Women behind the lens at RMIT – celebrating International Women’s Day

Photography was one of the foundation disciplines of the Working Men’s College back in 1887, and women were welcome to enrol in those classes – and not just photography classes but any of the classes that were offered.

On International Women’s Day, Dr Shane Hulbert, curator of Photography 130: Behind the Lens – 130 years of RMIT photography which opens at RMIT Gallery tomorrow night at 6 pm,  looks back at women’s involvement in the RMIT University photographic course over 130 years.

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Photography class, outdoor work 1904. RMIT University Archives Collection Working Men’s College Prospectus 1904, page 87 S0628

Visible presence – Women in photography class, 1904

This is an interesting historical document that reveals women were also photographers and were being trained in all aspects of photography in exactly the same way as men. Here we see multiple women, probably almost a third of the class, involved in outside work using large-format cameras which were very heavy and very technical to operate.

This image was taken in the 19th century, probably in the first decade that RMIT started teaching photography. At the time, you weren’t able to go down the street and buy film, or a camera, these things had to be constructed.

People had to purchase lenses and tripods (these are surveyor tripods) and then organise the glass plates and coat them with chemicals, make the exposure, and then process those plates and then make those prints. It’s laborious and very skilful and relies on knowledge of optics, mechanics and chemistry.

So it’s a really interesting photograph and historical document of the way that photography started at the University and its democratic process, through which people were able to learn photography.

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RMIT University Archives Collection Photography Class in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Technical College 1947 PH3.5.034:01

Taking control – women commanding the cameras

In this photograph, female students out number the men. That ratio still plays out today in the photographic course. We still have very much an even mix if not probably more than – depending on the year, of course, sometimes it swings a bit but I think right from the beginning it seems to be quite an even balance.

One of the wonderful things about photography, is that because it’s such a new art form it doesn’t have that legacy of the ‘hero artist’, the male, the sculptor, using their strength and dexterity to create art. It’s part of photography’s legacy that right from the start, women could control the cameras themselves, strength wasn’t required, and they could seize control. It’s part of photography’s history, and part of the teaching of photography at RMIT right from the start, 130 years ago. It was very democratic right from the start.

You can see how the progression of photographic equipment helped open the medium up to even more women. We’ve gone from the very cumbersome equipment in the previous outdoor image to being outdoors with cameras you can hold by hand. No strength required.

A couple of fairly significant technological advances allow that to happen, including the miniaturisation of devices that started in the 1940s, and that eventually led to computers and microchips.

The speed of the film meant that you were able to hold a camera by hand and photograph something with the duration of a fraction of a second, rather than multiple seconds. It meant that if you could hold your hand steady enough, which is not difficult, you were able to capture a still image without the use of a support.

In this image, we can see one tripod and an instructor pointing at something, and the class all holding onto their own cameras and photographing it in different ways. It’s interesting because you can see two or three different ways of composing and viewing an image.

The man on the far right is using what looks like a twin lens camera, looking down onto the viewfinder, so his experience of framing is very much about looking into the device rather than through the device, which is what the woman kneeling down next to him is doing.

Then the third woman along is looking through the tripod – that’s another way of composing, and she no longer has that freedom of movement to be able to very quickly change her direction or change her relationship to the subject.

It’s quite a compelling image as it demonstrates the both the progression of photography and the way RMIT was teaching photography at the time.

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Clare Rae, Untitled No 1 from the series Climbing the Stairs and Other Actions, 2009.

Self portrait – exploring feminist theories

This is a very interesting image by Clare Rae. Here we see the photographer inserting herself into the photo as a way of exploring themes and concepts, and it’s obviously a work by someone who has been trained in fine art photography.

Clare is not necessarily showing us how we see something, or telling a story. What’s she’s concerned about is an idea. As an artist, she’s been exploring ideas about femininity, feminist theories, gaze and balance for some time.

In this photograph, Clare herself is climbing the walls out of frustration. It’s an emotional response to things that she’s been reading about.

