Lisa Blas - Anne Ferran studio, 2

Anne Ferran

Sydney, Australia | by February 24, 2013

Anne Ferran’s live/​work stu­dio is located in the Dar­linghurst neigh­bor­hood in cen­tral Syd­ney, in a beau­ti­ful early twen­ti­eth cen­tury build­ing. We decided to meet there after the Together < > Apart con­fer­ence con­cluded, and it turned out to be just a short walk  from the National Art School res­i­dency, where I was stay­ing as a guest. Upon enter­ing,  the win­ter light flooded her space and I encoun­tered panorama views of the city beyond. There were details through­out that gave me clues as to what I was about to uncover in our future con­ver­sa­tions. I focused on a stack of antique Eng­lish teacups and saucers on a low-​​lying bench, sit­ting on top of what appeared to be spi­ral bound note­books, jour­nals, and scraps of paper that artists keep around to remind them of an idea, a novel, a place. Next to the teacups was a paper­back book enti­tled Travel Diary, sit­ting adja­cent to a tri­pod. It appeared to be one of those texts found in a second-​​hand book­shop, imbued with his­tory and worn with the mem­ory of for­mer readers.

The liv­ing room space and stu­dio was divided by a white opaque fold­ing screen, and within her stu­dio, pho­tographs could be found everywhere—leaning against walls, sit­ting on a large table and mounted on the wall. Del­i­cately crafted books of her photo project, 1–38, sat on a draft­ing table. Off to the side was a room for com­puter pro­duc­tion and var­i­ous reminders of upcom­ing dead­lines attached to a slop­ing clothes­line, mir­ror­ing the power lines in the dis­tance. In a nearby cor­ner, there was a pile of felt mate­r­ial, in vary­ing shades of blue. Seen from their edges, they looked like blan­kets, but from afar, they eas­ily could have been lay­ers of paint. Through­out the space, there were books, paint­ings, ceramic works and what looked like net­ting mate­r­ial, hang­ing on the wall like sculp­tures. One piece of net­ting appeared to be a small hand-​​made bag, almost invis­i­ble or weight­less. It pos­sessed an ephemeral, cel­e­bra­tory qual­ity with long threads hang­ing on either side, its fragility enhanced by its instal­la­tion on a south-​​facing wall adja­cent to a win­dow. In ret­ro­spect, this ephemer­al­ity, or, the sug­ges­tion of past/​present, can be found in all of Anne’s work, wait­ing for the viewer to dis­cover it.


Metonymy and mem­ory in the work of Aus­tralian pho­tog­ra­pher, Anne Ferran

“.…Need­less to say, we are not in search of sources or ori­gins, but of struc­tures of signification:underneath each pic­ture there is always another picture.”

Dou­glas Crimp, Pic­tures, 1979

This past July, I was intro­duced to Anne Fer­ran through Mary Roberts, an art his­to­rian from the Depart­ment of Art His­tory and Film Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney. A pro­lific writer and pro­fes­sor of British Art whose research focuses on gen­der, Ori­en­tal­ism and the his­tory and cul­ture of travel, Mary is cur­rently writ­ing a book on the artis­tic exchanges between Ottoman and Ori­en­tal­ist artists in nineteenth-​​century Istan­bul. Mary Roberts had described Anne’s work to me in late 2009, after I gave an infor­mal artist talk at the Clark Art Insti­tute in Williamstown, Mass­a­chu­setts, where Mary was a scholar-​​in-​​residence. Mary thought our work had an affin­ity, and she hoped we would some­day meet. Three years later, I indeed met Anne and par­tic­i­pated with her in an artist panel, “Toxic Blooms”, at the Art Asso­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia and New Zealand’s annual con­fer­ence, Together < > Apart, orga­nized in con­junc­tion with the 2012 Bien­nale of Sydney.

