Photo op at the Centre for Contemporary Photography

The annual salon represents an opportunity for photographers to show their work, gallery manager Pippa Milne tells Clare Kennedy.

It’s rather apt that the home of Melbourne’s Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) is a building whose design is based on the geometry of a nautilus – the common name for a pelagic marine mollusc, and a potent symbol for expansion and growth.

The nautilus must continually evolve, building new chambers as it outgrows the last – otherwise it will die. It’s a poetic metaphor for the now 28-year-old organisation that has twice outgrown previous homes before moving into a renovated fire station in the backstreets of Fitzroy eight years ago.

CCP gallery manager Pippa Milne is a one-time lawyer who has undergone her own evolution. Raised in Auckland, she realised she’d made a mistake pursuing a commercial legal career after an uninspiring first year drowning in mergers and acquisitions. “I wanted to admire the people I was working under, but everyone was chasing their tails, working on a treadmill rather than doing anything they really believed in,” she observes.

Recalling the joy she discovered studying art history (conjointly with a law degree) prompted Milne to seriously rethink her career. She applied for a two-year Masters degree in curatorship at the University of Melbourne. Her journey had begun.

That move has reaped dividends for the 28-year-old Milne, who has worked her way up from being a volunteer on CCP’s front desk to gallery manager. From overseeing the building’s maintenance to helping install and de-install shows, her tasks vary from day to day. “It ranges from the unglamorous stuff like making sure the light bulbs are still working and there’s no leak in the bathroom to the preparation of shows, dealing with insurance and freight, organising the artists’ contracts and making sure the year rolls as a smooth operation,” she says.

She also finds time to write for edgy arts magazine Vault, Un and Raven Contemporary, which are distributed at galleries such as ACCA, Westspace, MUMA and bookstores such as Magnation.

Outside of exhibitions, Milne also helps run the bookshop and organise a series of master classes with famous photographers and an ongoing series of digital photography workshops at CCP.

“Working with a tight and passionate team and liaising with talented artists are all perks of the job,” she says. As is working in the Sean Godsell-designed gallery space, which feels intimate and serene. Walking through, a few days after the close of an exhibition, she points out an all-embracing blue wall and the inward spiraling spaces that inevitably lead toward a tiny inner chamber. Patterns of intriguing black holes punctuate stretches of wall and ceiling, evoking a camera’s aperture or a wall of eyes.

The Centre is devoted to photographic art and stretches the boundaries of what that might be, Milne explains. It includes any art that deals with the philosophy, practice or technology of photography, which doesn’t necessarily result in photos to pin to the wall. “It may be an artist rubbing silver on paper, which speaks to the concept of silver gelatin printing but is not a photograph per se,” she says.

In 2012, CCP worked with Patricia Piccinini whom Milne described as “a good example of an artist who crosses the boundaries between being a conceptual artist, a contemporary artist and one who works with photography”.

CCP’s broad approach draws a diverse audience. Two years ago the gallery hosted an exhibition by Gary Crewsdon, an American photographer who works with images on a huge scale using a film crew and motion picture techniques. “He makes these very beautiful eerie images reminiscent of David Lynch and Edward Hopper,” Milne says, who worked on the front desk for the show and saw firsthand the excitement it generated.

“We had up to 700 people a day, almost more than little old CCP could handle. It appealed to film students, architecture students, contemporary art students; a whole lot of different audiences were drawn into it.”

CCP’s annual salon represents an opportunity for both fledgling and experienced photographers to show their work. It is apparently the largest open-entry photo competition in Australia, and all of the 500 submitted works are guaranteed to be hung. In 2014, the competition included video and 3D works and prizes were awarded across 27 categories.

“It’s a great exhibition for putting tentacles out into the photo community and seeing what’s being done on different levels. We have people entering for the first time and professional photographers who enter every year,” Milne says.

Keep an eye on CCP’s website or follow @CCP_Australia on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook for updates on how to enter in 2015.


All images supplied.