Neil Roberts

Campbell, Barbara,

Love's Labours, catalogue essay, Canberra: Helen Maxwell Gallery, 2003.

Barbara Campbell

Lovers of Shakespeare will notice the word ‘lost’ missing from this exhibition title. By the time you have viewed these photographs, you’ll see why I couldn’t use that word. In many ways, the labours embodied in the objects (perhaps I should say subjects) of Neil’s photographs are indeed lost. The owners have lost their ownership, the tools have lost their original functionality and, were it not for Neil’s intervention, these particular objects would very soon have lost their material form, their “real-world existence”.

Despite the problems with ‘lost’, neither could I substitute it with its opposite – ‘found’. Yes, Neil found these objects, rescuing them from the edge of material vanishing. And yes, Neil found something else in them, an aesthetic value far beyond their utilitarian one, one which he has preserved through photography – that great indexical medium of the 19th century. But as with photography itself, there is something both lost and found in these photographic objects, and I wish there were an English word for it.

The two words that are there in the title surely need no explanation. All Neil’s labours seemed to be acts of love. And because of this personal quality, he was attracted to the signs of it around him. These photographs are invested with a respect for labour, for tools, for our effect on the objects we daily handle and for the transformative power of seeing things anew.

There is also my own part in this exhibition. I’m not sure if I can call it a collaboration. Certainly these images may have remained lost in the archive of Neil’s slide files if I had not found them. It was love that took me to them and which guided me through the labours of turning these images into objects. I’d like to especially thank Anne Ferran, Brett Wiencke at Art Direction Creative, Sally McLean at Exhibition Centre and Tony Mostert at Screenmakers for helping me along the way.

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