Untitled 1983/84, from the series Untitled 1983/84
Henson produces above all a photography of expressive content. The dominant motifs in Untitled are in fact few in number: architectural details of baroque palaces, old master paintings hanging in European galleries, the female face in repose, and, most centrally, naked junkie waifs who are lost to their own degradation and suffering. Yet the sense of scope Henson brings to his subjects gives them a dramatic resonance, an existence on paper which reverberates with a kind of numinous inevitability. It has been remarked that these photographs approach the condition of film but they do so only in the way that film itself can sometimes approach the condition of painting – by imitating its textural qualities and the distortions of form it allows in the interests of integrated composition. This question is further complicated by Henson's delicate use of colour, which works by implication and suggestion, almost in fact as an illusion until we realise that those hints of blue and red and gold are heightening tonal contrasts apparently attained at first glance in black-and-white.
What ultimately registers in Untitled 1983/84 is a tone of unassuaged sadness, an operatic vision of the stuff of tragedy, made bearable only by the intricacies of the art that has fixed these shadows on paper forever. It is not an easy or a fashionable truth that suffering so absolute that its victim has lost comprehension of self can provide for an art of consummate beauty.
extract from Michael Heyward, first published Bill Henson: photographs, Picador, Sydney 1988, republished Bill Henson: Mnemosyne, Scalo, Zurich/AGNSW, Sydney 2005 p 240
triptych: 3 type C photographs
a - left panel, 84 x 74.7 cm, image
a - left panel, 100 x 74.7 cm, sheet
a - left panel, 101 x 87 x 4 cm, frame
b - centre panel, 84 x 74 cm, image
b - centre panel, 100.8 x 74 cm, sheet
b - centre panel, 101 x 87 cm, frame
c - right panel, 84 x 74 cm, image
c - right panel, 100.8 x 74 cm, sheet
c - right panel, 101 x 87 x 4 cm, frame
Signature & date
Signed l.r. verso of each panel, ink "Bill Henson". Dated l.c. verso of each panel, ink "...1983/84".
Not on display
© Bill Henson. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 26 Sep 1986–23 Nov 1986
What is this thing called photography?, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 05 Jun 1999–29 Jul 1999
Referenced in 5 publications
Judy Annear, Look, 'The elusive Bill Henson', pg.28-31, Sydney, Dec 2004-Jan 2005, 31.
Michael Heyward, Mnemosyne, 'Untitled 1983/84', pg. 240, Sydney, 2005, 240, 246-7 (illus.).
Biennale of Sydney 2000, Sydney, 2000, 21 (colour illus.). illustration of centre panel, this work is not in the exhibition but is illustrated in the catalogue.
Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Sydney, 1986. cat.no. 121
What is this thing called photography?, Sydney, 1999. no catalogue numbers