Now located in a gleaming purpose-built gallery on one of Fitzroy’s loveliest backstreets, the Centre for Contemporary Photography had far more humble origins.
CCP was initially started by a small group of local photographers and writers in 1986 at a time when photography was all-too-often treated as the “poor relative" of the art world, somehow inferior to traditional fine arts like painting and sculpture. As CCP’s director Naomi Cass explains, “at that time photography was not included in major contemporary art exhibitions and nor was it collected with the kind of enthusiasm as is it today.”
Over the following decades, the centre has responded to new technologies and changing ideas about photography, its role in our daily life, and in the gallery. Since CCP’s inception, photography has become central to contemporary art and increasingly it’s just one tool in the arsenal of an artist, who might work with many other media. “Photography means quite literally, drawing with light,” says Cass, and so “CCP works with the broadest interpretation of photography from ancient camera-less technologies, such as photograms, through to traditional analogue and digital modes… both still and moving image.”
The opening shows in 2013 reflect the breadth of photomedia art that you can see at CCP. Joshua Petherick uses photography “in a surprising and sculptural manner”; Susan Fereday takes photographs of existing magazine shoots, zooming in on tiny details to the point they become ‘not of this world’; Stephen Rhall’s documentary-style photographs explore his experience as a Taungurong man; and Katie Lee presents “a meditative and intriguing video” for the Night Projection Window, which is visible after dark on one wall of the CCP building. The rest of 2013 is similarly diverse, with highlights including surveys of celebrated Australian artists Robert Rooney, David Rosetzky, Polixeni Papapetrou and new work from Daniel von Sturmer.
“Now photography is ubiquitous,” says Cass, “it is on every hand held device, on advertising billboards, bus shelters; photography is part of nearly every aspect of our lives.” And with the advent of digital cameras and software like Photoshop and Instagram, making and manipulating photographs has become ever easier and cheaper. “Ironically,” says Cass, “in spite of all the advances in technology, making a good photograph, one which moves or captivates the viewer is still astonishingly difficult.” So the purpose of CCP, as Cass sees it, is to provide “a place where photography is separated from the world of advertising or journalism, where photography is a tool in the hands of artists who challenge, delight and inspire.”
Time Out asked Naomi Cass to describe her perfect day exploring art in Fitzroy
My summer day begins with the art of walking and breakfast. I walk in to Fitzroy from an adjacent suburb and gather my thoughts over a delightful breakfast at Backstreet Eating, just up the road from CCP.
As galleries open at a leisurely hour, I pop down to Chapman and Bailey to check out CCP's Limited Edition Print by Simryn Gill, which they are framing. This astonishing artist is representing Australia at the 2013 Venice Biennale and we have a few of her spectacular charity prints for sale, generously donated by the artist.
Kodak Salon keeps me busy. With 630 prints on view, I check it out each morning assured that each time I look at the exhibition, I will find a new treasure. Today it is a series of amusing and earnest portraits of men by Julian Wolkenstein. Dressed in typical attire for their nationality and era, these photographs are hilarious and skilled. It is rare to find genuinely amusing photography.
Now begins the adventure beyond CCP: first I pop into Gertrude Contemporary to get my bearings on what's going on in the broader contemporary art scene, next is the the artist run initiative, Seventh Gallery almost opposite. I wander down to Sutton Gallery, one of Australia's leading commercial galleries specialising in contemporary australian art. Filled with the pleasures and challenges of contemporary art, I wander across to Grub Food Van for a green tea and a meditative view of the gold-fish pond.
My journey is inscribed by CCP's FAST an education program developed for upper secondary students, introducing them to Fitzroy as a microcosm of Australia's exciting arts industry. FAST is a great way to start your own adventure, and can be used by adults too.
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