‘APEC Sydney series images'
Images from APEC Sydney series (first Published 2007 Sydney Morning Herald)
It was the final act of the Howard Government in Australia and it was to be a truly shameful event. I was amazed to see a country that I have always admired bullied by a shambolic political elite and I city I came to love, reduced to a jail with a massive series of 10ft fences and armed military guards surrounding most of its centre, while armed helicopters flew overhead.
Overnight Sydney became a banana republic with beer and MTV. The Howard Government lost the election. Kevin Rudd swept to victory and has since apologised to the Aboriginal people for years of mistreatment – I would now like to go back, but they might not have me.
The Sun Herald was brave or mad but they published these images. ?My brief was to do something that the lens-based media could not do. Using drawing I was to report the moment in history and the extra ordinary military clamp down of a major high profile city in the heart of a democratic society. The work is a narrative and what I saw and not as I saw it.
The following text was originally published in its original form in 'Varoom Notebook'. Varoom magazine,Winter 2009
The following drawings were produced during Mario Minichiello's time as visiting professor and research fellow at Sydney University College of the Arts in 2007. The collection consists of the Sydney Morning Herald published drawings featuring the August 07 APEC Summit with related support studies and prints. Mario subsequently presented them including a paper on drawing at The International Conference on the Arts in Society, in Venice.
The drawings for APEC reflect events when the world’s richest countries’ leaders arrived with their security and PR teams. The place became a virtual prison as the authorities erected steel fences to keep the population from the elected and in some cases unelected politicians. It was not a popular thing to do and marked the final stages of two careers, that of George Bush Jr and John Howard.
The demonstrations against the conference and in particular to Bush and Howard’s attitudes, were heartfelt but generally civilised and good-humoured.
Away from the demonstrations, in the shops and cafes of the city, the sense of anger and disappointment in their political leaders was tangible. The event was deeply unpopular and helped Howard lose the subsequent election.
One aspect that upset people was the over-reaction of the police to fairly minor incidents; a middle-aged bank employee crossing a road to see his children was arrested in a violent manner, unofficial photographers were banned, resulting in an American female photographer being knocked to the ground by police.
‘Gods Waiting Room’
‘I very much doubt that you would be allowed into a home like that again for a whole week to draw a group of people abandoned by families and drifting into death like ash falling off cigarettes - it was problematic at the time it was done and I was young so did not know how to fight for it to be used. Cannot give name or place but it's a real home the people who run it care but old age is the end none of us want to face’.
There are a few well chosen words that I could add to a drawing of a death in a conflict zone, death by the hand of a gunman or a roadside blast- but the slow death of the process of ageing is harder somehow to speak about or at least add more then the image already says. The final stages of death is the slow denuding of us all, the stripping away of what we were determined to be in the world, and often with it comes the painful stripping away from those who once might have loved us, because we are no longer the person they knew, so we the visitor have something taken away from us too. On the day of this drawing, Two of the people I had drawn the day before died. I felt relief for them, one of them had no family (so the staff thought- really she had no money) The other had family but they had stopped visiting. The old lady smelt funny and was so hard to converse with, her hearing had gone, her eyes were dim and she was often afraid . In the end death through old age mocks us all, you survive the dramatic death, the heart attack, the car crash, the sniper, the heroes death to be faced with this slow undoing of you. In this slow death we are no longer ourselves and only the sum of our parts remain, we leave with nothing.
Drawing Versus Photography
My Own troubles with the authorities were pain free. Armed only with a sketchbook and pen, I looked pretty harmless. However the good humour ended once the drawings were published. The press publicity created a lot of interest, and the exhibition of the drawings held at the Sydney College of the Arts was exceptionally well attended. Back at the Biennale,( The International Conference on the Arts in Society, Venice) I used this experience, and the knowledge I had gained from working in news media over the years to compare drawing to photography in a journalistic context as the theme of my conference presentation. It is a misunderstanding to say that drawing and photography do the same thing- they are fundamentally different processes and require diverse ways of thinking and seeing. This is a misunderstanding that new students and amateur artists often fall into, as they make either copies of photographs or work in highly representational ways as a means of capturing a moment or displaying their skill. They end up being neither drawing nor photograph.
