Posted: 20 Oct 2004

Sandy Edwards is a photographer known for her black and white documentary images. What strikes you on first viewing ten years of photographs in her latest exhibition is the clarity and colour. Many of the compositions have one vital, lively element that stands out - red thongs or a yellow swimsuit.

Among the most striking images in the show are 'Alastair, Blue Boy' (six photographs of a boy with his face painted blue), and 'Alastair and Peter, both blue, backyard' (a photo of presumably father and son, each with blue faces looking at the camera). These faces have been artificially coloured with face paint by Edwards. It's almost as if, after all those years working with black and white photography, she felt she had to make the most of the colour film.

Sandy Edwards, Alastair

The photographs in 'Indelible' are a departure in many other ways. In the past Edward's work was specific to a particular subject or specific theme, like Paradise is a place, a book featuring Edwards' photographs, and Gillian Mears's words, which explored a girl on the cusp of womanhood, her emotions and her interactions with others. The photos from 'Indelible' are not tied together in subject - they range from portraits and landscapes to photos of objects, different settings and sitters. But the photographs are broadly thematic: they present iconic images that signify meaningful moments in time. A child opens a Christmas present, a swimmer dries off by the fire, a young woman is about to leave home for the school formal, drying bathers hang over the bath. There are also humorous moments, like the photo of an artwork with crooked teeth by Edwards' father, called 'An Orthodontist's Dream, my father's artwork', and 'Sandy, brooming Delilah, a daily morning activity', which shows her father on the back porch shooing the cat away with a broom.

These images are all familiar to me as a fellow Sydney-sider whose parents are from Brisbane, and as a fellow Woodford Folk Festival fan - and they will strike a familiar chord with many middle-class, white Australians, especially those interested in art and music.

This very familiarity, compared to a lot of experimental art, seems a bit predictable. But, for an immigrant from overseas with a strong cultural heritage, Edwards' photographs could seem as exotic as daily life in Saudi Arabia, or Greenland or Columbia does to us. Would they be more fascinating to us if they were foreign?

In the Artist's Statement for this exhibition, Sandy Edwards discusses her process. "I have been sifting through the recent history of my personal life. It is an archive, a diary and a trail of memories." But it is not just about her personal experiences. "In the editing process I was seeking a universality," she says. "Such personal material must be made less so to have meaning to others."

Edwards has described a delicate relationship between her intimate relationships, and an anthropological portrait of middle-class, white Australian life.

Image: Alastair, Blue Boy, Clifton Hill, Melbourne, from "Indelible", Sandy Edwards, 1999, type c photograph, edition of 15. Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney.

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Issue 38