In 2003 Tate Modern mounted its first exhibition dedicated solely to photography; Cruel and Tender. The exhibition’s title evoked the unnerving sensitivity and brutal honesty seen in the photographs of American realist photographer Walker Evans and referred to a critic’s 1933 description of his work as being “tender cruelty”. Cruel & Tender at Tim Melville Gallery brings together a group of photographers whose work also resonates with a sense of unease.
NARELLE AUTIO was born in Adelaide in 1969 and her career was initially as a documentary photographer. Her 2004 series Watercolours explored the ocean’s beauty as well as its danger, with “an almost painterly feel of place on the one hand and a suggestion of unconscious drama on the other”. (Virginia Baxter, Watercolours: the sea is in them, 2004). Her vivid images “give back to the coastline the complexity, drama and beauty that are eroded by postcards and cliché”.
ROGER BALLEN has lived and worked in Johannesburg for over 30 years. Born in New York in 1950 Ballen is recognised for his disquieting and sometimes controversial depictions of the human condition in poor areas of rural South Africa. Blurring the boundary between fiction and documentary he asks his subjects to ‘perform’ their lives – often in disturbingly run-down interiors – and reveal themselves as “potentially cruel and violent, as well as fragile and vulnerable, tender and caring”. Ballen’s work is held in collections including MoMA (New York), Louisiana (Copenhagen), the Victoria & Albert Museum (London), the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam) and the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney).
BEN CAUCHI was born in Auckland in 1974. His interest in history led to a fascination with the 19th-century wet-plate photographic processes of ambrotype and tintype; techniques which produce single positive photographic images through the binding of light-sensitive salts on glass or metal plates. Cauchi’s work often deals with “the psychological dimensions of memory, identity and the land, as well as commenting on the very process of photography”. (NZ Journal of Photography, Issue 46). In 2011 Ben was the recipient of an Arts Foundation New Generation Award and in 2012 he was awarded the Creative New Zealand Berlin Visual Arts Residency.
MICHAEL RILEY was born in 1960 in his father’s Wiradjuri country near Dubbo, New South Wales. Moving to Sydney in the late 1970’s Riley became part of the urban Aboriginal avant-garde, co-founding Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative in 1987 and Blackfella Films in 1993. Although Riley worked first within the tradition of documentary portraiture he later found that symbols such as crosses, water, bibles and sky could represent for him the ongoing conflict between Aboriginality and colonisation. As Jonathan Jones writes, “While Riley’s images document environmental degradation they also reveal a constant inner beauty and strength. The power of country is present – the rivers will flood and the drought will come. These landscapes sit between life and death, exposing the harsh beauty of country; a metaphor for the resilience of Aboriginal culture”. Riley’s work is held in all the major public collections in Australia. His photographic series Cloud was selected for permanent installation at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris.
ROBERTA THORNLEY was born in Auckland in 1985. Since graduating from Auckland University’s Elam School of Fine Arts in 2007 her work has quickly gained recognition both for its cinematic quality and its underlying elements of mystery and unease. Her Untitled photograph in this exhibition was created during her final semester at University and was the ‘breakthrough’ work that made her realise photography would be her career. Thornley was awarded the Auckland Festival of Photography Commission in 2011.
WAYNE YOULE was born in 1974 in Wellington. His artwork addresses issues of race, identity, and the commodification of cultural symbols with an iconoclastic sense of humour that has become his trademark. As well as photography Youle’s practice includes painting, sculpture and video. The two photographs included in Cruel & Tender – including one taken from a hot air balloon – were made near his studio in Amberley, North Canterbury. In 2010 Youle was the recipient of the Rita Angus Residency and in 2012 he was awarded the SCAPE Christchurch Artspace Sydney Residency.
Tim Melville Gallery is proud to present Cruel & Tender, in association with Stills Gallery Sydney during the 2012 Auckland Festival of Photography