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

Pressed pause

Today’s COVID-19 modelling leaves Australia locked down for Easter

Image of Max von Sydow in The Exorcist

Knight to rook 3

Remembering Max von Sydow, the greatest actor of his generation

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Whitefella visits Kurnell

A Botany Bay ferry would restore Cook’s landing site as a ‘meeting place’

Oversight plight?

On balance, the parliament should sit through the pandemic response

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

Image of Stormzy

Grime boss: Stormzy

The rapper and MC’s second album ‘Heavy Is the Head’ is another triumphant step bringing black British culture forward

Photograph of Tennant Creek Brio artists by Jesse Marlow / Institute

Desert bloom: The Tennant Creek Brio

The brazen art movement born out of the troubled legacies of substance abuse and dispossession

Cover of jenny Offill's ‘Weather’

Twilight knowing: Jenny Offill’s ‘Weather’

The American novelist brings literary fiction’s focus on the interior life to climate-change cataclysm

Image from ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’

Properly British: Armando Iannucci’s ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’

A multicultural vision underscores the acclaimed British satirist’s endearing Dickensian romp

More in Noted

Image of Eimear McBride's ‘Strange Hotel’

‘Strange Hotel’ by Eimear McBride

A woman unceasingly travels to contend with the inertia of grief, in the latest novel from the author of ‘A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing’

‘Actress’ by Anne Enright

In a theatre setting, the masterly Irish writer considers the melting, capricious line between the truth and the fake

Image from ‘Stateless’

‘Stateless’: ABC

A probing drama about Australia’s mandatory detention regime focuses on the dehumanisation experienced on both sides of the razor wire

Image of ‘The Bass Rock’

‘The Bass Rock’ by Evie Wyld

The Miles Franklin–winning author’s latest novel expands on her interest in the submission and consequential fury of women amid the impersonal natural world

Read on

Image of Max von Sydow in The Exorcist

Knight to rook 3

Remembering Max von Sydow, the greatest actor of his generation

House of brief

Limiting parliamentary sittings is limiting our democracy

Northern exposure

COVID-19 is turning Indigenous communities into a tinderbox

Image of Julian Assange

Viral injustice

Julian Assange’s extradition trial continues as an attack on journalism