Susurrations  by Poppy Lekner, Johanna Mechen, Kate van der Drift, Tanya Te Miringa Te Rorarangi Ruka, Petra Scheuber, Virginia Woods-Jack


Poppy Lekner, Johanna Mechen, Kate van der Drift, Tanya Te Miringa Te Rorarangi Ruka, Petra Scheuber, Virginia Woods-Jack

29 August to 24 September 2023

Sanderson are pleased to present the exhibition Susurrations, curated by Women in Photography NZ + AU. Featuring work by Poppy Lekner, Johanna Mechen, Tanya Te Miringa Te Rorarangi Ruka, Petra Scheuber, Kate van der Drift, Virginia Woods-Jack.

In our image dense culture we tend to both produce and consume what could be termed ‘fast photography’. We can lose the ability to enjoy photography as a process, as well as the capacity to deeply notice what it can show us; visual overwhelm doesn’t encourage careful observation. As the artist Joan Fontcuberta has observed, “Saturation actually causes blindness. Just as an excess of information amounts to an absence of information, so the super abundance and omnipresence of images is tantamount to their suppression.”1

The exhibitors in Susurrations are keenly aware of this, in that their work collectively suggests a slowing down, a sustained enquiry into their concerns. Featuring work by Poppy Lekner, Johanna Mechen, Tanya Te Miringa Te Rorarangi Ruka, Petra Scheuber, Kate van der Drift and Virginia Woods-Jack, Susurrations explores place and memory, materiality, enquiry and play, as a contemplative process of looking and making. The exhibition considers our connectedness to our environments, the narratives of domestic and cultural spaces, as well as of the whenua, awa, sky and sea which surround us. The meditative enquiry apparent in Susurrations also suggests a quiet resistance to the cultural milieu in which we live – which prioritises productivity over creativity and play, surface over depth, haste over contemplation.

In considering our relationship with our environment, the word landscape seems somewhat anachronistic, suggesting visual traditions which frame the land as picturesque, pastoral, sublime, productive – something to be observed or made use of. How then can the land tell something of its history, and how can we convey our connectedness to it? As photo historian Liz Wells has noted, “... specific sites may give ligle away; histories are not necessarily manifest visually...[the challenge] for photographers is to transcend the limitations of the literalness of the camera, to find ways of alluding to that which has occurred.”2 Perhaps the solution lies in an openness to what our surroundings have to tell us, and a sensitivity to the materials and processes most suited to the narrative.

For the artists in Susurrations, this occurs through a co-authorship with the environment that develops over a sustained period, allowing the histories and memories of that environment to emerge. Woods-Jack speaks of the personhood of the sea, of the sea as an archive of memory. Time spent on the beach reveals to Woods-Jack the plastics the sea returns to the shore, which in turn form an archive used in her work. These plastics, she suggests, are markers of human time spent, the material culture of memories, joy, events or experiences. The resulting configurations within her work are ethereal and seemingly organic.

Van der Drift’s cameraless photographs are created by immersing sheets of Kodak Portra film in the flowing water of the Piako awa for durations of between two and four weeks. The impact of agricultural chemical residue on the film’s emulsion is evident in the resulting striations and contours of vibrant colour. The cameraless photography communicates the history of the Piako awa indexically, shifting how we understand both the awa and the communicative ability of photography.

So in the work of Woods-Jack and van der Drift we’re reminded of what’s both present and obscured – the plastic detritus found at the bogom of the Mariana Trench, the Pacific plastic ‘island,’ or the history of colonial and contemporary industrial land use and the impact of this on the living world. The work references the ‘eco anxiety’ that’s now inseparable from our experience of our environment. But while the narratives here may be a warning of sorts, they don’t assume despair. Rather, connectedness becomes a kind of radical hope; Woods-Jack’s ‘It will all be OK’ suggests alluring, if uncertain, possibility.

