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.”
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.