The Australian landscape seems to require photography. The question of who, how, where, how often and why thankfully remains open, at least among the eighteen photographers included in Photography and Place at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Australia, so conflicted about cities, is one of the most urbanized societies on earth, a situation which makes the looming question of the landscape all the more urgent. Wilderness will aways dominate the continent, never allowing settlements to be interspersed as they are in the United States or Europe. The land provokes sentimentality, poetry and bitterness. In the heart of the cities which cling to the coastal fringe, it can seem another universe until a dust storm, fire, flood or the daily violence of the sunlight reminds us of nature’s nonnegotiable and indifferent presence.
Wake in Fright is not a film about the 2010 Australian federal election (that one might be called Lie Awake in Despair), but it is a film which says uncomfortable things about Australia, and therefore is not entirely unrelated to this winter of political discontent. It lays waste to the cherished Australian ideal of mateship and beyond that specific cultural provocation, it can be seen as a film about friendliness in general. Many places are described as friendly, without the further interrogation which might reveal the differences between, say, the way people are friendly in northeast Ohio, and they way they are friendly in Istanbul. The study of friendliness is rich territory for art and the fact that nearly everyone in Wake in Fright could be described as friendly is disturbing indeed.