Foto Biennale day trippin’: is there a doco in the (open) house?

Luxville 5 exhibition by Erin McCuskey

Luxville 5 exhibition by Erin McCuskey

Spring sprang, momentarily, on Sunday, so we carved off a chunk of the arvo and hit Ballarat to tick off a few more sites in the Foto Biennale.

There was no doubting the power of the documentary images: in the City Hall, Mitchell Kanashkevich‘s superb depictions of life in Belarus; and, more naturalistic, a joint project offering slices of life in the town of Swifts Creek in Gippsland, ensconced in the upper floor of the refurbished restaurant and music venue Sutton’s House of Music (love this space). Keeping the Creek company were some most excellent travel pictures from Lesley Costley-Grey — one of my favourites, a smashed typewriter on the footpath, already with three red dots beside it.

There were interesting techniques such as cyanotype and sunshine (at boutique beer store Coach House Ale near the railway station) and photogravure (at Backspace Gallery, which also has on show some stunning South American landscapes — flamingoes add splashes of colour in some).

A couple of Vicki McKay’s “Bohemia” images, inspired by Norman Lindsay, at the Miners Tavern (luckily, you don’t have to pass the pokies to get up the staircase to the upstairs exhibition, which has been thoughtfully marked as featuring nude women *gasp*), also popped, but I really enjoyed the personalities on show at the Regent theatre, where Erin McCuskey has a stills exhibition of characters in a fictional town.

lost ones gallery

Lost Ones Gallery

More starscapes, these from Tim Lucas, at the Beechworth Bakery (amazingly, no bee stings were eaten during this visit); a seascape with ship carved into panels at the Yellow Espresso cafe (yummy coffee that you can take away, unlike the big print), and some exceptional images from India by Rochelle Wong at the Trades Hall were among the list that took in about a dozen or so venues. Some others were closed (Sunday, you take your chances in the Rat), but a peek through the window was enough to go yea or nay to a revisit.

We also caught up with the print books competition, which showed a range of styles and themes. One, for instance, had folded pages; another was a narrative of being nekkid and in love in the woods; another had landscapes from the waterline, taken from a kayak. Another documented female residents of a town.

I love the former Freemasons building, now Lost Ones Galley, on Camp Street with its slightly risky stairs down to the welcoming basement (and outdoor toilet block) with sofas, bird cage, and a puffer fish under glass.

So not only does the biennale open up a range of photographic topics and techniques, it also gives access — encourages access — to a range of buildings that maybe wouldn’t normally get a visit, and puts galleries and cafes and the like on the radar. Even if you do cop the occasional glare over a coffee cup for peering over someone’s head at the pictures.

For Wilson

sun through tree, not wilson's treeWe were sat at his wife’s parents’ place, in the front lounge. I was a lot younger then, and there were more of us, so many more of us. I imagine it was hot, because it usually was, there behind the louvres, looking out at the paddocks and the tree line. It was probably summer, because I always think of that house in the summer, creaking in the heat amid that quiet stillness.

One of those family gatherings. There would’ve been tea, and biscuits, or cake. There was always tea and something to nibble.

And he got up and grabbed his camera, a black bulk of SLR I should think, because that was his job, taking photos; he and his wife were very good at it, she doing the arranging of the subjects and he doing the technical stuff behind the lens. She was the organiser, and he the quiet one. I think of him and I think of quiet, of reserve, of calmness. I’m sure it wasn’t always the way but that was how I knew him and that is how, in this imperfect snapshot, I remember him; I knew him no other way.

So he and his camera went out to take a picture of a tree. The singular gum, tall, straight, that regal bearing, standing alone in the brown grass of the front paddock. I have a vague memory of him saying, and here I could be mistaken, but I think he said how he had always wanted to get the perfect picture of that tree. Perhaps his wife told us this as we watched him leave.

And now he is gone, and I think of him, walking out, camera in hand, in pursuit of the perfect shot. I have no doubt that, if not before, he will find it now, out there.

Vale, Wilson Thomsen (1937-2013)

Emilie Autumn in Melbourne: time to leave the asylum

ImageEmilie Autumn is an amazing singer-songwriter who has turned dark times into performance; who has in fact built a fantastical persona and entertaining stage act under the asylum for wayward Victorian girls motif.

Her most recent album, Fight Like A Girl, took the bold step of turning institutionalisation into a musical where independence — girl power — wins out over patriarchal straight jackets. And more power to her. Such a themed, narrative album was to be applauded.

But it hasn’t translated to her latest Flag stage show, which doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. With a surprisingly unadorned stage compared to her previous — and sensational — visit to St KIlda’s Espy, with songs interrupted by burlesque, a quaint fan fic skit and the once amusing, now, quite frankly, past its time, rat game, in which offside Veronica pashes an audience member to give the crowd a lesbo thrill, the show lacked cohesion.

The sound wasn’t great, either, the whole gig set to a backing track that often overwhelmed the at-times patchy vocals.

