Photography is always real and imagined

Since its inception in the early 19th century, photography as a medium has traipsed a fine line between fact (truth, documentation, recording) and fiction (imagination, manipulation, obscuring). It can both represent and misrepresent, and this is especially true today. The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia’s summer exhibition pays homage to the history of photography, while interrogating this relationship between fact and fiction, real and imagined. From international icons of the craft—Man Ray, Cindy Sherman, Wolfgang Tillmans, Gilbert & George and Nan Goldin—to Australian masters like Max Dupain, Olive Cotton, Mervyn Bishop, Polly Borland and Darren Sylvester, Photography: Real & Imagined explores the multitude of approaches taken in the art of photography. Here’s a taste of what’s on show in this vast exhibition.

Selina Ou, Convenience, 2001, from the Serving you better, series, 2001, type-c photograph, 111.6 x 140.2 cm (image), 126.9 x 156.5 cm (sheet). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2005. © Selina Ou, represented by Sophie Gannon gallery, Melbourne. Photograph: Garry Sommerfeld / NGV.

Michael Cook, Civilised #11, 2012, from the Civilised series, 2012, inkjet print, 100.0 x 87.5 cm (image); 120.0 x 108.0cm (sheet). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013. © Courtesy of the artist. Photograph: Predrag Cancar / NGV.

Man Ray, Kiki with African mask, 1926, gelatin silver photograph, 21.1 x 27.6 cm, (image); 22.1 x 28.5 cm (sheet). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased through the art foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Miss Flora Macdonald Anderson and Mrs Ethel Elizabeth Ogilvy Lumsden, Founder benefactors, 1983. © Man Ray Trust / adagp, Paris. Licensed by Copyright Agency, australia Photograph: Helen Oliver-Skuse / NGV.

Henri Cartier Bresson, Juvisy, France, 1938; printed 1990s, gelatin silver photograph 29.1 x 43.9 cm (image). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased NGV Foundation, 2015. © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos. Photograph: Nicholas Umek / NGV

Girma Berta, Untitled IV, 2017, from the Moving shadows series, 2017, inkjet print, ed. 4/4, 89.8 x 90 cm (image) 99.8 x 100cm (sheet). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Bowness Family Fund for Photography, 2018. © Girma Berta. Photograph: Predrag Cancar / NGV.

Malala Andrialavidrazana, Figures 1850, various empires, kingdoms, states and republics, 2015 inkjet print 110.0 x 138.5 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Ruth Margaret Frances Houghton Bequest, 2021 © Malala Andrialavidrazana. Courtesy of the artist and Afronova Gallery. Photograph: Christian Markel / NGV.

Photography: Real & Imagined
The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia (Melbourne VIC)
On now—4 February

This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 print edition of Art Guide Australia.