Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pulling together the big picture!

Pulling together the big picture
Text by Linda Morris © (Sydney Morning Herald - June 15, 2010)

A wharfie-turned-photographer is showcasing emerging camera artists, writes Linda Morris.
Three years ago Mark McPherson, a photographer and wharfie on the Fremantle docks, set up an independent one-man publishing house in his lounge room.

He cheekily named the venture Big City Press in allusion to Perth's small-town aspiration of big-city importance and his own lofty ambitions to transform a thesis project and online art photography venture into a biannual volume of provocative new art photography.

The result was Hijacked 1, which brought together the work of 24 emerging Australian art photographers, McPherson included, and 20 American contemporaries.

For the most part, Hijacked 1 departed from classic narrative-based photojournalism and observational street photography to highlight mainly conceptual and constructed landscapes, with mixed degrees of finesse and fluency.

Its cover photo of a boy standing on his head was flipped inside, a metaphor for the aim of McPherson (and fellow curator Max Pam) to turn photography on its head and give artists an alternative platform that wasn't "academically restrained, institutionally influenced or embedded in heavy-handed curatorial work".

"I wanted the work to be able to speak for itself, singularly and as a body of work," McPherson says.

It launched a book series. Now this self-described art photography entrepreneur has brought together a new line-up of Australian and Germany photographic artists for Hijacked 2.

The mission to test boundaries remains but the second book is more mature and, aside from one shocking image of a sexual act, more understated and sublime, McPherson says.

"The first book does try, as its driving intention, to grab you and say, 'look at me', while the second book is more subtle and it has more longevity. This selection of artists and imagery is by no means a definitive guide to Australian and German contemporary photography; it's a snapshot, a momentary survey. It's just the tip of the iceberg."

The choice of Germany reflects McPherson's links with the country. His grandmother and mother were born in Hamburg, and as a photography student he was heavily influenced by the works of artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans and Gerhard Richter.

McPherson collaborated with the German music duo Funkstörung to create a 160-page art book and a DVD with graphics and music videos released with their 2004 album Disconnected.

"I feel that Australian photography sometimes lacks an international perspective," McPherson says. "German photographers tend to look abroad for inspiration, while the Australian photographers in Hijacked 2 looked within their own borders. It's a correlative relationship, I think, that is directly related to geographical circumstance and proximity, and perhaps that we are the descendants of island convicts."

The other great difference to emerge is the importance German photographers place on the study of art, while the Australians, reflecting a tradition of egalitarianism, were more likely to be self-taught.

The third volume of Hijacked, to be released in 2012, is already in the planning stage and will be a collaboration between Australian and British photographers. McPherson will edit and curate Hijacked 3 with Louise Clements, senior curator from Quad, the Format International Photography Festival in Derby.

As the project gains government funding and the support of institutions such as the Australian Centre for Photography, McPherson must balance the pressure of using a more established stable of photographers with his original aim to promote emerging and eclectic works.

"Australia and Britain share the same heritage, elements of our flag are their flag, but the British audience is going to be a whole lot tougher than other countries. And, from a curatorial perspective, if we pick art that makes sense back there, we run the danger of not presenting new and more established works unless identifiable through celebrity or name."

Those conflicts might ease if McPherson could find himself a wealthy benefactor. But for support from Goethe-Institut Australien and a $37,000 grant from the West Australian Department of Culture and the Arts, he has footed most of the $100,000 bill to create, self-publish, exhibit and tour Hijacked 2.

It's why he says he is still on the wharves "driving trucks in circles".

"If I was more savvy I would be making more money. My wife would prefer I spend the money on school fees for our two children."

Hijacked 2 is at the Australian Centre for Photography until July 17.

Olivia Sieber took the cover shot of Hijacked 2, a showcase for Australian and German photographic talent.

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