In a film made with the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne recently, influential British artist Tacita Dean thoughtfully discussed the future of the film-based arts in the face of the rise of digital photography. Just as analogue photography supposedly heralded the ‘death of painting’ in the mid-19th Century, this phenomenon appears to be increasingly preoccupying the art world, as evidenced by a number of current Sydney exhibitions.
I spent a day checking out Suburban Noir at the Museum of Sydney, and Beijing Silvermine at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Suburban Noir asked contemporary Australian artists to respond to forensic police photographs of Sydney from the early- to mid-20th Century, the results being sometimes sinister, sometimes melancholy. In a very different take on the found photograph, Beijing Silvermine is collector-curator Thomas Sauvin’s re-appropriation and re-activation of many thousands of discarded domestic photographs from more recent decades. (You can read my review of this extraordinary project over at RAVEN Contemporary.)
And then of course there is Christian Boltanski’s mammoth work Chance, currently on view at Carriageworks. Boltanski has often incorporated found photographs as a medium alongside others when describing collective and individual memory. Here his use of anonymous photographic subjects, as well Chance’s physical allusion to the increasingly redundant printing press, become threads to draw the audience into greater existential questions. Ultimately, that’s how every medium should serve its author and its audience.