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Australian contemporary art and culture reviews

Viewing photographer and critic Robert McFarlane's own personalised portrait of an era available on the walls of the Manly Regional Gallery was a real treat.

Whereas Henri Cartier Bresson adopted the catch cry of the 'decisive moment' (which incidentally he pinched from a 17th century Cardinal called de Retz) to describe the art of capturing images, the philosophy devised by the Australian photographer Robert McFarlane to articulate his method is that of the 'received moment'.

These are allied perceptions, surely; they cannot be said to be poles apart. Yet of the two McFarlane's approach seems to me gentler, more contemplative. He talks in almost mystical terms of photography taking place in a rarified space as if the reception of an image were a gift, an offering a religious moment perhaps? Certainly for him the act of apprehension involves emotions emotions such as excitement, empathy, concern, reverence and love. He is not kindly disposed towards aggressive notions like 'shooting', 'taking' and 'capturing' which are so often applied to photography. "Where you stand, both physically and emotionally, decrees the kind of picture you,rolex day date replica, through your camera, 'will receive'",the oyster perpetual datejust imitation, he told Gael Newton.

McFarlane trained as a photojournalist but, as Newton points out in the catalogue essay which accompanies a new exhibition, has never felt compelled to shoot hard news and frontline dramas. He may be better known to those who are not photography aficionados as a critic and reviewer of other people's photographs. As an interested party I have always found his comments to be eloquent, intuitive, informed and illuminating: an opinion you felt you could trust. To have his own personalised portrait of an era available on the walls of the Manly Regional Gallery from December 2009 to February 2010 was a real treat. Fittingly titled Received Moments (1961 2009), most of the exhibition's more than 100 predominately black and white images are new digital prints, a technology McFarlane adopted for its uniformly neutral black and white tonality. The effect in visual terms is both sensuous and dramatic; in terms of content, the pictures tell the story of McFarlane's interests and preoccupations, a mix of socio political issues, the arts,replica rolex lady day date, theatre, performance, life on the streets, and above all, people (especially beautiful women). His are humanistic, poetic observations which manage to pin down the innate dignity of his subjects.

McFarlane has peppered his show with many significant moments, be they poignant (the grieving aboriginal woman at Cherbourg, Queensland), tragic (Cate Blanchett about to self destruct in Stephen Sewell's Blind Giant is Dancing, Nimrod, c1995), lucky (the at the Beatles' King's Cross press conference he had to scramble for between journalists' legs), remarkable (the Assistant Principal caught slapping a boy across the face in assembly at Brighton High School (1956) by the 14 year old McFarlane who happened to have his camera with him and little respect for the aggressor), exuberant (Garry McDonald as Mo at Nimrod's 10th birthday), the happenstance (Lloyd Rees, 'a Mount Rushmore monument', painting with his sleeves rolled up, as if the photographer did not exist), the historic (Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke during a 1974 election campaign in Hurstville NSW), the political (aboriginal activist Charles Perkins going home on a bus after mentoring students at Tranby College, 1961), the stunning (curator Gael Newton c1987 wearing a very short kimono), the heart stopping (son Morgan,fake rolex day date, aged 3, sleeping on a beanbag in 1977 'his skin like alabaster'), and the beautiful (the seminal seascape at Wilson's Promontory, Victoria in 1969, taken when the sea rolled in to bestow on McFarlane his 'perfect received moment').

In McFarlane one senses a conscientious seeker after truth and simplicity, the possessor of a finely tuned sensibility anxious to strip away pretension and fakery. He says he feels a responsibility not to gild the lily but to deal with what is offered. Yet there must be frustration too in having to recognise that a picture 'is only a symptom of what you saw or felt'. Has he been influenced perhaps by his meeting in New York in 1973 with W. Eugene Smith? Eugene Smith who growled at him that a photograph was only a paper thin piece of evidence about the truth? McFarlane recounts that it was like being invited to morning tea with Jesus Christ, enough reason I guess to take His word as gospel.

Images from Robert McFarlane's Received Moments will be on view at Fotofreo, Fremantle, WA, from March 20 to April 18, 2010. The exhibition will then tour various regional centres with a last showing at Orange NSW in June/July 2011.

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