Robert Besanko's essential isolation as an artist has led to the evolution of a personal and poetic vision. Entirely self-taught, he has said that for him, prior to photography, ‘it was a case of a dreamer without a medium’.1 One can sense in his fascination with simplified forms and composition a distinct shift away from realism towards something otherworldly – an effect accentuated by the subtle textural quality of the now obsolete Kodalith paper he used in the printing process. The soft warm creamy tones of the paper gently glow amid sepia shadows, producing an image reminiscent of 19th-century photographs.
Besanko’s highly aestheticised images of women are typical of his work from the 1970 and 1980s. While they are sensual and sensitive studies, a strange and intentional spatial ambiguity implicates the viewer within the photographic act. The artist has suggested in an interview that 'you are aware of what the image can become when you look at the subject. The signature is the lyrical line – the otherness – and the intimacy. I strive for the essence … but more as well. The eroticism is the humanity, if you do not deny it.'2 His images impart a dreaminess as the figure is only ever partly seen or because there is a veiling effect through shadow or the clothes worn. Neither portrait nor nudes, the partial disclosure that occurs in his images makes them tantalising and ambiguous. Besanko’s other images of inanimate objects have a debt to modernism but take on a dream-like effect due to the qualities imbued by the Kodalith paper.
1. Besanko R 1978, ‘Robert Besanko’, ‘Light Vision’, no 3, Jan/Feb p 3
2. McIntrye A 1988, ‘Besanko’s pictures reveal a sensual quest of “otherness”’, ‘Age’, 2 Aug p 14
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
gelatin silver photograph on Kodalith paper
21.2 x 31.7 cm image; 28.1 x 35.6 cm sheet
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. sheet, ink and u.l. verso, pencil "Robert Besanko 1976".
Not on display
© Robert Besanko
Shown in 3 exhibitions
Fine and mostly sunny: photographs from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Sep 1991–01 Dec 1991
What is this thing called photography?, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 05 Jun 1999–29 Jul 1999
Magical realism, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 18 Feb 2006–02 Apr 2006
Referenced in 4 publications
Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Magical realism', pg.226-245, Sydney, 2007, 235 (illus.).
Look, Melbourne, Jun 1999, cover (illus.), 5 (illus.). The image appearing on page 5 is in detail.
What is this thing called photography?, Sydney, 1999. no catalogue numbers
Fine and Mostly Sunny: Photographs from the collection, Sydney, 1991. cat.no. 47