Photography was the first modern medium that let us record something of the visible world as it really was. For the first time, you could take a tiny fragment of time and keep it. For better or worse, throughout all of photography’s historical iterations, that’s what most of us have done with our cameras. We make small, flawed mementos of our lives. The faces of loved ones, the faces of our younger selves, weddings, birthdays, holidays – and more recently – parties we went to, gigs we watched, art we saw, food we ate, cute shit our kid/cat did, Tuesday’s outfit, Friday’s outfit.
Melbourne artist Timothy Hillier started out as a skateboarder, taking point-and-shoot snapshots of everything he saw and did using a couple of cheap, reliable 35mm cameras. He still loves that look, that vernacular, energetic style of street photography, but says that it’s become so commonplace these days it’s lost much of its original appeal. “I started to not care about it so much. It just wasn't moving me anymore. Who needs another photo of a drunk girl with her boobs out? …It’s not something I want to tell a story about anymore.”
“Why do you need to prove you had that experience, can’t you just have it?” Hillier asks at one point in our interview. “I feel like ten years ago, or even five years ago, you would have had an experience and it would have been yours to keep. …Now it’s like, I have to share that experience with all my followers on Instagram.”
In response to the deluge of pointless, nothing photographs online and elsewhere, Hillier began taking photographs of nothing. Using the same cameras – now more than ten years old and with scratched lenses and light leaks – he started shooting swathes of expansive, empty sky. For his new exhibition at Tristian Koenig (until 13 July), Hillier has taken the 35mm negatives and blown them up into large, abstract prints which are a soft wash of film grain and colour gradients.
“It’s a reaction against the proliferation of photography, even though I love photography,” says Hillier. Instead, with their bands of block colour and flat texture, the prints in Holding Pattern have more in common with colour field painting. “I had a broken camera that always leaked light, creating a red line through it that made everything look like a Rothko painting.”
It’s impossible to tell by looking at them, but the photographs were taken variously in Melbourne and in remote Australia, where Hillier routinely travels for work. It was after first visiting the Gulf of Carpentaria – and very remote communities like Doomadgee, Mornington Island and Normanton – that Hillier began this latest series of photographs.
Out there, the horizon is huge. There aren't power lines or buildings to obscure the view. It makes it easier to appreciate what a dynamic range of colours there are in the Australian sky. “The skies in Tasmania and in Bamaga, Cape York are different things altogether,” he explains, “They have entirely different colour temperatures. …Part of this work is trying to capture that, but of course you can never capture it.”
By moving away from documentary photography, which is now ubiquitous on Facebook and Instagram, Timothy Hillier has stopped trying to record something of the visible world as it really is. Instead he’s trying to capture something of the visible world as it really appears on film.
>> Maura Edmond
>> Posted 21 June 2014
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19 June - 13 July, 2014
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