Hymns of praise to difference, decadence and diversity

March 21, 2010

Thinking Outside The Square: A Retrospective (Photographs 1972-2010)
By Elaine Pelot-Syron
South Sydney Uniting Church
56a Raglan Street Waterloo
March 14 until May 20
Tues-Thu, 4.30-6pm; Sun, 9am-noon

Elaine Pelot-Syron was born into photography. Her father, John Crews Pelot, was an American World War I documentary-photographer. Her own passion was ignited during the 1970s with the upswing of Aboriginal struggles for legal, medical and land rights. "History was happening around me. I responded with objective images", she says.

Pelot-Syron's work retains the freshness of enjoying life through the eye of the beholder. Candid images of Kings Cross, Indigenous artists and gay and lesbian demonstrations all have a golden thread of cultural dissent: thinking outside the square, not blindly accepting society's mores but querying trends and trajectories.

Each carefully crafted image is equal to any Cezanne still-life or landscape: innovative style, use of perspective and composition all understand that "there must be no single crevice through which the emotion, the light or the truth can escape", as Cezanne said.

Pelot-Syron's images have no dead spaces, they radiate tension with their high-definition and strong visual lead-lines.

Phoenix is a glossy, gutsy, high-impact Sydney Mardi Gras shot — sheer opera. It's as confronting and cutting as the serrated city sky-lines under which it was captured.

Melanie Chillie, a portrait isn't just a photograph; it's a story. Chillie sits on a used car seat belonging to the late Mum Shirl, distinguished Aboriginal elder. Her nine-year-old eyes penetrate our facades of smug self-righteousness with a perspicacity beyond their years. Her T-shirt challenges our money-motivated materialistic world and the myth of money.

White King proves photographs aren't "taken", they're seen. A shackled Aboriginal, brilliantly dramatised by Clinton Nain, is "cleansed" with domestic detergent as a metaphor for white supremacy. It's at once frightening, foreboding and a political lightening rod.

All these images emanate from an enormous dedication to their subject. Their sense of space and place explain their social context.

They are hymns of praise to difference, decadence and diversity.

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