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

Last Light 2007

Catalogue essay

Sue Ford: Not Blinded by the Site

by Ashley Crawford ©

All artists, regardless of medium, are involved in the act of looking, of trying to pin down in

some concrete form (even if just momentarily) an impression, a place. They share certain

attributes with private detectives and forensics experts, archeologists and scientists –

investigators who take the slimmest threads to compile a final, dense tapestry of information.

This most certainly applies to Sue Ford who, in a 46-year career, has never tired of the most

rigorous investigations. Talking with Ford, one walks away having been barraged by a morass

of broiling ideas, a sense of an analytical intellectualism meeting a poetic lyricism.

But Ford is neither a purebred conceptualist or a fuzzy romantic. Indeed, if anything she has

found an almost ideal balance between the intellect and the felt which has been articulated

most recently in her unique balancing act between the digital and the ‘painterly’.

That she is on a mission is beyond dispute. The various bodies of work that constitute her career have each required grueling research

and she is not adverse to taking risks, both in the adventures she undertakes to garner her information and in her presentation – which

more than once has raised eyebrows and, upon occasion, political ire.

With Ford’s work we have to go beyond, or perhaps beneath,

the obvious. In her recent series Last Light she subverts the

role of photographer by taking photographs of photographers.

There is both a sly humour at play here and a considered

analysis of contemporary human interaction with ‘nature.’

Ford raises some intriguing issues in these works. By

photographing the photographer, rather than the sunset itself,

she is adding a narrative about the human condition, the

notions of awe and the sublime which her tourist

photographers seem to think can be captured with a digital

click. But she is doing something further here. Almost

inadvertently she has simultaneously taken her own stunning

sunset pictures and images of twilight moments with the

figures superimposed, almost heroically, taking on a similar

role to that of the figures captured in the works of the German

romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, the master of the

symbolic landscape.

Last Light is essentially a continuation of the work entitled Videoland that was shown at the NGV in 1994. “This work is looking at

photography, landscape and illusion referencing the digital world where everybody is now a photographer,” Ford says. “I have chosen to

work with this subject in a digital mode, intentionally using the particular qualities of digital imaging to produce this body of work.”

The result, almost despite the media, is distinctly painterly and impressionistic – a far cry from most digital photography shown today.

But it also highlights the media-saturated condition of contemporary life – everyone today, it seems, is a director, creating their own

sense of reality.

But there is also an extraordinarily powerful sense of ‘place’ in these works, an element even more strongly explored in her other recent

series, Site Unseen. Here the mysteries deepen and Ford as both detective and archeologist comes to the fore. Unlike the traditional

romantic notion of Australia’s white beaches, Ford digs beneath the surface, discovering artifacts and histories. The “veil of texts” as she

dubs them, which lay over the works could, with variations, be applied anywhere on this vast continent with its hidden histories – hidden

both through time and through a more contemporary governmental policy of denial.

In these works Ford’s veil of text suggests are far deeper history to the site she has chosen to document. Her unknowing collaborators,

the archeologists who have investigated the region, had discovered stone flints cut in accordance with Aboriginal tools. Suddenly these

beach-side bush scenes take on far deeper cultural and historical significance; she has combined the potentially mundane with the

overtly studious to create an alchemical boiling point of meaning and significance.

“Being on site knowing even a small amount of the history, changes the experiences of being in that particular site,” she says. Her

interest in Indigenous history alongside that of white history in this country has created a rare blend. “This juxtaposing of the text and

images is intended to work like a kind of a ‘Time Mirror’, she says. “The viewer will really only see in it what they are able. I like to leave

it open to different readings and not make any political statement.”

In 1974 Sue Ford was the first Australian photographer to be given a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria with her now

famous Time Series. Her work has always touched a nerve, perhaps in large part due to what she describes as her “interest in Australian

history and the relationship between past and present and the nature of impermanence.”

Ford studied photography at RMIT in Melbourne and since 1971 she has had numerous photographic exhibitions. She has also made

films which have achieved critical success, such as Faces which was featured at the opening of the new Australian Centre for the

Moving Image, at Federation Square. She has featured in numerous major exhibitions and, over the years, Sue Ford has helped

establish photography as the cutting edge of contemporary art.

 
 
 

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