By Danielle Lancaster
Yesterday I went and saw an exhibition of works by Robert McFarlane, titled ‘Received Moments Photography 1961 – 2009’ with a wonderful photo buddy and mate of mine Judith B.
If you are in the area, get along and see it and I’d be interested in your thoughts. It is indeed an interesting exhibition. Extremely extensive with 90 images picked from both his personal and extensive professional career during this time. Doors are opened for both the photographer and viewer. Intimacies are revealed.
Robert McFarlane is one of Australia’s most prolific photo journalists. Aussie born in Adelaide in 1942, his work is in one word: emotional. As Gael Newton, Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australian describes ‘he tends to focus on the dignity and integrity of an individual. …in his universe all subjects are equal; whether a child, a celebrity actor activist or beautiful woman.’ This is evident in the exhibition with the series on indigenous activist and then law student Charles Perkins in 1964. Suites of images were then more important to McFarlane than one leading image: they told a story.
I have often admired McFarlane’s work and his ability to document life as an on-looker. McFarlane printed all the prints himself for the exhibition (I do wish they would replace some of the glass as scratches are very evident in many) and its interesting to see some in the exhibition catalogue as colour and on the walls as black and white. The black and white won for me hands down.
Why did he not straighten some of the images, is one of my questions and printing full frame is not the answer as some are evidently cropped. Maybe there are more than me that see the world at times in a slanted way? However much can be learnt from viewing this exhibition: the use of light as an art form for one tops my list then exposure and dramatic composition tools.
His point of focus I often deliberated about especially in what appears set up shots, such as the June Daly Watkins image. In others I can imagine it is what happens with shooting ‘on the fly’: when the lights right and the mood is right then shoot. Allow composition and lighting to tell the story and your skills encompass focus and exposure requirements.
McFarlane comments that ‘I see making pictures as a receiving of the image – where you stand both physically and emotionally decrees the kind of picture you, through your camera, will 'receive'. An interesting perspective for those that take the time to think about it.
What is happening to photography and photographers? These days an image such as the one in the exhibition of a School Principal slapping a student would never be captured. Society has changed and I believe so too have values. Not all photographers are terrorists or pedophiles. Without the work of photographers like McFarlane we would not see the fashion, trends and social happenings of times gone by. Photography does document and record history – let that continue.
OK off my high horse now! The exhibition will continue only till the 20th March in Gallery 2 of the Gold Coast Arts Centre. One of my favourites is the silhouette of the country couple seeing the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the first time. For more info visit: http://www.theartscentregc.com.au/index.php
© Robert McFarlane.