Clare has solved some of those inquisitive questions by experimenting with different framing devices, motion, and ways of inserting herself into the frame. This image is one of a series, several of which are the Photography 130 exhibition, in which she experiments with different poses and other people in the photographs.

The resulting works emphasise the way that she’s come to a discovery and realisation about what she wants to convey.

Read more about Photography 130 in this interview with Shane Hulbert.

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Photography 130: behind the scenes – one week to opening night

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Photography 130 installation: Curator Dr Shane Hulbert with Matthew Sleeth’s 3D photographic printing work ‘Scale Model For Still Life, 2009’.

The RMIT Gallery walls have been carefully repainted pristine white or the deepest black. Photographic works are tightly sealed in bubble wrap ready to be manoeuvred into position. The intense buzz of activity sweeps through the space. It is one week to the exhibition opening and anticipation is high.

RMIT Gallery’s exhibition Photography 130: Behind the Lens – 130 years of photography at RMIT (10 March – 13 April) opens on Thursday 9 March 6-8 pm, with a very appropriate speaker – Dr Ziggy Switkowski AO RMIT Chancellor – who was CEO of  Kodak Australasia during the 1990s. In fact, at the same time the exhibition curator Dr Shane Hulbert was also working at Kodak.

“Our paths never crossed,” muses Dr Hulbert. “But it would have been a nice connection!”

Indeed.  Photography 130 features more than one hundred photographic works by 70 artists and photographers who have trained at RMIT, charting works that reflect the development of photography and its teaching at the University over the past 130 years, in what remains one of the longest running photographic programs in the world.

Dr Hulbert says during that time RMIT’s photographic training has made a significant impact on the way that people have viewed and photographed Melbourne and Australia, and the way that they have worked with photography around the world.

“Photography was one of the foundation disciplines of the Working Men’s College back in 1887, and women were welcome to enrol in those classes and not just photography classes but any of the classes that were offered,” Dr Hulbert said.

“In the 19th century the entire process of photography was laborious and skillful, and relied on knowledge of optics, mechanics and chemistry. People weren’t able to go down the street and buy film, or buy a camera, those things had to be constructed.

“People had to purchase lenses and tripods (often using surveyor tripods) and then organise the glass plates and coat them with chemicals, make the exposure, and then process those plates and then make those prints.”

According to Dr Hulbert, the exhibition is not prescriptive in capturing every staff member or every student who did photography at RMIT. It doesn’t even attempt to capture every decade, rather it reflects on certain key moments, certain clusters and periods that have shaped the future of photography at the University.

“One of the things that we talk about in photography is the way that we see and frame the world. What’s also sitting behind the lens is the person who takes the photograph, and how they compose and frame the world that they see.

“The idea behind someone who’s trained in photography is that they have a sense of the language and the understanding of the way that the photographic medium is capable of telling these stories, and are capable of highlighting particular elements of a frame or composing a particular narrative through that single frame.

“The skilled training RMIT is known for is about taking photography to a level that engages with the language and understanding of the medium, in order to create compelling and interesting photographs of not just what’s in front of the frame, but of the way the photographer sees the world.”

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Research Assistant Dr Sarah Edwards with Dr Shane Hulbert, positioning one of the large photographs into place.

Opening night – Photography 130: Behind the Lens / 130 years of photography at RMIT

Thursday 8 March 6-8 pm

Join the exhibiting artists and photographers at the opening night of RMIT Gallery’s ‘Photography 130: Behind the Lens – 130 years of photography at RMIT’.

Opening speaker: Dr Ziggy Switkowski AO, RMIT Chancellor.

Photography 130 public programs

Photography 130 – Behind the Lens: curator’s talk

Friday 10 March 1:00-2:00 pm
Photography 130 curator Shane Hulbert, Associate Professor and Deputy Head of School, Higher Education, School of Art, RMIT University, offers an expanded view of the role and contribution of RMIT University to the photographic imaging of Melbourne and Australia.

