Janet McAllister on the arts

Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: This isn't your grandpa's slideshow

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Women learn to vacuum in Jakarta in 2006 at a training centre that sends domestic workers abroad. Above right, the Auckland Ferry Building, by Henry Winkelmann in 1913. Photo / Magnum, Auckland Libraries
Women learn to vacuum in Jakarta in 2006 at a training centre that sends domestic workers abroad. Above right, the Auckland Ferry Building, by Henry Winkelmann in 1913. Photo / Magnum, Auckland Libraries

This month's Auckland Festival of Photography is its usual, marvellously eclectic self - art, photo-journalism and a Super City-wide fringe all rolled into one canister. But, if you take a snapshot (ha!) of the CBD exhibitions as evidence, an unofficial overarching theme emerges: nostalgia.

Everybody's favourite history buff, the Central Library, offers overt reminiscence with an "Auckland Then & Now" exhibition. More surprisingly, the Epson/NZIPP Iris Professional Photography Awards at the Vero Centre offer moody clouds over churches as if it were still 1988 and Robin Morrison were still alive. Not to mention its wedding couples playing cutesy-pie (with balloons), and portrait-sitters who look as if their lives depend on winning an "intense gaze of the year" award. If you want to dream pastel-tinged scenes of atmospheric past-harking, this is your exhibition.

Elsewhere, one of the festival's "signature" exhibitions involves three projections, presenting photos one after the other on the wall of the Aotea Centre. Yes, that's right, despite the digital technology used, we're talking olde worlde slideshows here - increasingly popular with amateurs and photo-journalists.

However, where Grandpa would give a running commentary on the family holiday slides, Magnum's photo essays are paired with expert voiceovers and dramatic music. Rather than a poor man's film, or just a gallery exhibition for the lazy (you can sit and watch, rather than shuffling from pic to pic), the slideshows turn out to be effective at imparting a lot of information quickly. For a start, the voiceover means you don't waste precious time reading white cards beside the exhibits. And it's possible to jumpcut between photographed scenes faster than between movie "training montage" scenes, without the viewer becoming discombobulated.

The audience absorbs information from a photograph more readily "including background" when there's no distracting movement. This year's photo-journalism theme is "crossing borders". Or rather, attempting to, not because you want to, but because you desperately need money or asylum and hope it can be found on the other side.

So, in one of the festival's projections - "Costly Dream" by Susan Meiselas - Indonesian women leave their babies and husbands to learn how to vacuum in cramped training centres before they go off to Singapore, praying they won't be abused by employers. In another, "Immigrants Forced to Return" by Enrico Dagnino, black Libyans are stripped naked and plead with Italians stylishly dressed in crisp uniforms as if this is the 17th century and they'd just been pulled off a slave ship instead of a crammed, open rubber dingy (a warped "nostalgia" indeed). All this high human drama told in just a few minutes.

And there's more historical excitement to come: Moonbug, a film (rather than slideshow) about a photographer who takes portraits of Apollo space pioneers, has a one-off screening at the Auckland Art Gallery on June 24. Snap it up.

- NZ Herald

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