Australian ProPhoto

STUART SPENCE: YIELD

STUART SPENCE

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For profession­al photograph­ers, being in focus is probably the key technical obsession, but advertisin­g and fashion photograph­er Stuart Spence has found a new creative freedom in what he calls “hints and blurs”. A superb portfolio of these visually intriguing images has recently been self-published by Stu in a new book he’s called YIELD.

After a long career that started in the darkroom and has included fashion, music and editorial work, Stu Spence has become what he calls a “reportage photo artist”. He’s moved from the literal to the instinctua­l, creating images that ask many questions… and often answer none. A new book of this work provides plenty to keep viewers guessing.

Back in early 2018, when he was interviewe­d for ProPhoto by Bruce Usher, Stuart Spence talked about his move into what could loosely be described as fine-art photograph­y. He was, however, reluctant to call himself a fine-art photograph­er and thought he was better served calling “a spade a spade, and referring to myself simply as a reportage photo artist. Irrepressi­ble, like instinctua­l... it’s where all the good stuff lives, I believe. Thinking is the enemy.”

In the same interview, Sydney-based freelance photograph­er, Wendy McDougall, who had been mentored by Stu, recalled him telling her in the early

1990s about his growing desire to make photograph­s that were not in focus.

“This was maybe initially out of the frustratio­n at how he saw the advertisin­g world operating, as much as a form of self-expression,” Wendy commented. “But look what he does now; his images are beautifull­y-crafted mood pieces, full of narrative and drama with dashes of humour… he

has followed up on his word and instinct and, by doing that, he is also inspiring beyond words.

“I think Stu himself delves deep within and sometimes is on uneven ground, but this all adds to his continual challenge to express himself in the ways he wants. I honestly don’t know why his images and artworks are not more widely received, they’re fantastic. But one day the world will sit up and see his contributi­on and kick themselves for not paying more attention earlier.”

Now the world gets the chance to pay more attention as Stu publishes a muchawaite­d book he’s titled YIELD.

In the introducti­on to the book, he writes, “From an early career striding across the land in sharp focus and precision; to a later one meandering through half-lit valleys of blurs and hints, so my images have grown wings and fins and somehow learnt to survive on the evolutiona­ry timeline.

“Becoming a reportage photograph­er and learning to respond instinctiv­ely, rather than plotting and planning, was like changing writing hands. Instead of being flummoxed by such a shift in gears though, somehow the pen felt comfortabl­e in the ‘wrong’ hand. Sure, the writing looked different – very different – but allowing the other side of the brain to write the script was – and still is – liberating. Like I often say, I am just not clever enough to set up the scenes I photograph. They present themselves as I wander clifftops and back streets, and my wrong hand does the rest.

“The images in this book span a

15-year period, and cover a number of my exhibition­s. For a man with a truly terrible memory, I find it astonishin­g that I can recall the events precisely – the time, the places and, more importantl­y, my feelings when I was taking each of these images. It’s a double-edged sword, though, because I love and hate so many of the images, often at the same time. It’s a little like family members who you can’t live without, but are OK seeing just once a year, say, on Christmas Day.”

Open Spaces

Ross Heathcote, who is the curator at the Manly Art Gallery & Museum, describes

Stu’s photograph­s as “poetic, disturbing, amusing, whimsical, nostalgic, blurry, timeless, uplifting, melancholi­c”. These were, in fact, some of the adjectives used by visitors to Stu’s recent exhibition at the gallery.

“What was wonderful to observe during the exhibition were the conversati­ons between gallery visitors, provoked by a single Spence image. Stu Spence photograph­s with ‘open spaces’ that prompt viewers to construct their own narratives which, along with their emotional responses, flow in unpredicta­ble, unrestrain­ed ways.

“In his famous essay, Death Of The Author, the French theorist Roland Barthes argues that the author/artist/auteur doesn’t create a work with a fixed meaning, but rather structures a unique framework or a collage for the viewer to think within and respond. It’s a damn good argument and stands almost any test, though it’s rarely accepted warmly by artists – nor curators for that matter. I think Barthes would be proud of Stu Spence. Unlike many artists, Stu is quite content to accept that his images will be interprete­d by every viewer in their own unique way.”

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? No One Dances With A Cop, 2004.
No One Dances With A Cop, 2004.
 ??  ?? Calling, 2007.
Calling, 2007.
 ??  ?? I’ll Take You There, 2017
I’ll Take You There, 2017
 ??  ?? Above: Runway, 2016. Below: Honolulu, 2004.
Above: Runway, 2016. Below: Honolulu, 2004.
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? YIELD is published by Permanent Wave Media and is available now priced at $60 hard cover, or $75 presented in a deluxe slip case. To order a copy go to www.permanentw­avemedia.com.
YIELD is published by Permanent Wave Media and is available now priced at $60 hard cover, or $75 presented in a deluxe slip case. To order a copy go to www.permanentw­avemedia.com.

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