(image: PhotoAccess at the Manuka Arts Centre. Photo Sean Davey)
Photography matters. It is the dominant medium in contemporary art. In all its 21st-century incarnations - from a snapshot posted on Instagram to the analogue image traditionally dodged and burned - the photo endures in public and private life. It’s how we make our ideas and lived histories visible, showing us as we are and as we dream of being.
PhotoAccess was established in 1984 as a community organisation encouraging the use of photography to achieve personal and political growth, and providing affordable and accessible facilities. Times and technologies have changed, and PhotoAccess has adapted and matured, playing a relevant role in the local and national photomedia ecology. PhotoAccess is now an artsACT Key Arts Organisation, and a well-networked partner in the local arts sector with strong connections nationally.
PhotoAccess has contributed to the arts and community life of Canberra for over 30 years. In that time countless numbers of people have learned, talked about and shown photo-based art in our two locations: first at the now demolished Kingsley Street, Canberra City premises and, since 2002, at the Manuka Arts Centre.
PhotoAccess is the foremost destination in the ACT for local, interstate and international visitors to see, appreciate, learn about, make and show contemporary photo-based art. We are a member-based visual arts organisation presenting an ongoing program of exhibitions, courses, talks, publications and special projects including artist residencies and community digital-storytelling workshops. We work with the community to increase appreciation and understanding of the power and potential of the photo-based image. We value innovation and creativity, accessibility, a sense of community, independence, excellence and integrity.
PhotoAccess is governed by an experienced board, comprising business, arts and administrative skills, and currently employs four part-time professional staff as well as qualified tutors to deliver our education program. We manage the Manuka Arts Centre in Canberra’s Inner South with three intimate galleries, a co-working darkroom, a shared working space, teaching room and a resource library.
These facilities support exhibition and education programs, community outreach, equipment hire and year-round arts programs. The PhotoAccess darkroom is now the only publicly accessible photographic black-and-white darkroom in the ACT region and is integral to our mission. Our darkroom is a platform for people to create and learn through traditional photographic processes. It is a place for film photographers to professionally produce prints, meet fellow photographers and share ideas, inspiration and techniques.
PhotoAccess invites artists at all stages of their careers to showcase contemporary photo-based art in a supportive and stimulating artistic environment. Our exhibition space, the Huw Davies Gallery, is the only gallery in the ACT exclusively dedicated to contemporary photo-based art. We are committed to presenting excellent, high-quality work with a focus on artistic experimentation and innovation. Our exhibitions and public programs encourage and extend the critical debate about contemporary photo-based art practice.
Our education programs provide the inspiration and means for people to create their own cultural statements through the photo-based arts. Our courses are structured to meet a wide range of needs and experience levels, while our outreach and community engagement programs allow people to participate in the arts who might otherwise not have the opportunity. This includes schools and community groups who increasingly lack access to analogue cameras and darkroom facilities. We also deliver digital storytelling workshops in collaboration with community organisations, providing opportunities for groups and individuals whose access is limited by gender, geography, income or disability to have their voices and stories heard.
In 2016-2020 PhotoAccess will build meaningfully on our contribution to the community through five strategic goals: We will cultivate excellence in the photo-based arts and support great arts practice; increase online access and participation; improve the facilities and physical resources available to photo-based artists; develop strategic partnerships that engage the community; and increase private sector support.
Artistic program summary
Our vision at PhotoAccess for 2016-2020 is to lead our community towards an awareness of how and why the photo-based arts matter, and to an informed grasp of the power and potential of the photo-based image. We will achieve this vision in four ways - Exhibition, Education, Conversation and Creation.
We will cultivate excellence in the PhotoAccess exhibition program by supporting great art and arts practice. Our program will show the very best work by local and visiting photo-based artists, demonstrating both technical and artistic excellence, to inform and inspire audiences. While we already choose artists on merit, from 2017 we will move our program from a “hire-by-the-artist” model to one in which artists are paid to exhibit. This critical shift will expand our programming options and audiences and support artists financially.
Photography is everywhere; informed understanding of it is not. Our programs will make the familiar new and the new familiar: from the smart-phone right through to the pinhole camera, we will teach people to communicate through, and to interpret, photography in nuanced and innovative ways. We will diversify our education programs by augmenting our core technical offerings with specialised masterclasses and new projects that illuminate historical, theoretical and social aspects of photography for participants both in the darkroom and in the world at large. We will also continue our vital outreach and community engagement programs, allowing people to participate in the arts who might otherwise not have the opportunity.
We will use photography, with its many technologies and its engagement with lived experience, as a compelling medium to stimulate arts-literate and politically aware audiences. We will support a new suite of online, print and in-person approaches. In the gallery, we will create an insightful and accessible context for great work by commissioning writers to interpret exhibitions in succinct catalogue essays. Audiences will take part in innovative public programs that challenge curators, artists and visitors to respond thoughtfully to the work on display.
PhotoAccess is a place for display, learning and discussion; it’s also a place where images are made. We will challenge artists to create new work, and we’ll provide exceptional facilities and support to help them do that. PhotoAccess supports the development of new photo-based practice through our artist-in-residence program, providing technical and creative support, as well as exhibition opportunities, to emerging and mid-career artists. We will continue to operate our darkroom, which is unique in the ACT, and to give the critical feedback, professional development, networking opportunities and inspiration that emerging and established photo-based artists need to make great work. PhotoAccess has a long history of supporting Indigenous artists. A particular focus for our support is through our Indigenous Photomedia Artists Program, which supports one or more Aboriginal artists each year to exhibit work in the Huw Davies Gallery, with the exhibition coinciding with NAIDOC week.
PhotoAccess acknowledges the support of the ACT Government through the ACT Arts Fund, and the Australian Government through artsACT and the ACT component of the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy.
PhotoAccess is located in the Manuka Arts Centre, an ACT Government arts facility. Manuka Arts Centre is on the corner of Manuka Circle and New South Wales Crescent in Griffith ACT (near Manuka Oval and the Manuka Pool).
(Image: 100 Views of Canberra exhibition opening, 2013. Photo Gilbert Herrada)
(Image: Karijini exhibition by Stephen Best, 2014 opening. Photo Gilbert Herrada)