April 2014

Arts & Letters

Trent Parke’s ‘The Christmas Tree Bucket’

By Sam Twyford-Moore
Steidl Verlag; $100

In 2007, Trent Parke became the only Australian to be inducted into Magnum Photos, the famous co-operative established in Paris in 1947 by a small number of photography greats including Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Parke grew up in Newcastle in the 1970s and ’80s. Though he spent tracts of his early career as a sports photographer, he once said that he has “never been interested in the single picture; the book is the work”. In 1999, Parke self-published his first collection of photographs, Dream/Life, which made particular use of Sydney’s deep shadows, and followed up with The Seventh Wave, in which he and his wife and co-author, Narelle Autio, explored underwater photography. The pair subsequently went on a two-year trip around Australia, which ended with the water birth of their first child, Jem – Parke was there with his camera. The trip also produced another acclaimed book, this one produced by Steidl, the German art publisher: Minutes to Midnight.

Parke has much in common with what the writer and critic Janet Malcolm calls the American “action” photographers: Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Stephen Shore and others, who “followed people on the street, peered into suburban living rooms, hung around fast-food chains, and – with nothing in mind, with none of the elaborate previsualisations of traditional art photography – repeatedly clicked the shutters of their small cameras”. The action photographers were messy, to Malcolm’s mind, which was part of their appeal. Parke’s latest, The Christmas Tree Bucket, is an utter mess, but in many ways his best book.

The title stems from an incident at Parke’s in-laws’ place in Adelaide: during a bout of nausea, he vomited into the red bucket used to support the Christmas tree. This time, Autio captured the moment. Though the book recognisably depicts the Australian festive season, Parke finds new ways to accentuate its inherent weirdness. The publication has endpapers of garish, generic Christmas wrapping, and the clutter of the season rules the compositions: ugly, non-native trees, passed-out children, dogs fighting, a dead mouse under the stairs, and presents upon presents, both wrapped and unwrapped. These are often shot from a low vantage point, and a sense of dread builds. As soon as that dread takes hold, though, Parke plays a prank. His friends and family seem to revel in strange costumes – a lime-green Borat-style mankini, a Star Wars stormtrooper helmet, a full-sized hot dog costume.

Minutes to Midnight was Parke’s attempt at a unified survey of his home country across sprawling, desolate landscapes. With The Christmas Tree Bucket, he has achieved this on an intimate scale – in lounge rooms – and it is no less unsettling.

Sam Twyford-Moore

Sam Twyford-Moore is a host of the Rereaders podcast. His work has appeared in Meanjin, the Lifted Brow and the Los Angeles Review of Books

April 2014

From the front page

A “triple-tunity”

The answer on climate, economy and regional security is staring right at us

Image from ‘Midsommar’

Pagan poetry: the studied strangeness of Ari Aster’s ‘Midsommar’

The ‘Hereditary’ director micro-manages the mania in his new film

Impression, Sunrise (1872) by Claude Monet

‘Monet: Impression Sunrise’ at the National Gallery of Australia

Impressionism’s namesake painting is at the heart of a masterful collection from the Musée Marmottan Monet

Photo of Margot Robbie

Popcorn maker: Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’

The tide may have turned against the director’s juvenile instincts and misogynist violence


In This Issue

The triumphalism of Tony Abbott

The Liberals' winner-takes-all political payback

© Lisa Tomasetti

Sydney Theatre Company and the Australian Defence Force’s ‘The Long Way Home’

The lives of returned soldiers

Oil, gas and spy games in the Timor Sea

Australian scheming for the Greater Sunrise oilfield has a long history

© Cybele Malinowski

Sally Seltmann’s ‘Hey Daydreamer’

The fourth solo album from the Sydney singer-songwriter


More in Arts & Letters

Photo of Adam Goodes

Swan song: Documenting the Adam Goodes saga

Two documentaries consider how racism ended the AFL star’s career

Book covers

Robot love: Ian McEwan’s ‘Machines Like Me’ and Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Frankissstein’

Literary authors tackle sentience and rationality in AI, with horrific results

Photo of Margot Robbie

Popcorn maker: Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’

The tide may have turned against the director’s juvenile instincts and misogynist violence

Photo of Lil Nas X

Happy trails: Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’

The gay country-rapper exposes the complex play of identity, algorithms and capitalism


More in Noted

Cover of ‘The White Girl’ by Tony Birch

‘The White Girl’ by Tony Birch

An emotionally eloquent novel about the necessary inheritance of strength in Indigenous women

Impression, Sunrise (1872) by Claude Monet

‘Monet: Impression Sunrise’ at the National Gallery of Australia

Impressionism’s namesake painting is at the heart of a masterful collection from the Musée Marmottan Monet

Detail of 'Man, Eagle and Eye in the Sky: Two Eagles', by Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang’s ‘The Transient Landscape’ and the Terracotta Warriors at the National Gallery of Victoria

The incendiary Chinese artist connects contemporary concerns with cultural history

Cover image of ‘The Other Americans’ by Laila Lalami

‘The Other Americans’ by Laila Lalami

An accidental death in a tale of immigrant generations highlights fractures in the promise of America


Read on

Image from ‘Midsommar’

Pagan poetry: the studied strangeness of Ari Aster’s ‘Midsommar’

The ‘Hereditary’ director micro-manages the mania in his new film

Image of director Quentin Tarantino and actor Margot Robbie

Quentin Tarantino’s Sisyphean task

The polarising director and actor Margot Robbie on making ‘Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood’

Image from ‘Succession’

Heirs unapparent: ‘Succession’

The HBO comedy-drama returns for another gleefully toxic season

Drawing a line in the sand: Garma festival 2019

Indigenous leaders have made it clear that the Uluru statement is not negotiable


×
×