June 1: Must success in photography be at the expense of compassion?
Right on the heels of Photo London comes Copenhagen Photo Festival which starts today in a former transformer station called Understationen, on Nyborggade 13, Copenhagen, and will continue until 11th June.
Amongst many and varied offerings of the festival, mostly photography with a few video works, is The Censored Exhibition.
Inaugurated in 2102, The Censored Exhibition annually issues a call for contemporary international fine art photography, though this year’s includes photojournalism and videography.
The selection committee comprised Beate Cegielska, curator and director of Gallery Image in Aarhus, founded 1977, the first gallery for photography in Scandinavia; artist and photographer, Tina Enghoff (*1957); and researcher, art critic, writer and radio host, Torben Sangild (*1969). Their selection out of 1,872 works from photographers all over the world, in the jury’s opinion, reflects the latest tendencies within contemporary photography:
It was very important for us that the exhibition shows the openness of today’s photography. The boundaries between genres are broken down and photography is being stretched in all directions. Photography is on a journey with numerous stops and some of them can be seen in this year’s censored exhibition.
The photographers they selected are; Adrian Fish (CA) Blør (DK/CYP) Borcher and Lomholdt (DK) Carrie and Eric Tomberlin (US) Erik Jørgensen (DK) Giles Clark (US) Ida Refsgaard (DK) Jake Naughton (US) Jim Johnston (UK) Ken Hermann (DK) Lars Brorson Fich (DK) Lesia Maruschak (CA) Louis De Belle (IT) Mads Kongerskov (DK), and Mark Rammers (NL) (below: rollover to to identify representative examples).
Their work ranges across fine art, fashion, architecture, Ukranian inheritance, environment and global warming, war and religion amongst other subject matter.
Among this varied and illustrious company is an Australian, Ebony Finck (*1987), one of whose photographs headlines the exhibition page. Her series accepted for the group show tackles a difficult subject matter that in fact warrants the label ‘censored’.
Discussing the process of death is still avoided in polite company, a commonality that we would rather not acknowledge. It is not a topic most at the age of thirty would wish to even contemplate, yet Finck applies a visual cross-examination of the forbidding prospect.
The human subject in her series, Juncture, is left unidentified, but is clearly close to her.
His surroundings could be that of his own home, but is more likely a hospice; the cropping is so tight that there are few clues, but a high-key exposure cradles him in whiteness in the six pictures in which he appears amongst a total of sixteen for the series.
The rest of the images represent a poetic rumination on the nature of death, a contemplation that is informed by a text by J. Earl Rogers from his The Art of Grief : the Use of Expressive Arts in a Grief Support Group (Hoboken : Taylor & Francis Ltd., 2007) that Finck has chosen to accompany them.
Death is dark to the mind. It cannot be reduced to the rational — neither thought, nor interpretation, nor even memories. It is through the expression of the inexpressible that art allows us to reach deep into our unconscious and touch this mystery
Finck goes on to explain:
Our mortality is the universal commonality that connects all living life. When death enters our lives, it can evoke uncertainty, fear and a torrent of emotions. As a loved one prepares to die, we are confronted with the realisation that we must look forward, and yet the past collides with the future skewing it from view.
She has taken up Rogers’ encouragement to use art to deal with these complex torrents, confrontations, collisions and obstructions that death throws up. Photography has so often been described as a medium devoted to time, and it is that aspect that she brings to this ‘juncture’ of past, present and future.
The bare-boned forms of a burnt-out forest of eucalypts flashed past the window of a car as Finck took this photograph and they appear to rattle brittlely with the movement. The image is set in the series beside that of the elderly man’s back as he supports himself unsteadily on the yielding mattress. It is followed by another image of a dying tree in a glare of flash or car headlights. Two of the following images, also shot on the road, are rendered in the same pale fleshy tones in a still higher key.
The ineffable is presented as hovering between such blazing light and enveloping obscurity, the passing phases of comprehension and unknowing, bitterness and acceptance that confound us in the face of death.
Finck is quite early in her career and is a portrait and commercial photographer living and working in Melbourne, and with just one solo show behind her; Juncture was shown last year at Kalakriti Art Gallery in Hyderabad India. She abandoned study in a Bachelor of Creative Industries at Edith Cowan University in 2013 to go instead to the private Photography Studies College that has been operating in Melbourne for forty-four years.
The institution was founded by Roger Hayne who had attended the “Hattersley Class”, the course in New York run by Ralph Hattersley (1921-2000) whose principle that “We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us,” guided Hayne, along with the course structure he inherited from the American professor.
The continued survival of PSC, as it is commonly known, points the way for dedicated photographic education that Australian universities, which absorbed the technical institutions that used to provide it, struggle to match, given that academic staff are being so viciously cut back. Finck and Tom Goldner are just two success stories of this private college that has steadily contributed prominent photographers to the Australian scene.
Another contribution to Finck’s education was her assisting for some very important mentors, several of whom associate with PSC; Natascha Stellmach (2016 – current), Thom Rigney (2016 – current) Jesse Marlow (2016 – current), partners George Apostolidis & Craig Moodie (2015 – current) and Amanda Fordyce (2014 – 2015), who together must provide excellent training and experience across commercial, documentary, editorial and fine art photography.
Inclusion in the showcase exhibition of a festival like Copenhagen’s is recognition that does not come by accident. Finck’s ambitiousness is evident, but it does not come at the cost of sensitivity and compassion that distinguishes her series Juncture. She is in the good company of the other participants in The Censored Exhibition who share her motivation.