Everyday miracles

Virginia Baxter

At Nans, 2000 from Zoë by Donna Bailey

At Nans, 2000 from Zoë by Donna Bailey

Donna Bailey

In the unfolding series of photographs of her daughter Zoë shown at Stills Gallery last month, Donna Bailey makes no claims to narrative. Something is happening here but no drama. In its place is the infinite variety of Zoë’s personae expressed in an intimate photographic diary-—Zoë as petulant Venus up to her knees in murky water, starkly serene in a bath with a baby, Zoë non-commital in a desultory backyard, deadpan in a doorway with siblings snaking round her legs. One minute she’s oblivious and the next, brazenly staring down her photographer mother. Zoë, her family and friends have the look of being looked at and of looking back. Donna Bailey has been photographing them, and especially Zoë, since 1998. Her photographs combine a compositional precision with an ease that make them look like casual documentation. The agenda in this study has to do with the delicate and evolving relationship between this mother and daughter as seen through the lens. Something is happening here but we don’t know exactly what it is—nothing more than a life unfolding and that in the hands of a photographer in a true collaboration with her subject is really something.

Currently showing at Stills, 2 remarkable photographers show us their very particular views of a city. Narelle Autio working in colour and Trent Parke in black and white push their chosen formats to extremes to give us not literal accounts of reality, but heightened, almost painterly images that bring out the fantasist in this viewer.

Narelle Autio

Walking tours of the Harbour Bridge have proved better than a little earner for the people who came up with the idea. Sydneysiders have grown used to the sight of the row of tiny figures in overalls hooked together and traipsing up the arch and standing triumphantly aloft. I expect Jeffrey Smart to paint them soon. Meanwhile Narelle Autio, stakes her claim for below, photographing—from directly above—people on the lawns relaxing for free in the shadow of the bridge. Not of this Earth is a series of 16 inkjets printed on canvas. The saturated colour, the texture of the surfaces are almost garish. There is some of the feel of candid snaps but with her customary keen eye Autio makes playful geometry of the things we do with nothing to do, mapping out the casual exhilaration of leisure, the shapes of indolence. The effect is vertiginous, exhilarating. Limbs tumble into focus, out of shot, arrange themselves in unselfconscious tableaux. A dog on a leash unwinds a careful line. A small girl rolls across the grass to the edge of the frame. Two pairs of legs, one female, one male erotically peep from beneath a tree. Three small figures and a dog move horizontally as their taller shadows upend them to vertical. Some appear flattened as if they’ve fallen to earth. A woman lies eyes closed, arms extended and dreams the bird above showing her how it’s done.

Trent Parke

There’s equal serenity and more than a touch of the gothic in Trent Parke’s shots of Sydney city streets (Dream/Life & Beyond). Partly it’s the scale (100 x 138 cms) but also the gravity of huge slabs of black with white slicing, shimmering and occasionally blazing through it. The photographer’s experience of this city is of its “underlying sadness” but as I walked through the exhibition Parke’s subjects turned the tables—someone made a mad dash from one side of the photograph to the other, to catch the thin strip of light right in the centre of the frame. A man waiting at a George Street pedestrian crossing watched with the photographer the silver white flecks of rain hitting the shiny street. And in the middle of a crowded public place, a ghost revealed himself for a second.

Donna Bailey, Zoë, Feb 13-March 16; Narelle Autio, Not of this Earth, & Trent Parke, Dream/Life & Beyond, March 20-April 20, Stills Gallery, Paddington, Sydney

RealTime issue #48 April-May 2002 pg. web

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2002