BLACK ROSE by Trent Parke – Graham Brice

Exclusive to Adelaide, (from where he springs.) – Art Gallery of South Australia til May 10. FREE

A personal response to a very personal exhibition.  By Graham Brice

Trent Parke

Having learnt this immense collection is no random sample or ‘retrospective’ of this artist’s work, but rather, a meticulously crafted, emotionally charged narrative of an Adelaide life since the loss of …well, many things…and that Trent never selected an image from the thousands he took without a ‘book’ in mind, i.e. a story within a story . . . I peeled back the first of many dark curtains and entered a beautifully curated den of imagination – a very personal invitation to partake of a man’s sensitivity to his complex Self in too familiar surrounds. A photographic exhibition when the medium itself quickly even mysteriously becomes almost irrelevant.  It is no wonder he is the only Australian ‘to become a Full member of the renowned photographic cooperative Magnum Photo Agency’. [Apparently that’s important…clearly I need to learn more].

Almost everthing is Black and White either in stark contrasts or murky shades – and all is touched with a capacity to paint, evoke, shape and frame fragments of a larger story with mysterious ease. He simply is a wizard of the medium. This is at first unnerving, as dream after dream in which his deeper self strives to find meaning or absurdity, as the case may be, in response to, as yet, unfathomable loss, finds its way into cold case or literally fantastical imagery at the hands of this master of a simple camera, and the Darkroom. At first glance, decay is all around: just as the profound spiritual traditions like to remind us, but which we’d rather avoid just the same. But something else is present too. Eventually it dawns that  he is revealing something deeper not just about his inner world, but a psycho-social history of our city like you’ve never seen before.


For he paints Adelaide as an almost people-less, culturally barren lifespace. Such is the depth of his introspection; but its that very quality that seems to inspire him, tune him in to possibility. Then when he takes to the road we see other aspects of Australia too and especially its natural world, but he never veers from his ‘core’ Quest for seven or so years.


The impact of this exhibition is such that it serves to invite us to leave simplistic ideas, even fundamental building blocks of photography, somewhere out there in the Nullabor which stimulated some of his most breath-taking imagery. By that I mean shutter speed, focal length, aperture, and even ‘sharpness’. As in the case of Cartier Bresson (for me at least) but in a Jung inspired deep-psychologic-narrative sense (which, lets face it, Bresson could also construct in a single image so he reigns supreme, for me) Parke’s images seem to waft in from another sphere of art, one I can’t put my finger on – but then I’m no expert. Sometimes Surrealism of course, but often just the everyday but out of kilter, dredged with tenderness and astonishing attention to simplicity and a childhood missing in action. Stolen in an instant.

But as the journey unfolded a deeper realisation dawned. I wasn’t just awakening to Parke’s Darkroom (his deeper Self) but an invitation to confront my Shadow springboarded by memory and image. By that I mean my season when I too was tranfixed by the sheer ‘magic’ as he put it, of the drifting-in-to-conciousness when chemicals in a tray collide and conjure a being from a bottomless world under rarefied light in the wee hours of Adelaide mornings. But more importantly, that I had shot many similar weird images: a broken doll, shadowy headstones, dark portraits of friends in clouds, rusty cars in twilight.…But unlike this Master of the medium, mine remained in the bottom drawer only to be discarded. Still it was a shock. The psychological journey was what it was all about for Trent. So the collision of our journeys woke something new and fresh and different in me. I emerged very moved . . .


So Trent invites us to authenticate our own long-buried childhood connections to ‘place’, to take one’s own narrative seriously…to take ‘place’ seriously. No matter how mundane or ordinary. In that sense, and because he is SO inventive, perhaps he has much in common with Jeffrey Smart, (another Adelaideian) or Arthur Boyd. He too explores not just the now, the here, this city, our beach in its myriad seasons, but its darker undercurrents, its mythologies and its unique imprint in the natural world – the many graces with potential to sustain and renew.  Check out one of only few forays in to colour – a study of Adelaide sunsets. And marvel at how well this exhibition is curated!

So go on your journey, see what you make of it. I went back a second time with our little grandkids full of ‘curiouser’-ness! It was another magical experience as they loved the bats, butterflies, cows, egrets, dogs, snakes, as well, but in a totally different way! Try to listen to his brief videos along the way as they are all revealing…But above all, forget about today’s obsessions in the photo club circuit. Just take in something new, mysterious, vulnerable, or just stunning.

All of Parke’s post processing, I believe, was either done in a darkroom, or manually crafted with its product. Not a pixel in sight. And it shows. Don’t bother to enter if you haven’t at least 90 minutes but it will be worth it.

I’m curious to learn more of this young master’s B&W methods, and he is talking at the Gallery on April 14 at 1230. Hope to see you there. No bookings required and again, all Free.

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1 Response to BLACK ROSE by Trent Parke – Graham Brice

  1. Richard says:

    Eloquently reported and thoughtfully interpreted Graham. I am going back for a second look also. I feel the need to fill my larder with inspiration before the exhibition closes.
    You and others may be interested in this 2002 Australian Story episode about Trent. I found it gave me a little more insight into the man.


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