Theatre of Life by Alex Frayne

Theatre of Life

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Alex Frayne has opted to present his portfolio of photographic portraits in a book that is A3 size. This decision is very convenient for both the photographer and the viewer. Large photographs make it harder for the photographer to hide any blemishes and make the task of viewing so much easier for the reader. Frayne’s purpose was to record people encountered in his travels. Later he adds that he wants to immortalize them. He recognizes Blake’s dichotomy of Innocence and Experience and places portraiture squarely in the Innocence camp. “To seek innocence…means looking for life and humanity that is unfamiliar and strange and brilliant, not bland, predictable and jaded” (Introduction).

Frayne wants to dump the practice of photographing people that reveals an expression that properly describes that person. Portraits, as far as Frayne is concerned, are “artistic representations of human beings…mysterious, solemn and unknowable”. Perhaps that is why Frayne’s collection opens with a four page spread of individuals whom, the photographer describes, as eccentric. One of these photographs is labelled An Englishman in Adelaide, and fits the “eccentric” label. Moreover he is competently photographed.

The issue of technical competence needs to be addressed. The collection contains photographs that are well lit and photographed by a person with vision. There are many fine examples in the book. A less than exhaustive list is made up of Morrie Dibbock, the Rockbusters, the exceptional “The System”, Stefan Heysen, John Croall, Barrie Jones, Taximan John, Michael Abbott, Mrs Danvers, Rosemary Graetz, Kym Rumble, The Thinker, Overseer of Streets, and Tattboy Holden. The last mentioned is a man decked out in tattoos and presents as the saddest spectacle of humanity I’ve ever seen.

There are photographs that show a well understood knowledge of tones. Some very good examples are Fear Factor, Australian Portrait, One Day for Sight (a beautiful use of the colour yellow contrasted with the muscular hands of the wearer), and one described as Away. These are not necessarily great photographs but demonstrate a clever handling of tone. Other technical aspects that demonstrate a competent use of lighting can be found in Man’s World (where ring lighting was employed) and Twins. In the last mentioned Frayne demonstrated the effectiveness of straight lines on the girls’ frocks and then an excellent way to treat the exotic clothing of twin girls from an Asian nation.

A fine action shot appears with Pull. However, I am very ambivalent with my response to Jetty Jumper. Naturally this photograph was taken on a jetty and presented as a double page spread. Half of the picture is composed of a seventy year old man while the other half features children who are out of focus. Deliberately so. I will never understand the attraction that out of focus effects have for otherwise ‘balanced’ photographers. The current example is a travesty of good photography.

Since reviews are of no use if they do not deal with relevant issues as perceived, I have to say that this is a very ordinary collection of photographs. I found Train Enthusiast boring but accompanied by a comment that has little relevance to the picture.   Frayne writes, “So it is with a sense of relief that I can still find examples of people finding fulfilment and expression in actual physical objects”. The picture is that of a man, facing the camera, holding a series of what could be film canisters. It is not a picture that bears any relationship to the comment. I have no idea how a sense of relief came out of it. I found that Geisha or School Girl had anything but artistic merit, The Melancholy  Surfer was poorly composed, and Cosplay nicely lit but unremarkable.

Some examples where the photographer’s skill was inadequate for the task were Kasiani KK (whose centre of focus was the eyes but the viewer’s sight is drawn to the breast), Sophie Hyde (photographed too close and comment containing a spelling error), Betty of Taperoo (photographed so close that her picture presents her as apparently obese), Ecstasy (one of the worst photographs in the book. It appears to be that of a drowned man. A spelling error does not assist this picture), and finally Royce Wells and House of Psychedelia (photographed so closely that the man appears capable of evil.

In my view the following pictures are of extreme low value and should be dispensed with: Stairs, Urbs Urbis, and Dr Wu. All of these are out of focus and of no interest in any respect.

A second edition of this work following a rationalization and consultative process that eliminates some of the weaker photographs would be an excellent purchase by lovers of photography.

Theatre of Life


By Alex Frayne

Wakefield Press

ISBN: 978-1-74305-494-9

$50.00; 80pp


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