130 years of Photography at RMIT

Thursday 16 March 5:30 – 6.30 pm
Panel with Shane Hulbert (chair), and photographers Pauline Anastasiou, John Billan Gale Spring, and Alex Syndikas.

Photography Predictions & Premonitions

Thursday 23 March 1:00 – 2:00 pm
Panel with Shane Hulbert (chair), and photographers Bronek Kozka, Kate Robertson, and Murray McKeich.

Guided tours of Photography 130 exhibition

Suitable for school and university groups, VCE Studio Arts, and special interest groups.

Photography 130: Behind the Lens – 130 years of photography at RMIT

photography130_evite_final22feb_800px

Join us at RMIT Gallery on Thursday 9 March, 6-8 pm to celebrate the opening of  Photography 130: Behind the Lens – 130 years of photography at RMIT. 

The exhibition celebrates RMIT’s long and rich history of providing photography education, which is as old as the institution itself.

Photography 130 – Behind the lens: 130 years of RMIT photography (10 March – 13 April) brings together a collection of over 100 images from 59 photographers, revealing the significant contribution made by RMIT University’s (RMIT) photography programs to the culture and society of Melbourne.

When RMIT first began operations as the Working Men’s College in 1887, photography was one of the foundation disciplines, making it the oldest existing photography course in the world.

Sourced from RMIT archives, The National Gallery of Victoria, Monash Gallery of Art, the State Library of Victoria, private collections, photographers and artists, the exhibition features work created by RMIT staff and alumni between 1887 and 2017, in the service of art, politics, news, entertainment, commerce, science and discovery.

Much has changed in photography over the past 130 years, not least the technology. But the skills involved in composition, in challenging the limits of the camera or in capturing that special moment are as valuable today as they were 130 years ago.

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Harry Nankin, The Burning Bush, 1991, Dye transfer fibre paper print. 470 x 560 mm. Image courtesy of the artist.

Join us for the free public programs which offer a ‘behind the lens’ view of the exhibition. Bookings required.

Photography 130 public programs

Photography 130 – Behind the Lens: curator’s talk

Friday 10 March 1:00-2:00 pm
Photography 130 curator Shane Hulbert, Associate Professor and Deputy Head of School, Higher Education, School of Art, RMIT University, offers an expanded view of the role and contribution of RMIT University to the photographic imaging of Melbourne and Australia.

130 years of Photography at RMIT

Thursday 16 March 5:30 – 6.30 pm
Panel with Shane Hulbert (chair), and photographers Pauline Anastasiou, John Billan Gale Spring, and Alex Syndikas.

Photography Predictions & Premonitions

Thursday 23 March 1:00 – 2:00 pm
Panel with Shane Hulbert (chair), and photographers Bronek Kozka, Kate Robertson, and Murray McKeich.

Guided tours of Photography 130 exhibition

Suitable for school and university groups, VCE Studio Arts, and special interest groups.

RMIT Gallery’s White Night – the artists’ perspective

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Did you love White Night? The Age’s Deputy Arts editor Hannah Francis selected RMIT Gallery as one of her top Northside tips: “Morbis Artis – diseases of the arts. RMIT Gallery. This was a cracking group exhibition where art met science and wonderful things happened. The oozy projections out front made your hair curl. The lines were long and when I finally got in, there was another 40-minute wait for one of the exhibits.”

But what went on behind the scenes? Did the artists love the result as much? What about the process?

RMIT lecturer Dr Joshua Batty (of MindBuffer) was part of the team (along with digital artist Andy Thomas) who put on Ectoplasm, the audio reactive light display that enthralled the long – long long – queues outside RMIT Gallery on White Night.

“We had a great time putting together and delivering the show for this years white night,” said Josh. “It was the culmination of a four month collaboration with Andy Thomas and us (MindBufer) to really exploit the architectural features of the facade.

