This latest exhibition of work by Wayne Barrar, Machine Room, documents the fascinating ‘world’ of underground powerstations in New Zealand. The exhibition presents a satisfying blend of conceptual triggers for both the intellect and the emotions. The voyeurism of watching hidden spaces that are ‘local’ is extremely powerful and compelling. Here is a real sense that we are not only being educated by looking at the photographs, but converted too.
Machine Room follows on as separate to, but linked with Barrar’s photographic projects that have documented various underground sites. As a result of his earlier photographic projects investigating post-mined land, Barrar became intrigued by the various reinventions applied to the underground cavities that are left post mining - in Australia, the USA, and now New Zealand. His work about underground sites appeared in his exhibition about the Coober Pedy underground dwellings: Inner Space at MGA in 2004, the Kansas USA underground sites: as per the Telecom Prospecta work 2004, and the new book that surveys New Zealand photography and featuring Wayne Barrar with an essay by Allan Smith: Contemporary New Zealand Photographers published 2005.
Wayne Barrar still uses ‘old fashioned’ photographic processes (handmade prints) in tandem with some digital work. Handprints are becomming a rarity as photographic papers become obsolete, and commercial demand ceases in the wake of the digital phenomenon. Handmade photographic processes risk being lost, unless photographers such as Barrar keep the form alive and show that handmade darkroom processes do add a sensual ‘one off’ value to the image, as well an aspect of uniqueness and variance to the notion of reproduceability.
Barrar isolates places and fragments of places, and presents the visual content with a documentary objectivity, stillness, and precision that makes one think of forensic findings presented for examination. Barrar invites the viewer to examine his images, and treat them with a quizzical attention.
Barrar’s work is also currently involved in another book and associated (touring) exhibition: Picturing Eden at the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester NY to June 2006, then on tour internationally.