Diary excerpt, Eyre Highway: There are many things to see. Some seem like stage-sets from another era, one long gone, others stand out in their nonchalant trivialcy, ready to be seen only by eyes that dare to find significance in things unspectacular and forgotten. There is much to be heard – the trees swooshing by us in a rush, the deepness of silence, the land breathing heavy under the heat. Our thoughts, as wide as the scene unfolding before us, are riper in stillness. In the hungry search for lasting memories and beauty, the question begs: how do we classify a thing above the other, subscribe to it more meaning?
Diary excerpt, Venus Bay: And in the early hours of the morning all the men on holiday rise as if woken by a collective alarm clock, at the same hour, they stretch their arms to the sun and breathe in a lungful of reborn air. They glance at the sea expanding before them, and then, as if they were one and the same man, they tend to their rods, gently, caring, filled with an almost youthful anticipation of the catch that lies ahead. They exchange fishing news. The sea will give them fish.
Australia is a vast and expansive land, yet it counts amongst the most urbanized countries in the world, with rural towns long facing population decline. During the summer months, when harvest is done, whole villages flock to the ocean for relief from the heat, leaving behind ghost towns scattered along the country's main highways. The Encounters project is a work in progress, documenting regional and remote Australia, while journeying into our complex relationship with the land.
Australia is a big place, wide, silent spaces exist between conurbations, it is a vast echoing volume with open skies and long horizons. In a recent visit there, coming from a small country, I understood the contradiction of a caged animal that seeks comfort from the cage, suffocating in the freedom, intoxicated by the agoraphobia and vertigo of open space. In Loraine and the Illusion of Illoura Katrin Koenning examines this land, frequently the focus of the images, encountered by chance on the journeys the artist makes around the country, are marginal figures or landscapes. Her colour photographs coalesce around an open diary framework that explores in subtle ways the pathos, condition and melancholy of Australia.
Found in the hinterlands and liminal spaces, each instilled with a quiet beauty, the subjects of the images range from people scattered on a beach, an abandoned factory engulfed by plants, a plastic rose, road kill, empty suburbs and lonely souls in quiet towns. All seem to have been selected for their understated or quotidian appeal, but upon closer reading they are redolent of a more profound sense of social crisis or suburban decay. Like voices muted from shouting into the wind, the works explore the elusive and sometimes intangible realm of subconscious representation, offering us a unique perspective and particular sense of place.
Traces of histories and politics are bleached out by the harsh white light which permeates unhindered by the reduced ozone in the atmosphere. In Illoura (aboriginal for pleasant place) generations of recent and past lives layer up in slowly shifting strata, like the dust that settles from the dry land whipped up by the unimpeded movement of air. Mapping her path through the country Koenning’s thoughts are expanded upon through diary notes and observations. The works have a distinctive stillness and the uncontrived subjects mean that the distance between the photographer and the photographed is retained. This distance, as Alec Soth calls it the space between us, interrogates the limitations of a viewer's ability to identify with the subject and gives photography its tension. In her series the images are further mediated by a stream of conscious in the diary notes and by the occasional eye contact that brings us out from the stupor of aesthetics.
As a nomadic photographer, Koenning inherently references the familiar iconography of the alien, colliding a partially objective lucid documentary method with the uncanny. Ideas, like the horizon, although sometimes tangible, will always stay out of reach. However her observations possess the simple honesty of the scene presented, a moment in time revealed and suspended for review. Loraine and the Illusion of Illoura is a place of forgotten coastal towns, of people missing somewhere in the bright expanse, of lives lived under the blinding sunlight of Australia, a strong light that is also countered by darkness, Koenning is out there working somewhere between the two.
German photographer Koenning currently lives and works in Melbourne, Australia. Much of her work investigates the ordinary and everyday, and is concerned with questions of place and belonging. Her work has been shown at international photography festivals such as the New York Photo Festival, Noorderlicht, Delhi Photo Fest, FORMAT and Voices Off.
Katrin has exhibited widely, and her work has been published in The Guardian, The New York Times, GUP Magazine, and Der Spiegel Magazine amongst others. She has won a number of awards and was voted Australia's Top Emerging Documentary Photographer for 2011 (Capture Magazine). She is a selected artist for Hijacked III: AUS / UK.
Katrin is the Editor of the 2009 edition of the Australian PhotoJournalist Magazine, Silent Screams: Rights of the Child. She holds a BA of Photography from the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, and is a photographer for Amnesty International Australia.
The featured photographer for July 2012 was Katrin Koenning