Master & Presenters: Greg Piper & Woodfire 2017

PIPER at KL invitation

Thanks to Kerrie and Elisabeth who have brought these two exhibitions together, connecting photography and woodfiring:
– The annual woodfire exhibition here at Kerrie Lowe
– HeadON photo festival, an inner-city Sydney event which celebrates the ability of a photo to tell a story. The Festival draws on all genres (portrait, landscape, documentary) from professional to the beginner, mobile phone, student work. Check out the program if you get a chance.

The connection point is the photographer Greg Piper.

I’ve known Greg for many years. He’s taught me much about how powerful a good photo can be. I’m fascinated by how his photos of my work show me things about my work I was not aware of. He brings it alive, adds a new dimension to my understanding.

I recently delivered work to Greg … as you unpack your work, he listens to you talk about your work, he watches you handle your work as you unpack it then you leave him to it … to his own creative journey – he tries out ideas, tests the light, adjusts the focus, moves around the objects and shoots from differing angles; changes the backdrop. He tunes in to how objects relate to one another. He re-arranges. He creates a mood. He is a genius in capturing the form of a pot – the light on the edge of a rim, the subtle shadows, the focus on the texture. Greg draws you in to the image … then he surprises you!

As a magazine editor too, he has taught me a lot. One of the most valuable lessons was not to crop too closely when taking photos. Always have loads of space/background around the object so it can be cropped easily to landscape or portrait and maybe even make the cover, with the space leaving room for the masthead of a magazine title. With over 35 years of experience in his field, he is a person worth listening to. His impressive list of clients includes the Powerhouse Museum, numerous galleries, the City of Sydney (for whom he created archival records), many artists, designers, corporate and private collectors.

AND … not only does he photograph inanimate objects, but he also works with real, living people and their portraits!

So, let’s go back just a bit to bring in the portraits around us in this gallery … back to Janet Mansfield, Gulgong and woodfiring. In the years leading up to 2011, Janet worked with Owen Rye to publish a book called The Art of Woodfire. Greg Piper took many of the photos for the book travelling to Gulgong to photograph Janet’s collection of woodfired ceramics.

A year or so after Owen’s book was published, back in 2012, when Janet Mansfield was ill with cancer, I agreed, at Janet’s request, to take on the management of the clay event which was to be held the following year, in 2013. Janet, Judy Boydell and I named the event Clay Push Gulgong. However, early in 2013 Janet passed away. It was decided to go ahead and hold the event in her honour. A month or two before Clay Push Gulgong, Greg proposed to me that he record the masters and demonstrators at the event. Of course, this was a great idea! His request was passed on to the masters and demonstrators before they traveled to Australia – to bring along an object that was important to them. Then during Clay Push, in the green room, back behind the stage of the Gulgong Opera House, the magic took place.

We also published the images in a special feature in The Journal of Australian Ceramics in the July issue that year, and the response was wonderful.

So, it’s lovely to see these images re-emerge here at Kerrie Lowe and be shown with the Woodfire 2017 work from around Australia, many of whom were featured in Owen’s The Art of Woodfire book. Many of you will have had some experience of woodfiring and I’m sure will agree how addictive (and obsessive) it is – some potters start by digging the clay, then go on to make the pot or form to catch the path of the flame and the deposits of ash, they carefully position the pieces in the kiln, prepare the wood, spend days firing the kiln, then later carefully observe the results. The pots tell the stories of their making and firing on the surface – whether it’s the flashes of red, the black or grey carbon-trapped surfaces, the drippy, runny, glossy ash glazes or the gritty textures. Once again, the word magic comes to mind. And frustration!

I know I’m looking forward to the cooler weather when woodfiring ramps up in the wood kilns around the country. Many woodfiring kilns are too big and fire for many days, and so groups of potters will gather together for these firings. Experience and knowledge will be shared, along with food and many a good story.

The final section of this exhibition features work by ceramicists who use Greg as their photographer – Aleida Pullar, Izette Felthun, Jo Wood, Kim-Ahn Nguyen and me. Our works are accompanied by images he took of the work. Take a look, and enjoy! And buy up! Take home a story.

Piper at Kerrie Lowe - 10

Thank you for coming along tonight to join with me in opening these exhibitions.

Vicki Grima

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