ART-traction: The Art of Photography

While Melbourne lacks a photography museum on the scale of Stockholm’s Fotografiska or New York’s International Centre of Photography, Fitzroy’s Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) ensures photography is positioned in the forefront on Melbourne’s arts community.

The CCP’s stunning building is home to some truly wonderful exhibitions.

The custom-made building allows works to be hung in a space dedicated to the appreciation and discussion of photographic practices.

CCP’s variety of public programs and workshops position it as a leading educator and a centre of the Melbourne photography community.

It’s a breath of fresh air from market driven photography on one hand, and Instagram addicts on the other.

To see photography practised as a highly skilled art form, look no further than the CCP.

Geoff Robinson installationCCPEntrance2012

Tucked away on a corner between Brunswick and Smith Streets (404 George Street, to be precise), CCP Director Naomi Cass provides a fascinating insight to the work of the centre and the evolving position of photography in Melbourne life.

How long have you been at CCP, and what is involved in your role as Director?

I have been with CCP as Director for 10 years. I provide artistic and organisational leadership to a small team of talented, intelligent staff, volunteers and board.

Generating income to realise our vision is one of my key activities, alongside setting the artistic direction and ensuring we have the means and capacity to thrive.

It’s astonishingly diverse and exciting—in many respects I run a small ship that is blessed to be supporting art and artists and audiences—a small vessel which is vulnerable and yet one where the staff and exhibiting artists have a huge amount of agency.

What do you look for when planning your exhibition schedule? Which artists appeal to you most and what is the process of putting together a show?

It is important to not be too prescriptive in what we are looking for, because we look to be lead, to be moved by the work we see.

Following a public call, expressions of interest are assessed by an Advisory Committee.

If I may summarise, we look for work that:

• Excites and inspires the Committee;

• Establishes conceptual rigour and/or significant technical ability and/or an engaging installation and use of CCP space;

• Represents a diversity of approaches to photography and video;

• Represents both current trends or conversely, wild divergence from current practice;

• Complements existing aspects of the program (Salon, CCP Documentary Photography

   Award, mid-career artist surveys);

• Represents a cross section of local, national and where possible, international practice;

• Demonstrates the best and most inspiring practice;

• Meets an intuitive criteria—built over many years—of diversity of programming, including: emerging artists; established artists; traditional photography; experimental practice; still and moving image; appealing practice; challenging practice; and local, national and international practice;

• Could be curated into thematic exhibitions.

 The Night Projection Window has been a highly popular concept for photography fans and walk-ins alike, how important is attracting new interest in photography and what other methods could be used to raise greater awareness in contemporary art practices?

When CCP commenced 27 years ago, photography was the poor relative within the exhibition sector.

Established by artists and writers, CCP was unique in presenting, teaching and debating photography.

In the intervening years, photography and video have become ubiquitous in personal life and gallery life, as well as in the public domain.

However on the street and online, most photography is in the service of the market and addresses viewers as a consumer or a political subject.

It is important that CCP provides a space for photography and video that is quite different.

The Night Projection Window is a way of inserting contemporary art into the public domain.

CCP also curates a pair of monumental billboards, with support from the City of Yarra, at the corner of Smith and Otter Streets, Collingwood.

Last year we commissioned Bindi Cole to make two large works for the foyer of the Royal Womenʼs Hospital, Melbourne.

It is important to make space for contemporary art photography in non-art spaces.

The CCP’s location in Fitzroy is a wonderful building and beautiful exhibition space, although a little obscured from foot traffic. How is the CCP appealing to visitors, and how does the relatively new venue compliment the exhibiting of works?

Due to CCPs location, as you point out, we are a destination visit, rather than somewhere you would stumble across on your way to the bank or the supermarket.

With little or no marketing budget, our most powerful tool is our content (exhibitions and public programs) and our second most powerful tool is an engaged visitor.

CCPʼs online communications and social media are very effective in reaching audiences.

CCP galleries, designed by Sean Godsell Architects are also effective for three important reasons: firstly the galleries enable artists to present their work well and be powerful in their use of the space, secondly it enables curators to tell fabulous stories through the journey around the spaces enabling a slow revelation of ideas, and finally CCP enables pleasing, engaging experiences for visitors as they explore the nautilus configuration of galleries.

While some feel the dots distracting, I think the space is sympathetic to artists because it supports their work through clean, simple, flexible spaces in which both small and large works look good.

Photography, video and installation inhabit the galleries well, the space bends well to the art.

Tell us about your road to gallery Director? What is your education and work background, when did you first become interested in working with photography?

I have an honours degree in Fine Arts and History and Philosophy of Science from Melbourne University.

When I graduated I worked as a curator with the then University Gallery.

I have worked as a freelance curator and writer and with NETS Victoria (National Exhibitions Touring Support) as well as in cultural development.

I have worked on festivals, collections and exhibitions; and I have been a writer in residence, a reviewer and a lecturer.

Prior to working at CCP I worked with contemporary art and craft more broadly.

What advice would you give a student keen to break into the gallery industry? Paid positions are few and far between, is there any trick to making it out of the intern world?

The intern world has some great advantages, particularly if combined with appropriate study and engagement with the sector.

Indeed, CCP interns and volunteers are often appointed when paid positions become available.

My advice is to become involved in some way, become acquainted with the sector.

Depending on which aspect of the sector is of interest, you can plan your engagement.

You might be interested in curating, writing, being a general manager, or a museum educator or a graphic designer, all indispensible roles in the small to medium sector.

Seek out dynamic people in these fields and become an intern or volunteer.

In many cases you will be given real work to do and will become acquainted with the discipline and how it fits into the sector in general.

Develop your skills and have a go at writing an essay or designing a catalogue for an artist you know; apply to Next Wave or CCP with an exhibition concept, offer to work on a fundraising program for a not-for-profit organisation or volunteer on installing an exhibition for a public gallery.

Namely, build your experience and capacity. Gallery work calls upon an astonishing range of skills, particularly in a small organisation, skills ranging from intellectual, project management, financial, practical and interpersonal: all are relevant.


CCP’s current exhibition featuring works by Jo Scicluna, Steve Carr, Robery Rooney and Lydia Wegner runs until May 19, make sure to stop by!

Also of note, ACCA’s second Art Bar for the year takes place this coming Friday, May 10 at 6pm.

I’ll see you all there.

Laura Phillips


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