“We felt the piece was amplified this year with the inclusion of the sonic element (by RMIT Alumnus Mitchell Nordine) which really created a nice space for people to experience the projections.img_5402

“Overall we learned a lot, received great feedback from the public and the organisers of white night, and definitely see more projects in the future collaborating with Andy.

“We are looking forward to cutting the footage we got of the night so we can share the experience with those that couldn’t make it both locally and overseas. Thanks RMIT Gallery for the amazing opportunity!”img_5329

Next door to RMIT Gallery, the RMIT Storey Hall annex lit up with a compelling animation of Jazmina Cininas’ Girlie Werewolf Project. While MindBuffer were perched on the roof opposite Storey hall to project their light show, Dr Cininas, artist and RMIT printmaking lecturer, had the warmth and comfort of the table of the fast food outlet opposite, where the projector was set up.

Jazmina continues the story.

“My involvement in White Night took me into all sorts of unexpected and previously unexplored territories, not least of which was the first floor of Hungry Jacks, where the projector for What Big Teeth You Have was located.

The floor was closed to the public for the night making it a surreal, solitary oasis of calm (notwithstanding the ubiquitous MTV soundtrack from the mounted televisions) from which to witness the immediate projections and the heaving crowds below.

“The first (and only) projection test for my work had taken place a mere two weeks earlier, before the final form of the work could be determined, so I only had a rough idea of what to expect.control-booth2

“I can’t deny the thrill of witnessing my girlie werewolves emerging larger-than-life from the Storey Hall annex façade as the sun went down, and the enormous sense of relief in seeing that it was, indeed, working.

“There was also a delight in the annex’s unexpectedly ‘collaborative’ role in the work. Neither the projections nor the façade dominated the other, the two instead working together to create something entirely new.img_5325“The real magic for me began, however, when I saw a young girl standing on the wooden bench in front of the façade, posing for a photograph. She was the first of a number of members of the public – predominantly women – who made use of this photo opportunity.

“For me, it was touching to witness women (and occasional male) of all ages and all creeds physically embedding themselves within these images of female empowerment.

“The atmosphere — and lasting impression — was one of celebration, heightened by the carnivalesque hues of the annex façade.”

RMIT Gallery’s White Night Story – come on in!

The White Night is still young – it might be midnight, but RMIT Gallery is open for another 7 hours of White Night light projection and interactive bioart. Come on in!

From Girlie Werewolves to dazzling audio reactive light displays – from the time the doors opened at 7 pm, RMIT Gallery attracted a crowd to the far end of the Swanston Street White Night precinct – and made an bold impact.

Crowds were gathered before the doors opened and filled the last night of the Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts exhibition – queuing for up to 45 minutes to get into ((20hz))’s red/blue ‘nauseating’ sound-light artwork.

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Outside, the Storey Hall annex dazzled with printmaker Jazmina Cininas’ towering Girlie Werewolves offering a perfect photo opportunity as audiences jumped up on a bench and posed in the red-yellow-orange glow of the light projection.

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Crowds also patiently waited their turn to get inside RMIT Gallery, listening to Mitchell Nordine’s SciFi-organic sounds which ignited Andy Thomas’ digital forms that exploded over the austere Storey Hall facade.

Around the corner, Viral Screens, by Morbis Artis curators Sean Redmond and Darrin Verhagen, intrigued. There is plenty of time to enjoy the artworks – come and see us!

RMIT Gallery facade transforms on White Night

ectoplasm

If you’re heading to White Night Melbourne on Saturday make sure you pay RMIT Gallery a visit.

From dusk till dawn, the RMIT Gallery facade will be transformed into organic digital audio reactive light display called Ectoplasm by MindBuffer & digital artist Andy Thomas.

Thomas is a digital artist who creates intricate artwork and specialises in particle simulation based motion graphics, inspired by nature and technology.

MindBuffer is the combined music programming and synaesthesia exploration of RMIT lecturer Dr Joshua Batty and Mitchell Nordine. They met studying at RMIT University early 2010 and clicked instantly. Last year at White Night, they transformed RMIT’s iconic Storey Hall (home of RMIT Gallery) into a dazzling abstract light projection. Watch the video below:

“Last year was the first time we had the opportunity to projection map the entire facade of a building, which was an amazing opportunity offered by RMIT Gallery,” Batty said.

