HOME HISTORY ARCHIVE FILM & VIDEO EXHIBITIONS PUBLICATIONS SELF-PORTRAIT WITH CAMERA 1960-2006 (2011) ART JOURNAL OF THE NGV 2011 LAST LIGHT 2007 CONTINUUM 2003 MIND OF TIBET 2003 SHADOW PORTRAITS 2002 FACES 1976-1996 (1997 & 2003) SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE, 1917 (1999) SUE FORD: A SURVEY 1960-1995 (1995) TIME SURFACES 1994 FROM VAN DIEMENS LAND TO VIDEOLAND (1993) SIXTIETH OF A SECOND 1961-1981 (1987) A DIFFERENT LANDSCAPE 1989 TIME SERIES 1974 CONTACTS

Continuum 2003

Catalogue essay

Charred Witness

by Anna Clabburn ©

Sue Ford is devoted to photography: having immersed herself in the medium for many

decades she is intimately acquainted with its candour and inherent ability to capture complex

moments in a single succinct frame. Her personal archive of negatives is now over forty years

old. Some of the earliest images date back to her days as an experimental film-maker and

photographer in the 1960s. Yet what stands out about her work today is its natural authority as

both a personal and historical palimpsest: the myriad layers in her pictures speak about her

own evolving experience through the lens of a passionate polemic on the subject of Australian

people and place.

Among the myriad themes cycling

through Ford's now substantial

body of work, two emerge as salient favourites; cultural heritage and

landscape. The suite of large format digital·prints in Continuum tease out

these two ideas, playing with them as metaphoric pathways into the broader

territory of Australian identity. Moving and gently picturesque but also

profound and at times dark, the works present a fragmented narrative alluding

to many of our continent's ongoing conundrums- from colonialism and

indigenous identity to urban development, environmental degradation and

wilderness conservation. Voices of dissidence and difference quite literally

seem to echo through the trees of these thoughtful pictures, as if the act of

making the images were synonymous with the process of trying to unravel

some logic or underlying sense in what often seem to be insoluble debates.

Ford's poetic titles for this series offer neat clues to the metaphoric presence of the individual compositions. Although focused through

the theme of bushfire, words such as Ashes, Engulf, Emanation, Gestation and Metamorphosis speak of far more besides the

miraculous visual process of destruction and regeneration caused by recurrent fire in our bushland spaces. The delicately layered

pictures harbor philosophical ghosts of the past and present: a soft black face shimmers atop the crystal mirror of a lake surface, wild

dark figures shadow-play across a cliff face, crumpled cans and aged kitchen utensils sit awkwardly superimposed over a charred forest

floor. Such images seem to whisper quiet homage to the natural beauty of Australia's native landscape and its people. However, these

voices are matched by more persistent subterranean ones questioning what it might be like to be an indigenous Australian misplaced or

forgotten in your own country or, on a deeper level still, what motivates human beings to use then lose cultural artefacts - and

sometimes each other.

There is a pronounced duality within the layers of Ford's images, one that

is perhaps most apparent in the pictures containing fragments of

architecture superimposed over blackened tree-scapes. It is unclear how

new or old these structures are, only that they are in a state of

incompletion- in process rather than resolved. Like the regenerating bush

itself, and like the continuing arguments about culture and place in a

country with a chequered black and white history, these partial habitations

convey the artist's central conjecture that we are - as our country is -

open to the elemental whirl of constant ideological change. Balancing

beauty and gravity, Ford manages to capture a visual poetry in the fire-

affected landscape and translate it into a gently provocative narrative

about the ongoing frisson in Australia's elusive self-portrait.