See What I Can See: Discovering New Zealand Photography

Until 13 August 2017 at Hastings City Art Gallery

Photography is everywhere, the keystone of most social media platforms, the finger-tip tool of almost all of us. The evolution from time consuming to immediate, from carefully crafted and curated to carefree and constant, from labour intensive to instant means it’s everywhere and that everything is captured by someone, or multiple someones, and all the time.

Making a show of photography such as See What I Can See (curated by Greg Donson and Gregory O’Brien and on now at HCAG) raises the base to wall worthy reinstating the medium’s status as art, which is why it’s interesting to find images reminiscent of those instant snaps we’re all facebooking on the white walls of a city gallery.

Although there are grandiose and indulgent set still-lifes among the collection – Fiona Pardington’s Still Life, Richard Orjis’ Flower Idol – there are also pieces that echo the moment-missed meme of current snap-happy point-and-click culture: blurred toes of a gull, ice cream mid-melt.

Many of the works are reminiscent of childhood, in general, and specific to the viewer. Three works hung together show the timbre of my mother’s youth (Ans Westra 1962), then my own (Dean Johansson 1989), then that of my children’s (Deborah Smith 2000). It is their content, but also their tone, aesthetic and even framing, that speaks of the nostalgic ache for what was. The show’s sub-title is “New Zealand photography for the young and curious” and the images chosen are accessible at a number of entry points. Together they do an excellent job of showing the breadth and depth of the medium and specifically its capturing of New Zealand culture.

There are works here too that acknowledge not the author but the lens, self-referential and self-aware, showing boldly the tools of trade, capturing the capturing of image: Lucien Rizos’ Wellington (1974) and Anne Noble’s Penguin (2003) together bookend the age of the amateur auteur. Mark Smith’s 2014 untitled work shows a smart phone’s snap of two small children in masks. This is where we are now as creators of everyday works: catching ‘real life’ obscured by layers of assumed reality.

Throughout the show there are essay snippets referencing the role of the camera in our lives. With the contemporary proliferation of photographers it is important to be reminded of the magic and majesty of this memory-maker, but also of the jeopardies: “A strange box walks the earth. Whatever it sees it stores away. It has been known to steal things or take them without asking.” As we all take on the role of ‘photographer’ perhaps it is timely that we are reminded of the rules, roles and responsibilities of that space, as well as the pure joy and freedom it enables us.

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