The Shared Camera – A Memory – Merrily Contesting Authorship
By Paul Andrew
1986 -1988 @ That Contemporary Art Space, rear 20 Charlotte Street, Brisbane:
Artist designer Jane Richens was the keeper of a Pentax K 1000, a standard “student” camera at the time and it sat safely in a woven basket in amongst Jane’s masks production and art kit, her treasures and mixed-up dress-up box; 1950’s op shop frocks, shoes and summer hats, brand new brightly printed stockings that Jane would customize with glitter, sequins and beading and an enviable collection of eyeliners, mascaras and vibrant eye shadows.
Jane was one of the many artists with a studio space upstairs at That Space after we opened in May 1985 to the day when we closed our artist-run doors in January 1988. This was just weeks before the old heritage one storey light industrial warehouse down the laneway behind the Pancake Manor with a lofty clerestory was scheduled for demolition to make way for a new Telco skyscraper.
In early 1986 the That monthly newsletter we had been producing for several months for our membership had grown in scale and circulation. We needed to illustrate it with photo documentation of artists, openings, events, art works and studios.
In 1986 there was no Brisbane art magazine (much to our chagrin) and we decided it best to start being more organised around documentation of the exhibitions, events, performances we were all producing and by adding these photographs or the proof sheets into the That newsletter. We also hung them on the various noticeboards at That Space that were the main place to find info about what was on around town at the time. Noticeboards were the social media of the day and they were everywhere.
These were the days of photocopied newsletters, ephemera production, lashings of photocopy art, photocopying was affordable, fun and economic to produce and the technology was speeding ahead; better printing inks, large format, colour, compositing and so forth.
Artist Brian Doherty, who actually owned this Pentax K 1000 was happy for us to put his old student camera to good use once again and we began documenting the openings with gusto. We decided to share the camera around at these events to engage with many of the artists bearing witness and to provide an opportunity for portraying these events with different points of view, emphases, angles, tricks and camera techniques and in various states of sobreity.
We liked the idea that we would in turn gather an archive of diverse documentary and art photographs, that would interrupt and contest traditional authorship assigned to taking photographs, we would be more open-ended, shared in our approach and these photos were for the greater measure, deemed to be anonymous.
We had loads of fun doing all this shared documentary photography and many of the photos that have survived not only document many of the things we did in the Charlotte Street precinct but also represent to different altered states we occupied collectively at the time, motion blurs, soft focus and so on.
Artist-run openings were open access epicurean affairs, wine, art, song, crackers, bread, dips and cheese to share, and much conviviality. Many artists would come along to these events for the lively tumult of social networking, friendship, conversation and invariably for free booze and food and to meet new artists, people, strangers, travelers, visitors and lovers.
In time the That Collective had successfully attained some operational funding from both the Arts Division in Queensland and the Australia Council, and apart from subsidizing artist studio and gallery rentals, increasing the production and scale of the newsletter we spent more funds on buying black and white film stock so that we could document even more events, performances, installations and so on. Film and processing was a luxury for many of us. We aimed at making the newsletters more zine like and image rich.
Jumpcut to 1985 having attended a writers workshop at the IMA with colleagues Peter Anderson, Bronwyn Clark Coolee, Sarah Follent, George Petelin and Graham Coulter Smith under the inspirational tutelage of writer Paul Taylor, I was feeling emboldened in this preceding year to begin to write for Radio 4zzz, magazines and street press. Paul had encouraged me to follow my passion for populism and street press.
And so when I was in possession of the shared camera, in quieter moments, I set out to document intimate moments with artists and to produce photos I could send along with my editorials. I had no formal photography training and no interest in it, I was more interested in self directed learning and was fully engaged by the fabulous skills being so kindly and generously shared with me by artists like Brian, Jay Younger, Lehan Ramsay and Anna Zsoldos in these quiet moments too. Bracketing, compensating, appropriate and artful under and overexposing, soft focusing and so on.
And during these openings I was informally tutored by the many artists who I knew or whom I didn’t know gleaning bits and pieces if camera skills here and there as the shared K 1000 was being passed along from artist to artist.
I for one am immensely grateful for this informal shared camera collaboration, some of the artists I recall taking pics including Megan Hawkins, Mitchell Papi, Henry Davidian, Jane Richens Brian Doherty, Jay Younger, Anna Zsoldos Lehan Ramsay, Adam Boyd, Russell Lake, David Gofton, David Gorton, Belinda Gunn, David Holden, Michael Curtis, Martyn Sommer, Gary Warner and gorgeous Darren who’s last name I can never remember and so many others too.
I am also immensely grateful to the custodial care support networks, a coalition of the willing who have so kindly kept these negatives in safe keeping, and despite the vagaries of time and moulds, have stayed largely intact and are being digitally preserved. In particular thanks to artists Jane Richens and Brian Doherty for caring for so many archives and to Jane a most grateful acknowledgement for so kindly scanning these many negatives.