There were highlights as songs such as ‘Fight Like a Girl’ blasted out, and signs of what the show could’ve been when the always entertaining Captain Maggot, under-used, stalked Emilie in demonic garb on stilts.

Emilie is perhaps trapped at the moment, between wanting to break out her artistic vision but feeling compelled to play to her fan base — there’s a great deal of audience support for the rat game, for instance. Will her fans go with her if she leaves the asylum? Will they accompany her on a journey past the dalliance with madness and teasing sexuality?

It will be interesting to see what direction Emilie takes next, but I hope the next stage show flies a different flag.

Writerly round-up: D Publishing still doesn’t quite get it, and the quest for quality and equality

[Update, 18 December: Steve Rossiter reports (in the comments section here) a third version of the D Pub contract is promised [Dec 24: Rossiter still finds holes in the new Dymocks’ contract, calling it a wasted opportunity]. Meanwhile, Writers Beware has posted this succinct summary of some of the concerns sparked by the original contract, which presumably will be addressed in the amended agreement for those wanting to use Dymocks’ distribution.]

[Dec 24: Crikey has interviewed Rossiter, and also provided a handy synopsis of the D Pub issue including links to the various criticisms levelled at the original contract.]

Dymocks’ D Publishing has been doing the PR rounds trying to hose down the criticism of their contracts — the ones you have to dig through their help menu to find — for those who want to use the service to not only print their work, but have it distributed. Those two arms of service do seem to have blurred in commentary, perhaps because D Publishing isn’t staking out that division strongly enough. It’s something they’re trying to address with PR, rather than website design or clarity. Still, early days…

Steve Rossiter, who issued a warning about the terms and conditions when first announced, and wasn’t wholly convinced by the second pass, has since had a chat with D Pub and seems somewhat mollified.

And over at Bookseller + Publisher, Dymocks has played serve and volley with contracts expert Alex Adsett, and has done a fairly good job of avoiding the actual issues she raises about Dymocks’ rights policy while playing the line that Dymocks is there to serve the author. In which case, they’d put their terms and conditions up front and centre for those considering publishing with them (as opposed to merely printing), and remove the ambiguity that Adsett has identified. But, you know, as I said, early days…

As always, it’s a case of ‘let the buyer beware’: shop around for the service that offers the quality, product and cost-effectiveness that best suits your needs, and mind the small print. One thing you can’t argue about: being publisher, distributor and sales outlet is a great example of vertical integration.

  • Meanwhile, Zena Shapter has been searching for what makes a good anthology or collection. I’m judging the Aurealis Awards in that very category this year, my second year in a row (which means I really should be doing some reading right now!), so I was included in her survey of editors and judges to see what they looked for from within three criteria — quality writing was pretty much the unanimous pic. The message here: love that talented editor and don’t let them go!
  • Kevin Powe — I’m catching up a bit here — recently blogged about sexism in the tech industry (he was also catching up, on Ada Lovelace Day) and, in the wake of the announcement of the Australian Women Writers 2012 Challenge, it’s worth a read. Also, neat to see him namecheck one of the editors who’s published my non-newspaper work.
  • Taking time

    The RSS feed has delivered two interesting, and timely, posts from fellow scribes. The first, from Kim Wilkins, talks about the negative effect on productivity of the marvellous interwebs — the distraction of being too busy being a writer to actually write; while the second, from Margo Lanagan guesting at Justine Larbalestier’s web home, concerns the necessity of being fallow for a bit, of stepping back, of letting the mind get over itself. And she asks an interesting question: if you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

    Think of all the time you spend writing — not just at the keyboard, but in headspace plotting and dreaming, in reading and watching stuff you think will help, in the PR and communication Kim talks about. Wow. Now, what would you do with that time that would give you the same reward? Another artistic endeavour? Sport? Charity work?

    A writer probably can’t not write, but I guess the crux is, what they want to do with that writing. And can those expectations realistically be met.

    ctrl/alt/delete: restart

    During the week I left Brisbane, I took some snaps on my mobile phone to mark the moments. Not all of them, not even the most important ones: just incidental ones as the to-do list ticked down. It went something like this:

    empty winerack

    empty winerack

    After the giveaways and sell-offs, the eBaying and the Freecycling and the dump run, came the packing. The house emptied out as the boxes filled. The wine rack gave some cause for concern, but I figured, we could rebuild it. And in fact, we have. An empty wine rack is of no use to anyone. Ditto the bookshelves.


    cafe urbano in stafford heights

    cafe urbano in stafford heights

    I was extremely grateful that a cafe had opened at the end of my street. And a great cafe at that. One with takeaway coffee and a late breakfast and a BLT to die for. It became something of a hub for last-minute catch-ups, thanks in part to the recent addition of a dinner menu (love the lamb).

    shoes off, after the packing

    shoes off, after the packing

    Men came. They chuckled at the sight of the coffin-table, all bound up, mummy-like, in its blanket and tape. They didn’t seem to blanche too much at the third room, lined with boxes filled with books. Three hours and a cuppa later, they left in a big truck with a promise we’d meet again, and I sat on the stairs, shoes off, contemplating how much an empty house can echo, and how sore I’d be the next day.

    spaceman on the ceiling

    spaceman on the ceiling

    In the absence of, well, anything but a backpack of clothing, it was good to have friends to crash with. They had wine, and coffee, a spare bed and a shower and a loo, and a cute little spaceman stuck to their ceiling. You need friends like these.


