Cover image of the review
Darren Sylvester, *The object of social acceptance is to forfeit individual dreams*, 2003, digital type C print, 120.0 x 120.0 cm. Collection of the artist, Melbourne, © Darren Sylvester.

Darren Sylvester: Carve a Future, Devour Everything, Become Something

20 Apr 2019
1 Mar - 30 Jun 2019

Australian photography is at an interesting moment. More than ever, it is compelled to respond not only to the present reality that the average Australian is now considered either illegitimate, illegal, fraudulent, or irreparably corrupted, but also to the fact that these same problems afflict the efficacy of photography as a documentary medium. Presented as a “media” problem globally, for us this crisis of truth can be traced back to Nicholas Caire's c.1878 crystoleum print of the fairy scene at Healesville. Inaugurating Australian photography as an art form, Caire carefully composited the marvellous and the ridiculous as proximate realities.

Contemporary Australian photography still participates in this drama. With its oversize, red-velvet frame—reconstructed in 1995 by conservation and curatorial staff at the National Gallery of Victoria—Caire's work is a mysterious documentary image of a man dwarfed by impossibly enormous ferns as much as a puzzling attempt to imagine a world that is only accessible to this newly mediated, settler, reality. As I peruse Darren Sylvester's retrospective of large-scale photography, video, and installation works currently on show at the NGV's Australian galleries, I imagine a line that leads unbroken back to Caire. What is Australian about photography? Is it Australian, or is it un-Australian to take these images? Is it just consciously provincial? Perhaps it is about time.

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