A vote for uncertainty

A vote for uncertainty

By Rhonda Dredge

A photograph that asks a question about whether people should confront the uncertainty in their lives with other people is attracting the attention of Melbourne’s locked-down community.

The photograph Life’s Uncertainty, by Tony Harding, is in a competition of conceptual photography at Magnet Galleries.

Manager of the gallery, Michael Silver, came up with the idea of a people’s choice to attract viewers to their site at The District Docklands.

People are invited to vote for their favourite photograph in the Mullins Prize, a thought-provoking virtual exhibition that is compensating for the trials of the COVID-19 era.

The Mullins Prize was initiated last year by the Australian Photography Society but due to coronavirus restrictions this year, the awards night was live-streamed.

People were travelling from many parts of Australia and Lord Mayor of Melbourne Sally Capp was due to open the show on the day the second lockdown began.

“We ended up with a Zoom event and our first virtual gallery,” Michael said.

Conceptual art focuses on the idea behind a work rather than the finished art object, forcing the viewer to examine the work more closely.

The Hairy Panic, a picture of an installation in the desert by Sophie Dumaresq, probably comes closest in meaning to the style which began in the 1960s.

Strange pink forms in the foreground of her landscape photograph cause the viewer to ask questions and search for answers.

Her blurb says that the forms are pink models of tumbleweeds inspired by the invasion of Wangaratta by these plants in 2016.

A more restful image is Escape by Nola Sumner, a black and white photograph of an abstract staircase, which takes its imagery from modernist, aesthetic preoccupations.

In many ways, the image speaks against the overthinking of art and offers an escape from life’s decisions.

These two works might be seen at opposite ends of the conceptual framework, with others such as Sandy Mahon’s The Rainbow Serpent seeing symbolism in the pink spotted gum and Andrew Ralton’s extraordinary The Party’s Over inviting viewers into a dystopic rendering of a swimming pool.

Conceptual photography is not specifically about lighting but the visual effects Ralton gets into this strangely lit scene are disturbing and cinematic.

The Mullins Prize for Conceptual Photography, Magnet Galleries, voting until August 1 •

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