The Australian Home of Photography, Monash Gallery of Art, is currently hosting a brilliant exhibition by one revered lensman: John Gollings.
This acclaimed photographer’s path intertwines two life-long passions, and his amateur beginning will likely have you visualising industrious, sepia-tinged eras.
An enthusiastic self-taught photographer at school, John was sought out to capture various events, but went on to study architecture at Melbourne University in the 1960’s instead. After university, the young graduate met various professionals while showing a folio of his amateur photography. He was offered a job in an advertising studio, shooting for the likes of Sportsgirl, Australia Post, Merchant Builders and Marlboro cigarettes – picturing it?
By the late 1970’s, John’s contemporaries from architecture school were beginning to see some of their major projects constructed, and he was asked to shoot these. ‘Increasingly I found that I was preferring architecture to fashion, and decided to specialise in buildings,’ he recalls. In the years since, he certainly has, transporting countless page-turners (and web-scrollers!) inside some of the world’s most striking locations and edifices.
Today, the prolific photographer talks to us about his expansive retrospective, ‘The History of The Built World’, which is now showing at Monash Gallery of Art (MGA).
Can you tell us a little about your latest exhibition?
This exhibition at MGA covers images of the built environment, both commercial and my cultural projects on lost civilisations from 1964 to the present day. From hundreds of thousands of possibilities the curator, Stephen Zagala, chose 120.
There is a specific message in this selection that I want the viewer to ponder. Each image is of an amazing structure and could be regarded as the iconic definition of the building. In every case, except the present day buildings, these structures have been abandoned for various reasons: social, political, environmental or military…
The lesson is to know that every civilisation has collapsed despite a built infrastructure more impressive than our current Western democracies and we should not be so smug as to think we are inviolable.
Was there a particular moment or story that inspired exhibition, and lead you to group these specific images together?
My life has been serendipitous and schizophrenic with commercial work paralleling my personal projects. It was the curator, Stephen Zagala, who saw the connection and told me what my life was all about.
Previous shows have been with specific themes such as re-photography, portraiture, or advertising work, which has become historically interesting.
However, my architectural work is evolving rapidly with the advent of digital imaging. I can now pre-visualise a much more complex image of multiple exposures and occupants that can be assembled into a rich moody narrative. There are some early versions of this new approach in the exhibition but more will be available for the next iteration.
How have you captured and processed these incredible photographs?
Images were made on film with 35-millimetre and 4×5-inch plate cameras and then scanned in high-res on an Imacon scanner. The digital work is mostly Canon EOS bodies. The master files are processed in Photoshop and stored live on a 120 Terabyte NAS box with a parallel backup and fibre optic networking to the workstations.
All the prints are made on our 64-inch Epson inkjet on archival Baryta paper.
The only challenge was to solve the logistics of selection and printing such a large show, and my daughter Kirstin, who controls post-production, and my assistant Jeremy did all of this while I was overseas on another job!
What’s next for John Gollings?
Just more of the same, I love my work and the studio is my playground. Just this year is almost booked out with work and more projects in the Kimberley and Asia.
I’m hoping this exhibition will travel all over Australia, it seems to have struck a cord with the viewer that make them happy, and I’d like to share this enthusiasm a bit more.
See more of John Gollings’ work at Gollings.com.au.