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Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Vol. 38, No. 2. March 11, 1975

photo review

photo review

Photo of a bird in flight

Ever since Fox Talbot invented the calotype in 1841 photography has exerted an uncanny fascination on people. The freezing of a single moment for posterity, the captivity of a scrap of reality on a piece of emulsified paper has a peculiar poignance. As an art form photography is more immediately accessible than the other mimetic arts. No special knowledge is needed to 'understand' a photograph.

Photography's claim to being the most popular art form (who has never taken a snapshot?) is well supported by the interest being shown in Victoria Ginn's photographs of people exhibited in the university library until March 22, the most exciting photographic show by a local artist seen in this town since Warwick Teague's enigmatic and technically superb show at the Wellington Settlement a couple of years' ago.

The exhibition represents two years' work, plus some earlier material, 'first works' taken when the photographer was 16. It is arranged chronologically and documents a technical and personal development, and the exploration of a particular photographic idea.

If it is presumptuous to see this exhibition as an autobiographical statement, it is not so to be aware of a very personal purgatorial vision of the city, balanced by an exuberance, a deep compassion for people and a warmth that is lacking from, say, Ans Westra's work, where the distance between photographer and subject is felt as a yawning gap by the viewer.

One is frequently shocked by the callous detachment of the camera in photographs of human suffering, in this show particularly by the study of the incontinent couple outside the pub. In photographs of this kind liberal sensibilities Are affronted not only by the intrusion into the lives of ordinary people (we accept and revel in intimate glimpses of public figures) but rather more by the notion that the photographer should be in there doing something about it. The morality of the photographer's position as a detached observer caused a stir recently with the presence of a BBC camera team at the shooting of Nigerian political prisoners. Not only was it felt that the presence of the august BBC might have prevented this ghastly Occurrence, there was some suggestion of complicity in setting up the execution as an effective television scenario.

Similarly disturbing, although for different reasons is the study of the woman with warts. This portrait, in which the subject is carefully groomed and posed, immediately raises the question of the photographer's relationship, and as in the case of the incontinent couple, the motive behind the photograph. Are these pit pictures deliberately intended to shock, are we being shown the city warts and all, or are they purely gratuitous horrors put in for cheap effect? Seen in context however with the rest of the exhibition, the stripper, the drag queen, the man who has been bottled, a deeper and more consistent concern is evinced.

The last images in the sequence demonstrate considerable technical expertise, especially the haunting final portrait, and a leaning towards surrealism. If this is an augury of the direction Victoria Ginn's work is taking I think it is an unfortunate one.

The surrealist ragbag has been well and tryly ransacked since the 1930s by fashion magazines and such photographers as Cecil Beaton, who used the already cliched and outmoded surrealist repertoire as his stock in trade.

Perhaps my fears are unfounded. Ms Ginn has surprisingly avoided the photographic cliche in this exhibition. She has an originality of talent and vision, and I look forward to seeing more of her work.

Neil Rowe

Photo of a child piggy backing another child