There is a Wall of Shame in this year’s photo competition, three tedious and overdone photographs hung side by side that are a microcosm of the hip and conceptually obvious school of Australian Art Photography.
On the left is Polixeni Papapetrou’s Olympia as Lewis Carol’s Xie Kitchin as a Chinaman (off duty). What is wrong with this picture? Everything! Taking a photo of someone against a painted backdrop is a tired high art cliché and Papapetrou does absolutely nothing new with it. The creep out of a woman using her daughter to “investigate” Lewis Carol is just… creepy, and the racial stereotyping is only just got away with by virtue of the fact the kid in the photo is under 10. This is all just so wrong on so many levels we are considering calling in DOCS.
Next to Papapetrou’s freak out is an Anne Zahalka picture. Again, a painted backdrop, this time some people familiar from television – the Sandman, Tony Squires – and some others who look like you should know who they are. The title is Novocastrians, Stockton Shore, Lower Hunter. You may have missed the subtlety and nuance here – the picture is a parody of a painting whose title we have already forgotten. It’s incredibly obscure and the AGNSW have put up a reproduction of the original reference so that we all get the joke. Zahalka should be rightly aggrieved that Tracey Moffatt is more rich and famous than she is when she’s been doing work just as artless and obvious for years. What a rip off!
The Wall of Shame is completed with a self portrait by Gareth Sansom. Had this photo been done by any other middle aged guy who has just bought himself a camera it would’ve hit the reject file in no time at all. It’s rubbish.
This might give you the idea that the Australian Photographic Portrait Prize is bad. It’s not. It’s very good. The AGNSW have seen fit to hide this triumvirate of shame behind a wall. A wise move.
Elsewhere, Aaron Seeto’s self portrait Untitled printed on an egg is sublime – an assured and intelligent meeting of materials and subject that is the essence of good contemporary art. So are Concettina Inserra’s picture of Jane Burton and Bronwyn Rennex‘s Stella In Red. Petrina Hick’s photo of an insolent school girl called Kirtsin is a show stopper. The overall quality of the The Citigroup Private Bank Australian Photographic Portrait Prize is so high, it makes you marvel at the consistency and popularity of photography in general. Where only the occasional contemporary falvoured painting gets into the Archibald proper, all the real action is now in the photographic section.