Isobel Crombie

Laurie Duggan’s study of ‘imagined space’ in Australian visual culture arrived on my desk, with a certain synchronicity, the day after I saw the film Memento. In their distinctive ways, both these works seem indicative of our age, offering unstable and fractured accounts of space and time at a moment when virtual reality seems to be untying our formerly fixed Western notions of these concepts.

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Helen Ennis’s book Reveries: Photography and mortality, published by the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra to accompany her recent exhibition, is a fascinating choice of subject for an institution that deals with portraiture. As the author notes, ‘In the face of mortality the touchstones of portraiture are gently nudged aside … to encompass the possibility of dissolution or dispersal of self.’ This expanded definition of portraiture is apparent from the cover of this sensitively designed book, which features a photograph by Ruth Maddison. Titled The beginning of absence, the photograph shows a domestic interior dissolving into light and suggests Maddison’s feelings when confronting the imminent death of her father. It is a ‘portrait’ composed not of physical detail but emotion, and is no less descriptive of a person and a relationship for that.

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