Museum of Brisbane

Photography vs film: Q&A with panel leader Leanne Kelly

This weekend at the Museum our Program Manager, Leanne Kelly, will be hosting a panel discussion on the art of storytelling through photography and film.  Joining her will be; Robyn Stacey, photographer; Michael Aird, anthropologist, curator and photographer; Maxine Williamson, Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival and Asia Pacific Screen Awards; and Shawkat Amin Korki, writer, director and winner of the 2014 APSA UNESCO award for promotion and preservation of cultural diversity through film.

Before diving in to the discussion on Sunday, we asked Leanne to clue us in to her perspectives on the field and which direction the panel conversation might go in.

Museum of Brisbane (Museum): Where have you worked with photography or film in the past?

Leanne Kelly (LK): Apart from a long time personal interest, photography and film have touched my professional life in various ways. I studied photography within my Bachelor of Visual Arts, and briefly considered changing my major from graphic design to photography. I didn’t – but I do still wonder if I made the right choice. My professional film experience over the last 9 years has been around producing film content for exhibitions here at the Museum. At last count, it was over 40 exhibition project managed in my time here, and at least half of those had filmic content – everything from dreamy footage of flowering Silky oaks trees to interviews with survivors of institutional abuse. Both photography and film are powerful mediums for us to tell stories.

Museum: Is there a particular photograph or film that has stuck in your mind as an outstanding example of storytelling? Why?

LK: There have been a number over time. A documentary photograph from the exhibition Remembering Goonda: Stories from a Queensland mental hospital remains with me. It was a beautiful detail of a cheap lace curtain, with the WOLTSON PARK label sewn on. In a project that had a very strong undercurrent about labels – humans, illnesses – it was a profound comment. Film wise, I think the Beauty film in our current exhibition The River remains a favourite. A very simple narrative unfolding as a journey from the source of the Brisbane River that many have never seen, to where is spills into Moreton Bay. It hits exactly the tone that we had hoped for. I was teary the first time I saw it completed – but maybe I was just overcome with meeting our deadline!

Beyond the Museum, there are many filmic moments that stay with me. Most have been from documentary films – a scene from a documentary about Bill Cunningham, a New York street fashion photographer has particularly stayed with me. I am also a long-time fan of Cindy Sherman’s work, especially her Untitled Film Stills from the late 1970s.

Museum: One of the guests on your panel will be Robyn Stacey, whose exhibition Cloud Land is currently showing at the Museum.  How has Robyn used storytelling techniques to capture narratives in her photography for Cloud Land?

LK: Interestingly, when I first saw Robyn’s Camera Obscura works, I had a very similar response to the Cindy Sherman works I had first seen almost 25 years earlier. Robyn’s works are mysterious to me, dreamlike, with layers of meaning. A number of the works were shot in hotel rooms, and Robyn has spoken of her interest in 19th century literature that discusses hotel rooms being ‘places of epiphany’. Knowing that, when I look at those works I always feel like I am ‘mind-reading’ the subjects in the photos. The camera obscure effect is such that the room could be seen as a projection of their mind – a very rich aesthetic in which many stories and interpretations emerge.

MOB: What are some of the key aspects or perspectives on this topic of Photography vs Film that you will be discussing with your special guests?

LK: As I have prepared for this topic, I have found myself considering issues of truth in storytelling. I am interested in the role that truth plays in their professional work and how these mediums handle truth. It could go in so many directions! I hope that guests have the opportunity to understand the incredible breadth and depth of experience that will be before them on Sunday.

Museum: What level of responsibility do photographers and filmmakers have to tell a great story through their work?

LK: Tricky question!  We have focussed on photography and film telling a story, but do they even need to? Could beauty be more profound than story?  I think that’s the perfect topic to unpack at another panel discussion!

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Thanks Leanne for a great background to what we can expect on Sunday!  Spots for the Photography vs film: Who tells a better story? discussion are filling up fast, so be sure to register online or phone the Museum team on 07 3339 0800 to secure your seat.

Image: Room 13 Cartwright, Michael and Katherine 2015

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