The advantages of drawing from the mind as well as what is in front of you is that you are able to make work that starts to embody an idea or a narrative. The drawing or illustration often does more than just complement or illuminate a text. Many drawings work perfectly well without words. Drawing is also an extremely personalised language that leaves a kind of fingerprint or perhaps a trace of the creative DNA of the artist. Drawing slows time down and enables you to be selective, not just about the placement of imagery but about each mark and element, to think and rethink both composition and content.
Photojournalists have only split seconds to think about these issues. they work to capture an instance of time, to still it. A modern digital camera captures hundreds of images in millions of pixels and stores these on an artificial memory to review later - for the photo-editor to make his single image choice. By contrast a drawing extends time, representing many moments and decisions, incorporating thoughts and conversation. This gives drawing its deep connection to memory - a vital part of the dialogue.
By making the marks, tones and lines that develop the imagery, you literally recreate the content between the drawing surface, your vision, your hand and your mind. The result is that (for the maker and often for some audiences) the drawings connect the event to other associated memories and feelings. Drawing extends thought association, it provides the mind with a sort of desktop, a range of Image icons linking to files in different deeper parts of the brain, like Aristotle's idea of the 'seeing of internal pictures'. Drawings and their creators are in this way forever linked, which makes the censoring of drawn images more difficult.
But drawing is a risk because you have to invest time, and if the drawing fails you feel that the investment may not have been worth it. The photojournalists camera is seem to have an advantage in that it can be rapidly automatically fired to snatch some small moments. But these are disconnected moments and can be misleading - people moving too soon or blinking. Or they can be deeply revealing as in the case of the photo of Richard Nixon shaking hands with an earnest supporter while contemptuously glancing away to his watch. (See Harold Evans)
Pictures on a pageGenerally, and as a way of capturing both the immediate essence and the deliberated over versions of events - I use two sketchbooks. The smaller one is for very fast scribbles, using a range of felt pens to make definite lines - my 'on the spot' drawing book. And the other larger book represents the drawings made later usually in studio - where I employ the smaller drawings combined with ideas from conversations, related thoughts etc to make bigger more complex images. Drawing on the Sydney streets with a packet of felt pens and box of large finger staining graphite lumps and 'rubbers', possibly made me look rather harmless, even distinctly silly. Quite at odds to the paparazzi, no one ever died running away from a pencil.
The perpetrator instead is the one who becomes the figure of amusement, curiosity and occasionally harassment. By drawing in the street you are the free entertainment for opinionated and vocal onlookers. As I recorded the APEC summit as seen from the streets, reports of this 'imported fool artist' made it onto the radio. I was lucky to be on the spot when The Chaser, a famous Australian spoof comedian, one day decided to dress as Osama bin laden, hire a black chauffeured car with a Canadian flag and drive to the conference hotel. He nearly made it into the inner ring, leaping out at the last moment to be dutifully arrested and there I was drawing in the time-honoured tradition of the reportage artist. When a gentleman from the FBI requested a local policeman to arrest me (thankfully firmly refused) I retired to a cafe that served good coffee and a bacon roll. Here I spent longer than intended drawing up that days events.
I did not realise that I'd gathered a crowd that had affected the cafe's business. When I went to leave they refused my payment and instead asked me to cover the large blank wall in their dining room with drawings of the same controversial nature - I did so and gathered more on lookers. One said that the police were on their way I was struck how my life had become a parody of Joyce Cary's The horses mouth. I was artist gulley Jimson up a ladder gloriously giving vent to my creative expression and political opinion on the side of a building - just before they came to take me away.
Professor Mario Minichiello
The University of Newcastle Australia
Currently engaged with planning for: Hurricane films: My War film - and working with Welcome trust on stories projects.
Over the past fifteen years, alongside my academic career, I have been working as an Illustrator, primarily in the field of national and international broadcast and broadsheet media. The best of my artwork is responsible for engaging an audience's visual attention for high profile news events and in depth issues. My Reportage illustration work for BBC Newsnight formed part of their BFTA Award for news and current affairs. Vital subjects covered during the late 1980's included the Birmingham Six hearing, Beirut hostage releases and Spy Catcher trials. During this period and into the 1990's my work for the political sections of the Guardian and Financial Times gained a high degree of public acknowledgement and vigorous feedback demonstrating the raised public awareness of important international issues. This also engaged me in a national debate about what were some of the perceived limits and boundaries and perceived roles for Illustrators.