Struck down by Foto fever

RIC SPENCER, The West AustralianMarch 26, 2010, 9:30 am
Struck down by Foto fever

    FotoFreo 2010 has been launched and what a monster it is. With more than 20 core shows and near on 100 fringe festival exhibitions, there is almost too much to get to but often the best approach when confronted by a dumping wave is to dive straight into it.

    Showing at the Moores Building Contemporary Art Gallery, Growing Pains: Timor Leste is as confronting and forthright a show as I've seen. This is documentary photography at its most pronounced, showing not only what is in front of the lens but managing to capture much more beyond the frame.

    Curated by Julian Tennant, Growing Pains brings together 11 photographers who have had an enduring and, as it seems from the images, life-changing relationship with Timor Leste (East Timor). Growing Pains takes on a literal, emotional chronological journey through East Timor as it was before, during and after independence. This is done through a variety of photographic themes: autobiographic, subcultural voyeurism and embedding the photographer within an event or specific political groups.

    Martine Perret's look at transgender people in Dili highlights the subjective nature of identity as individuals are caught within the greater thrust for national identity. These colourful images bring the focus of political turmoil down to day-to-day choice, highlighting the spirit of humanity and its propensity to stay engaged with personal living through even the most difficult times.

    Likewise, Agnes Dherbys shows us the continuation of life - with her documentation of birth in East Timor. Using birth both literally and metaphorically, Dherbys' images, showing next to images of sociological turmoil, displacement and individual acts of violence, illustrates the inhospitable environment into which these lives came and yet the beauty, and poetic necessity, of such moments.

    Three artists who have undertaken three different yet overlapping photographic social histories share the upstairs space at the Moores. Jean Chung's Tears in the Congo, Viviane Dalles' A Journey of Exile and Claire Martin's Slab City each confront the notion of displacement and internalised exile.

    Chung's work is too much to describe briefly. The frightful nature of what I saw through Chung's lens advocates beautifully the power and necessity of the camera's role in being a witness.

    Dalles' work evocatively, yet somewhat passively, follows the plight of the Lhotshampas, a Nepalese minority, as they are expelled from Bhutan while Martin's portrayal of internally displaced Americans brings home the whole idea that some people are born into exile. This is wonderful photography - simultaneously personal and removed.

    At the Fremantle Arts Centre three shows bring to life various roles of the camera. Perhaps the best place to start at the Fremantle arts centre, indeed maybe for Fotofreo as a whole, is Magda Stanova's In the Shadow of Photography.

    A cerebral exercise in deconstructing photography, Stanova's work takes us behind the camera and into the socio-history of its modern use. In the Shadow of Photography stretches the boundaries of the photographic exhibition and the theoretical book, combining them as a treatise on our all-consuming affair with this technology we call the camera.

    Also upstairs, Joy Horwood Cooke takes us on a journey through apartheid South Africa, in a series commissioned by the government of the time with the aim of taking it on a goodwill tour.

    This is work to read through postcolonial eyes and, in its many domestic references, is intriguing as documentation of a single white female travelling through a hierarchical society.

    Downstairs is Robert McFarlane's Received Moments, a 40-year survey of Australian political and cultural life which, as an ode to reflexive photography and being open to the moment, I very much enjoyed.

    The Fremantle Arts Centre's main galleries are dominated by Another Story - a foray into contemporary Chinese photography through the work of eight artists.

    Ji Zhou's critique of Chinese and French architecture is sardonic while, on the opposing wall, Ma Laing's wonderlands open up like little curiosity booths. Qin Wen's poetic account of the demise of local neighbourhood in the megalopolis of Chongqing is a standout series of works. A slow shutter speed allows the streets to retreat into ruin as life carries on and a woman in traditional red costume is left, in the photograph, as a nostalgic lament to the passing of time . . . this is the camera right at home.

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