I spent several days last week in Brisbane. I forgot to take my camera, which I regretted greatly as Brisbane was at its gaudily sparkling best. The sky was an intense bright blue and every flowering tree bloomed strikingly. Most memorable was the modern arched walkway that meanders through the South Bank parklands that was densely covered with magenta bouganvillia. I regretted not having my camera, though I also felt the need of some as yet unavailable device that captured scents in the same way a camera captures images. In the warm evenings the mingled perfumes of all the flowering bushes, vines and trees evoked the essence of Brisbane.
I managed to visit my favourite place, the Queensland Art Gallery, to have a leisurely look at the exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographs, that I'd hurried through on a previous visit. The photographs are wonderful. What's most immediately obvious is their composition. Even though most of the works are photographed in real time and in real light, they are taken at the most perfect time and with just the right light. But the photographs are not only beautiful, many of them also capture the spirit of a particular time and place.
I think I wrote previously that Cartier-Bresson had political nous that enabled him to bear witness to many great historical events - photographing Mahatma Ghandi minutes before his death; documenting the advance of Mao Tse Tung's army and the retreat of the Kuomintang in China in the late 1940s. And, of course, the second world war. Cartier-Bresson joined the French army at the beginning of the second world war and was soon imprisoned in a German prisoner of war camp, where he spent three years. After two unsuccessful attempts, he managed to escape and joined the French Resistance movement. At the end of the war he was Director of a documentary film, 'Le Retour' that recorded, in real time, the return of prisoners of war and even the survivors of concentration camps to their homelands. In the midst of the disruption at the end of the war millions of people made their way, often on foot, from west to east and east to west. The film is beautifully filmed and emotionally harrowing. Fortunately for me, very few visitors to the exhibition paused to view the film for I found myself in embarrassing streams of tears.
The neighbouring Gallery of Modern Art had a small exhibition titled 'Threads' that I was anxious to see. It is an exhibition of Pacific and Asian textiles drawn from the Gallery's collection. The Australian National Gallery in Canberra has an excellent collection of textiles from Asia - particularly from Southeast Asia - Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, the Philippines. I think my expectations had been shaped by this collection. The Queensland collection is, of course, smaller and more recent but what I hadn't really expected was its emphasis on the Pacific. In the southern states of Australia you rarely have a sense of Australia's place in the Pacific and its relation to the Pacific islands. In Brisbane you are much more aware of people of Pacific Island descent and the Queensland textile collection reflects this relationship. Its centrepiece is a 22 metre (yes, 22 metres) long Tongan tapa cloth - made from layers of very finely hammered bark, stained and dyed in traditional geometric designs. And it has a collection of hand-stitched quilts made by women from various parts of the Pacific where the quilts embody not only elements of traditional Pacific designs but also evidence of colonial traditions.
I think I mostly interact with the world around me through words - through reading and conversing, so it's a good change to spend time being absorbed by visual imagery.