It was an exciting week at the front door of our house this week as Melbourne Photo Repair arrived with the Miller family photographs now in a condition worthy of publication. The photographic repair work has brought out detail and nuance with an understanding for the subject and a passion for re-creation. You can now enter the Gallipoli shot and explore the makeshift shelters on the cliff face, walk the beach where barrels roll and rest, step through seagrass collected and watch as the soldiers walk toward the front of the frame. A particularly special re-creation is a detail of Godfrey’s head removed from the family shot and with the enlargement – only to 5cmx5cm – comes a mystical quality to the face, a painterly quality, suggesting the man beyond the representation. In a photo of one of the Dunedin family homes, Montecillo, a little boy reclining on the front steps becomes more evident which makes me recollect Richard Holmes’ book Footsteps, where he describes a photograph he takes when following the footsteps of Shelley. When Holmes took the shot he was unaware of a young boy who appears only in processing. Photographs can do that, bring forward a detail in a scene that can add drama and mystery, not noticed as the shutter flicked open.
An Abebooks delivery also knocked on our purple door. Blast 1 by Wyndham Lewis, the Noble Savage and some more diaries by Anais Nin. These secondhand and reprinted books are a pleasure and draw me into the thinking around the time of Miller’s world. I delve in with delight. Sometimes though the technology scanning rare books doesn’t manage to capture the plates that were published in the original – which is disappointing.
Not at the front door but out at an appointment this week, I pulled out my copy of the Australian Book Review ( ABR ) The Art issue, November 2010 and read the edited version of Bill Henson’s Melbourne Art
Foundation Lecture, titled ‘Millennial Slippage’. The sub-title is ‘Honouring the paradox and the majesty of art’. In 2008 Bill Henson experienced media and public outrage over his image of a young girl. A tirade not dissimilar to the fictional media and public outcry against Howard Roark, an architect, in Ayn Rand’s novel ‘The Fountainhead’. No matter what you think of Ayn Rand’s philosophy/politics her writing in The Fountainhead depicted the suspicion in society for creativity, for the unknown, the different – in essence for beauty, art and truth. She writes the world as we have since read, and maybe responded to, in our newspapers and discussed over morning coffee – why, even the then Prime Minister of the time, Kevin Rudd, made authoritative comment. As Bill Henson notes ‘history is littered with bonfires of the vanities’, moments when the prevailing ethos and moral fibre of a given society is affronted by the artistic quest. Art, truth and beauty are put on trial from newspaper headlines to mother’s groups particularly in times when conservatism attempts to quell rising uncertainty. However I suggest the Bill Henson case was necessary, it was bigger than Bill Henson’s image or Henson himself, it was a self-combusting outcry containing the pain and angst of the time. It was also necessary though, to bring the art world into the public sphere and into conversation because that is where it can resonate the most. The outcry refreshed the creative worlds and brought art forward to be defended.
ABR itself has also brought art forward for discussion by embarking on the first of its Arts issues – another is planned for June – this is a wonderful step and this one is exquisite. It is co-edited by Christopher Menz (former director of the Art Gallery of South Australia) and as Brian Johns mentioned at the launch even the ad space is beautiful.
I close this post thinking about how important art is beyond the artist and I leave a metaphorical purple door open to receive more knowledge on this wonderful journey toward Godfrey Miller and his interpretation of beauty and truth.