looking man – his initials? Self portrait #2 shows, for me, a person who could well be a modern-day bushranger.

Rory King, Self portrait #2 , 2021. Image courtesy of the artist

I can’t conclude without mentioning Growling Swallet. Do you know what that means? A swallet is an underground stream or river. At the place where it goes beneath the surface it makes a loud “growling” noise when the water is running hard.

The exhibition is hung in the corridor space known as Gallery 3 – not, in my view, always the best place to show or to view sets of artworks. Because of the subject matters and loneliness/isolation themes the space works quite well here. The black and white images are smallish, some just 20.3 x 24.5 cm. There are pigment prints on Canson platine fibre rag and toned silver-gelatin prints. And there is a delightful handmade monograph in a Tasmanian oak case that is well worth exploring.

This review is also available on the author's blog here.