Upon arriv­ing at Mary’s apart­ment in Syd­ney after a seventeen-​​hour flight, she imme­di­ately gave me a cat­a­log of Anne’s work to peruse. The first series I encoun­tered was ‘Lost to Worlds’, pho­tographs taken over a ten year period in Tas­ma­nia, of which a gelatin sil­ver print is in the col­lec­tion of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. These land­scapes reveal the sites of penal colonies for women in Hobart and Ross, built in the late nine­teenth cen­tury, and sub­se­quently torn down in the late twen­ti­eth cen­tury. Silent, pris­tine and embody­ing human pres­ence, now erased, these images con­jure up other images from the his­tory of pho­tog­ra­phy: frag­ments of Roger Fen­ton, Tim­o­thy O’Sullivan and Felice Beato come to mind. Instead of a panorama or full view of the site, Anne places her focus on the ground, immers­ing the viewer in a space both alien and futur­is­tic, yet haunt­ingly famil­iar. As the famil­ial legacy of this region descends from many penal colonies con­structed by Eng­land in the late 1700s, one could lit­er­ally step into her pho­to­graph and won­der, was my fam­ily ever here? There is a hov­er­ing mist in the upper left hand area of these pho­tographs that appear as light illu­mi­nat­ing the ground. In Anne’s words, these “blooms of light” on the sur­face were the result of a light leak while shoot­ing medium for­mat film, and as many artists are aware, those small glitches can yield unex­pected and wel­come results to a work of art. The print­ing of the pho­tographs on alu­minum high­lights the flecks of light through these fields, sub­tly chang­ing from one side of the image to the other. Her process is one of care­ful study, whether work­ing on loca­tion, in col­lec­tions of Aus­tralian antiq­uity or with gov­ern­ment records. Her approach exerts con­cep­tual and aes­thetic restraint, har­mo­niously align­ing the final pho­to­graph and its inten­tion via the process of its mak­ing. Another series, enti­tled “1–38”, begins with a study of depart­men­tal health records and pho­tographs from a women’s men­tal asy­lum in mid-​​twentieth cen­tury Syd­ney. Rather than re-​​photographing the images in their entirety, Anne decided to crop in, focus­ing on the ges­ture of the hands, the area of the torso, and most impor­tantly, keep­ing the iden­tity of each woman con­cealed. What results is a sequence of body move­ments, where each hand emotes anx­i­ety, anger and still­ness, some­times clutch­ing at one’s clothes, or mak­ing ges­tures of self-​​protection.

Adding a small amount of color to each image, the works echo the human­ity of those hid­den away from soci­ety across time, whether in cap­tiv­ity, con­tain­ment or impris­on­ment. The artist book she pro­duced for I-​​38 is cov­ered in 1/​4 inch thick felt, light grey in color, its for­mat a long rec­tan­gle, each pho­to­graph printed on the right side of the page with a band of blank space on its left. Upon turn­ing the pages of this book I imag­ined the closed space that these women inhab­ited, fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally, and pon­dered if their forced col­lec­tiv­ity brought even the small­est amount of solace or was in any way com­mu­nal. Anne Fer­ran brings forth these dif­fi­cult ques­tions, the invis­i­ble his­to­ries of the Other, and re-​​inscribes them for our con­tem­po­rary and social reflec­tion. Although spe­cific to the regions of Aus­tralia and Tas­ma­nia, these two series com­mu­ni­cate across bor­ders, stand­ing in for other sites, peo­ple and cur­rent events. As Wal­ter Ben­jamin wrote in his The­ses on the Phi­los­o­phy of His­tory, “For every image of the past that is not rec­og­nized by the present as one of its own con­cerns threat­ens to dis­ap­pear irre­triev­ably.” In Anne Ferran’s work, the mak­ing and the view­ing engen­der a del­i­cate act of dis­ap­pear­ance and reappearance.


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  • Judith Pratt says:

    Lisa Blas’s care­fully writ­ten, thought­fully con­sid­ered assess­ment of Anne Ferran’s pho­tog­ra­phy and her search for “struc­tures of sig­ni­fi­ca­tion” point the reader toward rare sources for con­sid­er­ing issues of gen­der, place, and iden­tity. As a pho­tog­ra­pher, Fer­ran offers tan­gi­ble, his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion about incar­cer­ated women dur­ing the nine­teenth cen­tury in Tas­ma­nia while simul­ta­ne­ously open­ing up mul­ti­ple ques­tions regard­ing con­fine­ment of women in the twenty-​​first cen­tury. Nicely done.

  • Lisa Lipinski says:

    I enjoyed Lisa Blas’s vir­tual tour of Anne Ferran’s stu­dio. Lovely descrip­tions of the tex­tures, col­ors, and ideas involved in this artist’s work and process. The fur­ther we get into the 21st cen­tury, the greater the imper­a­tive to remem­ber the past and recover sto­ries before they are irre­triev­ably lost.

  • enid says:

    What an enjoy­able read. Well done, sis!!! It sounds like the two of you have a lot in com­mon as artists in terms of how you approach your sub­ject. Can’t wait to read the next one. xoxo

  • Shella says:

    Hur­rah, that’s what I was look­ing for, what a data!

    present here at this web site, thanks admin of this site.

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