There is much to enjoy in the March issue of ABR. I found Patrick McCaughey’s ‘A Sketch Portrait of Fred Williams’ particularly illuminating and moving. A fine record of a deep friendship, rare in the annals of art writing in Australia. Also, John Mateer’s ‘Diary’ reflections on a symposium at Edith Cowan University, inspired by the American philosopher Arthur Danto’s ‘The Abuse’, give us notice of imaginative conversations and events coming from the west.
Barry Dickins claims in Black + Whiteley that he went in search of Brett Whiteley. One can only say that, if that’s the case, Dickins didn’t find him. The Friends grow weary of writers poring through the entrails of our memories. Each year Whiteley’s absence is more acutely felt among us, the absurdity and weight of his untimely loss heavier. All this for reasons totally absent from these narratives. Writer and reviewer here both miss what they cannot find or comprehend.
Edwina Preston, who apparently writes on art, describes the portrait of Whiteley on the cover of this book as ‘a cover pic’, then, in the following paragraph, demonstrates her inability to read the photograph. Of course, in this highly informed discourse, the photographer’s name is not cited in this careless discourse. The portrait session from which the cover portrait for Black + Whiteley is chosen took place in 1987. Preston mentions a T-shirt. Brett designed it and chose to wear it for the portrait session, yet its message, ‘96% Love’, also seems to have escaped both writer and reviewer.
In contrast, your cover portrait for the March issue – Meryl Tankard, photographed by Régis Lansac – was accompanied on the title-page by generous textual information about both subject and photographer.
In the USA, Aperture Journal, now celebrating its fiftieth year, regularly features great writing on photography, often by known writers, poets, historians, and photographers. If a writer wanted to research the subject, they could begin there. Jack Kerouac’s introduction to Robert Franks’s The Americans remains as vital a piece of writing today as it was when it was written in 1957.
Writing about an artist’s life or work is surely a serious project that requires deeper research and engagement than either the author of this book or its reviewer have come up with in this so-called ‘search for Brett Whiteley’.
Juno Gemes, Sydney, NSW