response to Deidra Sullivan review
‘Ways of Being’ is a group, documentary exhibition curated by Sian van Dyk, with Glenn Jowitt, Rebecca Swan, Ngahuia Harrison, Mark Adams, Andrew Ross and Bruce Connew. The Dowse Art Museum, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, until 28 April 2019.
Deidra Sullivan is a photography educator and curator in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her ‘Ways of Being’ review is on PhotoForum NZ blog.
My response to Deidra Sullivan’s review follows.
What a tortuous path in 2019, through the great John Berger, Benjamin, Rosler (think also Burgin, Sekula etc), for Deidra Sullivan to reach her last redemptive sentence.
What makes this group, documentary (such a blanket and dysfunctional descriptor) show exceptional, and perhaps unusual, is the diversity of remarkable, meaningful (I’ll use that word) images across time, all portraits and landscapes, no matter the manner of execution. I would like to think this was the curator’s plan.
I feel in Sullivan’s critique that she is placing her preferred photography/art engagement against other kinds of engagement, while not wanting to be ungenerous with the other. A bob each way, when there’s no need to bet.
I look at my 1981/1986 images of underground coalminers (good to again be in their company after many moons) and see portraits and landscapes of my history, men of dignity and resilience, where my father and grandfather came from, covered in coal dust, pushing out their false teeth at the end of a work day, empowered as people, strong and worthy, even while in the process of emasculation by a government intent on wrecking their lives, not because of CO2 emissions and climate change, but rather as a system to redistribute income in a manner that favoured only the wealthy. Soon after these images, understood later, was the beginning of corporatisation. How the viewer and Deidra Sullivan see them can only come from what they bring to them, in Sullivan’s case the politics of photography/art.
I regard Deidra Sullivan’s depth of consideration and articulation, and clearly understand her references, if not some of her interpretations, the 80s were a tough time, but proposed constructive challenges.
I note that the Tate Britain has just hung a retrospective of photographer Don McCullin, “imagery of war, poverty and atrocity … the unconscionable”. This exhibition will cross over, at the same institution, with a major Van Gogh exhibition. Art, whether photography, painting or the droves of others, is a gem of many aspects, the best of whichever is sublime.