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Joy before the object

What does it mean to photograph an object?

Francesca Woodman from the Eel series 1977-78, gelatin silver photograph © Estate of Francesca Woodman and Catherine Rogers Cups 2007 from the series The culture of the table, Piedzo quadtone carbon and colour Ultrachrome inkjet print © Catherine Rogers

The exhibition Joy before the object includes the work of 23 Australian and international photographers from the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Ranging from English photographer Roger Fenton’s 1850s documentation of the Bust of Homer for the British Museum, through to contemporary Australian artist Emma White’s 2011 Still life with objects, the works span 150 years.

Selected by the photography curators at the Gallery, the photographs create a dialogue about the supposed objectivity of the medium. Where is the line drawn between the physical object and its image and what role does the artist play in this process? How does the viewer regard and experience photographs – as fixed, truthful, objective, deceitful; depicting something, or making that thing into something else, photographically?

Included are Man Ray, Peter Peryer and Marie Shannon’s punning objects, formal plant studies, and a disquieting self-portrait by Francesca Woodman. There are also exercises in perception with landscape and architecture, meditations on photography itself by Ben Cauchi and Judy Fiskin, along with the unsettling banality of Catherine Rogers’ tableware, and Albert Renger-Patzsch’s photograph of an effortlessly compelling succulent.

Taking its title from a 1928 text by the influential German modernist Renger-Patzch, the exhibition includes works which are at once seductive and banal, objective and personal, natural and self-conscious; both pragmatic tools of depiction and artistic gestures of abstraction. What photography is, what it does to objects, and how artists employ it to comment on the world at large are explored.

There will be a series of 5.30pm Wednesday night talks in the exhibition by participating artists and others.

Full program

On view
28 Sep 2013 – 2 Feb 2014
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney


Media contact

Claire Martin
Tel 02 9225 1734
Mob 0414 437 588