“This year, we have taken a more organic approach with the visuals, and moved beyond the geometrical tricks. What we plan is to work with the features of the facade and bring it into the three dimensional plane.

“We will also be adding an important audio component.”

Thomas is excited about using Storey Hall as ‘an enormous canvas’ for his work.

“I am so used to doing work on the small screen and this is very different. I can have organic elements growing up the building, and it’s going to very luminous as well.”

Nordine, who is handling the audio component, promises a cross between “Sci-Fi and organic”  and says people will be surprised by how the addition of sound will change their experience of the light display.

“Sound brings you a lot more into the space. Humans evolved to perceive space through sound, so it this additional element will be transformative,” Nordine said.

Anyone who has worked White Night knows the endurance required. MindBuffer and Thomas are no strangers to working festivals, having recently performed at country Victoria’s Rainbow Serpent Festival of electronic music and art.

Batty has a few tricks up his sleeve after being bed ridden for a week after last year’s White Night, which saw him working on top of the building opposite Storey Hall for the duration. It took its toll.

“This year, we have added a generative story engine, which will reveal different aspects throughout the night, without needing us to input new work the whole event,” Batty said.

“At White Night, people tend to come and go and experience lots of different things. We realised that no one sits in front of one work for a long period, so this year, we have taken that in account, along with a watchful eye on our own health.”

While you are at RMIT Gallery, step inside our Hybrid Worlds events and visit the final night of the interactive bio-art exhibition Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts, and watch ‘What big teeth you have’ an iteration of Jazmina Cininas’ Girlie Werewolf Project which will morph the face of the Storey Hall annex (next door to the Gallery) into a shape-shifting roll call of lupine ladies.

Listen to MindBuffer & Andy Thomas talk about Ectoplasm and the challenges of transforming the Storey Hall facade for White Night Melbourne.

When: 7pm Saturday 18 February to 7am Sunday 19 February
What: Ectoplasm, by MindBuffer & Andy Thomas
Where: RMIT Gallery facade (Storey Hall ) 344 Swanston Street Melbourne.

Behind the scenes – RMIT Gallery plans its Werewolf White Night event

Jazmina Cininas, What big teeth you have, projection mock-up, 2016.

Jazmina Cininas, What big teeth you have, projection mock-up, 2016.

RMIT alumnus and printmaking lecturer Dr Jazmina Cininas will present a bold new incarnation of her ongoing Girlie Werewolf Project on the Storey Hall annex next to RMIT Gallery during White Night Melbourne (18 February) from 7 pm to 7 am.

White Night is when the heart of the city comes alive, pulsating with people of all ages who surge through the streets, laneways and gardens over 12 hours to watch illuminations, installations and interactive events.

RMIT’s iconic building – stunningly renovated 21 years ago – will morph into an enormous canvas as Cininas’ light projection with bite transforms the surfaces. In a way, it is a homecoming of sorts for Cininas.

“When I commenced my Fine Art degree in 1992, the annex served as the printmaking studio and it was here that I first fell in love with the medium,” Cininas said.

RMIT Storey Hall annex, photo by Helen Rayment, RMIT Gallery

RMIT Storey Hall annex, photo by Helen Rayment, RMIT Gallery

“In the early nineteenth century, Hibernian Hall (now Storey Hall) was leased to the Women’s Political Association, whose purple, green and white flag flew from the rooftop, inspiring the colour scheme for the Ashton Raggatt McDougall renovation in 1995.”

Cininas said that cultural constructions of women as intrinsically lupine have existed throughout the centuries, whether as nurturing mothers (think Romulus and Remus), as ravening man-eaters, or as inherently demonic. Research into such representations inspired Cininas’ doctoral research and Girlie Werewolf  Project. Four her her prints are held in the RMIT University Art Collection.

