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Fragile Landscapes

Richard Reid

A selection of photographs that not only give you a beautiful subject to experience but also a layered subject that changes according to your perspective.
Fragile Landscapes
As a fellow photographer, I was more than inspired by Chris Gillard’s exhibition of eight photographs on glass, entitled Fragile Landscapes on show at Green-Wood Gallery in South Melbourne in December last year. There were numerous reasons why I not only wanted to review the collection but also discuss and express the joint beliefs I share with Chris on the environmental topics associated with his work. I will elaborate on that a little later. Chris has captured what I deem to be a selection of photographs that not only give you a beautiful subject to experience but also a layered subject that changes according to your perspective. In this layered glasswork I saw fundamental and intriguing differences to the regular printed presentation of photography. His large semi-transparent glass images (measuring 1m x 1.5m) have technical aspects to them that change the very nature of the photo. . Chris has developed a 3D effect using ambient light and layers that can literally make each photo glow. Both vivid and emotionally engaging, I wanted to discover what each photograph was presenting me from all angles and where the thinking originated. For Chris the concept of layers is at the core of his work - and not just the presented layers of glass. For example, each piece in the Fragile Landscape series shares two names. The original photographic name is egalitarian while the name of the image on glass is more lyrical. The former is an acknowledgment of our straightforward way and the latter, Chris says, is a nod to the bush poets. Grass becomes “Hot Gold” for example. Tank becomes “Flood and Fire”, One Tree becomes “Pitiless Blue” and Hills11 becomes “Clouds Gather”. Chris says this naming convention will become an ongoing theme, in this series it’s a reflection on the early history of poetry in describing our unique land against its counterpoint, the straightforward nature of popular language, showing these elements living together happily. This naming layer is part of Chris’s exploration of the wider concept of an Australian National Identity and its relationship to the natural environment. His aim is to eventually explore many aspects of our national Self and sees our landscape as a natural starting point on this conceptual journey given the huge influence the environment has on Australian cultural heritage. The current Fragile Landscapes Series Chris calls ‘Soul’. He describes it as, “A reflection of our country roots, our heritage and our impact on the land.” I found the photos very appealing. The sometimes stark subjects include long dead trees exposed on a dry lake bed, wide open hilly land, clouds, grass and a water tank – and Chris makes heroes of them all. Juxtaposing this he makes antiheroes of a Bowser and a Harvester. The Dark Soil (Bowser) piece really grabbed me as did Hot Gold; the image of long grass in the late afternoon light, but all had their own appeal. The colour palette of this series is bold and confident; big yellows, blues and red and the compositions are simple and strong. Cross processing of the film coupled with the display on glass gives the group an almost painterly look. A heritage or historical feel is the effect of this, reminiscent of hand-coloured vintage glass slides. It’s a striking mix. You feel you’re seeing the past while also seeing something entirely new. Chris plans to follow this series with Fragile Landscapes II (Heart), showing the outback: the physical, metaphorical and historical heart of the country. And Series III, Face, will explore the coastline; the first imagined view of our country for outsiders and Mecca for many Australians. Obviously I connected with Chris’s work as a photographer but his environmental message also struck a cord. Chris put out a protest during the Copenhagen Summit, which took place during his exhibition and as an environmentalist myself I paid close attention to his gesture (published first on this site). The ‘layer’ Chris added in this case encompassed the entire series. It was a protest that addressed and questioned our society’s notion of “value” and what is valuable at an extremely significant moment. Since the delegates were not giving much value to the environment Chris decided to use his series to demonstrate the added value it deserves. “We need to greatly increase the value we put on our environment, and he simply used his work to provide the relevant metaphor”. Chris made this statement by temporarily raising the price of each Fragile Landscapes piece from $4500 each to $45,000 each: a tenfold increase in value. Chris then challenged any corporate or government to purchase the full collection promising to donate proceeds to an environmental charity of their choice. Like the world leaders taking part in the summit, there was little care factor but the ‘value’ concept struck a cord with me. I not only saw the idea as entirely valid and significant to the moment but an interesting artistic concept in itself. Corporate multinationals and governments will only ever value what we, the voters, value. When I looked at Chris’s image entitled “One Tree” I saw many things beside a single tree, open sky and cloud. I saw a story of hope, I saw a plea and I saw a beautiful and elegant point in time. And now I see something else; the image of one empowered individual standing tall, standing out, hands outstretched and speaking up about the things we really should value! Chris has stated that the challenge is still out to corporate and government players; be an investor and believer in helping make change to protect our fragile environment. Despite the fact that scepticism around climate change is somehow in vogue, that resonates with me. We only have one earth and it would great to think my grandchildren and their children can witness the beauty we have but are slowly destroying. Urban & rural landscapes can place the viewer, within a location not yet physically visited. Chris’s photographs took me on a journey, which I will remember forever. At times I felt like a 5th layer inside the landscape - a part of the environment, and like all of us, a part of the picture myself. Green Wood Gallery Chris would like to thank Viridian Glass, an Australian earth (and art) friendly company for fully supporting the creation of his debut Fragile Landscapes 'Soul' series. South Melbourne 1 Hotham St, South Melbourne, Victoria 3205, Australia Phone: + 61 3 9682 3205 Hours: Wed-Sun 11-5 Lorne 32 Mountjoy Parade, Lorne, Victoria 3232, Australia Phone: + 61 3 5273 4939 Hours: Fri-Mon 11-5
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Richard Reid is a Melbourne base Freelance photographer that has been working behind the camera for over 22 years. He works closely with his clients to meet their brief and prides himself on making commercially viable photography for them. You can view more of Richard's images at www.richardreid.com.au

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