    Dad's garden

    Dad's garden

    Family is also good. They’re like friends with a sense of ingrained commitment. My Dad has an awesome view from his house and an even more awesome viewpoint, and his partner has done a grand job setting up the house and the garden. It’s good to know that, no matter where you are, you know damn well where they will be: watching your back.

    sunset at Shorncliffe

    sunset at Shorncliffe

    After the truck had gone, I had coffee — an iced one, the day was hot — with a mate at Shorncliffe, one of my favourite places in Brisbane. And after that I went for a meditative trundle on the pier, and watched my last Shorncliffe sunset as a ‘local’. No dawn without a sunset.

    Kaliber in Fortitude Valley

    Kaliber in Fortitude Valley

    Another favourite place in Brissie was Kaliber, a funky, narrow club in the Valley with an amazing range of vodka, cool staff, mean pizzas and a fine line in absinthe. They were playing Concrete Blonde’s Joey when I got there. We had a good night, three of us who have all been through this all before each in our own way, and backed up the next week — the last week — with Mexican and burlesque (not at the same time). One thing I like about cities is that you can have tortillas and tassles in the one night.

    angela slatter and me at dinner

    angela slatter and me at dinner

    On the last night, after the final inspection of the house and the last cuppa at Urbano and the return of the keys and afternoon tea with a pal and the stumbling across of a friend’s Buffy book (Night Terrors) in a newsagent, it was time for a drink. First at the Queensland Writers Centre cocktail party, coinciding with the Brisbane Writers Festival and launching their groovy Industry IQ program which I’m frustrated to be missing — and what a splendid view of the CBD from across the river — and then at dinner, with some old friends and the cool Dexter dude Jeff Lindsay and some other folks beside. I relented and took a people shot on the phone, because how could you not with the likes of the inimitable (and fellow It Crowd fan) Angela Slatter?

    Sydney from the Swissotel

    Sydney from the Swissotel

    My agent has an annual gettogether for her writers in Sydney. This year, because the usual venue stuffed up the booking, it was at the Swissotel in the CBD. Two thumbs up for the Swissotel and their well-appointed rooms — this was the view from the 19th floor — and their fab staff and tasty bar menu. The banquet was amazing — I went back for seconds of prawns and oysters — and scored a wee pavlova. The event was my springboard out of Brissie, but there were a couple of fellow Brissie scribes there — Kate Morton and Stephen M Irwin with entertaining speeches, Grace Dugan, Louise Cusack and Kim Wilkins — and other reliables from around the country who made the bar a friendly place to be (Graeme Hague, Ian Irvine, Richard Harland and Katherine Howell, to name a few, and all kicking mighty goals that make a young wannabe such as myself mighty keen to get fingers on keyboard again).
    And then there was the Melbourne writer Kirstyn McDermott, reason enough to empty your house and say goodbye to your cafe and your sunset, and promise to write to the good souls holding the fort.

    gargoyle in melbourne
    gargoyle in melbourne

    Now the gargoyles are ensconced, the boxes packed away (mostly), the computer set up and the kettle plugged in. Better get started, then.

    Vale Kris Hembury

    Kris Hembury and his mate Gary at our pirate party, 2005

    Kris Hembury, left, and his mate Gary at our pirate party, 2005

    I met Kris Hembury, as with many of my Brisbane friends, through the Vision writers group. He had a wicked sense of humour, a love of puns, and a fierce imagination. I still remember a space story of his, about a guy trapped in what amounted to a box. A beautiful piece of writing, affecting and sincere. Poignant even if you didn’t know the author was in a wheelchair with limited mobility, who relied on voice recognition software to handle his prose. Who could play a mean thief in Dungeons & Dragons, too, the one time I had the privilege. Thing was, this guy with the heavy, battery-powered wheelchair would be at everything – signings, workshops, the monthly meetings, with enthusiasm and interest and a damn fine eye for a critique. He put me to shame in terms of getting up and getting out there. I didn’t know him well enough to give you a proper obituary; he was 29, and too damn young with too much damn promise and way too much potential. So news of his death has sent a wave of regret through this community who knew him. The emails came plentifully today as the news spread, with words of praise and sadness, and sympathy for his family.

    Life is short, maybe even shorter than we know. Live without regret, value your friendships, and try to leave something beautiful behind. I like to think Kris has done all three. Vale, friend.