Landing, 2006

Landing, 2006




When did I start looking up?

As I sit here scrolling through screens and screens of folders jammed with photographs from ancient and modern historylike a forensic detective, I try and seek outthe protagonist. Who, what, where was the agent provocateur that tilted my gaze? When did 'up' suddenly become important, or at least, of interest?

 It's fleeting, I think I have it, then it disappears down a side alley, its footsteps echoing into nothingness.

There's that swathe of portraits from the 80's and 90's, famous peeps hogging the lens, rock stars milling around petulantly, authors, pollies, directors brooding enigmatically. There's my exhibitions from the 2000's, As Yet Unclear, What Gives etc. cracked narratives blurring across the computer screen, late-night crawlers on Oxford St seen through pissed eyes in the taxi ride home.


I look for the clouds, birds, trees, moons, storms but they are not there, not in isolation, anyway. I arrange the images from Looking Up on my desk, trying to find correlation from history, but like the throwback child, provenance is elusive.

But, then the footsteps get louder, walking, then running toward me. I look again. 

Up has always been there.

Behind the fame and glamour and spin, behind the fractured stories of love and loss, so often Up sits, framing, supporting, enhancing, even encouraging the foreground subjects, urging them on.

There it was sitting in the background, rich, dark, broody, dirty...magnificent.  Up was a stage or backdrop no set designer could get close to.

I remember a senior photographer teaching me once how to paint a mottled canvas to hang as a backdrop for studio portraits (remember those in the 80's? Marbling?). For him it was simply a practical exercise, but for me it became an artform; the swatches of slapped-on paint overlapping, suggesting depth and texture, sometimes overlaying a salmon pink over a grey (like I say, it was the 80's). For a little while,  the backdrop would occupy my mind more than the actual subject, reminiscent, perhaps, of fanatics more enamoured with the packaging of their action figures than the figures themselves.

In this series, all but a few people have vanished, stepping aside for the backdrops allowing the bit players to have their time in the sun.

I think Looking Up is what happens when the remainingguest realises they've become the third wheel at a dinner party and quietly leaves the table, leaving the empty dining room and the host to get to know each other a little better.

Stuart Spence, November '15