Thursday, July 13, 2023

Brian Rope | Photography

Parallel Play | Rory Hamovit

Photo Access | 29 June to 12 August

Parallel Play is an Australian premiere of new work by Los Angeles-based photographer Rory Hamovit, who has a BA in photography from Bard College and an MFA in photography from Yale School of Art. His work deals with concepts of masculinity, queerness and their myriad interpretations through performance and play. 

The work in this exhibition depicts puppets made by the artist that are physical manifestations of playful characters and ideas developed in dreams, or in a state of meditation. The show’s title is a term coined by a sociologist, Dr Mildred Parten, a century ago – in the 1920s. She used the term to describe one of her six stages of childhood development – the point at which toddlers play alongside each other, sharing play tools, aware of each other but each doing their own thing.

So, in a sense, here we have this artist’s playthings. His images have similar designs and reflect a recurring idea. They are all black and white. We see them alongside each other, but they are playing (in parallel) rather than communicating with each other.

There is a mixture of works on display – a single channel video titled Welcome, a Projector Series of the artist’s photographs, four framed selenium-toned gelatin silver prints, and four inkjet prints on lightbox paper.

Shadow Puppet, 2018 – Inkjet print on lightbox paper © Rory Hamovit

The video is seen on a small TV screen and its soundtrack through headphones. The projector series is also self-help and uses an old projector.

Projector Series © Rory Hamovit (Installation image by Brian Rope)

In the prints we see puppet balloons – you know the type made by twisting inflated balloons together into various shapes to entertain children (and even adults). There are sock puppets and shadow puppets. There are silk butterflies bought from a shop – pinned above a piece of glass covered by dirt. These images were all developed from initially sketched ideas that the artist played with. And the photography approach used further alters the starting point idea.

There are other intriguing images – such as one of a slender woman with “Popeye arms” or, if you prefer, looking as though her biceps have ruptured. There are fingers attached to a hand walking out of a tower of books. There is an image of a curious sock puppet. And was that a movie director puppet in a directors’ chair? Each image provides us with a bit of light-hearted fun. 

The catalogue essay by Philip Anderson reminds us that the medium we know as photography is very much about light and shadows. He notes that “Hamovit has reimagined the basic elements… make an unfathomable shadow portrait of a soaring bird (Shadow Puppet), ….so playful and silly…” This is the image shown above and was the one that seemed to grab everyone’s immediate attention when I was in the gallery.

See the exhibition if you can and be ready to smile at the playful nature of it all – remember when you were at the toddler stage. Maybe take your own toddlers (if you have any) to see it and then take them home to have their own play session – perhaps making puppets, perhaps doing something entirely different. You could even parallel play alongside them.

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