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photography

Sep 11, 2015

Sex, Private Life and the Photographer

Self-exposing imagery — it's everywhere! But see how an artist makes nakedness beautiful inside and out. Plus, an instant beach classic.

W H Chong — Culture Mulcher

W H Chong

Culture Mulcher

I myself am hell;
nobody’s here—
only skunks

When Robert Lowell published Life Studies in 1959 he kickstarted confessional poetry. A young Nan Goldin took photos through the 1970s that would become The Ballad of Sexual Dependency — which became a slideshow in 1985, and a book in 1986, launching confessional photography.

Lowell and Goldin exposed their private lives, and the lives of those around them, put them on public view — pioneers because what they did was so beyond the pale, the opposite of polite. It was, and feels like, a historical period — two or three generations, a long ago before technology and contemporary mores enabled the digital outpourings of the world’s diaries.

I see Sex, but show me Love

Currently at Strange Neighbour gallery in Collingwood is the show “Sex”, of mostly photographs, interpreting the title subject. It’s explicit — the opening night featured lots of naked men and women in the crowd, looking very pleased with themsleves — and much of it determinedly in your face, like the unforgettable (alas) photo by the curators Linsey Gosper and Jack Sergeant of an eye looking out of a vagina. There’s a porn ménage à trois reflected in a mirror. There are spermograms. There is BDSM and implied violence. I find it curious and telling that so few of the images suggest anything gentle or fragile.

The very odd man out — though as explicit as the rest — is a grid of twelve black and white photos (above), smallish at about A5, depicting the photographer and his wife in uxorious congruence. The artist is Konrad Winkler, his wife and subject is Ros. There are body parts, often close up to the point of erotic abstraction. There is a tight crop of an inhabited panty, legs wide. There is a female hand holding a penis (see gallery link). The series is bracketed by Ros Winkler’s face — as a young beauty throwing an unreadable, determined glance (pictured below) … and, decades later, as a ravishing middle-aged woman on an emotional precipice.


Above: 1969 Ballarat Vic. (Ros)

The pictures are quiet, even dreamy, demanding a slower address from the viewer, and belong to another world from high-impact shock and social media banality. Within the show they are very old-school as they are unmistakably about love, and not merely sex. It’s a wonderful looking series, a sensitive recording of so many unsayables. Bravo!

Moments of My Life, through the lens

Winkler has also just published a book, “Moments of My Life”, which in the fine tradition of photo books is expanded from an exhibition. I noted the show at the time in an art round-up, writing:

“[Winkler] has chosen pictures from times and people in his life and printed them … with text by the side — it’s not wall text; you are compelled to read it, and read the picture against it, and test the text against the picture … Somehow the push-pull between word and image and space has attained exactly the right tension, and the stories and feelings in the pictures bloom into a warmth that very few photographic exhibitions ever afford.”

From “Moments in My Life”: 1974 Areyonga N.T. (Part of the accompanying text: ‘School starting … I taught here for a year and loved everything about it. It was a valley in the middle of nowhere … I shared a house with the principal who was a nut … The aborigines asked him to leave because he hit one of the elders with a baseball bat.’)

“Moments of My Life” does not offer much sex, though it is a very intimate sequence plotting the shape and texture of a private life, with annotations. On the left page is the text, on the right the image.

At the launch of the book, Wendy Garden, senior curator at Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, said: ‘In recent times with Facebook and Snapchat we are witnessing the rise of the banal. This book reminds us of what photography [of the everyday] can be when the camera is in the hands of a master craftsman … each one beautifully framed, show Konrad’s refined sensitivity to light, the beautiful tonal subtleties … combined with a keen sense of the absurd which gives such piquancy to this collection.

From “Moments in My Life”: 1976 Adelaide S.A. (Part of the accompanying text: ‘I took this picture when Ros and I were still split up. I stayed with her one night on my way back to Darwin. Ros was shocked when I got up in the middle of the night for a piss and came back to bed with a can of beer …’)

My accidental sons

The confessions of this photographer are distinctly, frankly and gorgeously local, with its images of country life and beach, of his stint teaching in the N.T. — indigenous children in the sunlight, of unmistakably Australian interiors. Family, funerals, faces: the blokes, the women, the kids. His own kids, in particular — there are artful images of his three adult sons; as if bearing witness to the parental ordeal, each one is shown after an accident. Second son, Jake, stars in a strange and spectacular shot with bandages on his face in a hospital bed (From the text: ‘The first thing he said was, did I have my camera?’).

This is a tender and beautiful book, the naked and humane poetry of a person with an acute eye, a camera in hand and an idiosyncratic voice, documenting the pressure and release of life in what is more than ever, wholly unironically, the lucky country.

Instant beach classic

The last photo is irresistible, worthy of entering the pantheon of great Australian beach scenes (and gallery collections, please). In this context it is distinctive, being not at all manly or blokey, like Dupain’s Sunbaker, (or, At Newport), Roger Scott’s Queenscliff, or Yang’s Bondi, nor is it tribal like the iconic Australian Beach Pattern by Charles Meere, with its stiff Anglo rectitude, but it does have the exuberant motion of a Narelle Autio. Cartier-Bresson would recognise Winkler’s shot as a “decisive moment” — a capture requiring the photographer’s complete submission to their instincts — the mysterious capacity to be there and ready a split second before what happens, happens. This moment is a perfect geometry of distilled Australian life, of sunlit, seaside joy: Nov. 2012, Lorne, Vic.

Images and annotations © Konrad Winkler 2015

“Sex” — till Sept 19 2015, Strange Neighbour gallery

Konrad Winkler — “Moments of My Life” book available at M.33

Other recent photographic Mulchings:
Ballarat International Foto Biennale
Double Trouble

 

 

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