Critics’ Picks

Albert Falzon, Fitzy Surfing Clouds, ca. 1971.

Albert Falzon, Fitzy Surfing Clouds, ca. 1971.

Sydney

“Magicians of the Sea”

Australian Centre for Photography
72 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
January 13–February 25, 2006

Curator Pierre Chevalier (formerly of Galerie du Jour, Paris) has assembled surfing photographs and films from the ’60s and ’70s, juxtaposing portraits of famous surfers such as Nat Young and Owl Chapman with pioneering footage shot inside waves off beaches from Surfers Paradise to Bells Beach. Often, both films and photographs were made by the same obsessed artists, documenting the then-emerging scene in a frantic bid to record, participate, and innovate: Albert Falzon shot both the black-and-white portrait photograph, Fitzy Surfing Clouds, ca. 1971, and the great early surfing movie, Morning of the Earth, 1971, in the same few short years that George Greenough strapped a backward-facing movie camera onto his back, filming inside the tube of the wave. The pioneering psychedelic footage later appeared in David Elfick’s movie, Crystal Voyager, 1972, featuring a soundtrack by Pink Floyd. The reclusive, eccentric Greenough emerges as a major artist whose heroic, visionary work was completely without any counterbalancing irony, just what we would expect of an avant-gardist working with ecstatic tropes and glorious male bodies. His extraordinarily romantic biography—he spent years deep-sea sailing, filming, and photographing in those early decades, moving from island break to deserted island break—and the footage of swimming dolphins that he has shot in the years since, helps explain Greenough’s subcultural seriousness. Nevertheless, as the show makes clear in a dense salon-style hang of surfer portraits, this was accompanied by an ever-increasing backdrop of touristic commodification. Now, however, younger artists like Gold Coast video artist Scott Redford take the space between the car and the waves as erotic, gendered, and available for a hot, sticky, queer rereading.