Jazmina Cininas Maddalena was a True Marvel in her Day, 2011 Linocut on arches aquarelle hot press 300 gsm paper 39.8 x 40.4 cm (image), 51.5 x 49 cm (sheet) Purchased through the RMIT Art Fund, 2013 RMIT University Art Collection Accession no: RMIT.2013.47

Jazmina Cininas
Maddalena was a True Marvel in her Day, 2011
Linocut on arches aquarelle hot press 300 gsm paper
39.8 x 40.4 cm (image), 51.5 x 49 cm (sheet)
Purchased through the RMIT Art Fund, 2013
RMIT University Art Collection
Accession no: RMIT.2013.47

Cininas’ light projection What big teeth you have is very timely in the current political climate and has global as well as local resonance.

“Where you’ve seen the most female werewolves occur in popular culture have been at times when women-kind itself had been under attack,” Cininas explains.

“The female werewolf has been far more prevalent than her relatively modest profile suggests. We see this not just in the suffragette era but also—with rather more dire consequences—during the Early Modern witch-hunts.

“The nebulous figure of the female werewolf has encompassed different, often contradictory, identities over time, absorbing changing perceptions of women, wolves, morality and the monstrous throughout the centuries.

“The advent of menstrual lycanthropes and Red Riding Wolves is part of an ongoing evolution and revolution that borrows from the past in order to create new possibilities for imagining the female werewolf.”

Jazmina Cininas Christina sleeps on both sides of Grandma's bed, 2010 Linocut on paper 52.8 x 71.8 cm (image), 76.5 x 91.5 cm (sheet) Purchased through the RMIT Art Fund, 2013 RMIT University Art Collection Accession no: RMIT.2013.45

Jazmina Cininas
Christina sleeps on both sides of Grandma’s bed, 2010
Linocut on paper
52.8 x 71.8 cm (image), 76.5 x 91.5 cm (sheet)
Purchased through the RMIT Art Fund, 2013
RMIT University Art Collection
Accession no: RMIT.2013.45

The RMIT Gallery light projection for White Night Melbourne 2017 is part of this ongoing ‘evolution and revolution’. Cininas said her images of female werewolves would provide a strong feminist statement in the light of women’s Take Back the Night initiatives as they glare down larger-than-life onto the audience, like sentinels.

“These Girlie Werewolves are going to be three stories high, and say, don’t you dare mess with me!”

This is Cininas’ first foray into light projection, and she has been working closely with an animator and technical team to translate her striking artwork of female werewolves, some of which are represented in the RMIT University Art Collection.

“Generally digital artists start with the building first and then decide what can they can do to animate the building,” Cininas said.

“Whereas with my project, the challenge is how to make these images that originated as prints work with the building, particularly with the distinctive façade of the Storey Hall annex which in turn distorts the faces of the werewolves. I want to really engage with the building and animate it in some way that makes sense with the images as well.”

Jazmina Cininas, light projection test on RMIT Storey Hall, photo by Helen Rayment, RMIT Gallery

Jazmina Cininas light projection test for ‘What big teeth you have’, RMIT Storey Hall annex. Photo by Helen Rayment, RMIT Gallery

One of the challenges Cininas faces is recreating her lupine ladies will loom billboard size over Swanston Street.

“Size is one of the technical challenges that I’m presented with. As a printmaker, I know if I’ve got to print something of that size, the DPI has got to be enormous. But is it the same for projection and what happens when you project film? Can you project normal film onto that? Can you use normal film software? So these are all of the grey areas that are outside my area of expertise, and that’s where, you know, I have other people to help me out.”

It’s going to be fabulous! Come and check it out on White Night. Oh – and for the record, Jazmina Cininas is not a werewolf.
What Big Teeth You Have

When: 7pm Saturday 18 February to 7am Sunday 19 February
What: Girlie Werewolf Project by Jazmina Cininas
Where: Storey Hall annex, 342 Swanston Street Melbourne.

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