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Glossy too

by Christine Clark, 1 December 2005

The Glossy 2 exhibition highlights the integral role magazine photography plays in illustrating and shaping our contemporary culture.

Margaret Whitlam, 2005 by Sahlan Hayes
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Margaret Whitlam, 2005 by Sahlan Hayes

The vast array of magazines and other media which surrounds us has created a degree of familiarity, even intimacy, with celebrities, their faces and their lives. Glossy 2: Faces, Magazines, Now, which opened at the Commonwealth Place Gallery on 25 November 2005, demonstrates the extent to which magazines have become a kind of collective portrait of our times.

The exhibition highlights the integral role magazine photography plays in illustrating and shaping our contemporary culture as well as removing the images from their original context of the magazine to walls of a gallery.

Glossy 2 includes a collection of these magazine photographs through the work of seven early to mid career Australian photographers, each of whom have a distinctive and recognisable style. As the title suggests, this is the second Glossy exhibition presented by the National Portrait Gallery. Similarly to the first exhibition held in 1999, the focus in Glossy 2 is on the current, including images taken within the last five years. Magazine photography changes constantly and quickly, driven by the ever present yearning in contemporary culture to represent the new and the different. As with Gtossy, the current exhibition looks at work of Australian photographers, some at work in this country but equally at home overseas.

The photographers presented in Gtossy 2 come from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and areas of speciality, and illustrate the diversity of photographic styles currently active within magazine photography. This diversity is also indicative of the various types of magazines which play a role in our media-laden world.

The last few years have seen an increase in the incidence of glossy lifestyle magazine inserts in our newspapers. These magazines play an increasing role in a rise in public awareness of celebrity personae and lives.

Two photographers in Glossy 2, Sahlan Hayes and Julian Kingma, have undertaken considerable work for these magazines, providing the memorable images to accompany specific life stories. Throughout their careers, both these photographers' range of subjects has been extremely varied. Hayes' selection of images in Glossy2 highlights this diversity. We see images of Australian icons Margaret Whitlam and the late Donald Home, investigative journalist Chris Masters, business and finance journalist Mike Hanley, and American blues and roots musician Ben Harper. Hayes' image of Margaret Whitlam was recently awarded the 2005 Nikon Walkley Photographic Portrait Award.

Julian Kingma's images also highlight a diversity of subjects with images including those of TV personality Rove McManus, well-known literary critic and author Robert Dessaix, multi 2005 ARIA award winner Missy Higgins and Martin Grant, the Melbourne-born Paris-based fashion designer. Kingma's portraits in Glossy 2 are all presented in black-and-white. Although not working exclusively in monochrome, Kingma's use of black-and-white presentation and that of a number of other photographers in the exhibition, is indicative of the strength and currency that remains with this particular medium.

While Ingvar Kenne's work has appeared in colour magazine supplements, they increasingly are seen in a range of lifestyle magazines.

Kenne's distinctive images are immediately recognisable, and for Gtossy 2 he portrays various Australian personalities- David Wenham, Angus Young, Lee Lin Chin and Akira Isogawa to name only a few.

The plethora of other magazines surrounding us, both national and international, has specific target markets. Generally in these magazines, however, we continue to see a predominance of images focusing on beauty, fashion as well as popular and youth culture. The work of Ellen Dahl and Daniela Federici, though distinct in approach and effect, plays with the notion of perfect beauty. The famous and beautiful are ever present in Glossy 2 including notable images of Chloe Sevigny, Elizabeth Hurley, Halle Berry. Natalie Imbruglia, Sophie Monk and Nicole Trunfio.

It is through the work of Christopher Morris that we see the world of Australian youth music culture, with images of Sarah Blasko, Gerling, The Living End and The Superjesus. Morris, who has been photographing some of the leading names in contemporary music over the past decade, was awarded the Jack Award for the best live rock photographer in 2004.

Ben Baker, who like Daniela Federici is currently based in New York, portrays highly-prominent individuals from the world stage. He provides recognisable images of celebrities from the screen, as well as key American individuals, depicted with a directness and brashness synonymous with his adopted city.

Glossy 2 shows us magazine photography with currency, images of today. At times sassy and direct, while at other times reflective and personal, the images when seen collectively offer a stimulating and insightful look into our contemporary world.