something about us

Logan Art Gallery, Logan City
16 June - 15 July 2001

The exhibition Something About Us consists of a number of elements. On one level, it aims literally to present 'something about us'; that is, something about the community of Logan. At the same time, it is as much about the possibility of documentary photography generating such discussion. The exhibition features photography by some twenty-eight Logan residents who took part in a series of workshops, and by Angela Blakely and David Lloyd, who conducted those workshops with Julian Bowron, the exhibition's curator. Broadly speaking, the work focuses on concepts such as community, identity, and celebration. Much of the work is drawn from a project in which the workshop participants documented their celebrations of Australia Day. Given these subjects, the project could easily have slipped into feel-good representations or nationalistic pride; thankfully, these pitfalls are successfully avoided. One of the strongest elements in the work is a sense of the diversity of individuals within the community, and those things that are common to us all as well as those that are unique.

While the idea of photo documentary as a mode of story telling is raised several times in the catalogue essay, one gets the clear sense (in the images themselves as well as in their presentation) that these are but individual pieces of the story. Much is made of photography's ability to 'capture' truth in an image. Whether it is acknowledged or not, we can never truly know another person's experience, and the most we can hope from an artwork or image is that it provoke some sense of identification or empathy with the subject. The works in Something About Us range from humorous and celebratory occasions to intimate, evocative, and fragile moments. Such small moments, while not in service of a big story, nevertheless demonstrate the power of these home truths. Blakely and Lloyd, in their section of the show (which was, incidentally, created after the workshops) chose to focus on the environs of Logan City itself. These works maintain a sense of distance, both physical and critical. The photographers themselves seem to have kept their distance; photographing from the other side of the fence and limiting their view to hedges, fences and graffiti-covered walls, or else to mostly deserted roads and car parks. In the context of the exhibition these deserted urban landscapes, emptied of people but not of signs of life, would seem to suggest that the community does not reside in bricks and mortar, but in the lives, hopes and aspirations of its people.

This is also true of the series in the hope of. .. , in which sites of community activity (Pool Hall, Church Hall, Bingo Ha/0 are shown deserted or (perhaps more accurately) not yet filled, as if awaiting to be activated by the community itself. In the Speed series, the photographic frame is crowded with advertising signage, with a mixture of specific/local ('Home World' and 'the Big Gun Butcher', for example) and generic/universal icons (the ubiquitous KFC and McDonald's). This is a view of Logan that is most common to those passing by or through the city; the view from the Motorway.

The main exception to these distanced views is found in a series of small prints entitled Rituals. This category is further divided into Wedding Day, Tupperware Party, and Anzac Day. Even here, despite the celebratory nature of the events depicted, there remains a sense of distance, the sense that this is resolutely an outsider's view. One reason for this is the categorization of the images, which, though not attempting to encapsulate the meaning of these events, does (in classic photo-documentary style) seem to act as a summary. Whereas they provide the highlights (the important bits), the images by Logan residents seem to suggest that every bit, every moment, is important. Rather than being a failing, this outsider status is very much a role assumed by Blakely and Lloyd, and one that comes with the nature of their project. Roland Barthes famously wrote of the punctum of the photograph, the random detail that inspires empathy in the viewer by affirming the humanity of the subject. lt cannot be constructed by the photographer, but must be construed by the viewer. In acknowledging this fact, in not attempting to imitate the punctum of the informal snapshot, Blakely and Lloyd accept the unavoidable mantle of the photo-documentist/outsider.

In spite of the different approaches taken, one thing that runs through most of the works on show is the fact that they have the look of stolen glances. Apparently taken while no one is looking, before anyone has arrived, or after they have passed, the images by Blakely and Lloyd have a feel of distance, of otherness, even of longing. On the part of the residents, the works have the feel of moments snapped and grasped, of fieeting impressions of transient events.

They also have the look of an image that is as much given as taken, and as much shared as preserved. These are images of a particular community that, like Barthes's punctum, reach out beyond their own boundaries.