Long Distance Vision
Three Australian Photographers
Matthew SLEETH
Untitled 1997; 2004 {printed}
from the Opfikon series 1997
type C photograph
43.3 x 42.9 cm (image) 61.0 x 50.8 cm (sheet)
ed. 2/15
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Patrick Corrigan AM, Governor, 2005
© Matthew Sleeth/Claire Oliver Gallery (New York)

This exhibition examines the idea of the ‘tourist gaze’ and its relationship with three contemporary Australian photographers.

Since the mid-nineteenth century, tourism and photography have concurrently developed and expanded. Writer John Urry described the importance of this relationship when he said, “The immensely expanding popularity of photography in the later nineteenth century indicates the importance of new forms of visual perception, and their role in structuring the tourist gaze that was emerging in this period.” Since that time photography has been a means by which people could discover the world through magazines, books, postcards and personal photographs.

Continuing and expanding on the traditions established in the nineteenth century, contemporary travellers and photographers continue to use the camera as a means to explore, question and ‘capture’ the world.

Photography and tourism have a similarity which Anthony Gardner explained when he said, “Like tourism, the photograph takes a fragment of ‘the real’, a slice of an encounter, and encases it within an artificial frame. The viewfinder makes a particular scene worth seeing and makes a moment memorable. It makes the postcard real.” Taking a picture has become an intrinsic part of the travel experience and ‘places of interest’ often dominate the albums of travellers. This is one of photography’s enduring traditions, and the camera often takes pride of place as a travelling companion.

This exhibition will consider the work of three contemporary Australian photographers Christine Godden, Max Pam and Matthew Sleeth, who have photographed not only aspects of the everyday at home but venture forth in the world with the delighted, but not uncritical, eyes of the traveller. For each of them the need to leave the familiar and go in search of the ‘other’ is vital to their creative practice. Although the work of each of these photographers is quite distinctive they are united in the way in which they make the everyday odd. We are repeatedly delighted by the unfamiliar in their images, yet curiously, in the end, the world seems in a sense a smaller place as Godden, Pam and Sleeth direct their respective ‘travelers gaze’ to the little things. Each photographer shows the details of ordinary life; street scenes, workers, children at play, people going about their everyday activities.

The work in this exhibition shows the artists’ photographs in the early years of their careers. Each artist is drawn to the details of everyday life. In the tradition of photographers like Robert Frank they attribute significance to modest scenes and objects, recognizing that sometimes, surprises lie in the smallest of details.

In the last few decades there has been an unprecedented burgeoning in the sheer volume of photographic images generated. This rapid increase in the output of images coincides with an ongoing and uneasy awareness of the trend towards globilisation. And inevitably the world has become a smaller place. Perhaps there are fewer surprises. But in the work of Christine Godden, Max Pam and Matthew Sleeth the world continues to surprise and delight us. There is a sense in the work of each of these photographers that they are not from the places they choose to photograph, and that each is a visitor delighting in the surreal scenes they encounters. In the work of these artists the everyday is made odd as our attention is drawn to not only what is different, but that which remains the same as we travel the world.

27 Aug 200921 Feb 2010 The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square
Joseph Brown Collection (Gallery 11), Level 2, NGVA
Joseph Brown Collection (Gallery 11), Level 2, NGVA