TJ McNamara: In the abstract

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Photo / Natalie Slade
Photo / Natalie Slade

The Festival of Photography delivers some remarkable examples of how digital technology can create fine art.

Photography, which is basically making images with light, has widened in scope enormously with the advent of digital technology. You just have to look at the Festival of Photography where three remarkable shows - iconic, surreal and purely abstract- show the extent of what is expected in a photographic print.

Richard Killeen's work at the Ivan Anthony Gallery extends his previous practice of making computer-generated images that are visually rich and powerfully suggestive. In this show he has made his works like votive objects, rich and strange and enhanced to the level of fine art.

He begins with insects and animals and processes the image so that it retains the reality of photography but the product is wonderfully crafted into something that is rich and in his unique style.

The unmistakeable image of a frog is given a striking pattern by four loops at each corner of the image, counterpointed by big empty oval eyes and another circle in the tail.

The surface of this remarkable image is like polished wood and touched with highlights giving it a hint of solidity.

Equally vivid is the plaque-like Flying Tiger with wings and balanced on its tail. Another, more domesticated, cat has five tails and is called Leaving. In the outline of its body are many other cats. It is the essence of catness - the animal's pride and self-assurance as well as a mythical quality.

These images are constructs carefully built up on the computer. This is reflected in the presence of straight lines, which stylise them and square them up. The mythical quality is notable in the neck and back of Skeleton, a sacred cow that recalls Egyptian tomb painting. And by repeating the animal again and again within the outline of the animal, emphasises a sense of ritual.

Other images are based on insects. One at least, which is a mask of an insect face, is oddly macabre. Its title is Interior Dissolution.

Each print is a precious object with the only hint of banality of the print of two dogs called Double Interior.

At the Bath Street Gallery, Andrea Gardner's prints invoke the dream world of Surrealism where everything is sharp and clear but the juxtaposition of objects is unreal and extraordinary. A typical work is called Green Romanticism where the background is supplied by a faded copy of a painting by Constable of an English cornfield. In front is a handsome figure romantically crowned with flowers and perusing an open book which shows a scene of New Zealand musterers setting out with their dogs.

Other works evoke other moods. St Leonard's Forest With Plums and Seed Dream are elaborate images but rather contrived collections compared to the simpler but much more atmospheric High Tide and Full Moon.

Altogether this is a rich show of compelling images.

In contrast is the white on black of the abstract photographs of Daniel Crooks in his Imaginary Objects show at Two Rooms. These vivid images show skeins of pristine white material twisting down or across the centre of the photograph.

It is fascinating to watch the two videos accompanying the stills. These show how the images are generated digitally. Patience is needed, the image changes slowly, but if you watch the digital video titled Imaginary Object #1 you will see one white form gradually emerge and then an identical form will fold around it and then a third, until a vivid spiral moves through space and time. It is a purely abstract sensation, white against black but shows the genesis of the intricate forms caught in the still photographs. The light comes from the left and is the element that reveals the form.

Upstairs at Two Rooms, veteran photographer Bruce Connew has a documentary series of mainly black and white photographs covering the life of the Indian population in Fiji. These people arrived as indentured labour in 1879 and for later generations their life is still a struggle. This extended essay of nearly 70 prints has deep human interest and yet the image that lingers in the mind is a striking picture of blackened burnt sugar cane against the light.

It is common for exhibitions of photography to be filled with admirable photographs and yet only one really stays in the mind.

This is again the case in Solomon's Travels by Solomon Mortimer at Anna Miles Gallery, where among a variety of images one indomitable old woman standing proud against an advertisement for Juicy Oranges is unforgettable.

- NZ Herald

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