Australian photography: change lens

Recently, Australia has seen some of its vital photographic infrastructure collapse: the Australian Center for Photography (ACP) announced its hibernation in December 2020 and the iconic Michaels camera store in Melbourne closed after a century. activity. The Australian Institute of Professional Photographers (AIPP) has bid farewell after 75 years of supporting the industry.

We may be witnessing the end of an era, according to Melbourne-based photographer Brent Lukey.

“The notion of a professional photographer / photographer has evolved, and is still evolving rapidly – in many ways perhaps for the better. For decades now, this has been an exclusive club of mostly guys who complain about men who have tried to control and protect their patch and aesthetic sight, ”he said.

‘The [other] a big factor is technology, ”Lukey continued,“ the idea and the way of showing that you are a photographer through a screen is really starting to dominate.

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Morganna Magee also works through the perceived division of commercial and fine art photography. She told ArtsHub: “Historically, the art world didn’t really know what to do with photography – in Australia it is certainly not collected to the same level as other mediums.”

As a founding member of Lumina Collective and previously mandated by The New York Times, Magee said that “the divide is probably seen more by institutions than photographers – the training you need to become a commercial photographer is invaluable, whether you choose to use it for commerce or for making art. “.


Much like many in the creative industries, photographers have seen their activity drop drastically during COVID. Although these factors may have led to institutional closures, Lukey said that “there had been [also] kind of slowing down and rethinking the current photography.

Margee agreed, saying, “Photography is the only medium that can have multiple applications. I’ve never studied art formally and actually think that limits a photographer to thinking that photography can only be one thing. The diversity of photography is what held me back for over 20 years. ‘

“No other medium has had the opportunity to engage with the wider community like photography does.”

Artist and photographer Morganna Margee

With a background in film and anthropology, Lukey pointed out that “in Australia, in particular, we are catching up on how we look at photography and how we judge it.”

He said the terrain is slowly changing, where “young people now have the tools, the knowledge and a new way of seeing the world that is not based on the male view.”

According to him, it is a new generation working in the photographic field that is leading this change because “the laws associated with beauty are constantly being pushed back and the tools to do so are in the hands of all… It is the revolution.

“At the same time, fine art photography seems to be developing but is often misunderstood,” Lukey added. “I think we still use old language to visualize a photo, and I think that has to change in photography, as an art.”

Photography has long extended beyond the realms of documentation and journalism. As the artistic director of Ballarat International Foto Biennale, Fiona Sweet, has already said: “A lot of artists who do not identify as photographers use the photographic medium.”

Lukey suggested that a more useful definition of a professional photographer is “someone who can work under pressure and take pictures”, while the artist can take a more experimental approach.

Head On Photo Festival Director Moshe Rosenzveig added: “There is a great opportunity for renewal and restructuring of the photography industry and community in Australia … The sector can thrive if the business branch embraces photography. beyond the sale of cameras and other equipment, and supports the creative branch as active participants who are ultimately responsible for promoting the use of the equipment and applications. ‘


While COVID has destroyed the businesses of many photographers, the medium “has never been more accessible and important as it has become the universal language in a decade,” said Margee.

“Social media has made it so easy to grow an audience beyond Australia and build communities and support. ”

Speaking to Photography Studies College (PSC), Dean of Studies Daniel Boetker-Smith previously noted that “one of the things that we identified early on was that it was very difficult for Australian photographers to get their hands on noticed internationally “.

Margee echoed this point. “The art world and commercial industries in Australia are relatively small and have been notoriously insular, so exposure to a global audience [through social media] has been invaluable to many of us, ”she said.

In a way, this indicates that the local infrastructure needs to do a better job of supporting the artists on the ground.

Analyzing the shutdown of the AIPP, Lukey said that an underlying aesthetic revolution as well as changing definitions of being a photographer could be the reason such organizations are collapsing.

“There’s always this perception of intimidation and hierarchy of who a professional photographer is, which I think is being shattered right now,” he said.

‘[Some organisations] had a very narrow view of what a good photograph was and stood in a corner… An organization like AIPP could no longer quantify what a professional photographer was.

“I think people were also intimidated, to a degree, of being a certain type of professional photographer and a lot of people just didn’t want to work within that structure or that aesthetic,” Lukey said.

Catherine Deveny ‘Desire Lines’ by Brent Lukey 2020, featured in PhotoVogue. Image courtesy of the artist.

He added: “What they didn’t see is that there are always people who are really, really interesting photographers, and they kind of couldn’t accept that.”

Unfortunately, this is not a singular view, with the AIPP closing FAQ noting that the organization has suffered from the “public narrative.” Likewise, a blog entry on Caps said that “the institution was a bit of a relic”, citing their experience of its lack of transparency and member engagement.

When envisioning a better and healthier ecosystem for photographers, Margee said that the community, i.e. institutions, associations and people working as professional photographers, “must be inclusive, exciting and welcoming to to move [the sector] cheeky.

“Currently, we have so few institutions that support photography and many of them choose to support the same people rather than casting their wider nets in a diverse and large community of photographers doing work that could bring them new audiences, ”Margee said.

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Lukey added: “I think for the most part people want to embrace diversity and they want to embrace the new. But it caught the eye of so many professional photographers, who felt they were losing ground. life was being pushed back by people they wanted to consider, but ultimately didn’t want to compete with.

The dilemma, Lukey said with a laugh, is that while the photographic practices of young people are extremely interesting, “young people don’t know how to charge them.”

On the other hand, some events have flourished and opened up more possibilities for photography, including the current Ballarat International Foto Biennale, Head On Photo Festival and PHOTO21.

Photography has so much potential that can be channeled through curation, festivals and programs. “I think there are things like PHOTO21 coming up, while others are closing, because people are going” wait a minute, there is a lot about the photograph that needs to be shown right away “- I think they’re really giving their all to try and push this new way of seeing,” Lukey said.

The key is adaptation, echoed Head On Festival director Moshe Rosenzveig: “The reason they continue to thrive is to support photographers, whether professional or passionate, and to present photography to an audience. beyond the photographic community.

“The number of active professional photographers is declining, but the audience continues to grow as photography becomes more accessible through improved cameras and phone apps.

Head On Photo Festival, festival director Moshe Rosenzveig

“For anyone in the arts industry, diversifying sources of income is imperative, and it is vital to develop collaborations and maintain strong relationships with other organizations and the community,” said Rosenzveig.

Lukey added, “The element of truth has shifted from observation and objective to subjective – it’s incredibly interesting to watch in curation.

“How we present our body, how to represent our life on camera through a lens is so fascinating. This is how photography should be viewed right now – it is life through a lens, ”he concluded.

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