Image from Art Gallery of NSW
I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the Art Gallery this weekend. My favourite haunt was the Harold Cazneaux exhibition, composed of over 100 vintage images by a man who was one of Australia's pioneering photographers. He captured extraordinary landscapes, cityscapes and portraits with such incredible clarity and interesting shot composition. It is hard to imagine taking such images now, but to think they were taken at the beginning of last century was astounding. It is also really fulfilling as an Australian to see a mythology made from the fabric of our own history. Instead of gazing at the urban spaces of London or New York, here I was trying to puzzle out where in Redfern or Balmain or Milsons Point a photograph was taken. The wharfies at Circular Quay, the old swim suits at Bondi, the smoke stacks at Pyrmont: all of it held such intrigue and fascination as I looked on places (and faces) that were both strangely familiar and foreign.
Image from SMH
Image via the Art Gallery of NSW
Despite not really 'getting' a lot of the Biennale work (and I know maybe that's the point...) I also swooned over the Taisho Chic exhibition which was a small exhibit on women in Japan in the 20s and 30s. The images and kimono on display showed the tensions of the time between nostalgia for the old Japan and an insistent pull towards modernity and Westernisation. For example, there are two fabulous photographs of the Emporer and Empress of the Taisho period in full Western garb - he with a moustache, military -style uniform and medals pinned to his chest, and her with a tiara, gown with a train, yet still in a slightly passive and feminine stance, with eyes averted. Fascinating.
I urge you to have a look if you're around - the Cazneaux runs until the 10th August 2008, and Taisho Chic until the 3rd August 2008.