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A Concept, Medium Format: Sixteen

Making some last minute preparations for Sixteen, the group photographic exhibition Oliver Bryce Yates and I have spent curating and organising over the past six months, we’re both a little tired and nervous, and probably a little worse for wear. While the organisational process itself has been long and much harder and more complex than anticipated, the role of curator was a completely different set of exhaustions altogether, and one I was confident to hand over (read: pawn off) for Bryce to manage. Lucky for me, it was a role he was more than willing to accept.

Bryce seems, at first, an unlikely choice for curator: his photography is self-taught, he is primarily a painter and has no degree in Fine Arts or Art History. On the other hand, likeminded creative individuals are few and far between, and from the start I trusted and believed in him almost as much as he believed in himself (almost). While I was happy to spend my days emailing in my pyjamas, he was running across Sydney meeting with artists and sourcing new talent in an effort to bring together sixteen of the finest Australian established and upcoming photographers. And while I can’t help but be a little bias, the line up, which includes Jackson Eaton, Pedro Ramos and Sam Ash, speaks for itself (a picture tells a thousand words…or something).
Gallery contracts and cameras aside, we met for coffee in the same regular fashion we would have any other week, but instead of discussing the formalities of the show, I met with Bryce in the hope of exploring and further understanding his art and collaboration in Sixteen as curator and artist.

Jacinda Fermanis

So, Bryce, I remember the first time we met face to face you had a really clear idea of the type of show you wanted to run. What spurred this idea? How did you want to make Sixteen different to other shows?
I wanted to have a large amount of photographers, whereas traditionally there would only be a couple focusing around a theme and working really simply. With Sixteen, I thought that having a larger amount of exhibiting photographers might work as a different concept and build towards having a stronger show. Sixteen artists is a large number, but it’s not impossible. It’s just a lucky number.
It started out by contacting a few different photographers, and from there it stemmed out; one person would recommend somebody within their circle of friends or a photographer whose work they liked. We started out not having enough people to make up the sixteen people for the exhibition and towards the end had an abundance of contributors resulting in some regretful cuts.

Without being blindly varied, the show is as wide-ranging as possible.
At the end of the day I wanted to show works that would fit together, and wanted to move across a broad range of different photographers all with different styles so that it was, in a way, a snippet of contemporary photographers made up of people living within Australia. In the show there are some people shooting very intimate images, such as Sam Chiplin, and then at the other end of the spectrum there are others such as Ward Roberts who are shooting more landscape-oriented photos. All in all it rounds out the show and gives a variety of perspectives.

Ross Jenkinson

Do you think that perhaps having the ‘Somedays’ gallery space already secured gave you the push to go ahead and begin curating the show?
Very much so. I had wanted to do this show for a couple of months before we first met and discussed the concept with different people. I had actually wanted the same gallery space, so when you said that you had it for June, I couldn’t help but jump on that opportunity.

And steer the ship?
Well, let’s say, re-direct?

Pedro Ramos

What are your thoughts on the commercial aspects of photography within Sydney?
Within the city at the moment there’s a downturn in the purchasing of photography and art in general, or at least from my exposure to exhibitions of late. I think by having so many photographers involved the finances associated with doing a show become minute, which in turn allows for risk taking and experimentation.

Do you attribute the decline to anything in particular?
There could be millions of reasons why there’s been a drop in art sales so it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why. From where I am sitting there are a lot of shows at the moment, but still similar numbers of people purchasing through a variety of different venues. Perhaps it’s simply a case of too many fish in the sea. Sadly on the other side of this there are also many good spaces that are going out of business so it all seems a little grim. That said, the main focus of this show wasn’t a capitalistic scheme; it was more so developed to bring people together and inform the community on what was out there.

Bryce Yates

An art teacher of mine once told me, and this stuck with me for years, that ‘art means distancing yourself from what's familiar to you’. But with the exhibiting photographers in Sixteen, the images almost go the opposite way in that the majority are so personal and intimate. Maybe it’s because we’re all shooting the people in front of us, day to day. They all have their own charms and flaws so perhaps it’s easier for our subjects to just ‘let go’. My friends are used to it now. It’s often more honest when you shoot what’s around you, what’s familiar.
To a degree I understand the statement, but I think that it is more so in relation to being able to step back from one’s own work and critique it in a purely artistic perspective. Whereas when you actually shoot it, it’s a personal work. Most of the people in the show are shooting candid, in-the-moment photographs. There are others who have shot medium format photographs of scenery and things along those lines which are very static, but as I said earlier, overall it helps round out the show and offers different perspectives on photography.
In a way, a few of the others in the show and myself are simply documenting our lives, but in a technical manner that produces questionably better photographs. In reality it’s almost no different from anybody else shooting family moments on their Kodak.

Jackson Eaton

Even your composed shots still seem very real. Like a ‘real’ picture has been set up.
This has developed through shooting similar photos over time and developing an understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes I will be aware of a potential shot well before it is taken and in these cases sometimes I will sketch out a composition or think about it in advance. If you look at traditional photographers that work in a documentation style, their works are obviously not composed but in a way where the composition is ‘correct’. I once read in an interview about Larry Clark that not only was the subject matter of his photographs thought provoking, but the images themselves were composed perfectly. The concept of achieving this in a natural situation is something I think a lot of photographers strive for.

That said, I think a lot of contemporary photographers are not famous necessarily because they just shoot good images, but often because their pictures are sensationalised.
I know that some of the works in Sixteen are going to be perceived as sensational, and they’re not confronting per se, but rather intimate to a degree where they will provoke those sorts of thoughts. However I do understand where you’re coming from and there is a leaning towards shooting photos that are shocking and draw people in. People have been doing it for years - shooting basic photographs where the subject matter is the focus of the work as opposed to the photograph itself.

Joe Coleman

Do you think there’s a lack of community between photographers? Often it seems as though there’s an underlying sense of competition in some circles of artists.
There is to a degree; although there are some pockets of small communities across Australia, overall there doesn’t seem to be a greater sense of unity. Websites such as Flickr, as much as I don’t completely agree with them, do help to bridge the gap and inform other photographers of what people are doing, although that site specifically probably isn’t the best vehicle for achieving this due to its haphazard nature. Pedro [Ramos] described it really well when he broke it down to being similar to the experience of looking through a box of a photographer’s unorganised photographs. The ability for one to edit their photographs into a series is one of the greatest strengths of photography as an art, an aspect that is missing from a lot of photographic community sites.

What about your role in extending this community? It seems as though curating Sixteen is the first step of many.
I am working towards running a night in Sydney where a limited number of speakers will talk about their current projects as well as discussions on the general state of photography. Hopefully through such initiatives there will be greater allowance for collaboration as well as a general sense of community. Time will tell, I guess.

Sixteen opens this Wednesday at Somedays in Surry Hills.
We'll be there, so you should be, too.

words: Jacinda Fermanis


December 27, 2016 at 5:53 PM said...

Thanks a lot for this photos, they are really nice. I know one good photographer who would like to work with you.

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