By Lola Pinder
Internationally acclaimed photographer Trent Parke is famed for capturing the beauty as well as the reality of contemporary Australian life. His documentary style and the personal undertones to his work set him apart as one of the greats of his generation. Parke is the only full Australian member of the esteemed international Magnum Photos Agency, the co-operative set up post-WWII by the likes of Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
During his work as a sports photographer for News Ltd. Parke used the latest digital equipment available, yet in his personal projects he opts to use film and analogue processing techniques. From childhood, using his mother’s Pentax Spotomatic and the laundry as a converted darkroom, Parke has always enjoyed being hands-on with the development of his photographs. During the road trip in 2003 that would result in his seminal series Minutes to Midnight, Parke developed his film as he travelled, on the beach or at a camp-site, wherever he could. Parke is a most patient of photographers. When he comes across a light effect or an interesting technique he will work assiduously to master it, sometimes for months.
In 2005, Minutes to Midnight was exhibited for the first time at the Australian Centre for Photography as part of the Sydney Arts Festival and was logged at the time as the most highly attended exhibition in the ACP’s recorded history. The exhibition earned Parke great critical success. This enigmatic series resulted from a 90000km road trip, over two years, with partner, and fellow photographer Narelle Autio. The series deploys Parke’s documentary background and his black and white photographic imagination to portray an epic visual narrative of the realism and romanticism of Australia's emotional and physical landscape at the time. In 2003, when he was only part way through, Parke was awarded the prestigious W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography that allowed him to complete for this body of work.
The Christmas Tree Bucket was launched at the ACP in 2008. This colour series documents the gothic uncanny of Christmas. Through a dark sense of humour and a touch of the absurd, Parke’s images attack and celebrate Australian suburbia, family and excess of the festive season. His work shows influences from William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, and Garry Winogrand, however, Parke's propensity for capturing enigmatic and often witty moments very much shows his individual vision.
The Camera is God was first exhibited at Stills Gallery in Paddington in 2014. The series depicts portraits that Parke captured of people crossing King William Street in Adelaide over the course of almost a year. Moving beyond the documentary style of Parke’s street photography, in these works the artist has selected peoples' faces in his photography and enlarged them as the final prints for his show. Reminiscent of pixelated digital security footage, the portraits reflect ideas of surveillance and voyeurism. At a closer glance the faces become painterly in their abstraction, as the materiality of the black and white 35mm film is revealed. The accentuated film grain obscures the profile of each individual and embeds a sense of mysticism in each image. Parke’s camera is omniscient and indiscriminate, as each work examines the human spirit.
Parke has received several awards, including the inaugural Prudential Eye Award for Photography in Singapore, five Gold Lenses from the International Olympic Committee, the World Press Photo Awards in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2005 and the Canon Photo Essay Prize in the 2000 Sasakawa World Sports Awards. Parke’s work has been featured in exhibitions and art fairs across the globe and is held in major institutional collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of NSW, Artbank, Magnum London and Magnum Paris.
Currently, Parke is part of the Bookmarked exhibition at Stills gallery and opens The Black Rose, his largest solo show yet, next week at the Art Gallery of South Australia. This body of work has been seven years in the making and will occupy the entire bottom floor of the gallery.
Trent Parke is represented by Magnum Photos, Stills Gallery in Sydney and Hugo Michell Gallery in Adelaide.
This post is part of the Art Month Event Creative Paddington taking place on March 7th in conjunction with Metro Screen and UNSW Art & Design.
Minutes to Midnight ACP roomnotes cover, 2005, A Family Portrait: Trent Parke, Narelle Autio and their son at the opening of The Christmas Tree Bucket at ACP, 2008, courtesy and © ACP, Photograph: Ella Condon. Video: Trent Parke talks about his exhibition The Christmas Tree Bucket, courtesy ACP, No 376 Candid portrait of a boy on a street corner, Adelaide, 2013, from the series The Camera is God (street portrait series), Pigment print, courtesy Stills Gallery © Trent Parke.