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The Queensland Centre for Photography (QCP) is a non-profit organisation established in 2002, devoted to providing a voice for local artists working with photography. The organisation’s gallery space has developed with leaps and bounds since it opened in May 2004 and it has been home to monthly exhibitions by local, interstate and international artists, which provide a broad snapshot of current photographic practice. Included in a recent group of five solo exhibitions were Tai Spruyt’s photographic explorations of urban landscapes.
Spruyt’s exhibition featured twelve photographs from the ‘Darkness Visible’ series, which were all shot at night using extended exposure and taking advantage of the failure of daylight film. The project of this series is the literal act of making visible that which we cannot usually see. The darkness of night is predominantly impenetrable to the human eye and when seen, colours are dull, muted and appear as shades close to black. Using her camera Spruyt reveals the mystery of night and the spectrum of colours on offer beyond our perception. The works could almost be glamour photography for urban industrial sites. These sites, which in daytime exude a roughness and are characterised by limited colour palettes, here glow with rich colours, at times artificial, but always astonishing in their range and depth.
The skies across the series display a multitude of colours and are a particular point of interest. In one work, the deep blue sky is more brilliant than many experienced in daytime, and another aquamarine expanse of sky would be more familiar in an underwater setting. In contrast to the blues, there are a number of red, purple and orange mixes, which ironically are created by the smog that exists within the city’s atmosphere. The passage of time is also recorded in the sky in a number of works, where stars have left streaks of light on the film from the changing position of the world during the exposure. These lines of light are ambiguous and at first could be mistaken for a dramatic meteor shower or perhaps a light sprinkling of rain. Yet this would contradict the nature of the works, which record urban isolation and a distinct absence of activity.
Marian Drew writes in the catalogue essay, ‘Spruyt has photographed and manufactured empty, barren, dehumanised spaces’.¹ The buildings in Spruyt’s photographs appear as sleeping monoliths, deserted after busy days of hard work. In the lonely images, devoid of human presence except that of the photographer, the buildings themselves become the central figures of study. The occasional horizontal line of light registers a car’s passage through the frame, but always the car is passing through to another place, a place perhaps more alive than these desolate locations. Yet maybe these spaces are not so isolated after all. Through the eye of her camera, Spruyt has brought the buildings to life and drawn attention to the beauty behind these often overlooked places of industrial activity.
Spruyt found the industrial sites depicted while driving randomly around Adelaide. However, what is foregrounded when viewing the works is their lack of connection to place, for the images do not easily give away their location, and could in fact have been shot in almost any metropolis in Australia. There is something decidedly strange about the transferable quality of place found in these, and indeed most, urban landscapes. Photography has long been associated with the real and the production of a reality effect. The photos in this series appear to be taken straight from life, yet underneath their surfaces is a certain sense of dislocation: they are images familiar to many of us even though we may never have seen the places of their origin, and as such, their reference to particular sites continually shifts. Overall, the works harness and make visible the urban beauty to be found lurking behind the surface of industrial landscapes, no matter where one lives.
1. Drew, Marian, Real versus Visible, catalogue essay, Queensland Centre for Photography, Brisbane, 2005.