Behind The Photographs


Now in her 80s, Maggie Diaz has lost none of the feistiness that saw her break into the boys-only club that was Melbourne’s commercial photography market in the 1960s. A New Yorker who started her photography career in Chicago in the 1950s before migrating to Australia, Maggie used her experience from the jazz clubs of Chicago to shoot portraits of artists, actors and musicians in Melbourne.

But to pigeonhole Maggie as a photographer of celebrity would be to focus on only a small part of her oeuvre. One Way Ticket gives the viewer a glimpse into the life of two cities – Chicago and Melbourne – that were literally and allegorically, worlds apart.

As well as talking with Maggie and her curator Gwendolen De Lacy, I speak with Japanese/American photographer Osamu James Nagakawa and New Zealander, Tony Whincup. All three are exhibiting for the first time at BIFB.

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Copyright Osamu James Nagakawa

In contrast to the gritty realness of Maggie’s work is the award-winning Banta collection by Osamu James Nagakawa. James’s work depicts the “suicide cliffs of the second World War” in Okinawa – in Japanese known as banta – and the exhibition has toured New York, Japan, New Zealand and now Australia. James started working on the series in 2005 and, after numerous visits to Okinawa, he had enough material to put together the final 21 pieces. Each image is the result of “multiple photographs being stitched together in Photoshop”, explains James. “I wanted to make a hyper-real image. So I took different focal points of each section and put them together so that everything is in focus”. These images are definitely not landscapes states James who has presented his photographs in an elongated format that is reminiscent of the visual language of Japanese scroll art. “I work in different modes of work and am driven by content. With this series I didn’t know I wanted to do these suicide cliffs until I stood in front them. I thought this was the most effective way to convey my message.”

This is the first Australian exhibition by New Zealander Tony Whincup who is a visual arts educator with a history in anthropology. We discuss the difficulty of existing as an artist and he says being part of academia “…encourages me to take photographs and put them out there”. As we walk through his exhibition Playgrounds on show at the Trades Hall, Tony reveals, “Nearly all my work is about self-definition and self-recognition. My photography explores how we find out who we are, and how we say who we are”.  We laugh at his professorial tone. The concept behind Playgrounds, he says, is to convey the idea that “…to be part of any one of these scenes – whether it’s swimming, or wall climbing, or the gymnasium – we have to know the rules and the symbolic system of the game”.