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Bill Henson

Much of Bill Henson’s work involves a careful staging and manipulation of both the scene that is photographed and the materiality of the photograph itself. This studied manipulation is particularly evident in the ‘cut screens’ that Henson began to produce in 1992/93, and exhibited at the 1995 Venice Biennale. Henson draws our attention to the materiality of the photograph by tearing and cutting sections of photographic paper, and piecing them together with pins and pieces of black tape. Part Garden of Eden, part wasteland, these scenes are littered with car bodies and groups of naked and semi-naked adolescents acting out dramas of sexual desire, addiction and loss.

Since 1996, Henson has produced several large series of photographs of the city’s semi-urban and semi-rural fringes at night and twilight. The unpopulated and often banal sites, including dark highways, factory grounds and railway crossings, take on a disturbing atmosphere amid the shadows and eerie glow of distant city lights. These haunting urban landscapes are contrasted with Henson’s photographs of alienated and anonymous young people who seem to melt into the darkness that surrounds them.
Henson’s work is deeply evocative, and the artist steadfastly resists delimiting its meaning: “It’s quite impossible for an artist to anticipate how people are going to be affected by the pictures at the most profound level . . . . Therefore you must maintain your own close relationship with the work and allow everyone else their own reactions to it. You’ll never find a text on the wall from me explaining how a picture should affect you.” (Bill Henson quoted in Jo Liston, ‘Shooting the Dark’, The Australian Weekend Review, March 18-19, 1995.)