The first thing you notice are the eyes. Nine women look confidently out of the frame, directly at you, the observer. A tenth is captured in motion, intently focussed on the work at hand.
Nat Ord’s exhibition, Rise! will be at Albury’s MAMA until Sunday 8th April.
Rise! is a series of portraits of local women, taken in the environments in which they feel most comfortable, from which they draw strength. There is a frankness to these faces, an openness, and a hint of challenge. From Aboriginal elder, Nancy Rooke, to erotic film producer, Morgana Muses, and young scooter rider Sinead Lang, the ten subjects are united in their attitude. They stand or sit, perfectly balanced in the environments in which they operate. Nothing is being hidden. These are women who know what they have done in life and what they intend to do.
With years of experience and learning behind her, Nat Ord has acquired a true mastery of her medium and now, perhaps as a natural progression for a woman who has always been fascinated by people, she has directed her technical skill into the creation of striking and nuanced character studies. As part of her process, Nat likes to spend time with her subjects, getting to know them, preferably over a period of weeks, and here she has captured ten strong individuals in all their complexity.
These works are large and finely wrought. They can’t be appreciated in the small images here. Visit MAMA and allow them some longer contemplation, and they will reward with subtleties of character, complex shades of emotion.
An environmental activist stands, strong and determined in her beloved forest, hand and foot resting on an iron-hard tree trunk, a knowing smile softening her face. A film producer sits at home with her awards and a teacup. There are magazines shoved behind her chair, glimpses of another room. She has pride and poise, but there is also a hint of amusement — at us, at herself, at everything. A mental health advocate and passionate swimmer rises from the river, staring out at us with a knowledge of the pain in the world, deep compassion, and also hope. A young scooter rider shows courage, joy in her achievement. Is there also a touch of unconscious defiance?
Nat Ord’s extensive experience in landscape photography is clear in every photograph. With subtle skill, unobtrusive technique and hours of thought, and with some of that mysterious alchemy that is art, Nat has imbued her landscapes with meaning. The places enrich our understanding of the women who belong in them, and they also hold some deep and intangible significance in their own right.
In Sinead’s portrait we can feel the chalky concrete, the danger implicit in its unrelenting curve.
In a completely contrasting work, we are aware of Nancy Rooke’s deep and sensual connection with her riverbank country. Every blade of wiry grass, every leaf and flap of bark is sharply delineated, right through the depth of the picture. We feel the weight of a fallen trunk.
Sue Sheldrick’s coat glows against her steel-grey background. The portrait of Eileen Collins was taken in the Chiltern forest. The tree’s rough surface is in sharp focus — we can feel it under Eileen’s hand, while deeper in the forest the photograph is impressionistic, reminiscent of a McCubbin, thin dark trunks against a blue-green haze.
The silky shadows of Morgana’s room set off the delicate curls of her white-blonde hair, the polish on a shoe, the tension in her calf.
Gabriella Pound is caught in full motion, muscles taut, concentrating on her football, against the drama of a cloud-streaked Melbourne sky.
Rich and intimate
Of course, you will likely see something completely different. It is a privilege to have such a talented and accomplished photographer as Nat Ord among us.
Visit Rise! at MAMA. Give these masterful works the time they deserve. Revel in your own responses to these rich and intimate photographs.
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