Co-authorship then, can be found in the process of listening to the environment and an openness to what it suggests. Exploring from a Kaupapa Ma¯ori perspective, Tanya Te Miringa Te Rorarangi Ruka uses photography as the genesis of her work, creating digital weavings in response to long exposure star trails. Drawing on tradiZonal taniko, Ruka’s digital weaving creates a narraZve that brings together both the ground beneath her as the original photograph was made, and the sky overhead. Photography remains the mauri or life force of the work, which becomes a wayfinding memory story, referencing the history of traditional Maori celestial navigation systems and her own experience of making the photographs in the early morning light. A weaving together of light and darkness, the presence of Te Kore also offers hope.

The joys and anxieties of the natural world have their parallels in the domestic space. Johanna Mechen’s work speaks of the comforts and uncertainties of our familiar home environments, and how we respond to the spaces that mager most to us. Here, the motif of the dead lemon tree within the garden space is addressed playfully in multiple ways – it is scagered with rose petals, it becomes an intense presence in yellow, and an absence, a trace – but this playfulness also suggests a way of working through concerns about fragility, change and transition. There’s a sense of ambiguity which invites a double take and deciphering of content. The series, Mechen notes, was a response to significant time spent in her home and garden spaces, a process of deeply noticing her familiar surroundings and an awareness of the symbolism of objects within the space.

Mechen’s phrase – ‘deeply noticing’ – suggests a commitment to slowing down the photographic process. This might be considered another type of response to our broader cultural environment which demands we’re constantly productive as economic or creative units, that we immediately react to notfications, or that we have a ‘side hustle.’ There’s a deliberate resistance in the decision to slow down and carefully observe, apparent throughout the work in Susurrations; to watch the stars move across the sky, to commit to an exposure Zme of several weeks, to explore the narratives that gradually emerge from an environment, to examine the beauty of colour, or engage with ongoing discovery in the darkroom. This slowing down suggests an openness to outcome and a commitment to play and discovery as part of the process of making photography.3

The darkroom was considered by Modernist photographers such as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy as a site of discovery in which to explore the boundaries of technology, and extend our understanding of kinetics, motion, light and space. Moholy-Nagy described the cameraless photogram process as a form of enquiry that helped us see things anew, suggesting they were “...a completely new form of space articulation."4

In a contemporary context the darkroom might be considered a more meditative space of making, but it retains its potential as a site of discovery. For Poppy Lekner, creating photograms is a process of interacting with and listening to the potential of particular objects, exploring how their form and materiality interacts with light, and letting the process unfold organically in the darkroom. The shapes and tonality of the prints are evidence of the objects used, their form and translucency, how much of the paper they shielded from light.

Lekner’s photograms also suggest the otherworldly. The small pieces of velox paper she uses measure only two by three inches, but the forms within them variously suggest the fragile or the monumental, the cosmic or the industrial. The photograms are mysterious and full of possibility, layers of shape, form and tone. This sense of photography creating an otherwise unseen world is also present in Petra Scheuber’s Dreamland series, which directs our eye to detail, prioritising colour and light, and emphasising the beauty and fragility of the foliage she photographs. The images seem to reference other photographic practices, both science and fiction, which sought to reveal the unseen: ‘aura’ photography, spiritualist photography, the x-ray. Her intention, she states, is to capture the worlds ‘in between’, to create and explore that which would otherwise remain unknown. As with Lekner’s photograms, Scheuber’s work provokes curiosity; taking a small moment, she brings it to our attention, making it visible.

Susurrations explores the narratives which can emerge from a sustained relationship between photographer and environment. It also suggests a particular way of understanding photography – as a process which engages with open ended enquiry, discovery and play, and as a form of contemplation. As viewers, we’re invited to consider the value of what emerges when we slow down to make, and look at, photography.

- Deidra Sullivan, August 2023



1 Joan Fontcuberta, (17/11/2016). Leger 5. hgps://

2 Liz Wells, (2019). Hidden Histories and Landscape Enigmas. Photographies, 12 (2), p.178.

3 See further material on the ‘slow photography’ movement; for example, Tim Wu’s 2011 essay hgps:// interest/2011/01/the-slow-photography-movement-asks-what-is-the-point-of-taking-pictures.html

4 L Moholy-Nagy, (1970). Space Time and the photographer. In R. Kostelanetz (Ed). Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: An Anthology. Praegar, p.61. 

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