Jennifer Phipps interviews Natalie King, curator of Up Close

Up Close is mostly made up of an exhibition of the photographs of Carol Jerrems (1949–1980), an artist who died aged thirty. She left a large archive of photographs that was gifted to the National Gallery of Australia by her mother, Joy Jerrems in 1981. Curator Natalie King has spent four years researching the exhibition, and placed Jerrems in the context of candid photography as self-identity.

Jennifer Phipps interviews Natalie King

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Cover of Up Close: Carol Jerrems with Larry Clark, Nan Goldin and William Yang, edited by Natalie King

Up Close is mostly made up of an exhibition of the photographs of Carol Jerrems (1949–1980), an artist who died aged thirty. She left a large archive of photographs that was gifted to the National Gallery of Australia by her mother, Joy Jerrems in 1981. Curator Natalie King has spent four years researching the exhibition, and placed Jerrems in the context of candid photography as self-identity.

Jerrems was amongst the first to photograph the sub-cultures of Australian urban youth. Her genius was to become a part of them, showing the beauty, vulnerability and vitality of socially and sexually marginalised Australians. She early grasped the changes in prosperous Australia. From the late 1960s, Australian governments had removed the most stifling aspects of censorship and were gradually modernising laws of social behaviour and status (such as no fault divorce, equality for women and for Aboriginal people, and abortion. With the exception of South Australia, however, homosexual behaviour remained outlawed). Jerrems photographed a new kind of society: including actors, artists, homosexuals, hippies, single mothers and women leaders. Photographs in this exhibition date primarily from before the mid–1980s.

Jerrems’ only publication, A Book About Australian Women was published by Outback Press in 1974, an alternative publishing house run by Morry Schwartz with three other young men. Up Close is a multi-authored book edited by Natalie King and published, once more, by Morry Schwartz of Schwartz City, to coincide with the Heide exhibition.

Jennifer Phipps (JP) interviews Natalie King (NK), curator of Up Close. Thursday, 27 May, 2010 and by email.

JP: Did you intend the exhibition title Up Close to suggest intimacy or an opposite kind of closeness, like fronting up, toughness?

NK: The title Up Close is a word play on the photographic term close-up whilst suggesting the intimate, candid and consensual approach that each artist in the exhibition adopts. Jerrems photographed her friends, peers, acquaintances and students, drawing on the informality of social and convivial situations. For our book, Virginia Fraser has revisited her contribution to A Book About Australian Women and managed to find many of the sitters including Kate Fitzpatrick, Linda Jackson and Robyn Ravlich. Virginia comments on how Carol’s photographs often seem ‘unstaged, uncontrived, natural—an effect produced with patience, chance and many small interventions.’

JP: How do the photographs by Nan Goldin, Larry Clark and William Yang work in with those of Carol Jerrems? Did Jerrems know their work? Were Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol and even August Sander models for these photographers?

NK: It’s not entirely clear from my research into Carol’s personal papers, darkroom notes and letters that she knew the work of Goldin, Clark or Yang however; there is a strong synergy in terms of their remarkable capacity to capture people, places and events with empathy. Goldin, in particular, has been influenced by Clark’s diaristic approach to photography. She was introduced to Clark’s work in 1974 and says ‘It has entirely changed my work. I knew that there had been somebody else who had done their own life.’

I interviewed many of Carol’s peers—Esben Storm, Mirta Mizza, Robert Ashton, Ian Macrae—who repeatedly mention Arbus as an influence. Perhaps it’s Arbus’ troubling photographs of people on the edge of society that appealed to Jerrems. For our book, I produced an extensive chronology on Jerrems and found a flyer in one of Carol’s files about Andy Warhol’s film, Women in Revolt about transgendered superstars who form a women’s liberation group. This suggests that Jerrems was certainly aware of Warhol.

JP: How do you make a book and an exhibition out of a slide show and a group of books of photographs, notably the 1974 Fraser and Jerrems’ A Book About Australian Women?

NK: Publishing was central to the practice of Jerrems, Clark, Goldin and Yang as a way of disseminating their images. The kernel of the exhibition is Carol’s images from A Book About Australian Women, published in 1974, the year prior to International Women’s Year. Carol was meticulous about the sequencing, layout and grouping of works. For example, a small child—Caroline Slade—appears as the first arresting image wearing a patterned dress, which is heightened by decorative wallpaper. Carol photographed this little girl at her fourth birthday party and it reveals her compositional astuteness and the optimism of the 1970s. We are presenting these works in their original format in the exhibition, mounted on chipboard and deploying Carol’s exact ordering. Carol’s interest in sequencing, cinematic flow and the accumulation of images can be linked to her tutelage under filmmaker Paul Cox. Carol was one of the first graduates from Prahran Tech in 1970 alongside Ian Macrae, Linda Jackson, Robert Ashton and Ross Hannaford from the band Daddy Cool.

JP: You have brought two William Yang books to look at—Sydney Diary and Friends of Dorothy—Carol Jerrems’ A Book about Australian Women and I’ve never seen Larry Clark’s Tulsa.

NK: It’s interesting that a group of artists resorted to some form of publishing to present their work. I think it partly has to do with the rise and buoyancy of photography, the influence of cinematic and the way each artist often worked in series. All amassed a large group of images so it made sense to use this format.

JP: Tell me about how you deal with the prints in the exhibition—whether you are using vintage prints or have you used digital prints?

NK: We are using only original vintage prints and in the case of William Yang he has retrieved many original gelatin silver photographs from the 1970s and early 80s. We are complementing these works with a loan from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Larry Clark’s works are from the Tulsa suite, from the National Gallery of Australia and we have included the sexy photograph from the cover of Clark’s follow up publication, Teenage Lust, sourced from a private collection.

The Jerrems’ works primarily come from the National Gallery of Australia and from other collections both private and public including Macquarie series from Macquarie University and Alphabet folio from the National Gallery of Victoria. They are all original vintage prints, and prints that Jerrems made herself. The exception is Carol’s final series produced while a patient in the Royal Hobart Hospital in 1979 while suffering from a rare liver disease. With unflinching detail, Carol photographed her physical demise. She sent rolls of film to her friend, Roger Scott in Sydney, entrusting him to produce the prints in his darkroom. They are hauntingly detached and Helen Ennis has written most eloquently about this final body of work.

JP: This is really a quality show and worth visiting just for that reason. And what about Nan Goldin?

NK: With Goldin, her iconic work that she commenced in 1979, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, was first presented as a slide show for Frank Zappa’s birthday party at the Mudd Club in New York. Over subsequent years, she modified the work and altered the sound component. This work also exists as photographic stills but I was much more interested in showing the slide version, which amounts to close to 700 slides projected to sound, as it is mesmerising and dynamic. It was a coup for Heide to secure this loan from the Cartier Foundation in Paris. Ballad is also in the collection of MOMA and was on display at London’s Tate Modern in the exhibition Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera.

Up Close: Carol Jerrems with Larry Clark, Nan Goldin and William Yang, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
31 July 2010–31 October 2010
A publication of the same name is edited by Natalie King and published by Heide Museum of Modern Art/Schwartz City Publishing.

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