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March 17, 2008 | by  | in Visual Arts | [ssba]

Photographer Andrew Ross’s latest exhibition at Photospace

“I don’t go to openings only to launches.”

These were the words Peter Cush, a New Zealand novelist, playwright and journalist, spoke to me on opening night at Photospace on Courtney Place where photographer Andrew Ross’s latest exhibition of photographs was presented to the public under the theme Special Places. In fact the exhibition also coincided with the launch of Ross’s book Fiat Lux – 51 Photographs by Andrew Ross, which would explain why there was a plethora of writers and editors at opening night. The works are in Ross’s trademark black and white style and document the recent and distant pasts of Wellington’s landscape (both exterior and interior), a subject Ross has been covering since the 1990s.

The works that stand out for me are the ones in which there are no people present. The spaces are empty but are now uninhabited. Any trace of who once lived there requires an investigation and unpacking of the image to di* scover their lives. This requires that the image be viewed with a level of concentration and time. These are works that cannot be walked by or viewed at a glance; I am reminded of American Edward Hopper’s barren inner city landscapes devoid of people.

One of the works is of an interior with a leather couch. Behind the couch are around fifty suitcases of various sizes and descriptions. Why they are there? Who knows. What do they contain? They could be full of things or objects or they could be empty. Why are they there in the first place? What journey did these suitcases undertake to be in the space? As these sorts of questions arise the viewer begins to engage with the work. Through this engagement one could also sense a loss or even a feeling of nostalgia.

The type of buildings Ross features in his landscapes are chosen deliberately to be old and up for demolition or renovation. The people who inhabit these spaces form the other major feature of Ross‘s documentary oeuvre. This is perhaps why The Wellington City Council Archives, The Wellington Museum of City and Sea, and the NZ Historic Places Trust have an active interest in his work.

The people Fiat Lux appear awkward or staged as though they are more like the portraits of a hundred years ago (except they’re smiling). The reason behind this could be the use of a slow shutter speed, which would entail the sitter remaining static for a good length of time. Not an easy task.

Technically Ross’s images can be compared to Laurence Aberhart, in that he contact-prints his hand-developed negatives. However, more recently (and with this current show in particular) he has used Printing Out Paper (POP). Not only does this make each print unique in that no other print will be exactly the same from the negative, but POP also gives a more subtle gold tonal gradation. This requires extensive amounts of time in the darkroom perfecting the image. Not an easy task.

You can often see Andrew scooting around town seeking the best location, hunting out the next work. Disappearing into an old building, or down an alley way that he has just discovered carrying his large format camera. Seeking out things that we may not ordinarily notice or have an interest in. His recording of the changing Wellington landscape – of a past that once existed – is to be commended. The exhibition runs to 4 April 2008.

Fiat Lux – 51 Photographs by Andrew Ross Andrew Ross photographs, accompanied by essays from Damien Wilkins, Peter Ireland, Emma Bugden, Karen Lee and John B.Turner. Photospace & Victoria University Press collaborated in this 64 page hardcover book retailing at $50 dollars.

The cover itself sums up Ross’s sense of humour with a work consisting of 4 fake rabbits dressed up sitting on what appears to be a medical operating trolley. The rabbits stare back at as though posing for the camera.


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